Gods and Fighting Men

Donn, Son of Midhir

   One time the Fianna were at their hunting at the island of Toraig to the north of Ireland, and they roused a fawn that was very wild and beautiful, and it made for the coast, and Finn and six of his men followed after it through the whole country, till they came to Slieve-nam-Ban. And there the fawn put down its head and vanished into the earth, and none of them knew where was it gone to.
   A heavy snow began to fall then that bent down the tops of the trees like a willow-gad, and the courage and the strength went from the Fianna with the dint of the bad weather, and Finn said to Caoilte: "Is there any place we can find shelter to-night?" Caoilte made himself supple then, and went over the elbow of the hill southward.
   And when he looked around him he saw a house full of light, with cups and horns and bowls of different sorts in it. He stood a good while before the door of the house, that he knew to be a house of the Sidhe, thinking would it be best go in and get news of it, or to go back to Finn and the few men that were with him. And he made up his mind to go into the house, and there he sat down on a shining chair in the middle of the floor; and he looked around him, and he saw, on the one side, eight-and-twenty armed men, each of them having a well-shaped woman beside him. And on the other side he saw six nice young girls, yellow-haired, having shaggy gowns from their shoulders. And in the middle there was another young girl sitting in a chair, and a harp in her hand, and she playing on it and singing. And every time she stopped, a man of them would give her a horn to drink from, and she would give it back to him again, and they were all making mirth around her.
   She spoke to Caoilte then. "Caoilte, my life," she said, "give us leave to attend on you now." "Do not," said Caoilte, "for there is a better man than myself outside, Finn, son of Cumhal, and he has a mind to eat in this house to-night." "Rise up, Caoilte, and go for Finn," said a man of the house then; "for he never refused any man in his own house, and he will get no refusal from us."
   Caoilte went back then to Finn, and when Finn saw him he said: "It is long you are away from us, Caoilte, for from the time I took arms in my hands I never had a night that put so much hardship on me as this one."
   The six of them went then into the lighted house and their shields and their arms with them. And they sat down on the edge of a seat, and a girl having yellow hair came and brought them to a shining seat in the middle of the house, and the newest of every food, and the oldest of every drink was put before them. And when the sharpness of their hunger and their thirst was lessened, Finn said: "Which of you can I question?" "Question whoever you have a mind to," said the tallest of the men that was near him. "Who are you yourself then?" said Finn, "for I did not think there were so many champions in Ireland, and I not knowing them."
   "Those eight-and-twenty armed men you see beyond," said the tall man, "had the one father and mother with myself; and we are the sons of Midhir of the Yellow Hair, and our mother is Fionnchaem, the fair, beautiful daughter of the King of the Sidhe of Monaid in the east. And at one time the Tuatha de Danaan had a gathering, and gave the kingship to Bodb Dearg, son of the Dagda, at his bright hospitable place, and he began to ask hostages of myself and of my brothers; but we said that till all the rest of the Men of Dea had given them, we would not give them. Bodb Dearg said then to our father: 'Unless you will put away your sons, we will wall up your dwelling-place on you.' So the eight-and-twenty brothers of us came out to look for a place for ourselves; and we searched all Ireland till we found this secret place, and we are here ever since. And my own name," he said, "is Donn, son of Midhir. And we had every one of us ten hundred armed men belonging to himself, but they are all worn away now, and only the eight-and-twenty of us left." "What is it is wearing you away?" said Finn. "The Men of Dea," said Donn, "that come three times in every year to give battle to us on the green outside." "What is the long new grave we saw on the green outside?" said Finn. "It is the grave of Diangalach, a man of enchantments of the Men of Dea; and that is the greatest loss came on them yet," said Donn; "and it was I myself killed him," he said. "What loss came next to that?" said Finn. "All the Tuatha de Danaan had of jewels and riches and treasures, horns and vessels and cups of pale gold, we took from them at the one time." "What was the third greatest loss they had?" said Finn. "It was Fethnaid, daughter of Feclach, the woman-harper of the Tuatha de Danaan, their music and the delight of their minds," said Donn.
   "And to-morrow," he said, "they will be coming to make an attack on us, and there is no one but myself and my brothers left; and we knew we would be in danger, and that we could make no stand against them. And we sent that bare-headed girl beyond to Toraig in the North in the shape of a foolish fawn, and you followed her here. It is that girl washing herself, and having a green cloak about her, went looking for you.
   "And the empty side of the house," he said, "belonged to our people that the Men of Dea have killed."
   They spent that night in drinking and in pleasure. And when they rose up in the morning of the morrow, Donn, son of Midhir, said to Finn, "Come out with me now on the lawn till you see the place where we fight the battles every year." They went out then and they looked at the graves and the flag-stones, and Donn said: "It is as far as this the Men of Dea come to meet us." "Which of them come here?" said Finn.
