Irish Fairy Tales
Part 3 out of 5
are surrounded by the walls of their houses, and can see about
them the possessions which, by the fact of ownership, have become
almost a part of their personality. Sundered from her belongings,
no woman is tranquil, her heart is not truly at ease, however her
mind may function, so that under the broad sky or in the house of
another she is not the competent, precise individual which she
becomes when she sees again her household in order and her
domestic requirements at her hand.
Becfola pushed the door of the king's sleeping chamber and
entered noiselessly. Then she sat quietly in a seat gazing on the
recumbent monarch, and prepared to consider how she should
advance to him when he awakened, and with what information she
might stay his inquiries or reproaches.
"I will reproach him," she thought. "I will call him a bad
husband and astonish him, and he will forget everything but his
own alarm and indignation."
But at that moment the king lifted his head from the pillow and
looked kindly at her. Her heart gave a great throb, and she
prepared to speak at once and in great volume before he could
formulate any question. But the king spoke first, and what he
said so astonished her that the explanation and reproach with
which her tongue was thrilling fled from it at a stroke, and she
could only sit staring and bewildered and tongue-tied.
"Well, my dear heart," said the king, "have you decided not to
keep that engagement?"
"I--I-- !" Becfola stammered.
"It is truly not an hour for engagements," Dermod insisted, "for
not a bird of the birds has left his tree; and," he continued
maliciously, "the light is such that you could not see an
engagement even if you met one."
"I," Becfola gasped. "I---!"
"A Sunday journey," he went on, "is a notorious bad journey. No
good can come from it. You can get your smocks and diadems
to-morrow. But at this hour a wise person leaves engagements to
the bats and the staring owls and the round-eyed creatures that
prowl and sniff in the dark. Come back to the warm bed, sweet
woman, and set on your journey in the morning."
Such a load of apprehension was lifted from Becfola's heart that
she instantly did as she had been commanded, and such a
bewilderment had yet possession of her faculties that she could
not think or utter a word on any subject.
Yet the thought did come into her head as she stretched in the
warm gloom that Crimthann the son of Ae must be now attending her
at Cluain da chaillech, and she thought of that young man as of
something wonderful and very ridiculous, and the fact that he was
waiting for her troubled her no more than if a sheep had been
waiting for her or a roadside bush.
She fell asleep.
In the morning as they sat at breakfast four clerics were
announced, and when they entered the king looked on them with
"What is the meaning of this journey on Sunday?" he demanded.
A lank-jawed, thin-browed brother, with uneasy, intertwining
fingers, and a deep-set, venomous eye, was the spokesman of those
"Indeed," he said, and the fingers of his right hand strangled
and did to death the fingers of his left hand, "indeed, we have
transgressed by order."
"We have been sent to you hurriedly by our master, Molasius of
"A pious, a saintly man," the king interrupted, "and one who does
not countenance transgressions of the Sunday."
"We were ordered to tell you as follows," said the grim cleric,
and he buried the fingers of his right hand in his left fist, so
that one could not hope to see them resurrected again. "It was
the duty of one of the Brothers of Devenish," he continued, "to
turn out the cattle this morning before the dawn of day, and that
Brother, while in his duty, saw eight comely young men who fought
"On the morning of Sunday," Dermod exploded.
The cleric nodded with savage emphasis.
"On the morning of this self-same and instant sacred day."
"Tell on," said the king wrathfully.
But terror gripped with sudden fingers at Becfola's heart.
"Do not tell horrid stories on the Sunday," she pleaded. "No good
can come to any one from such a tale."
"Nay, this must be told, sweet lady," said the king. But the
cleric stared at her glumly, forbiddingly, and resumed his story
at a gesture.
"Of these eight men, seven were killed."
"They are in hell," the king said gloomily.
"In hell they are," the cleric replied with enthusiasm.
"And the one that was not killed?"
"He is alive," that cleric responded.
"He would be," the monarch assented. "Tell your tale."
"Molasius had those seven miscreants buried, and he took from
their unhallowed necks and from their lewd arms and from their
unblessed weapons the load of two men in gold and silver
"Two men's load!" said Dermod thoughtfully.
"That much," said the lean cleric. "No more, no less. And he has
sent us to find out what part of that hellish treasure belongs to
the Brothers of Devenish and how much is the property of the
Becfola again broke in, speaking graciously, regally, hastily:
"Let those Brothers have the entire of the treasure, for it is
Sunday treasure, and as such it will bring no luck to any one."
The cleric again looked at her coldly, with a harsh-lidded,
small-set, grey-eyed glare, and waited for the king's reply.
Dermod pondered, shaking his head as to an argument on his left
side, and then nodding it again as to an argument on his right.
"It shall be done as this sweet queen advises. Let a reliquary be
formed with cunning workmanship of that gold and silver, dated
with my date and signed with my name, to be in memory of my
grandmother who gave birth to a lamb, to a salmon, and then to my
father, the Ard-Ri'. And, as to the treasure that remains over, a
pastoral staff may be beaten from it in honour of Molasius, the
"The story is not ended," said that glum, spike-chinned cleric.
The king moved with jovial impatience.
"If you continue it," he said, "it will surely come to an end
some time. A stone on a stone makes a house, dear heart, and a
word on a word tells a tale."
The cleric wrapped himself into himself, and became lean and
menacing. He whispered: "Besides the young man, named Flann, who
was not slain, there was another person present at the scene and
the combat and the transgression of Sunday."
"Who was that person?" said the alarmed monarch.
The cleric spiked forward his chin, and then butted forward his
"It was the wife of the king," he shouted. "It was the woman
called Becfola. It was that woman," he roared, and he extended a
lean, inflexible, unending first finger at the queen.
"Dog!" the king stammered, starting up.
"If that be in truth a woman," the cleric screamed.
"What do you mean?" the king demanded in wrath and terror.
"Either she is a woman of this world to he punished, or she is a
woman of the Shi' to be banished, but this holy morning she was
in the Shi', and her arms were about the neck of Flann."
The king sank back in his chair stupefied, gazing from one to the
other, and then turned an unseeing, fear-dimmed eye towards
"Is this true, my pulse?" he murmured.
"It is true," Becfola replied, and she became suddenly to the
king's eye a whiteness and a stare. He pointed to the door.
"Go to your engagement," he stammered. "Go to that Flann."
"He is waiting for me," said Becfola with proud shame, "and the
thought that he should wait wrings my heart."
She went out from the palace then. She went away from Tara: and
in all Ireland and in the world of living men she was not seen
again, and she was never heard of again.
THE LITTLE BRAWL AT ALLEN
"I think," said Cairell Whiteskin, "that although judgement was
given against Fionn, it was Fionn had the rights of it."
"He had eleven hundred killed," said Cona'n amiably, "and you may
call that the rights of it if you like."
"All the same-- " Cairell began argumentatively.
"And it was you that commenced it," Cona'n continued.
"Ho! Ho!" Cairell cried. "Why, you are as much to blame as I am."
"No," said Cona'n, "for you hit me first."
"And if we had not been separated-- "the other growled.
"Separated!" said Cona'n, with a grin that made his beard poke
all around his face.
"Yes, separated. If they had not come between us I still
"Don't think out loud, dear heart, for you and I are at peace by
"That is true," said Cairell, "and a man must stick by a
judgement. Come with me, my dear, and let us see how the
youngsters are shaping in the school. One of them has rather a
way with him as a swordsman."
"No youngster is any good with a sword," Conan replied.
"You are right there," said Cairell. "It takes a good ripe man
for that weapon."
"Boys are good enough with slings," Confro continued, "but except
for eating their fill and running away from a fight, you can't
count on boys."
The two bulky men turned towards the school of the Fianna.
