Gods and Fighting Men

The Wood of Dubhros

   And as to Diarmuid and Grania and Muadhan, they went on through Ui Chonaill Gabhra, and left-hand ways to Ros-da-Shoileach, and Diarmuid killed a wild deer that night, and they had their fill of meat and of pure water, and they slept till the morning of the morrow. And Muadhan rose up early, and spoke to Diarmuid, and it is what he said, that he himself was going away. "It is not right for you to do that," said Diarmuid, "for everything I promised you I fulfilled it, without any dispute."
   But he could not hinder him, and Muadhan said farewell to them and left them there and then, and it is sorrowful and downhearted Diarmuid and Grania were after him.
   After that they travelled on straight to the north, to Slieve Echtge, and from that to the hundred of Ui Fiachrach; and when they got there Grania was tired out, but she took courage and went on walking beside Diarmuid till they came to the wood of Dubhros.
   Now, there was a wonderful quicken-tree in that wood, and the way it came to be there is this:
   There rose a dispute one time between two women of the Tuatha de Danaan, Aine and Aoife, daughters of Manannan, son of Lir, for Aoife had given her love to Lugaidh's Son, and Aine had given her love to a man of her own race, and each of them said her own man was a better hurler than the other. And it came from that dispute that there was a great hurling match settled between the Men of Dea and the Fianna of Ireland, and the place it was to be played was on a beautiful plain near Loch Lein.
   They all came together there, and the highest men and the most daring of the Tuatha de Danaan were there, the three Garbhs of Slieve Mis, and the three Mases of Slieve Luachra, and the three yellow-haired Murchadhs, and the three Eochaidhs of Aine, and the three Fionns of the White House, and the three Sgals of Brugh na Boinne, and the three Ronans of Ath na Riogh, and the Suirgheath Suaire, the Pleasant Wooer from Lionan, and the Man of Sweet Speech from the Boinn, and Ilbrec, the Many-Coloured, son of Mannanan, and Neamhanach, son of Angus Og, and Bodb Dearg, son of the Dagda, and Manannan, son of Lir.
   They themselves and the Fianna were playing the match through the length of three days and three nights, from Leamhain to the valley of the Fleisg, that is called the Crooked Valley of the Fianna, and neither of them winning a goal. And when the Tuatha de Danaan that were watching the game on each side of Leamhain saw it was so hard for their hurlers to win a goal against the Fianna, they thought it as well to go away again without playing out the game.
   Now the provision the Men of Dea had brought with them from the Land of Promise was crimson nuts, and apples, and sweet-smelling rowan berries. And as they were passing through the district of Ui Fiachrath by the Muaidh, a berry of the rowan berries fell from them, and a tree grew up from it. And there was virtue in its berries, and no sickness or disease would ever come on any person that would eat them, and those that would eat them would feel the liveliness of wine and the satisfaction of mead in them, and any old person. of a hundred years that would eat them would go back to be young again, and any young girl that would eat them would grow to be a flower of beauty.
   And it happened one time after the tree was grown, there were messengers of the Tuatha de Danaan going through the wood of Dubhros. And they heard a great noise of birds and of bees, and they went where the noise was, and they saw the beautiful Druid tree. They went back then and told what they bad seen, and all the chief men of the Tuatha de Danaan when they heard it knew the tree must have grown from a berry of the Land of the Ever-Living Ones. And they enquired among all their people, till they knew it was a young man of them, that was a musician had dropped the berry.
   And it is what they agreed, to send him in search of a man of Lochlann that would guard the tree by day and sleep in it by night. And the women of the Sidhe were very downhearted to see him going from them, for there was no harper could play half so sweetly on his harp as he could play on an ivy leaf.
   He went on then till he came to Lochlann, and he sat down on a bank and sleep came on him. And he slept till the rising of the sun on the morrow; and when he awoke he saw a very big man coming towards him, that asked him who was he. "I am a messenger from the Men of Dea," he said; "and I am come looking for some very strong man that would be willing to guard a Druid tree that is in the wood of Dubhros. And here are some of the berries he will be eating from morning to nigh;" he said.
