Gods and Fighting Men, by Lady Gregory

Book Two

Finn’s Helpers

Chapter i. The Lad of the Skins

Besides all the men Finn had in his household, there were some that would come and join him from one place or another. One time a young man wearing a dress of skins came to Finn’s house at Almhuin, and his wife along with him, and he asked to take service with Finn.

And in the morning, as they were going to their hunting, the Lad of the Skins said to Finn: “Let me have no one with me but myself, and let me go into one part of the country by myself, and you yourself with all your men go to another part.” “Is it on the dry ridges you will go,” said Finn, “or is it in the deep bogs and marshes, where there is danger of drowning?” “I will go in the deep boggy places,” said he.

So they all went out from Almhuin, Finn and the Fianna to one part, and the Lad of the Skins to another part, and they hunted through the day. And when they came back at evening, the Lad of the Skins had killed more than Finn and all his men together.

When Finn saw that, he was glad to have so good a servant. But Conan said to him: “The Lad of the Skins will destroy ourselves and the whole of the Fianna of Ireland unless you will find some way to rid yourself of him.” “I never had a good man with me yet, Conan,” said Finn, “but you wanted me to put him away; and how could I put away a man like that?” he said. “The way to put him away,” said Conan, “is to send him to the King of the Floods to take from him the great cauldron that is never without meat, but that has always enough in it to feed the whole world. And let him bring that cauldron back here with him to Almhuin,” he said.

So Finn called to the Lad of the Skins, and he said: “Go from me now to the King of the Floods and get the great cauldron that is never empty from him, and bring it here to me.” “So long as I am in your service I must do your work,” said the Lad of the Skins. With that he set out, leaping over the hills and valleys till he came to the shore of the sea. And then he took up two sticks and put one of them across the other, and a great ship rose out of the two sticks. The Lad of the Skins went into the ship then, and put up the sails and set out over the sea, and he heard nothing but the whistling of eels in the sea and the calling of gulls in the air till he came to the house of the King of the Floods. And at that time there were hundreds of ships waiting near the shore; and he left his ship outside them all, and then he stepped from ship to ship till he stood on land.

There was a great feast going on at that time in the king’s house, and the Lad of the Skins went up to the door, but he could get no farther because of the crowd. So he stood outside the door for a while, and no one looked at him, and he called out at last: “This is a hospitable house indeed, and these are mannerly ways, not to ask a stranger if there is hunger on him or thirst.” “That is true,” said the king; “and give the cauldron of plenty now to this stranger,” he said, “till he eats his fill.”

So his people did that, and no sooner did the Lad of the Skins get a hold of the cauldron than he made away to the ship and put it safe into it. But when he had done that he said: “There is no use in taking the pot by my swiftness, if I do not take it by my strength.” And with that he turned and went to land again. And the whole of the men of the army of the King of the Floods were ready to fight; but if they were, so was the Lad of the Skins, and he went through them and over them all till the whole place was quiet.

He went back to his ship then and raised the sails and set out again for Ireland, and the ship went rushing back to the place where he made it. And when he came there, he gave a touch of his hand to the ship, and there was nothing left of it but the two sticks he made it from, and they lying on the strand before him, and the cauldron of plenty with them. And he took up the cauldron on his back, and brought it to Finn, son of Cumhal, at Almhuin. And Finn gave him his thanks for the work he had done.

One day, now, Finn was washing himself at the well, and a voice spoke out of the water, and it said: “You must give back the cauldron, Finn, to the King of the Floods, or you must give him battle in place of it.”

Finn told that to the Lad of the Skins, but the answer he got from him was that his time was up, and that he could not serve on time that was past. “But if you want me to go with you,” he said, “let you watch my wife, that is Manannan’s daughter, through the night; and in the middle of the night, when she will be combing her hair, any request you make of her, she cannot refuse it. And the request you will make is that she will let me go with you to the King of the Floods, to bring the cauldron to his house and to bring it back again.”