It happened that Fionn mac Uail had summoned the gentlemen of the
Fianna and their wives to a banquet. Everybody came, for a
banquet given by Fionn was not a thing to be missed. There was
Goll mor mac Morna and his people; Fionn's son Oisi'n and his
grandson Oscar. There was Dermod of the Gay Face, Caelte mac
Ronan--but indeed there were too many to be told of, for all the
pillars of war and battle-torches of the Gael were there.
The banquet began.
Fionn sat in the Chief Captain's seat in the middle of the fort;
and facing him, in the place of honour, he placed the mirthful
Goll mac Morna; and from these, ranging on either side, the
nobles of the Fianna took each the place that fitted his degree
After good eating, good conversation; and after good
conversation, sleep--that is the order of a banquet: so when each
person had been served with food to the limit of desire the
butlers carried in shining, and jewelled drinking-horns, each
having its tide of smooth, heady liquor. Then the young heroes
grew merry and audacious, the ladies became gentle and kind, and
the poets became wonders of knowledge and prophecy. Every eye
beamed in that assembly, and on Fionn every eye was turned
continually in the hope of a glance from the great, mild hero.
Goll spoke to him across the table enthusiastically.
"There is nothing wanting to this banquet, O Chief," said he.
And Fionn smiled back into that eye which seemed a well of
tenderness and friendship.
"Nothing is wanting," he replied, "but a well-shaped poem." A
crier stood up then, holding in one hand a length of coarse iron
links and in the other a chain of delicate, antique silver. He
shook the iron chain so that the servants and followers of the
household should be silent, and he shook the silver one so that
the nobles and poets should hearken also.
Fergus, called True-Lips, the poet of the Fianna-Finn, then sang
of Fionn and his ancestors and their deeds. When he had finished
Fionn and Oisi'n and Oscar and mac Lugac of the Terrible Hand
gave him rare and costly presents, so that every person wondered
at their munificence, and even the poet, accustomed to the
liberality of kings and princes, was astonished at his gifts.
Fergus then turned to the side of Goll mac Morna, and he sang of
the Forts, the Destructions, the Raids, and the Wooings of
clann-Morna; and as the poems succeeded each other, Goll grew
more and more jovial and contented. When the songs were finished
Goll turned in his seat.
"Where is my runner?" he cried.
He had a woman runner, a marvel for swiftness and trust. She
"I am here, royal captain."
"Have you collected my tribute from Denmark?"
"It is here."
And, with help, she laid beside him the load of three men of
doubly refined gold. Out of this treasure, and from the treasure
of rings and bracelets and torques that were with him, Goll mac
Morna paid Fergus for his songs, and, much as Fionn had given,
Goll gave twice as much.
But, as the banquet proceeded, Goll gave, whether it was to
harpers or prophets or jugglers, more than any one else gave, so
that Fionn became displeased, and as the banquet proceeded he
grew stern and silent.
[This version of the death of Uail is not correct. Also Cnocha is
not in Lochlann but in Ireland.]
The wonderful gift-giving of Goll continued, and an uneasiness
and embarrassment began to creep through the great banqueting
Gentlemen looked at each other questioningly, and then spoke
again on indifferent matters, but only with half of their minds.
The singers, the harpers, and jugglers submitted to that
constraint, so that every person felt awkward and no one knew
what should be done or what would happen, and from that doubt
dulness came, with silence following on its heels.
There is nothing more terrible than silence. Shame grows in that
blank, or anger gathers there, and we must choose which of these
is to be our master.
That choice lay before Fionn, who never knew shame.
"Goll," said he, "how long have you been taking tribute from the
people of Lochlann?"
"A long time now," said Goll.
And he looked into an eye that was stern and unfriendly.
"I thought that my rent was the only one those people had to
pay," Fionn continued.
"Your memory is at fault," said Goll.
"Let it be so," said Fionn. "How did your tribute arise?"
"Long ago, Fionn, in the days when your father forced war on me."
"Ah!" said Fionn.
"When he raised the High King against me and banished me from
"Continue," said Fionn, and he held Goll's eye under the great
beetle of his brow.
"I went into Britain," said Goll, "and your father followed me
there. I went into White Lochlann (Norway) and took it. Your
father banished me thence also."
"I know it," said Fionn.
"I went into the land of the Saxons and your father chased me out
of that land. And then, in Lochlann, at the battle of Cnocha your
father and I met at last, foot to foot, eye to eye, and there,
"And there, Goll?"
"And there I killed your father."
Fionn sat rigid and unmoving, his face stony and terrible as the
face of a monument carved on the side of a cliff.
"Tell all your tale," said he.
"At that battle I beat the Lochlannachs. I penetrated to the hold
of the Danish king, and I took out of his dungeon the men who had
lain there for a year and were awaiting their deaths. I liberated
fifteen prisoners, and one of them was Fionn."
"It is true," said Fionn.
Goll's anger fled at the word.
"Do not be jealous of me, dear heart, for if I had twice the
tribute I would give it to you and to Ireland."
But at the word jealous the Chief's anger revived.
"It is an impertinence," he cried, "to boast at this table that
you killed my father."
"By my hand," Goll replied, "if Fionn were to treat me as his
father did I would treat Fionn the way I treated Fionn's father."
Fionn closed his eyes and beat away the anger that was rising
within him. He smiled grimly.
"If I were so minded, I would not let that last word go with you,
Goll, for I have here an hundred men for every man of yours."
Goll laughed aloud.
"So had your father," he said.
Fionn's brother, Cairell Whiteskin, broke into the conversation
with a harsh laugh.
"How many of Fionn's household has the wonderful Goll put down?"
But Goll's brother, bald Cona'n the Swearer, turned a savage eye
"By my weapons," said he, "there were never less than an
hundred-and-one men with Goll, and the least of them could have
put you down easily enough."
"Ah?' cried Cairell. "And are you one of the hundred-and-one, old
"One indeed, my thick-witted, thin-livered Cairell, and I
undertake to prove on your hide that what my brother said was
true and that what your brother said was false."
"You undertake that," growled Cairell, and on the word he loosed
a furious buffet at Con'an, which Cona'n returned with a fist so
big that every part of Cairell's face was hit with the one blow.
The two then fell into grips, and went lurching and punching
about the great hall. Two of Oscar's sons could not bear to see
their uncle being worsted, and they leaped at Cona'n, and two of
Goll's sons rushed at them. Then Oscar himself leaped up, and
with a hammer in either hand he went battering into the melee.
"I thank the gods," said Cona'n, "for the chance of killing
These two encountered then, and Oscar knocked a groan of distress
out of Cona'n. He looked appealingly at his brother Art og mac
Morna, and that powerful champion flew to his aid and wounded
Oscar. Oisi'n, Oscar's father, could not abide that; he dashed in
and quelled Art Og. Then Rough Hair mac Morna wounded Oisin and
was himself tumbled by mac Lugac, who was again wounded by Gara
The banqueting hall was in tumult. In every part of it men were
giving and taking blows. Here two champions with their arms round
each other's necks were stamping round and round in a slow, sad
dance. Here were two crouching against each other, looking for a
soft place to hit. Yonder a big-shouldered person lifted another
man in his arms and threw him at a small group that charged him.
In a retired corner a gentleman stood in a thoughtful attitude
while he tried to pull out a tooth that had been knocked loose.
"You can't fight," he mumbled, "with a loose shoe or a loose
"Hurry up with that tooth," the man in front of him grum-bled,
"for I want to knock out another one."
Pressed against the wall was a bevy of ladies, some of whom were
screaming and some laughing and all of whom were calling on the
men to go back to their seats.
Only two people remained seated in the hall.
Goll sat twisted round watching the progress of the brawl
critically, and Fionn, sitting opposite, watched Goll.
Just then Faelan, another of Fionn's sons, stormed the hall with
three hundred of the Fianna, and by this force all Goll's people
were put out of doors, where the fight continued.
Goll looked then calmly on Fionn.
"Your people are using their weapons," said he.
