Saturday, August 21, 2004

Many Isles of Mail Duin

Anyone up for a long Irish story with an anti-climatic ending? If so, check out the adventure of Mail Duin:

From the Irish epic of Immram Curaig Maíl Dúin, believed to have been written down in the Eighth Century (although the oldest surviving text comes from the Tenth).

After a man murdered his father, Mail Duin took three friends, German, Diruan, and an unnamed individual (presumably wearing a red shirt), to hunt down the killer. His father, Aillill, had been set upon and buried in an abandoned church and Mail Duin was determined to do whatever necessary to avenge him. His voyage took him to many strange lands:

The Island of the Slayer: Within the first two days of sailing, Mail Duin came to two small islands with a fortress on each. In one of them, his father's killer was loudly boasting to the neighboring fort about the murder. Mail Duin was about to land when German and Diruan praised God for guiding their way. Apparently invoking God's name during an act of vengeance was blasphemous—a great wind suddenly blasted them miles out to sea, far out of sight of the island. The sailed for three more days before seeing any land again.

The Island of the Ants: The next island they saw was swarming with giant ants the size of horses. The ants rushed to beach at their approach. Mail Duin decided against landing there.

The Island of the Birds: Finally they stepped ashore to an island, one covered with a thick forest. They found enough birds to feed them for weeks.

The Island of the Fierce Beast: They next stopped at a sandy beach, only to have a monster with the body of a horse and clawed feet, charge out of the forest. They barely escaped to sea. The beast threw pebbles at their ship as they sailed away.

The Island of the Giant Horses: German and Diuran set off to explore the next island. They found what appeared to be a giant race track full of hoof-prints the size of their ship's sail. They wisely departed, and from a distance out at sea, saw huge horses appear on the track, running neck and neck.

The Island of the Stone Door: They sailed for a week before coming to another island. On the beach was a house with a stone door that opened into the sea. Schools of salmon swam through the door, stocking the house. They entered and found the beds of four giants and a feast laid out upon an enormous table. They ate the food and moved on before the owners came home.

The Island of the Apples: This island jutted directly from the sea with steep cliffs on all sides, too high and sharp to climb. Mail Duin was able to break off a branch from a tree that grew over the edge. They sailed around the island for three days but found no way to come ashore. However, in that time, the branch he'd broken sprouted three giant apples, each one large enough to feed the crew for 40 days.

The Island of the Wondrous Beast: The next island was surrounded by a great stone fence, a la King Kong, holding back a monster that rushed around the island again and again. Finally, it climbed to the top of a hill so the crew could make it out. There the beast stood still but made its skin twirl around its immobile body. Then it made its skin stay still but made its body twirl around inside. Mail Duin didn't bother even attempting to land and the beast hurled stones at them as they sailed off. One of the stones cracked into the hull of the ship and stayed there.

The Island of the Biting Horses: The next island they came to ran red with blood, flowing from a herd of demonic horses that constantly fought and bit each other. Mail Duin took one look and kept on sailing.

The Island of the Fiery Swine: By this time, the giant apples were entirely eaten and the crew was starving. They had to find food on the next island or die but it was full of giant red pig-like monsters. The creatures were powerful enough to uproot entire trees to get to their fruit but slept soundly at night in the caves beneath the island. That night, Mail Duin and the others crept ashore and loaded up on apples. The heat from the monster pigs was so intense that even when they were deep below in the caves, it nearly burnt the soles of their feet.

The Island of the Little Cat: In a Monty Python-esque turn of events, this proved to be the deadliest island of all. Not really an island, this was a tower that rose out of the sea with many white houses on top. Mail Duin led his crew into the largest house. They found plenty of provisions as well as a little cat that leapt from pillar to pillar. Taking only food, the men set back to their boat when the unnamed member of the crew saw a beautiful necklace and decided to pick it up. The moment he touched it, the cat transformed into a ball of fire and burnt the man to a pile of ashes. Mail Duin took these ashes and scattered them on the sea as they sailed away.

The Island of the Black and White Sheep: This island was divided in half by a great bronze fence. On one side was a flock of white sheep with black sheep on the other. A giant watched over the flocks and occasionally picked a sheep up and placed it on the opposite side of the fence. Immediately the sheep would change color. Mail Duin threw a white stick on the black side of the island and it darkened. Not considering that this could act as a Sneechian Star-On/Star-Off machine for racists, they sailed away, still searching for the killer.

The Island of the Giant Swine: Anothre island full of giant pigs. The crew killed the smallest one they could find but it was still too heavy to move, so they roasted and ate it one the spot (if you ever roasted a real pig, you know how likely this is). German and Diuran searched farther inland and saw, across a river, a giant herding cattle. German stuck his spear into the river to test its depth but it instantly dissolved. They turned back to the search.

The Island of the Mill: Upon this island, they found a mill with a giant working a great grindstone. He told them that he was grinding "all that men begrudge each other." Mail Duin and the others made the sign of the cross and took again to sea.

Island of the Black Mourners: This island was full of black men who grieved and cried (probably not meant to be Africans but to symbolize mourning). When German and Diuran stepped ashore, they turned black and began to weep as well. Mail Duin covered his head so he could neither see the land or breathe its air, stepped ashore, grabbed them and pulled them back to the ship. They recovered and sailed away.