   And when the big man had tasted the berries, he said: "I will go and guard all the trees of the wood to get those berries."
   And his name was the Searbhan Lochlannach, the Surly One of Lochlann. Very black and ugly he was, having crooked teeth, and one eye only in the middle of his forehead. And he had a thick collar of iron around his body, and it was in the prophecy that he would never die till there would be three strokes of the iron club he had, struck upon himself. And he slept in the tree by night and stopped near it in the daytime, and he made a wilderness of the whole district about him, and none of the Fianna dared go hunt there because of the dread of him that was on them.
   But when Diarmuid came to the wood of Dubhros, he went into it to where the Surly One was, and he made bonds of agreement with him, and got leave from him to go hunting in the wood, so long as he would not touch the berries of the tree. And he made a cabin then for himself and for Grania in the wood.
   As for Finn and his people, they were not long at Almhuin till they saw fifty armed men coming towards them, and two that were taller and handsomer than the rest in the front of them. Finn asked did any of his people know them. "We do not know them," they said, "but maybe you yourself know them, Finn." "I do not" he said; "but it seems to be they are enemies to myself." The troop of armed men came up to them then and they greeted him, and Finn asked news of them, and from what county they came. "I am Aonghus, son of Art Og of the children of Morna," one of them said, "and this is Aodh, son of Andela; and we are enemies of your own, and our fathers were at the killing of your father, and they themselves died for that deed. And it is to ask peace we are come now to you" they said. "Where were you the time my father was killed?" "In our mothers' wombs," said they; "and our mothers were two women of the Tuatha de Danaan, and it is time for us now to get our father's place among the Fianna." "I will give you that," said Finn, "but I must put a fine on you first in satisfaction for my father's death." "We have neither gold or silver or goods or cattle to give you, Finn," said they. "Do not put a fine on them, Finn," said Oisin, "beyond the death of their fathers for your father." "It is what I think," said Finn, "if any one killed myself, Oisin, it would be easy to pay the fine you would ask. And there will no one come among the Fianna," he said, "without giving what I ask in satisfaction for my father's death." "What is it you are asking of us?" said Aonghus, son of Art Og. "I am asking but the head of a champion, or the full of a fist of the berries of the quicken-tree at Dubhros." "I will give you a good advice, children of Morna," said Oisin, "to go back to the place you were reared, and not to ask peace of Finn through the length of your lives. For it is not an easy thing Finn is asking of you; and do you know whose head he is asking you to bring him?" "We do no;" said they. "The head of Diarmuid, grandson of Duibhne, is the head he is asking of you. And if you were twenty hundred men in their full strength, Diarmuid would not let you take that head." "And what are the berries Finn is asking of us?" they said then. "There is nothing is harder for you to get than those berries," said Oisin.
   He told them then the whole story of the tree, and of the Searbhan, the Surly One of Lochlann, that was put to mind it by the Tuatha de Danaan. But Aodh, son of Andela, spoke then, and it is what he said, that he would sooner get his death looking for those berries than to go home again to his mother's county. And he said to Oisin to care his people till he would come back again, and if anything should happen himself and his brother in their journey, to send them back again to the Land of Promise. And the two said farewell then to Oisin and to the chief men of the Fianna, and they went forward till they reached Dubhros. And they went along the wood till they found a track, and they followed it to the door of the hunting-cabin where Diarmuid and Grania were.
