Gods and Fighting Men

The High King's Son

   Then Finn said he would send a challenge himself to Daire Donn, the King of the Great World. But Caoilte asked leave to do that day's fighting himself. And Finn said he would agree to that if he could find enough of men to go with him. And he himself gave him a hundred men, and Oisin did the same, and so on with the rest. And he gave out his challenge, and it was the son of the King the Great Plain that answered it. And while they were in the heat of the fight, a fleet of ships came into the harbour, and Finn thought they were come to help the foreigners. But Oisin looked at them, and he said: "It is seldom your knowledge fails you, Finn, but those are friends of our own: Fiachra, son of the King of the Fianna of the Bretons, and Duaban Donn, son of the Kings of Tuathmumain with his own people."
   And when those that were in the ships came on shore, they saw Caoilte's banner going down before the son of the King of the Great Plain. And they all went hurrying on to his help, and between them they made an end of the king's son and of all his people.
   "Who will keep watch to-night?" said Finn then. "We will," said the nine Garbhs of the Fianna, of Slieve Mis, and Slieve Cua, and Slieve Clair, and Slieve Crot, and Slieve Muice, and Slieve Fuad, and Slieve Atha Moir, and Dun Sobairce and Dundealgan. And they were not long watching till they saw the King of the Men of Dregan coming towards them, and they fought a fierce battle; and at the end of the night there were left standing but three of the Garbhs, and the King of the Men of the Dregan. And they fought till their wits were gone from them; and those four fell together, sole against sole, and lip against lip.
   And the fight went on from day to day, and from week to week, and there were great losses on both sides. And when Fergus of the Sweet Lips saw that so many of the Fianna were fallen, he asked no leave but went to Teamhair of the Kings, where the High King of Ireland was, and he told him the way it was with Finn and his people. "That is good," said the High King, "Finn to be in that strait; for there is no labouring man dares touch a pig or a deer or a salmon if he finds it dead before him on account of the Fianna; and there is no man but is in dread to go from one place to another without leave from Finn, or to take a wife till he knows if she has a sweetheart among the Fianna of Ireland. And it is often Finn has given bad judgments against us," he said, "and it would be better for us the foreigners to gain the day than himself."
   Then Fergus went out to the lawn where the High King's son was playing at ball. "It is no good help you are giving to Ireland," said Fergus then, "to be playing a game without lasting profit, and strangers taking away your country from you." And he was urging him and blaming him, and great shame came on the young man, and he threw away the stick and went through the people of Team-hair and brought together all the young men, a thousand and twenty of them that were in it. And they asked no leave and no advice from the High King, but they set out and went on till they came to Finntraigh. And Fergus went to where Finn was, and told him the son of the High King of Ireland was come with him; and all the Fianna rose up before the young man and bade him welcome. And Finn said: "Young man," he said, "we would sooner see you coming at a time when there would be musicians and singers and poets and high-up women to make pleasure for you than at the time we are in the straits of battle the way we are now." "It is not for playing I am come," said the young man, "but to give you my service in battle." "I never brought a lad new to the work into the breast of battle," said Finn, "for it is often a lad coming like that finds his death, and I would not wish him to fall through me." "I give my word," said the young man, "I will do battle with them on my own account if I may not do it on yours." Then Fergus of the Fair Lips went out to give a challenge of battle from the son of the High King of Ireland to the King of the World.
   "Who will answer the King of Ireland's son for me?" said the King of the World. "I will go against him," said Sligech, King of the Men of Cepda; and he went on shore, and his three red battalions with him. And the High King's son went against them, and his comrades were near him, and they were saying to him: "Take a good heart now into the fight, for the Fianna will be no better pleased if it goes well with you than if it goes well with the foreigner." And when the High King's son heard that, he made a rush through the army of the foreigners, and began killing and overthrowing them, till their chief men were all made an end of. Then Sligech their king came to meet him, very angry and destroying, and they struck at one another and made a great fight, but at the last the King of Ireland's son got the upper hand, and he killed the King of the Men of Cepda and struck off his head.


Deidre of the Sorrows, by John Duncan