Gods and Fighting Men

Tailc, Son of Treon

   One time the Fianna were all gathered together doing feats and casting stones. And after a while the Druid of Teamhair that was with them said: "I am in dread, Finn of the Fianna, that there is some trouble near at hand; and look now at those dark clouds of blood," he said, "that are threatening us side by side overhead. And there is fear on me," he said, "that there is some destruction on the Fianna."
   Finn looked up then, and he saw the great cloud of blood, and he called Osgar to look at it. "That need not knock a start from you," said Osgar "with all the strength there is in your arms, and in the men that are with you." Then all the Fianna looked up at the cloud, and some of them were glad and cheerful and some were downhearted.
   Then the Druid bade Finn to call all his battalions together and to divide them into two halves, that they could be watching for the coming of the enemy.
   So Finn sounded the Dord Fiann, and they answered with a shout, every one hurrying to be the first. And Finn bade Osgar and Goll and Faolan to keep watch through the night, and he bade Conan the Bald to stop in the darkness of the cave of Liath Ard. "For it is you can shout the loudest," he said, "to warn us if you see the enemy coming." "That I may be pierced through the middle of my body," said Conan, "if I will go watching for troubles or for armies alone, without some more of the Fianna being with me." "It is not fitting for you to refuse Finn," said Lugaidh's Son; "and it is you can shout the loudest," he said, "if the enemies come near the height." "Do not be speaking to me any more," said Conan, "for I will not go there alone, through the length of my days, for Finn and the whole of the Fianna." "Go then, Conan," said Osgar, "and Aodh Beag will go with you, and you can bring dogs with you, Bran and Sceolan and Fuiam and Fearagan; and let you go now without begrudging it," he said.
   So Conan went then to Liath Ard, and Aodh Beag and Finn's hounds along with him. And as to Finn, he lay down to sleep, and it was not long till he saw through his sleep Aodh Beag his son, and he without his head. And after that he saw Goll fighting with a very strong man. And he awoke from his sleep and called the Druid of the Fianna to him, and asked him the meaning of what he saw. "I am in dread there is some destruction coming on the Fianna," said the Druid; "but Aodh Beag will not be wounded in the fight, or Goll," he said.
   And it was not long till Finn heard a great shout, and he sounded the Dord Fiann, and then he saw Conan running, and the hounds after him. And Finn sounded the Dord Fiann again before Conan came up, and when he came, Osgar asked him where was Aodh Beag. "He was at the door of the cave when I left it," said Conan, "but I did not look behind me since then," he said; "and it was not Aodh Beag was troubling me." "What was troubling you then?" said Osgar. "Nothing troubles me but myself," said Conan; "although I am well pleased at any good that comes to you," he said.
   Osgar went then running hard, till he came to the cave, and there he found Aodh Beag with no fear or trouble on him at all, stopping there till he would hear the noise of the shields. And Osgar brought him back to where the Fianna were, and they saw a great army coming as if in search of them.
   And a beautiful woman, having a crimson cloak, came to them over the plain, and she spoke to Finn, and her voice was as sweet as music. And Finn asked her who was she, and who did she come looking for. "I am the daughter of Garraidh, son of Dolar Dian, the Fierce," she said; "and my curse upon the King of Greece that bound me to the man that is following after me, and that I am going from, Tail; son of Treon." "Tell me why are you shunning him, and I will protect you in spite of him," said Finn. "It is not without reason I hate him," said she, "for he has no good appearance, and his skin is of the colour of coal, and he has the head and the tail of a cat. And I have walked the world three times," she said, "and I did not leave a king or a great man without asking help' from him, and I never got it yet." "I will give you protection," said Finn, "or the seven battalions of the Fianna will fall for your sake."
   With that they saw the big strange man, Tailc, son of Treon, coming towards them, and he said no word at all of greeting to Finn, but he called for a battle on account of his wife.
   So a thousand of the Fianna went out to meet him and his men; and if they did they all fell, and not one of them came back again.
   And then another thousand of the best men of the Fianna, having blue and green shields, went out under Caoilte, son of Ronan, and they were worsted by Tailc and his people. And then Osgar asked leave of Finn to go out and fight the big man. "I will give you leave," said Finn, "although I am sure you will fall by him." So Osgar went out, and he himself and Tailc, son of Treon, were fighting through the length of five days and five nights without food or drink or sleep. And at the end of that time, Osgar made an end of Tailc, and struck his head off. And when the Fianna saw that, they gave a shout of lamentation for those they had lost of the Fianna, and two shouts of joy for the death of Tailc.
   And as to the young woman, when she saw all the slaughter that had been done on account of her, shame reddened her face, and she fell dead there and then. And to see her die like that, after all she had gone through, preyed more on the Fianna than any other thing.

Deidre of the Sorrows, by John Duncan