The King of Ireland's Son did not leave the Castle the next day, but stayed to question those who came to it about the Sword of Light. And some had heard of the Sword of Light and some had not heard of it. In the afternoon he was in the chambers of the Castle and he watched his two foster-brothers, Dermott and Downal, the sons of Caintigern, the Queen, playing chess. They played the game upon his board and with his figures. And when he went up to them and told them they had permission to use the board and the figures, they said, "We had forgotten that you owned these things." The King's Son saw that everything in the Castle was coming into the possession of his foster-brothers.
He found another board with other chess-men and he played a game with the King's Steward. And Art said, "The coming of the King of the Cats into King Connal's Dominion is a story still to be told.
"To your father's Son in all truth be it told "--
What should a goat do but ramble down laneways, wander across fields, stray along hedges and stay to rest under shady trees? All this the Hag's goat did. But at last he brought the King of the Cats to the foot of the Hill of Horns.
And what was the Hill of Horns like, asks my kind foster-child. It was hills of stones on the top of a hill of stones. Only a goat could foot it from pebble to stone, from stone to boulder, from boulder Ko crag, and from crag to mountain-shoulder. It was well and not ill what the Hag's goat did. But then thunder sounded; lightning struck fire out of the stones, the wind mixed itself with the rain and the tempest pelted cat and goat. The goat stood on a mountain-shoulder. The wind rushed up from the bottom and carried the companions to the top of the Hill of Horns. Down sprang the cat. But the goat stood on his hind-legs to butt back at the wind. The wind caught him between the beard and the under-quarters and swept him from the top and down the other side of the hill (and what happened to the Hag's goat after this I never heard). The King of the Cats put his claws into the crevices of a standing stone and held to it with great tenacity. And then, when the wind abated and he looked across his shoulder, he found that he was standing beside the nest of the Eagle-Emperor.
It was a hollow edged with rocks, and round that hollow were scattered the horns of the deer and goats that the Eagle-Emperor had carried off. And in the hollow there was a calf and a hare and a salmon. The King of the Cats sprang into the Eagle-Emperor's nest. First he ate the salmon. Then he stretched himself between the hare and the calf and waited for the Eagle-Emperor.
At last he appeared. Down he came to the nest making circles in the air. He lighted on the rocky rim. The King of the Cats rose with body bent for the spring, and if the Eagle-Emperor was not astonished at his appearance it was because an Eagle can never be astonished.
A brave man would be glad if he could have seen the Eagle-Emperor as he crouched there on the rock rim of his nest. He spread down his wings till they were great strong shields. He bent down his outspread tail. He bent down his neck so that his eyes might look into the creature that faced him. And his cruel, curved, heavy beak was ready for the stroke.
But the King of the Cats sprang into the air. The Eagle lifted himself up but the Cat came down on his broad back. The Eagle-Emperor screamed his war-scream and flew off the hill. He struck at the King of the Cats with the backs of his broad wings. Then he plunged down. On the stones below he would tear his enemy with beak and claws.
It was the Cat that reached the ground. As the Eagle went to strike at him he sprang again and tore the Eagle's breast. Then the Eagle-Emperor caught the King of the Cats in his claws and flew up again, screaming his battle-scream. Drops of blood from both fell on the ground. The Eagle had not a conqueror's grip on his enemy and the King of the Cats was able to tear at him.
It happened that Curoi, King of the Munster Fairies, was marching at the head of his troop to play a game of hurling with the Fianna of Ireland, captained by Fergus, and for the hand of Aine', the daughter of Mananaun, the Lord of the Sea. Just when the ball was about to be thrown in the air the Eagle-Emperor and the King of the Cats were seen mixed together in their struggle. One troop took the side of the Eagle and the other took the side of the Cat. The men of the country came up and took sides too. Then the men began to fight amongst themselves and some were left dead on the ground. And this went on until there were hosts of the men of Ireland fighting each other on account of the Eagle-Emperor and the King of the Cats. The King of the Fairies and the Chief of the Fianna marched their men away to a hill top where they might watch the battle in the air and the battles on the ground. "If this should go on," said Curoi, "our troops will join in and men and Fairies will be slaughtered. We must end the combat in the air." Saying this he took up the hurling-ball and flung it at the Cat and Eagle. Both came down on the ground. The Cat was about to spring, the Eagle was about to pounce, when Curoi darted between them and struck both with his spear. Eagle and Cat became figures of stone. And there they are now, a Stone Eagle with his wings outspread and a Stone Cat with his teeth bared and his paws raised. And the Eagle-Emperor and the King of the Cats will remain like that until Curoi strikes them again with his fairy-spear.
When the Cat and the Eagle were turned into stone the men of the country wondered for a while and then they went away. And the Fairies of Munster and the Fianna of Ireland played the hurling match for the hand of Aine' the daughter of Mananaun who is Lord of the Sea, and what the result of that hurling match was is told in another book.
And that ends my history of the coming into Ire-land of the King of the Cats.
The King of Ireland's Son left Art and went into an unused room in the Castle to search for a little bell that he might put upon the Slight Red Steed. He found the little bell, but it fell out of his hand and slipped through a crack in the floor. He went and looked through the crack. He saw below a room and in it was Caintigern, the Queen, and beside her were two women in the cloaks of enchantresses. And when he looked again he knew the two of them--they were Aefa and Gilveen, the daughters of the enchanter of the Black Back-Lands and Fedelma's sisters. "And will my two sons come to rule over their father's dominion?" he heard Caintigern ask.
"The Prince who gains the Sword of Light will rule over his father's dominion," Aefa said.
"Then one of my sons must get the Sword of Light," Caintigern said. "Tell me where they must go to get knowledge of where it is."
"Only the Gobaun Saor knows where the Sword of Light is," said Aefa.
"The Gobaun Saor! Can he be seen by men?" said Caintigern.
"He can be seen," said Aefa. "And there is one--the Little Sage of the Mountain--who can tell what road to go to find the Gobaun Saor."
"Then," said Caintigern, "my two sons, Dermott and Downal, will ride out tomorrow to find the Little Sage of the Mountain, and the Gobaun Saor, so that one of them may find the Sword of Light and come to rule over his father's dominion."
When the King of Ireland's Son heard that, he went to the stable where the Slight Red Steed was, and put the bridle upon him and rode towards the Hill of Horns, on one side of which was the house thatched with the one great wing of a bird, where the Little Sage of the Mountain lived.