THE PURSUIT OF THE GILLA DACKER AND HIS HORSE.
Dr. Patrick Weston Joyce
[Extracted from his Old Celtic Romances, London, 1879, pp. 223-73.]
ARRIVAL OF THE GILLA DACKER AND HIS HORSE.
ONE day in the beginning of summer, Finn, the son of Cumal,
the son of Trenmore O'Baskin, feasted the chief people of Erin at Allen of the
broad hill-slopes. And when the feast was over, the Feni reminded him that it
was time to begin the chase through the plains and the glens and the
wildernesses of Erin.
For this was the manner in which the Feni were wont to spend their time. They divided the year into two parts. During the first half, namely, from Beltane to Samin,1 they hunted each day with their dogs; and during the second half, namely, from Samin to Beltane, they lived in the mansions and the betas2 of Erin; so that there was not a chief or a great lord or a keeper of a house of hospitality in the whole country that had not nine of the Feni quartered on him during the winter half of the year.
Finn and his chiefs now held council as to which of the provinces of Erin they
should begin with; and they chose Munster for the first chase.
Next day they set out, both dogs and men; and they travelled through Offaly,3 and by one side of Fera-call, and to Brosna of Slieve Bloma, and by the Twelve Mountains of Evlinn, till they came to Collkilla, which is now called Knockainy.
The chase was then set in order, and they scattered themselves over the broad plains of Munster. They began at Ardpatrick,4 and they hunted over Kenn- [p.225] Avrat of Slieve-Keen, and over Coill-na-drua, which is now called the district of Fermoy; over the fruitful lands of Lehan, and over the confines of Fermorc, which is now called Hy Conall Gavra. Then south to the patrimony of Curoi Mac Dara, and by the shores of Loch Lein; afterwards along the blue-streamy Suir, by Caher-Dun-Isca, over the great plain of Femin, and across the speckled summit of Slieve-na-man-finn; all over East Munster and West Munster, as far as Balla-Gavran on the one side, and on the other across the Shannon to Cratloe, near Limerick of the blue waters.
In short, there was not a plain or a valley, a wood or a brake, a mountain or a wilderness, in the two provinces of Munster, that they did not hunt over on that occasion.
Now it chanced at one time during the chase, while they were hunting over the plain of Cliach,5 that Finn went to rest on the hill of Collkilla, which [p.226] is now called Knockainy; and he had his hunting-tents pitched on a level spot near the summit. Some of his chief heroes tarried with him; namely, his son Oisin; the valiant Oscar, the son of Oisin; Gaul Mac Morna of the Mighty Deeds; Finn's shield-bearer, Skeabrac; Kylta Mac Ronan; Dermat O'Dyna of the Bright Face; Ligan Lumina the Swift-footed; Conan Mail of the Foul Tongue; and Finn Ban Mac Bresal.
When the king and his companions had taken their places on the hill, the Feni unleashed their gracefully shaped, sweet-voiced hounds through the woods and sloping glens. And it was sweet music to Finn's ear, the cry of the long-snouted dogs, as they routed the deer from their covers, and the badgers from their dens; the pleasant, emulating shouts of the youths; the whistling and signalling of the huntsmen; and the encouraging cheers of the mighty heroes, as they spread themselves through the glens and woods, and over the broad, green plain of Cliach.
Then did Finn ask who of all his companions would go to the highest point of the hill directly over them, to keep watch and ward, and to report how the chase went on. For, he said, the Dedannans were ever on the watch to work the Feni mischief by their druidical spells, and more so during the chase than at other times.
Finn Ban Mac Bresal stood forward and offered to go; and, grasping his broad spears, he went to the [p.227] top, and sat viewing the plain to the four points of the sky. And the king and his companions brought forth the chess-board and chess-men, and sat them down to a game.
