Gods and Fighting Men

The Green Champions

   Then Diarmuid and Grania went along the right bank of the Sionnan westward till they came to Garbh-abha-na-Fiann, the rough river of the Fianna. And Diarmuid killed a salmon on the brink of the river, and put it to the fire on a spit. Then he himself and Grania went across the stream to eat it, as Angus bade them; and then they went westward to sleep.
   They rose up early on the morrow, and they travelled straight westward till they came to the marsh of Finnliath.
   And on the marsh they met with a young man, having a good shape and appearance, but without fitting dress or arms. Diarmuid greeted the young man, and asked news of him. "A fighting lad I am, looking for a master," he said, "and Muadhan is my name." "What would you do for me, young man?" said Diarmuid. "I would be a servant to you in the day, and watch for you in the night," he said. "I tell you to keep that young man," said Grania, "for you cannot be always without people."
   Then they made an agreement with him, and bound one another, and they went on together westward till they reached the Carrthach river. And then Muadhan bade Diarmuid and Grania to go up on his back till he would carry them over the stream.
   "That would be a big load for you," said Grania. But he put them upon his back and carried them over. Then they went on till they came to the Beith, and Muadhan brought them over on his back the same way. And they went into a cave at the side of Currach Cinn Adhmuid, the Woody Headland of the Bog, over Tonn Toime, and Muadhan made ready beds of soft rushes and tops of the birch for them in the far end of the cave. And he went himself into the scrub that was near, and took a straight long rod of a quicken-tree, and he put a hair and a hook on the rod, and a holly berry on the hook, and he went up the stream, and he took a Salmon with the first cast. Then he put on a second berry and killed another fish, and he put on a third berry and killed the third fish. Then he put the hook and the hair under his belt, and struck the rod into the earth, and he brought the three salmon where Diarmuid and Grania were, and put them on spits. When they were done, Muadhan said: "I give the dividing of the fish to you, Diarmuid." "I would sooner you to divide it than myself," said Diarmuid. "I will give the dividing of the fish to you, so, Grania," said he. "I am better satisfied you to divide it," said Grania. "If it was you that divided the fish, Diarmuid," said Muadhan, "you would have given the best share to Grania; and if it was Grania divided it, she would have given you the best share; and as it is myself is dividing it, let you have the biggest fish, Diarrnuid, and let Grania have the second biggest, and I myself will have the one is smallest."
   They spent the night there, and Diarmuid and Grania slept in the far part of the cave, and Muadhan kept watch for them until the rising of the day and the full light of the morrow.
   Diarmuid rose up early, and he bade Grania keep watch for Muadhan, and that he himself would go and take a walk around the country. He went out then, and he went up on a hill that was near, and he was looking about him, east and west, north and south. He was not long there till he saw a great fleet of ships coming from the west, straight to the bottom of the bill where he was. And when they were come to land, nine times nine of the chief men of the ships came on shore, and Diarmuid went down and greeted them, and asked news of them, and to what country they belonged.
   "Three kings we are of the Green Champions of Muir-na-locht," said they; "and Finn, son of Cumhal, sent looking for us by cause of a thief of the woods, and an enemy of his own that has gone hiding from him; and it is to hinder him we are come. And we are twenty hundred good fighting men, and every one of us is a match for a hundred, and besides that," he said, "we have three deadly hounds with us; fire will not burn them, and water will not drown them, and arms will not redden on them, and we will lay them on his track, and it will be short till we get news of him. And tell us who you are yourself?" they said, "and have you any word of the grandson of Duibhne?" "I saw him yesterday," said Diarmuid; "and I myself," he said, "am but a fighting man, walking the world by the strength of my hand and by the hardness of my sword. And by my word," he said, "you will know Diarmuid's hand when you will meet it." "Well, we found no one up to this," said they. "What are your own names?" said Diarmuid. "Dubhchosach, the Blackfooted, Fionn-chosach, the Fair-footed, and Treun-chosach, the Strong-footed," they said.
