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The House In The Lake






Source: Irish Fairy Tales

A long, long time ago there lived in a little hut, in the midst of one
of the inland lakes of Erin, an old fisherman and his son. The hut was
built on stakes driven into the bed of the lake, and was so high above
the waters that even when they were stirred into waves by the wind
coming down from the mountains they did not reach the threshold of the
door. Around, outside the hut, on a level with the floor, was a little
wicker-work platform, and under the platform, close to the steps
leading up to it from the water, the fisherman's curragh, made of
willows, covered with skins, was moored, and it was only by means of
the curragh that he and his son, Enda, could leave their lake
dwelling.

On many a summer evening Enda lay stretched on the platform, watching
the sunset fading from the mountain-tops, and the twilight creeping
over the waters of the lake, and it chanced that once when he was so
engaged he heard a rustle in a clump of sedge that grew close to one
side of the hut. He turned to where the sound came from, and what
should he see but an otter swimming towards him, with a little trout
in his mouth. When the otter came up to where Enda was lying, he
lifted his head and half his body from the water, and flung the trout
on the platform, almost at Enda's feet, and then disappeared.

Enda took the little panting trout in his hand; but as he did so he
heard, quite close to him, in the lake, a sound like that of water
plashing upon water, and he saw the widening circles caused by a trout
which had just risen to a fly; and he said to the little trout he held
in his hand:

"I won't keep you, poor thing! Perhaps that was a little comrade come
to look for you, and so I'll send you back to him."

And saying this, he dropped the little trout into the lake.

Well, when the next evening came, again Enda was lying stretched
outside the hut, and once more he heard the rustle in the sedge, and
once more the otter came and flung the little trout almost into his
hands.

Enda, more surprised than ever, did not know what to do. He saw that
it was the same little trout the otter had brought him the night
before, and he said:

"Well, I gave you a chance last night. I'll give you another, if only
to see what will come of it."

And he dropped the trout into the lake; but no sooner had it touched
the waters than it was changed into a beautiful, milk-white swan. And
Enda could hardly believe his eyes, as he saw it sailing across the
lake, until it was lost in the sedges growing by the shore.

All that night he lay awake, thinking of what he had seen, and as soon
as the morning stood on the hill-tops, and cast its shafts of golden
light across the lake, Enda rose and got into his curragh.

He rowed all round the shores, beating the sedges with his oar, in
pursuit of the swan; but all in vain; he could not catch a glimpse of
her white plumage anywhere. Day after day he rowed about the lake in
search of her, and every evening he lay outside the hut watching the
waters. At long last, one night, when the full moon, rising above the
mountains, flooded the whole lake with light, he saw the swan coming
swiftly towards him, shining brighter than the moonbeams. The swan
came on until it was almost within a boat's length of the hut; and
what should Enda hear but the swan speaking to him in his own
language:

"Get into your curragh, Enda, and follow me," said she, and, saying
this, she turned round and sailed away.

Enda jumped into the curragh, and soon the water, dripping from his
oar, was flashing like diamonds in the moonlight. And he rowed after
the swan, who glided on before him, until she came to where the
shadows of the mountains lay deepest on the lake. Then the swan
rested, and when Enda came up to her:

"Enda," said she, "I have brought you where none may hear what I wish
to say to you. I am Mave, the daughter of the king of Erin. By the
magic arts of my cruel stepmother I was changed into a trout, and cast
into this lake a year and a day before the evening when you restored
me to the waters the second time. If you had not done so the first
night the otter brought me to you I should have been changed into a
hooting owl; if you had not done so the second night, I should have
been changed into a croaking raven. But, thanks to you, Enda, I am now
a snow-white swan, and for one hour on the first night of every full
moon the power of speech is and will be given to me as long as I
remain a swan. And a swan I must always remain, unless you are willing
to break the spell of enchantment that is over me; and you alone can
break it."

"I'll do anything I can for you. O princess!" said Enda. "But how can
I break the spell?"