So Finn watched Manannan’s daughter through the night, and when he saw her combing her hair, he made his request of her. “I have no power to refuse you,” she said; “but you must promise me one thing, to bring my husband back to me, alive or dead. And if he is alive,” she said, “put up a grey-green flag on the ship coming back; but if he is dead, put up a red flag.”

So Finn promised to do that, and he himself and the Lad of the Skins set out together for the dun of the King of the Floods, bringing the cauldron with them.

No sooner did the king see them than he gave word to all his armies to make ready. But the Lad of the Skins made for them and overthrew them, and he went into the king’s dun, and Finn with him, and they overcame him and brought away again the cauldron that was never empty.

But as they were going back to Ireland, they saw a great ship coming towards them. And when the Lad of the Skins looked at the ship, he said: “I think it is an old enemy of my own is in that ship, that is trying to bring me to my death, because of my wife that refused him her love.” And when the ship came alongside, the man that was in it called out: “I know you well, and it is not by your dress I know you, son of the King of the Hills.” And with that he made a leap on to the ship, and the two fought a great battle together, and they took every shape; they began young like two little boys, and fought till they were two old men; they fought from being two young pups until they were two old dogs; from being two young horses till they were two old horses. And then they began to fight in the shape of birds, and it is in that shape they killed one another at the last. And Finn threw the one bird into the water, but the other, that was the Lad of the Skins, he brought with him in the ship. And when he came in sight of Ireland, he raised a red flag as he had promised the woman.

And when he came to the strand, she was there before him, and when she saw Finn, she said: “It is dead you have brought him back to me.” And Finn gave her the bird, and she asked was that what she was to get in the place of her husband. And she was crying over the bird, and she brought it into a little boat with her, and she bade Finn to push out the boat to sea.

And he pushed it out, and it was driven by wind and waves till at last she saw two birds flying, having a dead one between them. And the two living birds let down the dead one on an island; and it was not long till it rose up living, and the three went away together.

And when Manannan’s daughter saw that, she said: “There might be some cure for my man on the island, the way there was for that dead bird.”

And the sea brought the boat to the island, and she went searching around, but all she could find was a tree having green leaves. “It might be in these leaves the cure is,” she said; and she took some of the leaves and brought them to where the Lad of the Skins was, and put them about him. And on that moment he stood up as well and as sound as ever he was.

They went back then to Ireland, and they came to Almhuin at midnight, and the Lad of the Skins knocked at the door, and he said: “Put me out my wages.” “There is no man, living or dead, has wages on me but the Lad of the Skins,” said Finn; “and I would sooner see him here to-night,” he said, “than the wages of three men.” “If that is so, rise up and you will see him,” said he.

So Finn rose up and saw him, and gave him a great welcome, and paid him his wages.

And after that he went away and his wife with him to wherever his own country was; but there were some said he was gone to the country of his wife’s father, Manannan, Son of the Sea.

Chapter ii. Black, Brown, and Grey

Finn was hunting one time near Teamhair of the Kings, and he saw three strange men coming towards him, and he asked what were their names. “Dubh and Dun and Glasan, Black, Brown, and Grey, are our names,” they said, “and we are come to find Finn, son of Cumhal, Head of the Fianna, and to take service with him.”

So Finn took them into his service, and when evening came he said: “Let each one of you watch through a third part of the night.” And there was a trunk of a tree there, and he bade them make three equal parts of it, and he gave a part to each of the three men, and he said: “When each one of you begins his watch, let him set fire to his own log, and as long as the wood burns let him watch.”

Then they drew lots, and the lot fell to Dubh to go on the first watch. So he set fire to his log, and he went out around the place, and Bran with him. He went farther and farther till at last he saw a bright light, and when he came to the place where it was, he saw a large house. He went inside, and there was a great company of very strange-looking men in it, and they drinking out of a single cup. One of the men, that seemed to be the highest, gave the cup to the man nearest him; and after he had drunk his fill he passed it on to the next, and so on to the last. And while it was going round, he said: “This is the great cup that was taken from Finn, son of Cumhal, a hundred years ago, and however many men may be together, every man of them can drink his fill from it, of whatever sort of drink he has a mind for.”