Finn Ban Mac Bresal had been watching only a little time, when he saw on the plain to the east, a Fomor6 of vast size coming towards the hill, leading a horse. As he came nearer, Finn Ban observed that he was the ugliest-looking giant his eyes ever lighted on. He had a large, thick body, bloated and swollen out to a great size; clumsy, crooked legs; and broad, flat feet, turned inwards. His hands and arms and shoulders were bony and thick and very strong-looking; his neck was long and thin; and while his head was poked forward, his face was turned up, as he stared straight at Finn Mac Bresal. He had thick lips, and long, crooked teeth; and his face was covered all over with bushy hair.
He was fully armed; but all his weapons were rusty and soiled and slovenly looking. A broad shield of a dirty, sooty colour, rough and battered, hung over his back; he had a long, heavy, straight sword at his left hip; and he held in his left hand two thick-handled, broad-headed spears, old and rusty, and seeming as if they had not been handled for years. In his right hand he held an iron club, which [p.228] he dragged after him, with its end on the ground; and, as it trailed along, it tore up a track as deep as the furrow a farmer ploughs with a team of oxen.
The horse he led was even larger in proportion than the giant himself, and quite as ugly. His great carcase was covered all over with tangled, scraggy hair, of a sooty black; you could count his ribs, and all the points of his big bones through his hide; his legs were crooked and knotty; his neck was twisted; and as for his jaws, they were so long and heavy that they made his head look twice too large for his body.
The giant held him by a thick halter, and seemed to be dragging him forward by main force, the animal was so lazy and so hard to move. Every now and then, when the beast tried to stand still, the giant would give him a blow on the ribs with his big iron club, which sounded as loud as the thundering of a great billow against the rough-headed rocks of the coast. When he gave him a pull forward by the halter, the wonder was that he did not drag the animal's head away from his body; and, on the other hand, the horse often gave the halter such a tremendous tug backwards that it was equally wonderful how the arm of the giant was not torn away from his shoulder.
Now it was not an easy matter to frighten Finn Ban Mac Bresal; but when he saw the giant and his horse coming straight towards him in that wise, he was seized with such fear and horror that he sprang [p.229] from his seat, and, snatching up his arms, he ran down the hill-slope with his utmost speed towards the king and his companions, whom he found sitting round the chess-board, deep in their game.
They started up when they saw Finn Ban looking so scared; and, turning their eyes towards where he pointed, they saw the big man and his horse coming up the hill. They stood gazing at him in silent wonder, waiting till he should arrive; but although he was no great way off when they first caught sight of him, it was a long time before he reached the spot where they stood, so slow was the movement of himself and his horse.
When at last he had come up, he bowed his head, and bended his knee, and saluted the king with great respect.
Finn addressed him; and after having given him leave to speak, he asked him who he was, and what was his name; from which of the three chief divisions of the world he had come, and whether he belonged to one of the noble or ignoble races; also what was his profession or craft, and why he had no servant to attend to his horse if, indeed, such an ugly old spectre of an animal could be called a horse at all.
The big man made answer and said, "King of the Feni, I will answer everything you ask me, as far as lies in my power. Whether I come of a noble or of an ignoble race, that, indeed, I cannot tell, for I know not who my father and mother were. As to where I came from, I am a Fomor of Lochlann in the north; but I [p.230] have no particular dwelling-place, for I am continually travelling about from one country to another, serving the great lords and nobles of the world, and receiving wages for my service.
"In the course of my wanderings I have often heard of you, king, and of your greatness and splendour and royal bounty; and I have come now to visit you, and to ask you to take me into your service for one year; and at the end of that time I shall fix my own wages, according to my custom.
"You ask me also why I have no servant for this great horse of mine. The reason of that is this: at every meal I eat, my master must give me as much food and drink as would be enough for a hundred men; and whosoever the lord or chief may be that takes me into his service, it is quite enough for him to have to provide for me, without having also to feed my servant.
"Moreover, I am so very heavy and lazy that I should never be able to keep up with a company on march if I had to walk; and this is my reason for keeping a horse at all.