   "Is there wine in your ships?" said Diarmuid. "There is," said they. "If you have a mind to bring out a tun of wine," said Diarmuid, "I will do a trick for you." They sent men to get the tun, and when it came Diarmuid took it between his two hands and drank a drink out of it, and the others drank what was left of it. Diarmuid took up the tun after that, and brought it to the top of the bill, and he went up himself on the tun, and let it go down the steep of the hill till it was at the bottom. And then he brought the tun up the hill again, and he himself on it coming and going, and he did that trick three times before the strangers. But they said he was a man had never seen a good trick when he called that a trick; and with that a man of them went up on the tun, but Diarmuid gave a stroke of his foot at it and the young man fell from it before it began to move, and it rolled over him and crushed him, that he died. And another man went on it, and another after him, till fifty of them were killed trying to do Diarmuid's trick, and as many of them as were not killed went back to their ships that night.
   Diarmuid went back then to where he left Grania: and Muadban put the hair and the hook on the rod till he killed three salmon; and they ate their meal that night, and he kept watch for them the same way he did before.
   Diarmuid went out early the next day again to the hill, and it was not long till he saw the three strangers coming towards him, and he asked them would they like to see any more tricks. They said they would sooner get news of the grandson of Duibhne. "I saw a man that saw him yesterday," said Diarmuid. And with that he put off his arms and his clothes, all but the shirt that was next his skin, and he struck the Crann Buidhe, the spear of Manannan, into the earth with the point upwards. And then he rose with a leap and lit on the point of the spear as light as a bird, and came down off it again without a wound on him. Then a young man of the Green Champions said: "It is a man has never seen feats that would call that a feat"; and he put off his clothing and made a leap, and if he did he came down heavily on the point of the spear, and it went through his heart, and he fell to the ground. The next day Diarmuid came again, and he brought two forked poles out of the wood and put them standing upright on the hill, and he put the sword of Angus Og, the Mor-alltach, the Big-fierce one, between the two forks on its edge. Then he raised himself lightly over it, and walked on the sword three times from the hilt to the point, and he came down and asked was there a man of them could do that feat.
   "That is a foolish question," said a man of them then, "for there was never any feat done in Ireland but a man of our own would do it." And with that he rose up to walk on the sword; but it is what happened, he came down heavily on it the way he was cut in two halves.
   The rest of the champions bade him take away his sword then, before any more of their people would fall by it; and they asked him had he any word of the grandson of Duibhne. "I saw a man that saw him to-day," said Diarmuid, "and I will go ask news of him to-night."
   He went back then to where Grania was, and Muadhan killed three salmon for their supper, and kept a watch for them through the night. And Diarmuid rose up at the early break of day, and he put his battle clothes on him, that no weapon could go through, and he took the sword of Angus, that left no leavings after it, at his left side, and his two thick-handled spears, the Gae Buidhe and the Gae Dearg, the Yellow and the Red, that gave wounds there was no healing for. And then he wakened Grania, and he bade her to keep watch for Muadhan, and he himself would go out and take a look around.
   When Grania saw him looking so brave, and dressed in his clothes of anger and of battle, great fear took hold of her, and she asked what was he going to do. "It is for fear of meeting my enemies I am like this," said he. That quieted Grania, and then Diarmuid went out to meet the Green Champions.
   They came to land then, and they asked had he news of the grandson of Duibhne. "I saw him not long ago," said Diarmuid. "If that is so, let us know where is he," said they, "till we bring his head to Finn, son of Cumhal." "I would be keeping bad watch for him if I did that," said Diarmuid, "for his life and his body are under the protection of my valour, and by reason of that I will do no treachery on him." "Is that true?" said they. "It is true indeed," said Diarmuid. "Let you yourself quit this place, so," they said, "or we will bring your head to Finn since you are an enemy to him." "It is in bonds I would be," said Diarmuid, "the time I would leave my head with you." And with that he drew his sword the Moralltach out of its sheath, and he made a fierce blow at the head nearest him that put it in two halves. Then he made an attack on the whole host of the Green Champions, and began to destroy them, cutting through the beautiful shining armour of the men of Muir-na-locht till there was hardly a man but got shortening of life and the sorrow of death, or that could go back to give news of the fight, but only the three kings and a few of their people that made their escape back to their ships. Diarmuid turned back then without wound or hurt on him, and he went to where Grania and Muadhan were. They bade him welcome, and Grania asked him did he hear any news of Finn and the Fianna of Ireland, and he said he did not, and they ate their food and spent the night there.