The Island of the Four Fences: Fences of Gold, Silver, Brass, and Crystal divided this island into quarters. One part was ruled by kings, the other by queens, another by warriors, and the last by maidens. Being long at sea, you can imagine which one they chose. The maidens greeted the men and fed them magical cheese that tasted like whatever they desired. Then they happily accepted a magical drink which put them to sleep. When they awoke, they were back on their ship, the island out of sight.

The Island of the Glass Bridge: This island held a fortress with a brass door and a glass bridge. However, "None shall pass here!" The bridge bucked them off each time they attempted to cross. Each day a maiden came from the fort with a pail and filled it from the moat. After four days, she invited them to follow her. Once inside, she poured from her bucket any food the men wanted. She fed them this way for three days but on the fourth morning, they found themselves back in their ship, far at sea.

The Island of the Shouting Birds: This island was full of black birds that constantly shouted at neighboring brown birds. Mail Duin simply passed by.

The Island of the Anchorite: Another island full of trees and birds but this one also held a naked hermit, "clothed in only his hair." He told them that he had sailed away from Ireland on a tiny clod of grass and dirt which had grown in size by one foot and one tree every year. He and the birds would be sustained by angels until the Second Coming. Mail Duin stayed with him for three days before setting out again.

The Island of the Miraculous Fountain: Inside a golden castle lived another hermit, again clothed in only his hair. Despite his lack of a wardrobe, his castled boasted of a fountain that spouted water on Friday and Wednesdays, milk on Sundays and feast-days of martyrs, and ale and wine on the feasts of the Apostles, Mary, John the Baptist, and the yearly high tides.

The Island of the Smithy: Hearing a giant blacksmith talk about killing them when they landed, Mail Duin and the boys decided to keep sailing by this island. The moronic blabbermouth realized his mistake and threw a clump of molten metal at their ship that set the sea aboil but they escaped unharmed.

The Sea of Clear Glass: The ship sailed across waters so clear that they could make out the features of the seabed fathoms below.

The Undersea Island: From the sands, rose an island that did not quite reach the surface. Their boat was just able to sail over it. Through the clear waters, they could see an undersea city with a hideous creature perched in an underwater tree. An aquatic warrior attempted to drive sea-cattle beneath the tree but the monster reached down and ate them at will. Afraid of drawing the beast's attention, they sailed away.

The Island of the Prophecy: The people of the next island somehow knew the ship was coming and didn't like it at all. They had built a wall around their beaches and stood atop it to taunt the ship. One woman even tried to hit the men with large nuts. Mail Duin decided not to try to come ashore but kept the nuts for provisions.

The Island of the Spouting Water: Water gushed up from a pool on one side of the island and spouted to the far shore. Caught in the water were many salmons which Mail Duin speared for more food. Finding nothing else, they set off again.

The Island of the Silver Column: This was a huge pillar that rose out of the sea into the clouds with no openings for access. As they examined it, a huge silver net fell from the sky next to them. Mail Duin took a large section of it which only weighed two and a half ounces. With no way to enter, they sailed away.

The Island of the Women: After all their troubles, this one was a treat. The boys found a huge mansion containing 17 maidens. They spied on the girls as they prepared a bath. Soon a rider approached the house and dismounted. As the rider stepped into the bath, they saw she was a beautiful woman, the queen of the isle. After the bath, one of the maidens came to them and invited them inside. Mail Duin met the queen and almost instantly married her. German and Diuran each married the maiden of their liking and they all stayed in the mansion for three happy months. The island was enchanted so that disease and old age were unknown there.
At the end of three months, Mail Duin tried to sail away while the queen was away on business but before they were far from shore, she arrived home and hurled a ball of string at him. Once it touched it, Mail Duin could not let go and was drawn in like a fish. This happened two more times before Diuran realized Mail Duin was so in love with the queen that he was being caught intentionally. During the next escape, Diuran leapt in front of his captain and caught the string himself. Before he could be reeled in, he drew his sword and cut off his hand. The ship finally left the island.

The Island of the Red Berries: Upon this island, they found trees that grew red berries that produced a liquor so strong that the Irish sailors had to water it down to drink.

The Island of the Eagle: Finding another naked hermit was no shock but seeing a giant eagle was. Two more great eagles landed and they all bathed in a lake for three days, emerging mightier than when they had entered. Although Mail Duin warned him not to do it, Diuran dove headfirst into the lake. He was never sick again a day of his life.

The Island of the Laughing Folk: This island was full of men, playing and laughing hysterically. After drawing lots, one man (presumably German) stepped onto the island. Immediately he began laughing and had to be pulled back on the ship. (Some versions of the story say that he was lost for good.)

The Island of the Flaming Rampart: The crew could see a marvelous, magical city upon the next island but could not land because it was surrounded by a wall of fire.

The Island of the Monk of Tory: This was more of a large rock than an island but still a lone monk called it home. He had run off from a monastery onTory Island, taking a fortune of gold and valuables before sailing away. In mid-sea, the winds died about him and an angel told him to throw the treasure overboard or starve. He did so and his boat drifted to the rock where otters brought him salmon and burning firewood. The otters fed Mail Duin and the others as well. During this visit, the monk asked Mail Duin to forgive his father's killer rather than seek vengeance.

The Island of the Falcon: Cattle and sheep lived here but no humans so the crew killed and cooked to their hearts' content. When one of the men saw an Irish falcon, they decided to follow it. It flew across the sea to another island just off the coast of Ireland where Mail Duin found his father's killer. At the last moment, he decided to take the monk's advice and forgave the man. Then he returned to his ship to sail home.

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