"You can do so," said the swan, "only by pouring upon my plumage the
perfumed water that fills the golden bowl that is in the inmost room
of the palace of the fairy queen, beneath the lake."

"And how can I get that?" said Enda.

"Well," said the swan, "you must dive beneath the lake, and walk along
its bed, until you come to where the lake dragon guards the entrance
of the fairy queen's dominions."

"I can dive like a fish," said Enda; "but how can I walk beneath the
waters?"

"You can do it easily enough," said the swan, "if you get the
water-dress of Brian, one of the three sons of Turenn, and his helmet
of transparent crystal, by the aid of which he was able to walk under
the green salt sea."[3]

"And where shall I find them?"

"They are in the water-palace of Angus of the Boyne," said the swan;
"but you should set out at once, for if the spell be not broken before
the moon is full again, it cannot be broken for a year and a day."

"I'll set out in the first ray of the morning," said Enda.

"May luck and joy go with you," said the swan. "And now the hours of
silence are coming upon me, and I have only time to warn you that
dangers you little dream of will lie before you in your quest for the
golden cup."

"I am willing to face all dangers for your sake, O princess," said
Enda.

"Blessings be upon you, Enda," said the swan, and she sailed away from
the shadow out into the light across the lake to the sedgy banks. And
Enda saw her no more.

He rowed his curragh home, and he lay on his bed without taking off
his clothes. And as the first faint glimmer of the morning came
slanting down the mountains, he stepped into his curragh and pulled
across the lake, and took the road towards the water-palace of Angus
of the Boyne.

When he reached the banks of the glancing river a little woman,
dressed in red, was standing there before him.

"You are welcome, Enda," said she. "And glad am I to see the day that
brings you here to help the winsome Princess Mave. And now wait a
second, and the water-dress and crystal helmet will be ready for
you."

And, having said this, the little woman plucked a handful of wild
grasses, and she breathed upon them three times and then flung them on
the river, and a dozen fairy nymphs came springing up through the
water, bearing the water-dress and crystal helmet and a shining spear.
And they laid them down upon the bank at Enda's feet, and then
disappeared.

"Now, Enda," said the fairy woman, "take these; by the aid of the
dress and the helmet you can walk beneath the waters. You will need
the spear to enable you to meet the dangers that lie before you. But
with that spear, if you only have courage, you can overcome everything
and everyone that may attempt to bar your way."

Having said this, she bid good-bye to Enda, and stepping off the bank,
she floated out upon the river as lightly as a red poppy leaf. And
when she came to the middle of the stream she disappeared beneath the
waters.

Enda took the helmet, dress, and spear, and it was not long until he
came to the sedgy banks where his little boat was waiting for him. As
he stepped into the curragh the moon was rising above the mountains.
He rowed on until he came to the hut, and having moored the boat to
the door, he put on the water-dress and the crystal helmet, and taking
the spear in his hand, he leaped over the side of the curragh, and
sank down and down until he touched the bottom. Then he walked along
without minding where he was going, and the only light he had was the
shimmering moonlight, which descended as faintly through the waters as
if it came through muffled glass. He had not gone very far when he
heard a horrible hissing, and straight before him he saw what he
thought were two flaming coals. After a few more steps he found
himself face to face with the dragon of the lake, the guardian of the
palace of the fairy queen. Before he had time to raise his spear, the
dragon had wound its coils around him, and he heard its horrible
teeth crunching against the side of his crystal helmet, and he felt
the pressure of its coils around his side, and the breath almost left
his body; but the dragon, unable to pierce the helmet, unwound his
coils, and soon Enda's hands were free, and before the dragon could
attempt to seize him again, he drove his spear through one of its
fiery eyes, and, writhing with pain, the hissing dragon darted through
a cave behind him. Enda, gaining courage from the dragon's flight,
marched on until he came to a door of dull brass set in the rocks. He
tried to push it in before him, but he might as well have tried to
push away the rocks. While he was wondering what he should do, he
heard again the fierce hissing of the dragon, and saw the red glare of
his fiery eye dimly in the water.