Dubh was sitting near the door, on the edge of the crowd, and when the cup came to him he took a drink from it, and then he slipped away in the dark, bringing it with him. And when he came to the place where Finn was, his log was burned out.

Then it was the turn of Dun to go out, for the second lot had fallen on him, and he put a light to his log, and went out, and Bran with him.

He walked on through the night till he saw a fire that was shining from a large house, and when he went in he saw a crowd of men, and they fighting. And a very old man that was in a high place above the rest called out: “Stop fighting now, for I have a better gift for you than the one you lost to-night.” And with that he drew a knife out of his belt and held it up, and said: “This is the wonderful knife, the small knife of division, that was stolen from Finn, son of Cumhal, a hundred years ago; and you have but to cut on a bone with that knife and you will get your fill of the best meat in the world.” Then he gave the knife to the man nearest him, and a bare bone with it, and the man began to cut, and there came off the bone slices of the best meat in the world.

The knife and the bone were sent round then from man to man till they came to Dun, and as soon as he had the knife in his hand he slipped out unknown and hurried back, and he had just got to the well where Finn was, when his part of the log burned out.

Then Glasan lighted his log and went out on his watch till he came to the house, the same way the others did. And he looked in and he saw the floor full of dead bodies, and he thought to himself: “There must be some great wonder here. And if I lie down on the floor and put some of the bodies over me,” he said, “I will be able to see all that happens.”

So he lay down and pulled some of the bodies over him, and he was not long there till he saw an old hag coming into the house, having one leg and one arm and one upper tooth, that was long enough to serve her in place of a crutch. And when she came inside the door she took up the first dead body she met with, and threw it aside, for it was lean. And as she went on, she took two bites out of every fat body she met with, and threw away every lean one.

She had her fill of flesh and blood before she came to Glasan, and she dropped down on the floor and fell asleep, and Glasan thought that every breath she drew would bring down the roof on his head. He rose up then and looked at her, and wondered at the bulk of her body. And at last he drew his sword and hit her a slash that killed her; but if he did, three young men leaped out of her body. And Glasan made a stroke that killed the first of them, and Bran killed the second, but the third made his escape.

Glasan made his way back then, and just when he got to where Finn was, his log of wood was burned out, and the day was beginning to break.

And when Finn rose up in the morning he asked news of the three watchers, and they gave him the cup and the knife and told him all they had seen, and he gave great praise to Dubh and to Dun; but to Glasan he said: “It might have been as well for you to have left that old hag alone, for I am in dread the third young man may bring trouble on us all.”

It happened at the end of twenty-one years, Finn and the Fianna were at their hunting in the hills, and they saw a Red–Haired Man coming towards them, and he spoke to no one, but came and stood before Finn. “What is it you are looking for?” said Finn. “I am looking for a master for the next twenty-one years,” he said. “What wages are you asking?” said Finn. “No wages at all, but only if I die before the twenty-one years are up, to bury me on Inis Caol, the Narrow Island.” “I will do that for you,” said Finn.

So the Red–Haired Man served Finn well through the length of twenty years. But in the twenty-first year he began to waste and to wither away, and he died.

And when he was dead, the Fianna were no way inclined to go to Inis Caol to bury him. But Finn said he would break his word for no man, and that he himself would bring his body there. And he took an old white horse that had been turned loose on the hills, and that had got younger and not older since it was put out, and he put the body of the Red–Haired Man on its back, and let it take its own way, and he himself followed it, and twelve men of the Fianna.

And when they came to Inis Caol they saw no trace of the horse or of the body. And there was an open house on the island, and they went in. And there were seats for every man of them inside, and they sat down to rest for a while.

But when they tried to rise up it failed them to do it, for there was enchantment on them. And they saw the Red–Haired Man standing before them in that moment.

