CATHAL THE KING

Cathal, King of Munster, was the tallest and most handsome of all the Kings of Erin, and he fell deeply in love with the beautiful sister of Fergus, King of Ulster. The lovers were happy and resolved on marriage, but Fergus, King of the North, had a mortal hatred of Cathal, King of the South, and wished, in secret, to prevent the marriage. So he set a watch over his sister, and by this means found out that she was sending a basket of apples to her lover, by the hands of a trusty messenger. Fergus managed to get hold of the basket of fruit from the messenger and changed them for another lot of apples on which he worked an evil spell.

Furnished with these  apples, the messenger set out for Cashel, and presented them to King Cathal, who, delighted at this proof of love from his princess, began at once to eat the apples. But the more he ate, the more he longed for them, for a wicked spell was on every apple. When he had eaten them all, he sent round the country for more, and ate, and ate, until there was not an apple left in Cashel, nor in all the country round.

Then he bade his Chieftains go forth and bring in food to appease his appetite; and he ate up all the cattle and the grain and the fruit, and still cried for more; and had the houses searched for food to bring to him. So the people were in despair, for they had no more food, and starvation was over the land.

Now a great and wise man, the chief poet of his tribe, happened to be travelling through Munster at that time, and hearing of the King's state, he greatly desired to see him, for he knew there was devil's work in the evil spell. So they brought him to the King, and many strong invocations he uttered over him, and many powerful incantations, for poets have a knowledge of mysteries above all other men, until finally, after three days had passed, he announced to the Lords and Chiefs that on that night, when the moon rose, the spell would be broken, and the King restored to health. So all the Chiefs gathered round in the courtyard to watch, but no one was allowed to enter the room where the King lay, save only the poet. And he was to give the signal when the hour had come and the spell was broken.

So as they watched, and just as the moon rose, a great cry was heard from the King's room, and the poet, flinging open the door, bade the Chiefs enter; and there on the floor lay a huge dead wolf, who for a whole year had taken up his abode in the King's body, but was now happily cast forth by the strong incantations of the poet.

After this the King fell into a deep sleep, and when he arose he was quite well, and strong again as ever, in all the pride of his youth and beauty. At this the people rejoiced much, for he was greatly loved, and the poet who had restored him was honoured above all men in the land,for the King himself took off the golden torque from his own neck, and placed it on that of the poet, and he set him at his right hand at the feast.

Now a strange thing happened just at this time. Fergus, King of the North, fell ill, and wasted away to a shadow, and of all the beautiful meats and wines they set before him he could taste nothing. So he died before a year had passed by and then Cathal, King  of Munster wedded his beloved princess, and they lived happily through many years.