Part 2 out of 5
or his fingers. The hearts of young men went hot for a gallant
moment and were chilled in the succeeding one, for they had all
heard of Aillen out of Shl Finnachy in the north. The lesser
gentlemen looked under their brows at the greater champions, and
these peered furtively at the greatest of all. Art og mac Morna
of the Hard Strokes fell to biting his fingers, Cona'n the
Swearer and Garra mac Morna grumbled irritably to each other and
at their neighbours, even Caelte, the son of Rona'n, looked down
into his own lap, and Goll Mor sipped at his wine without any
twinkle in his eye. A horrid embarrassment came into the great
hall, and as the High King stood in that palpitating silence his
noble face changed from kindly to grave and from that to a
terrible sternness. In another moment, to the undying shame of
every person present, he would have been compelled to lift his
own challenge and declare himself the champion of Tara for that
night, but the shame that was on the faces of his people would
remain in the heart of their king. Goll's merry mind would help
him to forget, but even his heart would be wrung by a memory that
he would not dare to face. It was at that terrible moment that
Fionn stood up.
"What," said he, "will be given to the man who undertakes this
"All that can be rightly asked will be royally bestowed," was the
"Who are the sureties?" said Fionn.
"The kings of Ireland, and Red Cith with his magicians."
"I will undertake the defence," said Fionn. And on that, the
kings and magicians who were present bound themselves to the
fulfilment of the bargain.
Fionn marched from the banqueting hall, and as he went, all who
were present of nobles and retainers and servants acclaimed him
and wished him luck. But in their hearts they were bidding him
good-bye, for all were assured that the lad was marching to a
death so unescapeable that he might already be counted as a dead
It is likely that Fionn looked for help to the people of the Shi'
themselves, for, through his mother, he belonged to the tribes of
Dana, although, on the father's side, his blood was well
compounded with mortal clay. It may be, too, that he knew how
events would turn, for he had eaten the Salmon of Knowledge. Yet
it is not recorded that on this occasion he invoked any magical
art as he did on other adventures.
Fionn's way of discovering whatever was happening and hidden was
always the same and is many times referred to. A shallow, oblong
dish of pure, pale gold was brought to him. This dish was filled
with clear water. Then Fionn would bend his head and stare into
the water, and as he stared he would place his thumb in his mouth
under his "Tooth of Knowledge," his "wisdom tooth."
Knowledge, may it be said, is higher than magic and is more to be
sought. It is quite possible to see what is happening and yet not
know what is forward, for while seeing is believing it does not
follow that either seeing or believing is knowing. Many a person
can see a thing and believe a thing and know just as little about
it as the person who does neither. But Fionn would see and know,
or he would under-stand a decent ratio of his visions. That he
was versed in magic is true, for he was ever known as the
Knowledgeable man, and later he had two magicians in his
household named Dirim and mac-Reith to do the rough work of
knowledge for their busy master.
It was not from the Shi', however, that assistance came to Fionn.
He marched through the successive fortifications until he came to
the outer, great wall, the boundary of the city, and when he had
passed this he was on the wide plain of Tara.
Other than himself no person was abroad, for on the night of the
Feast of Samhain none but a madman would quit the shelter of a
house even if it were on fire; for whatever disasters might be
within a house would be as nothing to the calamities without it.
The noise of the banquet was not now audible to Fionn--it is
possible, however, that there was a shamefaced silence in the
great hall--and the lights of the city were hidden by the
successive great ramparts. The sky was over him; the earth under
him; and than these there was nothing, or there was but the
darkness and the wind.
But darkness was not a thing to terrify him, bred in the
nightness of a wood and the very fosterling of gloom; nor could
the wind afflict his ear or his heart. There was no note in its
orchestra that he had not brooded on and become, which becoming
is magic. The long-drawn moan of it; the thrilling whisper and
hush; the shrill, sweet whistle, so thin it can scarcely be
heard, and is taken more by the nerves than by the ear; the
screech, sudden as a devil's yell and loud as ten thunders; the
cry as of one who flies with backward look to the shelter of
leaves and darkness; and the sob as of one stricken with an
age-long misery, only at times remembered, but remembered then
with what a pang! His ear knew by what successions they arrived,
and by what stages they grew and diminished. Listening in the
dark to the bundle of noises which make a noise he could
disentangle them and assign a place and a reason to each
gradation of sound that formed the chorus: there was the patter
of a rabbit, and there the scurrying of a hare; a bush rustled
yonder, but that brief rustle was a bird; that pressure was a
wolf, and this hesitation a fox; the scraping yonder was but a
rough leaf against bark, and the scratching beyond it was a
Fear cannot be where knowledge is, and Fionn was not fearful.
His mind, quietly busy on all sides, picked up one sound and
dwelt on it. "A man," said Fionn, and he listened in that
direction, back towards the city.
A man it was, almost as skilled in darkness as Fionn himself
"This is no enemy," Fionn thought; "his walking is open."
"Who comes?" he called.
"A friend," said the newcomer.
"Give a friend's name," said Fionn.
"Fiacuil mac Cona," was the answer.
"Ah, my pulse and heart!" cried Fionn, and he strode a few paces
to meet the great robber who had fostered him among the marshes.
"So you are not afraid," he said joyfully.
"I am afraid in good truth," Fiacuil whispered, "and the minute
my business with you is finished I will trot back as quick as
legs will carry me. May the gods protect my going as they
protected my coming," said the robber piously.
"Amen," said Fionn, "and now, tell me what you have come for?"
"Have you any plan against this lord of the Shf?" Fiacuil
"I will attack him," said Fionn.
"That is not a plan," the other groaned, "we do not plan to
deliver an attack hut to win a victory."
"Is this a very terrible person?" Fionn asked.
"Terrible indeed. No one can get near him or away from him. He
comes out of the Shi' playing sweet, low music on a timpan and a
pipe, and all who hear this music fall asleep."
"I will not fall asleep," said Fionn.
"You will indeed, for everybody does."
"What happens then?" Fionn asked.
"When all are asleep Aillen mac Midna blows a dart of fire out of
his mouth, and everything that is touched by that fire is
destroyed, and he can blow his fire to an incredible distance and
to any direction."
"You are very brave to come to help me," Fionn murmured,
"especially when you are not able to help me at all."
"I can help," Fiacuil replied, "but I must be paid."
"A third of all you earn and a seat at your council."
"I grant that," said Fionn, "and now, tell me your plan?"
"You remember my spear with the thirty rivets of Arabian gold in
"The one," Fionn queried, "that had its head wrapped in a blanket
and was stuck in a bucket of water and was chained to a wall as
well--the venomous Birgha?" "That one," Fiacuil replied.
"It is Aillen mac Midna's own spear," he continued, "and it was
taken out of his Shi' by your father."
"Well?" said Fionn, wondering nevertheless where Fiacuil got the
spear, but too generous to ask.
"When you hear the great man of the Shi' coming, take the
wrappings off the head of the spear and bend your face over it;
the heat of the spear, the stench of it, all its pernicious and
acrid qualities will prevent you from going to sleep."
"Are you sure of that?" said Fionn.
"You couldn't go to sleep close to that stench; nobody could,"
Fiacuil replied decidedly.
He continued: "Aillen mac Midna will be off his guard when he
stops playing and begins to blow his fire; he will think
everybody is asleep; then you can deliver the attack you were
speaking of, and all good luck go with it."
"I will give him back his spear," said Fionn.
"Here it is," said Fiacuil, taking the Birgha from under his
cloak. "But be as careful of it, my pulse, be as frightened of it
as you are of the man of Dana."
"I will be frightened of nothing," said Fionn, "and the only
person I will be sorry for is that Aillen mac Midna, who is going
to get his own spear back."
"I will go away now," his companion whispered, "for it is growing
darker where you would have thought there was no more room for
darkness, and there is an eerie feeling abroad which I do not
like. That man from the Shi' may come any minute, and if I catch
one sound of his music I am done for."
The robber went away and again Fionn was alone.
He listened to the retreating footsteps until they could be heard
no more, and the one sound that came to his tense ears was the
beating of his own heart.
Even the wind had ceased, and there seemed to be nothing in the
world but the darkness and himself. In that gigantic blackness,
in that unseen quietude and vacancy, the mind could cease to be
personal to itself. It could be overwhelmed and merged in space,
so that consciousness would be transferred or dissipated, and one
might sleep standing; for the mind fears loneliness more than all
else, and will escape to the moon rather than be driven inwards
on its own being.
