There was once a weaver in Erin who lived at the edge of a wood; and on a time when he had nothing to burn, he went out with his daughter to get fagots for the fire.
They gathered two bundles, and were ready to carry them home, when who should come along but a splendid-looking stranger on horseback. And he said to the weaver: "My good man, will you give me that girl of yours?"
"Indeed then I will not," said the weaver.
"I'll give you her weight in gold," said the stranger, and he put out the gold there on the ground.
So the weaver went home with the gold and without the daughter. He buried the gold in the garden, without letting his wife know what he had done. When she asked, "Where is our daughter?" the weaver said: "I sent her on an errand to a neighbor's house for things that I want."
Night came, but no sight of the girl. The next time he went for fagots, the weaver took his second daughter to the wood; and when they had two bundles gathered, and were ready to go home, a second stranger came on horseback, much finer than the first, and asked the weaver would he give him his daughter.
"I will not," said the weaver.
"Well," said the stranger, "I'll give you her weight in silver if you'll let her go with me;" and he put the silver down before him.
The weaver carried home the silver and buried it in the garden with the gold, and the daughter went away with the man on horseback.
When he went again to the wood, the weaver took his third daughter with him; and when they were ready to go home, a third man came on horseback, gave the weight of the third daughter in copper, and took her away. The weaver buried the copper with the gold and silver.
Now, the wife was lamenting and moaning night and day for her three daughters, and gave the weaver no rest till he told the whole story.
Now, a son was born to them; and when the boy grew up and was going to school, he heard how his three sisters had been carried away for their weight in gold and silver and copper; and every day when he came home he saw how his mother was lamenting and wandering outside in grief through the fields and pits and ditches, so he asked her what trouble was on her; but she wouldn't tell him a word.
At last he came home crying from school one day, and said: "I'll not sleep three nights in one house till I find my three sisters." Then he said to his mother: "Make me three loaves of bread, mother, for I am going on a journey."
Next day he asked had she the bread ready. She said she had, and she was crying bitterly all the time. "I'm going to leave you now, mother," said he; "and I'll come back when I have found my three sisters."
He went away, and walked on till he was tired and hungry; and then he sat down to eat the bread that his mother had given him, when a red-haired man came up and asked him for something to eat. "Sit down here," said the boy. He sat down, and the two ate till there was not a crumb of the bread left.
The boy told of the journey he was on; then the red-haired man said: "There may not be much use in your going, but here are three things that'll serve you,—the sword of sharpness, the cloth of plenty, and the cloak of darkness. No man can kill you while that sword is in your hand; and whenever you are hungry or dry, all you have to do is to spread the cloth and ask for what you'd like to eat or drink, and it will be there before you. When you put on the cloak, there won't be a man or a woman or a living thing in the world that'll see you, and you'll go to whatever place you have set your mind on quicker than any wind."
The red-haired man went his way, and the boy travelled on. Before evening a great shower came, and he ran for shelter to a large oak-tree. When he got near the tree his foot slipped, the ground opened, and down he went through the earth till he came to another country. When he was in the other country he put on the cloak of darkness and went ahead like a blast of wind, and never stopped till he saw a castle in the distance; and soon he was there. But he found nine gates closed before him, and no way to go through. It was written inside the cloak of darkness that his eldest sister lived in that castle.
He was not long at the gate looking in when a girl came to him and said, "Go on out of that; if you don't, you'll be killed."
"Do you go in," said he to the girl, "and tell my sister, the woman of this castle, to come out to me." The girl ran in; out came the sister, and asked: "Why are you here, and what did you come for?"
"I have come to this country to find my three sisters, who were given away by my father for their weight in gold, silver, and copper; and you are my eldest sister."
She knew from what he said that he was her brother, so she opened the gates and brought him in, saying: "Don't wonder at anything you see in this castle. My husband is enchanted. I see him only at night. He goes off every morning, stays away all day, and comes home in the evening."
The sun went down; and while they were talking, the husband rushed in, and the noise of him was terrible. He came in the form of a ram, ran up stairs, and soon after came down a man.
"Who is this that's with you?" asked he of the wife.
"Oh! that's my brother, who has come from Erin to see me," said she.
Next morning, when the man of the castle was going off in the form of a ram, he turned to the boy and asked, "Will you stay a few days in my castle? You are welcome."
"Nothing would please me better," said the boy; "but I have made a vow never to sleep three nights in one house till I have found my three sisters."
