20. The Palace of the Glass Bridge


THEY CAME NEXT to a small island, and there was a palace on it, with a brass door, and there were brass chains and fastenings on the door, hung all over with little silver bells.

In front of the door there was a fountain, spanned by a bridge of glass, which led to the palace. They walked towards the bridge, meaning to cross it, but every time they stepped on it, they were pushed backwards, so that they fell flat on the ground.

They had grown tired from trying to cross the bridge when they saw a beautiful young woman emerge from the palace, with a pail in her hand. She lifted a glass slab from the bridge, and, having filled her pail from the fountain, she went back into the palace.

“This woman has been sent to keep house for Máel Dúin!” called Germane.

“Máel Dúin indeed!” she scoffed, as she shut the door firmly after her.

They struck on the brazen portcullis before them to gain admittance, and they shook at the brass chains, but the tinkling of the silver bells was so soft and melodious that the voyagers soon all fell into a deep and tranquil sleep, and they slept soundly until the next morning.

When they awoke, they saw the same young woman coming out of the palace; and she lifted the glas slab as before, and filled her pail.

“This woman has certainly been sent to keep house for Máel Dúin!” said Germane.

“Oh, how wonderful are all the powers of Máel Dúin!” she laughed scornfully, as she shut the brazen door behind her.

They stayed in this place for three days and three nights, and on the third morning, the maiden came forth in the same manner, and filled her pail. And again, Germane called to her, and again she replied.

But on the fourth day, she emerged from the palace to the sound of the silver bells, and walked towards them, splendidly and beautifully dressed, with her yellow hair bound by a circlet of gold, and wearing silver-work shoes on her small, white feet. She had a white cloak over her shoulders, which was fastened in front by a silver brooch studded with gold; and next to her soft, snow-white skin was a flowing garment of fine white silk.

“My love and greetings to you, Máel Dúin, and to your companions,” she said. And she mentioned them all, one after another, calling each by his own name.

“My love to you all,” she said. “All of us here knew long before now that you were coming to our island, for your arrival has been foretold among us.”

Then she led them to a large house standing by the sea, and she caused the curragh to be drawn high up onto the beach. In the house was a number of couches, so that there was one for Máel Dúin alone, and there was also a couch for every three of his men.

The woman then gave them, from one vessel, a food which was like cheese; first of all to Máel Dúin, and then giving a triple share to every three of his companions; and whatever taste each man wished for, that was the taste he found. Every man thought that he was eating his own favourite food.

She then lifted the glass slab in the bridge, filled her pail, and served drink to each of them; and she knew exactly how much to give, of both food and drink, so that each man had enough to be satisfied, and no more.

“This woman would make a fine wife for Máel Dúin,” said the voyagers to each other. But even as they spoke, she had returned to the palace.

“Shall we ask this maiden to become your wife?” Máel Dúin’s companions gathered around and asked him.

“How could it hurt for you to speak with her?” Máel Dúin replied.

Next morning when she appeared, they said to her:

“Will you not stay here with us? Will you make a friend of Máel Dúin — and will you take him as your husband?”

She replied that she and all those that lived on the island were forbidden to marry with the sons of men; and she told them that she could not disobey, as she did not know what sin or transgression was.

She then went from them to her house; and on the next morning, when she returned, and after she had ministered to them as usual, till they were satisfied with food and drink, and were becoming relaxed, they put the same questions to her.

“Tomorrow,” she replied, “you will get an answer to your questions.” And so saying, she went back across the glass bridge and to the palace. They were soon asleep on their couches.

When they awoke next morning, they found themselves lying in their curragh, and it was sitting on a crag of rock surrounded by water; and when they looked about, they saw neither the woman, nor the palace, nor the glass bridge — there was no trace anywhere of the island.

They pulled their boat into the water, and sailed on.

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