Lifting his spear and hastily turning round to meet the furious
monster, Enda accidently touched the door with the point of the spear,
and the door flew open. Enda passed through, and the door closed
behind him with a grating sound, and he marched along through a rocky
pass which led to a sandy plain.

As he stepped from the pass into the plain the sands began to move, as
if they were alive. In a second a thousand hideous serpents, almost
the colour of the sand, rose hissing up, and with their forked
tongues made a horrible, poisonous hedge in front of him. For a second
he stood dismayed, but then, levelling his spear, he rushed against
the hedge of serpents, and they, shooting poison at him, sank beneath
the sand. But the poison did not harm him, because of his water-dress
and crystal helmet.

When he had passed over the sandy plain, he had to climb a great
steep, jagged rock. When he got to the top of the rock he saw spread
out before him a stony waste without a tuft or blade of grass. At some
distance in front of him he noticed a large dark object, which he took
to be a rock, but on looking at it more closely he saw that it was a
huge, misshapen, swollen mass, apparently alive. And it was growing
bigger and bigger every moment. Enda stood amazed at the sight, and
before he knew where he was the loathsome creature rose from the
ground, and sprang upon him before he could use his spear, and,
catching him in its horrid grasp, flung him back over the rocks on to
the sandy plain. Enda was almost stunned, but the hissing of the
serpents rising from the sand around him brought him to himself, and,
jumping to his feet, once more he drove them down beneath the surface.
He then approached the jagged rock, on the top of which he saw the
filthy monster glaring at him with bloodshot eyes. Enda poised his
spear and hurled it against his enemy. It entered between the
monster's eyes, and from the wound the blood flowed down like a black
torrent and dyed the plain, and the shrunken carcase slipped down the
front of the rocks and disappeared beneath the sand. Enda once more
ascended the rock, and without meeting or seeing anything he passed
over the stony waste, and at last he came to a leafy wood. He had not
gone far in the wood until he heard the sound of fairy music, and
walking on he came upon a mossy glade, and there he found the fairies
dancing around their queen. They were so small, and were all so
brightly dressed, that they looked like a mass of waving flowers; but
when he was seen by them they vanished like a glorious dream, and no
one remained before him but the fairy queen. The queen blushed at
finding herself alone, but on stamping her little foot three times
upon the ground, the frightened fairies all crept back again.

"You are welcome, Enda," said the queen. "My little subjects have been
alarmed by your strange dress and crystal helmet. I pray you take them
off; you do not need them here."

Enda did as he was bidden, and he laid down his water-dress and helmet
on the grass, and the little fairies, seeing him in his proper shape,
got over their fright, and, unrestrained by the presence of the
queen, they ran tumbling over one another to try and get a good look
at the crystal helmet.

"I know what you have come for, Enda," said the queen. "The golden cup
you shall have to-morrow; but to-night you must share our feast, so
follow me to the palace."

Having said this, the queen beckoned her pages to her, and, attended
by them and followed by Enda, she went on through the wood. When they
had left it behind them Enda saw on a green hill before him the
snow-white palace of the fairy queen.

As the queen approached the steps that led up to the open door, a band
of tiny fairies, dressed in rose-coloured silk, came out, carrying
baskets of flowers, which they flung down on the steps to make a
fragrant carpet for her. They were followed by a band of harpers
dressed in yellow silken robes, who ranged themselves on each side of
the steps and played their sweetest music as the queen ascended.

When the queen, followed by Enda, entered the palace, they passed
through a crystal hall that led to a banquet-room. The room was
lighted by a single star, large as a battle-shield. It was fixed
against the wall above a diamond throne.

The queen seated herself upon the throne, and the pages, advancing
towards her, and bending low, as they approached the steps, handed
her a golden wand.

