Gods and Fighting Men

Meargach's Wife

   And while the Fianna were gathered yet on the hill where Tailc, son of Treon, had been put down, they saw a very great champion coming towards them, having an army behind him. He took no notice of any one more than another, but he asked in a very rough voice where was Finn, the Head of the Fianna. And Aodh Beag, that had a quiet heart, asked him who he was, and what was be come for. "I will tell you nothing at all, child," said the big man, "for it is short your years are, and I will tell nothing at all to any one but Finn." So Aodh Beag brought him to where Finn was, and Finn asked him his name. "Meargach of the Green Spears is my name," he said; "and arms were never reddened yet on my body, and no one ever boasted of driving me backwards. And it was you, Finn," he said, "put down Tailc, son of Treon?" "It was not by me he fell," said Finn, "but by Osgar of the strong hand." "Was it not a great shame for you, Finn," said Meargach then, "to let the queen-woman that had such a great name come to her death by the Fianna?" "It was not by myself or by any of the Fianna she got her death," said Finn; "it was seeing the army lost that brought her to her death. But if it is satisfaction for her death or the death of Tailc you want," he said, "you can get it from a man of the Fianna, or you can go quietly from this place." Then Meargach said he would fight with any man they would bring against him, to avenge Tailc, son of Treon.
   And it was Osgar stood up against him, and they fought a very hard fight through the length of three days, and at one time the Fianna thought it was Osgar was worsted, and they gave a great sorrowful shout. But in the end Osgar put down Meargach and struck his head off, and at that the seven battalions of the Fianna gave a shout of victory, and the army of Meargach keened him very sorrowfully. And after that, the two sons of Meargach, Ciardan the Swift and Liagan the Nimble, came up and asked who would come against them, hand to hand, that they might get satisfaction for their father.
   And it was Goll stood up against Ciardan, and it was not long till he put him down; and Conan came out against Liagan, and Liagan mocked at him and said: "It is foolishness your coming is, bald man!" But Conan made a quick blow and struck his head off before the fight was begun at all.
   And Faolan said that was a shameful thing to do, not to stand his ground and make a fair fight. But Conan said: "If I could make an end of the whole army by one blow, I would do it, and I would not be ashamed, and the whole of the Fianna could not shelter them from me."
   Then the two armies came towards each other, and they were making ready for the attack. And they saw a beautiful golden-haired woman coming towards them, and she crying and ever crying, and the battle was given up on both sides, waiting for her to come; and the army of Meargach knew it was their queen, Ailne of the Bright Face, and they raised a great cry of grief; and the Fianna were looking at her, and said no word.
   And she asked where was her husband, and where were her two sons. "High Queen," said Finn then, "for all they were so complete and quick and strong, the three you are asking for fell in fight."
   And when the queen-woman heard that, she cried out aloud, and she went to the place where her husband and her two sons were lying, and she stood over their bodies, and her golden hair hanging, and she keened them there. And her own people raised a sharp lamentation listening to her, and the Fianna themselves were under grief.
   And it is what she said: "O Meargach," she said, "of the sharp green spears, it is many a fight and many a heavy battle your hard hand fought in the gathering of the armies or alone.
   "I never knew any wound to be on your body after them; and it is full sure I am, it was not strength but treachery got the upper hand of you now.
   "It is long your journey was from far off, from your own kind country to Inisfail, to come to Finn and the Fianna, that put my three to death through treachery.
   "My grief! to have lost my husband, my head, by the treachery of the Fianna; my two sons, my two men that were rough in the fight.
   "My grief! my food and my drink; my grief! my teaching everywhere; my grief! my journey from far off, and I to have lost my high heroes.
   "My grief! my house thrown down; my grief! my shelter and my shield; my grief! Meargach and Ciardan; my grief! Liagan of the wide chest.
   "My grief! my protection and my shelter; my grief! my strength and my power; my grief! there is darkness come from this thing; my grief to-night you to be in your weakness.
   "My grief! my gladness and my pleasure; my grief! my desire in every place; my grief! my courage is gone and my strength; my grief from this night out for ever.
   "My grief! my guide and my going; my grief! my desire to the day of my death; my grief! my store and my sway; my grief! my heroes that were open-handed.
   "My grief! my bed and my sleep; my grief! my journey and my coming; my grief! my teacher and my share; my sorrowful grief! my three men.
   "My grief! my beauty and my ornaments; my grief! my jewels and my riches; my grief! my treasures and my goods; my grief! my three Candles of Valour.
   "My grief! my friends and my kindred; my grief! my people and my friends. My grief! my father and my mother, my grief and my trouble! you to be dead.
   "My grief! my portion and my welcome; my grief! my health at every time; my grief! my increase and my light; my sore trouble, you to be without strength.
   "My grief! your spear and your sword; my grief! your gentleness and your love; my grief! your country and your home; my grief! you to be parted from my reach.
