Gods and Fighting Men, by Lady Gregory

Book Six

Diarmuid.

Chapter i. Birth of Diarmuid

Diarmuid, now, was son of Bonn, son of Duibhne of the Fianna, and his mother was Crochnuit, that was near in blood to Finn. And at the time he was born, Bonn was banished from the Fianna because of some quarrel they had with him, and Angus Og took the child from him to rear him up at Brugh na Boinne.

And after a while Crochnuit bore another son to Roc Diocain, that was Head Steward to Angus. Roc Diocain went then to Donn, and asked would he rear up his son for him, the way Angus was rearing Donn’s son. But Donn said he would not take the son of a common man into his house, and it would be best for Angus to take him. So Angus took the child into Brugh na Boinne, and he and Diarmuid were reared up together.

And one day Finn was on the great Hill at Almhuin of Leinster, and no one with him but Donn and a few of the poets and learned men of the Fianna, and their hounds and dogs, and Bran Beag came in and asked did he remember there were bonds on him, not to stop in Almhuin for ten nights together. Finn asked the people about him then where would he go and be entertained for that night, and Donn said: “I will bring you to the house of Angus, son of the Dagda, where my young son is being reared.”

So they went together to the house of Angus at Brugh na Boinne, and the child Diarmuid was there, and it is great love Angus had for him. And the Steward’s son was with him that night, and the people of the household made as much of him as Angus made of Diarmuid; and there was great vexation on Donn when he saw that. It chanced after a while a great fight rose between two of Finn’s hounds about some broken meat that was thrown to them; and the women and the common people of the place ran from them, and the others rose up to part them from one another. And in running away, the Steward’s child ran between the knees of Donn, and Donn gave the child a strong squeeze between his two knees that killed him on the moment, and he threw him under the feet of the hounds. And when the Steward came after that and found his son dead, he gave a long very pitiful cry, and he said to Finn: “There is not a man in the house to-night has suffered more than myself from this uproar, for I had but one son only, and he has been killed; and what satisfaction will I get from you for that, Finn?” he said. “Try can you find the mark of a tooth or of a nail of one of the hounds on him,” said Finn, “and if you can, I will give you satisfaction for him.”

So they looked at the child, and there was no scratch or mark of a tooth on him at all. Then the Steward put Finn under the destroying bonds of the Druid cave of Cruachan, to give him knowledge of who it was killed his son. And Finn asked for a chess-board, and for water to be brought to him, in a basin of pale gold, and he searched, and it was shown to him truly that it was Donn had killed the Steward’s son between his two knees. When Finn knew that, he said he would take the fine on himself; but the Steward would not consent to that, but forced him to tell who was it had done him the wrong. And when he knew it was Donn had killed the child, he said: “There is no man in the house it is easier to get satisfaction from than from him, for his own son is here, and I have but to put him between my two knees, and if I let him go from me safe, I will forgive the death of my son.” Angus was vexed at what the Steward said, and as to Donn, he thought to strike his head off till Finn put him back from him. Then the Steward came again, having a Druid rod with him, and he struck his own son with the rod, and he made of him a wild boar, without bristle or ear or tail, and he said: “I put you under bonds to bring Diarmuid, grandson of Duibhne, to his death; and your own life will be no longer than his life,” he said. With that the wild boar rose up and ran out of the open door; and he was called afterwards the Boar of Slieve Guillion, and it was by him Diarmuid came to his death at the last.

And when Diarmuid came to his full strength he was given a place among the Fianna of Ireland; and all women loved him, and he did many great deeds, fighting with the enemies of the Fianna and of Ireland; and one time he fought a wild ox through the length of seven days and seven nights on the top of the Mountain of Happiness.

Chapter ii. How Diarmuid Got His Love-Spot

Diarmuid and Conan and Goll and Osgar went one day hunting, and they went so far they could not get home in the evening, and they spent the first part of the night walking through the woods and pulling berries and eating them. And when it was about midnight they saw a light, and they went towards it, and they found a little house before them, and the light shining from it. They went in then, and they saw an old man there, and he bade them welcome, and he called them all by their names. And they saw no one in the house but the old man and a young girl and a cat. And the old man bade the girl to make food ready for the Fianna of Ireland, for there was great hunger on them.

And when the food was ready and put on the table, there came a great wether that was fastened up in the back of the house, and he rose up on the table where they were eating, and when they saw that, they looked at one another. “Rise up, Conan,” said Goll, “and fasten that wether in the place it was before.” Conan rose up and took hold of it, but the wether gave itself a shake that threw Conan under one of its feet. The rest were looking at that, and Goll said: “Let you rise up, Diarmuid, and fasten up the wether.” So Diarmuid rose up and took hold of it, but it gave itself a shake the same way as before; and when Diarmuid was down it put one of its feet on him. Goll and Osgar looked at one another then, and shame came on them, a wether to have done so much as that. And Osgar got up, but the wether put him down under one of his feet, so that it had now the three men under him. Then Goll rose up and took hold of it and threw it down; but if he did, it rose up again in spite of him, and put Goll under his fourth foot.

