Gods and Fighting Men

The Hound

   One day the three battalions of the Fianna came to Magh Femen, and there they saw three young men waiting for them, having a hound with them; and there was not a colour in the world but was on that hound, and it was bigger than any other hound.
   "Where do you come from, young men?" said Finn. "Out of the greater Iruath in the east," said they; "and our names are Dubh, the Dark, and Agh, the Battle, and llar, the Eagle." "What is it you came for?" "To enter into service, and your friendship," said they. "What good will it do us, you to be with us?" said Finn. "We are three," said they, "and you can make a different use of each one of us." "What uses are those?" said Finn. "I will do the watching for all the Fianna of Ireland and of Alban," said one of them. "I will take the weight of every fight and every battle that will come to them, the way they can keep themselves in quiet," said the second. "I will meet every troublesome thing that might come to my master," said the third; "and let all the wants of the world be told to me and I will satisfy them. And I have a pipe with me," he said; "and all the men of the world would sleep at the sound of it, and they in their sickness. And as to the hound," he said, "as long as there are deer in Ireland he will get provision for the Fianna every second night. And I myself," he said, "will get it on the other nights." "What will you ask of us to be with us like that?" said Finn. "We will ask three things," they said: "no one to come near to the place where we have our lodging after the fall of night; nothing to be given out to us, but we are to provide for ourselves; and the worst places to be given to us in the hunting." "Tell me by your oath now," said Finn, "why is it you will let no one see you after nightfall?" "We have a reason," said they; "but do not ask it of us, whether we are short or long on the one path with you. But we will tell you this much," they said, "every third night, one of us three is dead and the other two are watching him, and we have no mind for any one to be looking at us."
   So Finn promised that; but if he did there were some of the Fianna were not pleased because of the ways of those three men, living as they did by themselves, and having a wall of fire about them, and they would have made an end of them but for Finn protecting them.
   About that time there came seven men of poetry belonging to the people of Cithruadh, asking the fee for a poem, three times fifty ounces of gold and the same of silver to bring back to Cithruadh at Teanthair. "Whatever way we get it, we must find some way to get that," said a man of the Fianna. Then the three young men from Iruath said: "Well, men of learning," they said, "would you sooner get the fee for your poem to-night or to-morrow?" "To-morrow will be time enough," said they.
   And the three young men went to the place where the hound had his bed a little way off from the path, and the hound threw out of his mouth before them the three times fifty ounces of gold and three times fifty of silver, and they gave them to the men of poetry, and they went away.
   Another time Finn said: "What can the three battalions of the Fianna do to-night, having no water?" And one of the men of Iruath said: "How many drinking-horns are with you?" "Three hundred and twelve," said Caoilte. "Give me the horns into my hand," said the young man, "and whatever you will find in them after that, you may drink it." He filled the horns then with beer and they drank it, and he did that a second and a third time; and with the third time of filling they were talkative and their wits confused. "This is a wonderful mending of the feast," said Finn. And they gave the place where all that happened the name of the Little Rath of Wonders.
   And one time after that again there came to Finn three bald red clowns, holding three red horns in their hands, and three deadly spears. And there was poison on their clothes and on their hands and their feet, and on everything they touched. And Finn asked them who were they. And they said they were three sons of Uar, son of Indast of the Tuatha de Danaan; and it was by a man of the Fianna, Caoilte son of Ronan, their father was killed in the battle of the Tuatha de Danaan on Slieve nan Ean, the Mountain of Birds, in the east. "And let Caoilte son of Ronan give us the blood-fine for him now," they said. "What are your names?" said Finn. "Aincel and Digbail and Espaid; Ill-wishing and Harm and Want are our names. And what answer do you give us now, Finn?" they said. "No one before me ever gave a blood-fine for a man killed in battle, and I will not give it," said Finn. "We will do revenge and robbery on you so," said they. "What revenge is that?" said Finn. "It is what I will do," said Ainsel, "if I meet with two or three or four of the Fianna, I will take their feet and their hands from them." "It is what I will do," said Digbail, "I will not leave a day without loss of a hound or a serving-boy or a fighting man to the Fianna of Ireland." "And I myself will be always leaving them in want of people, or of a hand, or of an eye," said Espaid. "Without we get some help against them," said Caoilt, "there will not be one of us living at the end of a year." "Well," said Finn, "we will make a dun and stop here for a while, for I will not be going through Ireland and these men following after me, till I find who are the strongest, themselves or ourselves."
   So the Fianna made little raths for themselves all about Slieve Mis, and they stopped there through a month and a quarter of a year. And through all that time the three red bald-headed men were doing every sort of hurt and harm upon them.
   But the three sons of the King of Iruath came to speak with Finn, and it is what they said; "It is our wish, Finn, to send the hound that is with us to go around you three times in every day, and however many may be trying to hurt or to rob you, they will not have power to do it after that. But let there be neither fire nor arms nor any other dog in the house he goes into," they said. "I will let none of these things go into the one house with him," said Finn, "and he will go safe back to you." So every day the hound would be sent to Finn, having his chain of ridges of red gold around his neck, and he would go three times around Finn, and three times he would put his tongue upon him, and to the people that were nearest to the hound when he came into the house it would seem like as if a vat of mead was being strained, and to others there would come the sweet smell of an apple garden.