   Diarmuid heard them coming, and he put his hand on his weapons and asked who was at the door. "We are the children of Morna," they said, "Aodh, son of Andela, and Aonghus, son of Art Og." "What brings you to this wood?" said Diarmuid. "Finn, son of Cumhal, that put us looking for your head, if you are Diarmuid, grandson of Duibhne," said they. "I am indeed," said Diarmuid. "If that is so," they said, "Finn will take nothing from us but your head, or a fistful of the berries of the quicken-tree of Dubhros as satisfaction for the death of his father." "It is not easy for you to get either of those things," said Diarmuid, "and it is a pity for any one to be under the power of that man. And besides that," he said, "I know it was he himself made an end of your fathers, and that was enough satisfaction for him to get; and if you do bring him what he asks, it is likely he will not make peace with you in the end." "Is it not enough for you," said Aodh, "to have brought his wife away from Finn without speaking ill of him?" "It is not for the sake of speaking ill of him I said that," said Diarmaid, "but to save yourselves from the danger he has sent you into."
   "What are those berries Finn is asking?" said Grania, "that they cannot be got for him?"
   Diarmuid told her then the whole story of the berry the Tuatha de Danaan had lost, and of the tree that had sprung up from it, and of the man of Lochlann that was keeping the tree. "And at the time Finn sent me hiding here and became my enemy," he said, "I got leave from the Surly One to hunt, but he bade me never to meddle with the berries. And now, sons of Morna," he said, "there is your choice, to fight with me for my head, or to go asking the berries of the Surly One." "I swear by the blood of my people," said each of them, "I will fight you yourself first."
   With that the two young men made ready for the fight. And it is what they chose, to fight with the strength of their hands alone. And Diarmuid put them down and bound the two of them there and then. "That is a good fight you made," said Grania. "But, by my word," she said, "although the children of Morna do not go looking for those berries, I will not lie in a bed for ever till I get a share of them; and I will not live if I do not get them," she said. "Do not make me break my peace with the Surly One," said Diarmaid, "for he will not let me take them." "Loose these tyings from us," said the two young men, "and we will go with you, and we will give ourselves for your sake." "You must not come with me," said Diarmuid; "for if you got the full of your eyes of that terrible one, you would be more likely to die than to live." "Well, do us this kindness," they said then; "loosen these bonds on us, and give us time to go by ourselves and see the fight before you strike off our heads." So Diarmuid did that for them.
   Then Diarmuid went to the Surly One, and he chanced to be asleep before him, and he gave him a stroke of his foot the way he lifted his head and looked up at him, and he said: "Have you a mind to break our peace, Grandson of Duibhne?" "That is not what I want," said Diarmuid; "but it is Grania, daughter of the High King," he said, "has a desire to taste those berries, and it is to ask a handful of them I am come." "I give my word," said he, "if she is to die for it, she will never taste a berry of those berries." "I would not do treachery on you," said Diarmuid; "and so I tell you, willing or unwilling, I will take those berries from you."
   When the Surly One heard that, he rose up on his feet and lifted his club and struck three great blows on Diarmuid, that gave him some little hurt in spite of his shield. But when Diarmuid saw him not minding himself, he threw down his weapons, and made a great leap and took hold of the club with his two hands. And when he had a hold of the club he struck three great blows on him that put his brains out through his head. And the two young men of the sons of Morna were looking at the whole fight; and when they saw the Surly One was killed they came out. And Diarmuid sat down, for he was spent with the dint of the fight, and be bid the young men to bury the body under the thickets of the wood, the way Grania would not see it. "And after that," he said, "let you go back to her and bring her here." So they dragged away the body and buried it, and they went then for Grania and brought her to Diarmuid.
   "There are the berries you were asking, Grania," he said, "and you may take what you like of them now." "I give my word," said Grania, "I will not taste a berry of those berries but the one your own hand will pluck Diarmuid." Diarmuid rose up then and plucked the berries for Grarna, and for the children of Morna, and they ate their fill of them. And he said then to the young men: "Take all you can of these berries, and bring them with you to Finn, and tell him it was yourselves made an end of the Surly One of Lochlann." "We give you our word," said they, "we begrudge giving any of them to Finn."
