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Among the greatest storytellers of the world, the ancient Celts told tales that, after more than a thousand years, still bristle with life and excitement. Noted Irish folklorist Padraic Colum (18811972) preserved many of Ireland’s ancient traditions in collections featuring enchanting tales of old. This handsomely illustrated volume includes fifteen of these beguiling stories, including bold exploits at the Court of King Arthur.
Filled with youthful heroes, lovely maidens, and menacing sorcerers and giants, the handsomely illustrated stories will enchant today’s audiences as much as they enthralled listeners centuries ago.
Read an Excerpt
The Story of King Arthur and Other Celtic Heroes
By PADRAIC COLUM, Wilfred Jones
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 1952 Padraic Colum
All rights reserved.
HOW THE YOUTH KILHUCH CAME TO KING ARTHUR'S COURT
Thus the youth rode to the Court of King Arthur: the horse that was under him was of four winters old, firm of limb, with head of dappled grey, with shell-formed hoofs, having a bridle of linked gold on its head, and on its back a saddle of gold. In the youth's hands were two spears of silver, sharp and well-tempered, of an edge to wound the wind, and swifter than the fall of a dew-drop from the blade of reed-grass upon the earth when the dew of June is at its heaviest. A gold-hilted sword was upon his thigh, the blade of which was of gold, bearing a cross of inlaid gold of the hue of the lightning of heaven, and his warhorn was of ivory. Before him were two brindled, white-breasted grey-hounds, having strong collars of rubies about their necks. And the hound that was on his left side bounded across to the right side, and the one on his right to his left, and like two sea-swallows they sported around him. His horse, as it coursed along, cast up four sods with its four hoofs, like four swallows in the air, about his head, now above, now below. About him was a fourcornered cloth of purple, and an apple of gold was at each corner, and every one of the apples was of the value of an hundred kine. And there was precious gold of the value of three hundred kine upon his shoes, and upon his stirrups, from his knee to the tip of his toe. And the blade of grass bent not beneath him, so light was his courser's tread as he journeyed towards the gate of King Arthur's palace.
When he came before the palace, the youth called out, "Open the gate." "I will not open it," said the porter. "Wherefore not?" asked the youth. "The knife is in the meat, and the drink is in the horn, and there is revelry in Arthur's hall, and none may enter therein except the son of a King of a privileged country, or a craftsman bringing here his craft. Stay thou outside. There will be refreshment for thy hounds and for thy horse, and for thee there will be collops of meat cooked and peppered, and luscious wine, and mirthful songs. A lady shall smooth thy couch for thee and lull thee with her singing; and early in the morning, when the gate is opened for the multitude that came hither to-day, for thee it shall be opened first, and thou mayest sit in the place that thou shalt choose in Arthur's hall." Said the youth, "That I will not do. If thou openest the gate for me, it is well. But if thou dost not open it, I will set up three shouts at this very gate, and these shouts will be deadly to all." "What clamour soever thou mayest make," said the porter, "against the law of King Arthur's palace thou shalt not enter until I go first and speak with the King."
So the porter went into the hall. The King said to him when he came near, "Hast thou news from the gate?" The porter said, "Half my life is past, and half of thine. I have seen with thee supreme sovereigns, but never did I behold one of equal dignity with him who is now at thy gate." Then said King Arthur to him, "If walking thou didst enter, return thou running. It is unbecoming to keep such a one as thou sayest he is outside in wind and rain." Then said the knight Kai who was in Arthur's hall at the time, "By the hand of my friend, if thou wouldst follow my counsel, thou wouldst not break through the laws of thy court because of him." "Not so, blessed Kai," said Arthur. "The greater our courtesy, the greater will be our renown, and our fame, and our glory." And by this time the porter was back at the gate.