But Fionn was not lonely, and he was not afraid when the son of
A long stretch of the silent night had gone by, minute following
minute in a slow sequence, wherein as there was no change there
was no time; wherein there was no past and no future, but a
stupefying, endless present which is almost the annihilation of
consciousness. A change came then, for the clouds had also been
moving and the moon at last was sensed behind them--not as a
radiance, but as a percolation of light, a gleam that was
strained through matter after matter and was less than the very
wraith or remembrance of itself; a thing seen so narrowly, so
sparsely, that the eye could doubt if it was or was not seeing,
and might conceive that its own memory was re-creating that which
was still absent.
But Fionn's eye was the eye of a wild creature that spies on
darkness and moves there wittingly. He saw, then, not a thing but
a movement; something that was darker than the darkness it loomed
on; not a being but a presence, and, as it were, impending
pressure. And in a little he heard the deliberate pace of that
Fionn bent to his spear and unloosed its coverings.
Then from the darkness there came another sound; a low, sweet
sound; thrillingly joyous, thrillingly low; so low the ear could
scarcely note it, so sweet the ear wished to catch nothing else
and would strive to hear it rather than all sounds that may be
heard by man: the music of another world! the unearthly, dear
melody of the Shi'! So sweet it was that the sense strained to
it, and having reached must follow drowsily in its wake, and
would merge in it, and could not return again to its own place
until that strange harmony was finished and the ear restored to
But Fionn had taken the covering from his spear, and with his
brow pressed close to it he kept his mind and all his senses
engaged on that sizzling, murderous point.
The music ceased and Aillen hissed a fierce blue flame from his
mouth, and it was as though he hissed lightning.
Here it would seem that Fionn used magic, for spreading out his
fringed mantle he caught the flame. Rather he stopped it, for it
slid from the mantle and sped down into the earth to the depth of
twenty-six spans; from which that slope is still called the Glen
of the Mantle, and the rise on which Aillen stood is known as the
Ard of Fire.
One can imagine the surprise of Aillen mac Midna, seeing his fire
caught and quenched by an invisible hand. And one can imagine
that at this check he might be frightened, for who would be more
terrified than a magician who sees his magic fail, and who,
knowing of power, will guess at powers of which he has no
conception and may well dread.
Everything had been done by him as it should be done. His pipe
had been played and his timpan, all who heard that music should
be asleep, and yet his fire was caught in full course and was
Aillen, with all the terrific strength of which he was master,
blew again, and the great jet of blue flame came roaring and
whistling from him and was caught and disappeared.
Panic swirled into the man from Faery; he turned from that
terrible spot and fled, not knowing what might be behind, but
dreading it as he had never before dreaded anything, and the
unknown pursued him; that terrible defence became offence and
hung to his heel as a wolf pads by the flank of a bull.
And Aillen was not in his own world! He was in the world of men,
where movement is not easy and the very air a burden. In his own
sphere, in his own element, he might have outrun Fionn, but this
was Fionn's world, Fionn's element, and the flying god was not
gross enough to outstrip him. Yet what a race he gave, for it was
but at the entrance to his own Shi' that the pursuer got close
enough. Fionn put a finger into the thong of the great spear, and
at that cast night fell on Aillen mac Midna. His eyes went black,
his mind whirled and ceased, there came nothingness where he had
been, and as the Birgha whistled into his shoulder-blades he
withered away, he tumbled emptily and was dead. Fionn took his
lovely head from its shoulders and went back through the night to
Triumphant Fionn, who had dealt death to a god, and to whom death
would be dealt, and who is now dead!
He reached the palace at sunrise.
On that morning all were astir early. They wished to see what
destruction had been wrought by the great being, but it was young
Fionn they saw and that redoubtable head swinging by its hair.
"What is your demand?" said the Ard-Ri'. "The thing that it is
right I should ask," said Fionn: "the command of the Fianna of
"Make your choice," said Conn to Goll Mor; "you will leave
Ireland, or you will place your hand in the hand of this champion
and be his man."
Goll could do a thing that would be hard for another person, and
he could do it so beautifully that he was not diminished by any
"Here is my hand," said Goll.
And he twinkled at the stern, young eyes that gazed on him as he
made his submission.
THE BIRTH OF BRAN
There are people who do not like dogs a bit--they are usually
women--but in this story there is a man who did not like dogs. In
fact, he hated them. When he saw one he used to go black in the
face, and he threw rocks at it until it got out of sight. But the
Power that protects all creatures had put a squint into this
man's eye, so that he always threw crooked.
This gentleman's name was Fergus Fionnliath, and his stronghold
was near the harbour of Galway. Whenever a dog barked he would
leap out of his seat, and he would throw everything that he owned
out of the window in the direction of the bark. He gave prizes to
servants who disliked dogs, and when he heard that a man had
drowned a litter of pups he used to visit that person and try to
marry his daughter.
Now Fionn, the son of Uail, was the reverse of Fergus Fionnliath
in this matter, for he delighted in dogs, and he knew everything
about them from the setting of the first little white tooth to
the rocking of the last long yellow one. He knew the affections
and antipathies which are proper in a dog; the degree of
obedience to which dogs may be trained without losing their
honourable qualities or becoming servile and suspicious; he knew
the hopes that animate them, the apprehensions which tingle in
their blood, and all that is to be demanded from, or forgiven in,
a paw, an ear, a nose, an eye, or a tooth; and he understood
these things because he loved dogs, for it is by love alone that
we understand anything.
Among the three hundred dogs which Fionn owned there were two to
whom he gave an especial tenderness, and who were his daily and
nightly companions. These two were Bran and Sceo'lan, but if a
person were to guess for twenty years he would not find out why
Fionn loved these two dogs and why he would never be separated
Fionn's mother, Muirne, went to wide Allen of Leinster to visit
her son, and she brought her young sister Tuiren with her. The
mother and aunt of the great captain were well treated among the
Fianna, first, because they were parents to Fionn, and second,
because they were beautiful and noble women.
No words can describe how delightful Muirne was--she took the
branch; and as to Tuiren, a man could not look at her without
becoming angry or dejected. Her face was fresh as a spring
morning; her voice more cheerful than the cuckoo calling from the
branch that is highest in the hedge; and her form swayed like a
reed and flowed like a river, so that each person thought she
would surely flow to him.
Men who had wives of their own grew moody and downcast because
they could not hope to marry her, while the bachelors of the
Fianna stared at each other with truculent, bloodshot eyes, and
then they gazed on Tuiren so gently that she may have imagined
she was being beamed on by the mild eyes of the dawn.
It was to an Ulster gentleman, Iollan Eachtach, that she gave her
love, and this chief stated his rights and qualities and asked
for her in marriage.
Now Fionn did not dislike the man of Ulster, but either he did
not know them well or else he knew them too well, for he made a
curious stipulation before consenting to the marriage. He bound
Iollan to return the lady if there should be occasion to think
her unhappy, and Iollan agreed to do so. The sureties to this
bargain were Caelte mac Ronan, Goll mac Morna, and Lugaidh.
Lugaidh himself gave the bride away, but it was not a pleasant
ceremony for him, because he also was in love with the lady, and
he would have preferred keeping her to giving her away. When she
had gone he made a poem about her, beginning:
"There is no more light in the sky--"
And hundreds of sad people learned the poem by heart.
When Iollan and Tuiren were married they went to Ulster, and they
lived together very happily. But the law of life is change;
nothing continues in the same way for any length of time;
happiness must become unhappiness, and will be succeeded again by
the joy it had displaced. The past also must be reckoned with; it
is seldom as far behind us as we could wish: it is more often in
front, blocking the way, and the future trips over it just when
we think that the road is clear and joy our own.
Iollan had a past. He was not ashamed of it; he merely thought it
was finished, although in truth it was only beginning, for it is
that perpetual beginning of the past that we call the future.
Before he joined the Fianna he had been in love with a lady of
the Shi', named Uct Dealv (Fair Breast), and they had been
sweethearts for years. How often he had visited his sweetheart in
Faery! With what eagerness and anticipation he had gone there;
the lover's whistle that he used to give was known to every
person in that Shi', and he had been discussed by more than one
of the delicate sweet ladies of Faery. "That is your whistle,
Fair Breast," her sister of the Shi' would say.
