Gods and Fighting Men

Ailne's Revenge

   One day Finn and his people were hunting on Slieve Fuad, and a stag stood against them for a while and fought with his great rough horns, and then he turned and ran, and the Fianna followed after him till they came to the green hill of Liadhas, and from that to rocky Cairgin. And there they lost him again for a while, till Sceolan started him again, and he went back towards Slieve Fuad, and the Fianna after him.
   But Finn and Daire of the Songs, that were together, went astray and lost the rest of their people, and they did not know was it east or west they were going.
   Finn sounded the Dord Fiann then, and Daire played some sorrowful music to let their people know where they were. But when the Fianna heard the music, it seemed to be a long way off; and sometimes they thought it was in the north it was, and sometimes in the east, and then it changed to the west, the way they did not know in the wide world where was it coming from.
   And as to Finn and Daire, a Druid mist came about them, and they did not know what way they were going.
   And after a while they met with a young woman, comely and pleasant, and they asked who was she, and what brought her there. "Glanluadh is my name," she said, "and my husband is Lobharan; and we were travelling over the plain together a while ago, and we heard the cry of hounds, and he left me and went after the bunt, and I do not know where is he, or what way did he go." "Come on then with us," said Finn, "and we will take care of you, for we ourselves do not know what way the hunt is gone, east or west." So they went on, and before long they came to a hill, and they heard sleepy music of the Sidhe beside them. And after that there came shouts and noises, and then the music began again, and heavy sleep came on Finn and Daire. And when they awoke from their sleep they saw a very large lighted house before them, and a stormy blue sea around it. Then they saw a very big grey man coming through the waves, and he took hold of Finn and of Daire, and all their strength went from them, and he brought them across the waves and into the house, and he shut the door of the house with iron books. "My welcome to you, Finn of the great name," be said then in a very harsh voice; "it is long we are waiting here for you."
   They sat down then on the hard side of a bed, and the woman of the house came to them, and they knew her to be Ailne, wife of Meargach. "It is long I am looking for you, Finn," she said, "to get satisfaction for the treachery you did on Meargach and on my two comely young sons, and on Tailc, son of Treon, and all his people. And do you remember that, Finn?" she said. "I remember well," said Finn, "that they fell by the swords of the Fianna, not by treachery but in fighting." "It was by treachery they fell," said the Grey Man then; "and it is our witness to it, pleasant Ailne to be the way she is, and many a strong army under grief on account of her." "What is Ailne to you, man of the rough voice?" said Finn. "I am her own brother," said the man.
   With that he put bonds on the three, Finn and Daire and Glanluadh, and he put them down into some deep shut place.
   They were very sorrowful then, and they stopped there to the end of five days and five nights, without food, without drink, without music.
   And Ailne went to see them then, and Finn said to her: "O Ailne," he said, "bring to mind the time you came to Cnoc-an-Air, and the way the Fianna treated you with generosity; and it is not fitting for you," he said, "to keep us now under shame and weakness and in danger of death." "I know well I got kind treatment from Grania," said Ailne in a sorrowful voice; "but for all that, Finn," she said, "if all the Fianna were in that prison along with you under hard bonds, it would please me well, and I would not pity their case. And what is it set you following after Finn," she said then to Glanluadh, "for that is not a fitting thing for you to do, and his own kind wife living yet."
   Then Glanluadh told her the whole story, and how she was walking the plain with Lobharan her husband, and he followed the hunt, and the mist came about her that she did not know east from west, and how she met then with Finn that she never saw before that time. "If that is so," said Ailne, "it is not right for you to be under punishment without cause."
   She called then to her brother the Grey Man, and bade him take the spells off Glanluadh. And when she was set free it is sorry she was to leave Daire in bonds, and Finn. And when she had bidden them farewell she went out with Ailne, and there was food brought to her, but a cloud of weakness came on her of a sudden, that it was a pity to see the way she was.
   And when Ailne saw that, she brought out an enchanted cup of the Sidhe and gave her a drink from it. And no sooner did Glanluadh drink from the cup than her strength and her own appearance came back to her again; but for all that, she was fretting after Finn and Daire in their bonds. "It seems to me, Glanluadh, you are fretting after those two men," said Ailne. "I am sorry indeed," said Glanluadh, "the like of those men to be shut up without food or drink." "If it is pleasing to you to give them food you may give it," said Ailne, "for I will not make an end of them till I see can I get the rest of the Fianna into bonds along with them." The two women brought food and drink then to Finn, and to Daire; and Glanluadh gave her blessing to Finn, and she cried when she saw the way he was; but as to Ailne, she had no pity at all for the King of the Fianna.
   Now as to the Grey Man, he heard them talking of the Fianna, and they were saying that Daire had a great name for the sweetness of his music. "I have a mind to hear that sweet music," said he. So he went to the place where they were, and he bade Daire to let him hear what sort of music he could make. "My music pleased the Fianna well," said Daire; "but I think it likely it would not please you." "Play it for me now, till I know if the report I heard of you is true," said the Grey Man. "Indeed, I have no mind for music," said Daire, "being weak and downhearted the way I am, through your spells that put down my courage." "I will take my spells off you for so long as you play for me," said the Grey Man. "I could never make music seeing Finn in bonds the way he is," said Daire; "for it is worse to me, he to be under trouble than myself." "I will take the power of my spells off Finn till you play for me," said the Grey Man.
