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Princess Finola And The Dwarf






Source: Irish Fairy Tales

A long, long time ago there lived in a little hut in the midst of a
bare, brown, lonely moor an old woman and a young girl. The old woman
was withered, sour-tempered, and dumb. The young girl was as sweet and
as fresh as an opening rosebud, and her voice was as musical as the
whisper of a stream in the woods in the hot days of summer. The little
hut, made of branches woven closely together, was shaped like a
beehive. In the centre of the hut a fire burned night and day from
year's end to year's end, though it was never touched or tended by
human hand. In the cold days and nights of winter it gave out light
and heat that made the hut cosy and warm, but in the summer nights and
days it gave out light only. With their heads to the wall of the hut
and their feet towards the fire were two sleeping-couches--one of
plain woodwork, in which slept the old woman; the other was Finola's.
It was of bog-oak, polished as a looking-glass, and on it were carved
flowers and birds of all kinds, that gleamed and shone in the light
of the fire. This couch was fit for a princess, and a princess Finola
was, though she did not know it herself.

Outside the hut the bare, brown, lonely moor stretched for miles on
every side, but towards the east it was bounded by a range of
mountains that looked to Finola blue in the daytime, but which put on
a hundred changing colours as the sun went down. Nowhere was a house
to be seen, nor a tree, nor a flower, nor sign of any living thing.
From morning till night, nor hum of bee, nor song of bird, nor voice
of man, nor any sound fell on Finola's ear. When the storm was in the
air the great waves thundered on the shore beyond the mountains, and
the wind shouted in the glens; but when it sped across the moor it
lost its voice, and passed as silently as the dead. At first the
silence frightened Finola, but she got used to it after a time, and
often broke it by talking to herself and singing.

The only other person beside the old woman Finola ever saw was a dumb
dwarf who, mounted on a broken-down horse, came once a month to the
hut, bringing with him a sack of corn for the old woman and Finola.
Although he couldn't speak to her, Finola was always glad to see the
dwarf and his old horse, and she used to give them cake made with
her own white hands. As for the dwarf he would have died for the
little princess, he was so much in love with her, and often and often
his heart was heavy and sad as he thought of her pining away in the
lonely moor.

It chanced that he came one day, and she did not, as usual, come out
to greet him. He made signs to the old woman, but she took up a stick
and struck him, and beat his horse and drove him away; but as he was
leaving he caught a glimpse of Finola at the door of the hut, and saw
that she was crying. This sight made him so very miserable that he
could think of nothing else but her sad face that he had always seen
so bright, and he allowed the old horse to go on without minding where
he was going. Suddenly he heard a voice saying: "It is time for you to
come."

The dwarf looked, and right before him, at the foot of a green hill,
was a little man not half as big as himself, dressed in a green jacket
with brass buttons, and a red cap and tassel.

"It is time for you to come," he said the second time; "but you are
welcome, anyhow. Get off your horse and come in with me, that I may
touch your lips with the wand of speech, that we may have a talk
together."

The dwarf got off his horse and followed the little man through a hole
in the side of a green hill. The hole was so small that he had to go
on his hands and knees to pass through it, and when he was able to
stand he was only the same height as the little fairyman. After
walking three or four steps they were in a splendid room, as bright as
day. Diamonds sparkled in the roof as stars sparkle in the sky when
the night is without a cloud. The roof rested on golden pillars, and
between the pillars were silver lamps, but their light was dimmed by
that of the diamonds. In the middle of the room was a table, on which
were two golden plates and two silver knives and forks, and a brass
bell as big as a hazelnut, and beside the table were two little chairs
covered with blue silk and satin.


side of a green hill"--p. 3.]

"Take a chair," said the fairy, "and I will ring for the wand of
speech."

The dwarf sat down, and the fairyman rang the little brass bell, and
in came a little weeny dwarf no bigger than your hand.

"Bring me the wand of speech," said the fairy, and the weeny dwarf
bowed three times and walked out backwards, and in a minute he
returned, carrying a little black wand with a red berry at the top of
it, and, giving it to the fairy, he bowed three times and walked out
backwards as he had done before.

The little man waved the rod three times over the dwarf, and struck
him once on the right shoulder and once on the left shoulder, and
then touched his lips with the red berry, and said: "Speak!"

The dwarf spoke, and he was so rejoiced at hearing the sound of his
own voice that he danced about the room.

"Who are you at all, at all?" said he to the fairy.

"Who is yourself?" said the fairy. "But come, before we have any talk
let us have something to eat, for I am sure you are hungry."