"My name is the Gilla Dacker,7 and it is not without good reason that I am so called. For there never was a lazier or worse servant than I am, or one that grumbles more at doing a day's work for his master. And I am the hardest person in the whole world to deal with; for, no matter how good or noble I may [p.231] think my master, or how kindly he may treat me, it is hard words and foul reproaches I am likely to give him for thanks in the end.
"This, Finn, is the account I have to give of myself, and these are my answers to your questions."
"Well," answered Finn, "according to your own account, you are not a very pleasant fellow to have anything to do with; and of a truth there is not much to praise in your appearance. But things may not be so bad as you say; and, anyhow, as I have never yet refused any man service and wages, I will not now refuse you."
Whereupon Finn and the Gilla Dacker made covenants, and the Gilla Dacker was taken into service for a year.
Then the big man turned to Conan Mail, and asked him whether the foot-service or the horse-service had the better pay among the Feni; and Conan answered that the horsemen had twice as much pay as the footmen.
"If that be so," replied the Gilla Dacker, "I will join the horse-service, as I have a fine steed of my own; and indeed, if I had known this before, I would certainly have come hither on horseback, instead of walking.
"And now, as to this same horse of mine, I find I must attend to him myself, as I see no one here worthy of putting a hand near him. So I will lead him to the nearest stud, as I am wont to do, and let him graze among your horses, I value him greatly, however, [p.232] and it would grieve me very much if any harm were to befall him; so," continued he, turning to the king, "I put him under your protection, king, and under the protection of all the Feni that are here present."
At this speech the Feni all burst out laughing, to see the Gilla Dacker showing such concern for his miserable, worthless old skeleton of a horse.
Howbeit, the big man, giving not the least heed to their merriment, took the halter off the horse's head, and turned him loose among the horses of the Feni.
But now, this same wretched-looking old animal, instead of beginning to graze, as every one thought he would, ran in among the horses of the Feni, and began straightway to work all sorts of mischief. He cocked his long, hard, switchy tail straight out like a rod, and, throwing up his hind legs, he kicked about on this side and on that, maiming and disabling several of the horses. Sometimes he went tearing through the thickest of the herd, butting at them with his hard, bony forehead; and he opened out his lips with a vicious grin, and tore all he could lay hold on, with his sharp, crooked teeth, so that none were safe that came in his way either before or behind. And the end of it was, that not an animal of the whole herd escaped, without having a leg broken, or an eye knocked out, or his ribs fractured, or his ear bitten off, or the side of his face torn open, or without being in some other way cut or maimed beyond cure.
At last he left them, and was making straight across to a small field where Conan Mail's horses were [p.233] grazing by themselves, intending to play the same tricks among them. But Conan, seeing this, shouted in great alarm to the Gilla Dacker, to bring away his horse, and not let him work any more mischief; and threatening, if he did not do so at once, to go himself and knock the brains out of the vicious old brute on the spot.
But the Gilla Dacker took the matter quite cool; and he told Conan that he saw no way of preventing his horse from joining the others, except some one put the halter on him and held him, which would, of course, he said, prevent the poor animal from grazing, and would leave him with a hungry belly at the end of the day.
He said, moreover, that as he had no horse-boy, and must needs do everything for himself, he thought it quite time enough to look after his horse when he had to make ready for a journey. "But," said he to Conan, "there is the halter; and if you are in any fear for your own animals, you may go yourself and bring him away from the field."
Conan was in a mighty rage when he heard this; and as he saw the big horse just about to cross the fence, he snatched up the halter, and running forward, with long strides, he threw it over the animal's head and thought to lead him back. But in a moment the horse stood stock still, and his body and legs became as stiff as if they were made of wood; and though Conan pulled and tugged with might and main, he was not able to stir him an inch from his place.
He gave up pulling at last, when he found it was no use; but he stil] kept on
holding the halter, while the big horse never made the least stir, but stood as
if he had been turned into stone; the Gilla Dacker all the time looking on quite
unconcernedly, and the others laughing at Conan's perplexity. But no one offered
to relieve him.