He opened the gate before the youth who had been waiting before it. Now, although all comers dismounted upon the horse-block that was at the gate, yet did he not dismount, but he rode right in on his horse. "Greeting be unto thee, sovereign ruler of the Island," he said, "and be this greeting no less unto the lowest than unto the highest, and be it equally unto thy guests, and thy warriors, and thy chieftains—let all partake of it equally with thyself. And complete be thy favour, and thy fame, and thy glory throughout all this Island." "Greeting be unto thee also," said King Arthur. "Sit thou between two of my warriors, and thou shalt have minstrels before thee, and thou shalt enjoy the privileges of a King born to a throne, as long as thou remainest here." Said the youth, "I came not to consume meat and drink; but if I obtain the boon that I have come seeking, I will requite it thee." Then said Arthur: "Since thou wilt not remain here, Chieftain, thou shalt receive the boon whatsoever thy tongue may name, as far as the wind dries, and the rain moistens, and the sun revolves, and the sea encircles, and the earth extends; any boon thy tongue may name save only my ship and my mantle, my sword and my lance, my shield and my dagger, and Gwenhuivar, my wife. By the truth of Heaven, thou shalt have it cheerfully, name what thou wilt. For my heart warms unto thee, and I know thou art of my blood." "Of thy blood I am indeed," said the youth, "for my mother was thy mother's sister, Prince Anlod's daughter." Thereupon he told the King of his birth and his upbringing.
Kilhuch he was called, and he was given that name because he was born in a swine's pen. Before he was born, his mother became wild, and she wandered about, without habitation. Then she came to a mountain where ther was a swineherd, keeping a herd of swine; there she stayed, and in the swine's pen her son was born. The swineherd took the boy, and brought him to the palace of his father, and there he was christened. Afterwards he was sent to be reared in another place.
His mother died soon afterwards. When she knew she was going to die, she sent for the Prince, her husband, and she said to him, "I charge thee not to take a wife until thou seest a briar with two blossoms growing out of my grave." And she asked him to have the grave tended, day by day, and year by year, so that nothing might grow on it. This he promised her, and, soon after, she died.
For seven years the Prince sent an attendant every morning to dress her grave and to see if anything were growing upon it. But at the end of the seventh year he neglected to do that which he had promised to his wife. Then one day he went hunting. He passed by the place of burial and he saw a briar growing out of his wife's grave. He knew then that the time had come for him to seek another wife. He sought for one, and he married again, and brought another lady into his palace.
A day came when the lady he married went walking abroad. She came to the house of an old crone, and going within she said to the woman, "Old woman, tell me that which I shall ask thee. Where are the children of the man who has married me?" "Children he has none," said the crone. "Woe is me," said the lady, "that I have come to one who is childless." "Children he has none," said the crone, "but a child he has. Thou needst not lament."
Then the lady returned to the palace, and she said to her husband, "Wherefore hast thou concealed thy child from me?" The Prince said, "I will do so no longer." He sent messengers for Kilhuch, and the youth was brought into the palace.
Now when his step-mother saw him she was fearful that he would take the whole of his father's possessions away from her own child, for it was predicted to her by the crone that she would have a son. So she said to him when she looked on him, "It were well for thee to have a wife." The youth answered, "I am not yet of an age to wed," but although he said this he was well grown at the time. His step-mother said to him, "I declare to thee that it is thy destiny not to be suited until thou obtain Olwen, the daughter of Yspaddaden, the Chief of the Giants, for thy wife."
Hearing that name the youth blushed, and the love of the maiden named was diffused through all his frame, although he had never seen her. He went to his father and he told him that it had been declared to him that he would never be suited until he had obtained the daughter of Yspaddaden for his wife. "That will not be hard for thee to do," said his father, "for King Arthur is thy cousin, and he will aid thee. Go to Arthur, therefore. And ask him to cut thy hair, as great lords cut the hair of youths who are dear to them. And as he cuts thy hair ask it of him as a boon that he obtain for thee Olwen, the daughter of Yspaddaden." Then Kilhuch mounted his steed and rode off to the Court of King Arthur.
"I crave it as a boon," said Kilhuch, "that thou, King Arthur, cut my hair." "That shall be granted thee," said the King. "To-morrow I will do it for thee." Then, on the morrow, King Arthur took a golden comb, and scissors whereof the loops were of silver, and he made ready to cut Kilhuch's hair.
