In Scotland during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, traveling monks or harpers called seanachies passed down many legends. They would wander from village to village, where local families would take them in and give them food and shelter. In exchange, the seanachies would delight the families with stories they had heard on their journeys.
Heather and Broom contains eight seanachie stories from the Scottish Highlands, including the tales of the woman who tricked the fairies, the young lairdie with a heart of gold, and the daughter of the magical seal king. The collection gives the reader a taste of the poetic, lively culture of the Celtic imagination.
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About the Author
Sorche Nic Leodhas (1898–1969) was born LeClaire Louise Gowans in Youngstown, Ohio. After the death of her first husband, she moved to New York and attended classes at Columbia University. Several years later, she met her second husband and became LeClaire Gowans Alger. She was a longtime librarian at the Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where she also wrote children’s books. Shortly before she retired in 1966, she began publishing Scottish folktales and other stories under the pseudonym Sorche Nic Leodhas, Gaelic for Claire, daughter of Louis. In 1963, she received a Newbery Honor for Thistle and Thyme: Tales and Legends from Scotland. Alger continued to write and publish books until her death 1969.
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Heather and Broom
Tales of the Scottish Highlands
By Sorche Nic Leodhas
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1960 Leclaire G. Alger
All rights reserved.
The Ailpein Bird, the Stolen Princess, and the Brave Knight
ONCE IN THE OLD TIMES, the Good Times, when there were kings in Scotland, there was a wee Scottish princess who was stolen away from her father's castle. It was during a raid by a wicked king from another land she was taken, and her father never knew she was gone till the battle was over. Then someone came running to him, to tell the king she was lost, and the alarm was given. They searched the castle from end to end and all around it, too, but none of them found a trace of her.
By the time she was missed, the wicked king and his men were far away, and the princess over the saddle of one of their steeds wrapped in a soldier's cloak.
It was not to capture the princess that the raid was made, but to take her father's castle, for the wicked king wanted to kill her father and reign in his stead. Her father was a good king and ruled his people well, so his land prospered and he had plenty of gold.
The castle stood fast, and the wicked king and his men were driven away and had to go back to their own land without any of the gold. But as they went, one of the king's men caught up the princess and took her along instead.
When they got back home the little princess was brought before the wicked king, and he looked her over. He saw that she was beautiful, and as he was angry because he'd lost the battle he made up his mind to keep her, to pay her father back for the beating he'd got.
He had her put among the women of his castle, and nobody but himself and his men-at-arms knew who she was; and they would not dare to tell, for he said he'd have their lives if they did.
So the poor little princess stayed in the wicked king's castle. She was not ill-treated, for they all liked her well enough, but she was unhappy, for her heart was sick for the sight of her own land and her own people. Her father could not come and get her, for he did not know where she was. He had them search for her for many a day, but at last he gave up hope of ever finding out what had happened to her and mourned her as dead.
When a year had gone by the wicked king sent for the princess. He had a black thought in his mind: to marry her to his son. He knew that he couldn't get the gold he wanted by capturing her father's castle, for he'd already tried that and it didn't come out the way he wanted. So the next best thing would be to marry his son to the little princess, and use her to pry some of the gold out of her father.
The princess came and stood before the king, and he told her what he had in his mind. She said nothing to him against it, for she knew she'd better not. But her heart sank at the thought of marrying the king's son. He was proud and cold, and she was pretty sure he was cruel, too. She thought there was nothing she wouldn't give to be at home, and safe in her father's house again.
That day the women robed her in costly velvet and put jewels on her neck and wrists and fingers, and she was sent down to have dinner at the king's table, for all the world to see. She sat at the king's right hand at dinner, with the king's son at her other side, and when they rose from the table, she was told to stay in the hall with the ladies of the king's court.
While they were gathered there together a wandering harper came into the hall to sing to them. He looked the company over as he sang, and he saw the little princess sitting there. He looked at her once, and he thought she was beautiful. He looked at her twice, and thought she was much too sad for one so young. But with the third look, he said to himself, "I've seen that face before!" Where or when he couldn't tell, but he knew it was in some other, happier place.
He had been singing songs men like to hear, of warlike deeds and brave heroes, so now he sang a song for the ladies. It was a light, merry song, and the princess remembered that she had heard it before in her own land, and she smiled, remembering. It was only a wee ghost of a smile, but the harper saw it, and then he knew who she was!
There had been another king's castle he had sung in long ago, and she was the daughter of the king there and the merriest one of the court. When she smiled, everyone smiled with her. When she laughed, it was a treat to hear her! She was a bit of a lassie then, not grown up as she was now, for it was a long time ago. He had come back to that castle about a month back, and the servants there told him that the king would have no music in the castle, for he was mourning the princess who had disappeared during a battle about a year ago. Everybody said she was dead, poor lass, and their king's heart was broken by the loss of her.
The harper told himself that he'd lay his life on the odds that this was the same princess, and she wasn't dead at all! And he wondered what she was doing here, in this unlikely place. But he was too wise to say aloud what he thought. He was sure there was something wrong about it.