“It is a great shame,” said the old man then, “the like of that to be done to the Fianna of Ireland. And rise up now, cat,” he said, “and tie the wether in the place where he was.” The cat rose up then and took hold of the wether, and brought it over and tied it in its place at the end of the house.

The men rose up then, but they had no mind to go on eating, for there was shame on them at what the wether had done to them. “You may go on eating,” said the old man; “and when you are done I will show you that now you are the bravest men of the world.” So they ate their fill then, and the old man spoke to them, and it is what he said: “Goll,” he said, “you are the bravest of all the men of the world, for you have wrestled with the world and you threw it down. The strength of the world is in the wether, but death will come to the world itself; and that is death,” he said, showing them the cat.

They were talking together then, and they had their food eaten, and the old man said their beds were ready for them that they could go to sleep. The four of them went then into the one room, and when they were in their beds the young girl came to sleep in the same room with them, and the light of her beauty was shining on the walls like as if it was the light of a candle.

And when Conan saw her he went over to the side of the bed where she was.

Now, it was Youth the young girl was, and when she saw Conan coming to her: “Go back to your bed, Conan,” she said; “I belonged to you once, and I will never belong to you again.” Conan went back to his bed then, and Osgar had a mind to go over where she was. Then she said to him: “Where are you going?” “I am going over to yourself for a while,” said he.

“Go back again, Osgar,” she said; “I belonged to you once, and I will never belong to you again.”

Then Diarmuid rose up to go to her: “Where are you going, Diarmuid?” she said. “I am going over to yourself for a while,” said he. “O Diarmuid,” she said, “that cannot be; I belonged to you once, and I can never belong to you again; but come over here to me, Diarmuid,” she said, “and I will put a love-spot on you, that no woman will ever see without giving you her love.” So Diarmuid went over to her, and she put her hand on his forehead, and she left the love-spot there, and no woman that ever saw him after that was able to refuse him her love.

Chapter iii. The Daughter of King Under-Wave

One snowy night of winter the Fianna were come into the house after their hunting. And about midnight they heard a knocking at the door, and there came in a woman very wild and ugly, and her hair hanging to her heels. She went to the place Finn was lying, and she asked him to let her in under the border of his covering. But when he saw her so strange and so ugly and so wild-looking he would not let her in. She gave a great cry then, and she went to where Oisin was, and asked him to let her shelter under the border of his covering. But Oisin refused her the same way. Then she gave another great scream, and she went over where Diarmuid was. “Let me in,” she said, “under the border of your covering.” Diarmuid looked at her, and he said: “You are strange-looking and wild and ugly, and your hair is down to your heels. But come in for all that,” he said.

So she came in under the border of his covering.

“O Diarmuid,” she said then, “I have been travelling over sea and ocean through the length of seven years, and in all that time I never got shelter any night till this night. And let me to the warmth of the fire now,” she said. So Diarmuid brought her over to the fire, and all the Fianna that were sitting there went away from it seeing her so ugly and so dreadful to look at. And she was not long at the fire when she said: “Let me go under the warmth of the covering with you now.” “It is asking too much you are,” said Diarmuid; “first it was to come under the border you asked, and then to come to the fire, and now it is under the bed-covering with me you want to be. But for all that you may come,” he said.

So she came in under the covering, and he turned a fold of it between them. But it was not long till he looked at her, and what he saw was a beautiful young woman beside him, and she asleep. He called to the others then to come over, and he said: “Is not this the most beautiful woman that ever was seen?” “She is that,” they said, and they covered her up and did not awaken her.

But after a while she stirred, and she said: “Are you awake, Diarmuid?” “I am awake,” he said. “Where would you like to see the best house built that ever was built?” she said. “Up there on the hillside, if I had my choice,” said he, and with that he fell asleep.

And in the morning two men of the Fianna came in, and they said they were after seeing a great house up on the hill, where there was not a house before. “Rise up, Diarmuid,” said the strange woman then; “do not be lying there any longer, but go up to your house, and look out now and see it,” she said. So he looked out and he saw the great house that was ready, and he said: “I will go to it, if you will come along with me.” “I will do that,” she said, “if you will make me a promise not to say to me three times what way I was when I came to you.” “I will never say it to you for ever,” said Diarmuid.

They went up then to the house, and it was ready for them, with food and servants; and everything they could wish for they had it. They stopped there for three days, and when the three days were ended, she said: “You are getting to be sorrowful because you are away from your comrades of the Fianna.” “I am not sorrowful indeed,” said Diarmuid. “It will be best for you to go to them; and your food and your drink will be no worse when you come back than they are now,” said she. “Who will take care of my greyhound bitch and her three pups if I go?” said Diarmuid. “There is no fear for them,” said she.

So when he heard that, he took leave of her and went back to the Fianna, and there was a great welcome before him. But for all that they were not well pleased but were someway envious, Diarmuid to have got that grand house and her love from the woman they themselves had turned away.