   But Diarmuid plucked a load of the berries for them, and they gave him great thanks for all he had done; and they went back to where Finn was with the Fianna. And Diarmuid and Grania went up into the top of the tree where the bed of the Surly One was. And the berries below were but bitter berries beside the ones above in the tree. And when the two young men came to Finn, he asked news of them. "We have killed the Surly One of Lochlann," they said; "and we have brought you berries from the quicken-tree of Dubhros, in satisfaction for your father, that we may get peace from you." They gave the berries then into Finn's hand, and he knew them, and be said to the young men: "I give you my word," he said, "it was Diarmuid himself plucked those berries, for I know the smell of his hand on them; and I know well it was he killed the Surly One, and I will go now and see is he himself alive at the quicken-tree."
   After that he called for the seven battalions of the Fianna, and he set out and went forward to Dubhros. And they followed the track of Diarmuid to the foot of the quicken-tree, and they found the berries without protection, so they ate their fill of them. And the great heat of the day came on them, and Finn said they would stop where they were till the heat would be past; "for I know well," he said, "Diarmuid is up in the quicken-tree." "It is a great sign of jealousy in you, Finn," said Oisin, "to think that Diarmuid would stop there up in the quicken-tree and he knowing you are wanting to kill him."
   Finn asked for a chess-board after that, and he said to Oisin: "I will play a game with you now on this." They sat down then, Oisin and Osgar and Lugaidh's Son and Diorraing on the one side of the board, and Finn on the other side.
   And they were playing that game with great skill and knowledge, and Finn pressed Oisin so hard that he had no move to make but the one, and Finn said: "There is one move would win the game for you, Oisin, and I defy all that are with you to show you that move." Then Diarmuid said up in the tree where he was, and no one heard him but Grania: "It is a pity you be in straits and without myself to show you that move." "It is worse off you are yourself," said Grania, "to be in the bed of the Surly One of Lochlann in the top of the quicken-tree, and the seven battalions of the Fianna round about it to take your life."
   But Diarmuid took a berry of the tree, and aimed at the one of the chessmen that ought to be moved and Oisin moved it and turned the game against Finn by that move. It was not long before the game was going against Oisin the second time, and when Diarmuid saw that he threw another berry at the chessman it was right to move, and Oisin moved it and turned the game against Finn in the same way. And the third time Finn was getting the game from Oisin, and Diarmuid threw the third berry on the man that would give the game to Oisin, and the Fianna gave a great shout when the game was won. Finn spoke then, and it is what he said: "It is no wonder you to win the game, Oisin, and you having the help of Osgar, and the watchfulness of Diorraing, and the skill of Lugaidh's Son, and the teaching of the grandson of Duibhne with you." "That is a great sign of jealousy in you, Finn," said Osgar, "to think Diarmuid would stop in this tree, and you so near him." "Which of us has the truth, Diarmuid, grandson of Duibhne," Finn said out then, "myself or Osgar?" "You never lost your good judgment, Finn," said Diarmuid then; "and I myself and Grania are here, in the bed of the Surly One of Lochlann." Then Diarmuid rose up and gave three kisses to Grania in the sight of Finn and the Fianna. And a scorching jealousy and a weakness came on Finn when he saw that, and he said: "It was worse to me, Diarmuid, the seven battalions of the Fianna to see what you did at Teamhair, taking away Grania the night you were yourself my guard. But for all that," he said, "you will give your head for the sake of those three kisses."
   With that Finn called to the four hundred paid fighting men that were with him that they might make an end of Diarmuid; and he put their hands into one another's hands around that quicken-tree, and bade them, if they would not lose their lives, not to let Diarmuid pass out through them. And he said that to whatever man would take Diarmuid, he would give his arms and his armour, and a place among the Fianna of Ireland.
   Then one of the Fianna, Garbh of Slieve Cua, said it was Diarmuid had killed his own father, and he would avenge him now, and he went up the quicken-tree to make an end of him.