The queen waved the wand three times, and a table laden with all kinds
of delicacies appeared upon the floor. Then she beckoned Enda to her,
and when he stood beside her the fairy table was no higher than his
knee.

"I am afraid I must make you smaller, Enda," said the queen, "or you
will never be able to seat yourself at my fairy table."

And having said this, she touched Enda with the golden wand, and at
once he became as small as her tallest page. Then she struck the steps
of her throne, and all the nobles of her court, headed by her bards,
took their places at the festive board.

The feast went on right merrily, and when the tiny jewelled
drinking-cups were placed upon the table, the queen ordered the
harpers to play.

And the little harpers struck the chords, and as Enda listened to the
music it seemed to him as if he was being slowly lifted from his seat,
and when the music ended the fairies vanished, the shining star went
out, and Enda was in perfect darkness.

The air blew keenly in his face, and he knew not where he was. At last
he saw a faint grey light, and soon this light grew broader and
brighter, and as the shadows fled before it, he could hardly believe
his eyes when he found himself in his curragh on the lake, and the
moonlight streaming down from the mountain-tops.

For a moment he thought he must have been dreaming; but there in the
boat before him were the crystal helmet, and the water-dress, and the
gleaming spear, and the golden bowl of perfumed water that was to
remove the spell of enchantment from the white swan of the lake, and
sailing towards him from the sedgy bank came the snow-white swan; and
when she touched the boat, Enda put out his hands and lifted her in,
and then over her plumage he poured the perfumed water from the golden
bowl, and the Princess Mave in all her maiden beauty stood before
him.

"Take your oar, Enda," she said, "and row to the southern bank."

Enda seized his oar, and the curragh sped across the waters swifter
than a swallow in its flight. When the boat touched the shore Enda
jumped out, and lifted the princess on to the bank.

"Send your boat adrift, Enda," she said; "but first take out your
shining spear; the water-dress and the crystal helmet will take care
of themselves."

Enda took out the spear, and then pushed the boat from the bank. It
sped on towards the hut in the middle of the lake; but before it had
reached halfway six nymphs sprang up from the water and seizing the
helmet and dress, sank with them beneath the tide, and the boat went
on until it pushed its prow against the steps of the little hut, where
it remained.

Then Enda and the princess turned towards the south, and it was not
long until they came to a deep forest, that was folding up its shadows
and spreading out its mossy glades before the glancing footsteps of
the morning. They had not gone far through the forest when they heard
the music of hounds and the cries of huntsmen, and crashing towards
them through the low branches they saw a fierce wild boar. Enda,
gently pushing the princess behind him, levelled his spear, and when
the boar came close to him he drove it into his throat. The brute fell
dead at his feet, and the dogs rushing up began to tear it to pieces.
The princess fainted at the sight, and while Enda was endeavouring to
restore her, the king of Erin, followed by his huntsmen, appeared, and
when the king saw the princess he started in amazement, as he
recognised the features of his daughter Mave.

At that moment the princess came to herself, and her father, lifting
her tenderly in his arms, kissed her again and again.

"I have mourned you as dead, my darling," said he, "and now you are
restored to me more lovely than ever. I would gladly have given up my
throne for this. But say who is the champion who has brought you
hither, and who has slain the wild boar we have hunted so many years
in vain?"

The princess blushed like a rose as she said:

"His name is Enda, father; it is he has brought me back to you."

Then the king embraced Enda and said:

"Forgive me, Enda, for asking any questions about you before you have
shared the hospitality of my court. My palace lies beyond the forest,
and we shall reach it soon."

Then the king ordered his huntsman to sound the bugle-horn, and all
his nobles galloped up in answer to it, and when they saw the Princess
Mave they were so dazzled by her beauty that they scarcely gave a
thought to the death of the wild boar.

"It is my daughter, Mave, come back to me," said the king.

And all the nobles lowered their lances, and bowed in homage to the
lady.

"And there stands the champion who has brought her home," said the
king, pointing to Enda.