Now as to the woman, she was outside the house for a while after Diarmuid going away, and she saw Finn, son of Cumhal, coming towards her, and she bade him welcome. “You are vexed with me, Queen?” he said. “I am not indeed,” she said; “and come in now and take a drink of wine from me.” “I will go in if I get my request,” said Finn. “What request is there that you would not get?” said she. “It is what I am asking, one of the pups of Diarmuid’s greyhound bitch.” “That is no great thing to ask,” she said; “and whichever one you choose of them you may bring it away.”

So he got the pup, and he brought it away with him.

At the fall of night Diarmuid came back to the house, and the greyhound met him at the door and gave a yell when she saw him, and he looked for the pups, and one of them was gone. There was anger on him then, and he said to the woman: “If you had brought to mind the way you were when I let you in, and your hair hanging, you would not have let the pup be brought away from me.” “You ought not to say that, Diarmuid,” said she. “I ask your pardon for saying it,” said Diarmuid. And they forgave one another, and he spent the night in the house.

On the morrow Diarmuid went back again to his comrades, and the woman stopped at the house, and after a while she saw Oisin coming towards her. She gave him a welcome, and asked him into the house, and he said he would come if he would get his request. And what he asked was another of the pups of the greyhound.

So she gave him that, and he went away bringing the pup with him. And when Diarmuid came back that night the greyhound met him, and she cried out twice. And he knew that another of the pups was gone, and he said to the greyhound, and the woman standing there: “If she had remembered the way she was when she came to me, she would not have let the pup be brought away.”

The next day he went back again to the Fianna, and when he was gone, the woman saw Caoilte coming towards her, and he would not come in to take a drink from her till he had got the promise of one of the pups the same as the others.

And when Diarmuid came back that night the greyhound met him and gave three yells, the most terrible that ever were heard. There was great anger on him then, when he saw all the pups gone, and he said the third time: “If this woman remembered the way she was when I found her, and her hair down to her heels, she would not have let the pup go.” “O Diarmuid, what is it you are after saying?” she said. He asked forgiveness of her then, and he thought to go into the house, but it was gone and the woman was gone on the moment, and it was on the bare ground he awoke on the morrow. There was great sorrow on him then, and he said he would search in every place till he would find her again.

So he set out through the lonely valleys, and the first thing he saw was the greyhound lying dead, and he put her on his shoulder and would not leave her because of the love he had for her. And after a while he met with a cowherd, and he asked him did he see a woman going the way. “I saw a woman early in the morning of yesterday, and she walking hard,” said the cowherd. “What way was she going?” said Diarmuid. “Down that path below to the strand, and I saw her no more after that,” he said.

So he followed the path she took down to the strand till he could go no farther, and then he saw a ship, and he leaned on the handle of his spear and made a light leap on to the ship, and it went on till it came to land, and then he got out and lay down on the side of a hill and fell asleep, and when he awoke there was no ship to be seen. “It is a pity for me to be here,” he said, “for I see no way of getting from it again.”

But after a while he saw a boat coming, and a man in the boat rowing it, and he went down and got into the boat, and brought the greyhound with him. And the boat went out over the sea, and then down below it; and Diarmuid, when he went down, found himself on a plain. And he went walking along it, and it was not long before he met with a drop of blood. He took it up and put it in a napkin. “It is the greyhound lost this,” he said. And after a while he met with another drop of blood, and then with a third, and he put them in the napkin. And after that again he saw a woman, and she gathering rushes as if she had lost her wits.

He went towards her and asked her what news had she. “I cannot tell it till I gather the rushes,” she said. “Be telling it while you are gathering them,” said Diarmuid. “There is great haste on me,” she said. “What is this place where we are?” said Diarmuid. “It is Land-under-Wave,” said she. “And what use have you for the rushes when they are gathered?” “The daughter of King Under–Wave is come home,” she said, “and she was for seven years under enchantment, and there is sickness on her now, and all the physicians are gathered together and none of them can do her any good, and a bed of rushes is what she finds the wholesomest.” “Will you show me where the king’s daughter is?” said Diarmuid. “I will do that,” said the woman; “I will put you in the sheaf of rushes, and I will put the rushes under you and over you, and I will carry you to her on my back.” “That is a thing you cannot do,” said Diarmuid. But she put the rushes about him, and lifted him on her back, and when she got to the room she let down the bundle. “O come here to me,” said the daughter of King Under–Wave, and Diarmuid went over to her, and they took one another’s hands, and were very joyful at that meeting. “Three parts of my sickness is gone from me now,” she said then; “but I am not well yet, and I never will be, for every time I thought of you, Diarmuid, on my journey, I lost a drop of the blood of my heart.” “I have got those three drops here in this napkin,” said Diarmuid, “and take them now in a drink and you will be healed of your sickness.” “They would do nothing for me,” she said, “since I have not the one thing in the world that I want, and that is the thing I will never get,” she said. “What thing is that?” said Diarmuid. “It is the thing you will never get, nor any man in the world,” she said, “for it is a long time they have failed to get it.” “If it is in any place on the whole ridge of the world I will get it,” said Diarmuid. “It is three draughts from the cup of the King of Magh an Ionganaidh, the Plain of Wonder,” she said, “and no man ever got it or ever will get it.” “Tell me where that cup is to be found,” said Diarmuid, “for there are not as many men as will keep it from me on the whole ridge of the world.” “That country is not far from the boundary of my father’s country,” she said; “but there is a little river between, and you would be sailing on that river in a ship, having the wind behind it, for a year and a day before you would reach to the Plain of Wonder.”