And Uct Dealv would reply: "Yes, that is my mortal, my lover, my
pulse, and my one treasure."
She laid her spinning aside, or her embroidery if she was at
that, or if she were baking a cake of fine wheaten bread mixed
with honey she would leave the cake to bake itself and fly to
Iollan. Then they went hand in hand in the country that smells of
apple-blossom and honey, looking on heavy-boughed trees and on
dancing and beaming clouds. Or they stood dreaming together,
locked in a clasping of arms and eyes, gazing up and down on each
other, Iollan staring down into sweet grey wells that peeped and
flickered under thin brows, and Uct Dealv looking up into great
black ones that went dreamy and went hot in endless alternation.
Then Iollan would go back to the world of men, and Uct Dealv
would return to her occupations in the Land of the Ever Young.
"What did he say?" her sister of the Shi' would ask.
"He said I was the Berry of the Mountain, the Star of Knowledge,
and the Blossom of the Raspberry."
"They always say the same thing," her sister pouted.
"But they look other things," Uct Dealv insisted. "They feel
other things," she murmured; and an endless conversation
Then for some time Iollan did not come to Faery, and Uct Dealv
marvelled at that, while her sister made an hundred surmises,
each one worse than the last.
"He is not dead or he would be here," she said. "He has forgotten
you, my darling."
News was brought to Tlr na n-Og of the marriage of Iollan and
Tuiren, and when Uct Dealv heard that news her heart ceased to
beat for a moment, and she closed her eyes.
"Now!" said her sister of the Shi'. "That is how long the love of
a mortal lasts," she added, in the voice of sad triumph which is
proper to sisters.
But on Uct Dealv there came a rage of jealousy and despair such
as no person in the Shi' had ever heard of, and from that moment
she became capable of every ill deed; for there are two things
not easily controlled, and they are hunger and jealousy. She
determined that the woman who had supplanted her in Iollan's
affections should rue the day she did it. She pondered and
brooded revenge in her heart, sitting in thoughtful solitude and
bitter collectedness until at last she had a plan.
She understood the arts of magic and shape-changing, so she
changed her shape into that of Fionn's female runner, the
best-known woman in Ireland; then she set out from Faery and
appeared in the world. She travelled in the direction of Iollan's
Iollan knew the appearance of Fionn's messenger, but he was
surprised to see her.
She saluted him.
"Health and long life, my master.".
"Health and good days," he replied. "What brings you here, dear
"I come from Fionn."
"And your message?" said he.
"The royal captain intends to visit you."
"He will be welcome," said Iollan. "We shall give him an Ulster
"The world knows what that is," said the messenger courteously.
"And now," she continued, "I have messages for your queen."
Tuiren then walked from the house with the messenger, but when
they had gone a short distance Uct Dealv drew a hazel rod from
beneath her cloak and struck it on the queen's shoulder, and on
the instant Tuiren's figure trembled and quivered, and it began
to whirl inwards and downwards, and she changed into the
appearance of a hound.
It was sad to see the beautiful, slender dog standing shivering
and astonished, and sad to see the lovely eyes that looked out
pitifully in terror and amazement. But Uct Dealv did not feel
sad. She clasped a chain about the hound's neck, and they set off
westward towards the house of Fergus Fionnliath, who was reputed
to be the unfriendliest man in the world to a dog. It was because
of his reputation that Uct Dealv was bringing the hound to him.
She did not want a good home for this dog: she wanted the worst
home that could be found in the world, and she thought that
Fergus would revenge for her the rage and jealousy which she felt
As they paced along Uct Dealv railed bitterly against the hound,
and shook and jerked her chain. Many a sharp cry the hound gave
in that journey, many a mild lament.
"Ah, supplanter! Ah, taker of another girl's sweetheart!" said
Uct Dealv fiercely. "How would your lover take it if he could see
you now? How would he look if he saw your pointy ears, your long
thin snout, your shivering, skinny legs, and your long grey tail.
He would not love you now, bad girl!"
"Have you heard of Fergus Fionnliath," she said again, "the man
who does not like dogs?"
Tuiren had indeed heard of him.
"It is to Fergus I shall bring you," cried Uct Dealv. "He will
throw stones at you. You have never had a stone thrown at you.
Ah, bad girl! You do not know how a stone sounds as it nips the
ear with a whirling buzz, nor how jagged and heavy it feels as it
thumps against a skinny leg. Robber! Mortal! Bad girl! You have
never been whipped, but you will be whipped now. You shall hear
the song of a lash as it curls forward and bites inward and drags
backward. You shall dig up old bones stealthily at night, and
chew them against famine. You shall whine and squeal at the moon,
and shiver in the cold, and you will never take another girl's
And it was in those terms and in that tone that she spoke to
Tuiren as they journeyed forward, so that the hound trembled and
shrank, and whined pitifully and in despair.
They came to Fergus Fionnliath's stronghold, and Uct Dealv
"Leave that dog outside," said the servant.
"I will not do so," said the pretended messenger.
"You can come in without the dog, or you can stay out with the
dog," said the surly guardian.
"By my hand," cried Uct Dealv, "I will come in with this dog, or
your master shall answer for it to Fionn."
At the name of Fionn the servant almost fell out of his standing.
He flew to acquaint his master, and Fergus himself came to the
great door of the stronghold.
"By my faith," he cried in amazement, "it is a dog."
"A dog it is," growled the glum servant.
"Go you away," said Fergus to Uct Dealv, "and when you have
killed the dog come back to me and I will give you a present."
"Life and health, my good master, from Fionn, the son of Uail,
the son of Baiscne," said she to Fergus.
"Life and health back to Fionn," he replied. "Come into the house
and give your message, but leave the dog outside, for I don't
"The dog comes in," the messenger replied.
"How is that?" cried Fergus angrily.
"Fionn sends you this hound to take care of until he comes for
her," said the messenger.
"I wonder at that," Fergus growled, "for Fionn knows well that
there is not a man in the world has less of a liking for dogs
than I have."
"However that may be, master, I have given Fionn's message, and
here at my heel is the dog. Do you take her or refuse her?"
"If I could refuse anything to Fionn it would be a dog," said
Fergus, "but I could not refuse anything to Fionn, so give me the
Uct Dealv put the chain in his hand.
"Ah, bad dog!" said she.
And then she went away well satisfied with her revenge, and
returned to her own people in the Shi.
On the following day Fergus called his servant.
"Has that dog stopped shivering yet?" he asked.
"It has not, sir," said the servant.
"Bring the beast here," said his master, "for whoever else is
dissatisfied Fionn must be satisfied."
The dog was brought, and he examined it with a jaundiced and
"It has the shivers indeed," he said.
"The shivers it has," said the servant.
"How do you cure the shivers?" his master demanded, for he
thought that if the animal's legs dropped off Fionn would not be
"There is a way," said the servant doubtfully.
"If there is a way, tell it to me," cried his master angrily.
"If you were to take the beast up in your arms and hug it and
kiss it, the shivers would stop," said the man.
"Do you mean--?" his master thundered, and he stretched his hand
for a club.
"I heard that," said the servant humbly.
"Take that dog up," Fergus commanded, "and hug it and kiss it,
and if I find a single shiver left in the beast I'll break your
The man bent to the hound, but it snapped a piece out of his
hand, and nearly bit his nose off as well.
"That dog doesn't like me," said the man.
"Nor do I," roared Fergus; "get out of my sight."
The man went away and Fergus was left alone with the hound, but
the poor creature was so terrified that it began to tremble ten
times worse than before.
"Its legs will drop off," said Fergus. "Fionn will blame me," he
cried in despair.
He walked to the hound.
"If you snap at my nose, or if you put as much as the start of a
tooth into the beginning of a finger!" he growled.
He picked up the dog, but it did not snap, it only trembled. He
held it gingerly for a few moments.
"If it has to be hugged," he said, "I'll hug it. I'd do more than
that for Fionn."
He tucked and tightened the animal into his breast, and marched
moodily up and down the room. The dog's nose lay along his breast
under his chin, and as he gave it dutiful hugs, one hug to every
five paces, the dog put out its tongue and licked him timidly
under the chin.
