Gods and Fighting Men, by Lady Gregory

Book Eight


Chapter i. Tailc, Son of Treon

One time the Fianna were all gathered together doing feats and casting stones. And after a while the Druid of Teamhair that was with them said: “I am in dread, Finn of the Fianna, that there is some trouble near at hand; and look now at those dark clouds of blood,” he said, “that are threatening us side by side overhead. And there is fear on me,” he said, “that there is some destruction coming on the Fianna.”

Finn looked up then, and he saw the great cloud of blood, and he called Osgar to look at it. “That need not knock a start from you,” said Osgar, “with all the strength there is in your arms, and in the men that are with you.” Then all the Fianna looked up at the cloud, and some of them were glad and cheerful and some were downhearted.

Then the Druid bade Finn to call all his battalions together and to divide them into two halves, that they could be watching for the coming of the enemy.

So Finn sounded the Dord Fiann, and they answered with a shout, every one hurrying to be the first. And Finn bade Osgar and Goll and Faolan to keep watch through the night, and he bade Conan the Bald to stop in the darkness of the cave of Liath Ard. “For it is you can shout loudest,” he said, “to warn us if you see the enemy coming.” “That I may be pierced through the middle of my body,” said Conan, “if I will go watching for troubles or for armies alone, without some more of the Fianna being with me.” “It is not fitting for you to refuse Finn,” said Lugaidh’s Son; “and it is you can shout the loudest,” he said, “if the enemies come near the height.” “Do not be speaking to me any more,” said Conan, “for I will not go there alone, through the length of my days, for Finn and the whole of the Fianna.” “Go then, Conan,” said Osgar, “and Aodh Beag will go with you, and you can bring dogs with you, Bran and Sceolan and Fuaim and Fearagan; and let you go now without begrudging it,” he said.

So Conan went then to Liath Ard, and Aodh Beag and Finn’s hounds along with him. And as to Finn, he lay down to sleep, and it was not long till he saw through his sleep Aodh Beag his son, and he without his head. And after that he saw Goll fighting with a very strong man. And he awoke from his sleep, and called the Druid of the Fianna to him, and asked him the meaning of what he saw. “I am in dread there is some destruction coming on the Fianna,” said the Druid; “but Aodh Beag will not be wounded in the fight, or Goll,” he said.

And it was not long till Finn heard a great shout, and he sounded the Dord Fiann, and then he saw Conan running, and the hounds after him. And Finn sounded the Dord Fiann again before Conan came up, and when he came, Osgar asked him where was Aodh Beag. “He was at the door of the cave when I left it,” said Conan, “but I did not look behind me since then,” he said; “and it was not Aodh Beag was troubling me.” “What was troubling you then?” said Osgar. “Nothing troubles me but myself,” said Conan; “although I am well pleased at any good that comes to you,” he said.

Osgar went then running hard, till he came to the cave, and there he found Aodh Beag with no fear or trouble on him at all, stopping there till he would hear the noise of the shields. And Osgar brought him back to where the Fianna were, and they saw a great army coming as if in search of them.

And a beautiful woman, having a crimson cloak, came to them over the plain, and she spoke to Finn, and her voice was as sweet as music. And Finn asked her who was she, and who did she come looking for. “I am the daughter of Garraidh, son of Dolar Dian, the Fierce,” she said; “and my curse upon the King of Greece that bound me to the man that is following after me, and that I am going from, Tailc, son of Treon.” “Tell me why are you shunning him, and I will protect you in spite of him,” said Finn. “It is not without reason I hate him,” said she, “for he has no good appearance, and his skin is of the colour of coal, and he has the head and the tail of a cat. And I have walked the world three times,” she said, “and I did not leave a king or a great man without asking help from him, and I never got it yet.” “I will give you protection,” said Finn, “or the seven battalions of the Fianna will fall for your sake.”

With that they saw the big strange man, Tailc, son of Treon, coming towards them, and he said no word at all of greeting to Finn, but he called for a battle on account of his wife.