When they'd had enough of his singing the harper was sent to the servant's hall, and there he was given food and shown a place where he could sleep for the night. The king sent a man to tell him he was pleased with the singing, and that the harper was to stay at the castle and sing to them again.
While he was eating, the harper questioned the servants about the princess, but who she was or where she came from nobody could tell him. She had been at the castle for as long as a year, and now she was going to marry the king's son in about a month's time.
The harper wrapped himself in his cloak and lay down where they told him to. But he did not sleep, nor did he stay at the castle. Long before the wind of dawn had whistled in a new day he had taken his harp upon his arm and silently slipped away. He passed by the drowsy guards, and they saw that it was only the harper and let him go on.
The harper took the shortest road to the princess' father's castle, and he ate where he could and slept when he had to, and at last, toward the eve of the fourth day he came to its gates. The guards there were surprised to see him back, for he had not been allowed to sing the last time, but when he insisted and would not let them turn him away one of them agreed to take him into the hall. As for the rest, whether he might sing or not, that was up to the king.
The king frowned when he saw the harper, for music reminded him of his daughter who had a way of singing all day long. Then he relented for he thought of the people of the court and how little pleasure there was for them nowadays. So he called the harper to him and told him that he might sing, but must wait until the king himself had gone away. Then the king started toward the door of the hall, but the harper placed himself in his path and kneeling before him said, "Your Majesty would not leave if he knew the song I sing is one written for him alone. Let your Majesty remain in the hall and hear if it be not strange and wonderful, and judge of its importance to himself."
The king was a man of great courtesy and he was touched that the harper had sought to please him by making a song for him, for he had been told that the guards had turned him away the last time he came. He would listen to the song he told the harper.
The harper struck a chord on his harp and then he began to sing. He sang of a castle (like this one) besieged by an enemy in the dark of a winter's night. He sang of the flashing of swords, and the clashing of spears, and of bowmen on the walls. He sang of the enemy driven away, and of the quiet after the battle.
Then soft his voice grew and gentle, as the harper sang of a fair young princess who was her father's dear joy. After the battle was over the princess was not in her bower, nor could she be found in the castle, but never was seen again.
When the harper came to this part of the song the king sat up in his chair. He looked like a man who would have wept, had not all his tears run dry. He would have stopped the harper and he frowned and lifted his hand, but the harper said, "The end is not yet!" and hurried on with his song. And now he sang of another castle, in the kingdom of the enemy king who had led his men in the battle on that dark winter's night. He sang of a fair young princess in that wicked king's castle, blooming like a wild rose in a wilderness. Captive was she and there was sorrow in her eyes, for she was fated to marry the son of the enemy king, who was as wicked as the king himself.
"Who is the white rose blooming in the wilderness, captive and despairing, far from her own home?" sang the harper.
And the princess' father gave a great cry, and jumped from his chair. He seized the harper by the arm and dashed his harp to the ground. His eyes flashed and his face was terrible, and he shouted, "Who? Who? harper, tell me her name!"
The harper was not daunted by the king. He looked the king straight in the eyes, and the name he spoke was that of the king's lost daughter.
Then rose a shout of rejoicing from all the court assembled that made the whole castle ring. And all the people who were not in the hall came running, and when they heard the news they, too, rejoiced. From highest to the lowest, there had not been such happiness upon the faces of the king's people since the princess had been stolen away.
The king vowed that he would raise such an army as never had been seen before, and march against the castle of the wicked king and fetch his daughter home!
Now at the court there was a brave young knight who had loved the princess long.
And when he heard what his king said there was a great fear in his heart that when the wicked king saw the army approach, he would know it was the father of the princess coming to fetch her home, and therefore might do the little princess some harm. He told the other knights his thought, and, as many of them agreed, with him they went to the king, and after much argument persuaded him to let the young knight go first in disguise and try to bring the princess away. When she was safely away he would let the king know, and the army could march against the wicked king's castle.
There were at that time many friars going about from place to place, begging their way as they went, and they were well received in all places, being holy men. So the brave young man dressed himself in a coarse brown habit with a great cowl over his head, and taking a wallet over his shoulder and a staff in his hand he started out as one of these friars to rescue the princess.
The very day that the knight started on his journey the princess sat at dinner between the wicked king and his son. While they were eating, an Ailpein bird flew in through one of the tall windows seeking refuge from the force of the winter wind.
The people in the hall jumped up in terror, and shouted, "An ill omen! An ill omen!" for it was thought to be a sign of ill luck when a bird flew into a castle in that way. The king told the guard to shoot the bird, but it flew straight to the princess. She caught the bird in her arms and clasped it to her breast, and then she turned and faced the soldier bravely. He had lifted his crossbow to shoot the bird, but he lowered it, for he could not kill the bird without killing the princess, too.