"Stop," roared Fergus, "stop that forever," and he grew very red
in the face, and stared truculently down along his nose. A soft
brown eye looked up at him and the shy tongue touched again on
"If it has to be kissed," said Fergus gloomily, "I'll kiss it;
I'd do more than that for Fionn," he groaned.
He bent his head, shut his eyes, and brought the dog's jaw
against his lips. And at that the dog gave little wriggles in his
arms, and little barks, and little licks, so that he could
scarcely hold her. He put the hound down at last.
"There is not a single shiver left in her," he said.
And that was true.
Everywhere he walked the dog followed him, giving little prances
and little pats against him, and keeping her eyes fixed on his
with such eagerness and intelligence that he marvelled.
"That dog likes me," he murmured in amazement.
"By my hand," he cried next day, "I like that dog."
The day after that he was calling her "My One Treasure, My Little
Branch." And within a week he could not bear her to be out of his
sight for an instant.
He was tormented by the idea that some evil person might throw a
stone at the hound, so he assembled his servants and retainers
and addressed them.
He told them that the hound was the Queen of Creatures, the Pulse
of his Heart, and the Apple of his Eye, and he warned them that
the person who as much as looked sideways on her, or knocked one
shiver out of her, would answer for the deed with pains and
indignities. He recited a list of calamities which would befall
such a miscreant, and these woes began with flaying and ended
with dismemberment, and had inside bits of such complicated and
ingenious torment that the blood of the men who heard it ran
chill in their veins, and the women of the household fainted
where they stood.
In course of time the news came to Fionn that his mother's sister
was not living with Iollan. He at once sent a messenger calling
for fulfilment of the pledge that had been given to the Fianna,
and demanding the instant return of Tuiren. Iollan was in a sad
condition when this demand was made. He guessed that Uct Dealv
had a hand in the disappearance of his queen, and he begged that
time should be given him in which to find the lost girl. He
promised if he could not discover her within a certain period
that he would deliver his body into Fionn's hands, and would
abide by whatever judgement Fionn might pronounce. The great
captain agreed to that.
"Tell the wife-loser that I will have the girl or I will have his
head," said Fionn.
Iollan set out then for Faery. He knew the way, and in no great
time he came to the hill where Uct Dealv was.
It was hard to get Uct Dealv to meet him, but at last she
consented, and they met under the apple boughs of Faery.
"Well!" said Uct Dealv. "Ah! Breaker of Vows and Traitor to
Love," said she.
"Hail and a blessing," said Iollan humbly.
"By my hand," she cried, "I will give you no blessing, for it was
no blessing you left with me when we parted."
"I am in danger," said Iollan.
"What is that to me?" she replied fiercely.
"Fionn may claim my head," he murmured.
"Let him claim what he can take," said she.
"No," said Iollan proudly, "he will claim what I can give."
"Tell me your tale," said she coldly.
Iollan told his story then, and, he concluded, "I am certain that
you have hidden the girl."
"If I save your head from Fionn," the woman of the Shi' replied,
"then your head will belong to me."
"That is true," said Iollan.
"And if your head is mine, the body that goes under it is mine.
Do you agree to that?"
"I do," said Iollan.
"Give me your pledge," said Uct Dealv, "that if I save you from
this danger you will keep me as your sweetheart until the end of
life and time."
"I give that pledge," said Iollan.
Uct Dealv went then to the house of Fergus Fionnliath, and she
broke the enchantment that was on the hound, so that Tuiren's own
shape came back to her; but in the matter of two small whelps, to
which the hound had given birth, the enchantment could not be
broken, so they had to remain as they were. These two whelps were
Bran and Sceo'lan. They were sent to Fionn, and he loved them for
ever after, for they were loyal and affectionate, as only dogs
can be, and they were as intelligent as human beings. Besides
that, they were Fionn's own cousins.
Tuiren was then asked in marriage by Lugaidh who had loved her so
long. He had to prove to her that he was not any other woman's
sweetheart, and when he proved that they were married, and they
lived happily ever after, which is the proper way to live. He
wrote a poem beginning:
"Lovely the day. Dear is the eye of the dawn--"
And a thousand merry people learned it after him.
But as to Fergus Fionnliath, he took to his bed, and he stayed
there for a year and a day suffering from blighted affection, and
he would have died in the bed only that Fionn sent him a special
pup, and in a week that young hound became the Star of Fortune
and the very Pulse of his Heart, so that he got well again, and
he also lived happily ever after.
EVENING was drawing nigh, and the Fianna-Finn had decided to hunt
no more that day. The hounds were whistled to heel, and a sober,
homeward march began. For men will walk soberly in the evening,
however they go in the day, and dogs will take the mood from
their masters. They were pacing so, through the golden-shafted,
tender-coloured eve, when a fawn leaped suddenly from covert,
and, with that leap, all quietness vanished: the men shouted, the
dogs gave tongue, and a furious chase commenced.
Fionn loved a chase at any hour, and, with Bran and Sceo'lan, he
outstripped the men and dogs of his troop, until nothing remained
in the limpid world but Fionn, the two hounds, and the nimble,
beautiful fawn. These, and the occasional boulders, round which
they raced, or over which they scrambled; the solitary tree which
dozed aloof and beautiful in the path, the occasional clump of
trees that hived sweet shadow as a hive hoards honey, and the
rustling grass that stretched to infinity, and that moved and
crept and swung under the breeze in endless, rhythmic billowings.
In his wildest moment Fionn was thoughtful, and now, although
running hard, he was thoughtful. There was no movement of his
beloved hounds that he did not know; not a twitch or fling of the
head, not a cock of the ears or tail that was not significant to
him. But on this chase whatever signs the dogs gave were not
understood by their master.
He had never seen them in such eager flight. They were almost
utterly absorbed in it, but they did not whine with eagerness,
nor did they cast any glance towards him for the encouraging word
which he never failed to give when they sought it.
They did look at him, but it was a look which he could not
comprehend. There was a question and a statement in those deep
eyes, and he could not understand what that question might be,
nor what it was they sought to convey. Now and again one of the
dogs turned a head in full flight, and stared, not at Fionn, but
distantly backwards, over the spreading and swelling plain where
their companions of the hunt had disappeared. "They are looking
for the other hounds," said Fionn.
"And yet they do not give tongue! Tongue it, a Vran!" he shouted,
"Bell it out, a Heo'lan!"
It was then they looked at him, the look which he could not
understand and had never seen on a chase. They did not tongue it,
nor bell it, but they added silence to silence and speed to
speed, until the lean grey bodies were one pucker and lashing of
Fionn marvelled. "They do not want the other dogs to hear or to
come on this chase," he murmured, and he wondered what might be
passing within those slender heads.
"The fawn runs well," his thought continued. "What is it, a Vran,
my heart? After her, a Heo'lan! Hist and away, my loves !"
"There is going and to spare in that beast yet," his mind went
on. "She is not stretched to the full, nor half stretched. She
may outrun even Bran," he thought ragingly.
They were racing through a smooth valley in a steady, beautiful,
speedy flight when, suddenly, the fawn stopped and lay on the
grass, and it lay with the calm of an animal that has no fear,
and the leisure of one that is not pressed.
"Here is a change," said Fionn, staring in astonishment.
"She is not winded," he said. "What is she lying down for?" But
Bran and Sceo'lan did not stop; they added another inch to their
long-stretched easy bodies, and came up on the fawn.
"It is an easy kill," said Fionn regretfully. "They have her," he
But he was again astonished, for the dogs did not kill. They
leaped and played about the fawn, licking its face, and rubbing
delighted noses against its neck.
Fionn came up then. His long spear was lowered in his fist at the
thrust, and his sharp knife was in its sheath, but he did not use
them, for the fawn and the two hounds began to play round him,
and the fawn was as affectionate towards him as the hounds were;
so that when a velvet nose was thrust in his palm, it was as
often a fawn's muzzle as a hound's.
In that joyous company he came to wide Allen of Leinster, where
the people were surprised to see the hounds and the fawn and the
Chief and none other of the hunters that had set out with them.
When the others reached home, the Chief told of his chase, and it
was agreed that such a fawn must not be killed, but that it
should be kept and well treated, and that it should be the pet
fawn of the Fianna. But some of those who remembered Brah's
parentage thought that as Bran herself had come from the Shi so
this fawn might have come out of the Shi also.