"Are they?" Fionn inquired as calmly, and as though addressing
"In the matter of weapons--!" said Goll.
And the hard-fighting pillar of battle turned to where his arms
hung on the wall behind him. He took his solid, well-balanced
sword in his fist, over his left arm his ample, bossy shield,
and, with another side-look at Fionn, he left the hall and
charged irresistibly into the fray.
Fionn then arose. He took his accoutrements from the wall also
and strode out. Then he raised the triumphant Fenian shout and
went into the combat.
That was no place for a sick person to be. It was not the corner
which a slender-fingered woman would choose to do up her hair;
nor was it the spot an ancient man would select to think quietly
in, for the tumult of sword on sword, of axe on shield, the roar
of the contending parties, the crying of wounded men, and the
screaming of frightened women destroyed peace, and over all was
the rallying cry of Goll mac Morna and the great shout of Fionn.
Then Fergus True-Lips gathered about him all the poets of the
Fianna, and they surrounded the combatants. They began to chant
and intone long, heavy rhymes and incantations, until the
rhythmic beating of their voices covered even the noise of war,
so that the men stopped hacking and hewing, and let their weapons
drop from their hands. These were picked up by the poets and a
reconciliation was effected between the two parties.
But Fionn affirmed that he would make no peace with clann-Morna
until the matter had been judged by the king, Cormac mac Art, and
by his daughter Ailve, and by his son Cairbre of Ana Life' and by
Fintan the chief poet. Goll agreed that the affair should be
submitted to that court, and a day was appointed, a fortnight
from that date, to meet at Tara of the Kings for judgement. Then
the hall was cleansed and the banquet recommenced.
Of Fionn's people eleven hundred of men and women were dead,
while of Goll's people eleven men and fifty women were dead. But
it was through fright the women died, for not one of them had a
wound or a bruise or a mark.
AT the end of a fortnight Fionn and Goll and the chief men of the
Fianna attended at Tara. The king, his son and daughter, with
Flahri, Feehal, and Fintan mac Bocna sat in the place of
judgement, and Cormac called on the witnesses for evidence.
Fionn stood up, but the moment he did so Goll mac Morna arose
"I object to Fionn giving evidence," said he.
"Why so?" the king asked.
"Because in any matter that concerned me Fionn would turn a lie
into truth and the truth into a lie."
"I do not think that is so," said Fionn.
"You see, he has already commenced it," cried Goll.
"If you object to the testimony of the chief person present, in
what way are we to obtain evidence?" the king demanded.
"I," said Goll, "will trust to the evidence of Fergus True-Lips.
He is Fionn's poet, and will tell no lie against his master; he
is a poet, and will tell no lie against any one."
"I agree to that," said Fionn.
"I require, nevertheless," Goll continued, "that Fergus should
swear before the Court, by his gods, that he will do justice
Fergus was accordingly sworn, and gave his evidence. He stated
that Fionn's brother Cairell struck Cona'n mac Morna, that Goll's
two sons came to help Cona'n, that Oscar went to help Cairell,
and with that Fionn's people and the clann-Morna rose at each
other, and what had started as a brawl ended as a battle with
eleven hundred of Fionn's people and sixty-one of Goll's people
"I marvel," said the king in a discontented voice, "that,
considering the numbers against them, the losses of clann-Morna
should be so small."
Fionn blushed when he heard that.
"Goll mac Morna covered his people with his shield. All that
slaughter was done by him."
"The press was too great," Fionn grumbled. "I could not get at
him in time or---"
"Or what?" said Goll with a great laugh.
Fionn shook his head sternly and said no more.
"What is your judgement?" Cormac demanded of his fellow-judges.
Flahri pronounced first.
"I give damages to clann-Morna."
"Why?" said Cormac.
"Because they were attacked first."
Cormac looked at him stubbornly.
"I do not agree with your judgement," he said.
"What is there faulty in it?" Flahri asked.
"You have not considered," the king replied, "that a soldier owes
obedience to his captain, and that, given the time and the place,
Fionn was the captain and Goll was only a simple soldier."
Flahri considered the king's suggestion.
"That," he said, "would hold good for the white-striking or blows
of fists, but not for the red-striking or sword-strokes."
"What is your judgement?" the king asked Feehal. Feehal then
"I hold that clann-Morna were attacked first, and that they are
to be free from payment of damages."
"And as regards Fionn?" said Cormac.
"I hold that on account of his great losses Fionn is to be exempt
from payment of damages, and that his losses are to be considered
"I agree in that judgement," said Fintan.
The king and his son also agreed, and the decision was imparted
to the Fianna.
"One must abide by a judgement," said Fionn.
"Do you abide by it?" Goll demanded.
"I do," said Fionn.
Goll and Fionn then kissed each other, and thus peace was made.
For, notwithstanding the endless bicker of these two heroes, they
loved each other well.
Yet, now that the years have gone by, I think the fault lay with
Goll and not with Fionn, and that the judgement given did not
consider everything. For at that table Goll should not have given
greater gifts than his master and host did. And it was not right
of Goll to take by force the position of greatest gift-giver of
the Fianna, for there was never in the world one greater at
giving gifts, or giving battle, or making poems than Fionn was.
That side of the affair was not brought before the Court. But
perhaps it was suppressed out of delicacy for Fionn, for if Goll
could be accused of ostentation, Fionn was open to the uglier
charge of jealousy. It was, nevertheless, Goll's forward and
impish temper which commenced the brawl, and the verdict of time
must be to exonerate Fionn and to let the blame go where it is
There is, however, this to be added and remembered, that whenever
Fionn was in a tight corner it was Goll that plucked him out of
it; and, later on, when time did his worst on them all and the
Fianna were sent to hell as unbelievers, it was Goll mac Morna
who assaulted hell, with a chain in his great fist and three iron
balls swinging from it, and it was he who attacked the hosts of
great devils and brought Fionn and the Fianna-Finn out with him.
THE CARL OF THE DRAB COAT
One day something happened to Fionn, the son of Uail; that is, he
departed from the world of men, and was set wandering in great
distress of mind through Faery. He had days and nights there and
adventures there, and was able to bring back the memory of these.
That, by itself, is wonderful, for there are few people who
remember that they have been to Faery or aught of all that
happened to them in that state.
In truth we do not go to Faery, we become Faery, and in the
beating of a pulse we may live for a year or a thousand years.
But when we return the memory is quickly clouded, and we seem to
have had a dream or seen a vision, although we have verily been
It was wonderful, then, that Fionn should have remembered all
that happened to him in that wide-spun moment, but in this tale
there is yet more to marvel at; for not only did Fionn go to
Faery, but the great army which he had marshalled to Ben Edair
[The Hill of Howth] were translated also, and neither he nor they
were aware that they had departed from the world until they came
back to it.
Fourteen battles, seven of the reserve and seven of the regular
Fianna, had been taken by the Chief on a great march and
manoeuvre. When they reached Ben Edair it was decided to pitch
camp so that the troops might rest in view of the warlike plan
which Fionn had imagined for the morrow. The camp was chosen, and
each squadron and company of the host were lodged into an
appropriate place, so there was no overcrowding and no halt or
interruption of the march; for where a company halted that was
its place of rest, and in that place it hindered no other
company, and was at its own ease.
When this was accomplished the leaders of battalions gathered on
a level, grassy plateau overlooking the sea, where a consultation
began as to the next day's manoeuvres, and during this discussion
they looked often on the wide water that lay wrinkling and
twinkling below them.
A roomy ship under great press of sall was bearing on Ben Edair
from the east.
Now and again, in a lull of the discussion, a champion would look
and remark on the hurrying vessel; and it may have been during
one of these moments that the adventure happened to Fionn and the
"I wonder where that ship comes from?" said Cona'n idly.
But no person could surmise anything about it beyond that it was
a vessel well equipped for war.