Then they sat down to table, and the fairy rang the little brass bell
twice, and the weeny dwarf brought in two boiled snails in their
shells, and when they had eaten the snails he brought in a dormouse,
and when they had eaten the dormouse he brought in two wrens, and when
they had eaten the wrens he brought in two nuts full of wine, and they
became very merry, and the fairyman sang "Cooleen dhas," and the dwarf
sang "The little blackbird of the glen."

"Did you ever hear the 'Foggy Dew?'" said the fairy.

"No," said the dwarf.

"Well, then, I'll give it to you; but we must have some more wine."

And the wine was brought, and he sang the "Foggy Dew," and the dwarf
said it was the sweetest song he had ever heard, and that the
fairyman's voice would coax the birds off the bushes.

"You asked me who I am?" said the fairy.

"I did," said the dwarf.

"And I asked you who is yourself?"

"You did," said the dwarf.

"And who are you, then?"

"Well, to tell the truth, I don't know," said the dwarf, and he
blushed like a rose.

"Well, tell me what you know about yourself."

"I remember nothing at all," said the dwarf, "before the day I found
myself going along with a crowd of all sorts of people to the great
fair of the Liffey. We had to pass by the king's palace on our way,
and as we were passing the king sent for a band of jugglers to come
and show their tricks before him. I followed the jugglers to look on,
and when the play was over the king called me to him, and asked me who
I was and where I came from. I was dumb then, and couldn't answer; but
even if I could speak I could not tell him what he wanted to know, for
I remember nothing of myself before that day. Then the king asked the
jugglers, but they knew nothing about me, and no one knew anything,
and then the king said he would take me into his service; and the only
work I have to do is to go once a month with a bag of corn to the hut
in the lonely moor."

"And there you fell in love with the little princess," said the fairy,
winking at the dwarf.

The poor dwarf blushed twice as much as he had done before.

"You need not blush," said the fairy; "it is a good man's case. And
now tell me, truly, do you love the princess, and what would you give
to free her from the spell of enchantment that is over her?"

"I would give my life," said the dwarf.

"Well, then, listen to me," said the fairy. "The Princess Finola was
banished to the lonely moor by the king, your master. He killed her
father, who was the rightful king, and would have killed Finola, only
he was told by an old sorceress that if he killed her he would die
himself on the same day, and she advised him to banish her to the
lonely moor, and she said she would fling a spell of enchantment over
it, and that until the spell was broken Finola could not leave the
moor. And the sorceress also promised that she would send an old woman
to watch over the princess by night and by day, so that no harm should
come to her; but she told the king that he himself should select a
messenger to take food to the hut, and that he should look out for
some one who had never seen or heard of the princess, and whom he
could trust never to tell anyone anything about her; and that is the
reason he selected you."

"Since you know so much," said the dwarf, "can you tell me who I am,
and where I came from?"

"You will know that time enough," said the fairy. "I have given you
back your speech. It will depend solely on yourself whether you will
get back your memory of who and what you were before the day you
entered the king's service. But are you really willing to try and
break the spell of enchantment and free the princess?"

"I am," said the dwarf.

"Whatever it will cost you?"

"Yes, if it cost me my life," said the dwarf; "but tell me, how can
the spell be broken?"

"Oh, it is easy enough to break the spell if you have the weapons,"
said the fairy.

"And what are they, and where are they?" said the dwarf.

"The spear of the shining haft and the dark blue blade and the silver
shield," said the fairy. "They are on the farther bank of the Mystic
Lake in the Island of the Western Seas. They are there for the man who
is bold enough to seek them. If you are the man who will bring them
back to the lonely moor you will only have to strike the shield three
times with the haft, and three times with the blade of the spear, and
the silence of the moor will be broken for ever, the spell of
enchantment will be removed, and the princess will be free."

"I will set out at once," said the dwarf, jumping from his chair.

"And whatever it cost you," said the fairy, "will you pay the price?"

"I will," said the dwarf.

"Well, then, mount your horse, give him his head, and he will take you
to the shore opposite the Island of the Mystic Lake. You must cross to
the island on his back, and make your way through the water-steeds
that swim around the island night and day to guard it; but woe betide
you if you attempt to cross without paying the price, for if you do
the angry water-steeds will rend you and your horse to pieces. And
when you come to the Mystic Lake you must wait until the waters are as
red as wine, and then swim your horse across it, and on the farther
side you will find the spear and shield; but woe betide you if you
attempt to cross the lake before you pay the price, for if you do, the
black Cormorants of the Western Seas will pick the flesh from your
bones."

"What is the price?" said the dwarf.

"You will know that time enough," said the fairy; "but now go, and
good luck go with you."

