The Celtic Dragon Myth, by J.F. Campbell, , at sacred-texts.com
137. Now the king's daughter and the carrotty cock-eyed cook were to have a hearty merry marriage-feast in the king's house, but the lad got up as usual and went off with the cows to the third park. 1
138. He went to the golden castle and blew his whistle; when the yellow russet lad came out he said: "What's your will, master?"
That he told him, and when the time came he sauntered home as he used.
139. "Well," said the old herd, "I have more news."
"What's that?" said the lad.
The king's daughter says that she will marry no man unless he can loose the knots on the withies on which the dragon's heads are strung. The cook can't do it, and the fourteen fine, full-armed worthy warriors of the king's guard have tried all they can, and no
man amongst them is able to loose the least of them. The king has bidden all the realm to the feast, and they are all feasting now.
"Why did you not go to the feast with the rest?" said the lad.
"I would not go and leave you alone," said the old herd.
140. "What a well-decked wedding-board the king and his daughter have now," said the fisher's son. "I wish we had it here in front of us."
141. "Come here, my darling dog," said he, "and stretch your legs, and don't be lazy. Run to the bride's room, and fetch me the cloth that is spread on the board before the king and the bride and the carrotty cock-eyed cook."
142. Away ran the black dog, and up he went and in he stole to the bride's room. He seized the cloth and gathered it up before them all, and took it and ran to the herd's bothy and laid it on the board between them.
143. "Is there any one at all," said a counsellor that the king had, "who is not here? It is long since I heard it said: 'Strong is a whelp from a guiding breast.' 1 Send to the herds hut, and let us see if he is within or if any one is with him."
144. Away went three of the king's worthy warriors, and when they got to the herd's hut, there they found the herd and a stranger, and every bit
that ought to be on the king's board spread on a cloth between.
Back they went as fast as they could, and told their tale.
145. "I said it once, and I say it now: 'A whelp is strong from a guiding breast,'" said the king's counsellor. "It was a pity to make such a grand wedding for that carrotty-headed cook who can't loose these knots. Go back and fetch the herd."
146. So the well-armed worthy warriors trotted back, and brought the herd, but he could not loose the knots any more than the rest.
147. "I said it before, and I say it once again," said the king's counsellor: "'A whelp is strong from a guiding breast.' Go down and fetch the herd's boy."
148. So three worthy warriors went down to the herd's hut once more, and they said to the lad who sat there: "Who told you to take away all that was on the king's table? Come to the castle."
"I never took it, and I never stirred from here," said he, "and I don't mean to stir."
So the worthy warriors trotted back, and told their tale.
149. "Once more," said the counsellor, "I say that I have heard it said often: 'Strong is a whelp from a guiding breast.'"
"Get up you little band of worthy warriors from the king's guard, and go down and fetch up the herd's boy bound."
150. So the little band of warriors got up and marched down to the herd's hut where the boy sat with his black dog.
"Who told you to take all that ought to be on the king's board?" said they all. "You must come to the castle."
"I did not take the king's dinner," said the lad.
"If you did not take it, your dog did, and your dog is insolent," shouted all that little band of worthy warriors.
"Don't talk," said the captain, "but seize him and bind him, and take him as you were told."
151. "Arise, my puppy," said the fisher's son, "and haul them with the rhyme, and drag them against the rhyme, and out into the puddle at the door."
So the dog got up, and dragged them draggled through the puddle outside the herd's door and the byre.
152. Draggled as they were up went the little band to tell their tale, and the counsellor said: "I don't believe that that cock-eyed cook or the worthy warriors ever did that deed at all. Have I not said it: 'Strong is a whelp from a guiding breast'? Go down, you great band of fourteen well-armed worthy warriors of the king's guard and the bridegroom at your head, and fetch the herd's boy and his dog bound."
153. So the cock-eyed carrotty cook got his great carving knife, and the fourteen full-armed worthy
warriors of the king's guard put on their martial array and marched to the herd's hut where the lad sat in his gray garment with his black dog.
154. "Why did you dare to take all that was on the king's board?" shouted all the great band.
"I did not," said the Gray Lad.
"If you did not your dog did, and he is insolent and ill-bred," said they all at once. "Why did you draggle the worthy warriors who came to fetch you?"
"I did not," said the fisher's son.
"Don't chatter with such a knave," said the bridegroom, "but bind him and bring him as you were bid."
155. "Arise my pup," said the herd's boy, "and seize them, and haul and pull and drag them, with the rhyme, and against the rhyme, and draggle them in the puddle that is outside."
156. So the black dog got up and drove and dragged and pulled and hauled the bridegroom with his bravery and his big knife and the fourteen full-armed worthy warriors of the king's great guard in all their martial array, with the rhyme and against, and up and down and out into the puddle that was at the door of the herd's byre outside.