As the ship drew by the shore the watchers observed a tall man
swing from the side by means of his spear shafts, and in a little
while this gentleman was announced to Fionn, and was brought into
A sturdy, bellicose, forthright personage he was indeed. He was
equipped in a wonderful solidity of armour, with a hard, carven
helmet on his head, a splendid red-bossed shield swinging on his
shoulder, a wide-grooved, straight sword clashing along his
thigh. On his shoulders under the shield he carried a splendid
scarlet mantle; over his breast was a great brooch of burnt gold,
and in his fist he gripped a pair of thick-shafted, unburnished
Fionn and the champions looked on this gentleman, and they
admired exceedingly his bearing and equipment.
"Of what blood are you, young gentleman?" Fionn demanded, "and
from which of the four corners of the world do you come?"
"My name is Cael of the Iron," the stranger answered, "and I am
son to the King of Thessaly."
"What errand has brought you here?"
"I do not go on errands," the man replied sternly, "but on the
affairs that please me."
"Be it so. What is the pleasing affair which brings you to this
"Since I left my own country I have not gone from a land or an
island until it paid tribute to me and acknowledged my lordship."
"And you have come to this realm "cried Fionn, doubting his ears.
"For tribute and sovereignty," growled that other, and he struck
the haft of his spear violently on the ground.
"By my hand," said Cona'n, "we have never heard of a warrior,
however great, but his peer was found in Ireland, and the funeral
songs of all such have been chanted by the women of this land."
"By my hand and word," said the harsh stranger, "your talk makes
me think of a small boy or of an idiot."
"Take heed, sir," said Fionn, "for the champions and great
dragons of the Gael are standing by you, and around us there are
fourteen battles of the Fianna of Ireland."
"If all the Fianna who have died in the last seven years were
added to all that are now here," the stranger asserted, "I would
treat all of these and those grievously, and would curtail their
limbs and their lives."
"It is no small boast," Cona'n murmured, staring at him.
"It is no boast at all," said Cael, "and, to show my quality and
standing, I will propose a deed to you."
"Give out your deed," Fionn commanded.
"Thus," said Cael with cold savagery. "If you can find a man
among your fourteen battalions who can outrun or outwrestle or
outfight me, I will take myself off to my own country, and will
trouble you no more."
And so harshly did he speak, and with such a belligerent eye did
he stare, that dismay began to seize on the champions, and even
Fionn felt that his breath had halted.
"It is spoken like a hero," he admitted after a moment, "and if
you cannot be matched on those terms it will not be from a dearth
"In running alone," Fionn continued thoughtfully, "we have a
notable champion, Caelte mac Rona'n."
"This son of Rona'n will not long be notable," the stranger
"He can outstrip the red deer," said Cona'n.
"He can outrun the wind," cried Fionn.
"He will not be asked to outrun the red deer or the wind," the
stranger sneered. "He will be asked to outrun me," he thundered.
"Produce this runner, and we shall discover if he keeps as great
heart in his feet as he has made you think."
"He is not with us," Cona'n lamented.
"These notable warriors are never with us when the call is made,"
said the grim stranger.
"By my hand," cried Fionn, "he shall be here in no great time,
for I will fetch him myself."
"Be it so," said Cael. "And during my absence," Fionn continued,
"I leave this as a compact, that you make friends with the Fianna
here present, and that you observe all the conditions and
ceremonies of friendship."
Cael agreed to that.
"I will not hurt any of these people until you return," he said.
Fionn then set out towards Tara of the Kings, for he thought
Caelte mac Romin would surely be there; "and if he is not there,"
said the champion to himself, "then I shall find him at Cesh
Corran of the Fianna."
He had not gone a great distance from Ben Edair when he came to
an intricate, gloomy wood, where the trees grew so thickly and
the undergrowth was such a sprout and tangle that one could
scarcely pass through it. He remembered that a path had once been
hacked through the wood, and he sought for this. It was a deeply
scooped, hollow way, and it ran or wriggled through the entire
length of the wood.
Into this gloomy drain Fionn descended and made progress, but
when he had penetrated deeply in the dank forest he heard a sound
of thumping and squelching footsteps, and he saw coming towards
him a horrible, evil-visaged being; a wild, monstrous,
yellow-skinned, big-boned giant, dressed in nothing but an
ill-made, mud-plastered, drab-coloured coat, which swaggled and
clapped against the calves of his big bare legs. On his stamping
feet there were great brogues of boots that were shaped like, but
were bigger than, a boat, and each time he put a foot down it
squashed and squirted a barrelful of mud from the sunk road.
Fionn had never seen the like of this vast person, and he stood
gazing on him, lost in a stare of astonishment.
The great man saluted him.
"All alone, Fionn?' he cried. "How does it happen that not one
Fenian of the Fianna is at the side of his captain?" At this
inquiry Fionn got back his wits.
"That is too long a story and it is too intricate and pressing to
be told, also I have no time to spare now."
"Yet tell it now," the monstrous man insisted.
Fionn, thus pressed, told of the coming of Cael of the Iron, of
the challenge the latter had issued, and that he, Fionn, was off
to Tara of the Kings to find Caelte mac Rona'n.
"I know that foreigner well," the big man commented.
"Is he the champion he makes himself out to be?" Fionn inquired.
"He can do twice as much as he said he would do," the monster
"He won't outrun Caelte mac Rona'n," Fionn asserted. The big man
"Say that he won't outrun a hedgehog, dear heart. This Cael will
end the course by the time your Caelte begins to think of
"Then," said Fionn, "I no longer know where to turn, or how to
protect the honour of Ireland."
"I know how to do these things," the other man commented with a
slow nod of the head.
"If you do," Fionn pleaded, "tell it to me upon your honour."
"I will do that," the man replied.
"Do not look any further for the rusty-kneed, slow-trotting son
of Rona'n," he continued, "but ask me to run your race, and, by
this hand, I will be first at the post."
At this the Chief began to laugh.
"My good friend, you have work enough to carry the two tons of
mud that are plastered on each of your coat-tails, to say nothing
of your weighty boots."
"By my hand," the man cried, "there is no person in Ireland but
myself can win that race. I claim a chance."
Fionn agreed then. "Be it so," said he. "And now, tell me your
"I am known as the Carl of the Drab Coat."
"All names are names," Fionn responded, "and that also is a
They returned then to Ben Edair.
When they came among the host the men of Ireland gathered about
the vast stranger; and there were some who hid their faces in
their mantles so that they should not be seen to laugh, and there
were some who rolled along the ground in merriment, and there
were others who could only hold their mouths open and crook their
knees and hang their arms and stare dumbfoundedly upon the
stranger, as though they were utterly dazed.
Cael of the Iron came also on the scene, and he examined the
stranger with close and particular attention.
"What in the name of the devil is this thing?" he asked of Fionn.
"Dear heart," said Fionn, "this is the champion I am putting
against you in the race."
Cael of the Iron grew purple in the face, and he almost swallowed
his tongue through wrath.
"Until the end of eternity," he roared, "and until the very last
moment of doom I will not move one foot in a race with this
greasy, big-hoofed, ill-assembled resemblance of a beggarman."
But at this the Carl burst into a roar of laughter, so that the
eardrums of the warriors present almost burst inside of their
"Be reassured, my darling, I am no beggarman, and my quality is
not more gross than is the blood of the most delicate prince in
this assembly. You will not evade your challenge in that way, my
love, and you shall run with me or you shall run to your ship
with me behind you. What length of course do you propose, dear
"I never run less than sixty miles," Cael replied sullenly.
"It is a small run," said the Carl, "but it will do. From this
place to the Hill of the Rushes, Slieve Luachra of Munster, is
exactly sixty miles. Will that suit you?"
"I don't care how it is done," Cael answered.
"Then," said the Carl, "we may go off to Slieve Luachra now, and
in the morning we can start our race there to here."