Diarmuid set out then, and he came to the little river, and he was a good while walking beside it, and he saw no way to cross it. But at last he saw a low-sized, reddish man that was standing in the middle of the river. “You are in straits, Diarmuid, grandson of Duibhne,” he said; “and come here and put your foot in the palm of my hand and I will bring you through.” Diarmuid did as he bade him, and put his foot in the red man’s palm, and he brought him across the river. “It is going to the King of the Plain of Wonder you are,” he said, “to bring away his cup from him; and I myself will go with you.”

They went on then till they came to the king’s dun, and Diarmuid called out that the cup should be sent out to him, or else champions to fight with him should be sent out. It was not the cup was sent out, but twice eight hundred fighting men; and in three hours there was not one of them left to stand against him. Then twice nine hundred better fighters again were sent out against him, and within four hours there was not one of them left to stand against him. Then the king himself came out, and he stood in the great door, and he said: “Where did the man come from that has brought destruction on the whole of my kingdom?” “I will tell you that,” said he; “I am Diarmuid, a man of the Fianna of Ireland.” “It is a pity you not to have sent a messenger telling me that,” said the king, “and I would not have spent my men upon you; for seven years before you were born it was put in the prophecy that you would come to destroy them. And what is it you are asking now?” he said. “It is the cup of healing from your own hand I am asking,” said Diarmuid. “No man ever got that cup from me but yourself,” said the king, “but it is easy for me to give it to you, whether or not there is healing in it.”

Then the King of the Plain of Wonder gave Diarmuid the cup, and they parted from one another; and Diarmuid went on till he came to the river, and it was then he thought of the red man, that he had given no thought to while he was at the king’s house. But he was there before him, and took his foot in the palm of his hand and brought him over the river. “I know where it is you are going, Diarmuid,” he said then; “it is to heal the daughter of King Under–Wave that you have given your love to. And it is to a well I will give you the signs of you should go,” he said, “and bring a share of the water of that well with you. And when you come where the woman is, it is what you have to do, to put that water in the cup, and one of the drops of blood in it, and she will drink it, and the same with the second drop and the third, and her sickness will be gone from her from that time. But there is another thing will be gone along with it,” he said, “and that is the love you have for her.”

“That will not go from me,” said Diarmuid. “It will go from you,” said the man; “and it will be best for you make no secret of it, for she will know, and the king will know, that you think no more of her then than of any other woman. And King Under–Wave will come to you,” he said, “and will offer you great riches for healing his daughter. But take nothing from him,” he said, “but ask only a ship to bring you home again to Ireland. And do you know who am I myself?” he said. “I do not know,” said Diarmuid. “I am the messenger from beyond the world,” he said; “and I came to your help because your own heart is hot to come to the help of another.”

So Diarmuid did as he bade him, and he brought the water and the cup and the drops of blood to the woman, and she drank them, and at the third draught she was healed. And no sooner was she healed than the love he had for her was gone, and he turned away from her. “O Diarmuid,” she said, “your love is gone from me.” “O, it is gone indeed,” said he.

Then there was music made in the whole place, and the lamenting was stopped, because of the healing of the king’s daughter. And as to Diarmuid, he would take no reward and he would not stop there, but he asked for a ship to bring him home to Ireland, to Finn and the Fianna. And when he came where they were, there was a joyful welcome before him.

Chapter iv. The Hard Servant

The Fianna went hunting one time in the two proud provinces of Munster. They went out from Almhuin by the nearest paths till they came to the Brosna river in Slieve Bladhma, and from there to the twelve mountains of Eiblinne, and on to Aine Cliach, the harp of Aine.

They scattered themselves then and hunted through the borders of the forest that is called Magh Breogain, through blind trackless places and through broken lands, over beautiful level plains and the high hills of Desmumum, under pleasant Slieve Crot and smooth Slieve na Muc, along the level banks of the blue Siuir and over the green plain of Feman and the rough plain of Eithne, and the dark woods of Belach Gabrain.

And Finn was at the side of a hill, and the chief men of the Fianna along with him, to watch the hunting; for they liked to be listening to the outcry of the hounds and the hurried cries of the boys, and the noise and the whistling and the shouts of the strong men.

Finn asked then which of the men that were with him would go and keep watch on the side of the hill where they were. And Finnbane, son of Bresel, said he would go. And he went on to the top of the hill, where he could see about him on all sides. And he was not long there till he saw coming from the east a very big man, ugly and gloomy and deformed; and it is how he was, a dark-coloured shield on his back, a wide sword on his crooked left thigh, two spears on his shoulder, a torn loose cloak over his limbs, that were as black as a quenched coal. A sulky horse he had with him that had no good appearance, bony and thin as to body, and weak in the legs, and he leading it with a rough iron halter; and it was a great wonder the head was not pulled from the horse’s body, or the arms pulled out of his owner, with the sudden stands and stops and the jerks it made. And the big man was striking blows on the horse with an iron cudgel to try and knock some going out of him, and the sound of the blows was like the breaking of strong waves.