The nobles looked at Enda, and bowed courteously, but in their hearts
they were jealous of the champion, for they saw he was already a
favourite of the king's.

Then the pages came up, leading milk-white steeds with golden bridles,
and the king, ordering Enda to mount one of them, lifted Mave on to
his own, and mounted behind her. The pages, carrying the boar's head
on a hollow shield, preceded by the huntsmen sounding their horns, set
out towards the palace, and the royal party followed them.

As the procession approached the palace crowds came rushing out to see
the trophies of the chase, and through the snow-white door the queen,
Mave's cruel stepmother, attended by her maids-of-honour and the royal
bards, came forth to greet the king. But when she saw seated before
him the Princess Mave, who she thought was at the bottom of the lake
under a spell of enchantment, she uttered a loud cry, and fell
senseless to the ground.

The king jumped from his horse, and rushing to the queen, lifted her
up and carried her in his arms to her apartments, for he had no
suspicion of the wickedness of which she had been guilty.

And the court leeches were summoned to attend her, but she died that
very night, and it was not until a green mound, worthy of a queen of
Erin, had been raised over her grave that the Princess Mave told her
father of the wickedness of her stepmother. And when she told him the
whole story of how Enda had broken the spell of enchantment, and of
the dangers which he had faced for her sake, the king summoned an
assembly of all his nobles, and seated on his throne, wearing his
golden helmet, the bards upon his right hand and the Druids upon his
left, and the nobles in ranks before him with gleaming helmets and
flashing spears, he told them the story of the princess, and of the
service which Enda had rendered to her.

"And now," said the king, "if the princess is willing to take her
deliverer for her husband, I am willing that she shall be his bride;
and if you, my subjects, Bards and Druids and Nobles and Chiefs of
Erin, have anything to say against this union, speak. But first,
Mave," said the king, as he drew the blushing princess to him, "speak,
darling, as becomes the daughter of a king--speak in the presence of
the nobles of Erin, and say if it is your wish to become Enda's
bride."

The princess flung her white arms around her father's neck, as she
murmured:

"Father, it was Enda brought me back to you, and before all the
princes and nobles of Erin I am willing to be his bride."

And she buried her head upon the king's breast, and as he stroked her
silken hair falling to her feet, the bards struck their golden harps,
but the sound of the joyous music could hardly drown the murmurs of
the jealous nobles.

When the music ceased the king beckoned Enda to him, and was about to
place his hand in Mave's when a Druid, whose white beard almost
touched the ground, and who had been a favourite of the dead
stepmother, and hated Mave for her sake, stepped forward and said:

"O King of Erin, never yet has the daughter of a king been freely
given in marriage to any save a battle champion; and that stripling
there has never struck his spear against a warrior's shield."

A murmur of approbation rose from the jealous princes, and Congal, the
bravest of them all, stepped out from the ranks, and said:

"The Druid speaks the truth, O king! That stripling has never faced a
battle champion yet, and, speaking for all the nobles of your land, I
challenge him to fight any one of us; and as he is young and unused to
arms, we are willing that the youngest and least experienced amongst
us should be set against him."

When Congal had spoken, the nobles, in approval of his words, struck
their shields with their swords, and the brazen sound ascended to the
skies.

The face of the princess, blushing a moment before like a rose, became
as white as a lily; but the colour returned to her cheeks when she
heard Enda's voice ringing loud and clear.

"It is true, O king!" said he, "that I have never used my spear in
battle yet. The Prince Congal has challenged me to meet the youngest
and least experienced of the chiefs of Erin. I have risked my life
already for your daughter's sake. I would face death a thousand times
for the chance of winning her for my bride; but I would scorn to claim
her hand if I dared not meet the boldest battle champion of the nobles
of Erin, and here before you, O king, and bards, Druids, and nobles,
and chiefs of Erin, and here, in the presence of the Lady Mave, I
challenge the boldest of them all."

The king's eyes flashed with joy as he listened to the brave words of
Enda.