At last Fergus Finnvel, the poet, spoke to Conan, and said, "I never would have believed, Conan Mail, that you could be brought to do horse-service for any knight or noble in the whole world; but now, indeed, I see that you have made yourself a horse-boy to an ugly foreign giant, so hateful-looking and low-born that not a man of the Feni would have anything to say to him. As you have, however, to mind this old horse in order to save your own, would it not be better for you to mount him, and revenge yourself for all the trouble he is giving you, by riding him across the country, over the hill-tops, and down into the deep glens and valleys, and through stones and bogs and all sorts of rough places, till you have broken the heart in his big, ugly body?"
Conan, stung by the cutting words of the poet, and by the jeers of his companions, jumped upon the horse's back, and began to beat him mightily with his heels, and with his two big, heavy fists, to make him go; but the horse seemed not to take the least notice, and never stirred.
"I know the reason he does not go," said Fergus Finnvel; "he has been accustomed to carry a horseman [p.235] far heavier than you, that is to say, the Gilla Dacker; and he will not move till he has the same weight on his back."
At this Conan Mail called out to his companions, and asked which of them would mount with him, and help to avenge the damage done to their horses.
"I will go," said Coil Croda the Battle Victor, son of Criffan; and up he went. But the horse never moved.
Dara Donn Mac Morna next offered to go, and mounted behind the others; and after him Angus Mac Art Mac Morna. And the end of it was, that fourteen men of the Clann Baskin and Clann Morna got up along with Conan; and all began to thrash the horse together, with might and main. But they were none the better of it, for he remained standing stiff and immovable as before. They found, moreover, that their seat was not at all an easy one the animal's back was so sharp and bony.
CONAN AND FIFTEEN OF THE FENI ARE CARRIED OFF BY THE GILLA DACKER'S HORSE.
WHEN the Gilla Dacker saw the Feni beating his horse at such a rate, he seemed
very angry, and addressed the king in these words,
"King of the Feni, I now see plainly that all the [p.236] fine accounts I heard about you and the Feni are false, and I will not stay in your service no, not another hour. You can see for yourself the ill usage these men are giving my horse without cause; and I leave you to judge whether any one could put up with it any one who had the least regard for his horse. The time is, indeed, short since I entered your service, but I now think it a great deal too long; so pay me my wages, and let me go my ways."
But Finn said, "I do not wish you to go; stay on till the end of your year, and then I will pay you all I promised you."
"I swear," answered the Gilla Dacker, "that if this were the very last day of my year, I would not wait till morning for my wages, after this insult. So, wages or no wages, I will now seek another master; but from this time forth I shall know what to think of Finn Mac Cumal and his Feni!"
With that the Gilla Dacker stood up as straight as a pillar, and, turning his face towards the south-west, he walked slowly away.
When the horse saw his master leaving the hill, he stirred himself at once and walked quietly after him, bringing the fifteen men away on his back. And when the Feni saw this they raised a loud shout of laughter, mocking them.
The Gilla Dacker, after he had walked some little way, looked back, and seeing that his horse was following, he stood for a moment to tuck up his skirts. Then, all at once changing his pace, he set out with [p.237] long, active strides; and if you know what the speed of a swallow is, flying across a mountain-side, or the dry, fairy wind of a March day sweeping over the plains, then you can understand the swiftness of the Gilla Dacker, as he ran down the hill-side towards the south-west.
Neither was the horse behindhand in the race; for, though he carried a heavy load, he galloped like the wind after his master, plunging and bounding forward with as much freedom as if he had nothing at all on his back.
The men now tried to throw themselves off; but this, indeed, they were not able to do, for the good reason that they found themselves fastened firmly, hands and feet and all, to the horse's back.
And now Conan, looking round, raised his big voice, and shouted to Finn and the Feni, asking them were they content to let their friends be carried off in that manner by such a horrible, foul-looking old spectre of a horse.
