The Battle of the Birds

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The Battle of the Birds is a Scottish fairy tale collected by John Francis Campbell in his Popular Tales of the West Highlands. He recorded it from a fisherman near Inverary, John Mackenzie. Joseph Jacobs took it from there for his Celtic Fairy Tales and added some additional elements.

Also included in The Lilac Fairy Book by Andrew Lang and A Book Of British Fairy Tales by Alan Garner

Synopsis[edit]

A king's son set out to see a battle, where every animal fought; he promised to bring back to his father the news of who would be the king of the animals that year. He arrived when the fight was almost over, but a snake and a raven still fought. He cut off the head of the snake. The raven, in gratitude, flew him to a castle where his sister lived, and the prince spent the night there. The raven then flew to another castle, where he also spent the night, but the next morning he met a handsome youth, who had been the enchanted raven. The youth gave him a bundle and warned him not to open it until he was in the place where he most wanted to be.

When he was nearing his father's house, he opened the bundle. A great castle sprang up, and an irate giant demanded to know why he had put it there. It offered to put it back if the prince gave him his first son, when he reached seven years of age. Then the prince went out, and opened the bundle near his father's lands. He went into the castle, and found a pretty maid who was willing to be his wife. They had a son, and seven years later, they tried to put off the giant with the cook's son, and the butcher's son, but finally had to yield their own.

The giant raised him. One day, he heard music and found the giant's daughter. She told him the next day the giant would ask him to marry one of her two older sisters, but she wanted him to insist on her, because she did not like the bridegroom he wanted for her.

The prince asked, but the annoyed giant demanded that he clean out the byre, or he would not get his youngest but be killed. He started to clean. The daughter came by at noon, and the prince fell asleep, but the byre were clean when he woke. The giant knew he did not clean it, but set him to thatch it with birds' down. The prince tried to hunt the birds. At noon, the daughter put him to sleep again, and the roofs were thatched with feathers when he woke. The giant knew he had not done it, and set him to fetch down a bird's nest. He tried to climb it and got no more than half way. The daughter built him a ladder of her fingers, and when he got it down, she left her little finger in the tree.

She told him that the giant would ask him to pick her out from her sisters, and the only mark would be that she was missing her finger. The wedding was held and celebrated, and the prince picked out his bride from her sisters. The giant told them to go to rest. The daughter told her husband that they had to flee at once, and they took a gray filly. She left behind slices of apples that answered the giant. Only when the last one had spoken did he realize that they had fled. He gave chase. When the giant nearly caught them, the daughter had the prince take a twig from the filly's ear and throw it behind them: it became a forest. The giant got through it, and they threw a pebble that became a mountain. The giant got through it, and they threw a flask of water that became a wave and drowned him.

The daughter forbade him to let anyone or thing in his father's house kiss him, or he would forget her, but a greyhound leaped up to kiss him, and he forgot the daughter. She stayed in a tree by a well. A shoemaker's wife and daughter, going to fetch water, both thought her shadow was theirs, and thought themselves too beautiful to fetch water. The shoemaker went himself, saw her, and persuaded her to come down.

When she stayed his house, some young men tried to woo her, but she made them stick to the latch so they could not approach her. The shoemaker was making shoes for the king's son, who was to marry, and the daughter persuaded him to take her. She conjured up a silver and a gold pigeon, and grains. The silver pigeon ate them, and the golden pigeon taxed him with what the giant's daughter had done for the prince. At that the prince knew her, and married her a second time.

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