And when Finnbane saw all that, he thought to himself it would not be right to let the like of that stranger go up unknown to Finn and the Fianna, and he ran back in haste to where they were and told them all he had seen.

And when he had told his story, they saw the big man coming towards them; but as short as he was from them he was long in coming, from the badness of his walk and his going.

And when he came into Finn’s presence he saluted him, and bowed his head and bent his knee, making signs of humility.

Finn raised his hand over his head then, and asked news of him, and if he was of the noble or of the mean blood of the great world. He answered that he had no knowledge who he came from, but only that he was a man of the Fomor, travelling in search of wages to the kings of the earth, “and I heard,” he said, “that Finn never refused wages to any man.” “I never did indeed,” said Finn, “and I will not refuse you. But why is it,” he said, “you are without a boy to mind your horse?” “I have a good reason for that,” said the big man; “there is nothing in the world is worse to me than a boy to be with me; for it is a hundred men’s share of food,” he said, “that serves me for one day, and it is little enough I think it, and I would begrudge a boy to be sharing it with me.” “What is the name you have?” said Finn. “The name I have is the Gilla Decair, the Hard Servant,” said he. “Why did you get that name?” said Finn. “There is a good reason for that,” said the big man, “for there is nothing in the world is harder to me than to do anything at all for my master, or whatever person I am with. And tell me this, Conan, son of Morna,” he said, “who gets the best wages, a horseman or a man afoot?” “A horseman gets twice as much,” said Conan. “Then I call you to witness, Conan,” he said, “that I am a horseman, and that it was as a horseman I came to the Fianna. And give me your guarantee now, Finn, son of Cumhal, and the guarantee of the Fianna, and I will turn out my horse with your horses.” “Let him out then,” said Finn.

The big man pulled off the iron halter then from his horse, and it made off as hard as it could go, till it came where the horses of the Fianna were; and it began to tear and to kick and to bite at them, killing and maiming. “Take your horse out of that, big man,” said Conan; “and by the earth and the sky,” he said, “only it was on the guarantee of Finn and the Fianna you took the halter off him, I would let out his brains through the windows of his head; and many as is the bad prize Finn has found in Ireland,” he said, “he never got one as bad as yourself.” “And I swear by earth and sky as well as yourself,” said the big man, “I will never bring him out of that; for I have no serving-boy to do it for me, and it is not work for me to be leading my horse by the hand.”

Conan, son of Morna, rose up then and took the halter and put it on the horse, and led it back to where Finn was, and held it with his hand. “You would never have done a horse-boy’s service, Conan,” said Finn, “to any one of the Fianna, however far he might be beyond this Fomor. And if you will do what I advise,” he said, “you will get up on the horse now, and search out with him all the hills and hollows and flowery plains of Ireland, till his heart is broken in his body in payment for the way he destroyed the horses of the Fianna.”

Conan made a leap then on to the horse, and struck his heels hard into him, but with all that the horse would not stir. “I know what ails him,” said Finn, “he will not stir till he has the same weight of horsemen on him as the weight of the big man.”

On that thirteen men of the Fianna went up behind Conan, and the horse lay down with them and rose up again. “I think that you are mocking at my horse and at myself,” said the big man; “and it is a pity for me to be spending the rest of the year with you, after all the humbugging I saw in you today, Finn. And I know well,” he said, “that all I heard about you was nothing but lies, and there was no cause for the great name you have through the world. And I will quit you now, Finn,” he said.

With that he went from them, slow and weak, dragging himself along till he had put a little hill between himself and the Fianna. And as soon as he was on the other side of it, he tucked up his cloak to his waist, and away with him, as if with the quickness of a swallow or a deer, and the rush of his going was like a blast of loud wind going over plains and mountains in spring-time.

When the horse saw his master going from him, he could not bear with it, but great as his load was he set out at full gallop following after him. And when Finn and the Fianna saw the thirteen men behind Conan, son of Morna, on the horse, and he starting off, they shouted with mocking laughter.

And when Conan found that he was not able to come down off the horse, he screeched and shouted to them not to let him be brought away with the big man they knew nothing of, and he began abusing and reproaching them. “A cloud of death over water on you, Finn,” he said, “and that some son of a slave or a robber of the bad blood, one that is a worse son of a father and mother even than yourself, may take all that might protect your life, and your head along with that, unless you follow us to whatever place or island the big man will carry us to, and unless you bring us back to Ireland again.”

Finn and the Fianna rose up then, and they followed the Gilla Decair over every bald hill, and through every valley and every river, on to pleasant Slieve Luachra, into the borders of Corca Duibhne; and the big man, that was up on the horse then along with Conan and the rest, faced towards the deep sea. And Liagan Luath of Luachar took hold of the horse’s tail with his two hands, thinking to drag him back by the hair of it; but the horse gave a great tug, and away with him over the sea, and Liagan along with him, holding on to his tail.