157. When they got back all dirty and draggled the sage old counsellor said to the king: "Several times have I said that I have often heard it said, and I say it again that it often will be said: 'A pup is strong from a guiding breast.' I don't believe that these draggled people slew the dragon."
158. "Come you," said the king to his gille, "and set in order the coach that we may send for the herd's boy."
159. So the coach was set in order, and sent to the herd's bothy where the lad sat with his black dog in his gray garment.
160. "Get up," said the gille, "the king wants you, and here is the coach come to fetch you."
161. So the lad got up and filled the coach with big stones and muck, and the gille had to go back.
162. Down came the king to see who was in his coach, and he opened the door. But if he did the stones and the muck tumbled out and nearly smothered him. I won't say what I have said," quoth the counsellor, but the best thing to be done now is to go yourself and fetch the herd's boy. So the coach was cleaned, and the king and the king's daughter and the counsellor got into it, and down they drove in state to the herd's hut.
163. When the Gray Lad saw that the king had come, he got up and got into the coach and drove to the king's castle. He got out and tucked up the skirts of his gray garment, and in he went to the room where all in the realm that were able to walk had been gathered, and there lay the dragon's three heads upon three withies, fastened with three knots which no one could loose.
164. So the swarthy, rough-skinned fisher's son, the herd's boy in his gray garment, walked up to the heads, and many who looked at the draggled-tailed
gray garment sniggered and laughed and mocked him as he passed.
165. "Is there no one who can loose these knots?" said he.
Then he took the withies and loosed the knots one after the other, and the cook and the warriors began to quake. 1
166. "Stop," said the king's daughter. "The man that slew the dragon and that I am to marry wants the tip of an ear, and the point of a finger, and a patch from the crown of his head. Sit still and quiet all that are set here about this chamber."
167. She went round the room from man to man, and all put out their hands and felt their ears and scratched their polls, but she never stopped till she got to the lad with the gray garment, who had his hand in his bosom.
168. "Put out your hand," said she.
"My hand is hurt," said he.
169. So the king's daughter snatched his hand and drew it out, and put her own into a pouch, and took out the tip of a little finger, and the tip of an ear, and a lock of hair with the skin of a scalp as big as a coin, and they all fitted.
170. "That's truth," said she. "It was you who slew the dragon, and you who rescued me, and I will never have any other to be bridegroom and lover. I am yours and half the realm while the
king lives, and all the realm when he dies." And everybody shouted for joy except the cook.
171. The cook was hanged at once, and then the lad was to marry the king's daughter.
172. But he asked for two hours' grace, and that he got. Out he went and shook his rusty bridle, and the black steed came. He mounted and rode to the golden castle and blew the whistle, and when the yellow-faced russet lad came out, he said, "What's your will, master?"
173. "The best horse and the best dress in the castle," said the Gray Lad. That he got: the sky-blue pacing palfrey that could fly through the sky, and the glittering glass dress that the carlin had. He combed his hair with the golden comb till gold and silver showered from either side. He washed in the golden basin, and combed his locks with the fine side of the golden comb, and then he was the most beautiful man that the world had seen.
174. When he was thus arrayed, he mounted and rode through the air to the king's castle, and the king's daughter came out to meet him. They went to the castle hall. A churchman was got, and they were married.
175. A great and wonderful wedding was made for them, and they sent me home and gave me neither welcome nor guest-room there.
176. Now, after the fisher's first son had been married for some time to the king's daughter, it so
fell out that she longed greatly for dulse, 1 and she asked the lad to go with her to the strand to seek it. The lad forgot his promise to his father, and they took their way to the sea-shore, where the brown sea-ware was rising and sinking amongst the blue waves, below the deep-dyed dark-green hills of Greece.
But while they were straying and playing and gathering dulse amongst reefs and stones on the ebb, the mermaid rose and made a rush, and seized the lad and shouted:
"It is many a day since you were promised to me, and now I have you perforce," and then she swallowed him up alive.
177. The bride, when she saw what had happened, fled to shore, weeping and wailing in shadow and darkness, sad and tearful and sorrowful for the loss of her married mate. She sat by the shore wringing her hands till the tide rose, and then she went back to the castle where the counsellor was, to ask his aid.
178. What shall I do?" said she. "What shall I do? For a mermaid has taken away my married man, and I am left alone. How shall I find a way to get my man back?"
"This do," said the counsellor. "Go down with all the dresses and braveries and jewellery that
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She sat on a green mound in the gloaming in the mouth of the evening, playing on her harp.
you have, and spread them out by the sea-shore. Take your harp and play."
