THEY sat in a place where they could watch the castle and compose themselves after their journey.
"How are we going to get into the castle?" asked mac an Da'v.
For there were hatchetmen on guard in the big gateway, and there were spearmen at short intervals around the walls, and men to throw hot porridge off the roof were standing in the right places.
"If we cannot get in by hook, we will get in by crook," said Mongan.
"They are both good ways," said Mac an Da'v, "and whichever of them you decide on I'll stick by."
Just then they saw the Hag of the Mill coming out of the mill which was down the road a little.
Now the Hag of the Mill was a bony, thin pole of a hag with odd feet. That is, she had one foot that was too big for her, so that when she lifted it up it pulled her over; and she had one foot that was too small for her, so that when she lifted it up she didn't know what to do with it. She was so long that you thought you would never see the end of her, and she was so thin that you thought you didn't see her at all. One of her eyes was set where her nose should be and there was an ear in its place, and her nose itself was hanging out of her chin, and she had whiskers round it. She was dressed in a red rag that was really a hole with a fringe on it, and she was singing "Oh, hush thee, my one love" to a cat that was yelping on her shoulder.
She had a tall skinny dog behind her called Brotar. It hadn't a tooth in its head except one, and it had the toothache in that tooth. Every few steps it used to sit down on its hunkers and point its nose straight upwards, and make a long, sad complaint about its tooth; and after that it used to reach its hind leg round and try to scratch out its tooth; and then it used to be pulled on again by the straw rope that was round its neck, and which was tied at the other end to the hag's heaviest foot.
There was an old, knock-kneed, raw-boned, one-eyed, little-winded, heavy-headed mare with her also. Every time it put a front leg forward it shivered all over the rest of its legs backwards, and when it put a hind leg forward it shivered all over the rest of its legs frontwards, and it used to give a great whistle through its nose when it was out of breath, and a big, thin hen was sitting on its croup. Mongan looked on the Hag of the Mill with delight and affection.
"This time," said he to mac an Da'v, "I'll get back my wife."
"You will indeed," said mac an Da'v heartily, "and you'll get mine back too."
"Go over yonder," said Mongan, "and tell the Hag of the Mill that I want to talk to her."
Mac an Da'v brought her over to him.
"Is it true what the servant man said?" she asked.
"What did he say?" said Mongan.
"He said you wanted to talk to me."
"It is true," said Mongan.
"This is a wonderful hour and a glorious minute," said the hag, "for this is the first time in sixty years that any one wanted to talk to me. Talk on now," said she, "and I'll listen to you if I can remember how to do it. Talk gently," said she, "the way you won't disturb the animals, for they are all sick."
"They are sick indeed," said mac an Da'v pityingly.
"The cat has a sore tail," said she, "by reason of sitting too close to a part of the hob that was hot. The dog has a toothache, the horse has a pain in her stomach, and the hen has the pip."
"Ah, it's a sad world," said mac an Da'v.
"There you are!" said the hag.
"Tell me," Mongan commenced, "if you got a wish, what it is you would wish for?"
The hag took the cat off her shoulder and gave it to mac an Da'v.
"Hold that for me while I think," said she.
"Would you like to be a lovely young girl?" asked Mongan.
"I'd sooner be that than a skinned eel," said she.
"And would you like to marry me or the King of Leinster?" "I'd like to marry either of you, or both of you, or whichever of you came first."
"Very well," said Mongan, "you shall have your wish."
He touched her with his finger, and the instant he touched her all dilapidation and wryness and age went from her, and she became so beautiful that one dared scarcely look on her, and so young that she seemed but sixteen years of age.
"You are not the Hag of the Mill any longer," said Mongan, "you are Ivell of the Shining Cheeks, daughter of the King of Munster."
He touched the dog too, and it became a little silky lapdog that could nestle in your palm. Then he changed the old mare into a brisk, piebald palfrey. Then he changed himself so that he became the living image of Ae, the son of the King of Connaught, who had just been married to Ivell of the Shining Cheeks, and then he changed mac an Da'v into the likeness of Ae's attendant, and then
they all set off towards the fortress, singing the song that
begins: My wife is nicer than any one's wife, Any one's
wife, any one's wife, My wife is nicer than any one's wife,
Which nobody can deny.