   "Bodb Dearg with his seven sons," said Donn; "and Angus Og, son of the Dagda, with his seven sons; and Finnbharr of Cnoc Medha with his seventeen sons; Lir of Sidhe Fionnachaidh with his twenty-seven sons and their sons; Tadg, son of Nuada, out of the beautiful hill of Aimhuin; Donn of the Island and Donn of the Vat; the two called Glas from the district of Osraige; Dobhran Dubthaire from the hill of Liamhain of the Smooth Shirt; Aedh of the Island of Rachrainn in the north; Feral and Aillinn and Lir and Fainnle, sons of Eogobal, from Cnoc Aine in Munster; Cian and Coban and Conn, three sons of the King of Sidhe Monaid in Alban; Aedh Minbhreac of Ess Ruadh with his seven sons; the children of the Morrigu, the Great Queen, her six-and-twenty women warriors, the two Luaths from Magh Lifé; Derg and Drecan out of the hill of Beinn Edair in the east; Bodb Dearg himself with his great household, ten hundred ten score and ten. Those are the chief leaders of the Tuatha de Danaan that come to destroy our hill every year."
   Finn went back into the hill then, and told all that to his people. "My people," he said, "it is in great need and under great oppression the sons of Midhir are, and it is into great danger we are come ourselves. And unless we make a good fight now," he said, "it is likely we will never see the Fianna again."
   "Good Finn," every one of them said then, "did you ever see any drawing-back in any of us that you give us that warning?" "I give my word," said Finn, "if I would go through the whole world having only this many of the Fianna of Ireland with me, I would not know fear nor fright. And good Donn," he said, "is it by day or by night the Men of Dea come against you?" "It is at the fall of night they come," said Donn, "the way they can do us the most harm."
   So they waited till night came on, and then Finn said: "Let one of you go out now on the green to keep watch for us, the way the Men of Dea will not come on us without word or warning."
   And the man they set to watch was not gone far when he saw five strong battalions of the Men of Dea coming towards him. He went back then to the hill and he said: "It is what I think, that the troops that are come against us this time and are standing now around the grave of the Man of Enchantments are a match for any other fighting men."
   Finn called to his people then, and he said: "These are good fighters are come against you, having strong red spears. And let you all do well now in the battle. And it is what you have to do," be said, "to keep the little troop of brothers, the sons of Midhir, safe in the fight; for it would be a treachery to friendship any harm to come on them, and we after joining them; and myself and Caoilte are the oldest among you, and leave the rest of the battle to us."
   Then from the covering time of evening to the edge of the morning they fought the battle. And the loss of the Tuatha de Danaan was no less a number than ten hundred ten score and ten men. Then Bodb Dearg and Midhir and Fionnbhar said to one another: "What are we to do with all these? And let Lir of Sidhe Fionnachaidh give us an advice," they said, "since he is the oldest of us." And Lir said: "It is what I advise, let every one carry away his friends and his fosterlings, his sons and his brothers, to his own place. And as for us that stop here," he said, "let a wall of fire be made about us on the one side, and a wall of water on the other side." Then the Men of Dea put up a great heap of stones, and brought away their dead; and of all the great slaughter that Finn and his men and the sons of Midhir had made, there was not left enough for a crow to perch upon.
   And as to Finn and his men, they went back into the hill, hurt and wounded and worn-out.
   And they stopped in the hill with the sons of Midhir through the whole length of a year, and three times in the year the Men of Dea made an attack on the hill, and a battle was fought.
   And Conn, son of Midhir, was killed in one of the battles; and as to the Fianna, there were so many wounds on them that the clothing was held oft from their bodies with bent hazel sticks, and they lying in their beds, and two of them were like to die. And Finn and Caoilte and Lugaidh's Son went out on the green, and Caoilte said: "It was a bad journey we made coming to this hill, to leave two of our comrades after us." "It is a pity for whoever will face the Fianna of Ireland," said Lugaidh's Son, "and he after leaving his comrades after him." "Whoever will go back and leave them, it will not be myself," said Finn. Then Donn, son of Midhir, came to them. "Good Donn," said Finn, "have you knowledge of any physician that can cure our men?" "I only know one physician could do that," said Donn; "a physician the Tuatha de Danaan have with them. And unless a wounded man has the marrow of his back cut through, he will get relief from that physician, the way he will be sound at the end of nine days." "How can we bring that man here," said Finn, "for those he is with are no good friends to us?" "He goes out every morning at break of day," said Dorm, "to gather healing herbs while the dew is on them." "Find some one, Donn," said Caoilte, "that will show me that physician, and, living or dead, I will bring him with me."
   Then Aedh and Flann, two of the sons of Midhir, rose up. "Come with us, Caoilte," they said, and they went on before him to a green lawn with the dew on it; and when they came to it they saw a strong young man armed and having a cloak of wool of the seven sheep of the Land of Promise, and it full of herbs of healing he was after gathering for the Men of Dea that were wounded in the battle. "Who is that man?" said Caoilte. "That is the man we came looking for," said Aedh. "And mind him well now," he said, "that he will not make his escape from us back to his own people."