   He rose up again with the early light of the morrow and went back to the hill, and when he got there he struck a great blow on his shield that set the strand shaking with the sound. And Dubhchosach heard it, and he said be himself would go fight with Diarmuid, and he went on shore there and then.
   And he and Diarmuid threw the arms out of their hands and rushed on one another like wrestlers, straining their arms and their sinews, knotting their hands on one another's backs, fighting like bulls in madness, or like two daring hawks on the edge of a cliff. But at the last Diarmuid raised up Dubh-chosach on his shoulder and threw his body to the ground, and bound him fast and firm on the spot. And Fionn-chosach and Treun-chosach came one after the other to fight with him then, and he put the same binding on them; and he said he would strike the heads off them, only he thought it a worse punishment to leave them in those bonds. "For there is no one can free you," he said. And he left them there, worn out and sorrowful.
   The next morning after that, Diarmuid told Grania the whole story of the strangers from beginning to end, and of all he had done to them, and how on the fifth day he had put their kings in bonds. "And they have three fierce hounds in a chain ready to hunt me," he said. 'Did you take the heads off those three kings?" said Grania. "I did not," said Diarmuid, "for there is no man of the heroes of Ireland can loosen those bonds but four only, Oisin, son of Finn, and Osgar, son of Oisin, and Lugaidh's Son of the Strong Hand, and Conan, son of Morna; and I know well," he said, "none of those four will do it. But all the same, it is short till Finn will get news of them, and it is best for us to be going from this cave, or Finn and the three hounds might come on us."
   After that they left the cave, and they went on till they came to the bog of Finnliath. Grania began to fall behind them, and Muadhand put her on his back and carried her till they came to the great Slieve Luachra. Then Diarmuid sat down on the brink of the stream that was flowing through the heart of the mountain, and Grania was washing her hands, and she asked his knife from him to cut her nails with.
   As to the strangers, as many of them as were alive yet, they came to the hill where their three leaders were bound, and they thought to loose them; but it is the way those bonds were, all they did by meddling with them was to draw them tighter.
   And they were not long there till they saw a woman coming towards them with the quickness of a swallow or a weasel or a blast of wind over bare mountain-tops. And she asked them who was it had done that great slaughter on them. "Who are you that is asking that?" said they. "I am the Woman of the Black Mountain, the woman-messenger of Finn, son of Cumhal," she said; "and it is looking for you Finn sent me." "Indeed we do not know who it was did this slaughter," they said, "but we will tell you his appearance. A young man he was, having dark curling hair and ruddy cheeks. And it is worse again to us," they said, "our three leaders to be bound this way, and we not able to loose them." "What way did that young man go from you?" said the woman. "It was late last night be left us," they said, "and we do not know where is he gone." "I give you my word," she said, "it was Diarmuid himself that was in it; and take your hounds now and lay them on his track, and I will send Finn and the Fianna of Ireland to you."
   They left a woman-Druid then attending on the three champions that were bound, and they brought their three hounds out of the ship and laid them on Diarmuid's track, and followed them till they came to the opening of the cave, and they went into the far part of it and found the beds where Diarmuid and Grania had slept Then they went on westward till they came to the Carrthach river, and to the bog of Finnliath, and soon to the great Slieve Luachra.
   But Diarmuid did not know they were after him till he got sight of them with their banners of soft silk and their three wicked hounds in the front of the troop and three strong champions holding them in chains. And when he saw them coming like that he was filled with great hatred of them.
