They came, they flew down, and when they touched the ground they transformed themselves into three maidens and went to bathe in the lake. The one who carried the green scarf left her swanskin under a bush. The King's Son took it and hid it in a hollow tree.
Two of the maidens soon came out of the water, put on their swanskins and flew away as swans. The younger maiden stayed for a while in the lake. Then she came out and began to search for her swanskin. She searched and searched, and at last the King's Son heard her say, "I would do anything in the world for the creature who would find my swanskin for me." Then he came from where he was hiding and gave her the swanskin. "I am the Son of the King of Ireland," he said, "and I want you to show me the way to your father's dominion."
"I would prefer to do anything else for you," said the maiden. "I do not want anything else," said the King of Ireland's Son.
"If I show you how to get there will you be content?"
"I shall be content."
"You must never let my father know that I showed you the way. And he must not know when you come that you are the King of Ireland's Son."
"I will not tell him you showed me the way and I will not let him know who I am."
Now that she had the swanskin she was able to transform herself. She whistled and a blue falcon came down and perched on a tree. "That falcon is my own bird," said she. "Follow where it flies and you will come to my father's house. And now good-by to you. You will be in danger, but I will try to help you. Fedelma is my name." She rose up as a swan and flew away.
The blue falcon went flying from bush to bush and from rock to rock. The night came, but in the morning the blue falcon was seen again. The King's Son followed, and at last he saw a house before him. He went in, and there, seated on a chair of gold was the man who seemed so tall when he threw down the cards upon the heap of stones. The Enchanter did not recognize the King's Son without his hawk and his hound and the fine clothes he used to wear. He asked who he was and the King's Son said he was a youth who had just finished an apprenticeship to a wizard. "And," said he, "I have heard that you have three fair daughters, and I came to strive to gain one of them for a wife."
"In that case," said the Enchanter of the Black Back-Lands, "you will have to do three tasks for me. If you are able to do them I will give you one of my three daughters in marriage. If you fail to do any one of them you will lose your head. Are you willing to make the trial?"
"I am willing," said the King of Ireland's Son.
"Then I shall give you your first task to-morrow. It is unlucky that you came to-day. In this country we eat a meal only once a week, and we have had our meal this morning."
"It is all the same to me," said the King's Son, "I can do without food or drink for a month without any hardship."
"I suppose you can do without sleep too?" said the Enchanter of the Black Back-Lands.
"Easily," said the King of Ireland's Son.
"That is good. Come outside now, and I'll show you your bed." He took the King's Son outside and showed him a dry narrow water-tank at the gable end of the house. "There is where you are to sleep" said the Enchanter. "Tuck yourself into it now and be ready for your first task at the rising of the sun."
The King of Ireland's Son went into the little tank. He was uncomfortable there you may be sure. But in the middle of the night Fedelma came and brought him into a fine room where he ate and then slept until the sun was about to rise in the morning. She called him and he went outside and laid himself down in the water-tank.
As soon as the sun rose the Enchanter of the Black Back-Lands came out of the house and stood beside the water-tank. "Come now," said he, "and I will show you the first task you have to perform." He took him to where a herd of goats was grazing. Away from the goats was a fawn with white feet and little bright horns. The fawn saw them, bounded into the air, and raced away to the wood as quickly as any arrow that a man ever shot from a bow.
"That is Whitefoot the Fawn," said the Enchanter of the Black Back-Lands. "She grazes with my goats but none of my gillies can bring her into my goat-house. Here is your first task--run down Whitefoot the Fawn and bring her with my goats into the goat-shelter this evening." When he said that the Enchanter of the Black Back-Lands went away laughing to himself.
"Good-by, my life," said the King of Ireland's Son, "I might as well try to catch an eagle on the wing as to run down the deer that has gone out of sight already." He sat down on the ground and his despair was great. Then his name was called and he saw Fedelma coming towards him. She looked at him as though she were in dread, and said, "What task has my father set you?" He told her and then she smiled. "I was in dread it would be a more terrible task," she said. "This one is easy. I can help you to catch Whitefoot the Fawn. But first eat what I have brought you."
She put down bread and meat and wine, and they sat down and he ate and drank. "I thought he might set you this task," she said, "and so I brought you something from my father's store of enchanted things. Here are the Shoes of Swiftness. With these on your feet you can run down Whitefoot the Fawn. But you must catch her before she has gone very far away. Remember that she must be brought in when the goats are going into their shelter at sunset. You will have to walk back for all the time you must keep hold of her silver horns. Hasten now. Run her down with the Shoes of Swiftness and then lay hold of her horns. Above all things Whitefoot dreads the loss of her silver horns."
He thanked Fedelma. He put on the Shoes of Swiftness and went into the wood. Now he could go as the eagle flies. He found Whitefoot the Fawn drinking at the Raven's pool.
When she saw him she went from thicket to thicket. The Shoes of Swiftness were hardly any use to him in these shut-in places. At last he beat her from the last thicket. It was the hour of noon-tide then. There was a clear plain before them and with the Shoes of Swiftness he ran her down. There were tears in the Fawn's eyes and he knew she was troubled with the dread of losing her silver horns.
He kept his hands on the horns and they went back over miles of plain and pasture, bog and wood. The hours were going quicker than they were going. When 'he came within the domain of the Enchanter of the Black Back-Lands he saw the goats going quickly before him. They were hurrying from their pastures to the goat-shelter, one stopping, maybe, to bite the top of a hedge and another giving this one a blow with her horns to hurry her on. "By your silver horns, we must go faster," said the King of Ireland's Son to the Fawn. They went more quickly then.
He saw the Enchanter of the Black Back-Lands waiting at the goat-house, now counting the goats that came along and now looking at the sun. When he saw the King of Ireland's Son coming with his capture he was so angry that he struck an old full-bearded goat that had stopped to rub itself. The goat reared up and struck him with his horns. "Well," said the Enchanter of the Black Back-Lands, "you have performed your first task, I see. You are a greater enchanter than I thought you were. Whitefoot the Fawn can go in with my goats. Go back now to your own sleeping-place. To-morrow I'll come to you early and give you your second task."
The King of Ireland's Son went back and into the dry water-tank. He was tired with his day's journey after Whitefoot the Fawn. It was his hope that Fedelma would come to him and give him shelter for that night.