"It is well," said the king; "the contest shall take place to-morrow
on the lawn outside our palace gates; but before our assembly
dissolves I call on you, nobles and chiefs of Erin, to name your
boldest champion."

Loud cries of "Congal! Congal!" answered the king's speech.

"Are you willing, Congal?" asked the king.

"Willing, O king!" answered Congal.

"It is well," said the king. "We shall all meet again to-night in our
banquet-hall."

And the king, with the Princess Mave on his arm, attended by his bards
and Druids, entered the palace, and the chiefs and nobles went their
several ways.

At the feast that night the princess sat beside the king, and Enda
beside the princess, and the bards and Druids, nobles and chiefs, took
their places in due order. And the bards sang songs of love and
battle, and never merrier hours were spent than those which passed
away that night in the banquet-hall of Erin's king.

When the feast was over Enda retired to his apartment to spend the
night dreaming of the Princess Mave, and Congal went to his quarters;
but not to sleep or dream, for the Druid who had provoked the contest
came to him bringing his golden wand, and all night long the Druid was
weaving spells to charm the shield and spear and helmet of Congal, to
make them invulnerable in the battle of the morrow.

But while Enda lay dreaming of the Princess Mave, the little fairy
woman who gave him the water-dress, and crystal helmet, and shining
spear on the banks of the Boyne, slid into his room, and she placed
beside his couch a silver helmet and a silver shield. And she rubbed
the helmet, and the shield, and the blue blade and haft of his spear
with the juice of the red rowan berries, and she let a drop fall upon
his face and hands, and then she slid out as silently as she came.

When the morning broke, Enda sprang from his couch, and he could
hardly believe his eyes when he saw the silver shield and helmet. At
the sight of them he longed for the hour of battle, and he watched
with eager gaze the sun climbing the sky; and, after hours of
suspense, he heard the trumpet's sound and the clangour of the hollow
shields, struck by the hard-pointed spears.

Putting on the helmet, and fastening the shield upon his left arm, and
taking the spear in his right hand, he stepped out bravely to the
fight. The edge of the lawn before the palace gates was ringed by the
princes, nobles, and chiefs of Erin. And the palace walls were
thronged by all the beauties of the Court and all the noble ladies of
the land. And on his throne, surrounded by his Druids, his brehons,
and his bards, was the king of Erin, and at his feet sat the lovely
Lady Mave.

As Enda stepped out upon the lawn, he saw Congal advancing from the
ranks of the nobles, and the two champions approached each other until
they met right in front of the throne.

Then both turned towards the throne, and bowed to the king and the
Princess Mave; and then facing each other again, they retired a space,
and when their spears were poised, ready for battle, the king gave the
signal, which was answered by the clang of stricken shields, and
Congal and Enda launched their gleaming spears. They flashed like
lightning in the sunlit air, and in a second Congal's had broken
against Enda's shield; but Enda's, piercing Congal's helmet, hurled
him senseless on the plain.

The nobles and chiefs could hardly realize that in that single second
their boldest champion was overthrown; but when they saw him stretched
motionless on the grassy sward, from out their ranks six warriors
advanced to where the chieftain lay, and sadly they bore him away upon
their battle-shields, and Enda remained victor upon the field.

And then the king's voice rang out clear as the sound of a trumpet in
the still morning:

"Bards and brehons, princes and nobles, and chiefs of Erin, Enda has
proved himself a battle champion, and who amongst you now will dare
gainsay his right to claim my daughter for his bride?"

And no answer came.

But when he summoned Enda to his throne, and placed the lady's hand in
his, a cheer arose from the great assembly, that proved that jealousy
was extinguished in all hearts, and that all believed that Enda was
worthy of the winsome bride; and never since that day, although a
thousand years have passed, was there in all the world a brighter and
gayer wedding than the wedding of Enda and the Princess Mave.





Next: The Little White Cat

Previous: Princess Finola And The Dwarf



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