Late that night, when he was preparing for rest, the door of
Fionn's chamber opened gently and a young woman came into the
room. The captain stared at her, as he well might, for he had
never seen or imagined to see a woman so beautiful as this was.
Indeed, she was not a woman, but a young girl, and her bearing
was so gently noble, her look so modestly high, that the champion
dared scarcely look at her, although he could not by any means
have looked away.
As she stood within the doorway, smiling, and shy as a flower,
beautifully timid as a fawn, the Chief communed with his heart.
"She is the Sky-woman of the Dawn," he said. "She is the light on
the foam. She is white and odorous as an apple-blossom. She
smells of spice and honey. She is my beloved beyond the women of
the world. She shall never be taken from me."
And that thought was delight and anguish to him: delight because
of such sweet prospect, anguish because it was not yet realised,
and might not be.
As the dogs had looked at him on the chase with a look that he
did not understand, so she looked at him, and in her regard there
was a question that baffled him and a statement which he could
He spoke to her then, mastering his heart to do it.
"I do not seem to know you," he said.
"You do not know me indeed," she replied.
"It is the more wonderful," he continued gently, "for I should
know every person that is here. What do you require from me?"
"I beg your protection, royal captain."
"I give that to all," he answered. "Against whom do you desire
"I am in terror of the Fear Doirche."
"The Dark Man of the Shi?"
"He is my enemy," she said.
"He is mine now," said Fionn. "Tell me your story."
"My name is Saeve, and I am a woman of Faery," she commenced. "In
the Shi' many men gave me their love, but I gave my love to no
man of my country."
"That was not reasonable," the other chided with a blithe heart.
"I was contented," she replied, "and what we do not want we do
not lack. But if my love went anywhere it went to a mortal, a man
of the men of Ireland."
"By my hand," said Fionn in mortal distress, "I marvel who that
man can be!"
"He is known to you," she murmured. "I lived thus in the peace of
Faery, hearing often of my mortal champion, for the rumour of his
great deeds had gone through the Shi', until a day came when the
Black Magician of the Men of God put his eye on me, and, after
that day, in whatever direction I looked I saw his eye."
She stopped at that, and the terror that was in her heart was on
her face. "He is everywhere," she whispered. "He is in the bushes, and on
the hill. He looked up at me from the water, and he stared down
on me from the sky. His voice commands out of the spaces, and it
demands secretly in the heart. He is not here or there, he is in
all places at all times. I cannot escape from him," she said,
"and I am afraid," and at that she wept noiselessly and stared on
"He is my enemy," Fionn growled. "I name him as my enemy."
"You will protect me," she implored.
"Where I am let him not come," said Fionn. "I also have
knowledge. I am Fionn, the son of Uail, the son of Baiscne, a man
among men and a god where the gods are."
"He asked me in marriage," she continued, "but my mind was full
of my own dear hero, and I refused the Dark Man."
"That was your right, and I swear by my hand that if the man you
desire is alive and unmarried he shall marry you or he will
answer to me for the refusal."
"He is not married," said Saeve, "and you have small control over
him." The Chief frowned thoughtfully. "Except the High King and
the kings I have authority in this land."
"What man has authority over himself?" said Saeve.
"Do you mean that I am the man you seek?" said Fionn.
"It is to yourself I gave my love," she replied. "This is good
news," Fionn cried joyfully, "for the moment you came through the
door I loved and desired you, and the thought that you wished for
another man went into my heart like a sword." Indeed, Fionn loved Saeve as he had not loved a woman before and
would never love one again. He loved her as he had never loved
anything before. He could not bear to be away from her. When he
saw her he did not see the world, and when he saw the world
without her it was as though he saw nothing, or as if he looked
on a prospect that was bleak and depressing. The belling of a
stag had been music to Fionn, but when Saeve spoke that was sound
enough for him. He had loved to hear the cuckoo calling in the
spring from the tree that is highest in the hedge, or the
blackbird's jolly whistle in an autumn bush, or the thin, sweet
enchantment that comes to the mind when a lark thrills out of
sight in the air and the hushed fields listen to the song. But
his wife's voice was sweeter to Fionn than the singing of a lark.
She filled him with wonder and surmise. There was magic in the
tips of her fingers. Her thin palm ravished him. Her slender foot
set his heart beating; and whatever way her head moved there came
a new shape of beauty to her face.
"She is always new," said Fionn. "She is always better than any
other woman; she is always better than herself."
He attended no more to the Fianna. He ceased to hunt. He did not
listen to the songs of poets or the curious sayings of magicians,
for all of these were in his wife, and something that was beyond
these was in her also.
"She is this world and the next one; she is completion," said
It happened that the men of Lochlann came on an expedition
against Ireland. A monstrous fleet rounded the bluffs of Ben
Edair, and the Danes landed there, to prepare an attack which
would render them masters of the country. Fionn and the
Fianna-Finn marched against them. He did not like the men of
Lochlann at any time, but this time he moved against them in
wrath, for not only were they attacking Ireland, but they had
come between him and the deepest joy his life had known.
It was a hard fight, but a short one. The Lochlannachs were
driven back to their ships, and within a week the only Danes
remaining in Ireland were those that had been buried there.
That finished, he left the victorious Fianna and returned swiftly
to the plain of Allen, for he could not bear to be one
unnecessary day parted from Saeve.
"You are not leaving us!" exclaimed Goll mac Morna.
"I must go," Fionn replied.
"You will not desert the victory feast," Conan reproached him.
"Stay with us, Chief," Caelte begged.
"What is a feast without Fionn?" they complained.
But he would not stay.
"By my hand," he cried, "I must go. She will be looking for me
from the window."
"That will happen indeed," Goll admitted.
"That will happen," cried Fionn. "And when she sees me far out on
the plain, she will run through the great gate to meet me."
"It would be the queer wife would neglect that run," Cona'n
"I shall hold her hand again," Fionn entrusted to Caelte's ear.
"You will do that, surely."
"I shall look into her face," his lord insisted. But he saw that
not even beloved Caelte understood the meaning of that, and he
knew sadly and yet proudly that what he meant could not be
explained by any one and could not be comprehended by any one.
"You are in love, dear heart," said Caelte.
"In love he is," Cona'n grumbled. "A cordial for women, a disease
for men, a state of wretchedness."
"Wretched in truth," the Chief murmured. "Love makes us poor We
have not eyes enough to see all that is to be seen, nor hands
enough to seize the tenth of all we want. When I look in her eyes
I am tormented because I am not looking at her lips, and when I
see her lips my soul cries out, 'Look at her eyes, look at her
"That is how it happens," said Goll rememberingly.
"That way and no other," Caelte agreed.
And the champions looked backwards in time on these lips and
those, and knew their Chief would go.
When Fionn came in sight of the great keep his blood and his feet
quickened, and now and again he waved a spear in the air.
"She does not see me yet," he thought mournfully.
"She cannot see me yet," he amended, reproaching himself.
But his mind was troubled, for he thought also, or he felt
without thinking, that had the positions been changed he would
have seen her at twice the distance.
"She thinks I have been unable to get away from the battle, or
that I was forced to remain for the feast."
And, without thinking it, he thought that had the positions been
changed he would have known that nothing could retain the one
that was absent.
"Women," he said, "are shamefaced, they do not like to appear
eager when others are observing them."
But he knew that he would not have known if others were observing
him, and that he would not have cared about it if he had known.
And he knew that his Saeve would not have seen, and would not
have cared for any eyes than his.
He gripped his spear on that reflection, and ran as he had not
run in his life, so that it was a panting, dishevelled man that
raced heavily through the gates of the great Dun.
Within the Dun there was disorder. Servants were shouting to one
another, and women were running to and fro aimlessly, wringing
their hands and screaming; and, when they saw the Champion, those
nearest to him ran away, and there was a general effort on the
part of every person to get behind every other person. But Fionn
caught the eye of his butler, Gariv Crona'n, the Rough Buzzer,
and held it.
"Come you here," he said.
And the Rough Buzzer came to him without a single buzz in his
"Where is the Flower of Allen?" his master demanded.
"I do not know, master," the terrified servant replied.
"You do not know!" said Fionn. "Tell what you do know."
And the man told him this story.
"When you had been away for a day the guards were surprised. They
were looking from the heights of the Dun, and the Flower of Allen
was with them. She, for she had a quest's eye, called out that
the master of the Fianna was coming over the ridges to the Dun,
and she ran from the keep to meet you."