   "My grief! my coasts and my harbours; my grief! my wealth and my prosperity; my grief! my greatness and my kingdom; my grief and my crying are until death.
   "My grief! my luck altogether; my grief for you in time of battle; my grief! my gathering of armies; my grief! my three proud lions.
   "My grief! my games and my drinking; my grief! my music and my delight; my grief! my sunny house and my women; my crying grief, you to be under defeat.
   "My grief! my lands and my hunting; my grief! my three sure fighters; Och! my grief! they are my sorrow, to fall far off by the Fianna.
   "I knew by the great host of the Sidhe that were fighting over the dun, giving battle to one another in the valleys of the air, that destruction would put down my three.
   "I knew by the noise of the voices of the Sidhe coming into my ears, that a story of new sorrow was not far from me; it is your death it was foretelling.
   "I knew at the beginning of the day when my three good men went from me, when I saw tears of blood on their cheeks, that they would not come back to me as winners.
   "I knew by the voice of the battle-crow over your dun every evening, since you went from me comely and terrible, that misfortune and grief were at hand.
   "It is well I remember, my three strong ones, how often I used to be telling you that if you would go to Ireland, I would not see the joy of victory of your faces.
   "I knew by the voice of the raven every morning since you went from me, that your fall was sure and certain; that you would never come back to your own country.
   "I knew, my three great ones, by your forgetting the thongs of your hounds, that you would not gain the day or escape from the treachery of the Fianna.
   "I knew, Candles of Valour, by the stream near the dun turning to blood when you set out, that there would be treachery in Finn.
   "I knew by the eagle coming every evening over the dun, that it would not be long till I would hear a story of bad news of my three.
    "I knew by the withering of the tree before the dun, that you would never come back as conquerors from the treachery of Finn, son of Cumhal."
   When Grania, now, heard what the woman was saying, there was anger on her, and she said: "Do not be speaking against Finn or the Fianna, Queen, for it was not by treachery or any deceit your three men were brought to their end."
   But Ailne made her no answer and gave no heed to her, but she went on with her complaint, and she crying and ever crying.
   "I knew, looking after you the day you went out from the dun, by the flight of the raven before you, there was no good sign of your coming back again.
   "I knew by Ciardan's hounds that were howling mournfully every evening, that it would not be long till I would have bad news of you.
   "I knew by my sleep that went from me, by my tears through every lasting night, that there was no luck before you.
   "I knew by the sorrowful vision that showed myself in danger, my head and my hands cut off, that it was yourselves were without sway.
   "I knew by the voice of Uaithnin, the hound that is dearest to Liagan, howling early every morning, that death was certain for my three.
   "I knew when I saw in a vision a lake of blood in the place of the dun, that my three were put down by the deceit that was always with Finn."
   "Do not be faulting Finn," said Grania then, "however vexed your heart may be. And leave off now," she said, "speaking against the Fianna and against himself; for if your men had stopped in their own country," she said, "without coming to avenge the son of Treon, there would no harm have happened them." "I would not put any reproach on the Fianna, Grania," said Ailne, "if my three men had been put down in fair battle, but they are not living to bear witness to me," she said; "and it is likely they were put under Druid spells at the first, or they would never have given in." "If they were living, Queen," said Grania, "they would not be running down the Fianna, but they would tell you it was by bravery and the strong hand they fell." "I do not believe you or the Fianna when you say that," said Ailne; "for no one that came to meet them ever got the sway over them by the right of the sword." "If you do not believe what I am saying, beautiful Ailne," said Grania, "I tell you more of your great army will fall by the Fianna, and that not by treachery." "That is not so," said Ailne, "but I have good hopes that my own army will do destruction on the Fianna, for the sake of the men that are dead." "Well, Ailne," said Grania, "I know it is a far journey you have come. And come now and eat and drink," she said, "with myself and with the Fianna."
   But Ailne would not do that, but she said it would not be fitting for her to take food from people that did such deeds, and what she wanted was satisfaction for the death of her husband and her two sons.
   And first it was settled for two men of each side to go out against one another; and then Ailne said that there should be thirty men on each side, and then she said she would not be satisfied to go back to her own country till she brought the head of Finn with her, or till the last of his men had fallen. And there was a great battle fought in the end, and it is seldom the Fianna fought so hard a battle as that.
   And it would be too long to tell, and it would tire the hearers, how many good men were killed on each side. But in the end Ailne of the Bright Face was worsted, and she went back with what were left of her men to their own country, and no one knew where they went.
   And the hill in the west those battles were fought on got the name of Cnos-an-Air, the Hill of Slaughter.


Deidre of the Sorrows, by John Duncan