So a thousand of the Fianna went out to meet him and his men; and if they did they all fell, and not one of them came back again. And then another thousand of the best men of the Fianna, having blue and green shields, went out under Caoilte, son of Ronan, and they were worsted by Tailc and his people. And then Osgar asked leave of Finn to go out and fight the big man. “I will give you leave,” said Finn, “although I am sure you will fall by him.” So Osgar went out, and he himself and Tailc, son of Treon, were fighting through the length of five days and five nights without food or drink or sleep. And at the end of that time, Osgar made an end of Tailc, and struck his head off. And when the Fianna saw that, they gave a shout of lamentation for those they had lost of the Fianna, and two shouts of joy for the death of Tailc.

And as to the young woman, when she saw all the slaughter that had been done on account of her, shame reddened her face, and she fell dead there and then. And to see her die like that, after all she had gone through, preyed more on the Fianna than any other thing.

Chapter ii. Meargach’s Wife

And while the Fianna were gathered yet on the hill where Tailc, son of Treon, had been put down, they saw a very great champion coming towards them, having an army behind him. He took no notice of any one more than another, but he asked in a very rough voice where was Finn, the Head of the Fianna. And Aodh Beag, that had a quiet heart, asked him who was he, and what was he come for. “I will tell you nothing at all, child,” said the big man, “for it is short your years are, and I will tell nothing at all to any one but Finn.” So Aodh Beag brought him to where Finn was, and Finn asked him his name. “Meargach of the Green Spears is my name,” he said; “and arms were never reddened yet on my body, and no one ever boasted of driving me backwards. And was it you, Finn,” he said, “put down Tailc, son of Treon?” “It was not by me he fell,” said Finn, “but by Osgar of the strong hand.” “Was it not a great shame for you, Finn,” said Meargach then, “to let the queen-woman that had such a great name come to her death by the Fianna?” “It was not by myself or by any of the Fianna she got her death,” said Finn; “it was seeing the army lost that brought her to her death. But if it is satisfaction for her death or the death of Tailc you want,” he said, “You can get it from a man of the Fianna, or you can go quietly from this place.” Then Meargach said he would fight with any man they would bring against him, to avenge Tailc, son of Treon.

And it was Osgar stood up against him, and they fought a very hard fight through the length of three days, and at one time the Fianna thought it was Osgar was worsted, and they gave a great sorrowful shout. But in the end Osgar put down Meargach and struck his head off, and at that the seven battalions of the Fianna gave a shout of victory, and the army of Meargach keened him very sorrowfully. And after that, the two sons of Meargach, Ciardan the Swift and Liagan the Nimble, came up and asked who would come against them, hand to hand, that they might get satisfaction for their father.

And it was Goll stood up against Ciardan, and it was not long till he put him down; and Conan came out against Liagan, and Liagan mocked at him and said: “It is foolishness your coming is, bald man!” But Conan made a quick blow and struck his head off before the fight was begun at all.

And Faolan said that was a shameful thing to do, not to stand his ground and make a fair fight. But Conan said: “If I could make an end of the whole army by one blow, I would do it, and I would not be ashamed, and the whole of the Fianna could not shelter them from me.”

Then the two armies came towards each other, and they were making ready for the attack. And they saw a beautiful golden-haired woman coming towards them, and she crying and ever crying, and the battle was given up on both sides, waiting for her to come; and the army of Meargach knew it was their queen, Ailne of the Bright Face, and they raised a great cry of grief; and the Fianna were looking at her, and said no word.

And she asked where was her husband, and where were her two sons. “High Queen,” said Finn then, “for all they were so complete and quick and strong, the three you are asking for fell in fight.”

And when the queen-woman heard that, she cried out aloud, and she went to the place where her husband and her two sons were lying, and she stood over their bodies, and her golden hair hanging, and she keened them there. And her own people raised a sharp lamentation listening to her, and the Fianna themselves were under grief.

And it is what she said: “O Meargach,” she said, “of the sharp green spears, it is many a fight and many a heavy battle your hard hand fought in the gathering of the armies or alone.

“I never knew any wound to be on your body after them; and it is full sure I am, it was not strength but treachery got the upper hand of you now.