The dwarf thanked the fairy, and said good-bye! He then threw the
reins on his horse's neck, and started up the hill, that seemed to
grow bigger and bigger as he ascended, and the dwarf soon found that
what he took for a hill was a great mountain. After travelling all the
day, toiling up by steep crags and heathery passes, he reached the top
as the sun was setting in the ocean, and he saw far below him out in
the waters the island of the Mystic Lake.

He began his descent to the shore, but long before he reached it the
sun had set, and darkness, unpierced by a single star, dropped upon
the sea. The old horse, worn out by his long and painful journey, sank
beneath him, and the dwarf was so tired that he rolled off his back
and fell asleep by his side.

He awoke at the breaking of the morning, and saw that he was almost at
the water's edge. He looked out to sea, and saw the island, but
nowhere could he see the water-steeds, and he began to fear he must
have taken a wrong course in the night, and that the island before him
was not the one he was in search of. But even while he was so thinking
he heard fierce and angry snortings, and, coming swiftly from the
island to the shore, he saw the swimming and prancing steeds.
Sometimes their heads and manes only were visible, and sometimes,
rearing, they rose half out of the water, and, striking it with their
hoofs, churned it into foam, and tossed the white spray to the skies.
As they approached nearer and nearer their snortings became more
terrible, and their nostrils shot forth clouds of vapour. The dwarf
trembled at the sight and sound, and his old horse, quivering in every
limb, moaned piteously, as if in pain. On came the steeds, until they
almost touched the shore, then rearing, they seemed about to spring on
to it. The frightened dwarf turned his head to fly, and as he did so
he heard the twang of a golden harp, and right before him who should
he see but the little man of the hills, holding a harp in one hand and
striking the strings with the other.

"Are you ready to pay the price?" said he, nodding gaily to the
dwarf.

As he asked the question, the listening water-steeds snorted more
furiously than ever.

"Are you ready to pay the price?" said the little man a second time.

A shower of spray, tossed on shore by the angry steeds, drenched the
dwarf to the skin, and sent a cold shiver to his bones, and he was so
terrified that he could not answer.

"For the third and last time, are you ready to pay the price?" asked
the fairy, as he flung the harp behind him and turned to depart.

When the dwarf saw him going he thought of the little princess in the
lonely moor, and his courage came back, and he answered bravely:

"Yes, I am ready."

The water-steeds, hearing his answer, and snorting with rage, struck
the shore with their pounding hoofs.

"Back to your waves!" cried the little harper; and as he ran his
fingers across his lyre, the frightened steeds drew back into the
waters.

"What is the price?" asked the dwarf.

"Your right eye," said the fairy; and before the dwarf could say a
word, the fairy scooped out the eye with his finger, and put it into
his pocket.

The dwarf suffered most terrible agony; but he resolved to bear it for
the sake of the little princess. Then the fairy sat down on a rock at
the edge of the sea, and, after striking a few notes, he began to play
the "Strains of Slumber."

The sound crept along the waters, and the steeds, so ferocious a
moment before, became perfectly still. They had no longer any motion
of their own, and they floated on the top of the tide like foam before
a breeze.

"Now," said the fairy, as he led the dwarf's horse to the edge of the
tide.

The dwarf urged the horse into the water, and once out of his depth,
the old horse struck out boldly for the island. The sleeping
water-steeds drifted helplessly against him, and in a short time he
reached the island safely, and he neighed joyously as his hoofs
touched solid ground.

The dwarf rode on and on, until he came to a bridle-path, and
following this, it led him up through winding lanes, bordered with
golden furze that filled the air with fragrance, and brought him to
the summit of the green hills that girdled and looked down on the
Mystic Lake. Here the horse stopped of his own accord, and the dwarf's
heart beat quickly as his eye rested on the lake, that, clipped round
by the ring of hills, seemed in the breezeless and sunlit air--

"As still as death,
And as bright as life can be."

After gazing at it for a long time, he dismounted, and lay at his ease
in the pleasant grass. Hour after hour passed, but no change came over
the face of the waters, and when the night fell sleep closed the
eyelids of the dwarf.

The song of the lark awoke him in the early morning, and, starting up,
he looked at the lake, but its waters were as bright as they had been
the day before.

Towards midday he beheld what he thought was a black cloud sailing
across the sky from east to west. It seemed to grow larger as it came
nearer and nearer, and when it was high above the lake he saw it was a
huge bird, the shadow of whose outstretched wings darkened the waters
of the lake; and the dwarf knew it was one of the Cormorants of the
Western Seas. As it descended slowly, he saw that it held in one of
its claws a branch of a tree larger than a full-grown oak, and laden
with clusters of ripe red berries. It alighted at some distance from
the dwarf, and, after resting for a time, it began to eat the berries
and to throw the stones into the lake, and wherever a stone fell a
bright red stain appeared in the water. As he looked more closely at
the bird the dwarf saw that it had all the signs of old age, and he
could not help wondering how it was able to carry such a heavy tree.

