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Maon and the Willow

Maon and the Willow

A Tale from Ireland

As retold by Fred Hageneder

Maon was the rightful heir to the throne of Ireland, which was usurped by his grand-uncle Covac. Covac had killed Maon's father and grandfather, the king, and tortured the boy, Maon, who, in consequence, lost his speech. In exile in Gaul (modern France), Maon grew up into a noble youth, and was in love with Moriath, the princess of Ulster. In order to bring him back to Ireland, she wrote a love song for him and had her father's harper, Craftiny, compose the music for it. Then she equipped the harper with rich gifts and sent him to Gaul where he played the love song to Maon.

So enchanting and deeply stirring was the music that Maon's speech returned to him. He was told the truth about his origins and, with an army supplied by the Gaulish king, returned to Ireland. He challenged the murderer and usurper in a surprise battle and slew him. The druid of Covac began to suspect the true identity of this young commander who had led an army over the sea and inquired about his name. The Gaulish warriors simply called him Maon, 'the Mariner'. 'Does he speak?', asked the druid, remembering the dumbness of the young prince. 'Yes, he does speak' (labraidh), was the answer. And henceforth Maon, Son of Ailill, was known as Maon Labraidh, the Mariner Who Speaks. He wedded his love, Moriath, and they lived happily ever after - for the ten years of his reign.

About one thing, however, he did not speak. And that was his ears. For it happened that Maon Labraidh had embarrassingly long ears. And he hid them successfully under his hair. But once a year his hair had to be cropped, and the man to do this was chosen by the lot, for he was put to death afterwards so that the secret would never be revealed.

One year, the son of a poor widow was chosen for this task, and the mother managed to convince the merciful king to let her son live. King Maon agreed, on the condition that the man would swear by Wind and Sun never to tell a man what he might see. And so it happened, and the young man returned to his mother.

But soon enough, the weight of the secret began to wear him down, and he fell more and more sick with it. Until finally a wise druid was called in and he suggested for the young man to go to a remote place in the woodlands and whisper his secret to a tree. The sick young man happened to chose a beautiful, mature willow tree, told it the secret, and swiftly recovered.

But chance had it that soon after, Craftiny, the very harper who was so instrumental in re-uniting king Maon with his country and with his love Moriath, this very harper who had since stayed with the couple, needed a new harp. He walked the Wildwood far and wide, asking and searching for the right tree to give of his body the precious wood for the sacred instrument. And the tree he found was that same willow.

Then came the day when Craftiny was to play his new instrument in the king's hall. And when the harper first touched the strings, they - to the amazement of all the assembled guests - sounded the words "Two horse's ears has Labra the Mariner!" The king went pale and exposed his ears. But the scandal wasn't as bad as he had always feared. No haircutter ever again had to lose his life (and now even the haircutters could live happily ever after).
(c) 2003 Fred Hageneder

13th Druid of Avalon Design. Please send all inquiries or questions concerining this site to DruidsoftheRockies@hotmail.com