“It is long your journey was from far off, from your own kind country to Inisfail, to come to Finn and the Fianna, that put my three to death through treachery.

“My grief! to have lost my husband, my head, by the treachery of the Fianna; my two sons, my two men that were rough in the fight.

“My grief! my food and my drink; my grief! my teaching everywhere; my grief! my journey from far off, and I to have lost my high heroes.

“My grief! my house thrown down; my grief! my shelter and my shield; my grief! Meargach and Ciardan; my grief! Liagan of the wide chest.

“My grief! my protection and my shelter; my grief! my strength and my power; my grief! there is darkness come from this thing; my grief to-night you to be in your weakness.

“My grief! my gladness and my pleasure; my grief! my desire in every place; my grief! my courage is gone and my strength; my grief from this night out for ever.

“My grief! my guide and my going; my grief! my desire to the day of my death; my grief! my store and my sway; my grief! my heroes that were open-handed.

“My grief! my bed and my sleep; my grief! my journey and my coming; my grief! my teacher and my share; my sorrowful grief! my three men.

“My grief! my beauty and my ornaments; my grief! my jewels and my riches; my grief! my treasures and my goods; my grief! my three Candles of Valour.

“My grief! my friends and my kindred; my grief! my people and my friends. My grief! my father and my mother; my grief and my trouble! you to be dead.

“My grief my portion and my welcome; my grief! my health at every time; my grief! my increase and my light; my sore trouble, you to be without strength.

“My grief! your spear and your sword; my grief! your gentleness and your love; my grief! your country and your home; my grief! you to be parted from my reach.

“My grief! my coasts and my harbours; my grief! my wealth and my prosperity; my grief! my greatness and my kingdom; my grief and my crying are until death.

“My grief! my luck altogether; my grief for you in time of battle; my grief! my gathering of armies; my grief! my three proud lions.

“My grief! my games and my drinking; my grief! my music and my delight; my grief! my sunny house and my women; my crying grief, you to be under defeat.

“My grief! my lands and my hunting; my grief! my three sure fighters; Och! my grief! they are my sorrow, to fall far off by the Fianna.

“I knew by the great host of the Sidhe that were fighting over the dun, giving battle to one another in the valleys of the air, that destruction would put down my three.

“I knew by the noise of the voices of the Sidhe coming into my ears, that a story of new sorrow was not far from me; it is your death it was foretelling.

“I knew at the beginning of the day when my three good men went from me, when I saw tears of blood on their cheeks, that they would not come back to me as winners.

“I knew by the voice of the battle-crow over your dun every evening, since you went from me comely and terrible, that misfortune and grief were at hand.

“It is well I remember, my three strong ones, how often I used to be telling you that if you would go to Ireland, I would not see the joy of victory on your faces.

“I knew by the voice of the raven every morning since you went from me, that your fall was sure and certain; that you would never come back to your own country.

“I knew, my three great ones, by your forgetting the thongs of your hounds, that you would not gain the day or escape from the treachery of the Fianna.

“I knew, Candles of Valour, by the stream near the dun turning to blood when you set out, that there would be treachery in Finn.

“I knew by the eagle coming every evening over the dun, that it would not be long till I would hear a story of bad news of my three.

“I knew by the withering of the tree before the dun, that you would never come back as conquerors from the treachery of Finn, son of Cumhal.”

When Grania, now, heard what the woman was saying, there was anger on her, and she said: “Do not be speaking against Finn or the Fianna, Queen, for it was not by any treachery or any deceit your three men were brought to their end.”

But Ailne made her no answer and gave no heed to her, but she went on with her complaint, and she crying and ever crying.

“I knew, looking after you the day you went out from the dun, by the flight of the raven before you, there was no good sign of your coming back again.

“I knew by Ciardan’s hounds that were howling mournfully every evening, that it would not be long till I would have bad news of you.

“I knew by my sleep that went from me, by my tears through every lasting night, that there was no luck before you.

“I knew by the sorrowful vision that showed myself in danger, my head and my hands cut off, that it was yourselves were without sway.