"It was not I," said Fionn.
"It bore your shape," replied Gariv Cronan. "It had your armour
and your face, and the dogs, Bran and Sceo'lan, were with it."
"They were with me," said Fionn.
"They seemed to be with it," said the servant humbly
"Tell us this tale," cried Fionn.
"We were distrustful," the servant continued. "We had never known
Fionn to return from a combat before it had been fought, and we
knew you could not have reached Ben Edar or encountered the
Lochlannachs. So we urged our lady to let us go out to meet you,
but to remain herself in the Dun."
"It was good urging," Fionn assented.
"She would not be advised," the servant wailed. "She cried
to us, 'Let me go to meet my love'."
"Alas!" said Fionn.
"She cried on us, 'Let me go to meet my husband, the father of
the child that is not born.'"
"Alas!" groaned deep-wounded Fionn. "She ran towards your
appearance that had your arms stretched out to her."
At that wise Fionn put his hand before his eyes, seeing all that
"Tell on your tale," said he.
"She ran to those arms, and when she reached them the figure
lifted its hand. It touched her with a hazel rod, and, while we
looked, she disappeared, and where she had been there was a fawn
standing and shivering. The fawn turned and bounded towards the
gate of the Dun, but the hounds that were by flew after her."
Fionn stared on him like a lost man.
"They took her by the throat--"the shivering servant whispered.
"Ah!" cried Fionn in a terrible voice.
"And they dragged her back to the figure that seemed to be Fionn.
Three times she broke away and came bounding to us, and three
times the dogs took her by the throat and dragged her back."
"You stood to look!" the Chief snarled.
"No, master, we ran, but she vanished as we got to her; the great
hounds vanished away, and that being that seemed to be Fionn
disappeared with them. We were left in the rough grass, staring
about us and at each other, and listening to the moan of the wind
and the terror of our hearts."
"Forgive us, dear master," the servant cried. But the great
captain made him no answer. He stood as though he were dumb and
blind, and now and again he beat terribly on his breast with his
closed fist, as though he would kill that within him which should
be dead and could not die. He went so, beating on his breast, to
his inner room in the Dun, and he was not seen again for the rest
of that day, nor until the sun rose over Moy Life' in the
For many years after that time, when he was not fighting against
the enemies of Ireland, Fionn was searching and hunting through
the length and breadth of the country in the hope that he might
again chance on his lovely lady from the Shi'. Through all that
time he slept in misery each night and he rose each day to grief.
Whenever he hunted he brought only the hounds that he trusted,
Bran and Sceo'lan, Lomaire, Brod, and Lomlu; for if a fawn was
chased each of these five great dogs would know if that was a
fawn to be killed or one to be protected, and so there was small
danger to Saeve and a small hope of finding her.
Once, when seven years had passed in fruitless search, Fionn and
the chief nobles of the Fianna were hunting Ben Gulbain. All the
hounds of the Fianna were out, for Fionn had now given up hope of
encountering the Flower of Allen. As the hunt swept along the
sides of the hill there arose a great outcry of hounds from a
narrow place high on the slope and, over all that uproar there
came the savage baying of Fionn's own dogs.
"What is this for?" said Fionn, and with his companions he
pressed to the spot whence the noise came.
"They are fighting all the hounds of the Fianna," cried a
And they were. The five wise hounds were in a circle and were
giving battle to an hundred dogs at once. They were bristling and
terrible, and each bite from those great, keen jaws was woe to
the beast that received it. Nor did they fight in silence as was
their custom and training, but between each onslaught the great
heads were uplifted, and they pealed loudly, mournfully,
urgently, for their master.
"They are calling on me," he roared.
And with that he ran, as he had only once before run, and the men
who were nigh to him went racing as they would not have run for
their lives. They came to the narrow place on the slope of the
mountain, and they saw the five great hounds in a circle keeping
off the other dogs, and in the middle of the ring a little boy
was standing. He had long, beautiful hair, and he was naked. He
was not daunted by the terrible combat and clamour of the hounds.
He did not look at the hounds, but he stared like a young prince
at Fionn and the champions as they rushed towards him scattering
the pack with the butts of their spears. When the fight was over,
Bran and Sceo'lan ran whining to the little boy and licked his
"They do that to no one," said a bystander. "What new master is
this they have found?"
Fionn bent to the boy. "Tell me, my little prince and pulse, what
your name is, and how you have come into the middle of a
hunting-pack, and why you are naked?"
But the boy did not understand the language of the men of
Ireland. He put bis hand into Fionn's, and the Chief felt as if
that little hand had been put into his heart. He lifted the lad
to his great shoulder.
"We have caught something on this hunt," said he to Caelte mac
Rongn. "We must bring this treasure home. You shall be one of the
Fianna-Finn, my darling," he called upwards.
The boy looked down on him, and in the noble trust and
fearlessness of that regard Fionn's heart melted away.
"My little fawn!" he said.
And he remembered that other fawn. He set the boy between his
knees and stared at him earnestly and long.
"There is surely the same look," he said to his wakening heart;
"that is the very eye of Saeve."
The grief flooded out of his heart as at a stroke, and joy foamed
into it in one great tide. He marched back singing to the
encampment, and men saw once more the merry Chief they had almost
Just as at one time he could not be parted from Saeve, so now he
could not be separated from this boy. He had a thousand names for
him, each one more tender than the last: "My Fawn, My Pulse, My
Secret Little Treasure," or he would call him "My Music, My
Blossoming Branch, My Store in the Heart, My Soul." And the dogs
were as wild for the boy as Fionn was. He could sit in safety
among a pack that would have torn any man to pieces, and the
reason was that Bran and Sceo'lan, with their three whelps,
followed him about like shadows. When he was with the pack these
five were with him, and woeful indeed was the eye they turned on
their comrades when these pushed too closely or were not properly
humble. They thrashed the pack severally and collectively until
every hound in Fionn's kennels knew that the little lad was their
master, and that there was nothing in the world so sacred as he
In no long time the five wise hounds could have given over their
guardianship, so complete was the recognition of their young
lord. But they did not so give over, for it was not love they
gave the lad but adoration.
Fionn even may have been embarrassed by their too close
attendance. If he had been able to do so he might have spoken
harshly to his dogs, but he could not; it was unthinkable that he
should; and the boy might have spoken harshly to him if he had
dared to do it. For this was the order of Fionn's affection:
first there was the boy; next, Bran and Sceo'lan with their three
whelps; then Caelte mac Rona'n, and from him down through the
champions. He loved them all, but it was along that precedence
his affections ran. The thorn that went into Bran's foot ran into
Fionn's also. The world knew it, and there was not a champion but
admitted sorrowfully that there was reason for his love.
Little by little the boy came to understand their speech and to
speak it himself, and at last he was able to tell his story to
There were many blanks in the tale, for a young child does not
remember very well. Deeds grow old in a day and are buried in a
night. New memories come crowding on old ones, and one must learn
to forget as well as to remember. A whole new life had come on
this boy, a life that was instant and memorable, so that his
present memories blended into and obscured the past, and he could
not be quite sure if that which he told of had happened in this
world or in the world he had left.
"I used to live," he said, "in a wide, beautiful place. There
were hills and valleys there, and woods and streams, but in
whatever direction I went I came always to a cliff, so tall it
seemed to lean against the sky, and so straight that even a goat
would not have imagined to climb it."
"I do not know of any such place," Fionn mused.
"There is no such place in Ireland," said Caelte, "but in the
Shi' there is such a place."
"There is in truth," said Fionn.
"I used to eat fruits and roots in the summer," the boy
continued, "but in the winter food was left for me in a cave."
"Was there no one with you?" Fionn asked.
"No one but a deer that loved me, and that I loved."
"Ah me!" cried Fionn in anguish, "tell me your tale, my son."
"A dark stern man came often after us, and he used to speak with
the deer. Sometimes he talked gently and softly and coaxingly,
but at times again he would shout loudly and in a harsh, angry
voice. But whatever way he talked the deer would draw away from
him in dread, and he always left her at last furiously."
"It is the Dark Magician of the Men of God," cried Fionn
"It is indeed, my soul," said Caelte.