"Let her keep it, then," said the king, "since she fancies it." For he was good-natured from the wine he had drunk, and from the thought of the gold he was going to get through the princess after he had married her to his son. "'Tis only a white falcon strayed from its keeper in the stress of the storm," he added. "Let her have it! 'Twill do for her to fondle until she has something better to fill her arms." He looked at his son, and winked and laughed, and sipped at his wine again.
The Ailpein bird nestled in the princess' arms, and when she returned to her room to sleep she took it with her. When her serving-woman had gone, she pulled the cover from her window and set the bird upon the sill. She sat upon the wide sill beside it and stroked its head gently and said, "There, pretty bird, go on your way, for the storm is over and I would not have you a prisoner as I am."
And she wept and said, "Ah me, that I had wings to fly to my father's house!"
Then the Ailpein bird spoke to her and said, "I cannot take you to your father's house, for I must return to my own land. But I can take you from this castle, for you may come with me if you will."
"I will gladly go wherever you take me!" said the princess.
She dropped her velvet gown upon the floor and laid the jewels they had given her upon it. She put on the dress she had worn when they carried her off, and then she was ready to go.
The Ailpein bird opened out his wings, and as he stretched them to their full span he grew before her eyes until he filled the whole space of the wide window. The princess stepped to the window ledge and seated herself upon his back, and away the white bird flew. He flew over field and forest and mountain, and soon the dark, sleeping castle was far behind them.
By dawn they had passed the borders of the wicked king's kingdom and three other kingdoms beside, and by nightfall they had left all the kingdoms of the world behind them and had come to a strange white land where all was a wilderness of ice and snow and in the midst of it an immense white castle.
"Here we will spend the night," said the Ailpein bird.
A great snowy owl was the lord of this castle, and when the two birds met, they greeted each other fondly. The princess was given food to eat, and put to sleep in a bed of feathers, so warm that she never thought once of the coldness of that land.
The next morning she seated herself again upon the back of the Ailpein bird, and they took up their journey once more. All day they flew and at the end of the day they came to a strange land of fire. The skies were red with the flames of it and the earth rolled and heaved like the waves of a boiling sea. The bird took a sure way above the clouds of smoke and steam till he came to a huge black castle that stood upon the top of a tall black mountain.
"We will stay here for the night," said the Ailpein bird.
A great black raven was the lord of this castle, and the two birds met like brothers long parted. The princess was fed and put to bed in a room where the wings of many birds fanned her all through the night, so that she never gave a thought to the heat from the plains below.
On the morning of the third day the princess and the Ailpein bird set out again, and toward evening they came to a tall mountain with steep shining sides of glass. It was so high that the top of it was hidden in the clouds of the heavens. But when they had passed over it, they came to a fair green land that stretched as far as the eye could see. The land was full of bird song, for many a tree grew on that plain and every tree was full of singing birds. In the midst of the plain rose a great golden castle that shone like the sun, but without the heat of it. Here the Ailpein bird set the princess down.
"This is my castle," said the Ailpein bird, "for I am the king of all the birds. Here you will be safe, and we will try to make you happy."
So the princess lived in the golden castle, and was happy with the birds, except for the great longing that was still in her heart to be at home with her father and her own people.
Now, when the princess had reached the castle of the snowy owl the brave young knight who set out to rescue her had gone a third of his way. When she came to the castle of the black raven he had only a third of his journey left to go. But when she reached the golden castle, the young knight reached the castle of the wicked king at the very same moment.
The gate of the castle stood before him, so he pulled the cowl of his friar's robe over his head till it shadowed his face. There was no guard at the gate, so the knight went in and found the servant's hall as the friars were used to do. Everything seemed to be in a grand turmoil in the castle, with people hurrying in and out. The servants were huddled together at one end of the servants' hall. The young knight went up to them and asked what all the bother was about. He looked like a friar, so they thought he was one, and told him their troubles at once. There had been a fair young princess staying in the castle and she had disappeared. It was three days ago they had missed her, and the king was in a terrible rage, for she was to have married his son, and the king's heart had been set on the marriage. When he was angry he was terrible, and nobody knew what he'd do. Where had she gone? Well, how could anyone say? The king had the guards thrown into the dungeon, for he said she must have slipped by them while they were sleeping. But all the guards were honest men, and they all swore that not one of them had closed an eye all night. Only the king wouldn't believe them. She was gone and that was sure, for there wasn't a hole or corner the king hadn't had them dig into, from the cellars to the garrets of the castle, and if she'd been anywhere they'd have found her.
Excerpted from Heather and Broom by Sorche Nic Leodhas. Copyright © 1960 Leclaire G. Alger. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsThe Ailpein Bird, the Stolen Princess, and the Brave Knight,
The Woman who Flummoxed the Fairies,
The Lairdie with the Heart of Gold,
The Gay Goss-Hawk,
The Lass that Couldn't Be Frighted,
The Daughter of the King Ron,
Spin, Weave, Wear,
The Bogles from the Howff,
About the Author,