"Well," said the ram, "since you must go, here is something for you." And pulling out a bit of his own wool, he gave it to the boy, saying: "Keep this; and whenever a trouble is on you, take it out, and call on what rams are in the world to help you." Away went the ram. The boy took farewell of his sister, put on the cloak of darkness, and disappeared. He travelled till hungry and tired, then he sat down, took off the cloak of darkness, spread the cloth of plenty, and asked for meat and drink. After he had eaten and drunk his fill, he took up the cloth, put on the cloak of darkness, and went ahead, passing every wind that was before him, and leaving every wind that was behind.
About an hour before sunset he saw the castle in which his second sister lived. When he reached the gate, a girl came out to him and said: "Go away from that gate, or you'll be killed."
"I'll not leave this till my sister who lives in the castle comes out and speaks to me."
The girl ran in, and out came the sister. When she heard his story and his father's name, she knew that he was her brother, and said: "Come into the castle, but think nothing of what you'll see or hear. I don't see my husband from morning till night. He goes and comes in a strange form, but he is a man at night."
About sunset there was a terrible noise, and in rushed the man of the castle in the form of a tremendous salmon. He went flapping upstairs; but he wasn't long there till he came down a fine-looking man.
"Who is that with you?" asked he of the wife. "I thought you would let no one into the castle while I was gone."
"Oh! this is my brother, who has come to see me," said she.
"If he's your brother, he's welcome," said the man.
They supped, and then slept till morning. When the man of the castle was going out again, in the form of a great salmon, he turned to the boy and said: "You'd better stay here with us a while."
"I cannot," said the boy. "I made a vow never to sleep three nights in one house till I had seen my three sisters. I must go on now and find my third sister."
The salmon then took off a piece of his fin and gave it to the boy, saying: "If any difficulty meets you, or trouble comes on you, call on what salmons are in the sea to come and help you."
They parted. The boy put on his cloak of darkness, and away he went, more swiftly than any wind. He never stopped till he was hungry and thirsty. Then he sat down, took off his cloak of darkness, spread the cloth of plenty, and ate his fill; when he had eaten, he went on again till near sundown, when he saw the castle where his third sister lived. All three castles were near the sea. Neither sister knew what place she was in, and neither knew where the other two were living.
The third sister took her brother in just as the first and second had done, telling him not to wonder at anything he saw.
They were not long inside when a roaring noise was heard, and in came the greatest eagle that ever was seen. The eagle hurried upstairs, and soon came down a man.
"Who is that stranger there with you?" asked he of the wife. (He, as well as the ram and salmon, knew the boy; he only wanted to try his wife.)
"This is my brother, who has come to see me."
They all took supper and slept that night. When the eagle was going away in the morning, he pulled a feather out of his wing, and said to the boy: "Keep this; it may serve you. If you are ever in straits and want help, call on what eagles are in the world, and they'll come to you."
There was no hurry now, for the third sister was found; and the boy went upstairs with her to examine the country all around, and to look at the sea. Soon he saw a great white hill, and on the top of the hill a castle.
"In that castle on the white hill beyond," said the sister, "lives a giant, who stole from her home the most beautiful young woman in the world. From all parts the greatest heroes and champions and kings' sons are coming to take her away from the giant and marry her. There is not a man of them all who is able to conquer the giant and free the young woman; but the giant conquers them, cuts their heads off, and then eats their flesh. When he has picked the bones clean, he throws them out; and the whole place around the castle is white with the bones of the men that the giant has eaten."
"I must go," said the boy, "to that castle to know can I kill the giant and bring away the young woman."
So he took leave of his sister, put on the cloak of darkness, took his sword with him, and was soon inside the castle. The giant was fighting with champions outside. When the boy saw the young woman he took off the cloak of darkness and spoke to her.
"Oh!" said she, "what can you do against the giant? No man has ever come to this castle without losing his life. The giant kills every man; and no one has ever come here so big that the giant did not eat him at one meal."
"And is there no way to kill him?" asked the boy.
"I think not," said she.
"Well, if you'll give me something to eat, I'll stay here; and when the giant comes in, I'll do my best to kill him. But don't let on that I am here."
Then he put on the cloak of darkness, and no one could see him. When the giant came in, he had the bodies of two men on his back. He threw down the bodies and told the young woman to get them ready for his dinner. Then he snuffed around, and said: "There's some one here; I smell the blood of an Erineach."
"I don't think you do," said the young woman; "I can't see any one."
"Neither can I," said the giant; "but I smell a man."