"The last time I saw the deer," the child continued, "the dark
man was speaking to her. He spoke for a long time. He spoke
gently and angrily, and gently and angrily, so that I thought he
would never stop talking, but in the end he struck her with a
hazel rod, so that she was forced to follow him when he went
away. She was looking back at me all the time and she was crying
so bitterly that any one would pity her. I tried to follow her
also, but I could not move, and I cried after her too, with rage
and grief, until I could see her no more and hear her no more.
Then I fell on the grass, my senses went away from me, and when I
awoke I was on the hill in the middle of the hounds where you
That was the boy whom the Fianna called Oisi'n, or the Little
Fawn. He grew to be a great fighter afterwards, and he was the
chief maker of poems in the world. But he was not yet finished
with the Shi. He was to go back into Faery when the time came,
and to come thence again to tell these tales, for it was by him
these tales were told.
THE WOOING OF BECFOLA
We do not know where Becfola came from. Nor do we know for
certain where she went to. We do not even know her real name, for
the name Becfola, "Dowerless" or "Small-dowered," was given to
her as a nickname. This only is certain, that she disappeared
from the world we know of, and that she went to a realm where
even conjecture may not follow her.
It happened in the days when Dermod, son of the famous Ae of
Slane, was monarch of all Ireland. He was unmarried, but he had
many foster-sons, princes from the Four Provinces, who were sent
by their fathers as tokens of loyalty and affection to the
Ard-Ri, and his duties as a foster-father were righteously
acquitted. Among the young princes of his household there was
one, Crimthann, son of Ae, King of Leinster, whom the High King
preferred to the others over whom he held fatherly sway. Nor was
this wonderful, for the lad loved him also, and was as eager and
intelligent and modest as becomes a prince.
The High King and Crimthann would often set out from Tara to hunt
and hawk, sometimes unaccompanied even by a servant; and on these
excursions the king imparted to his foster-son his own wide
knowledge of forest craft, and advised him generally as to the
bearing and duties of a prince, the conduct of a court, and the
care of a people.
Dermod mac Ae delighted in these solitary adventures, and when he
could steal a day from policy and affairs he would send word
privily to Crimthann. The boy, having donned his hunting gear,
would join the king at a place arranged between them, and then
they ranged abroad as chance might direct.
On one of these adventures, as they searched a flooded river to
find the ford, they saw a solitary woman in a chariot driving
from the west.
"I wonder what that means?" the king exclaimed thoughtfully.
"Why should you wonder at a woman in a chariot?" his companion
inquired, for Crimthann loved and would have knowledge.
"Good, my Treasure," Dermod answered, "our minds are astonished
when we see a woman able to drive a cow to pasture, for it has
always seemed to us that they do not drive well."
Crimthann absorbed instruction like a sponge and digested it as
"I think that is justly said," he agreed.
"But," Dermod continued, "when we see a woman driving a chariot
of two horses, then we are amazed indeed."
When the machinery of anything is explained to us we grow
interested, and Crimthann became, by instruction, as astonished
as the king was.
"In good truth," said he, "the woman is driving two horses."
"Had you not observed it before?" his master asked with kindly
"I had observed but not noticed," the young man admitted.
"Further," said the king, "surmise is aroused in us when we
discover a woman far from a house; for you will have both
observed and noticed that women are home-dwellers, and that a
house without a woman or a woman without a house are imperfect
objects, and although they be but half observed, they are noticed
on the double."
"There is no doubting it," the prince answered from a knitted and
"We shall ask this woman for information about herself," said the
"Let us do so," his ward agreed
"The king's majesty uses the words 'we' and 'us' when referring
to the king's majesty," said Dermod, "but princes who do not yet
rule territories must use another form of speech when referring
"I am very thoughtless, said Crimthann humbly.
The king kissed him on both cheeks.
"Indeed, my dear heart and my son, we are not scolding you, but
you must try not to look so terribly thoughtful when you think.
It is part of the art of a ruler."
"I shall never master that hard art," lamented his fosterling.
"We must all master it," Dermod replied. "We may think with our
minds and with our tongues, but we should never think with our
noses and with our eyebrows,"
The woman in the chariot had drawn nigh to the ford by which they
were standing, and, without pause, she swung her steeds into the
shallows and came across the river in a tumult of foam and spray.
"Does she not drive well?" cried Crimthann admiringly.
"When you are older," the king counselled him, "you will admire
that which is truly admirable, for although the driving is good
the lady is better."
He continued with enthusiasm.
"She is in truth a wonder of the world and an endless delight to
She was all that and more, and, as she took the horses through
the river and lifted them up the bank, her flying hair and parted
lips and all the young strength and grace of her body went into
the king's eye and could not easily come out again.
Nevertheless, it was upon his ward that the lady's gaze rested,
and if the king could scarcely look away from her, she could, but
only with an equal effort, look away from Crimthann.
"Halt there!" cried the king.
"Who should I halt for?" the lady demanded, halting all the same,
as is the manner of women, who rebel against command and yet
"Halt for Dermod!"
"There are Dermods and Dermods in this world," she quoted.
"There is yet but one Ard-Ri'," the monarch answered.
She then descended from the chariot and made her reverence.
"I wish to know your name?" said he.
But at this demand the lady frowned and answered decidedly:
"I do not wish to tell it."
"I wish to know also where you come from and to what place you
"I do not wish to tell any of these things."
"Not to the king!"
"I do not wish to tell them to any one."
Crimthann was scandalised.
"Lady," he pleaded, "you will surely not withhold information
from the Ard-Ri'?"
But the lady stared as royally on the High King as the High King
did on her, and, whatever it was he saw in those lovely eyes, the
king did not insist.
He drew Crimthann apart, for he withheld no instruction from that
"My heart," he said, "we must always try to act wisely, and we
should only insist on receiving answers to questions in which we
are personally concerned."
Crimthann imbibed all the justice of that remark.
"Thus I do not really require to know this lady's name, nor do I
care from what direction she comes."
"You do not?" Crimthann asked.
"No, but what I do wish to know is, Will she marry me?"
"By my hand that is a notable question," his companion stammered.
"It is a question that must be answered," the king cried
triumphantly. "But," he continued, "to learn what woman she is,
or where she comes from, might bring us torment as well as
information. Who knows in what adventures the past has engaged
And he stared for a profound moment on disturbing, sinister
horizons, and Crimthann meditated there with him."
"The past is hers," he concluded, "but the future is ours, and we
shall only demand that which is pertinent to the future."
He returned to the lady.
"We wish you to be our wife," he said. And he gazed on her
benevolently and firmly and carefully when he said that, so that
her regard could not stray otherwhere. Yet, even as he looked, a
tear did well into those lovely eyes, and behind her brow a
thought moved of the beautiful boy who was looking at her from
the king's side.
But when the High King of Ireland asks us to marry him we do not
refuse, for it is not a thing that we shall be asked to do every
day in the week, and there is no woman in the world but would
love to rule it in Tara.
No second tear crept on the lady's lashes, and, with her hand in
the king's hand, they paced together towards the palace, while
behind them, in melancholy mood, Crimthann mac Ae led the horses
and the chariot.
They were married in a haste which equalled the king's desire;
and as he did not again ask her name, and as she did not
volunteer to give it, and as she brought no dowry to her husband
and received none from him, she was called Becfola, the
Time passed, and the king's happiness was as great as his
expectation of it had promised. But on the part of Becfola no
similar tidings can be given.
There are those whose happiness lies in ambition and station, and
to such a one the fact of being queen to the High King of Ireland
is a satisfaction at which desire is sated. But the mind of
Becfola was not of this temperate quality, and, lacking
Crimthann, it seemed to her that she possessed nothing.
For to her mind he was the sunlight in the sun, the brightness in
the moonbeam; he was the savour in fruit and the taste in honey;
and when she looked from Crimthann to the king she could not but
consider that the right man was in the wrong place. She thought
that crowned only with his curls Crlmthann mac Ae was more nobly
diademed than are the masters of the world, and she told him so.
His terror on hearing this unexpected news was so great that he
meditated immediate flight from Tara; but when a thing has been
uttered once it is easier said the second time and on the third
repetition it is patiently listened to.
After no great delay Crimthann mac Ae agreed and arranged that he
and Becfola should fly from Tara, and it was part of their
understanding that they should live happily ever after.
One morning, when not even a bird was astir, the king felt that
his dear companion was rising. He looked with one eye at the
light that stole greyly through the window, and recognised that
it could not in justice be called light.
