Maledun and the Wondrous Islands (A Celtic Tale)
Once long ago, in the days of the Druids, a baby was born and given to a queen to raise as a brother to her two sons. The boy’s name was Maledun, and he grew up not knowing the true story of his birth. He was not at all like the two princes; he was stronger and more skillful at games and hunting. One day when he was grown, he asked the queen to tell him why he was so different from his brothers.
The queen told him the truth, explaining that she was asked by his mother to raise him when his father, a mighty warrior known as Ailill Edge-of-Battle, had been killed in battle with a foreign clan, the Laighis.
Torn between sadness and anger, Maledun asked the Druid priests what he should do. They advised him to sail after the Laighis to avenge his father’s death. They gave him clear instructions. “Build your ship and take along 17 heroes, no more and no less.”
When Maledun finished the ship, he selected 17 brave men and set sail. When the two princes learned of their brother’s plan, they swam after the ship and climbed aboard. Maledun welcomed them, for he loved his brothers, but he worried about what might happen by taking more men than the Druid priests had instructed.
At first, the voyage went smoothly. On the first evening, the sailors anchored beside an island and heard men onshore laughing and feasting. Maledun sat upon the bow listening to the sounds from the island and watching a falcon circling in the sky. Suddenly he heard one of the men boasting. “We are Laighis, the bravest and strongest of all men.”
When Maledun heard this news, he readied his men for the attack, but just as they were preparing to land on the island, a terrific storm blew up and swept the ship far out to sea. All night long the storm raged, and the men struggled against the wild winds and driving rain. At dawn, the storm ceased, and Maledun looked out and saw nothing but sea everywhere. They sailed on, searching for land. For three days and nights, they sailed and saw nothing but water.
On the fourth day, one of the men cried, “I see land!” They sailed straight for the shore, but when they clambered from their ship and began to explore the shore, they saw, to their horror, that hordes of ants larger than horses were rushing toward them. They rushed back to the ship, leaped aboard and cast off again. The ship’s sail caught wind, and soon they had left the Island of Ants far behind.
Maledun and his men sailed for three more days and once again reached an island, this one so full of beautiful birds bright with colorful wings and sweet with a song that the men were thrilled and hoped they might stay. But Maledun was determined to find the Laighis, and so, with deep regret, they sailed away from Bird Island.
Next Maledun and his men reached an island empty of everything but one monstrous beast such as no one had ever before seen. He was a friendly monster, and the men enjoyed his company, but Maledun insisted they sail on to find the Laighis.
On the next island, the men discovered that thousands of misty beasts shaped like mighty horses galloped everywhere. They snorted and charged, frightening the men, who sailed on as fast as they could.
They sailed by day, landing each night on another island, and on each island, they found still more fabulous sights. On one island, an enormous apple tree grew, its fruits so huge and delicious that the men lived on these for days. Another island was full of marvelous castles, and on still one more they met kings and queens with magical powers. A princess fell in love with Maledun, and when he tried to depart on his ship, the queen threw a magic thread after him. Just as the thread threatened to loop around the ship, a quick-witted sailor slashed it with his sword. Once again the ship was free.
The men grew bright-eyed at all these wondrous sights, but Maledun proclaimed he was weary of marvels. “I want only to find the Laighis.”
At last, they put in at a tiny green island that seemed quite ordinary. Sitting atop a tree was a falcon that looked remarkably familiar. “Follow that bird,” Maledun commanded, and as the falcon flew southeast, so the men sailed. At dusk, they spotted land.
“This is the first island we found,” Maledun cried. “The island of Laighis.”
They sailed to shore, climbed a hill, and walked to a grand hall where the Laighis were gathered. As they marched, Maledun realized his heart had softened. He had sailed so far and seen so many wonders that his rage had vanished.
He stood outside and listened to the men as they talked.
“What if Maledun should attack us now?” one of the Laighis said.
“I was the man who slew Maledun’s father in fair combat. If Maledun arrived now, I would greet him as a hero and a friend.”
Maledun entered the hall at that moment. “That is how it shall be,” he announced.
The chief of the Laighis greeted Maledun and his crew as heroes. They feasted together and there was friendship among them all.
And so it was that the world’s wonders brought peace to men.