The Red-etin

: The Scottish Fairy Book

There were once two widows who lived in two cottages which stood not

very far from one another. And each of those widows possessed a piece of

land on which she grazed a cow and a few sheep, and in this way she made

her living.

One of these poor widows had two sons, the other had one; and as these

three boys were always together, it was natural that they should become

great friends.

/> At last the time arrived when the eldest son of the widow who had two

sons, must leave home and go out into the world to seek his fortune. And

the night before he went away his mother told him to take a can and go

to the well and bring back some water, and she would bake a cake for him

to carry with him.

"But remember," she added, "the size of the cake will depend on the

quantity of water that thou bringest back. If thou bringest much, then

will it be large; and, if thou bringest little, then will it be small.

But, big or little, it is all that I have to give thee."

The lad took the can and went off to the well, and filled it with

water, and came home again. But he never noticed that the can had a hole

in it, and was running out; so that, by the time that he arrived at

home, there was very little water left. So his mother could only bake

him a very little cake.

But, small as it was, she asked him, as she gave it to him, to choose

one of two things. Either to take the half of it with her blessing, or

the whole of it with her malison. "For," said she, "thou canst not have

both the whole cake and a blessing along with it."

The lad looked at the cake and hesitated. It would have been pleasant to

have left home with his mother's blessing upon him; but he had far to

go, and the cake was little; the half of it would be a mere mouthful,

and he did not know when he would get any more food. So at last he made

up his mind to take the whole of it, even if he had to bear his mother's


Then he took his younger brother aside, and gave him his hunting-knife,

saying, "Keep this by thee, and look at it every morning. For as long as

the blade remains clear and bright, thou wilt know that it is well with

me; but should it grow dim and rusty, then know thou that some evil hath

befallen me."

After this he embraced them both and set out on his travels. He

journeyed all that day, and all the next, and on the afternoon of the

third day he came to where an old shepherd was sitting beside a flock of


"I will ask the old man whose sheep they are," he said to himself, "for

mayhap his master might engage me also as a shepherd." So he went up to

the old man, and asked him to whom the sheep belonged. And this was all

the answer he got:

"The Red-Etin of Ireland

Ance lived in Ballygan,

And stole King Malcolm's daughter,

The King of fair Scotland.

He beats her, he binds her,

He lays her on a band,

And every day he dings her

With a bright silver wand.

Like Julian the Roman,

He's one that fears no man.

"It's said there's ane predestinate

To be his mortal foe,

But that man is yet unborn,

And lang may it be so."

"That does not tell me much; but somehow I do not fancy this Red-Etin

for a master," thought the youth, and he went on his way.

He had not gone very far, however, when he saw another old man, with

snow-white hair, herding a flock of swine; and as he wondered to whom

the swine belonged, and if there was any chance of him getting a

situation as a swineherd, he went up to the countryman, and asked who

was the owner of the animals.

He got the same answer from the swineherd that he had got from the


"The Red-Etin of Ireland

Ance lived in Ballygan,

And stole King Malcolm's daughter,

The King of fair Scotland.

He beats her, he binds her,

He lays her on a band,

And every day he dings her

With a bright silver wand.

Like Julian the Roman,

He's one that fears no man.

"It's said there's ane predestinate

To be his mortal foe,

But that man is yet unborn,

And lang may it be so."

"Plague on this old Red-Etin; I wonder when I will get out of his

domains," he muttered to himself; and he journeyed still further.

Presently he came to a very, very old man--so old, indeed, that he was

quite bent with age--and he was herding a flock of goats.

Once more the traveller asked to whom the animals belonged, and once

more he got the same answer:

"The Red-Etin of Ireland

Ance lived in Ballygan,

And stole King Malcolm's daughter,

The King of fair Scotland.

He beats her, he binds her,

He lays her on a band,

And every day he dings her

With a bright silver wand.

Like Julian the Roman,

He's one that fears no man.

"It's said there's ane predestinate

To be his mortal foe,

But that man is yet unborn,

And lang may it be so."

But this ancient goatherd added a piece of advice at the end of his

rhyme. "Beware, stranger," he said, "of the next herd of beasts that ye

shall meet. Sheep, and swine, and goats will harm nobody; but the

creatures ye shall now encounter are of a sort that ye have never met

before, and they are not harmless."

The young man thanked him for his counsel, and went on his way, and he

had not gone very far before he met a herd of very dreadful creatures,

unlike anything that he had ever dreamed of in all his life.

For each of them had three heads, and on each of its three heads it had

four horns; and when he saw them he was so frightened that he turned and

ran away from them as fast as he could.

Up hill and down dale he ran, until he was well-nigh exhausted; and,

just when he was beginning to feel that his legs would not carry him any

further, he saw a great Castle in front of him, the door of which was

standing wide open.

He was so tired that he went straight in, and after wandering through

some magnificent halls, which appeared to be quite deserted, he reached

the kitchen, where an old woman was sitting by the fire.

He asked her if he might have a night's lodging, as he had come a long

and weary journey, and would be glad of somewhere to rest.