"There is not even a bird up," he murmured.
And then to Becfola.
"What is the early rising for, dear heart?"
"An engagement I have," she replied.
"This is not a time for engagements," said the calm monarch.
"Let it be so," she replied, and she dressed rapidly.
"And what is the engagement?" he pursued.
"Raiment that I left at a certain place and must have. Eight
silken smocks embroidered with gold, eight precious brooches of
beaten gold, three diadems of pure gold."
"At this hour," said the patient king, "the bed is better than
"Let it be so," said she.
"And moreover," he continued, "a Sunday journey brings bad luck."
"Let the luck come that will come," she answered.
"To keep a cat from cream or a woman from her gear is not work
for a king," said the monarch severely.
The Ard-Ri' could look on all things with composure, and regard
all beings with a tranquil eye; but it should be known that there
was one deed entirely hateful to him, and he would punish its
commission with the very last rigour--this was, a transgression
of the Sunday. During six days of the week all that could happen
might happen, so far as Dermod was concerned, but on the seventh
day nothing should happen at all if the High King could restrain
it. Had it been possible he would have tethered the birds to
their own green branches on that day, and forbidden the clouds to
pack the upper world with stir and colour. These the king
permitted, with a tight lip, perhaps, but all else that came
under his hand felt his control.
It was hls custom when he arose on the morn of Sunday to climb to
the most elevated point of Tara, and gaze thence on every side,
so that he might see if any fairies or people of the Shi' were
disporting themselves in his lordship; for he absolutely
prohibited the usage of the earth to these beings on the Sunday,
and woe's worth was it for the sweet being he discovered breaking
We do not know what ill he could do to the fairies, but during
Dermod's reign the world said its prayers on Sunday and the Shi'
folk stayed in their hills.
It may be imagined, therefore, with what wrath he saw his wife's
preparations for her journey, but, although a king can do
everything, what can a husband do . . .? He rearranged himself
"I am no party to this untimely journey," he said angrily.
"Let it be so," said Becfola.
She left the palace with one maid, and as she crossed the doorway
something happened to her, but by what means it happened would be
hard to tell; for in the one pace she passed out of the palace
and out of the world, and the second step she trod was in Faery,
but she did not know this.
Her intention was to go to Cluain da chaillech to meet Crimthann,
but when she left the palace she did not remember Crimthann any
To her eye and to the eye of her maid the world was as it always
had been, and the landmarks they knew were about them. But the
object for which they were travelling was different, although
unknown, and the people they passed on the roads were unknown,
and were yet people that they knew.
They set out southwards from Tara into the Duffry of Leinster,
and after some time they came into wild country and went astray.
At last Becfola halted, saying:
"I do not know where we are."
The maid replied that she also did not know.
"Yet," said Becfola, "if we continue to walk straight on we shall
They went on, and the maid watered the road with her tears.
Night drew on them; a grey chill, a grey silence, and they were
enveloped in that chill and silence; and they began to go in
expectation and terror, for they both knew and did not know that
which they were bound for.
As they toiled desolately up the rustling and whispering side of
a low hill the maid chanced to look back, and when she looked
back she screamed and pointed, and clung to Becfola's arm.
Becfola followed the pointing finger, and saw below a large black
mass that moved jerkily forward.
"Wolves!" cried the maid. "Run to the trees yonder," her mistress
ordered. "We will climb them and sit among the branches."
They ran then, the maid moaning and lamenting all the while.
"I cannot climb a tree," she sobbed, "I shall be eaten by the
And that was true.
But her mistress climbed a tree, and drew by a hand's breadth
from the rap and snap and slaver of those steel jaws. Then,
sitting on a branch, she looked with angry woe at the straining
and snarling horde below, seeing many a white fang in those
grinning jowls, and the smouldering, red blink of those leaping
and prowling eyes.
But after some time the moon arose and the wolves went away, for
their leader, a sagacious and crafty chief, declared that as long
as they remained where they were, the lady would remain where she
was; and so, with a hearty curse on trees, the troop departed.
Becfola had pains in her legs from the way she had wrapped them
about the branch, but there was no part of her that did not ache,
for a lady does not sit with any ease upon a tree.
For some time she did not care to come down from the branch.
"Those wolves may return," she said, "for their chief is crafty
and sagacious, and it is certain, from the look I caught in his
eye as he departed, that he would rather taste of me than cat any
woman he has met."
She looked carefully in every direction to see if ane might
discover them in hiding; she looked closely and lingeringly at
the shadows under distant trees to see if these shadows moved;
and she listened on every wind to try if she could distinguish a
yap or a yawn or a sneeze. But she saw or heard nothing; and
little by little tranquillity crept into her mind, and she began
to consider that a danger which is past is a danger that may be
Yet ere she descended she looked again on the world of jet and
silver that dozed about her, and she spied a red glimmer among
"There is no danger where there is light," she said, and she
thereupon came from the tree and ran in the direction that she
In a spot between three great oaks she came upon a man who was
roasting a wild boar over a fire. She saluted this youth and sat
beside him. But after the first glance and greeting he did not
look at her again, nor did he speak.
When the boar was cooked he ate of it and she had her share. Then
he arose from the fire and walked away among the trees. Becfola
followed, feeling ruefully that something new to her experience
had arrived; "for," she thought, "it is usual that young men
should not speak to me now that I am the mate of a king, but it
is very unusual that young men should not look at me."
But if the young man did not look at her she looked well at him,
and what she saw pleased her so much that she had no time for
further cogitation. For if Crimthann had been beautiful, this
youth was ten times more beautiful. The curls on Crimthann's head
had been indeed as a benediction to the queen's eye, so that she
had eaten the better and slept the sounder for seeing him. But
the sight of this youth left her without the desire to eat, and,
as for sleep, she dreaded it, for if she closed an eye she would
be robbed of the one delight in time, which was to look at this
young man, and not to cease looking at him while her eye could
peer or her head could remain upright.
They came to an inlet of the sea all sweet and calm under the
round, silver-flooding moon, and the young man, with Becfola
treading on his heel, stepped into a boat and rowed to a
high-jutting, pleasant island. There they went inland towards a
vast palace, in which there was no person but themselves alone,
and there the young man went to sleep, while Becfola sat staring
at him until the unavoidable peace pressed down her eyelids and
she too slumbered.
She was awakened in the morning by a great shout.
"Come out, Flann, come out, my heart!"
The young man leaped from his couch, girded on his harness, and
strode out. Three young men met him, each in battle harness, and
these four advanced to meet four other men who awaited them at a
little distance on the lawn. Then these two sets of four fought
togethor with every warlike courtesy but with every warlike
severity, and at the end of that combat there was but one man
standing, and the other seven lay tossed in death.
Becfola spoke to the youth.
"Your combat has indeed been gallant," she said.
"Alas," he replied, "if it has been a gallant deed it has not
been a good one, for my three brothers are dead and my four
nephews are dead."
"Ah me!" cried Becfola, "why did you fight that fight?"
"For the lordship of this island, the Isle of Fedach, son of
But, although Becfola was moved and horrified by this battle, it
was in another direction that her interest lay; therefore she
soon asked the question which lay next her heart:
"Why would you not speak to me or look at me?"
"Until I have won the kingship of this land from all claimants, I
am no match for the mate of the High King of Ireland," he
And that reply was llke balm to the heart of Becfola.
"What shall I do?" she inquired radiantly. "Return to your home,"
he counselled. "I will escort you there with your maid, for she
is not really dead, and when I have won my lordship I will go
seek you in Tara."
"You will surely come," she insisted.
"By my hand," quoth he, "I will come."
These three returned then, and at the end of a day and night they
saw far off the mighty roofs of Tara massed in the morning haze.
The young man left them, and with many a backward look and with
dragging, reluctant feet, Becfola crossed the threshold of the
palace, wondering what she should say to Dermod and how she could
account for an absence of three days' duration.
IT was so early that not even a bird was yet awake, and the dull
grey light that came from the atmosphere enlarged and made
indistinct all that one looked at, and swathed all things in a
cold and livid gloom.
As she trod cautiously through dim corridors Becfola was glad
that, saving the guards, no creature was astir, and that for some
time yet she need account to no person for her movements. She was
glad also of a respite which would enable her to settle into her
home and draw about her the composure which women feel when they