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The Town of the Red Castle

Flann was the name that the Old Woman of Beare gave to Gilly of the Goatskin when he came back to tell her that the Swan of Endless Tales had been hatched out of the Crystal Egg. He went from her house then and came to where the King of Ireland's Son waited for him. The two comrades went along a well-traveled road. As they went on they fell in with men driving herds of ponies, men carrying packs on their backs, men with tools for working gold and silver, bronze and iron. Every man whom they asked said, "We are going to the Town of the Red Castle, and to the great fair that will be held there." The King's Son and Flann thought they should go to the Town of the Red Castle too, for where so many people would be, there was a chance of hearing what went before and what came after the Unique Tale. So they went on.

And when they had come to a well that was under a great rock those whom they were with halted. They said it was the custom for the merchants and sellers to wait there for a day and to go into the Town of the Red Castle the day following. "On this day," they said, "the people of the Town celebrate the Festival of Midsummer, and they do not like a great company of people to go into their Town until the Festival is over.

" The King of Ireland's Son and Flann went on, and they were let into the town. The people had lighted great fires in their market-place and they were driving their cattle through the fires: "If there be evil on you, may it burn, may it burn," they were crying. They were afraid that witches and enchanters might come into the town with the merchants and the sellers, and that was the reason they did not permit a great company to enter.

The fires in all their houses had been quenched that day, and they might not be lighted except from the fires the cattle had gone through. The fires were left blazing high and the King's Son and Flann spent hours watching them, and watching the crowds that were around.

Then the time came to take fire to the houses. They who came for fire were all young maidens. Each came into the light of one of the great fires, took coals from a fire that had burnt low, placed them in a new earthen vessel and went away. Flann thought that all the maidens were beautiful and wonderful, although the King's Son told him that some were black-faced, and some crop- headed and some hunchbacked. Then a maiden came, who was so high above the rest that Flann had no words to speak of her.

She had silver on her head and silver on her arms, and the people around the fires all bowed to her. She had black, black hair and she had a smiling face--not happily smiling, but proudly smiling. Flann thought that a star had bent down with her. And when she had taken the fire and had gone away, Flann said, "She is surely the King's daughter!"

"She is," said the King of Ireland's Son. "The people here have spoken her name." "What is her name?" asked Flann. "It is Lassarina," said the King's Son, "Flame-of-Wine."

"Shall we see her again?" said Flann.

"That I do not know," said the King's Son. "Come now, and let us ask the people here if they have knowledge of the Unique Tale."

"Wait," said Flann, "they are talking about Princess Flame-of-Wine." He did not move, but listened to what was said. All said that the King's daughter was proud. Some said she was beautiful, but others answered that her lips were thin, and her eyes were mocking. No other maidens came for fire. Flann stood before the one that still blazed, and thought and thought. The King's Son asked many if they had knowledge of the Unique Tale, but no one had heard of it. Some told him that there would be merchants and sellers from many parts of the world at the fair that would be held on the morrow, and that there would be a chance of meeting one who had knowledge of it. Then the King's Son went with one who brought him to a Brufir's--that is, to a House of Hospitality maintained by the King for strangers. As for Flann, he sat looking into the fire until it died down, and then he slept before it.

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