Finn and the others, hearing this, seized their arms and started off in pursuit. Now the way the Gilla Dacker and his horse took was first through Fermorc,8 which is at the present day called Hy Conall Gavra; next over the wide, heathy summit of Slieve Lougher; [p.238] from that to Corca Divna; and they ran along by Slieve Mish, till they reached Cloghan Kincat, near the deep green sea.
During all this time Finn and his people kept them in view, but were not able to overtake them; and Ligan Lumina, one of the swiftest of the Feni, kept ahead of the others.
The horse now passed by Cloghan Kincat without in the least abating his speed; and when he had arrived on the beach, even at the very water's edge, Ligan overtook him, and caught him by the tail with his two hands, intending to hold him till the rest of the Feni came up. He gave a mighty pull back; but the horse, not in the least checked by this, made no more ado but plunged forward through the waves, dragging Ligan after him hanging at his tail. And Ligan now found that he could neither help his friends nor free himself, for his two hands clung fast to the tail of the horse.
And so the great horse continued his course without stop or stay, bringing the sixteen Feni with him through the sea. Now this is how they fared in the sea, while the horse was rushing swiftly farther and farther to the west: they had always a dry, firm strand under them, for the waters retired before the horse; while behind them was a wild, raging sea, which followed close after, and seemed ready every moment to topple over their heads. But, though the billows were tumbling and roaring all round, neither horse nor riders were wetted by as much as a drop of brine or a dash of spray.
Now as to Finn and the others. They stood on the bank over the beach, watching,
the horse and men till they lost sight of them in the sea afar off; and then
they sat them down, weary after their long chase, and full of sadness for the
loss of their companions.
After a long silence, Finn spoke and asked the chiefs what they thought best to be done. But they replied that he was far beyond them all in knowledge and wisdom; and they told him they would follow whatsoever counsel he and Fergus Finnvel, the poet, gave them. Then Finn told Fergus to speak his mind; and Fergus said,
"My counsel is that we go straightway to Ben Edar,9 where we shall find a ship ready to sail. For our forefathers, when they wrested the land from the gifted, bright-complexioned Dedannans, bound them by covenant to maintain this ship for ever, fitted with all things needful for a voyage, even to the smallest article, as one of the privileges of Ben Edar; so that if at any time one of the noble sons of Gael Glas10 wished to sail to distant lands from Erin, he should have a ship lying at hand in the harbour ready to begin his voyage."
They agreed to this counsel, and turned their steps without delay northwards
towards Ben Edar. They had not gone far when they met two noble-looking youths,
fully armed, and wearing over their armour beautiful mantles of scarlet silk,
fastened by brooches of gold. The strangers saluted the king with much respect;
and the king saluted them in return. Then, having given them leave to converse,
he asked them who they were, whither they had come, and who the prince or chief
was that they served. And the elder answered,
"My name is Feradach, and my brother's name is Foltlebar; and we are the two sons of the king of Innia. Each of us professes an art; and it has long been a point of dispute between us, which art is the better, my brother's or mine. Hearing that there is not in the world a wiser or more far-seeing man than thou art, O king, we have come to ask thee to take us into thy service among thy household troops for a year, and at the end of that time to give judgment between us in this matter."
Firm asked them what were the two arts they professed.
"My art," answered Feradach, "is this: If at any time a company of warriors need a ship, give me only my joiner's axe and my crann-tavall,11 and I am able to provide a ship for them without delay. The only thing I ask them to do is this to cover their [p.241] heads close, and keep them covered, while I give the crann-tavall three blows of my axe. Then I tell them to uncover their heads; and lo, there lies the ship in harbour, ready to sail!"
Then Foltlebar spoke and said, "This, O king, is the art I profess: On land I can track the wild duck over nine ridges and nine glens, and follow her without being once thrown out, till I drop upon her in her nest. And I can follow up a track on sea quite as well as on land, if I have a good ship and crew."
