Gods and Fighting Men

The Call of Oisin

   One misty morning, what were left of the Fianna were gathered together to Finn, and it is sorrowful and downhearted they were after the loss of so many of their comrades.
   And they went hunting near the bothers of Loch Lein, where the bushes were in blossom and the birds were singing; and they were waking up the deer that were as joyful as the leaves of a tree in summer-time.
   And it was not long till they saw coming towards them from the west a beautiful young woman, riding on a very fast slender white horse. A queen's crown she had on her head, and a dark cloak of silk down to the ground, having stars of red gold on it; and her eyes were blue and as clear as the dew on the grass, and a gold ring hanging down from every golden lock of her hair; and her cheeks redder than the rose, and her skin whiter than the swan upon the wave, and her lips as sweet as honey that is mixed through red wine.
   And in her hand she was holding a bridle having a golden bit, and there was a saddle worked with red gold under her. And as to the horse, he had a wide smooth cloak over him, and a silver crown on the back of his head, and he was shod with shining gold.
   She came to where Finn was, and she spoke with a very kind, gentle voice, and she said: "It is long my journey was, King of the Fianna." And Finn asked who was she, and what was her country and the cause of her coming. "Niamh of the Golden Head is my name," she said; "and I have a name beyond all the women of the world, for I am the daughter of the King of the Country of the Young." "What was it brought you to us from over the sea, Queen?" said Finn then. "Is it that your husband is gone from you, or what is the trouble that is on you?" "My husband is not gone from me," she said, "for I never went yet to any man. But O King of the Fianna," she said, "I have given my love and affection to your own son, Oisin of the strong hands." "Why did you give your love to him beyond all the troops of high princes that are under the sun?" said Finn. "It was by reason of his great name, and of the report I heard of his bravery and of his comeliness," she said. "And though there is many a king's son and high prince gave me his love, I never consented to any till I set my love on Oisin."
   When Oisin heard what she was saying, there was not a limb of his body that was not in love with beautiful Niamh; and he took her hand in his hand, and he said: "A true welcome before you to this country, young queen. It is you are the shining one," he said; "it is you are the nicest and the comeliest; it is you are better to me than any other woman; it is you are my star and my choice beyond the women of the entire world." "I put on you the bonds of a true hero," said Niamh then, "you to come away with me now to the Country of the Young." And it is what she said:
   "It is the country is most delightful of all that are under the sun; the trees are stooping down with fruit and with leaves and with blossom.
   "Honey and wine are plentiful there, and everything the eye has ever seen; no wasting will come on you with the wasting away of time; you will never see death or lessening.
   "You will get feasts, playing and drinking; you will get sweet music on the strings; you will get silver and gold and many jewels.
   "You will get, and no lie in it, a hundred swords; a hundred cloaks of the dearest silk; a hundred horses, the quickest in battle; a hundred willing bounds.
   "You will get the royal crown of the King of the Young that he never gave to any one under the sun. It will be a shelter to you night and day in every rough fight and in every battle.
   "You will get a right suit of armour; a sword, gold-hilted, apt for striking; no one that ever saw it got away from it.
   "A hundred coats of armour and shirts of satin; a hundred cows and a hundred calves; a hundred sheep having golden fleeces; a hundred jewels that are not of this world.
   "A hundred glad young girls shining like the sun, their voices sweeter than the music of birds; a hundred armed men strong in battle, apt at feats, waiting on you, if you will come with me to the Country of the Young.
   "You will get everything I have said to you, and delights beyond them, that I have no leave to tell; you will get beauty, strength and power, and I myself will be with you as a wife."
   And after she had made that song, Oisin said: "O pleasant golden-haired queen, you are my choice beyond the women of the world; and I will go with you willingly," he said.
   And with that he kissed Finn his father and bade him farewell, to the rest of the Fianna, and he went up then on the horse with Niamh.
   And the horse set out gladly, and when he came to the strand he shook himself and he neighed three times, and then he made for the sea. And when Finn and the Fianna saw Oisin facing the wide sea, they gave three great sorrowful shouts. And as to Finn, he said: "It is my grief to see you going from me; and I am without a hope," he said, "ever to see you coming back to me again."


Deidre of the Sorrows, by John Duncan