   Now, about that time it was made known to Angus Og, in Brugh na Boinne, the danger Diarmuid was in, and he came to his help, unknown to the Fianna. And when Garbh of Slieve Cua was coming up the tree, Diarmuid gave him a kick of his foot, and he fell down among the hiredmen, and they struck off his head, for Angus Og had put the appearance of Diarmuid on him. But after he was killed, his own shape came on him again, and the Fianna knew that it was Garbh was killed.
   Then Garbh of Slieve Crot said it was Diarmuid had killed his father, and he went up to avenge him, and the same thing happened. And in the end all the nine Garbhs, of Slieve Guaire, and Slieve Muice, and Slieve Mor, and Slieve Lugha, and Ath Fraoch, and Slieve Mis and Drom-mor, went trying to take Diarmuid's life and lost their own lives, every one of them having the shape and appearance of Diarmuid when he died. And Finn was very sorry and discouraged when he saw that these nine men had come to their death.
   Then Angus said he would bring away Grania with him. "Do so," said Diarmuid; "and if I am living at evening I will follow you." Then Angus said farewell to Diarmuid, and he put his Druid cloak about Grania and about himself, and they went away in the safety of the cloak, unknown to Finn and the Fianna, till they came to Brugh na Boinne.
   Then Diarmuid, grandson of Duibhne, spoke, and it is what he said: "I will come down to you, Finn, and to the Fianna. And I will do death and destruction on you and on your people, for I am certain your mind is made up to give me no rest, but to bring me to my death in some place. And I have nowhere to go from this danger," he said, "for I have no friend or comrade under whose protection I could go in any far part of the great world, for it is often I fought against the men of the great world for love of you. For there never came battle or fight, danger or trouble on you, but I would go into it for your sake and the sake of the Fianna; and not only that, but I would fight before you and after you. And I give my word, Finn," he said, "you will pay hard for me, and you will not get me as a free gift." "It is the truth Diarmuid is speaking," said Osgar, "and give him forgiveness now, and peace." "I will not do that," said Finn, "to the end of life and time; and he will not get peace or rest for ever till I get satisfaction from him for every reproach he has put on me." "It is a great shame and a great sign of jealousy you to say that," said Osgar. "And I give the word of a true champion," he said, "that unless the skies come down upon me, or the earth opens under my feet, I will not let you or any one of the Fianna of Ireland give him cut or wound; and I take his body and his life under the protection of my valour, and I will keep him safe against all the men of Ireland." "Those are big words you have, Osgar," said Goll then, "to say you would bring a man away in spite of all the men of Ireland." "It is not you will raise them up against me, Goll," said Osgar, "for none of than would mind what you would say." "If that is what you are saying, you champion of great fights," said Goll, "let us see now what you can do." "You will have to go through with the fight you have taken on yourself," said Corrioll, son of Goll, in a loud voice. And Osgar answered him fiercely: "If I do I will shorten your bones, and your father's bones along with them. And come down now, Diarmuid," he said, "since Finn has no mind to leave you in peace, and I promise on my body and my life there will no harm be done to you to-day."
   Then Diarmuid stood up on a high bough of the boughs of the tree, and he rose with a light leap by the shaft of his spear, and lit on the grass far beyond Finn and the Fianna. And he himself and Osgar went towards one another, in spite of the Fianna that went between them, and Diarmuid struck down those that were in his way; and as to Osgar, the throwing of his spears as he scattered the Fianna was like the sound of the wind going through a valley, or water falling over flag-stones. And Conan, that was always bitter, said: "Let the sons of Baiscne go on killing one another." But Finn, when he saw Diarmuid was gone from him, bade them put their weapons up, and turn back again to Almhuin.
   And he sent those of his men that could be healed to places of healing, and the nine Garbhs, and the others of his men that were killed, he put into wide-sodded graves. And it is tired and downhearted and sorrowful he was after that, and he made an oath he would take no great rest till he would have avenged on Diarmuid all that he had done.

Deidre of the Sorrows, by John Duncan