THE STORY OF MANUS
(Shortened from West Highland Tales.)
Far away over the sea of the West there reigned a king
who had two sons; and the name of the one was Oireal,
and the name of the other was Iarlaid. When the boys
were still children, their father and mother died, and a
great council was held, and a man was chosen from among
them who would rule the kingdom till the boys were old
enough to rule it themselves.
The years passed on, and by-and-by another council
was held, and it was agreed that the king’s sons were
now of an age to take the power which rightly belonged
to them. So the youths were bidden to appear before
the council, and Oireal the elder was smaller and weaker
than his brother.
‘I like not to leave the deer on the hill and the fish
in the rivers, and sit in judgment on my people,’ said
Oireal, when he had listened to the words of the chief
of the council. And the chief waxed angry, and answered
‘Not one clod of earth shall ever be yours if this day
you do not take on yourself the vows that were taken
by the king your father.’
Then spake Iarlaid, the younger, and he said: ‘Let
one half be yours, and the other give to me; then you will
have fewer people to rule over.’
‘Yes, I will do that,’ answered Oireal.
After this, one half of the men of the land of Lochlann
did homage to Oireal, and the other half to Iarlaid. And
they governed their kingdoms as they would, and in a
few years they became grown men with beards on their
chins; and Iarlaid married the daughter of the king of
Greece, and Oireal the daughter of the king of Orkney.
The next year sons were born to Oireal and Iarlaid; and
the son of Oireal was big and strong, but the son of Iarlaid
was little and weak, and each had six foster brothers who
went everywhere with the princes.
One day Manus, son of Oireal, and his cousin, the
son of Iarlaid, called to their foster brothers, and bade
them come and play a game at shinny in the great field
near the school where they were taught all that princes
and nobles should know. Long they played, and swiftly
did the ball pass from one to another, when Manus drove
the ball at his cousin, the son of Iarlaid. The boy, who
was not used to be roughly handled, even in jest, cried
out that he was sorely hurt, and went home with his
foster brothers and told his tale to his mother. The
wife of Iarlaid grew white and angry as she listened, and
thrusting her son aside, sought the council hall where
Iarlaid was sitting.
‘Manus has driven a ball at my son, and fain would
have slain him,’ said she. ‘Let an end be put to him and
his ill deeds.’
But Iarlaid answered:
‘Nay, I will not slay the son of my brother.’
‘And he shall not slay my son,’ said the queen. And
calling to her chamberlain she ordered him to lead the
prince to the four brown boundaries of the world, and to
leave him there with a wise man, who would care for
him, and let no harm befall him. And the wise man
set the boy on the top of a hill where the sun always
shone, and he could see every man, but no man could
Then she summoned Manus to the castle, and for a
whole year she kept him fast, and his own mother could
not get speech of him. But in the end, when the wife
of Oireal fell sick, Manus fled from the tower which was
his prison, and stole back to his own home.
For a few years he stayed there in peace, and then the
wife of Iarlaid his uncle sent for him.
‘It is time that you were married,’ she said, when
she saw that Manus had grown tall and strong like unto
Iarlaid. ‘Tall and strong you are, and comely of face.
I know a bride that will suit you well, and that is the
daughter of the mighty earl of Finghaidh, that does
homage for his lands to me. I myself will go with a
great following to his house, and you shall go with
Thus it was done; and though the earl’s wife was
eager to keep her daughter with her yet a while, she was
fain to yield, as the wife of Iarlaid vowed that not a rood
of land should the earl have, unless he did her bidding.
But if he would give his daughter to Manus, she would
bestow on him the third part of her own kingdom, with
much treasure beside. This she did, not from love to
Manus, but because she wished to destroy him. So they
were married, and rode back with the wife of Iarlaid to
her own palace. And that night, while he was sleeping,
there came a wise man, who was his father’s friend, and
awoke him saying: ‘Danger lies very close to you, Manus,
son of Oireal. You hold yourself favoured because you
have as a bride the daughter of a mighty earl; but do
you know what bride the wife of Iarlaid sought for her
own son? It was no worldly wife she found for him,
but the swift March wind, and never can you prevail
‘Is it thus?’ answered Manus. And at the first streak
of dawn he went to the chamber where the queen lay in
the midst of her maidens.
‘I have come,’ he said, ‘for the third part of the kingdom,
and for the treasure which you promised me.’ But
the wife of Iarlaid laughed as she heard him.
‘Not a clod shall you have here,’ spake she. ‘You
must go to the Old Bergen for that. Mayhap under its
stones and rough mountains you may find a treasure!’
‘Then give me your son’s six foster brothers as well
as my own,’ answered he. And the queen gave them to
him, and they set out for Old Bergen.