"Let it be done that way," said Cael.
These two set out then for Munster, and as the sun was setting
they reached Slieve Luachra and prepared to spend the night
"Cael, my pulse," said the Carl, "we had better build a house or
a hut to pass the night in."
"I'Il build nothing," Cael replied, looking on the Carl with
"I won't build house or hut for the sake of passing one night
here, for I hope never to see this place again."
"I'Il build a house myself," said the Carl, "and the man who does
not help in the building can stay outside of the house."
The Carl stumped to a near-by wood, and he never rested until he
had felled and tied together twenty-four couples of big timber.
He thrust these under one arm and under the other he tucked a
bundle of rushes for his bed, and with that one load he rushed up
a house, well thatched and snug, and with the timber that
remained over he made a bonfire on the floor of the house.
His companion sat at a distance regarding the work with rage and
"Now Cael, my darling," said the Carl, "if you are a man help me
to look for something to eat, for there is game here."
"Help yourself," roared Cael, "for all that I want is not to be
"The tooth that does not help gets no helping," the other
In a short time the Carl returned with a wild boar which he had
run down. He cooked the beast over his bonfire and ate one half
of it, leaving the other half for his breakfast. Then be lay down
on the rushes, and in two turns he fell asleep.
But Cael lay out on the side of the hill, and if he went to sleep
that night he slept fasting. It was he, however, who awakened the
Carl in the morning.
"Get up, beggarman, if you are going to run against me."
The Carl rubbed his eyes.
"I never get up until I have had my fill of sleep, and there is
another hour of it due to me. But if you are in a hurry, my
delight, you can start running now with a blessing. I will trot
on your track when I waken up."
Cael began to race then, and he was glad of the start, for his
antagonist made so little account of him that he did not know
what to expect when the Carl would begin to run.
"Yet," said Cael to himself, "with an hour's start the beggarman
will have to move his bones if he wants to catch on me," and he
settled down to a good, pelting race.
At the end of an hour the Carl awoke. He ate the second half of
the boar, and he tied the unpicked bones in the tail of his coat.
Then with a great rattling of the boar's bones he started.
It is hard to tell how he ran or at what speed he ran, but he
went forward in great two-legged jumps, and at times he moved in
immense one-legged, mud-spattering hops, and at times again, with
wide-stretched, far-flung, terrible-tramping, space-destroying
legs he ran.
He left the swallows behind as if they were asleep. He caught up
on a red deer, jumped over it, and left it standing. The wind was
always behind him, for he outran it every time; and he caught up
in jumps and bounces on Cael of the Iron, although Cael was
running well, with his fists up and his head back and his two
legs flying in and out so vigorously that you could not see them
because of that speedy movement.
Trotting by the side of Cael, the Carl thrust a hand into the
tail of his coat and pulled out a fistfull of red bones.
"Here, my heart, is a meaty bone," said he, "for you fasted all
night, poor friend, and if you pick a bit off the bone your
stomach will get a rest."
"Keep your filth, beggarman," the other replied, "for I would
rather be hanged than gnaw on a bone that you have browsed."
"Why don't you run, my pulse?" said the Carl earnestly; "why
don't you try to win the race?"
Cael then began to move his limbs as if they were the wings of a
fly, or the fins of a little fish, or as if they were the six
legs of a terrified spider.
"I am running," he gasped.
"But try and run like this," the Carl admonished, and he gave a
wriggling bound and a sudden outstretching and scurrying of
shanks, and he disappeared from Cael's sight in one wild spatter
of big boots.
Despair fell on Cael of the Iron, but he had a great heart. "I
will run until I burst," he shrieked, "and when I burst, may I
burst to a great distance, and may I trip that beggar-man up with
my burstings and make him break his leg."
He settled then to a determined, savage, implacable trot. He
caught up on the Carl at last, for the latter had stopped to eat
blackberries from the bushes on the road, and when he drew nigh,
Cael began to jeer and sneer angrily at the Carl.
"Who lost the tails of his coat?" he roared.
"Don't ask riddles of a man that's eating blackberries," the Carl
"The dog without a tall and the coat without a tail," cried Cael.
"I give it up," the Carl mumbled.
"It's yourself, beggarman," jeered Cael.
"I am myself," the Carl gurgled through a mouthful of
blackberries, "and as I am myself, how can it be myself? That is
a silly riddle," he burbled.
"Look at your coat, tub of grease?'
The Carl did so.
"My faith," said he, "where are the two tails of my coat?" "I
could smell one of them and it wrapped around a little tree
thirty miles back," said Cael, "and the other one was
dishonouring a bush ten miles behind that."
"It is bad luck to be separated from the tails of your own coat,"
the Carl grumbled. "I'll have to go back for them. Wait here,
beloved, and eat blackberries until I come back, and we'll both
"Not half a second will I wait," Cael replied, and he began to
run towards Ben Edair as a lover runs to his maiden or as a bee
flies to his hive.
"I haven't had half my share of blackberries either," the Carl
lamented as he started to run backwards for his coat-tails.
He ran determinedly on that backward journey, and as the path he
had travelled was beaten out as if it had been trampled by an
hundred bulls yoked neck to neck, he was able to find the two
bushes and the two coat-tails. He sewed them on his coat.
Then he sprang up, and he took to a fit and a vortex and an
exasperation of running for which no description may be found.
The thumping of his big boots grew as con-tinuous as the
pattering of hailstones on a roof, and the wind of his passage
blew trees down. The beasts that were ranging beside his path
dropped dead from concussion, and the steam that snored from his
nose blew birds into bits and made great lumps of cloud fall out
of the sky.
He again caught up on Cael, who was running with his head down
and his toes up.
"If you won't try to run, my treasure," said the Carl, "you will
never get your tribute."
And with that he incensed and exploded himself into an
eye-blinding, continuous, waggle and complexity of boots that
left Cael behind him in a flash.
"I will run until I burst," sobbed Cael, and he screwed agitation
and despair into his legs until he hummed and buzzed like a
blue-bottle on a window.
Five miles from Ben Edair the Carl stopped, for he had again come
He ate of these until he was no more than a sack of juice, and
when he heard the humming and buzzing of Cael of the Iron he
mourned and lamented that he could not wait to eat his fill He
took off his coat, stuffed it full of blackberries, swung it on
his shoulders, and went bounding stoutly and nimbly for Ben
It would be hard to tell of the terror that was in Fionn's breast
and in the hearts of the Fianna while they attended the
conclusion of that race.
They discussed it unendingly, and at some moment of the day a man
upbraided Fionn because he had not found Caelte the son of Rona'n
as had been agreed on.
"There is no one can run like Caelte," one man averred.
"He covers the ground," said another.
"He is light as a feather."
"Swift as a stag." "Lunged like a bull."
"Legged like a wolf."
These things were said to Fionn, and Fionn said these things to
With every passing minute a drop of lead thumped down into every
heart, and a pang of despair stabbed up to every brain.
"Go," said Fionn to a hawk-eyed man, "go to the top of this hill
and watch for the coming of the racers."
And he sent lithe men with him so that they might run back in
endless succession with the news.
The messengers began to run through his tent at minute intervals
calling "nothing," "nothing," "nothing," as they paused and
And the words, "nothing, nothing, nothing," began to drowse into
the brains of every person present.
"What can we hope from that Carl?" a champion demanded savagely.
"Nothing," cried a messenger who stood and sped.
"A clump!" cried a champion.
"A hog!" said another.
"Did you think, Fionn, that a whale could swim on land, or what
did you imagine that lump could do?"
"Nothing," cried a messenger, and was sped as he spoke.
Rage began to gnaw in Fionn's soul, and a red haze danced and
flickered before his eyes. His hands began to twitch and a desire
crept over him to seize on champions by the neck, and to shake
and worry and rage among them like a wild dog raging among sheep.