"You can rest here, and welcome, for me," said the old Dame, "but for

your own sake I warn you that this is an ill house to bide in; for it is

the Castle of the Red-Etin, who is a fierce and terrible Monster with

three heads, and he spareth neither man nor woman, if he can get hold of


Tired as he was, the young man would have made an effort to escape from

such a dangerous abode had he not remembered the strange and awful

beasts from which he had just been fleeing, and he was afraid that, as

it was growing dark, if he set out again he might chance to walk right

into their midst. So he begged the old woman to hide him in some dark

corner, and not to tell the Red-Etin that he was in the Castle.

"For," thought he, "if I can only get shelter until the morning, I will

then be able to avoid these terrible creatures and go on my way in


So the old Dame hid him in a press under the back stairs, and, as there

was plenty of room in it, he settled down quite comfortably for the


But just as he was going off to sleep he heard an awful roaring and

trampling overhead. The Red-Etin had come home, and it was plain that he

was searching for something.

And the terrified youth soon found out what the "Something" was, for

very soon the horrible Monster came into the kitchen, crying out in a

voice like thunder:

"Seek but, and seek ben,

I smell the smell of an earthly man!

Be he living, or be he dead,

His heart this night I shall eat with my bread."

And it was not very long before he discovered the poor young man's

hiding-place and pulled him roughly out of it.

Of course, the lad begged that his life might be spared, but the Monster

only laughed at him.

"It will be spared if thou canst answer three questions," he said; "if

not, it is forfeited."

The first of these three questions was, "Whether Ireland or Scotland was

first inhabited?"

The second, "How old was the world when Adam was made?"

And the third, "Whether men or beasts were created first?"

The lad was not skilled in such matters, having had but little

book-learning, and he could not answer the questions. So the Monster

struck him on the head with a queer little hammer which he carried, and

turned him into a piece of stone.

Now every morning since he had left home his younger brother had done as

he had promised, and had carefully examined his hunting-knife.

On the first two mornings it was bright and clear, but on the third

morning he was very much distressed to find that it was dull and rusty.

He looked at it for a few moments in great dismay; then he ran straight

to his mother, and held it out to her.

"By this token I know that some mischief hath befallen my brother," he

said, "so I must set out at once to see what evil hath come upon him."

"First must thou go to the well and fetch me some water," said his

mother, "that I may bake thee a cake to carry with thee, as I baked a

cake for him who is gone. And I will say to thee what I said to him.

That the cake will be large or small according as thou bringest much or

little water back with thee."

So the lad took the can, as his brother had done, and went off to the

well, and it seemed as if some evil spirit directed him to follow his

example in all things, for he brought home little water, and he chose

the whole cake and his mother's malison, instead of the half and her

blessing, and he set out and met the shepherd, and the swineherd, and

the goatherd, and they all gave the same answers to him which they had

given to his brother. And he also encountered the same fierce beasts,

and ran from them in terror, and took shelter from them in the Castle;

and the old woman hid him, and the Red-Etin found him, and, because he

could not answer the three questions, he, too, was turned into a pillar

of stone.

And no more would ever have been heard of these two youths had not a

kind Fairy, who had seen all that had happened, appeared to the other

widow and her son, as they were sitting at supper one night in the

gloaming, and told them the whole story, and how their two poor young

neighbours had been turned into pillars of stone by a cruel enchanter

called Red-Etin.

Now the third young man was both brave and strong, and he determined to

set out to see if he could in anywise help his two friends. And, from

the very first moment that he had made up his mind to do so, things went

differently with him than they had with them. I think, perhaps, that

this was because he was much more loving and thoughtful than they were.

For, when his mother sent him to fetch water from the well so that she

might bake a cake for him, just as the other mother had done for her

sons, a raven, flying above his head, croaked out that his can was

leaking, and he, wishing to please his mother by bringing her a good

supply of water, patched up the hole with clay, and so came home with

the can quite full.

Then, when his mother had baked a big bannock for him, and giving him

his choice between the whole cake and her malison, or half of it and her

blessing, he chose the latter, "for," said he, throwing his arms round

her neck, "I may light on other cakes to eat, but I will never light on

another blessing such as thine."

And the curious thing was, that, after he had said this, the half cake

which he had chosen seemed to spread itself out, and widen, and broaden,

till it was bigger by far than it had been at first.

Then he started on his journey, and, after he had gone a good way he

began to feel hungry. So he pulled it out of his pocket and began to eat


Just then he met an old woman, who seemed to be very poor, for her

clothing was thin, and worn, and old, and she stopped and spoke to him.

"Of thy charity, kind Master," she said, stretching out one of her

withered hands, "spare me a bit of the cake that thou art eating."

Now the youth was very hungry, and he could have eaten it all himself,

but his kind heart was touched by the woman's pinched face, so he broke

it in two, and gave her half of it.

Instantly she was changed into the Fairy who had appeared to his mother

and himself as they had sat at supper the night before, and she smiled

graciously at the generous lad, and held out a little wand to him.