All King Arthur's warriors and chieftains were in the hall, and Gwenhuivar, Arthur's wife, was there also, when the King did honour to Kilhuch by cutting his hair for him. And the chief story-teller of the Island of Britain was there, and to the King, and to the King's warriors and chieftains, and to Kilhuch he told a story.
THE STORY OF PUIL, PRINCE OF DYVED How Puil Went Into Annuvin, the Realm of Faerie
One day in the summer it came into the mind of Puil, Prince of Dyved, to go hunting, and the place in all the seven Cantrevs of Dyved that he chose to go hunting in was the Vale of the Cuch. Early in the morning he went there; he unloosed his hounds in the wood, he sounded his horn, and he began the chase.
As Puil followed his hounds he lost the companions who had come with him. Still he went on. He came in sight of a glade that was deep in the wood, and then he saw that he was alone. He heard the cry of hounds coming from a direction opposite to that in which his own hounds were going. And as his hounds came to the edge of that glade he saw a stag there; it was at bay before hounds that were not his. Then, as he came on with his hounds, those other hounds flung themselves on the stag and brought it down.
It was a great stag. Nevertheless, Puil did not examine it for a while, so taken was he with the sight of the hounds that had pulled the stag down. For these hounds had bodies that were shining white, and they had red ears, and as the whiteness of their bodies shone so did the redness of their ears glisten. Never in all the world had Puil seen hounds that were like these hounds. For a while he looked on them, and then he drove them off, and he set his own hounds to kill the stag.
Then, just as he had done this, he saw a horseman come out of the wood, riding towards him. He was on a large, light-grey steed, and he had a hunting horn around his neck; he wore a hunting dress that was of grey woollen. And when the horseman came near he spoke to Puil, saying: "Chieftain, I know who thou art—Puil, Prince of Dyved—but I shall not give thee any salutation."
Then said Puil: "Art thou then of such great state that thou thinkest it beneath thee to give me salutations?" "I am of great state," said the stranger, "but it is not the greatness of my state that prevents my giving thee salutations." "What is it then?" asked Puil. "Thine own discourtesy and rude behaviour," answered the stranger.
Said Puil: "What rudeness and discourtesy have I shown, O Chieftain?" "Great rudeness and great discourtesy," answered the stranger. "Greater rudeness and greater discourtesy I never saw than yours in driving away hounds that were killing a stag and then setting your own hounds upon it. That was indeed a great rudeness." "A great rudeness indeed," said Puil, acknowledging the wrong he had committed.
Then said Puil: "All that can be done I will do to redeem thy friendship, for I perceive that thou art of noble kind." "A crowned King am I in the land that I come from," said the stranger. "Lord," said Puil, "show me how I may redeem thy friendship."
Said the stranger: "I am Arawn, a King of Annuvin. Thou canst win my friendship by championing my cause. Know that Annuvin has another King, a King who makes war upon me. And if thou shouldst go into my realm and fight that King thou wouldst overthrow him, and the whole of the realm would be mine." "Lord," said Puil, "instruct me; tell me what thou wouldst have me do and I will do it to redeem thy friendship."
The King of Annuvin then said to Puil: "I will put my own appearance upon thee and I will take thine appearance upon myself, for it is in my power to do these things. And in my semblance thou shalt go into my kingdom. There thou shalt stay for the space of a year from to-morrow, and thereafter we shall meet in this glade." "Yes, Lord," said Puil, "but how shall I discover him whom I am to do battle with?" "One year from this night," said the King of Annuvin, "is the time fixed for combat between him and me. Be thou at the ford in my likeness. With one stroke that thou givest him he will lose life. And if he should ask thee to give another stroke, do not give it, no, not if he entreat thee even. If thou shouldst give another stroke he will be able to fight thee the next day as well as ever." "If I go down to thy kingdom," said Puil, "and stay there in thy semblance for a year and a day, what shall I do concerning my own dominions?" "As to that," said the King of Annuvin, "I will cause, for I have such power, that no one in thy dominions, neither man nor woman, shall know but that I am thee. I will go there and rule in thy semblance and in thy stead." "Then gladly," said Puil, "will I go down into Annuvin, thy kingdom, and win thy friendship by doing what thou askest me to do." "Clear shall be thy path, and nothing shall detain thee until thou comest into my kingdom, for I myself will be thy guide." And saying this, the King of Annuvin, who had come into the wood with his hounds for no other purpose than to bring Puil into his realm on that day, conducted him into Annuvin.
