Gods and Fighting Men

Laegaire in the Happy Plain

   And another that went to visit Magh Mell, the Happy Plain, was Laegaire, son of the King of Connacht, Crimthan Cass.
   He was out one day with the king, his father, near Loch na-n Ean, the Lake of Birds, and the men of Connacht with them, and they saw a man coming to them through the mist. Long golden-yellow hair he had, and it streaming after him, and at his belt a gold-hilted sword, and in his hand two five-barbed darts, a gold-rimmed shield on his back, a five-folded crimson cloak about his shoulders.
   "Give a welcome to the man that is coming towards you," said Laegaire, that had the best name of all the men of Connacht, to his people. And to the stranger he said: "A welcome to the champion we do not know."
   "I am thankful to you all," said he.
   "What is it you are come for, and where are you going?" said Laegaire then.
   "I am come to look for the help of fighting men," said the stranger. "And my name," be said, 'is Fiachna, son of Betach, of the men of the Sidhe; and it is what ails in; my wife was taken from my pillow and brought away by Eochaid, son of Sal. And we fought together, and I killed him, and now she is gone to a brother's son of his, Goll, son of Dalbh, king of a people of Magh MeIl. Seven battles I gave him, but they all went against me; and on this very day there is another to be fought, and I am come to ask help. And to every one that deserves it, I will give a good reward of gold and of silver for that help."
   And it is what he said:
   "The most beautiful of plains is the Plain of the Two Mists; it is not far from this; it is a host of the men of the Sidhe full of courage are stirring up pools of blood upon it.
   "We have drawn red blood from the bodies of high nobles; many women are keening them with cries and with tears.
   "The men of the host in good order go out ahead of their beautiful king; they march among blue spears, white troops of fighters with curled hair.
   "They scatter the troops of their enemies, they destroy every country they make an attack on; they are beautiful in battle, a host with high looks, rushing, avenging.
   "It is no wonder they to have such strength: every one of them is the son of a king and a queen; manes of hair they have of the colour of gold.
   "Their bodies smooth and comely; their eyes blue and far-seeing; their teeth bright like crystal, within their thin red lips.
   "White shields they have in their hands, with patterns on them of white silver; blue shining swords, red horns set with gold.
   "They are good at killing men in battle; good at song-making, good at chess-playing.
   "The most beautiful of plains is the Plain of the Two Mists; the men of the Sidhe are stirring up pools of blood on it; it is not far from this place."
   "It would be a shameful thing not to give our help to this man," said Laegaire.
   Fiachna, son of Betach, went down into the lake then, for it was out of it he had come, and Laegaire went down into it after him, and fifty fighting men along with him.
   They saw a strong place before them then, and a company of armed men, and Goll, son of Dalbh, at the head of them.
   "That is well," said Laegaire, "I and my fifty men will go out against this troop." "I will answer you," said Goll, son of Dalbh.
   The two fifties attacked one another then, and Goll fell, but Laegaire and his fifty escaped with their lives and made a great slaughter of their enemies, that not one of them made his escape.
   "Where is the woman now?" said Laegaire. "She is within the dun of Magh Mell, and a troop of armed men keeping guard about it," said Fiachna. "Let you stop here, and I and my fifty will go there," said Laegaire.
   So he and his men went on to the dun, and Laegaire called out to the men that were about it: "Your king has got his death, your chief men have fallen, let the woman come out, and I will give you your own lives." The men agreed to that, and they brought the woman out. And when she came out she made this complaint:
   "It is a sorrowful day that swords are reddened for the sake of the dear dead body of Goll, son of Dalbh. It was he that loved me, it was himself I loved, it is little Laegaire Liban cares for that.
   "Weapons were hacked and were split by Goll; it is to Fiachna, son of Betach, I must go; it is Goll, son of Dalbh, I loved."
   And that complaint got the name of "The Lament of the Daughter of Eochaid the Dumb."
   Laegaire went back with her then till he put her hand in Fiachna's hand. And that night Fiachna's daughter, Deorgreine, a Tear of the Sun, was given to Laegaire as his wife, and fifty other women were given to his fifty fighting men, and they stopped with them there to the end of a year.
   And at the end of that time, Laegaire said: "Let us go and ask news of our own country." "If you have a mind to go," said Fiachna, "bring horses with you; but whatever happens," he said, "do not get off from them."
   So they set out then; and when they got back to Ireland, they found a great gathering of the whole of the men of Connacht that were keening them.
   And when the men of Connacht saw them coming they rose up to meet them, and to bid them welcome. But Laegaire called out: "Do not come to us, for it is to bid you farewell we are here." "Do not go from us again," said Crimthan, his father, "and I will give you the sway over the three Connachts, their silver and their gold, their horses and their bridles, and their beautiful women, if you will not go from us."
   And it is what Laegaire said: "In the place we are gone to, the armies move from kingdom to kingdom, they listen to the sweet-sounding music of the Sidhe, they drink from shining cups, we talk with those we love, it is beer that falls instead of rain.
   "We have brought from the dun of the Pleasant Plain thirty cauldrons, thirty drinking horns; we have brought the complaint that was sung by the Sea, by the daughter of Eochaid the Dumb.
   "There is a wife for every man of the fifty; my own wife to me is the Tear of the Sun; I am made master of a blue sword; I would not give for all your whole kingdom one night of the nights of the Sidhe."
   With that Laegaire turned from them, and went back to the kingdom. And he was made king there along with Fiachna, son of Betach, and his daughter, and he did not come out of it yet.


Deidre of the Sorrows, by John Duncan