And much more he said which she did, and I omit in order to avoid telling the story many times as reciters always do when they spin yarns.
179. Down she went with all that she held most preciousdresses and jewels and things of priceand she spread them on the rocks by the sea. She sat on a green mound in the gloaming in the mouth of the evening, playing on her harp beside them.
180. She had not sat long there playing in the dark when the mermaid rose outside the surf, for mermaids are fonder of music than any other creatures, and there she floated, listening; but when the king's daughter saw the mermaid, she stopped.
181. "Play on," said the mermaid.
"No," said she, "not till I see my man again."
So the mermaid opened her great mouth and gaped, and showed the lad's head, and the king's daughter knew that he was alive.
182. "What fine things you have there!" said the mermaid, as she swam close to the shore.
"Yes," said she. "I would give them for my husband."
"Well, then, play on," said the mermaid.
183. So the lady sat on the green mound and played, and the mermaid lay in the brown sea-ware and listened, and opened her mouth and gaped, and showed the lad to the waist, and swallowed him down again.
184. Then the lady stopped, and the mermaid said again:
"What fine things you have there on the rocks!"
"Yes," said she, "I would give them all for my husband."
"Well, then, play on," said the mermaid.
185. So the lady played on, and the mermaid rolled amongst the brown sea-ware in the blue water amongst the waves, and she opened her mouth once more and took out the lad altogether, and placed him upon her open palm.
186. But he, when he was free, thought of the falcon, and was a falcon, and flew and darted to shore, and was free.
187. But when the mermaid saw that her prey was gone,, she made a snatch at the wife and took her away instead.
188. When the lad saw that the mermaid had taken away his wife, he was wild with grief, and mad with rage, and did not know what to do, so he went to the counsellor and asked his aid.
189. "Well," said the counsellor, "there is but one way to win your wife, and that is to take the mermaid's life."
"And how is that to be done?" said the lad.
"The mermaid's life," said the counsellor, "is not in her, and it is easy to take. It is in an egg, which is in a fish, which is in a duck, which is in a ram, which is in a wood, under a house on an island, in a lake."
190. Now the lad thought that the first thing to be done was to get to the loch. So he went to his golden castle and donned his glittering glass dress, and mounted the sky-blue palfrey, and took his gold-hilted glaive of light in his hand, and his dress became him well.
191. He rode and rode till he reached the loch, and then at a bound the horse was in the island.
192. He found the house in a wood, and he dug under the stance, and found a flag-stone.
193. He raised it and out rushed a ram.
194. So he thought of the wolf, and was a wolf, and he chased the ram all round the island, and caught and slew it.
195. But when the ram was slain and torn open, a duck flapped out of his inside, and flew swiftly off to the sky.
196. Then he thought of the falcon, and was a falcon, and flew a swift flight till he soared over the loch above the duck, and then he stooped and struck.
197. But as he did, a fish fell from the duck out into the loch, and the falcon flew to shore, and was a man.
198. But the lad could not think what to do next.
199. So he thought of the fox, and was a fox, and he found out an otter's den on the island, and seized the cubs. 1
200. "Let go my cubs," said the otter to the fox, "and I will be your faithful ally for ever."
"Well, then," said the fox, "fetch me the fish that fell in the loch from the duck just now."
201. So the otter dived out into the water like an oiled stick, and rose quickly with a trout.
202. But out of the trout's mouth rolled an egg, and the lad seized it, and set his foot on it amongst the stones on the shore.
203. Then the mermaid rose in the loch, and roared a roar, and screamed a yell, and cried out: "Break not the egg, and you shall have all you ask."
204. "Give back my wife," said the lad. So the mermaid swam to shore and opened her mouth, and the wife sprang on dry land, safe and sound.
205. When he got her hand in his, he crushed the egg with his foot against the stones, and the mermaid was a heap on the rocks.
206. There was joy and delight in the king's castle that night, for the king's daughter was safe, and the dragon was slain, and the mermaid dead, and when the lad told how he had slain the great carlin, and the three big giants with their five heads and five humps and five throttles apiece, and how he had saved the king's cattle, and gained three castles, then the king gave him great honour and half his realm, and he was a mighty man with the monarch from that day forth, and, as they say in the Highlands, there I left them, but only to come back to them after awhile.
70:1 From the Fisher and the Gray Lad (with a bit inserted).
71:1 Is làidir cuilean a uchd treòir.
76:1 In another version, he loosens three sons of the King of Sorcha (light) whom he had conquered and bound.
78:1 A fucus which grows upon rocks and upon other sea-ware, and comes above water at low tide. It is good to eat, and tastes somewhat like nuts and sea-water.
81:1 As Donald Macphie related.