Gods and Fighting Men

Black, Brown, and Grey

   Finn was hunting one time near Teamhair of the Kings, and he saw three strange men coming towards him, and he asked what were their names. "Dubh and Dun and Glasan, Black, Brown, and Grey, are our names," they said, "and we are come to find Finn, son of Cumhal, Head of the Fianna, and to take service with him."
   So Finn took them into his service, and when evening came he said: "Let each one of you watch through a third part of the night." And there was a trunk of a tree there, and he bade them make three equal parts of it, and he gave a part to each of the three men, and he said: "When each one of you begins his watch, let him set fire to his own log, and as long as the wood burns let him watch."
   Then they drew lots, and the lot fell to Dubh to go on the first watch. So he set fire to his log, and he went out around the place, and Bran with him. He went farther and farther till at last he saw a bright light, and when he came to the place where it was, he saw a large house. He went inside, and there was a great company of very strange-looking men in it, and they drinking out of a single cup. One of the men, that seemed to be the highest, gave the cup to the man nearest him; and after he had drunk his fill he passed it on to the next, and so on to the last. And while it was going round, he said: "This is the great cup that was taken from Finn, son of Cumhal, a hundred years ago, and however many men may be together, every man of them can drink his fill from it, of whatever sort of drink he has a mind for."
   Dubh was sitting near the door, on the edge of the crowd, and when the cup came to him he took a drink from it, and then he slipped away in the dark, bringing it with him. And when he came to the place where Finn was, his log was burned out.
   Then it was the turn of Dun to go out, for the second lot had fallen on him, and he put a light to his log, and went out, and Bran with him.
   He walked on through the night till he saw a fire that was shining from a large house, and when he went in he saw a crowd of men, and they fighting. And a very old man that was in a high place above the rest called out: "Stop fighting now, for I have a better gift for you than the one you lost to-night." And with that he drew a knife out of his belt and held it up, and said: "This is the wonderful knife, the small knife of division, that was stolen from Finn, son of Cumhal, a hundred years ago; and you have but to cut on a bone with that knife and you will get your fill of the best meat in the world." Then he gave the knife to the man nearest him, and a bare bone with it, and the man began to cut, and there came off the bone slices of the best meat in the world.
   The knife and the bone were sent round then from man to man till they came to Dun, and as soon as he had the knife in his hand he slipped out unknown and hurried back, and he had just got to the well where Finn was, when his part of the log burned out.
   Then Glasan lighted his log and went out on his watch till he came to the house, the same way the others did. And he looked in and he saw the floor full of dead bodies, and he thought to himself: "There must be some great wonder here. And if I lie down on the floor and put some of the bodies over me," he said, "I will be able to see all that happens."
   So he lay down and pulled some of the bodies over him, and he was not long there till he saw an old hag coming into the house, having one leg and one arm and one upper tooth, that was long enough to serve her in place of a crutch. And when she came inside the door she took up the first dead body she met with, and threw it aside, for it was lean. And as she went on, she took two bits out of every fat body she met with, and threw away every lean one.
   She had her fill of flesh and blood before she came to Glasan, and she dropped down on the floor and fell asleep, and Glasan thought that every breath she drew would bring down the roof on his head. He rose up then and looked at her, and wondered at the bulk of her body. And at last he drew his sword and hit her a slash that killed her; but if he did, three young men leaped out of her body. And Glasan made a stroke that killed the first of them, and Bran killed the second, but the third made his escape.
   Glasan made his way back then, and just when he got to where Finn was, his log of wood was burned out, and the day was beginning to break.
   And when Finn rose up in the morning he asked news of the three watchers, and they gave him the cup and the knife and told him all they had seen, and he gave great praise to Dubh and to Dun; but to Glasan he said: "It might have been as well for you to have left that old hag alone, for I am in dread the third young man may bring trouble on us all."
   It happened at the end of twenty-one years, Finn and the Fianna were at their hunting in the hills, and they saw a Red-Haired Man coming towards them, and he spoke to no one, but came and stood before Finn. "What is it you are looking for?" said Finn. "I am looking for a master for the next twenty-one years," he said. "What wages are you asking?" said Finn. "No wages at all, but only if I die before the twenty-one years are up, to bury me on this Caol, the Narrow Island." "I will do that for you," said Finn.
   So the Red-Haired Man served Finn well through the length of twenty years. But in the twenty-first year he began to waste and to wither away, and he died.
   And when he was dead, the Fianna were no way inclined to go to Inis Caol to bury him. But Finn said he would break his word for no man, and that he himself would bring his body there. And he took an old white horse that had been turned loose on the hills, and that had got younger and not older since it was put out, and he put the body of the Red-Haired Man on its back, and let it take its own way, and he himself followed it, and twelve men of the Fianna.
   And when they came to Inis Caol they saw no trace of the horse or of the body. And there was an open house on the island, and they went in. And there were seats for every man of them inside, and they sat down to rest for a while.
   But when they tried to rise up it failed them to do it, for there was enchantment on them. And they saw the Red-Haired Man standing before them in that moment.
   "The time is come now," he said, "for me to get satisfaction from you for the death of my mother and my two brothers that were killed by Glasan in the house of the dead bodies." He began to make an attack on them then, and he would have made an end of them all, but Finn took hold of the Dord Fiann, and blew a great blast on it.
   And before the Red-Haired Man was able to kill more than three of them, Diarmuid, grandson of Duibhne, that had heard the sound of the Dord Fiann, came into the house and made an end of him, and put an end to the enchantment. And Finn, with the nine that were left of the Fianna, came back to Almhuin.


Deidre of the Sorrows, by John Duncan