Until the white moon rose above the trees; until the hounds went out hunting for themselves; until the foxes came down and hid in the hedges, waiting for the cocks and hens to stir out at the first light--so long did the King of Ireland's Son stay huddled in the dry water-tank.
By that time he was stiff and sore and hungry. He saw a great white owl flying towards the tank. The owl perched on the edge and stared at the King's Son. "Have you a message for me?" he asked. The owl shrugged with its wings three times. He thought that meant a message. He got out of the tank and prepared to follow the owl. It flew slowly and near the ground, so he was able to follow it along a path through the wood.
The King's Son thought the owl was bringing him to a place where Fedelma was, and that he would get food there, and shelter for the rest of the night. And sure enough the owl flew to a little house in the wood. The King's Son looked through the window and he saw a room lighted with candles and a table with plates and dishes and cups, with bread and meat and wine. And he saw at the fire a young woman spinning at a spinning wheel, and her back was towards him, and her hair was the same as Fedelma's. Then he lifted the latch of the door and went very joyfully into the little house.
But when the young woman at the spinning wheel turned round he saw that she was not Fedelma at ail. She had a little mouth, a long and a hooked nose, and her eyes looked cross-ways at a person. The thread she was spinning she bit with her long teeth, and she said, "You are welcome here, Prince."
"And who are you?" said the King of Ireland's Son. "Aefa is my name," said she, "I am the eldest and the wisest daughter of the Enchanter of the Black Back-lands. My father is preparing a task for you," said she, "and it will be a terrible task, and there will be no one to help you with it, so you will lose your head surely. And what I would advise you to do is to escape out of this country at once."
"And how can I escape?" said the King of Ireland's Son, "There's only one way to escape," said she, "and that is for you to take the Slight Red Steed that my father has secured under nine locks. That steed is the only creature that can bring you to your own country. I,rill show you how to get it and then I will ride to your home with you."
"And why should you do that?" said the King of Ireland's Son.
"Because I would marry you," said Aefa.
"But," said he, "if I live at all Fedelma is the one I will marry."
No sooner did he say the words than Aefa screamed out, "Seize him, my cat-o'-the-mountain. Seize him and hold him." Then the cat-o'-the-mountain that was under the table sprang across the room and fixed himself on his shoulder. He ran out of the house. All the time he was running the cat-o'-the-mountain was trying to tear his eyes out. He made his way through woods and thickets, and mighty glad he was when he saw the tank at the gable-end of the house. The cat-'o-the-mountain dropped from his back then. He got into the tank and waited and waited. No message came from Fedelma. He was a long time there, stiff and sore and hungry, before the sun rose and the Enchanter of the Black Back-Lands came out of the house.