   There was one of them had a well-coloured green cloak on him, and he came out far beyond the others, and Grania gave the knife back to Diarmuid. "I think you have not much love for that young man of the green cloak, Grania," said Diarmuid. "I have not indeed," said Grania; "and it would be better if I had never given love to any man at all to this day." Diarmuid put the knife in the sheath then, and went on; and Muadhan put Grania on his back and carried her on into the mountain.
   It was not long till a bound of the three hounds was loosed after Diarmuid, and Muadhan said to him to follow Grania, and he himself would check the hound, Then Muadhan turned back, and he took a whelp out of his belt, and put it on the flat of his hand. And when the whelp saw the hound rushing towards him, and its jaws open, he rose up and made a leap from Muadhan's hand into the throat of the hound, and came out of its sides, bringing the heart with it, and he leaped back again to Muadhan's band, and left the hound dead after him.
   Muadhan went on then after Diarmuid and Grania, and he took up Grania again and carried her a bit of the way into the mountain. Then another hound was loosened after them, and Diarmuid said to Muadhan: "I often heard there is nothing can stand against weapons of Druid wounding, and the throat of no beast can be made safe from them. And will you stand now," he said, "till I put the Gae Dearg, the Red Spear, through that hound."
   Then Muadhan and Grania stopped to see the cast. And Diarmuid made a cast at the hound, and the spear went through its body and brought out its bowels; and he took up the spear again, and they went forward.
   It was not long after that the third hound was loosed. And Grania said then: "This is the one is fiercest of them, and there is great fear on me, and mind yourself now, Diarmuid."
   It was not long till the hound overtook them, and the place he overtook them was Lic Dhubhain, the flag-stone of Dubhan, on Slieve Luachra. He rose with a light leap over Diarmuid, as if he bad a mind to seize on Grania, but Diarmuid took him by the two hind legs, and struck a blow of his carcass against the side of the rock was nearest, till he let out his brains through the openings of his head and of his ears. And then Diarmuid took up his arms and his battle clothes, and put his narrow-topped finger into the silken string of Gae Dearg, and he made a good cast at the young man of the green cloak that was at the head of the troop that killed him. Then he made another cast at the second man and killed him, and the third man in the same way. And as it is not the custom to stand after leaders are fallen, the strangers when they saw what had happened took to flight.
   And Diarmuid followed after them, killing and scattering, so that unless any man of them got away over the forests, or into the green earth, or under the waters, there was not a man or messenger of them left to tell the news, but only the Woman-messenger of the Black Mountain, that kept moving around about when Diarmuid was putting down the strangers.
   And it was not long till Finn saw her coming towards him where he was, her legs failing, and her tongue muttering, and her eyes drooping, and he asked news of her. "It is very bad news I have to tell you," she said; "and it is what I think, that it is a person without a lord I am." Then she told Finn the whole story from beginning to end, of the destruction Diarmuid had done, and how the three deadly hounds had fallen by him. "And it is hardly I myself got away," she said. "What place did the grandson of Duibhne go to?" said Finn. "I do not know that," she said.
   And when Finn heard of the Kings of the Green Champions that were bound by Diarmuid, he called his men to him, and they went by every short way and every straight path till they reached the hill, and it was torment to the heart of Finn to see the way they were. Then he said: "Oisin," he said, "loosen those three kings for me." "I will not loosen them," said Oisin, "for Diarmuid put bonds on me not to loosen any man he would bind." "Loosen them, Osgar," said Finn then. "I give my word," said Osgar, "it is more bonds I would wish to put on them sooner than to loosen them." Neither would Conan help them, or Lugaidh's Son. And any way, they were not long talking about it till the three kings died under the hardness of the bonds that were on them.
   Then Finn made three wide-sodded graves for them, and a flagstone was put over them, and another stone raised over that again, and their names were written in branching Ogham, and it is tired and heavy-hearted Finn was after that; and he and his people went back to Almhuin of Leinster.


Deidre of the Sorrows, by John Duncan