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Main > Irish folktales > Fairy tale "Shaking-head"


"We are going on a long journey to (Ri Chuil an Or) King Behind the Gold, to ask his daughter of him."

The two travelled on, till they came to the castle of King Behind the Gold. Then Shaking-head said: "Go in you, and ask his daughter of the king, and I'll stay here outside with the cloak on me." So he went in and spoke to the king, and the answer he got was this:—

"I am willing to give you my daughter, but you won't get her unless you do what she will ask of you. And I must tell you now that three hundred kings' sons, lacking one, have come to ask for my daughter, and in the garden behind my castle are three hundred iron spikes, and every spike of them but one is covered with the head of a king's son who couldn't do what my daughter wanted of him, and I'm greatly in dread that your own head will be put on the one spike that is left uncovered."

"Well," said the king's son, "I'll do my best to keep my head where it is at present."

"Stay here in my castle," said the king, "and you'll have good entertainment till we know can you do what will be asked of you." At night when the king's son was going to bed, the princess gave him a thimble, and said: "Have this for me in the morning."

He put the thimble on his finger; and she thought it could be easily taken away, if he would sleep. So she came to him in the night, with a drink, and said: "I give you this in hopes I'll gain more drink by you." He swallowed the liquor, and the princess went away with the empty cup. Then the king's son put the thimble in his mouth between his cheek and his teeth for safe keeping, and was soon asleep.

When the princess came to her own chamber, she struck her maid with a slat an draoichta (a rod of enchantment) and turned her into a rat; then she made such music of fifes and trumpets to sound throughout the castle, that every soul in it fell asleep. That minute, she sent the rat to where the king's son was sleeping, and the rat put her tail into the nostrils of the young man, tickled his nose so that he sneezed and blew the thimble out of his mouth.

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