“The time is come now,” he said, “for me to get satisfaction from you for the death of my mother and my two brothers that were killed by Glasan in the house of the dead bodies.” He began to make an attack on them then, and he would have made an end of them all, but Finn took hold of the Dord Fiann, and blew a great blast on it.

And before the Red–Haired Man was able to kill more than three of them, Diarmuid, grandson of Duibhne, that had heard the sound of the Dord Fiann, came into the house and made an end of him, and put an end to the enchantment. And Finn, with the nine that were left of the Fianna, came back again to Almhuin.

Chapter iii. The Hound

One day the three battalions of the Fianna came to Magh Femen, and there they saw three young men waiting for them, having a hound with them; and there was not a colour in the world but was on that hound, and it was bigger than any other hound.

“Where do you come from, young men?” said Finn. “Out of the greater Iruath in the east,” said they; “and our names are Dubh, the Dark, and Agh, the Battle, and Ilar, the Eagle.” “What is it you came for?” “To enter into service, and your friendship,” said they. “What good will it do us, you to be with us?” said Finn. “We are three,” said they, “and you can make a different use of each one of us.” “What uses are those?” said Finn. “I will do the watching for all the Fianna of Ireland and of Alban,” said one of them. “I will take the weight of every fight and every battle that will come to them, the way they can keep themselves in quiet,” said the second. “I will meet every troublesome thing that might come to my master,” said the third; “and let all the wants of the world be told to me and I will satisfy them. And I have a pipe with me,” he said; “and all the men of the world would sleep at the sound of it, and they in their sickness. And as to the hound,” he said, “as long as there are deer in Ireland he will get provision for the Fianna every second night. And I myself,” he said, “will get it on the other nights.” “What will you ask of us to be with us like that?” said Finn. “We will ask three things,” they said: “no one to come near to the place where we have our lodging after the fall of night; nothing to be given out to us, but we to provide for ourselves; and the worst places to be given to us in the hunting.” “Tell me by your oath now,” said Finn, “why is it you will let no one see you after nightfall?” “We have a reason,” said they; “but do not ask it of us, whether we are short or long on the one path with you. But we will tell you this much,” they said, “every third night, one of us three is dead and the other two are watching him, and we have no mind for any one to be looking at us.”

So Finn promised that; but if he did there were some of the Fianna were not well pleased because of the ways of those three men, living as they did by themselves, and having a wall of fire about them, and they would have made an end of them but for Finn protecting them.

About that time there came seven men of poetry belonging to the people of Cithruadh, asking the fee for a poem, three times fifty ounces of gold and the same of silver to bring back to Cithruadh at Teamhair. “Whatever way we get it, we must find some way to get that,” said a man of the Fianna. Then the three young men from Iruath said: “Well, men of learning,” they said, “would you sooner get the fee for your poem to-night or tomorrow?” “To-morrow will be time enough,” said they.

And the three young men went to the place where the hound had his bed a little way off from the rath, and the hound threw out of his mouth before them the three times fifty ounces of gold and three times fifty of silver, and they gave them to the men of poetry, and they went away.

Another time Finn said: “What can the three battalions of the Fianna do to-night, having no water?” And one of the men of Iruath said: “How many drinking-horns are with you?” “Three hundred and twelve,” said Caoilte. “Give me the horns into my hand,” said the young man, “and whatever you will find in them after that, you may drink it.” He filled the horns then with beer and they drank it, and he did that a second and a third time; and with the third time of filling they were talkative and their wits confused. “This is a wonderful mending of the feast,” said Finn. And they gave the place where all that happened the name of the Little Rath of Wonders.

