Are you telling me you've never heard of the black horse of Cormar - him who came out of the midnight sea and stole the King's daughter? I thought the whole world knew, and him such a grand beast with the water still set on his shoulders, and the muscles rippling, and his great orange eyes a-rolling!
Sit you down now and I'll tell you the way that it was...
In the country of Cormar on the little island of Milray - which as I'm sure you know is a wild and rocky place at the best of times, there lived a King and he - lucky man - had for his daughter, Eileen of the Silver Hair. Oh, wasn't she the loveliest maid in the whole of the land, straight and slim as the sapling tree with clear wide eyes and a nature as sweet as the mountain stream.
Eileen's mother had died long since, but Eileen loved her father and she looked after him well. She plucked the harp for him in the tall, windy hall of the castle while the sea pounded the rocks below, and she made with her own fair hands a great thick cloak of the softest wool to warm him as they walked together in the evenings and looked down on the deep waters.
The King of Cormar loved his daughter too...and how could he not? But he loved himself the more, foolish man that he was.
"What will I do when she marries?" he would moan to himself. "Aren't I the most unfortunate man to have a daughter so beautiful that the suitors are coming thick as the sea birds nesting in the cliffs?"
So he thought of ways to turn away all the bold young men who came. One, he judged to be too poor and the next to have more money than was good for him. A third, he said was as stupid as a loon and another so quick of wit that any fool could see he was not an honest man.
Poor Eileen, obedient daughter though she was, felt sore at heart as she saw all the fine young men turning unhappily away. "Da...won't I have to be taking a man as husband some day?" she asked reasonably.
"To be sure, to be sure," replied the King quickly, "but a poor father I'd be if I did not want the best for such a loving and sweet child as yourself." Then, to take her mind off the subject, d'you see, he arranged a grand ball for all the fine folk for miles around.
On the evening of the ball there was such feasting, merry making, jigging and fiddling, that the mind fair spun to behold it. All the rooms of the castle came alive with the flickering of candlelight. The musicians were playing fit to burst, and when the people were wearied of dancing, the Seanachie told his stories - the old favourites - about the Fairy and John Hegarty's Goat, and the Saga of the North, and then he spoke a long new poem in honour of the King and the lovely Eileen. Sure, and it was a sight to warm the heart.
Then when it was nearly midnight, something happened to anger the King of Cormar. Would you believe it, but no less than six bold young lads came up to him and bent their knees in respect.
"We all are in love with your silver-haired daughter Eileen," the ring leader explained, "Now, would you be choosing a husband for her from one of us."
The King flew into a fine rage. "Am I never to be shut of you all with your pestering?" he cried. "Isn't it most impolite to come trying to take my only daughter and at my own party too!"
The people gathered around to hear the lovely din, and Eileen wept with mortification. "Da...would you have me be an old maid?" she sobbed. "Don't they all seem decent enough boys? What is it that you want for me?"
"I'll tell you what I want," thundered the King, "and I'll tell you no lies. So listen now everybody, once and for all. The one who takes my daughter must be stronger than all men, and swifter than the thrown spear. He must be more handsome than the moon in the night sky and his kingdom must be greater than the whole of Cormar."
Then - just to make sure he had asked enough to be on the safe side, d'you see - the King strode out to the battlements, and pointed a fierce finger down to the dark restless waves. "And above all else," he cried in his jealous rage, "he'll not take my daughter unless he rises from the very deeps to claim her."
There was a hush - and you could not hear a sound but for Eileen's weeping - and it was at that very moment that a strange noise could be heard, coming up from the sea.
All the lovely ladies and gentlemen ran out into the cold night to see what was happening and there below them the waters began to churn, and lash, and boil...and out of them heaved a great black horse, rearing up from the waves with the moon shining on his mighty hooves and the spray flying white as he tossed his wild mane.
With a great leap and faster than the eye could see, he left the shore and galloped straight up the side of the cliff to the very castle walls, his hooves clattering and striking fire from the rocks. There he stood, beautiful and terrible to see, and the people backed away at the sight of him.
"Am I not strong and swift above all men, O King?" he demanded in a voice like a great bell.
"Oh, `deed you are, you are, Your Honour," stammered the King, for he was in too much of a fright to say aught else.
"My kingdom could swallow in its depths the whole of Cormar, and never notice it was there at all," spoke the horse proudly. "Now say, am I as handsome as the moon in the night sky, or am I not?"
"Oh, you tell no lie at all," agreed the King hastily.
"Then give me your daughter," called the horse and his voice shook the stone walls of the castle.
"Oh, my poor child, my poor child," thought the King...for once not thinking of himself... and he wrung his hands and thought desperately of how he could save her.
"Sure and I would, Your Worship," he cried earnestly, "and wouldn't I be the proudest man in Cormar to do so...but for one thing. I always swore never to make my daughter marry against her will. Now, such a wondrous being as yourself would not be wanting me to break my word?"
The black sea-beast looked at the King sternly, and his eyes flashed red. "No, I would not have you break your word," he said.
Then he turned his bright gaze upon the fair Eileen, and he bent his head before her. When he spoke his voice was as gentle as the breast of a dove. "Eileen of the Silver Hair," he said. "Will you come with me then, down into my kingdom, where you will become a beautiful silver sea-beast, to take my love and be my queen?"
"Indeed and I will," answered Eileen firmly, without any hesitation, "for aren't you the sweetest, noblest creature I have ever seen...and it is quite clear that I will never be wed if I stay here!"
And she leapt lightly up on to his back, her silver hair streaming behind her in the wind. Then the horse plunged back beneath the waves taking Eileen with him and the King and the people watched them go, and there was never a ripple on the black water to show of their going.
As for the King, oh he never got over it at all, though all men said it was his own foolish selfishness that had caused the bother of it. And that is why - to this very day - you will see no colour of horse but white, in the whole country of Cormar!
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