A year passed by, and found them still in that wild
land, hunting the reindeer, and digging pits for the mountain
sheep to fall into. For a time Manus and his twelve
companions lived merrily, but at length Manus grew
weary of the strange country, and they all took ship for
the land of Lochlann. The wind was fierce and cold,
and long was the voyage; but, one spring day, they sailed
into the harbour that lay beneath the castle of Iarlaid.
The queen looked from her window and beheld him mounting
the hill, with the twelve foster brothers behind him.
Then she said to her husband: ‘Manus has returned with
his twelve foster brothers. Would that I could put an
end to him and his murdering and his slaying.’
‘That were a great pity,’ answered Iarlaid. ‘And it
is not I that will do it.’
‘If you will not do it I will,’ said she. And she called
the twelve foster brothers and made them vow fealty to
herself. So Manus was left with no man, and sorrowful
was he when he returned alone to Old Bergen. It was
late when his foot touched the shore, and took the path
towards the forest. On his way there he met him a man
in a red tunic.
‘Is it you, Manus, come back again?’ asked he.
‘It is I,’ answered Manus; ‘alone have I returned from
the land of Lochlann.’
The man eyed him silently for a moment, and then
‘I dreamed that you were girt with a sword and became
king of Lochlann.’ But Manus answered:
‘I have no sword and my bow is broken.’
‘I will give you a new sword if you will make me a promise,’
said the man once more.
‘To be sure I will make it, if ever I am king,’
answered Manus. ‘But speak, and tell me what promise
I am to make!’
‘I was your grandfather’s armourer,’ replied the man,
‘and I wish to be your armourer also.’
‘That I will promise readily,’ said Manus; and followed
the man into his house, which was at a little distance.
But the house was not like other houses, for the walls
of every room were hung so thick with arms that you
could not see the boards.
‘Choose what you will,’ said the man; and Manus unhooked
a sword and tried it across his knee, and it broke,
and so did the next, and the next.
‘Leave off breaking the swords,’ cried the man, ‘and
look at this old sword and helmet and tunic that I wore
in the wars of your grandfather. Perhaps you may find
them of stouter steel.’ And Manus bent the sword thrice
across his knee but he could not break it. So he girded
it to his side, and put on the old helmet. As he fastened
the strap his eye fell on a cloth flapping outside the
‘What cloth is that?’ asked he.
‘It is a cloth that was woven by the Little People of
the forest,’ said the man; ‘and when you are hungry it
will give you food and drink, and if you meet a foe, he
will not hurt you, but will stoop and kiss the back of your
hand in token of submission. Take it, and use it well.’
Manus gladly wrapped the shawl round his arm, and
was leaving the house, when he heard the rattling of a
chain blown by the wind.
‘What chain is that?’ asked he.
‘The creature who has that chain round his neck, need
not fear a hundred enemies,’ answered the armourer.
And Manus wound it round him and passed on into the
Suddenly there sprang out from the bushes two lions,
and a lion cub with them. The fierce beasts bounded
towards him, roaring loudly, and would fain have eaten
him, but quickly Manus stooped and spread the cloth
upon the ground. At that the lions stopped, and bowing
their great heads, kissed the back of his wrist and went
their ways. But the cub rolled itself up in the cloth; so
Manus picked them both up, and carried them with him
to Old Bergen.
Another year went by, and then he took the lion cub
and set forth to the land of Lochlann. And the wife of
Iarlaid came to meet him, and a brown dog, small but
full of courage, came with her. When the dog beheld
the lion cub he rushed towards him, thinking to eat him;
but the cub caught the dog by the neck, and shook him,
and he was dead. And the wife of Iarlaid mourned him
sore, and her wrath was kindled, and many times she
tried to slay Manus and his cub, but she could not. And
at last they two went back to Old Bergen, and the twelve
foster brothers went also.
‘Let them go,’ said the wife of Iarlaid, when she heard
of it. ‘My brother the Red Gruagach will take the head
off Manus as well in Old Bergen as elsewhere.’
Now these words were carried by a messenger to the
wife of Oireal, and she made haste and sent a ship to Old
Bergen to bear away her son before the Red Gruagach
should take the head off him. And in the ship was a
pilot. But the wife of Iarlaid made a thick fog to cover
the face of the sea, and the rowers could not row, lest
they should drive the ship on to a rock. And when night
came, the lion cub, whose eyes were bright and keen,
stole up to Manus, and Manus got on his back, and the
lion cub sprang ashore and bade Manus rest on the rock
and wait for him. So Manus slept, and by-and-by a
voice sounded in his ears, saying: ‘Arise!’ And he saw
a ship in the water beneath him, and in the ship sat the
lion cub in the shape of the pilot.
Then they sailed away through the fog, and none saw
them; and they reached the land of Lochlann, and the
lion cub with the chain round his neck sprang from the
ship and Manus followed after. And the lion cub killed
all the men that guarded the castle, and Iarlaid and his
wife also, so that, in the end, Manus son of Oireal was
crowned king of Lochlann.