Gods and Fighting Men

The King of Lochlann and his Sons

   And the fighting went on from day to day, and at last Finn said to Fergus of the Sweet Lips: "Go out, Fergus, and see how many of the Fianna are left for the fight to-day." And Fergus counted them, and he said: "There is one battalion only of the Fianna left in good order; but there are some of the men of it," he said, "are able to fight against three, and some that are able to fight against nine or thirty or a hundred." "If that is so," said Finn, "rise up and go to where the King of the World is, and bid him to come out to the great battle."
   So Fergus went to the King of the World, and it is the way he was, on his bed listening to the music of harps and pipes. "King of the World," said Fergus, "it is long you are in that sleep; and that is no shame for you," he said, "for it will be your last sleep. And the whole of the Fianna are gone out to their place of battle," he said, "and let you go out and answer them." "In my opinion," said the King of the World, "there is not a man of them is able to fight against me; and how many are there left of the Fianna of Ireland?" "One battalion only that is in good order," said Fergus. "And how many of the armies of the World are there left?" he said. "Thirty battalions came with me to Ireland; and there are twenty of them fallen by the Fianna, and what is left of them is ten red battalions in good order. And there are eight good fighters of them," he said, "that would put down the men of the whole world if they were against me; that is, myself, and Conmail my son, and Ogarmach, the daughter of the King of Greece, that is the best hand in battle of the whole world after myself, and Finnachta of the Teeth, the chief of my household, and the King of Lochlann, Caisel Clumach of the Feathers, and his three sons, Tocha, and Forne of the Broad Shoulders, and Mongach of the Sea."
   "I swear by the oath of my people," said the King of Lochlann then, "if any man of the armies goes out against the Fianna before myself and my three sons, we will not go at all, for we would not get the satisfaction we are used to, unless our swords get their fill of blood." "I will go out against them alone," said Forne, the youngest son of the King of Lochlann. With that he put on his battle suit, and he went among the Fianna of Ireland, and a red-edged sword in each of his hands. And he destroyed those of their young men that were sent against him, and he made the strand narrow with their bodies.
   And Finn saw that, and it was torment to his heart, and danger of death and loss of wits to him, and he was encouraging the men of Ireland against Forne. And Fergus of the True Lips stood up, and it is what he said: "Fianna of Ireland," he said, "it is a pity the way you are under hardship and you defending Ireland. And one man is taking her from you to-day," he said, "and you are like no other thing but a flock of little birds looking for shelter in a bush from a hawk that is after them. And it is going into the shelter of Finn and Oisin and Caoilte you are," he said; "and not one of you is better than another, and none of you sets his face against the foreigner." "By my oath," said Oisin, "all that is true, and no one of us tries to do better than another keeping him off." "There is not one of you is better than another," said Fergus. Then Oisin gave out a great shout against the King of Lochlann's son. "Stop here with me, king's son," he said, "until I fight with you for the Fianna." "I give my word it is short the delay will be," said Forne.
   Then he himself and Oisin made an attack on one another, and it seemed for a while that the battle was going against Oisin. "By my word, Man of Poetry," said Finn then to Fergus of the True Lips, "It is a pity the way you sent my son against the foreigner. And rise up and praise him and hearten him now," he said. So Fergus went down to where the fight was, and he said: "There is great shame on the Fianna, Oisin, seeing you so low in this fight; and there is many a foot messenger and many a horseman from the daughters of the kings and princes of Ireland looking at you now," he said. And great courage rose in Oisin then, and he drove his spear through the body of Forne, the King of Lochlann's son. And be himself came back to the Fianna of Ireland.
   Then the armies of the World gave out a great cry, keening Forne; and there was anger and not fear on his brothers, for they thought it no right thing he to have fallen by a man of the Fianna. And Tocha, the second son of the King of Lochlann, went on shore to avenge his brother. And he went straight into the middle of the Fianna, and gave his sword good feeding on their bodies, till they broke away before him and made no stand till Lugaidh's Son turned round against him. And those two fought a great fight, till their swords were bent and their spears crumbled away, and they lost their golden shields. And at the last Lugaidh's Son made a stroke of his sword that cut through the foreigner's sword, and then he made another stroke that cut his heart in two halves. And he came back high and proud to the Fianna.
   Then the third son of the King of Lochlann, Mongach of the Sea, rose up, and all the armies rose up along with him. 'Stop here, Men of the World," he said, "for it is not you but myself that has to go and ask satisfaction for the bodies of my brothers." So he went on shore; and it is the way he was, with a strong iron flail in his hand having seven balls of pure iron on it, and fifty iron chains, and fifty apples on every chain, and fifty deadly thorns on every apple. And he made a rush through the Fianna to break them up entirely and to tear them into strings, and they gave way before him. And great shame came on Fidach, son of the King of the Bretons, and he said: "Come here and praise me, Fergus of the True Lips, till I go out and fight with the foreigner." "It is easy to praise you, son," said Fergus, and he was praising him for a long time.
   Then the two looked at one another and used fierce, proud words. And then Mongach of the Sea raised his iron flail and made a great blow at the King of the Bretons' son. But he made a quick leap to one side and gave him a blow of his sword that cut off his two hands at the joint; and he did not stop at that, but made a blow at his middle that cut him into two halves. But as he fell, an apple of the flail with its deadly thorns went into Fidach's comely mouth and through his brain, and it was foot to foot those two fell, and lip to lip.
   And the next that came to fight on the strand was the King of Lochlann himself, Caisel of the Feathers. And be came to the battle having his shield on his arm; and it is the way the shield was, that was made for him by the smith of the Fomor, there were red flames coming from it; and if it was put under the sea itself, not one of its flames would stop blazing. And when he had that shield on his arm no man could come near him.
   And there was never such destruction done on the men of Ireland as on that day, for the flames of fire that he sent from his shield went through the bodies of men till they blazed up like a splinter of oak that was after hanging through the length of a year in the smoke of a chimney; and any one that would touch the man that was burning would catch fire himself. And every other harm that ever came into Ireland before was small beside this.
   Then Finn said: "Lift up your hands, Fianna of Ireland, and give thee shouts of blessing to whoever will hinder this foreigner." And the Fianna gave those three shouts; and the King of Lochlann gave a great laugh when he heath them. And Druimderg, grandson of the Head of the Fianna of Ulster, was near him, and he had with him a deadly spear, the Croderg, the Red-Socketed, that came down from one to another of the sons of Rudraighe. And he looked at the King of Lochlann, and he could see no part of him without armour but his mouth that was opened wide, and he laughing at the Fianna. Then Druimderg made a cast with the Croderg that hit him in the open mouth, and befell, and his shield fell along with its master, and its flame went out. And Druimderg struck the head from his body, and made great boasts of the things he had done.


Deidre of the Sorrows, by John Duncan