“I knew by the voice of Uaithnin, the hound that is dearest to Liagan, howling early every morning, that death was certain for my three.

“I knew when I saw in a vision a lake of blood in the place of the dun, that my three were put down by the deceit that was always with Finn.”

“Do not be faulting Finn,” said Grania then, “however vexed your heart may be. And leave off now,” she said, “speaking against the Fianna and against himself; for if your men had stopped in their own country,” she said, “without coming to avenge the son of Treon, there would no harm have happened them.” “I would not put any reproach on the Fianna, Grania,” said Ailne, “if my three men had been put down in fair battle, but they are not living to bear witness to me,” she said; “and it is likely they were put under Druid spells at the first, or they would never have given in.” “If they were living, Queen,” said Grania, “they would not be running down the Fianna, but they would tell you it was by bravery and the strong hand they fell.” “I do not believe you or the Fianna when you say that,” said Ailne; “for no one that came to meet them ever got the sway over them by the right of the sword.” “If you do not believe what I am saying, beautiful Ailne,” said Grania, “I tell you more of your great army will fall by the Fianna, and that not by treachery.” “That is not so,” said Ailne, “but I have good hopes that my own army will do destruction on the Fianna, for the sake of the men that are dead.” “Well, Ailne,” said Grania, “I know it is a far journey you have come. And come now and eat and drink,” she said, “with myself and with the Fianna.”

But Ailne would not do that, but she said it would not be fitting for her to take food from people that did such deeds, and what she wanted was satisfaction for the death of her husband and her two sons.

And first it was settled for two men of each side to go out against one another; and then Ailne said that there should be thirty men on each side, and then she said she would not be satisfied to go back to her own country till she brought the head of Finn with her, or till the last of his men had fallen. And there was a great battle fought in the end, and it is seldom the Fianna fought so hard a battle as that.

And it would be too long to tell, and it would tire the hearers, how many good men were killed on each side. But in the end Ailne of the Bright Face was worsted, and she went back with what were left of her men to their own country, and no one knew where they went.

And the hill in the west those battles were fought on got the name of Cnoc-an-Air, the Hill of Slaughter.

Chapter iii. Ailne’s Revenge

One day Finn and his people were hunting on Slieve Fuad, and a stag stood against them for a while and fought with his great rough horns, and then he turned and ran, and the Fianna followed after him till they came to the green hill of Liadhas, and from that to rocky Cairgin. And there they lost him again for a while, till Sceolan started him again, and he went back towards Slieve Fuad, and the Fianna after him.

But Finn and Daire of the Songs, that were together, went astray and lost the rest of their people, and they did not know was it east or west they were going.

Finn sounded the Dord Fiann then, and Daire played some sorrowful music to let their people know where they were. But when the Fianna heard the music, it seemed to be a long way off; and sometimes they thought it was in the north it was, and sometimes in the east, and then it changed to the west, the way they did not know in the wide world where was it coming from.

And as to Finn and Daire, a Druid mist came about them, and they did not know what way they were going.

And after a while they met with a young woman, comely and pleasant, and they asked who was she, and what brought her there. “Glanluadh is my name,” she said, “and my husband is Lobharan; and we were travelling over the plain together a while ago, and we heard the cry of hounds, and he left me and went after the hunt, and I do not know where is he, or what way did he go.” “Come on then with us,” said Finn, “and we will take care of you, for we ourselves do not know what way the hunt is gone, east or west.” So they went on, and before long they came to a hill, and they heard sleepy music of the Sidhe beside them. And after that there came shouts and noises, and then the music began again, and heavy sleep came on Finn and Daire. And when they awoke from their sleep they saw a very large lighted house before them, and a stormy blue sea around it. Then they saw a very big grey man coming through the waves, and he took hold of Finn and of Daire, and all their strength went from them, and he brought them across the waves and into the house, and he shut the door of the house with iron hooks. “My welcome to you, Finn of the great name,” he said then in a very harsh voice; “it is long we are waiting here for you.”