And one time after that again there came to Finn three bald red clowns, holding three red hounds in their hands, and three deadly spears. And there was poison on their clothes and on their hands and their feet, and on everything they touched. And Finn asked them who were they. And they said they were three sons of Uar, son of Indast of the Tuatha de Danaan; and it was by a man of the Fianna, Caoilte son of Ronan, their father was killed in the battle of the Tuatha de Danaan on Slieve nan Ean, the Mountain of Birds, in the east. “And let Caoilte son of Ronan give us the blood-fine for him now,” they said. “What are your names?” said Finn. “Aincel and Digbail and Espaid; Ill-wishing and Harm and Want are our names. And what answer do you give us now, Finn?” they said. “No one before me ever gave a blood-fine for a man killed in battle, and I will not give it,” said Finn. “We will do revenge and robbery on you so,” said they. “What revenge is that?” said Finn. “It is what I will do,” said Aincel, “if I meet with two or three or four of the Fianna, I will take their feet and their hands from them.” “It is what I will do,” said Digbail, “I will not leave a day without loss of a hound or a serving-boy or a fighting man to the Fianna of Ireland.” “And I myself will be always leaving them in want of people, or of a hand, or of an eye,” said Espaid. “Without we get some help against them,” said Caoilte, “there will not be one of us living at the end of a year.” “Well,” said Finn, “we will make a dun and stop here for a while, for I will not be going through Ireland and these men following after me, till I find who are the strongest, themselves or ourselves.”

So the Fianna made little raths for themselves all about Slieve Mis, and they stopped there through a month and a quarter and a year. And through all that time the three red bald-headed men were doing every sort of hurt and harm upon them.

But the three sons of the King of Iruath came to speak with Finn, and it is what they said: “It is our wish, Finn, to send the hound that is with us to go around you three times in every day, and however many may be trying to hurt or to rob you, they will not have power to do it after that. But let there be neither fire nor arms nor any other dog in the house he goes into,” they said. “I will let none of these things go into the one house with him,” said Finn, “and he will go safe back to you.” So every day the hound would be sent to Finn, having his chain of ridges of red gold around his neck, and he would go three times around Finn, and three times he would put his tongue upon him. And to the people that were nearest to the hound when he came into the house it would seem like as if a vat of mead was being strained, and to others there would come the sweet smell of an apple garden.

And every harm and sickness the three sons of Uar would bring on the Fianna, the three sons of the King of Iruath would take it off them with their herbs and their help and their healing.

And after a while the High King of Ireland came to Slieve Mis with a great, troop of his men, to join with Finn and the Fianna. And they told the High King the whole story, and how the sons of Uar were destroying them, and the three sons of the King of Iruath were helping them against them. “Why would not the men that can do all that find some good spell that would drive the sons of Uar out of Ireland?” said the High King.

With that Caoilte went looking for the three young men from Iruath and brought them to the High King. “These are comely men,” said the High King, “good in their shape and having a good name. And could you find any charm, my sons,” he said, “that will drive out these three enemies that are destroying the Fianna of Ireland?” “We would do that if we could find those men near us,” said they; “and it is where they are now,” they said, “at Daire’s Cairn at the end of the raths.” “Where are Garb–Cronan, the Rough Buzzing One, and Saltran of the Long Heel?” said Finn. “Here we are, King of the Fianna,” said they. “Go out to those men beyond, and tell them I will give according to the judgment of the King of Ireland in satisfaction for their father.” The messengers went out then and brought them in, and they sat down on the bank of the rath.

Then the High King said: “Rise up, Dubh, son of the King of Iruath, and command these sons of Uar with a spell to quit Ireland.” And Dubh rose up, and he said: “Go out through the strength of this spell and this charm, you three enemies of the Fianna, one-eyed, lame-thighed, left-handed, of the bad race. And go out on the deep bitter sea,” he said, “and let each one of you strike a blow of his sword on the head of his brothers. For it is long enough you are doing harm and destruction on the King of the Fianna, Finn, son of Cumhal.”

With that the hound sent a blast of wind under them that brought them out into the fierce green sea, and each of them struck a blow on the head of the others. And that was the last that was seen of the three destroying sons of Uar, Aincel and Digbail and Espaid.