"Though thou knowest it not, thy mother's blessing and thy kindness to

an old and poor woman hath gained thee many blessings, brave boy," he

said. "Keep that as thy reward; thou wilt need it ere thy errand be

done." Then, bidding him sit down on the grass beside her, she told him

all the dangers that he would meet on his travels, and the way in which

he could overcome them, and then, in a moment, before he could thank

her, she vanished out of his sight.

But with the little wand, and all the instructions that she had given

him, he felt that he could face fearlessly any danger that he might be

called on to meet, so he rose from the grass and went his way, full of a

cheerful courage.

After he had walked for many miles further, he came, as each of his

friends had done, to the old shepherd herding his sheep. And, like them,

he asked to whom the sheep belonged. And this time the old man answered:

"The Red-Etin of Ireland

Ance lived in Ballygan,

And stole King Malcolm's daughter,

The King of fair Scotland.

He beats her, he binds her,

He lays her on a band,

And every day he dings her

With a bright silver wand.

Like Julian the Roman,

He's one that fears no man.

"But now I fear his end is near,

And destiny at hand;

And you're to be, I plainly see,

The heir of all his land."

Then the young man went on, and he came to the swineherd, and to the

goatherd; and each of them in turn repeated the same words to him.

And, when he came to where the droves of monstrous beasts were, he was

not afraid of them, and when one came running up to him with its mouth

wide open to devour him, he just struck it with his wand, and it dropped

down dead at his feet.

At last he arrived at the Red-Etin's Castle, and he knocked boldly at

the door. The old woman answered his knock, and, when he had told her

his errand, warned him gravely not to enter.

"Thy two friends came here before thee," she said, "and they are now

turned into two pillars of stone; what advantage is it to thee to lose

thy life also?"

But the young man only laughed. "I have knowledge of an art of which

they knew nothing," he said. "And methinks I can fight the Red-Etin with

his own weapons."

So, much against her will, the old woman let him in, and hid him where

she had hid his friends.

It was not long before the Monster arrived, and, as on former occasions,

he came into the kitchen in a furious rage, crying:

"Seek but, and seek ben,

I smell the smell of an earthly man!

Be he living, or be he dead,

His heart this night I shall eat with my bread."

Then he peered into the young man's hiding-place, and called to him to

come out. And after he had come out, he put to him the three questions,

never dreaming that he could answer them; but the Fairy had told the

youth what to say, and he gave the answers as pat as any book.

Then the Red-Etin's heart sank within him for fear, for he knew that

someone had betrayed him, and that his power was gone.

And gone in very truth it was. For when the youth took an axe and began

to fight with him, he had no strength to resist, and, before he knew

where he was, his heads were cut off. And that was the end of the


As soon as he saw that his enemy was really dead, the young man asked

the old woman if what the shepherd, and the swineherd, and the goatherd

had told him were true, and if King Malcolm's daughter were really a

prisoner in the Castle.

The old woman nodded. "Even with the Monster lying dead at my feet, I am

almost afraid to speak of it," she said. "But come with me, my gallant

gentleman, and thou wilt see what dule and misery the Red-Etin hath

caused to many a home."

She took a huge bunch of keys, and led him up a long flight of stairs,

which ended in a passage with a great many doors on each side of it. She

unlocked these doors with her keys, and, as she opened them, she put her

head into every room and said, "Ye have naught to fear now, Madam, the

Predestinated Deliverer hath come, and the Red-Etin is dead."

And behold, with a cry of joy, out of every room came a beautiful lady

who had been stolen from her home, and shut up there, by the Red-Etin.

Among them was one who was more beautiful and stately than the rest, and

all the others bowed down to her and treated her with such great

reverence that it was clear to see that she was the Royal Princess, King

Malcolm's daughter.

And when the youth stepped forward and did reverence to her also, she

spoke so sweetly to him, and greeted him so gladly, and called him her

Deliverer, in such a low, clear voice, that his heart was taken captive

at once.

But, for all that, he did not forget his friends. He asked the old woman

where they were, and she took him into a room at the end of the passage,

which was so dark that one could scarcely see in it, and so low that one

could scarcely stand upright.

In this dismal chamber stood two blocks of stone.

"One can unlock doors, young Master," said the old woman, shaking her

head forebodingly, "but 'tis hard work to try to turn cauld stane back

to flesh and blood."

"Nevertheless, I will do it," said the youth, and, lifting his little

wand, he touched each of the stone pillars lightly on the top.

Instantly the hard stone seemed to soften and melt away, and the two

brothers started into life and form again. Their gratitude to their

friend, who had risked so much to save them, knew no bounds, while he,

on his part, was delighted to think that his efforts had been


The next thing to do was to convey the Princess and the other ladies

(who were all noblemen's daughters) back to the King's Court, and this

they did next day.

King Malcolm was so overjoyed to see his dearly loved daughter, whom he

had given up for dead, safe and sound, and so grateful to her deliverer,

that he said that he should become his son-in-law and marry the

Princess, and come and live with them at Court. Which all came to pass

in due time; while as for the two other young men, they married

noblemen's daughters, and the two old mothers came to live near their

sons, and everyone was as happy as they could possibly be.