It was a heavy care to Finn, those fourteen men of his people to be brought away from him, and he himself under bonds to bring them back. “What can we do now?” Oisin asked him. “What should we do, but to follow our people to whatever place or island the big man has brought them, and, whatever way we do it, to bring them back to Ireland again.” “What can we do, having neither a ship or any kind of boat?” said Oisin. “We have this,” said Finn, “the Tuatha de Danaan left as a gift to the children of the Gael, that whoever might have to leave Ireland for a while, had but to go to Beinn Edair, and however many would go along with him, they would find a ship that would hold them all.” Finn looked towards the sea then, and he saw two strong armed men coming towards him. The first one had on his back a shield ribbed and of many colours, having shapes of strange, wonderful beasts engraved on it, and a heavy sword at his side, and two thick spears on his shoulders; a cloak of lasting crimson about him, with a gold brooch on the breast; a band of white bronze on his head, gold under each of his feet; and the other was dressed in the same way. They made no delay till they came to where Finn was, and they bowed their heads and bent their knees before him, and Finn raised his hand over their heads, and bade them to give an account of themselves. “We are sons of the King of the Eastern World,” they said, “and we are come to Ireland asking to be taken into the service of Finn; for we heard there was not a man in all Ireland,” they said, “would be better than yourself to judge of the skill we have.” “What is your name, and what skill is that?” said Finn. “My name is Feradach, the Very Brave,” he said; “and I have a carpenter’s axe and a sling, and if there were so many as thirty hundred of the men of Ireland along with me in one spot, with three blows of the axe on the sling-stick I could get a ship that would hold them all. And I would ask no more help of them,” he said, “than to bow down their heads while I was striking those three blows.” “That is a good art,” said Finn. “And tell me now,” he said, “what can the other man do?” “I can do this,” he said, “I can follow the track of the teal over nine ridges and nine furrows until I come on her in her bed; and it is the same to me to do it on sea as on land,” he said. “That is a good art,” said Finn; “and it would be a good help to us if you would come following a track with us now.” “What is gone from you?” said one of the men. Finn told them then the whole story of the Hard Servant.

Then Feradach, the Very Brave, struck three blows on his sling-stick with the axe that he had, and the whole of the Fianna bowed their heads, and on the moment the whole of the bay and of the harbour was filled with ships and with fast boats. “What will we do with that many ships?” said Finn. “We will do away with all you make no use of,” he said.

Caoilte rose up then and let out three great shouts, and all the Fianna of Ireland, in whatever places they were, heard them, and they thought Finn and his people to be in some kind of danger from men from beyond the sea.

They came then in small companies as they chanced to be, till they came to the stepping-stones of the Cat’s Head in the western part of Corca Duibhne. And they asked news of Finn, what had happened that he called them away from their hunting, and Finn told them all that had happened. Then Finn and Oisin went into council together, and it is what they agreed; that as but fifteen of his people were brought away from Finn, he himself with fifteen others would go on their track; Oisin to be left at the head of the Fianna to guard Ireland.

And they said farewell to one another, and a grand ship was made ready for Finn and his people, and there was food put in it for using and gold for giving away. The young men and the heroes took to their seats then, and took hold of the oars, and they set out over the restless hills and the dark valleys of the great sea.

And the sea rose up and bellowed, and there was madness on the broken green waters; but to Finn and his people it was a call in the morning and a sleepy time at night to be listening to the roaring and the crooning that was ever and always about the sides of the ship.

They went on like that for three days and three nights, and saw no country or island. But at the end of that time a man of them went up into the head of the ship, and he saw out before them a great, rough grey cliff. They went on towards it then, and they saw on the edge of the cliff a high rock, round-shaped, having sides more slippery than an eel’s back. And they found the track of the Hard Servant as far as to the foot of the rock.

Fergus of the True Lips said then to Diarmuid: “It is no brave thing you are doing, Diarmuid, grandson of Duibhne, to hold back like this, for it was with Manannan the Powerful, son of Lir, you were reared and got your learning, in the Land of Promise and in the coasts of the harbours, and with Angus Og, the Dagda’s son. And are you without any share of their skill and their daring now,” he said, “that would bring Finn and his people up this rock?”

Diarmuid’s face reddened when he heard those words, and he took hold of Manannan’s staves of power that were with him, and he reddened again, and he rose on the staves and gave a leap, and got a standing-place for his two feet on the overhanging rock. He looked down from that on Finn and his people, but whatever wish he had to bring them up to where he was, he was not able to do it.

He left the rock behind him then, and he was not gone far when he saw a wild tangled place before him, with thick woods that were of all he had ever walked the most leafy and the fullest of the sounds of wind and streams and birds, and of the humming of bees.

He went on walking the plain, and as he was looking about him, he saw a great tree with many twigs and branches, and a rock beside it, and a smooth-pointed drinking-horn on it, and a beautiful fresh well at its foot. And there was a great drouth on Diarmuid after the sea-journey, and he had a mind to drink a hornful of the water. But when he stooped to it he heard a great noise coming towards him, and he knew then there was enchantment in the water.