But after the time of the Fianna, there came three times in the one year, into West Munster, three flocks of birds from the western sea having beaks of bone and fiery breath, and the wind from their wings was as cold as a wind of spring. And the first time they came was at reaping time, and every one of them brought away an ear of corn from the field. And the next time they came they did not leave apple on tree, or nut on bush, or berry on the rowan; and the third time they spared no live thing they could lift from the ground, young bird or fawn or silly little child. And the first day they came was the same day of the year the three sons of Uar were put out in the sea.

And when Caoilte, that was one of the last of the Fianna, and that was living yet, heard of them, he remembered the sons of Uar, and he made a spell that drove them out into the sea again, and they perished there by one another.

It was about the length of a year the three sons of the King of Iruath stopped with Finn. And at the end of that time Donn and Dubhan, two sons of the King of Ulster, came out of the north to Munster. And one night they kept watch for the Fianna, and three times they made a round of the camp. And it is the way the young men from Iruath used to be, in a place by themselves apart from the Fianna, and their hound in the middle between them; and at the fall of night there used a wall of fire to be around them, the way no one could look at them.

And the third time the sons of the King of Ulster made the round of the camp, they saw the fiery wall, and Donn said: “It is a wonder the way those three young men are through the length of a year now, and their hound along with them, and no one getting leave to look at them.”

With that he himself and his brother took their arms in their hands, and went inside the wall of fire, and they began looking at the three men and at the hound. And the great hound they used to see every day at the hunting was at this time no bigger than a lap-dog that would be with a queen or a high person. And one of the young men was watching over the dog, and his sword in his hand, and another of them was holding a vessel of white silver to the mouth of the dog; and any drink any one of the three would ask for, the dog would put it out of his mouth into the vessel.

Then one of the young men said to the hound: “Well, noble one and brave one and just one, take notice of the treachery that is done to you by Finn.” When the dog heard that he turned to the King of Ulster’s sons, and there rose a dark Druid wind that blew away the shields from their shoulders and the swords from their sides into the wall of fire. And then the three men came out and made an end of them; and when that was done the dog came and breathed on them, and they turned to ashes on the moment, and there was never blood or flesh or bone of them found after.

And the three battalions of the Fianna divided themselves into companies of nine, and went searching through every part of Ireland for the King of Ulster’s two sons.

And as to Finn, he went to Teamhair Luachra, and no one with him but the serving-lads and the followers of the army. And the companies of nine that were looking for the King of Ulster’s sons came back to him there in the one night; but they brought no word of them, if they were dead or living.

But as to the three sons of the King of Iruath and the hound that was with them, they were seen no more by Finn and the Fianna.

Chapter iv. Red Ridge

There was another young man came and served Finn for a while; out of Connacht he came, and he was very daring, and the Red Ridge was the name they gave him. And he all but went from Finn one time, because of his wages that were too long in coming to him. And the three battalions of the Fianna came trying to quiet him, but he would not stay for them. And at the last Finn himself came, for it is a power he had, if he would make but three verses he would quiet any one. And it is what he said: “Daring Red Ridge,” he said, “good in battle, if you go from me today with your great name it is a good parting for us. But once at Rath Cro,” he said, “I gave you three times fifty ounces in the one day; and at Cam Ruidhe I gave you the full of my cup of silver and of yellow gold. And do you remember,” he said, “the time we were at Rath Ai, when we found the two women, and when we ate the nuts, myself and yourself were there together.”

And after that the young man said no more about going from him.

And another helper came to Finn one time he was fighting at a ford, and all his weapons were used or worn with the dint of the fight. And there came to him a daughter of Mongan of the Sidhe, bringing him a flat stone having a chain of gold to it. And he took the stone and did great deeds with it. And after the fight the stone fell into the ford, that got the name of Ath Liag Finn.

And that stone will never be found till the Woman of the Waves will find it, and will bring it to land on a Sunday morning; and on that day seven years the world will come to an end.

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