And having brought him before the palace and the dwellings, he said: "Behold the court and the kingdom. All is in thy power from this day until a year from to-morrow. Enter the court; there is no one there who will not take thee for me. And when thou seest what is being done thou wilt know the customs of the place." When he had said this the man who had been with Puil went from his sight.
Then Puil, Prince of Dyved, went into that strange court, and there he saw sleeping-rooms, and halls, and chambers, that were the most beautiful he had ever looked on. And there came pages to him who took off his hunting dress, and clothed him in a vesture of silk and gold. All who entered saluted him. Then they brought him into the feasting-hall, and he sat by the side of a lady who had on a yellow robe of shining satin, and who was the fairest woman that he had ever yet beheld. He spoke with her, and her speech was the wisest and the most cheerful that he had ever listened to. There were songs with the feasting. And of all the courts of Kings on the earth this court of Annuvin was, to the mind of Puil, the best supplied with food and drink, with vessels of gold and with royal jewels.
A year went by. Every day for Puil there was hunting and minstrelsy, there was feasting and discourse with wise and fair companions. And then there came the day on which the combat of the Kings was to take place, and even in the furthest parts of the realm the people were mindful of that day.
Puil went to the ford where the combat was to be, and the nobles of Arawn's court went with him. And when they came to the ford they saw that Havgan, the King against whom the battle was to be, was coming from the other side. Then a knight arose and spake, saying: "Lords, this is a combat between two Kings, and between them only. Each claimeth of the other his land and territory. This combat will decide it. And do all of you stand aside and leave the fight to be between the Kings."
Thereupon Puil in the semblance of Arawn approached Havgan. They were in the middle of the ford when they encountered. Puil struck Havgan on the centre of the boss of his shield, so that his shield was broken in two, and his armour was broken, and Havgan himself was flung on the ground over the crupper of his horse, and he received a deadly blow. "O Chieftain," he cried, "what right didst thou have to cause my death? I was not injuring thee in any thing; I know not wherefore thou wouldst slay me. But since thou hast begun to slay me, complete thy work." "Ah, Chieftain," said Puil, "I may yet repent of what I have done to thee. But I will not strike thee another blow." "My lords," said Havgan then, "bear me hence, for my death has come, and I shall no more be able to uphold you." "My nobles," said Puil, speaking as Arawn, "take counsel, and let all who would be my subjects now come to my side. It is right that he who would come humbly should be received graciously, but he that doth not come with obedience shall be compelled by force of swords." "Lord," said the nobles, "there is no King over the whole of Annuvin but thee." And thereupon they gave him homage. And Puil, in the likeness of Arawn, went through all the realm of Annuvin, and he received submission from those who had been Havgan's subjects, so that the two halves of the kingdom were in his power.
Excerpted from The Story of King Arthur and Other Celtic Heroes by PADRAIC COLUM, Wilfred Jones. Copyright © 1952 Padraic Colum. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
BEING THE HERO STORIES OF CELTIC BRITAIN RETOLD FROM THE MABINOGION,
I - HOW THE YOUTH KILHUCH CAME TO KING ARTHUR'S COURT,
II - HOW THEY SOUGHT THE MAID OLWEN,
III - HOW THEY PERFORMED THE TASKS SET BY THE CHIEF OF THE GIANTS,
IV - HOW THE TUSK AND THE SWORD WERE WON,
V - HOW THE GREAT SALMON TOOK THEM TO MABON,
VI - HOW KING ARTHUR MET THE JET BLACK SORCERESS,
THE COMPANIONS OF ARTHUR,
THE KNIGHT OWEN AND THE LADY OF THE FOUNTAIN,
PEREDUR AND THE CASTLE OF WONDERS,
THE STORY OF GERAINT AND THE MAIDEN ENID,
THE DREAM OF RONABBWAY,
NOTES - HOW THE YOUTH KILHUCH CAME TO KING ARTHUR'S COURT,