Gods and Fighting Men

Oisin in Patrick's House

   And Oisin stopped on with S. Patrick, but he was not very well content with the way he was treated. And one time he said: "They say I am getting food, but God knows I am not, or drink; and I Oisin, son of Finn, under a yoke, drawing stones." "It is my opinion you are getting enough," said S. Patrick then, "and you getting a quarter of beef and a churn of butter and a griddle of bread every day." "I often saw a quarter of a blackbird bigger than your quarter of beef," said Oisin, "and a rowan berry as big as your churn of butter, and an ivy leaf as big as your griddle of bread." S. Patrick was vexed when he heard that, and he said to Oisin that he had told a lie.
   There was great anger on Oisin then, and he went where there was a litter of pups, and he bade a serving-boy to nail up the hide of a freshly killed bullock to the wall, and to throw the pups against it one by one. And every one that he threw fell down from the hide till it came to the last, and he held on to it with his teeth and his nails. "Rear that one," said Oisin, "and drown all the rest."
   Then he bade the boy to keep the pup in a dark place, and to care it well, and never to let it taste blood or see the daylight. And at the end of a year, Oisin was so well pleased with the pup, that be gave it the name of Bran Og, young Bran.
   And one day he called to the serving-boy to come on a journey with him, and to bring the pup in a chain. And they set out and passed by Slieve-nam-ban, where the witches of the Sidhe do be spinning with their spinning-wheels; and then they turned eastward into Gleann-na-Smol. And Oisin raised a rock that was there, and he bade the lad take from under it three things, a great sounding horn of the Fianna, and a ball of iron they had for throwing, and a very sharp sword. And when Oisin saw those things, he took them in his hands, and he said: "My thousand farewells to the day when you were put here!" He bade the lad to clean them well then; and when he had done that, he bade him to sound a blast on the horn.
   So the boy did that, and Oisin asked him did he see anything strange. "I did not," said the boy. "Sound it again as loud as you can," said Oisin. "That is as hard as I can sound it, and I can see nothing yet," said the boy when he had done that. Then Oisin took the horn himself, and he put it to his mouth, and blew three great blasts on it. "What do you see now?" he said. "I see three great clouds coming," he said, "and they are settling down in the valley; and the first cloud is a flight of very big birds, and the second cloud is a flight of birds that are bigger again, and the third flight is of the biggest and the blackest birds the world ever saw." "What is the dog doing?" said Oisin. "The eyes are starting from his head, and there is not a rib of hair on him but is standing up." "Let him loose now," said Oisin.
   The dog rushed down to the valley then, and he made an attack on one of the birds, that was the biggest of all, and that had a shadow like a cloud. And they fought a very fierce fight, but at last Bran Og made an end of the big bird, and lapped its blood. But if he did, madness came on him, and he came rushing back towards Oisin, his jaws open and his eyes like fire. "There is dread on me, Oisin," said the boy, "for the dog is making for us, mad and raging." "Take this iron ball and make a cast at him when he comes near," said Oisin. "I am in dread to do that," said the boy. "Put it in my hand, and turn it towards him," said Oisin. The boy did that, and Oisin made a cast of the ball that went into the mouth and the throat of the dog, and choked him, and he fell down the slope, twisting and foaming.
   Then they went where the great bird was left dead, and Oisin bade the lad to cut a quarter off it with the sword, and he did so. And then he bade him cut open the body, and in it he found a rowan berry, the biggest he bad ever seen, and an ivy leaf that was bigger than the biggest griddle.
   So Oisin turned back then, and went to where S. Patrick was, and he showed him the quarter of the bird that was bigger than any quarter of a bullock, and the rowan berry that was bigger than a churning of butter, and the leaf. "And you know now, Patrick of the Bells," he said, "that I told no lie; and it is what kept us all through our lifetime," he said, "truth that was in our hearts, and strength in our arms, and fulfilment in our tongues."
   "You told no lie indeed," said Patrick.
   And when Oisin had no sight left at all, he used every night to put up one of the serving-men on his shoulders, and to bring him out to see how were the cattle doing. And one night the servants had no mind to go, and they agreed together to tell him it was a very bad night.
   And it is what the first of them said; "It is outside there is a heavy sound with the heavy water dropping from the tops of trees; the sound of the waves is not to be heard for the loud splashing of the rain." And then the next one said: "The trees of the wood are shivering, and the birch is turning black; the snow is killing the birds; that is the story outside." And the third said: "It is to the east they have turned their face, the white snow and the dark rain; it is what is making the plain so cold is the snow that is dripping and getting hard."
   But there was a serving-girl in the house, and she said: "Rise up, Oisin, and go out to the white-headed cows, since the cold wind is plucking the trees from the hills."
   Oisin went out then, and the serving-man on his shoulders; but it is what the serving-man did, he brought a vessel of water and a birch broom with him, and he was dashing water in Oisin's face, the way he would think it was rain. But when they came to the pen where the cattle were, Oisin found the night was quiet, and after that he asked no more news of the weather from the servants.


Deidre of the Sorrows, by John Duncan