“I will drink my fill of it for all that,” he said. And it was not long after that till he saw a Man of Enchantments coming towards him armed, having no friendly look. And it was in no friendly way he spoke to Diarmuid when he came up to him, but he gave him great abuse. “It is no right thing,” he said, “to be walking through my thickets and to be drinking up my share of water.” With that they faced one another angrily, and they fought till the end of the day.

The Enchanter thought it well to leave off fighting then, and he made a leap into the bottom of the well away from him, but there was vexation on Diarmuid to be left like that.

He looked around him then, and he saw a herd of deer coming through the scrub, and he went towards them, and threw a spear that went through the nearest stag and drove the bowels out of him. He kindled a fire then, and he cut thin bits of the flesh and put them on spits of white hazel, and that night he had his fill of meat and of the water of the well.

He rose up early on the morrow, and he found the Enchanter at the well before him. “It seems to me, Grandson of Duibhne,” he said, “that it is not enough for you to be walking my scrub and my woods without killing my deer as well.” With that they started again, giving one another blow for blow, thrust for thrust, and wound for wound till the end of the day came on them. And Diarmuid killed another great deer that night, and in the morning the fight began again. But in the evening, when the Enchanter was making his leap into the well, Diarmuid threw his arms about his neck, thinking to stop him, but it is what happened, he fell in himself. And when he was at the bottom of the well the Enchanter left him.

Diarmuid went then following after the Enchanter, and he found before him a beautiful wide flowery plain, and a comely royal city in the plain, and on the green before the dun he saw a great army; and when they saw Diarmuid following after the Enchanter, they left a way and a royal road for the Enchanter to pass through till he got inside the dun. And then they shut the gates, and the whole army turned on Diarmuid.

But that put no fear or cowardice on him, but he went through them and over them like a hawk would go through little birds, or a wild dog through a flock of sheep, killing all before him, till some of them made away to the woods and wastes, and another share of them through the gates of the dun, and they shut them, and the gates of the city after them. And Diarmuid, all full of hurts and wounds after the hard fight, lay down on the plain. A very strong daring champion came then and kicked at him from behind, and at that Diarmuid roused himself up, and put out his brave ready hand for his weapons.

“Wait a while, Grandson of Duibhne,” the champion said then; “it is not to do you any hurt or harm I am come, but to say to you it is a bad sleeping-place for you to have, and it on your ill-wisher’s lawn. And come now with me,” he said, “and I will give you a better resting-place.”

Diarmuid followed him then, and they went a long, long way from that, till they came to a high-topped city, and three times fifty brave champions in it, three times fifty modest women, and another young woman on a bench, with blushes in her cheeks, and delicate hands, and having a silken cloak about her, and a dress sewed with gold threads, and on her head the flowing veil of a queen.

There was a good welcome before Diarmuid for his own sake and the sake of his people, and he was put in a house of healing that was in the city, and good herbs were put to his hurts till he was smooth and sound again.

And a feast was made then, and the tables and the benches were set, and no high person was put in the place of the mean, or mean in the place of the high, but every one in his own place, according to his nobility, or his descent, or his art. Plenty of good food was brought to them then, and well-tasting strong drinks, and they spent the first part of the night in drinking, and the second part with music and delight and rejoicing of the mind, and the third part in sound sleep that lasted till the sun rose over the heavy sodded earth on the morrow.

Three days and three nights Diarmuid stopped in that city, and the best feast he ever found was given to him all through. And at the end of that time he asked what was the place he was in, and who was head of it. And the champion that brought him there told him it was Land–Under-Wave, and that the man that had fought with him was its king. “And he is an enemy of the Red Hand to me,” he said. “And as to myself,” he said, “I was one time getting wages from Finn, son of Cumhal, in Ireland, and I never put a year over me that pleased me better. And tell me now,” he said, “what is the journey or the work that is before you?”

And Diarmuid told him the story of the Hard Servant then from beginning to end.

Now, as to Finn and his people, when they thought Diarmuid was too long away from them, they made ladders of the cords of the ship and put them against the rock, looking for him.

And after a while they found the leavings of the meat he had eaten, for Diarmuid never ate meat without leaving some after him.

Finn looked then on every side, and he saw a rider coming towards him over the plain on a dark-coloured beautiful horse, having a bridle of red gold. Finn saluted him when he came up, and the rider stooped his head and gave Finn three kisses, and asked him to go with him. They went on a long way till they came to a wide, large dwelling-place full of arms, and a great troop of armed men on the green before the fort. Three nights and three days Finn and his people stopped in the dun, and the best feast they ever got was served out to them.

At the end of that time Finn asked what country was he in, and the man that brought him there told him it was the land of Sorcha, and that he himself was its king. “And I was with yourself one time, Finn, son of Cumhal,” he said, “taking your wages through the length of a year in Ireland.”

