Gods and Fighting Men
The Red Woman
One time the Fianna were in Almhuin with no great work to do, and there came
a very misty morning, and Finn was in dread that sluggishness would come on his
men, and he rose up, and he said:
"Make yourselves ready, and we will go hunting to Gleann-na-Smol"
They all said the day was too misty to go hunting; but there was no use in
talking: they had to do as Finn bade them. So they made themselves ready and
went on towards Gleann-na-Smol; and they were not gone far when the mist lifted
and the sun came shining out.
And when they were on the edge of a little wood, they saw a strange beast
coming towards them with the quickness of the wind, and a Red Woman on its
track. Narrow feet the beast had, and a head like the head of a boar, and long
horns on it; but the rest of it was like a deer, and there was a shining moon on
each of its sides.
Finn stopped, and he said: "Fianna of Ireland," he said, "did you ever see a
beast like that one until now?" "We never did indeed," said they; "and it would
be right for us to let out the hounds after it." "Wait a while," said Finn,
"till I speak with the Red Woman; but do not let the beast go past you," he
said. They thought to keep back the beast then, going before it; but they were
hardly able to hinder it at all, and it went away through them.
And when the Red Woman was come up to them, Finn asked her what was the name
of the beast she was following. "I do not know that," she said, "though I am on
its track since I left the borders of Loch Dearg a month ago, and I never lost
sight of it since then; and the two moons that are on its two sides shine
through the country all around in the night time. And I must follow it till it
falls," she said, "or I will lose my own life and the lives of my three sons
that are the best fighting men in the whole world." "We will take the beast for
you if you have a mind," said Finn. "Do not try to do that," she said, "for I
myself am swifter than you are, and I cannot come up with it." "We will not let
it go till we know what sort of a beast is it," said Finn. "If you yourself or
your share of men go after it, I will bind you hand and foot," said she. "It is
too stiff your talk is," said Finn. "And do you not know," he said, "I am Finn,
son of Cumhal; and there are fourscore fighting men along with me that were
never beaten yet." "It is little heed I give to yourself or your share of men,"
said the Red Woman; "and if my three sons were here, they would stand up against
you." "Indeed it will be a bad day," said Finn, "when the threat of a woman will
put fear on myself or on the Fianna of Ireland." With that he sounded his horn,
and he said: "Let us all follow now, men and dogs, after that beast that we
He had no sooner said that word than the woman made a great water-worm of
herself, and made an attack on Finn, and she would have killed him then and
there but for Bran being with him. Bran took grip of the worm and shook it, and
then it wound itself round Bran's body, and would have crushed the life out of
her, but Finn thrust his sharp sword into its throat. "Keep back your hand,"
said the worm then, "and you will not have the curse of a lonely woman upon
you." "It is what I think," said Finn, "that you would not leave me my life if
you could take it from me; but go out of my sight now," he said, "and that I may
never see you again."
Then she made herself into a Red Woman again, and went away into the wood.
All the Fianna were gone on the track of the beast while Finn was talking and
fighting with the Red Woman; and he did not know in what place they were, but he
went following after them, himself and Bran. It was late in the evening when he
came up with a share of them, and they still on the track of the beast. The
darkness of the night was coming on, but the moons in the sides of the beast
gave a bright light, and they never lost it from sight. They followed it on
always; and about midnight they were pressing on it, and it began to scatter
blood after it, and it was not long before Finn and his men were red from head
to foot. But that did not hinder them, and they followed him on till they saw
him go in at the foot of Cnoc-na-righ at the breaking of day.
When they came to the foot of the hill the Red Woman was standing there
before them. "You did not take the beast," she said. "We did not take it, but we
know where it is," said Finn.
She took a Druid rod then, and struck a blow on the side of the hill, and on
the moment a great door opened, and they heard sweet music coming from within.
"Come in now," said the Red Woman, "till you see the wonderful beast." "Our
clothing is not clean," said Finn, "and we would not like to go in among a
company the way we are," he said.
She put a horn to her mouth and blew it, and on the moment there came ten
young men to her. "Bring water for washing," she said, "and four times twenty
suits of clothes, and a beautiful suit and a crown of shining stones for Finn,
son of Cumhal." The young men went away then, and they came back at the end of a
minute with water and with clothing.
When the Fianna were washed and dressed, the Red Woman brought them into a
great hall, where there was the brightness of the sun and of the moon on every
side. From that she brought them into another great room; and although Finn and
his men had seen many grand things up to that time, they had never seen any
sight so grand as what they saw in this place. There was a king sitting in a
golden chair, having clothes of gold and of green, and his chief people were
sitting around him, and his musicians were playing. And no one could know what
colour were the dresses of the musicians, for every colour of the rainbow was in
them. And there was a great table in the middle of the room, having every sort
of thing on it, one better than another.
The king rose up and gave a welcome to Finn and to his men, and he bade them
to sit down at the table; and they ate and drank their fill, and that was
wanting to them after the hunt they had made. And then the Red Woman rose up,
and she said: "King of the Hill, if it is your will, Finn and his men have a
mind to see the wonderful beast, for they spent a long time following after it,
and that is what brought them here."
The king struck a blow then on his golden chair, and a door opened behind
him, and the beast came through it and stood before the king. And it stooped
down before him, and it said: "I am going on towards my own country now; and
there is not in the world a runner so good as myself, and the sea is the same to
me as the land. And let whoever can come up with me come now," it said, "for I
With that the beast went out from the hill as quick as a blast of wind, and
all the people that were in it went following after it. it was not long till
Finn and his men were before the rest, in the front of the hunt, gaining on the
And about midday Bran made the beast turn, and then she forced it to turn a
second time, and it began to put out cries, and it was not long until its
strength began to flag; and at last, just at the setting of the sun, it fell
dead, and Bran was at its side when it fell.
Then Finn and his men came up, but in place of a beast it was a tall man they
saw lying dead before them. And the Red Woman came up at the same time, and she
said: "High King of the Fianna, that is the King of the Firbolgs you have
killed; and his people will put great troubles on this country in the time to
come, when you yourself, Finn, and your people will be under the sod. And I
myself am going now to the Country of the Young," she said, "and I will
bring you with me if you have a mind to come." "We give you our thanks for
that," said Finn, "but we would not give up our own country if we were to get
the whole world as an estate, and the Country of the Young along with it." "That
is well," said the Red Woman; "but you are going home empty after your hunt."
"It is likely we will find a deer in Gleann-na-Smol," said Finn. "There is a
fine deer at the foot of that tree beyond," said the Red Woman, "and I will
rouse it for you." With that she gave a cry, and the deer started out and away,
and Finn and his men after it, and it never stopped till it came to
Gleann-na-Smol, but they could not come up with it. Then the Red Woman
came to them, and she said: "I think you are tired now with following
after the deer; and call your hounds off now," she said, "and I will let out my
own little dog after it." So Finn sounded a little born he had at his side, and
on the moment the hounds came back to him. And then the Red Woman brought out a
little hound as white as the snow of the mountains, and put it after the deer;
and it was not long till it had come up with the deer and killed it, and then it
came back and made a leap in under the cloak of the Red Woman. There was great
wonder on Finn; but before he could ask a question of the Red Woman, she was
gone out of sight. And as to the deer, Finn knew there was enchantment on it,
and so he left it there after him. And it is tired and empty the Fianna were,
going back to Almhuin that night.