He looked on one, and yet he seemed to look on all at once.
"Be silent," he growled. "Let each man be silent as a dead man."
And he sat forward, seeing all, seeing none, with his mouth
drooping open, and such a wildness and bristle lowering from that
great glum brow that the champions shivered as though already in
the chill of death, and were silent.
He rose and stalked to the tent-door.
"Where to, O Fionn?" said a champion humbly.
"To the hill-top," said Fionn, and he stalked on.
They followed him, whispering among themselves, keeping their
eyes on the ground as they climbed.
"What do you see?" Fionn demanded of the watcher.
"Nothing," that man replied.
"Look again," said Fionn.
The eagle-eyed man lifted a face, thin and sharp as though it had
been carven on the wind, and he stared forward with an immobile
"What do you see?" said Fionn.
"Nothing," the man replied.
"I will look myself," said Fionn, and his great brow bent forward
and gloomed afar.
The watcher stood beside, staring with his tense face and
unwinking, lidless eye.
"What can you see, O Fionn?" said the watcher.
"I can see nothing," said Fionn, and he projected again his grim,
gaunt forehead. For it seemed as if the watcher stared with his
whole face, aye, and with his hands; but Fionn brooded weightedly
on distance with his puckered and crannied brow.
They looked again.
"What can you see?" said Fionn.
"I see nothing," said the watcher.
"I do not know if I see or if I surmise, but something moves,"
said Fionn. "There is a trample," he said.
The watcher became then an eye, a rigidity, an intense
out-thrusting and ransacking of thin-spun distance. At last he
"There is a dust," he said.
And at that the champions gazed also, straining hungrily afar,
until their eyes became filled with a blue darkness and they
could no longer see even the things that were close to them.
"I," cried Cona'n triumphantly, "I see a dust."
"And I," cried another.
"I see a man," said the eagle-eyed watcher.
And again they stared, until their straining eyes grew dim with
tears and winks, and they saw trees that stood up and sat down,
and fields that wobbled and spun round and round in a giddily
"There is a man," Cona'n roared.
"A man there is," cried another.
"And he is carrying a man on his back," said the watcher.
"It is Cael of the Iron carrying the Carl on his back," he
"The great pork!" a man gritted.
"The no-good!" sobbed another.
"Hog!" screamed a champion.
And he beat his fists angrily against a tree.
But the eagle-eyed watcher watched until his eyes narrowed and
became pin-points, and he ceased to be a man and became an optic.
"Wait," he breathed, "wait until I screw into one other inch of
And they waited, looking no longer on that scarcely perceptible
speck in the distance, but straining upon the eye of the watcher
as though they would penetrate it and look through it.
"It is the Carl," he said, "carrying something on his back, and
behind him again there is a dust."
"Are you sure?" said Fionn in a voice that rumbled and vibrated
"It is the Carl," said the watcher, "and the dust behind him is
Cael of the Iron trying to catch him up."
Then the Fianna gave a roar of exultation, and each man seized
his neighbour and kissed him on both cheeks; and they gripped
hands about Fionn, and they danced round and round in a great
circle, roaring with laughter and relief, in the ecstasy which
only comes where grisly fear has been and whence that bony jowl
has taken itself away.
The Carl of the Drab Coat came bumping and stumping and clumping
into the camp, and was surrounded by a multitude that adored him
and hailed him with tears.
"Meal!" he bawled, "meal for the love of the stars!"
And he bawled, "Meal, meal!" until he bawled everybody into
Fionn addressed him.
"What for the meal, dear heart?"
"For the inside of my mouth," said the Carl, "for the recesses
and crannies and deep-down profundities of my stomach. Meal,
meal!" he lamented.
Meal was brought.
The Carl put his coat on the ground, opened it carefully, and
revealed a store of blackberries, squashed, crushed, mangled,
"The meal!" he groaned, "the meal!"
It was given to him.
"What of the race, my pulse?" said Fionn.
"Wait, wait," cried the Carl. "I die, I die for meal and
Into the centre of the mess of blackberries he discharged a
barrel of meal, and be mixed the two up and through, and round
and down, until the pile of white-black, red-brown
slibber-slobber reached up to his shoulders. Then he commenced to
paw and impel and project and cram the mixture into his mouth,
and between each mouthful he sighed a contented sigh, and during
every mouthful he gurgled an oozy gurgle.
But while Fionn and the Fianna stared like lost minds upon the
Carl, there came a sound of buzzing, as if a hornet or a queen of
the wasps or a savage, steep-winged griffin was hovering about
them, and looking away they saw Cael of the Iron charging on them
with a monstrous extension and scurry of bis legs. He had a sword
in his hand, and there was nothing in his face but redness and
Fear fell llke night around the Fianna, and they stood with slack
knees and hanging hands waiting for death. But the Carl lifted a
pawful of his oozy slop and discharged this at Cael with such a
smash that the man's head spun off his shoulders and hopped along
the ground. The Carl then picked up the head and threw it at the
body with such aim and force that the neck part of the head
jammed into the neck part of the body and stuck there, as good a
head as ever, you would have said, but that it bad got twisted
the wrong way round. The Carl then lashed his opponent hand and
"Now, dear heart, do you still claim tribute and lordship of
Ireland?" said he.
"Let me go home," groaned Cael, "I want to go home."
"Swear by the sun and moon, if I let you go home, that you will
send to Fionn, yearly and every year, the rent of the land of
"I swear that," said Cael, "and I would swear anything to get
The Carl lifted him then and put him sitting into his ship. Then
he raised his big boot and gave the boat a kick that drove it
seven leagues out into the sea, and that was how the adventure of
Cael of the Iron finished.
"Who are you, sir?" said Fionn to the Carl.
But before answering the Carl's shape changed into one of
splendour and delight.
"I am ruler of the Shi' of Rath Cruachan," he said.
Then Fionn mac Uail made a feast and a banquet for the jovial
god, and with that the tale is ended of the King of Thessaly's
son and the Carl of the Drab Coat.
THE ENCHANTED CAVE OF CESH CORRAN
Fionn mac Uail was the most prudent chief of an army in the
world, but he was not always prudent on his own account.
Discipline sometimes irked him, and he would then take any
opportunity that presented for an adventure; for he was not only
a soldier, he was a poet also, that is, a man of science, and
whatever was strange or unusual had an irresistible at-traction
for him. Such a soldier was he
that, single-handed, he could take the Fianna out of any hole
they got into, but such an inveterate poet was he that all the
Fianna together could scarcely retrieve him from the abysses into
which he tumbled. It took him to keep the Fianna safe, but it
took all the Fianna to keep their captain out of danger. They did
not complain of this, for they loved every hair of Fionn's head
more than they loved their wives and children, and that was
reasonable for there was never in the world a person more worthy
of love than Fionn was.
Goll mac Morna did not admit so much in words, but he admitted it
in all his actions, for although he never lost an opportunity of
killing a member of Fionn's family (there was deadly feud between
clann-Baiscne and clann-Morna), yet a call from Fionn brought
Goll raging to his assistance like a lion that rages tenderly by
his mate. Not even a call was necessary, for Goll felt in his
heart when Fionn was threatened, and he would leave Fionn's own
brother only half-killed to fly where his arm was wanted. He was
never thanked, of course, for although Fionn loved Goll he did
not like him, and that was how Goll felt towards Fionn.
Fionn, with Cona'n the Swearer and the dogs Bran and Sceo'lan,
was sitting on the hunting-mound at the top of Cesh Corran. Below
and around on every side the Fianna were beating the coverts in
Legney and Brefny, ranging the fastnesses of Glen Dallan,
creeping in the nut and beech forests of Carbury, spying among
the woods of Kyle Conor, and ranging the wide plain of Moy Conal.