Then Finn and the King of Sorcha called a great gathering of the people and a great meeting. And when it was going on they saw a woman-messenger coming to them through the crowd, and the king asked news of her. “I have news indeed,” she said; “the whole of the bay and the harbour is full of ships and of boats, and there are armies all through the country robbing all before them.” “I know well,” said the king, “it is the High King of Greece is in it, for he has a mind to put the entire world under him, and to get hold of this country like every other.” The King of Sorcha looked at Finn then, and Finn understood it was help from him he was asking, and it is what he said: “I take the protection of this country on myself so long as I am in it.” He and his people rose up then, and the King of Sorcha along with them, and they went looking for the strange army. And when they came up with it they made great slaughter of its champions, and those they did not kill ran before them, and made no better stand than a flock of frightened birds, till there were hardly enough of them left to tell the story.

The High King spoke then, and it is what he said: “Who is it has done this great slaughter of my people? And I never heard before,” he said, “any talk of the courage or of the doings of the men of Ireland either at this time or in the old times. But from this out,” he said, “I will banish the Sons of the Gael for ever to the very ends of the earth.”

But Finn and the King of Sorcha raised a green tent in view of the ships of the Greeks.

The King of the Greeks called then for help against Finn and the King of Sorcha, to get satisfaction for the shame that was put on his people. And the sons of kings of the eastern and southern world came to his help, but they could make no stand against Finn and Osgar and Oisin and Goll, son of Morna. And at the last the King of Greece brought all his people back home, the way no more of them would be put an end to.

And then Finn and the King of Sorcha called another great gathering. And while it was going on, they saw coming towards them a great troop of champions, bearing flags of many-coloured silk, and grey swords at their sides and high spears reared up over their heads. And in the front of them was Diarmuid, grandson of Duibhne.

When Finn saw him, he sent Fergus of the True Lips to ask news of him, and they told one another all that had happened.

And it would take too long to tell, and it would tire the hearers, how Finn made the Hard Servant bring home his fifteen men that he had brought away. And when he had brought them back to Ireland, the whole of the Fianna were watching to see him ride away again, himself and his long-legged horse. But while they were watching him, he vanished from them, and all they could see was a mist, and it stretching out towards the sea.

And that is the story of the Hard Servant, and of Diarmuid’s adventures on the island Under–Wave.

Chapter v. The House of the Quicken Trees

And it is often the Fianna would have been badly off without the help of Diarmuid. It was he came to their help the time Miodac, the son of the King of Lochlann, brought them into the enchanted House of the Quicken Trees.

It was by treachery he brought them in, giving himself out to be a poet, and making poems for Finn to make out the meaning of. A verse he made about a great army that he saw riding over the plains to victory, and robbing all before it, and the riders of it having no horses but plants and branches. “I understand that,” said Finn, “it was an army of bees you saw, that was gathering riches from the flowers as it went.” And another verse Miodac made was about a woman in Ireland that was swifter than the swiftest horse. “I know that,” said Finn, “that woman is the River Boinn; and if she goes slow itself, she is swifter in the end than the swiftest horse, for her going never stops.” And other verses he made about Angus’ house at Brugh na Boinn, but Finn made them all out.

And after that he said he had a feast ready for them, and he bade them go into his House of the Quicken Trees till he would bring it. And they did that, and went in, and it was a beautiful house, having walls of every colour, and foreign coverings of every colour on the floor, and a fire that gave out a very pleasant smoke. And they sat down there, and after a while Finn said: “It is a wonder such a beautiful house to be here.” “There is a greater wonder than that,” said Goll; “that fire that was so pleasant when we came in is giving out now the worst stench in the world.” “There is a greater wonder than that,” said Glas; “the walls that were of all colours are now but rough boards joined together.” “There is a greater wonder than that,” said Fiacha; “where there were seven high doors to the house there is now but one little door, and it shut.” “Indeed, there is a more wonderful thing than that,” said Conan; “for we sat down on beautiful coverings, and now there is nothing between us and the bare ground, and it as cold as the snow of one night.” And he tried to rise up, but he could not stir, or any of the rest of them, for there was enchantment that kept them where they were.

And it was the treachery of Miodac, and the spells of the Three Kings of the Island of the Floods that had brought them into that danger. And Finn knew by his divination that their enemies were gathering to make an end of them, and he said to his people there was no use in making complaints, but to sound the music of the Dord Fiann.

And some of the Fianna that were waiting for him not far off heard that sorrowful music, and came fighting against Miodac and his armies, and they fought well, but they could not stand against them. And at the last it was Diarmuid, grandson of Duibhne, that made an end of Miodac that was so treacherous, and of the Three Kings of the Island of the Floods, and took the enchantment off the floor of the House of the Rowan Trees with their blood.

And when he was freeing the Fianna, Conan called out, asking him to bring him a share of the feast Miodac had made ready for his own friends, for there was hunger on him. And when Diarmuid took no heed of him, he said: “If it was a comely woman was speaking to you, Diarmuid, you would not refuse to listen.”

For if many women loved Diarmuid, there were many he himself gave his love to; and if he was often called Diarmuid the brave, or the hardy, or the comely, or the Hawk of Ess Ruadh, it is often he was called as well the friend and the coaxer of women, Diarmuid-na-man.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/g/gregory/lady/gods-and-fighting-men/book11.html

Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 19:14