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Oisin and the Fairies
A fairy tale
This is the story of how Oisin became king.
The town was beside a river. Its castle had a single drawbridge entrance and its moat was fed by the river. Above its drawbridge was a horseshoe, nailed seven times into the wall. It was pointed upwards to catch the luck, as everybody knows.
Long ago, a foolish king and his court had lived in the castle. Word of his foolishness spread far and wide. One night a fairy troop came to challenge the king to three games upon the drawbridge. Little did the king know, but the fairies had a horseshoe of luck with them. By the end of the night the king had gambled away his clothes, his crown, and his castle, and so the fairies moved in. They nailed the iron horseshoe above the entrance and closed the drawbridge forever so that nobody could challenge them the way they had challenged the king.
For many years afterwards, the fairies would come out at night to steal the sheep and cattle of the townspeople around the castle. The townspeople became poorer and poorer.
Soon after the fairies came, Oisin was born to a peasant woman in the town, the poorest of them all. But Oisin was a trickster of a child and was able to provide for his mother with his trickery. He was a great trapper of rabbits and fish and he let his hair grow long and wild like the animals he caught.
On his sixteenth birthday Oisin’s mother bade him sit beside her at their fire. She sighed and said: "It is time you know the truth about your foolish father.
"Your father was the king. I was his queen and I was pregnant with you when the fairies drove us out. I was happy to be alive and to become a mother but your father was proud and couldn’t bear to be poor. He left before you were born. You are the lost prince."
Oisin comforted his weeping mother. He had always known he was different. He had always hated how his mother suffered. He resolved to challenge the fairies. For three nights he plotted, until there was no moon. As he left for the castle his mother stopped him.
"Take this", she said. "I snuck it away from the fairies." She gave him a horseshoe and he tucked it into his bag.
When he got to the castle he dove into the moat. The fairy guards heard him but could not see him. "What swims in our moat?"
He swam up against the wall of the castle and cast his voice upwards. "Perhaps we should open the drawbridge to see from the other side!" he said in his most fairyish voice.
"Aye," said one of the fairies. They lowered the drawbridge and fairy guards came out. Behind them Oisin pulled himself onto the bridge. As soon as he did, a great voice rang out from inside the castle.
"Stop!" Out walked the fairy court. "Who goes there?"
"I am Oisin, son of the king, come to challenge you to a night of games. Indeed, I have just won the first."
The fairy court became afraid because it was true. "And what shall we play for?"
"If I win, you shall let me into the castle and I shall claim my throne. If I lose, I must lead you to priceless treasure."
If they had asked they would have learned that Oisin's treasure was the silver froth of the sea and the golden shine of the sun. But the greed of the fairies overcame their fear, for fairies love treasure.
For the second challenge, Oisin proposed the Christmas game. Whatever was done to one would be done to the other until one gave in. The fairies knew this game well and agreed. A fairy lord volunteered.
"Now," said Oisin, "Heat a blade in a fire." The fairy lord nervously did so and brought it back to the drawbridge. "Lay it against my neck for a minute's time".
The fairy lord did so but Oisin was not hurt. For he had such hair, all of it wet and cold from the moat, that his hair smoked and singed but his skin was not hurt.
Oisin, laughing, gave the sword back to reheat. The second before he laid it against the fairy lord's neck the lord cried out: “You win, you win, trickster!”
For the final challenge the fairies chose the game of handball. They took Oisin in and raised the drawbridge. The drawbridge would serve as their wall. Just like the outer wall, above the inner wall a horseshoe hung, pointed upwards to catch the luck.
Oison pulled out the horseshoe his mother had given him and hung it next to him. The fairies laughed. "Pointed downwards? The luck will fall out!"
Oisin smiled. "You may have plenty of luck. But it sits there, trapped. Tis a shame. My luck is pouring down upon me!"
Then the fairies were sore afraid, for they could see he was right. The fairy who played was so nervous, he missed every shot. Oisin shots hit true every time. By the end, the fairies were singing praise of Oisin, for fairies admire good tricks. Oisin won the third challenge with ease.
The fairies applauded him as the winner. They asked: “Could you show us the treasures anyway, now that we are without home and hearth?” And Oisin took them to the silver sea and showed them the golden sun. The fairies laughed again at his trickery and bade him goodbye. They told him that if he ever wanted to play again to find them in the hills.
So Oisin became king and laid down the drawbridge. He doted upon his mother and the townspeople loved him. Anyone could challenge him for a night of games. If they did, however, they would notice too late that above his bridge was a horseshoe pointing down.