The great captain was happy: his eyes were resting on the sights
he liked best--the sunlight of a clear day, the waving trees, the
pure sky, and the lovely movement of the earth; and his ears were
filled with delectable sounds--the baying of eager dogs, the
clear calling of young men, the shrill whistling that came from
every side, and each sound of which told a definite thing about
the hunt. There was also the plunge and scurry of the deer, the
yapping of badgers, and the whirr of birds driven into reluctant
Now the king of the Shi' of Cesh Corran, Conaran, son of Imidel,
was also watching the hunt, but Fionn did not see him, for we
cannot see the people of Faery until we enter their realm, and
Fionn was not thinking of Faery at that moment. Conaran did not
like Fionn, and, seeing that the great champion was alone, save
for Cona'n and the two hounds Bran and Sceo'lan, he thought the
time had come to get Fionn into his power. We do not know what
Fionn had done to Conaran, but it must have been bad enough, for
the king of the Shi' of Cesh Cotran was filled with joy at the
sight of Fionn thus close to him, thus unprotected, thus
This Conaran had four daughters. He was fond of them and proud of
them, but if one were to search the Shi's of Ireland or the land
of Ireland, the equal of these four would not be found for
ugliness and bad humour and twisted temperaments.
Their hair was black as ink and tough as wire: it stuck up and
poked out and hung down about their heads in bushes and spikes
and tangles. Their eyes were bleary and red. Their mouths were
black and twisted, and in each of these mouths there was a hedge
of curved yellow fangs. They had long scraggy necks that could
turn all the way round like the neck of a hen. Their arms were
long and skinny and muscular, and at the end of each finger they
had a spiked nail that was as hard as horn and as sharp as a
briar. Their bodies were covered with a bristle of hair and fur
and fluff, so that they looked like dogs in some parts and like
cats in others, and in other parts again they looked like
chickens. They had moustaches poking under their noses and woolly
wads growing out of their ears, so that when you looked at them
the first time you never wanted to look at them again, and if you
had to look at them a second time you were likely to die of the
They were called Caevo'g, Cuillen, and Iaran. The fourth
daughter, Iarnach, was not present at that moment, so nothing
need be said of her yet.
Conaran called these three to him.
"Fionn is alone," said he. "Fionn is alone, my treasures."
"Ah!" said Caevo'g, and her jaw crunched upwards and stuck
outwards, as was usual with her when she was satisfied.
"When the chance comes take it," Conaran continued, and he smiled
a black, beetle-browed, unbenevolent smile.
"It's a good word," quoth Cuillen, and she swung her jaw loose
and made it waggle up and down, for that was the way she smiled.
"And here is the chance," her father added.
"The chance is here," Iaran echoed, with a smile that was very
like her sister's, only that it was worse, and the wen that grew
on her nose joggled to and fro and did not get its balance again
for a long time.
Then they smiled a smile that was agreeable to their own eyes,
but which would have been a deadly thing for anybody else to see.
"But Fionn cannot see us," Caevo'g objected, and her brow set
downwards and her chin set upwards and her mouth squeezed
sidewards, so that her face looked like a badly disappointed nut.
"And we are worth seeing," Cuillen continued, and the
disappointment that was set in her sister's face got carved and
twisted into hers, but it was worse in her case.
"That is the truth," said Iaran in a voice of lamentation, and
her face took on a gnarl and a writhe and a solidity of ugly woe
that beat the other two and. made even her father marvel.
"He cannot see us now," Conaran replied, "but he will see us in a
"Won't Fionn be glad when he sees us!" said the three sisters.
And then they joined hands and danced joyfully around their
father, and they sang a song, the first line of which is:
"Fionn thinks he is safe. But who knows when the sky will
Lots of the people in the Shi' learned that song by heart, and
they applied it to every kind of circumstance.
BY his arts Conaran changed the sight of Fionn's eyes, and he did
the same for Cona'n.
In a few minutes Fionn stood up from his place on the mound.
Everything was about him as before, and he did not know that he
had gone into Faery. He walked for a minute up and down the
hillock. Then, as by chance, he stepped down the sloping end of
the mound and stood with his mouth open, staring. He cried out:
"Come down here, Cona'n, my darling."
Cona'n stepped down to him.
"Am I dreaming?" Fionn demanded, and he stretched out his finger
"If you are dreaming," said Congn, "I'm dreaming too. They
weren't here a minute ago," he stammered.
Fionn looked up at the sky and found that it was still there. He
stared to one side and saw the trees of Kyle Conor waving in the
distance. He bent his ear to the wind and heard the shouting of
hunters, the yapping of dogs, and the clear whistles, which told
how the hunt was going.
"Well!" said Fionn to himself.
"By my hand!" quoth Cona'n to his own soul.
And the two men stared into the hillside as though what they were
looking at was too wonderful to be looked away from.
"Who are they?" said Fionn.
"What are they?" Cona'n gasped. And they stared again.
For there was a great hole like a doorway in the side of the
mound, and in that doorway the daughters of Conaran sat spinning.
They had three crooked sticks of holly set up before the cave,
and they were reeling yarn off these. But it was enchantment they
"One could not call them handsome," said Cona'n.
"One could," Fionn replied, "but it would not be true."
"I cannot see them properly," Fionn complained. "They are hiding
behind the holly."
"I would he contented if I could not see them at all," his
But the Chief insisted.
"I want to make sure that it is whiskers they are wearing."
"Let them wear whiskers or not wear them," Cona'n counselled.
"But let us have nothing to do with them."
"One must not be frightened of anything," Fionn stated.
"I am not frightened," Cona'n explained. "I only want to keep my
good opinion of women, and if the three yonder are women, then I
feel sure I shall begin to dislike females from this minute out."
"Come on, my love," said Fionn, "for I must find out if these
whiskers are true."
He strode resolutely into the cave. He pushed the branches of
holly aside and marched up to Conaran's daughters, with Cona'n
The instant they passed the holly a strange weakness came over
the heroes. Their fists seemed to grow heavy as lead, and went
dingle-dangle at the ends of their arms; their legs became as
light as straws and began to bend in and out; their necks became
too delicate to hold anything up, so that their heads wibbled and
wobbled from side to side.
"What's wrong at all?" said Cona'n, as he tumbled to the ground.
"Everything is," Fionn replied, and he tumbled beside him.
The three sisters then tied the heroes with every kind of loop
and twist and knot that could be thought of.
"Those are whiskers!" said Fionn.
"Alas!" said Conan.
"What a place you must hunt whiskers in?' he mumbled savagely.
"Who wants whiskers?" he groaned.
But Fionn was thinking of other things.
"If there was any way of warning the Fianna not to come here,"
"There is no way, my darling," said Caevo'g, and she smiled a
smile that would have killed Fionn, only that he shut his eyes in
After a moment he murmured again:
"Cona'n, my dear love, give the warning whistle so that the
Fianna will keep out of this place."
A little whoof, like the sound that would be made by a baby and
it asleep, came from Cona'n.
"Fionn," said he, "there isn't a whistle in me. We are done for,"
"You are done for, indeed," said Cuillen, and she smiled a hairy
and twisty and fangy smile that almost finished Cona'n.
By that time some of the Fianna had returned to the mound to see
why Bran and Sceo'lan were barking so outrageously. They saw the
cave and went into it, but no sooner had they passed the holly
branches than their strength went from them, and they were seized
and bound by the vicious hags. Little by little all the members
of the Fianna returned to the hill, and each of them was drawn
into the cave, and each was bound by the sisters.
Oisi'n and Oscar and mac Lugac came, with the nobles of
clann-Baiscne, and with those of clann-Corcoran and clann-Smo'l;
they all came, and they were all bound.
It was a wonderful sight and a great deed this binding of the
Fianna, and the three sisters laughed with a joy that was
terrible to hear and was almost death to see. As the men were
captured they were carried by the hags into dark mysterious holes
and black perplexing labyrinths.