They sat down then on the hard side of a bed, and the woman of the house came to them, and they knew her to be Ailne, wife of Meargach. “It is long I am looking for you, Finn,” she said, “to get satisfaction for the treachery you did on Meargach and on my two comely young sons, and on Tailc, son of Treon, and all his people. And do you remember that, Finn?” she said. “I remember well,” said Finn, “that they fell by the swords of the Fianna, not by treachery but in fighting.” “It was by treachery they fell,” said the Grey Man then; “and it is our witness to it, pleasant Ailne to be the way she is, and many a strong army under grief on account of her.” “What is Ailne to you, man of the rough voice?” said Finn. “I am her own brother,” said the man.

With that he put bonds on the three, Finn and Daire and Glanluadh, and he put them down into some deep shut place.

They were very sorrowful then, and they stopped there to the end of five days and five nights, without food, without drink, without music.

And Ailne went to see them then, and Finn said to her: “O Ailne,” he said, “bring to mind the time you come to Cnoc-an-Air, and the way the Fianna treated you with generosity; and it is not fitting for you,” he said, “to keep us now under shame and weakness and in danger of death.” “I know well I got kind treatment from Grania,” said Ailne in a sorrowful voice; “but for all that, Finn,” she said, “if all the Fianna were in that prison along with you under hard bonds, it would please me well, and I would not pity their case. And what is it set you following after Finn,” she said then to Glanluadh, “for that is not a fitting thing for you to do, and his own kind wife living yet.”

Then Glanluadh told her the whole story, and how she was walking the plain with Lobharan her husband, and he followed the hunt, and the mist came about her that she did not know east from west, and how she met then with Finn that she never saw before that time. “If that is so,” said Ailne, “it is not right for you to be under punishment without cause.”

She called then to her brother the Grey Man, and bade him take the spells off Glanluadh. And when she was set free it is sorry she was to leave Daire in bonds, and Finn. And when she had bidden them farewell she went out with Ailne, and there was food brought to her, but a cloud of weakness came on her of a sudden, that it was a pity to see the way she was.

And when Ailne saw that, she brought out an enchanted cup of the Sidhe and gave her a drink from it. And no sooner did Glanluadh drink from the cup than her strength and her own appearance came back to her again; but for all that, she was fretting after Finn and Daire in their bonds. “It seems to me, Glanluadh, you are fretting after those two men,” said Ailne. “I am sorry indeed,” said Glanluadh, “the like of those men to be shut up without food or drink.” “If it is pleasing to you to give them food you may give it,” said Ailne, “for I will not make an end of them till I see can I get the rest of the Fianna into bonds along with them.” The two women brought food and drink then to Finn, and to Daire; and Glanluadh gave her blessing to Finn, and she cried when she saw the way he was; but as to Ailne, she had no pity at all for the King of the Fianna.

Now as to the Grey Man, he heard them talking of the Fianna, and they were saying that Daire had a great name for the sweetness of his music. “I have a mind to hear that sweet music,” said he. So he went to the place where they were, and he bade Daire to let him hear what sort of music he could make. “My music pleased the Fianna well,” said Daire; “but I think it likely it would not please you.” “Play it for me now, till I know if the report I heard of you is true,” said the Grey Man. “Indeed, I have no mind for music,” said Daire, “being weak and downhearted the way I am, through your spells that put down my courage.” “I will take my spells off you for so long as you play for me,” said the Grey Man. “I could never make music seeing Finn in bonds the way he is,” said Daire; “for it is worse to me, he to be under trouble than myself.” “I will take the power of my spells off Finn till you play for me,” said the Grey Man.

He weakened the spells then, and gave them food and drink, and it pleased him greatly the way Daire played the music, and he called to Glanluadh and to Ailne to come and to listen to the sweetness of it. And they were well pleased with it, and it is glad Glanluadh was, seeing them not so discouraged as they were.

Now as to the Fianna, they were searching for Finn and for Daire in every place they had ever stopped in. And when they came to this place they could hear Daire’s sweet music; and at first they were glad when they heard it, and then when they knew the way he himself and Finn were, they made an attack on Ailne’s dun to release them.