Later in the day, two other birds, as large as the first, but younger,
came up from the west and settled down beside him. They also ate the
berries, and throwing the stones into the lake it was soon as red as
wine.

When they had eaten all the berries, the young birds began to pick the
decayed feathers off the old bird and to smooth his plumage. As soon
as they had completed their task, he rose slowly from the hill and
sailed out over the lake, and dropping down on the waters, dived
beneath them. In a moment he came to the surface, and shot up into the
air with a joyous cry, and flew off to the west in all the vigour of
renewed youth, followed by the other birds.

When they had gone so far that they were like specks in the sky, the
dwarf mounted his horse and descended towards the lake.

He was almost at the margin, and in another minute would have plunged
in, when he heard a fierce screaming in the air, and before he had
time to look up, the three birds were hovering over the lake.

The dwarf drew back frightened.

The birds wheeled over his head, and then, swooping down, they flew
close to the water, covering it with their wings, and uttering harsh
cries.

Then, rising to a great height, they folded their wings and dropped
headlong, like three rocks, on the lake, crashing its surface, and
scattering a wine-red shower upon the hills.[1]

Then the dwarf remembered what the fairy told him, that if he
attempted to swim the lake, without paying the price, the three
Cormorants of the Western Seas would pick the flesh off his bones. He
knew not what to do, and was about to turn away, when he heard once
more the twang of the golden harp, and the little fairy of the hills
stood before him.

"Faint heart never won fair lady," said the little harper. "Are you
ready to pay the price? The spear and shield are on the opposite
bank, and the Princess Finola is crying this moment in the lonely
moor."

At the mention of Finola's name the dwarf's heart grew strong.

"Yes," he said; "I am ready--win or die. What is the price?"

"Your left eye," said the fairy. And as soon as said he scooped out
the eye, and put it in his pocket.

The poor blind dwarf almost fainted with pain.

"It's your last trial," said the fairy, "and now do what I tell you.
Twist your horse's mane round your right hand, and I will lead him to
the water. Plunge in, and fear not. I gave you back your speech. When
you reach the opposite bank you will get back your memory, and you
will know who and what you are."

Then the fairy led the horse to the margin of the lake.

"In with you now, and good luck go with you," said the fairy.

The dwarf urged the horse. He plunged into the lake, and went down and
down until his feet struck the bottom. Then he began to ascend, and as
he came near the surface of the water the dwarf thought he saw a
glimmering light, and when he rose above the water he saw the bright
sun shining and the green hills before him, and he shouted with joy
at finding his sight restored.

But he saw more. Instead of the old horse he had ridden into the lake
he was bestride a noble steed, and as the steed swam to the bank the
dwarf felt a change coming over himself, and an unknown vigour in his
limbs.

When the steed touched the shore he galloped up the hillside, and on
the top of the hill was a silver shield, bright as the sun, resting
against a spear standing upright in the ground.

The dwarf jumped off, and, running towards the shield, he saw himself
as in a looking-glass.

He was no longer a dwarf, but a gallant knight. At that moment his
memory came back to him, and he knew he was Conal, one of the Knights
of the Red Branch, and he remembered now that the spell of dumbness
and deformity had been cast upon him by the Witch of the Palace of the
Quicken Trees.

Slinging his shield upon his left arm, he plucked the spear from the
ground and leaped on to his horse. With a light heart he swam back
over the lake, and nowhere could he see the black Cormorants of the
Western Seas, but three white swans floating abreast followed him to
the bank. When he reached the bank he galloped down to the sea, and
crossed to the shore.

Then he flung the reins upon his horse's neck, and swifter than the
wind the gallant horse swept on and on, and it was not long until he
was bounding over the enchanted moor. Wherever his hoofs struck the
ground, grass and flowers sprang up, and great trees with leafy
branches rose on every side.

At last the knight reached the little hut. Three times he struck the
shield with the haft and three times with the blade of his spear. At
the last blow the hut disappeared, and standing before him was the
little princess.

The knight took her in his arms and kissed her; then he lifted her on
to the horse, and, leaping up before her, he turned towards the north,
to the palace of the Red Branch Knights, and as they rode on beneath
the leafy trees from every tree the birds sang out, for the spell of
silence over the lonely moor was broken for ever.





Next: The House In The Lake




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