"Here is another one," cried Caevo'g as she bundled a trussed
"This one is fat," said Cuillen, and she rolled a bulky Fenian
along like a wheel.
"Here," said Iaran, "is a love of a man. One could eat this kind
of man," she murmured, and she licked a lip that had whiskers
growing inside as well as out.
And the corded champion whimpered in her arms, for he did not
know but eating might indeed be his fate, and he would have
preferred to be coffined anywhere in the world rather than to be
coffined inside of that face. So far for them.
Within the cave there was silence except for the voices of the
hags and the scarcely audible moaning of the Fianna-Finn, but
without there was a dreadful uproar, for as each man returned
from the chase his dogs came with him, and although the men went
into the cave the dogs did not.
They were too wise.
They stood outside, filled with savagery and terror, for they
could scent their masters and their masters' danger, and perhaps
they could get from the cave smells till then unknown and full of
From the troop of dogs there arose a baying and barking, a
snarling and howling and growling, a yelping and squealing and
bawling for which no words can be found. Now and again a dog
nosed among a thousand smells and scented his master; the ruff of
his neck stood up like a hog's bristles and a netty ridge
prickled along his spine. Then with red eyes, with bared fangs,
with a hoarse, deep snort and growl he rushed at the cave, and
then he halted and sneaked back again with all his ruffles
smoothed, his tail between his legs, his eyes screwed sideways in
miserable apology and alarm, and a long thin whine of woe
dribbling out of his nose.
The three sisters took their wide-channelled, hard-tempered
swords in their hands, and prepared to slay the Fianna, but
before doing so they gave one more look from the door of the cave
to see if there might be a straggler of the Fianna who was
escaping death by straggling, and they saw one coming towards
them with Bran and Sceo'lan leaping beside him, while all the
other dogs began to burst their throats with barks and split
their noses with snorts and wag their tails off at sight of the
tall, valiant, white-toothed champion, Goll mor mac Morna. "We
will kill that one first," said Caevo'g.
"There is only one of him," said Cuillen.
"And each of us three is the match for an hundred," said Iaran.
The uncanny, misbehaved, and outrageous harridans advanced then
to meet the son of Morna, and when he saw these three Goll
whipped the sword from his thigh, swung his buckler round, and
got to them in ten great leaps.
Silence fell on the world during that conflict. The wind went
down; the clouds stood still; the old hill itself held its
breath; the warriors within ceased to be men and became each an
ear; and the dogs sat in a vast circle round the combatants, with
their heads all to one side, their noses poked forward, their
mouths half open, and their tails forgotten. Now and again a dog
whined in a whisper and snapped a little snap on the air, but
except for that there was neither sound nor movement.
It was a long fight. It was a hard and a tricky fight, and Goll
won it by bravery and strategy and great good luck; for with one
shrewd slice of his blade he carved two of these mighty
termagants into equal halves, so that there were noses and
whiskers to his right hand and knees and toes to his left: and
that stroke was known afterwards as one of the three great
sword-strokes of Ireland. The third hag, however, had managed to
get behind Goll, and she leaped on to his back with the bound of
a panther, and hung here with the skilful, many-legged,
tight-twisted clutching of a spider. But the great champion gave
a twist of his hips and a swing of his shoulders that whirled her
around him like a sack. He got her on the ground and tied her
hands with the straps of a shield, and he was going to give her
the last blow when she appealed to his honour and bravery.
"I put my life under your protection," said she. "And if you let
me go free I will lift the enchantment from the Fianna-Finn and
will give them all back to you again."
"I agree to that," said Goll, and he untied her straps. The
harridan did as she had promised, and in a short time Fionn and
Oisi'n and Oscar and Cona'n were released, and after that all the
Fianna were released.
As each man came out of the cave he gave a jump and a shout; the
courage of the world went into him and he felt that he could
fight twenty. But while they were talking over the adventure and
explaining how it had happened, a vast figure strode over the
side of the hill and descended among them. It was Conaran's
If the other three had been terrible to look on, this one was
more terrible than the three together. She was clad in iron
plate, and she had a wicked sword by her side and a knobby club
in her hand She halted by the bodies of her sisters, and bitter
tears streamed down into her beard.
"Alas, my sweet ones," said she, "I am too late."
And then she stared fiercely at Fionn.
"I demand a combat," she roared.
"It is your right," said Fionn. He turned to his son.
"Oisi'n, my heart, kill me this honourable hag." But for the only
time in his life Oisi'n shrank from a combat.
"I cannot do it" he said, "I feel too weak."
Fionn was astounded. "Oscar," he said, "will you kill me this
Oscar stammered miserably. "I would not be able to," he said.
Cona'n also refused, and so did Caelte mac Rona'n and mac Lugac,
for there was no man there but was terrified by the sight of that
mighty and valiant harridan.
Fionn rose to his feet. "I will take this combat myself," he said
And he swung his buckler forward and stretched his right hand to
the sword. But at that terrible sight Goll mae Morna blushed
deeply and leaped from the ground.
"No, no," he cried; "no, my soul, Fionn, this would not be a
proper combat for you. I take this fight."
"You have done your share, Goll," said the captain.
"I should finish the fight I began," Goll continued, "for it was
I who killed the two sisters of this valiant hag, and it is
against me the feud lies."
"That will do for me," said the horrible daughter of Conaran. "I
will kill Goll mor mac Morna first, and after that I will kill
Fionn, and after that I will kill every Fenian of the
"You may begin, Goll," said Fionn, "and I give you my blessing."
Goll then strode forward to the fight, and the hag moved against
him with equal alacrity. In a moment the heavens rang to the
clash of swords on bucklers. It was hard to with-stand the
terrific blows of that mighty female, for her sword played with
the quickness of lightning and smote like the heavy crashing of a
storm. But into that din and encirclement Goll pressed and
ventured, steady as a rock in water, agile as a creature of the
sea, and when one of the combatants retreated it was the hag that
gave backwards. As her foot moved a great shout of joy rose from
the Fianna. A snarl went over the huge face of the monster and
she leaped forward again, but she met Goll's point in the road;
it went through her, and in another moment Goll took her head
from its shoulders and swung it on high before Fionn.
As the Fianna turned homewards Fionn spoke to his great champion
"Goll," he said, "I have a daughter."
"A lovely girl, a blossom of the dawn," said Goll.
"Would she please you as a wife?" the chief demanded.
"She would please me," said Goll.
"She is your wife," said Fionn.
But that did not prevent Goll from killing Fionn's brother
Cairell later on, nor did it prevent Fionn from killing Goll
later on again, and the last did not prevent Goll from rescuing
Fionn out of hell when the Fianna-Finn were sent there under the
new God. Nor is there any reason to complain or to be astonished
at these things, for it is a mutual world we llve in, a
give-and-take world, and there is no great harm in it.
BECUMA OF THE WHITE SKIN
There are more worlds than one, and in many ways they are unlike
each other. But joy and sorrow, or, in other words, good and
evil, are not absent in their degree from any of the worlds, for
wherever there is life there is action, and action is but the
expression of one or other of these qualities.
After this Earth there is the world of the Shi'. Beyond it again
lies the Many-Coloured Land. Next comes the Land of Wonder, and
after that the Land of Promise awaits us. You will cross clay to
get into the Shi'; you will cross water to attain the
Many-Coloured Land; fire must be passed ere the Land of Wonder is
attained, hut we do not know what will be crossed for the fourth
This adventure of Conn the Hundred Fighter and his son Art was by
the way of water, and therefore he was more advanced in magic
than Fionn was, all of whose adventures were by the path of clay
and into Faery only, but Conn was the High King and so the
arch-magician of Ireland.
A council had been called in the Many-Coloured Land to discuss
the case of a lady named Becuma Cneisgel, that is, Becuma of the
White Skin, the daughter of Eogan Inver. She had run away from
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