   And every harm and sickness the three Sons of Uar would bring on the Fianna, the three sons of the King of Iruath would take it off them with their herbs and their help and their healing.
   And after a while the High King of Ireland came to Slieve Mis with a great troop of his men, to join with Finn and the Fianna. And they told the High King the whole story, and how the sons of Uar were destroying them, and the three sons of the King of Iruath were helping them against them. "Why would not the men that can do all that find some good spell that would drive the sons of Uar out of Ireland?" said the High King.
   With that Caoilte went looking for the three young men from Iruath and brought them to the High King. "These are comely men," said the High King, "good in shape and having a good name. And could you find any charm, my sons," he said, "that will drive out these three enemies that are destroying the Fianna of Ireland?"
   "We would do that if we could find those men near us," said they; "and it is where they are now," they said, "at Daire's Cairn at the end of the raths." "Where are Garb-Cronan, the Rough Buzzing One, and Saltran of the Long Heel?" said Finn. "Here we are, King of the Fianna," said they. "Go out to those men beyond, and tell them I will give accordingly to the judgment of the King of Ireland in satisfaction for their father." The messengers went out then and brought them in, and they sat down on the bank of the rath.
   Then the High King said: "Rise up, Dubh, son of the King of Iruath, and command these sons of Uar with a spell to quit Ireland." And Dubh rose up, and he said: "Go out through the strength of this spell and this charm, you three enemies of the Fianna, one-eyed, lame-thighed, left-handed, of the bad race. And go out on the deep bitter sea," he said, "and let each one of you strike a blow of his sword on the head of his brothers. For it is long enough you are doing harm and destruction on the King of the Fianna, Finn, son of Cumhal."
   With that the hound sent a blast of wind under them that brought them out into the fierce green sea, and each of them struck a blow on the head of the others. And that was the last that was seen of the three destroying sons of Uar, Aincel and Digbail and Espaid.
   But after the tune of the Fianna, there came three times in the one year, into West Munster, three flocks of birds from the western sea having beaks of bone and fiery breath, and the wind from their wings was as cold as a wind of spring. And the first time they came was at reaping time, and every one of them brought away an ear of corn from the field. And the next time they came they did not leave apple on tree, or nut on bush, or berry on the rowan; and the third time they spared no live thing they could lift from the ground, young bird or fawn or silly little child. And the first day they came was the same day of the year the three sons of Uar were put out in the sea.
   And when Caoilte, that was one of the last of the Fianna, and that was living yet, heard of them, he remembered the sons of Uar, and he made a spell that drove them out into the sea again, and they perished there by one another.
   It was about the length of a year the three sons of the King of Iruath stopped with Finn. And at the end of that time Donn and Dubhan, two sons of the King of Ulster, came out of the north to Munster. And one night they kept watch for the Fianna, and three times they made a round of the camp. And it is the way the young men from Iruath used to be, in a place by themselves apart from the Fianna, and their hound in the middle between them; and at the fall of night there used a wall of fire to be around them, the way no one could look at them.
   And the third time the sons of the King of Ulster made the round of the camp, they saw the fiery wall, and Donn said: "It is a wonder the way those three young men are through the length of a year now, and their hound along with them, and no one getting leave to look at them."
   With that he himself and his brother took their arms in their hands, and went inside the wall of fire, and they began looking at the three men and at the hound. And the great hound they used to see every day at the hunting was at this time no bigger than a lap-dog that would be with a queen or a high person. And one of the young men was watching over the dog, and his sword in his hand, and another of them was holding a vessel of white silver to the mouth of the dog; and any drink any one of the three would ask for, the dog would put it out of his mouth into the vessel.
   Then one of the young men said to the hound: "Well, noble one and brave one and just one, take notice of the treachery that is done to you by Finn." When the dog heard that he turned to the King of Ulster's sons, and there rose a dark Druid wind that blew away the shields from their shoulders and the swords from their sides into the wall of fire. And then the three men came out and made an end of them; and when that was done the dog came and breathed on them, and they turned to ashes on the moment, and there was never blood or flesh or bone of them found after.
   And the three battalions of the Fianna divided themselves into companions of nine, and went searching through every part of Ireland for the King of Ulster's two sons.
   And as to Finn, he went to Teamhair Luachra, and no one with him but the serving-lads and the followers of the army. And the companies of nine that were looking for the King of Ulster's sons came back to him there in the one night; but they brought no word of them, if they were dead or living.
   But as to the three sons of the King of Iruath and the hound that was with them, they were seen no more by Finn and the Fianna.


Deidre of the Sorrows, by John Duncan