   They ran at him together then, and Caoilte took him by the shoulders and they brought him away with them to the ford of the Slaine in the great plain of Leinster, where the most of the Fianna were at that time; and a Druid mist rose up about them that they could not be seen.
   And they went up on a little hill over the ford, and they saw before them four young men having crimson fringed cloaks and swords with gold hilts, and four good hunting hounds along with them. And the young man could not see them because of the mist, but Caoilte saw they were his own two sons, Colla and Faolan, and two other young men of the Fianna, and he could hear them talking together, and saying it was a year now that Finn, son of Cumhal, was gone from them. "And what will the Fianna of Ireland do from this out," said one of them, "without their lord and their leader?" "There is nothing for them to do, said another, but to go to Teamhair and to break up there, or to find another leader for themselves." And there was heavy sorrow on them for the loss of their lord; and it was grief to Caoilte to be looking at them.
   And he and the two Sons of Midhir went back then by the Lake of the Two Birds to Slieve-nam Ban, and they went into the hill.
   And Finn and Donn gave a great welcome to Luibra, the physiclan, and they showed him their two comrades that were lying in their wounds. "Those men are brothers to me," said Donn, "and tell me how can they be cured?" Luibra looked then at their wounds, and he said: "They can be cured if I get a good reward." "You will get that indeed," said Caoilte; "and tell me now," he said, "how long will it take to cure them?" "It will take nine days," said Luibra. "It is a good reward you will get," said Caoilte, "and this is what it is, your own life to be left to you. But if these young men are not healed," he said, "it is my own hand will strike off your head."
   And within nine days the physician had done a cure on them, and they were as well and as sound as before.
   And it was after that time the High King sent a messenger to bring the Fianna to the Feast of Teamhair. And they all gathered to it, men and women, boys and heroes and musicians. And Goll, son of Morna, was sitting at the feast beside the king. "It is a great loss you have had, Fianna of Ireland," said the king, "losing your lord and your leader, Finn, son of Cumhal." "It is a great loss indeed," said Goll.
   "There has no greater loss fallen on Ireland since the loss of Lugh, son of Ethne," said the king. "What orders will you give to the Fianna now, king?" said Goll. "To yourself, Goll," said the king, "I will give the right of hunting over all Ireland till we know if the loss of Finn is lasting." "I will not take Finn's place," said Goll, "till he has been wanting to us through the length of three years, and till no person in Ireland has any hope of seeing him again."
   Then Ailbe of the Freckled Face said to the king: "What should these seventeen queens belonging to Finn's household do?" "Let a safe, secret sunny house be given to every one of them," said the king; "and let her stop there and her women with her, and let provision be given to her a month and a quarter and a year till we have knowledge if Finn is alive or dead."
   Then the king stood up, and a smooth drinking-horn in his hand, and he said: "It would be a good thing, men of Ireland, if any one among you could get us news of Finn in hills or in secret places, or in rivers or invers, or in any house of the Sidhe in Ireland or in Alban."
   With that Berngal, the cow-owner from the borders of Slieve Fuad, that was divider to the King of Ireland, said: "The day Finn came out from the north, following after a deer of the Sidhe, and his five comrades with him, he put a sharp spear having a shining head in my hand, and a hound's collar along with it, and he bade me to keep them till he would meet me again in the same place." Berngal showed the spear and the collar then to the king and to Goll, and they looked at them and the king said: "It is a great loss to the men of Ireland the man is that owned this collar and this spear. And were his hounds along with him?" he said.
   "They were," said Berngal; "Bran and Sceolan were with Finn, and Breac and Lainbhui with Caoilte, and Conuall and Comrith with Lugaidh's Son."
   The High King called then for Fergus of the True Lips, and he said: "Do you know how long is Finn away from us?" "I know that well," said Fergus; "it is a month and a quarter and a year since we lost him. And indeed it is a great loss he is to the Fianna of Ireland," he said, "himself and the men that were with him." "It is a great loss indeed," said the king, "and I have no hope at all of finding those six that were the best men of Ireland or of Alban."
   And then he called to Cithruadh, the Druid, and he said: "It is much riches and treasures Finn gave you, and tell us now is he living or is he dead?" "He is living," said Cithruadh then. "But as to where he is, I will give no news of that," he said, "for he himself would not like me to give news of it." There was great joy among them when they heard that, for everything Cithruadh had ever foretold had come true. "Tell us when will he come back?" said the king. "Before the Feast of Teamhair is over," said the Druid, "you will see the Leader of the Fianna drinking at it."
   And as to Finn and his men, they stopped in the House of the Two Birds till they had taken hostages for Donn, son of Midhir, from the Tuatha de Danaan. And on the last day of the Feast of Teamhair they came back to their people again.
   And from that time out the Fianna of Ireland had not more dealings with the people living in houses than they had with the People of the Gods of Dana.


Deidre of the Sorrows, by John Duncan