Gods and Fighting Men

The King of Ulster's Son

   Now it chanced at that time that news of the great battle was going on reached to the court of the King of Ulster. And the king's son, that was only twelve years of age, and that was the comeliest of all the young men of Ireland, said to his father: "Let me go to help Finn, son of Cumhal, and his men." "You are not old enough, or strong enough, boy; your bones are too soft," said the king. And when the boy went on asking, his father shut him up in some close place, and put twelve young men, his foster-brothers, in charge of him.
   There was great anger on the young lad then, and he said to his foster-brothers: "It is through courage and daring my father won a great name for himself in his young youth, and why does he keep me from winning a name for myself? And let you help me now," he said, "and I will be a friend to you for ever." And he went on talking to them and persuading them till he got round them all, and they agreed to go with him to join Finn and the Fianna. And when the king was asleep, they went into the house where the arms were kept, and every lad of them brought away with him a shield and a sword and a helmet and two spears and two greyhound whelps. And they went across Ess Ruadh in the north, and through Connacht of many tribes, and through Caille an Chosanma, the Woods of Defence, that were called the choice of every king and the true honour of every poet, and into Ciarraighe, and so on to the White Strand.
   And when they came there Dolar Durba was on the strand, boasting before the men of Ireland. And Oisin was rising up to go against him, for he said he would sooner die fighting with him than see the destruction he was doing every day on his people. And all the wise men and the fighting men and the poets and the musicians of the Fianna gave a great cry of sorrow when they heard Oisin saying that.
   And the King of Ulster's son went to Finn and stood before him and saluted him, and Finn asked who he was, and where did he come from. "I am the son of the King of Ulster," he said; "and I am come here, myself and my twelve foster-brothers, to give you what help we can." "I give you a welcome," said Finn.
   Just then they heard the voice of Dolar Durba, very loud and boastful. "Who is that I hear?" said the king's son. "It is a man of the foreigners asking for a hundred men to go and meet him," said Finn.
   Now, when the twelve foster-brothers heard that, they said no word but went down to the strand, unknown to the king's son and to Finn.
   "You are not a grown man," said Conan; "neither yourself nor your comrades are fit to face any fighting man at all." "I never saw the Fianna of Ireland till this day," said the young lad; "but I know well that you are Conan Maol, that never says a good word of any man. And you will see now," he said, "if I am in dread of that man on the strand, or of any man in the world, for I will go out against him by myself."
   But Finn kept him back and was talking with him; but then Conan began again, and he said: "It is many men Dolar Durba has made an end of, and there was not a man of all those that could not have killed a hundred of the like of you every day."
   When the king's son heard that, there was great anger on him, and he leaped up, and just then Dolar Durba gave a great shout on the strand. "What is he giving that shout for?" said the king's son. "He is shouting for more men to come against him," said Conan, "for he is just after killing your twelve comrades." "That is a sorrowful story," said the king's son.
   And with that he took hold of his arms, and no one could hold him or hinder him, and he rushed down to the strand where Dolar Durba was. And all the armies of the strangers gave a great shout of laughter, for they thought all Finn's men had been made an end of, when he sent a young lad like that against their best champion.
   And when the boy heard that, his courage grew the greater, and he fell on Dolar Durba and gave him many wounds before he knew he was attacked at all. And they fought a very hard fight together, till their shields and their swords were broken in pieces. And that did not stop the battle, but they grappled together and fought and wrestled that way, till the tide went over them and drowned them both. And when the sea went over them the armies on each side gave out a great sorrowful cry.
   And after the ebb-tide on the morrow, the two bodies were found cold and quiet, each one held fast by the other. But Dolar Durba was beneath the king's son, so they knew it was the young lad was the best and had got the victory. And they buried him, and put a flag-stone over his grave, and keened him there.


Deidre of the Sorrows, by John Duncan