But the Grey Man heard their shouts, and he put the full power of his spells again on Finn and on Daire. And the Fianna heard the music as if stammering, and then they heard a great noise like the loud roaring of waves, and when they heard that, there was not one of them but fell into a sleep and clouds of death, under those sorrowful spells.

And then the Grey Man and Ailne came out quietly from where they were, and they brought the whole of the men of the Fianna that were there into the dun. And they put hard bonds on them, and put them where Finn and Daire were. And there was great grief on Finn and Daire when they saw them, and they were all left there together for a while.

Then Glanluadh said to the Grey Man: “If Daire’s music is pleasing to you, let him play it to us now.” “If you have a mind for music,” said the Grey Man, “Daire must play it for us, and for Finn and his army as well.”

They went then to where they were, and bade Daire to play. “I could never play sweet music,” said Daire, “the time the Fianna are in any trouble; for when they are in trouble, I myself am in trouble, and I could not sound any sweet string,” he said, “while there is trouble on any man of them.” The Grey Man weakened the spells then on them all, and Daire played first the strings of sweetness, and of the noise of shouting, and then he sang his own grief and the grief of all the Fianna. And at that the Grey Man said it would not be long before he would put the whole of the Fianna to death; and then Daire played a tune of heavy shouts of lamentation. And then at Finn’s bidding he played the music of sweet strings for the Fianna.

They were kept, now, a long time in that prison, and they got very hard treatment; and sometimes Ailne’s brother would come in and strike the heads off some of them, for none of them could rise up from the seats they were sitting on through his enchantments. But one time he was going to strike the bald head off Conan, and Conan made a great leap from the seat; but if he did, he left strips of his skin hanging to it, that his back was left bare. And then he came round the Grey Man with his pitiful words: “Stop your hand now,” he said, “for that is enough for this time; and do not send me to my death yet awhile, and heal me of my wounds first,” he said, “before you make an end of me.” And the reason he said that was because he knew Ailne to have an enchanted cup in the dun, that had cured Glanluadh.

And the Grey Man took pity on his case, and he brought him out and bade Ailne to bring the cup to him and to cure his wounds. “I will not bring it,” said Ailne, “for it would be best give no time at all to him or to the Fianna, but to make an end of them.” “It is not to be saved from death I am asking, bright-faced Ailne,” said Conan, “but only not to go to my death stripped bare the way I am.” When Ailne heard that, she brought a sheepskin and she put it on Conan’s back, and it fitted and grew to him, and covered his wounds. “I will not put you to death, Conan,” said the Grey Man then, “but you can stop with myself to the end of your life.” “You will never be without grief and danger and the fear of treachery if you keep him with you,” said Ailne; “for there is treachery in his heart the same as there is in the rest of them.” “There is no fear of that,” said her brother, “or I will make no delay until I put the whole of the Fianna to death.” And with that he brought Conan to where the enchanted cup was, and he put it in his hand. And just at that moment they heard Daire playing very sweet sorrowful music, and the Grey Man went to listen to it, very quick and proud. And Conan followed him there, and after a while the Grey Man asked him what did he do with the enchanted cup. “I left it where I found it, full of power,” said Conan.

The Grey Man hurried back then to the place where the treasures of the dun were. But no sooner was he gone than Conan took out the cup that he had hidden, and he gave a drink from it to Finn and to Osgar and to the rest of the Fianna. And they that were withered and shaking, without strength, without courage, got back their own appearance and their strength again on the moment.

And when the Grey Man came back from looking for the cup, and saw what had happened, he took his sword and made a stroke at Conan. But Conan called to Osgar to defend him, and Osgar attacked the Grey Man, and it was not long till he made him acquainted with death.

And when Ailne saw that, with the grief and the dread that came on her, she fell dead then and there.

Then all the Fianna made a feast with what they found of food and of drink, and they were very joyful and merry. But when they rose up in the morning, there was no trace or tidings of the dun, but it was on the bare grass they were lying.

But as to Conan, the sheepskin never left him; and the wool used to grow on it every year, the same as it would on any other skin.


Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:54