Gods and Fighting Men

Finn and the Phantoms

   Finn went to a gathering one time at Aonach Clochair, and a great many of the men of Munster crowded to it. And the horses of the Fianna were brought there, and the horses of the men of Munster, and they ran races against one another.
   And Fiachu, son of Eoghan, was in it; and when the games were over he gave good presents to Finn, a lasting black horse that won the three prizes of the gathering, and a chariot, and a horse for the chariot-driver, and a spear, having a deadly spell, and weapons of silver, and three comely bounds, Feirne and Derchaem and Dialath, having collars of yellow gold and chains of white bronze.
   And Finn rose up and gave his thanks to Fiachu, son of Eoghan, and he and his people set out to the house of Cacher at Cluain-da-loch. And they stopped three days feasting in Cacher's house, and then Finn gave him the price of his feast and of his ale, fifty rings, and fifty horses and fifty cows.
   And he himself and the Fianna went on from that over Luachair to the strand at Berramain. And Finn went trying his black horse on the strand, and Caoilte and Oisin went racing against him; but it was only folly for them to do that, for he gave a blow to his horse, and away with him to Traigh Liath and over the Plain of Health to the Old Yew of the Old Valley, and to the inver of the Flesc and the inver of the Lemain to Loch Lein, till he came to the hill of Bairnech, and Caoilte and Oisin after him.
   "Night is coming on us," said Finn then; "and go look for some place where we can sleep," he said. He looked round then at the rocks on his left band and he saw a house, and a fire shining out from it in the valley below. "I never knew of a house in this valley," he said.
   "It is best for us to go see it," said Caoilte, "for there are many things we have no knowledge of."
   The three went on then to the house, and they heard screams and dying from it; and when they came to the house, the people of it were very fierce and rough; and a big grey man took hold of their horses and brought them in and shut the door of the house with iron hooks. "My welcome to you, Finn of the great name," he said then; "it is a long time you were in coming here."
   They sat down then on the hard boards of a bed, and the grey man kindled a fire, and he threw logs of elderwood on it, till they went near being smothered with the smoke. They saw a hag in the house then having three heads on her lean neck; and there was on the other side a man without a head, having one eye, and it in his breast. "Rise up, you that are in the house, and make music for the King of the Fianna," said the grey man then.
   With that nine bodies rose up out of the corner nearest the Fianna, and nine heads rose up on the other side of the bed, and they raised nine harsh screeches together, that no one would like to be listening to. And then the hag answered to them, and the headless man answered; and if all of that music was harsh, there was none of it that you would not wish to hear sooner than the music of the one-eyed man. And the music that was sung went near to breaking the bones of their heads; and indeed it is no sweet music that was.
   Then the big grey man rose up and took the axe that was for cutting logs, and he began striking at the horses, flaying and destroying them. Then there were brought fifty pointed spits of the rowan-tree, and he put a piece of the horse's flesh on each one of the spits, and settled them on the hearth. But when he took the spits from the fire and put them before Finn, it is raw the flesh was on them yet. "Take your food away," said Finn then, "for I have never eaten meat that was raw, and I never will eat it because of being without food for one day." "If you are come into our house to refuse our food," said the grey man, "we will surely go against yourselves, Finn and Caoilte and Oisin."
   With that all in the house made an attack on the three; and they were driven back into the corner, and the fire was quenched, and the fight went on through the whole night in the darkness, and but for Finn and the way he fought, they would have been put down.
   And when the sun rose and lighted up the house on the morrow, a mist came into the head of each of the three, so that they fell as if dead on the floor.
   But after a while they rose up again, and there was nothing to be seen of the house or of the people of the house, but they had all vanished. And their horses were there and they took them and went on, very weak and tired, for a long way, till they came to the strand of Berramain.
   And those three that fought against them were the three Shapes out of the Valley of the Yew Tree that came to avenge their sister, Cuillen of the Wide Mouth.
   Now as to Cuillen, she was a daughter of the King of Munster, and her husband was the King of Ulster's son. And they had a son that was called Fear Og, the Young Man; and there was hardly in Ireland a man so good as himself in shape and in courage and in casting a spear. And one time he joined in a game with the Fianna, and he did better than them all, and Finn gave him a great reward.
   And after that he went out to a hunt they made, and it was by him and by none of the Fianna the first blood was got of pig or of deer. And when they came back, a heavy sickness fell on the young man through the eyes and the envy of the Fianna, and it left him without life at the end of nine days. And he was buried under a green hill, and the shining stone he used to hold in his hand, and he doing his feats, was put over his head.
   And his mother, Cuillen, came to his grave keening him every day through the length of a year. And one day she died there for grief after her son, and they put her into the same green hill.
   But as to Finn, he was afraid of no earthly thing, and he killed many great serpents in Loch Cuillinn and Loch Neathach, and at Beinn Edair; and Shadow-Shapes at Loch Lein and Drom CleIb and Loch Liath, and a serpent and a cat in Ath Cliath.


Deidre of the Sorrows, by John Duncan