   He weakened the spells then, and gave them food and drink, and it pleased him greatly the way Daire played the music, and he called to Glanluadh and to Ailne to come and to listen to the sweetness of it. And they were well pleased with it, and it is glad Glanluadh was, seeing them not so discouraged as they were.
   Now as to the Fianna, they were searching for Finn and for Daire in every place they had ever stopped in. And when they came to this place they could hear Daire's sweet music; and at first they were glad when they heard it, and then when they knew the way he himself and Finn were, they made an attack on Ailne's dun to release them.
   But the Grey Man heard their shouts, and he put the full power of his spells again on Finn and on Daire. And the Fianna heard the music as if stammering, and then they heard a great noise like the loud roaring of waves, and when they heard that, there was not one of them but fell into a sleep and clouds of death, under those sorrowful spells.
   And then the Grey Man and Ailne came out quietly from where they were, and they brought the whole of the men of the Fianna that were there into the dun. And they put hard bonds on them, and put them where Finn and Daire were. And there was great grief on Finn and Daire when they saw them, and they were all left there together for a while.
   Then Glanluadh said to the Grey Man: "If Daire's music is pleasing to you, let him play it to us now." "If you have a mind for music," said the Grey Man, "Daire must play it for us, and for Finn and his army as well."
   They went then to where they were, and bade Daire to play. "I could never play sweet music," said Daire, "the time the Fianna are in any trouble; for when they are in trouble, I myself am in trouble, and I could not sound any sweet string," he said, "while there is trouble on any man of them." The Grey Man weakened the spells on them all, and Daire played first the strings of sweetness, and of the noise of shouting, and then he sang his own grief and the grief of all the Fianna. And at that the Grey Man said it would not be long before he would put the whole of the Fianna to death; and then Daire played a tune of heavy shouts of lamentation. And then at Finn's bidding he played the music of sweet strings for the Fianna.
   They were kept, now, a long time in that prison, and they got very hard treatment; and sometimes Ailne's brother would come in and strike the heads off some of them, for none of them could rise up from the seats they were sitting on through his enchantments. But one time he was going to strike the bald head off Conan and Conan made a great leap from the seat; but if he did, he left strips of his skin hanging to it, that his back was left bare. And then he came round the Grey Man with his pitiful words: "Stop your hand now," he said, "for that is enough for this time; and do not send me to my death yet awhile, and heal me of my wounds first," he said, "before you make an end of me." And the reason he said that was because he knew Ailne to have an enchanted cup in the dun, that had cured Glanluadh.
   And the Grey Man took pity on his case, and he brought him out and bade Ailne to bring the cup to him and cure his wounds. "I will not bring it," said Ailne, "for it would be best give no time at all to him or to the Fianna, but to make an end of them." "It is not to be saved from death I am asking, bright-faced Ailne," said Conan, "but only not go to my death stripped bare the way I am." When Ailne heard that, she brought a sheepskin and she put it on Conan's back, and it fitted and grew to him, and covered his wounds. "I will not put you to death, Conan," said the Grey Man then, "but you can stop with myself to the end of your life." "You will never be without grief and danger and the fear of treachery if you keep him with you," said Ailne; "for there is treachery in his heart the same as there is in the rest of them." "There is no fear of that," said her brother, "for I will make no delay until I put the whole of the Fianna to death." And with that he brought Conan to where the enchanted cup was, and he put it in his hand. And just at that moment they heard Daire playing very sweet sorrowful music, and the Grey Man went to listen to it, very quick and proud. And Conan followed him there, and after a while the Grey Man asked him what did he do with the enchanted cup. "I left it where I found it, full of power," said Conan.
   The Grey Man hurried back then to the place where the treasures of the dun were. But no sooner was he gone than Conan took out the cup that he had hidden, and he gave a drink from it to Finn and to Osgar and to the rest of the Fianna. And they that were withered and shaking, without strength, without courage, got back their own appearance and their strength again on the moment.
   And when the Grey Man came back from looking for the cup, and saw what had happened, he took his sword and made a stroke at Conan. But Conan called to Osgar to defend him, and Osgar attacked the Grey Man, and it was not long till he made him acquainted with death.
   And when Ailne saw that, with the grief and the dread that came on her, she fell dead then and there.
   Then all the Fianna made a feast with what they found of food and of drink, and they were very joyful and merry. But when they rose up in the morning, there was no trace or tidings of the dun, but it was on the bare grass they were lying.
   But as to Conan, the sheepskin never left him; and the wool used to grow on it every year, the same as it would on any other skin.


Deidre of the Sorrows, by John Duncan