Finn replied, "You are the very men I want; and I now take you both into my service. At this moment I need a good ship and a skilful pilot more than any two things in the whole world. And though our own track-men, namely, the Clann Navin, are good, yet we now need some one still more skilful, to follow the Gilla Dacker through unknown seas."
Then the two brothers asked Finn what strait he was in at that moment, and why he wanted a ship and pilot so much. Whereupon Finn told them the whole story of the Gilla Dacker's doings from beginning to end. "And we are now," said he, "on our way to Ben Edar, to seek a ship, that we may follow this giant and his horse, and rescue our companions."
Then Feradach said, "I will get you a ship a ship that will sail as swiftly as a swallow can fly!"
And Foltlebar said, "I will guide your ship in the track of the Gilla Dacker till ye lay hands on [p.242] him, in whatsoever quarter of the world he may have hidden himself!"
And so they turned back to Cloghan Kincat. And when they had come to the beach, Feradach told them to cover their heads; and they did so. Then he struck three blows of his axe on the crann-tavall; after which he bade them look. And lo, they saw a ship, fully fitted out with oars and sails, and with all things needed for a long voyage, riding before them in the harbour!
Then Kylta Mac Ronan went to the top of a high hill; and, turning his face inland, he uttered three mighty shouts, which were taken up by the people of the next valley, and after them by those of the next valley beyond. And so the signal spread, till a shout of alarm was heard in every plain and hill-side, glen and valley, wood and wilderness, in the two provinces of Munster. And when the Feni heard these shouts, they ceased anon from their sports and pastimes; for they knew their king was in danger or strait of some kind. And they formed themselves into ranks and troops and battalions, and began their march; and it is not told how they fared till they reached Cloghan Kincat.
Finn told them the whole story of the Gilla Dacker and his horse, and how he had carried away Conan and fifteen others to some far-off island in the Western Ocean. He also showed them the ship, and told them that he himself and a chosen band of the Feni were about to sail westward in quest of their friends. [p.243] And Oisin asked him how many of the chief men of the Feni he wished to take with him.
Finn replied, "I foresee that this will be a perilous quest; and I think all the chiefs here present few enough to bring with me."
"Say not so, king," said Oisin; "too many have gone already, and some must be left behind to guard the country, and to keep order. If fifteen good men go with you, and that you find the others, the whole party will be a match for any foe you are like to meet in these western lands."
And Oscar and Gaul Mac Morna spoke in like manner.
To this Finn agreed. Then he picked out fifteen men, the bravest and best, the most dexterous at the sword, and the swiftest of foot among the Feni.
The question then arose, who should lead the Feni in the king's absence; and what they agreed on was that Oisin should remain behind and take command, as he was the eldest and bravest and wisest of the king's sons.
Of those who were chosen to go with Finn, the chief men were Dermat O'Dyna; Gaul Mac Morna; Oscar, the son of Oisin; Aed Beg, the son of Finn; Fergus Finnvel, the poet; the three sons of Encarda; and Feradach and Foltlebar, the two sons of the king of Innia.
So the king and his party took leave of Oisin and the rest. And sad, indeed, were they on both sides; for no one knew how far the king might have to sail [p.244] among unknown seas and islands, or how long he should be away from Erin, or the spells and dangers he and his men might encounter in this pursuit.
Then they went on board, and launched their ship on the cold, bright sea; and Foltlebar was their pilot and steersman. And they set their sail and plied their slender oars, and the ship moved swiftly westward till they lost sight of the shores of Erin; and they saw nothing all round them but a wide girdle of sea. After some days' sailing, a great storm came from the west, and the black waves rose up against them, so that they had much ado to keep their vessel from sinking. But through all the roaring of the tempest, through the rain and blinding spray, Foltlebar never stirred from the helm or changed his course, but still kept close on the track of the Gilla Dacker.
At length the storm abated, and the sea grew calm. And when the darkness had cleared away, they saw to the west, a little way off, a vast rocky cliff towering over their heads to such a height, that its head seemed hidden among the clouds. It rose up sheer from the very water, and looked at that distance as smooth as glass, so that at first sight there seemed no way to reach the top.
