The Thirteenth Son of the King of Erin
THERE was a king in Erin long ago who had thirteen sons, and as they grew up he taught them good learning and every exercise and art befitting their rank.
One day the king went hunting, and saw a swan swimming in a lake with thirteen little ones. She kept driving away the thirteenth. and would not let it come near the others.
The king wondered greatly at this, and when he came home he summoned his Sean dall Glic (old blind sage), and said: I saw a great wonder to-day while out hunting. - a swan with thirteen cygnets, and she driving away the thirteenth continually, and keeping the twelve with her. Tell me the cause and reason of this. Why should a mother hate her thirteenth little one, and guard the other twelve?"
I will tell you," said the old blind sage all creatures on earth, whether beast or human, which have thirteen young, should put the thirteenth away, and let it wander for itself through the world and find its fate, so that the will of Heaven may work upon it, and not come down on the others. Now you have thirteen sons, and you must give the thirteenth to the Diachbha. [divinity or fate]
Then that is the meaning of the swan on the lake, - I must give up my thirteenth son to the Diachbha?
It is, said the old blind sage; you must give up one of your thirteen sons.
But how can I give one of them away when I am so fond of all; and which one shall it be?
I'll tell you what to do. When the thirteen come home to-night, shut the door against the last that comes.
Now one of the sons was slow, not so keen nor so sharp as another; but the eldest, who was called Sean Ruadh, was the best, the hero of them all. And it happened that night that he came home last, and when he came his father shut the door against him. The boy raised his hands and said: Father, what are you going to do with me; what do you wish?
It is my duty, said the father, to give one of my sons to the Diachbha; and as you are the thirteenth, you must go.
Well, give me my outfit for the road.
The outfit was brought, Sean Ruadh put it on; then the father gave him a black-haired steed that could overtake the wind before him, and outstrip the wind behind.
Sean Ruadh mounted the steed and hurried away. He went on each day without rest, and slept in the woods at night.
One morning he put on some old clothes which he had in a pack on the saddle, and leaving his horse in the woods, went aside to an opening. He was not long there when a king rode up and stopped before him.
Who are you, and where are you going? asked the king.
Oh! said Sean Ruadh, I am astray. I do not know where to go, nor what I am to do.
If that is how you are, I'll tell you what to do, - come with me.
Why should I go with you? asked Sean Ruadh.
Well, I have a great many cows, and I have no one to go with them, no one to mind them. I am in great trouble also. My daughter will die a terrible death very soon.