Those of you who have read the Tales of Goldstone Wood will recognize these names. But did you know that Iubdan and Bebo have an ancient and magical literary history that goes far beyond my own small works?
That's right! The King and Queen of Rudiobus from my world have in fact ruled the Wee Folk of Celtic mythology for generations! But they were not always quite so noble back then (though really, who are we to judge the "nobility" of fey folk?).
Here is the beginning of their story:
"In the kingdom of Lepra and the Lepracaun, which lies in the far, fair north, the saying was, at the time, 'A noble king is Iubdan, one whose form undergoes no change, and who has no need to strive for wisdom.' Alone, of all the people of Lepra, their king had jet-black hair . . . Bebo the queen, loveliest of the women of Lepra, whose goodly talk held nothing of arrogance, though much of mischief and play, sat on the king's right hand. She called her husband 'the Dark Man.' Her own yellow-gold hair hung to her ankles in thick braids threaded with jewels."
"The Story of Iubdan, King of the Lepra and the Lepracaun"
Iubdan is a terrible braggart. As a mighty king, and an immortal, he thought himself the biggest, brightest, bravest that ever lived.
Inclined to talk, the king stood up.
"Have you," he said, looking about him, "ever seen a king better than myself?"
"We have not!" They spoke with one accord.
"Men of battle, who ride a bridle-wearing army of strong, headlong horses, have you ever seen better than those here tonight?"
"By our word! We never have!"
But Iubdan's chief poet (yes, he has a chief poet!), decides that Iubdan might need to be taught a lesson.
The chief poet burst out laughing, and his poet's wand made a merry, scornful sound. Surprised and angered, the king turned to him. "Eshirt!" There was silence in the hall. "Eshirt, why do you laugh?"
The poet Eshirt goes on to tell his king of a land in the north that is full of giants. Surely the king of these giants must be mightier by far than Iubdan of the Wee Folk!
Determined to see these sights for himself, Iubdan sets out with Queen Bebo at his side to investigate the world of these giants and, specifically, to try the porridge of King Fergus Mac Leda. Unfortunately, Iubdan takes a tumble right into that bowl of porridge:
But Bebo called to him, "Never! I will surely not depart until I see what turn events shall take for you."
So come morning, both Iubdan and Bebo are captured by King Fergus. No amount of ransom offered can move this mortal king to release his fairy captives. But the Wee Folk were not about to take this insult lying down. They began to plague the mortals of that realm. Milk became scarce, rivers and wells were polluted, mills burned, and at night, the hair of men and women was entirely cut off! After a year and a day (I do love that literary type, seen also in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and my own Veiled Rose), they even marched out to demand their king's release!
Headed, I'm sure, by: "Glomar, son of Glas, the greatest warrior in the land, whose feat it was to hew down a thistle at a single stroke." A brave soldier is Glomar!
But Fergus, despite these threats and provocations, agreed only to give up Iubdan in exchange for Iubdan's great treasure, a pair of magic, golden shoes: "Whoever wore these shoes was able to travel across the surface of water as if walking on dry land, and when Fergus Mac Leda put them on they grew to fit his feet exactly."
Though reluctant, Iubdan agreed, and was at last returned, along with Queen Bebo, to his own home.
There are so many elements of this legend that have found their way into my own incarnation of Iubdan and Bebo, and those of you who have read Moonblood will recognize many. The king and queen themselves, of course. But also, many of you will recognize Poet Eshirt:
Yes, he is the original inspiration of my own, rather cheeky, Poet Eanrin, chief poet of Iubdan, and my own personal favorite character. I did not much care for the name Eshirt (thus the change to Eanrin), but the basic character remains the same . . . with the addition of his ability to take the form of a golden cat!
Other features that will be familiar include Iubdan's horse:
". . . the animal came ashore and galloped toward them, and it had four green legs, and a long tail that floated away in wavy crimson curls. Two red flashing eyes and an exquisite pure crimson mane, and on its head was a golden jewel-encrusted bridle."
In the original story, this horse is so small, no one believes they can ride it . . . but when they mount, they find they fit perfectly, and Iubdan's steed can bear their weight and far, far more with ease!
Iubdan has made his way through the fictional world in several iterations. One version of him (renamed "King Brian") is found in the Disney film Darby O'Gill and the Little People. Just like in the original story, when this Lepra King is kidnapped, terrible things begin to happen throughout the mortal world as the Leprachauns strive to get him back!
Here is the hall of the Lepra King. Perhaps an inspiration for my own Ruaine Hall in Rudiobus?
You can watch the Wee Folk dancing here, if you like.
And keep your eyes open for King Iubdan and Queen Bebo. They will emerge in surprising places, for Celtic mythology permeates our literary culture . . . often in ways we could never begin guess. Feel free to nab them and use them for your own stories, extending their fictional reach farther still. Is that not the beauty of fiction and literature? This opportunity to stretch out our hands and touch ancient days through stories?
For fairies and fairy tales will live on long after we are gone . . .