Gods and Fighting Men

The First Fighters

   And in the morning they saw Finn and all his people coming to the rath that is above the harbour. "My father Finn," said Oisin then, "let us fight now with the whole of the foreigners altogether." "That is not my advice," said Finn, "for the number of their armies is too great for us, and we could not stand against them. But we will send out every day," he said, "some son of a king or of a leader against some king of the kings of the world that is equal in blood to ourselves. And let none of you redden your arms," he said, "but against a king or a chief man at first, for when a king is fallen, his people will be more inclined to give way. And who will give out a challenge of battle from me now?" he said. "I will do that," said the son of Cuban, leader of the Fianna of Munster. "Do not go my son," said Finn, "for it is not showed to me that you will have good luck in the battle, and I never sent out any man to fight without I knew he would come back safe to me." "Do not say that," said Cuban's son, "for I would not for the treasure of the whole world go back from a fight on account of a bad foretelling. And as it is my own country they have done their robbery in first," he said, "I will defend it for you." "It is sorrowful I am for that," said Finn, "for whichever of the kings of the world will meet you to-day, yourself and himself will fall together."
   Then Glas, son of Dremen, gave out a challenge of fight from Cuban's son, and the King of Greece answered it. And the two fought hand to hand, and the King of Greece made a great cast of his thick spear at Cuban's son, that went through his body and broke his back in two. But he did not take that blow as a gift, but he paid for it with a strong cast of his own golden spear that went through the ringed armour of the King of Greece. And those two fell together, sole to sole, and lip to lip. "There is grief on me, Cuban's son to have fallen," said Finn, "for no one ever went from his house unsatisfied; and a man that I would not keep, or the High King of Ireland would not keep for a week, he would keep him in his house through the length of a year. And let Follamain, his son, be called to me now," he said, "and I will give him his father's name and place."
   They stopped there then till the next morning. "Who will go and fight to-day?" said Finn then. "I will do that," said Goll Garb, son of the King of Alban and of the daughter of Goll, son of Morna.
   So he put on his battle dress, and there came against him the three kings from the rising of the sun in the east, and their three battalions with them. And Goll Garb rushed among their men, and wounded and maimed and destroyed them, and blinded their eyes for ever, so that their wits went from them, and they called to him to stop his deadly sword for a while. So he did that; and it is what they agreed to take their three kings and to give them over to GolI Garb that he might stop doing destruction with his sword.
   "Who will go out and fight to-day?" said Finn, on the morning of the morrow. "I will go," said Oisin, "and the chief men of the sons of Baiscne with me; for we get the best share of all the pleasant things of Ireland, and we should be the first to defend her." "I will answer that challenge," said the King of France, "for it is against Finn I am come to Ireland, on account of my wife he brought away from me; and these men will fall by me now," he said, "and Finn himself at the last; for when the branches of a tree are cut off, it is not hard to cut down the tree itself."
   So the King of France and Oisin met one another at the eastern end of the strand, and they struck their banners of soft silk into the green bill, and bared their swords and made a quick attack on one another. And at one time the king struck such a great blow that he knocked a groan out of Oisin. But for all that he was worsted in the end, and great fear came on him, like the fear of a hundred horses at the sound of thunder, and he ran from Oisin, and he rose like a swallow, that his feet never touched the earth at all; and he never stopped till he came to Gleann na-n Gealt, the Valley of Wild Men. And ever since that time, people that have lost their wits make for that valley; and every mad person in Ireland, if he had his way, would go there within twenty-four hours.
   And there rose great cries of lamentation from the armies of the World when they saw him going from them, and the Fianna of Ireland raised great shouts of joy.
   And when the night was coming on, it is what Finn said: "It is sad and gloomy the King of the World is to-night; and it is likely he will make an attack on us. And which of you will keep watch over the harbour through the night?" he said. "I will," said Oisin, "with the same number that was fighting along with me to-day; for it is not too much for you to fight for the Fianna of Ireland through a day and a night," he said.
   So they went down to the harbour, and it was just at that time the King of the World was saying, "It seems to me, men of the World, that our luck of battle was not good to-day. And let a share of you rise up now," he said, "and make an attack on the Fianna of Ireland." Then there rose up the nine sons of Garb, King of the Sea of Icht, that were smiths, and sixteen hundred of their people along with them, and they all went on shore but Dolar Durba that was the eldest of them. And the sons of Baiscne were ready for them, and they fought a great battle till the early light of the morrow. And not one of them was left alive on either side that could hold a weapon but only Oisin and one of the Sons of Garb. And they made rushes at one another, and threw their swords out of their hands, and closed their arms about one another, and wrestled together, so that it was worth coming from the east to the west of the world to see the fight of those two. Then the foreigner gave a sudden great fall to Oisin, to bring him into the sea, for he was a great swimmer, and he thought to get the better of him there. And Oisin thought it would not be worthy of him to refuse any man his place of fighting. So they went into the water together, and they were trying to drown one another till they came to the sand and the gravel of the clear sea. And it was a torment to the heart of the Fianna, Oisin to be in that strait. "Rise up, Fergus of the Sweet Lips," said Finn then, "and go praise my son and encourage him." So Fergus went down to the edge of the sea, and he said: "It is a good fight you are making, Oisin, and there are many to see it, for the armies of the whole world are looking at you, and the Fianna of Ireland. And show now," he said, "your ways and your greatness, for you never went into any place but some woman of high beauty or some king's daughter set her love on you." Then Oisin's courage increased, and anger came on him and he linked his hands behind the back of the foreigner and put him down on the sand under the sea with his face upwards, and did not let him rise till the life was gone from him. And he brought the body to shore then, and struck off his head and brought it to the Fianna.
   But there was great grief and anger on Dolar Durba, the eldest of the sons of Garb, that had stopped in the ship, and he made a great oath that he would have satisfaction for his brothers. And he went to the High King, and he said: "I will go alone to the strand, and I will kill a hundred men every day till I have made an end of the whole of the armies of Ireland; and if any one of your own men comes to interfere with me," he said, "I will kill him along with them."
   The next morning Finn asked who would lead the battle that day. "I will," said Dubhan, son of Donn. "Do not," said Finn, "but let some other one go."
   But Dubhan went to the strand, and a hundred men along with him; and there was no one there before him but Dolar Durba, and he said he was there to fight with the whole of them. And Dubhan's men gave a great shout of laughter when they heard that; but Dolar Durba rushed on them, and he made an end of the whole hundred, without a man of them being able to put a scratch on him.
   And then he took a hurling stick and a ball, and he threw up the ball and kept it in the air with the hurl from the west to the east of the strand without letting it touch the ground at all. And then he put the ball on his right foot and kicked it high into the air, and when it was coming down he gave it a kick of his left foot and kept it in the air like that, and he rushing like a blast of March wind from one end of the strand to the other. And when he had done that he walked up and down on the strand making great boasts, and challenging the men of Ireland to do the like of those feats. And every day he killed a hundred of the men that were sent against him.


Deidre of the Sorrows, by John Duncan