With that the boy drew his sword; and when the giant was struck, he ran in the direction of the blow to give one back; then he was struck on the other side.
They were at one another this way, the giant and the boy with the cloak of darkness on him, till the giant had fifty wounds, and was covered with blood. Every minute he was getting a slash of a sword, but never could give one back. At last he called out: "Whoever you are, wait till to-morrow, and I'll face you then."
So the fighting stopped; and the young woman began to cry and lament as if her heart would break when she saw the state the giant was in. "Oh! you'll be with me no longer; you'll be killed now: what can I do alone without you?" and she tried to please him, and washed his wounds.
"Don't be afraid," said the giant; "this one, whoever he is, will not kill me, for there is no man in the world that can kill me." Then the giant went to bed, and was well in the morning.
Next day the giant and the boy began in the middle of the forenoon, and fought till the middle of the afternoon. The giant was covered with wounds, and he had not given one blow to the boy, and could not see him, for he was always in his cloak of darkness. So the giant had to ask for rest till next morning.
While the young woman was washing and dressing the wounds of the giant she cried and lamented all the time, saying: "What'll become of me now? I'm afraid you'll be killed this time; and how can I live here without you?"
"Have no fear for me," said the giant; "I'll put your mind at rest. In the bottom of the sea is a chest locked and bound, in that chest is a duck, in the duck an egg; and I never can be killed unless some one gets the egg from the duck in the chest at the bottom of the sea, and rubs it on the mole that is under my right breast."
While the giant was telling this to the woman to put her mind at rest, who should be listening to the story but the boy in the cloak of darkness. The minute he heard of the chest in the sea, he thought of the salmons. So off he hurried to the seashore, which was not far away. Then he took out the fin that his eldest sister's husband had given him, and called on what salmons were in the sea to bring up the chest with the duck inside, and put it out on the beach before him.
He had not long to wait till he saw nothing but salmon,—the whole sea was covered with them, moving to land; and they put the chest out on the beach before him.
But the chest was locked and strong; how could he open it? He thought of the rams; and taking out the lock of wool, said: "I want what rams are in the world to come and break open this chest!"
That minute the rams of the world were running to the seashore, each with a terrible pair of horns on him; and soon they battered the chest to splinters. Out flew the duck, and away she went over the sea.
The boy took out the feather, and said: "I want what eagles are in the world to get me the egg from that duck."
That minute the duck was surrounded by the eagles of the world, and the egg was soon brought to the boy. He put the feather, the wool, and the fin in his pocket, put on the cloak of darkness, and went to the castle on the white hill, and told the young woman, when she was dressing the wounds of the giant again, to raise up his arm.
Next day they fought till the middle of the afternoon. The giant was almost cut to pieces, and called for a cessation.
The young woman hurried to dress the wounds, and he said: "I see you would help me if you could: you are not able. But never fear, I shall not be killed." Then she raised his arm to wash away the blood, and the boy, who was there in his cloak of darkness, struck the mole with the egg. The giant died that minute.
The boy took the young woman to the castle of his third sister. Next day he went back for the treasures of the giant, and there was more gold in the castle than one horse could draw.
They spent nine days in the castle of the eagle with the third sister. Then the boy gave back the feather, and the two went on till they came to the castle of the salmon, where they spent nine more days with the second sister; and he gave back the fin.
When they came to the castle of the ram, they spent fifteen days with the first sister, and had great feasting and enjoyment. Then the boy gave back the lock of wool to the ram, and taking farewell of his sister and her husband, set out for home with the young woman of the white castle, who was now his wife, bringing presents from the three daughters to their father and mother.
At last they reached the opening near the tree, came up through the ground, and went on to where he met the red-haired man. Then he spread the cloth of plenty, asked for every good meat and drink, and called the red-haired man. He came. The three sat down, ate and drank with enjoyment.
When they had finished, the boy gave back to the red-haired man the cloak of darkness, the sword of sharpness, and the cloth of plenty, and thanked him.
"You were kind to me," said the red-haired man; "you gave me of your bread when I asked for it, and told me where you were going. I took pity on you; for I knew you never could get what you wanted unless I helped you. I am the brother of the eagle, the salmon, and the ram."
They parted. The boy went home, built a castle with the treasure of the giant, and lived happily with his parents and wife.
Notes: Contains 20 Irish folktales.
Author: Jeremiah Curtin
Publisher: Sampson Low, Martson, Searle & Rivington, London