Foltlebar, after examining to the four points of the sky, found the track of the Gilla Dacker as far as the cliff, but no farther. And he accordingly told the heroes that he thought it was on the top of that rock the giant lived; and that, anyhow, the horse must have made his way up the face of the cliff with their companions.
When the heroes heard this they were greatly cast down and puzzled what to do; for they saw no way of reaching the top of the rock; and they feared they should have to give up the quest and return without their companions. And they sat down and looked up at the cliff, with sorrow and vexation in their hearts.
DERMAT O'DYNA, IN QUEST OF THE GILLA DACKER, ENCOUNTERS THE WIZARD-CHAMPION AT THE WELL.
WHEN now they had been silent for a time, Fergus Finnvel, the poet, arose and
"My friends, we have here amongst us one who has been fostered and taught from the child to the man, by Mannanan Mac Lir in Fairyland, and by Angus, the wisest of the Dedannans, at Bruga of the Boyne. He has been carefully trained by both in everything a warrior should learn, and in much druidical lore besides; so that he is skilled beyond us all in manly arts and champion-feats. But now it seems that all his arts and accomplishments go for nought, seeing that he is unable to make use of them just at the time that we stand most in need of them. On the top of that rock, doubtless, the Gilla Dacker lives, and there he holds Conan and the others in bondage; and surely this hero, who now [p.246] sits idly with us here in our ship, should be able to climb up the face of that cliff, and bring us back tidings of our dear friends and companions."
When Dermat O'Dyna heard this speech, his cheek grew red with shame, and he made this reply,
"It is of me you have spoken these words, Fergus. Your reproaches are just; and though the task is hard, I will attempt to follow the track of the Gilla Dacker, and find out some tidings of our friends."
So saying, Dermat arose, and girded on his armour, and put on his glittering helmet. He hung his sword at his left hip; and he took his two long, deadly spears, one in each hand, namely, the Crannboi and the Ga-derg; and the battle-fury of a warrior descended on him, so that he looked a dreadful foe to meet in single combat.
Then, leaning on the handles of his spears, after the manner of skilful champions, he leaped with a light, airy bound on the nearest shelf of rock. And using his spears and his hands, he climbed from ledge to ledge, while his companions watched him anxiously from below; till, after much toil, he measured the soles of his two feet on the green sod at the top of the rock. And when, recovering breath, he turned round and looked at his companions in the ship far below, he started back with amazement and dread at the dizzy height.
He now looked inland, and saw a beautiful country [p.247] spread out before him: a lovely, flowery plain straight in front, bordered with pleasant hills, and shaded with groves of many kinds of trees. It was enough to banish all care and sadness from one's heart to view this country, and to listen to the warbling of the birds, the humming of the bees among the flowers, the rustling of the wind through the trees, and the pleasant voices of the streams and waterfalls.
Making no delay, Dermat set out to walk across the plain. He had not been long walking when he saw, right before him, a great tree laden with fruit, overtopping all the other trees of the plain. It was surrounded at a little distance by a circle of pillar-stones; and one stone, taller than the others, stood in the centre near the tree. Beside this pillar-stone was a spring well, with a large, round pool as clear as crystal; and the water bubbled up in the centre, and flowed away towards the middle of the plain in a slender stream.
Dermat was glad when he saw the well; for he was hot and thirsty after climbing up the cliff. He stooped down to take a drink; but before his lips touched the water, he heard the heavy tread of a body of warriors, and the loud clank of arms, as if a whole host were coming straight down on him. He sprang to his feet and looked round; but the noise ceased in an instant, and he could see nothing.
After a little while he stooped again to drink; and again, before he had wet his lips, he heard the very same sounds, nearer and louder than before. A [p.248] second time he leaped to his feet; and still he saw no one. He knew not what to think of this; and as he stood wondering and perplexed, he happened to cast his eyes on the tall pillar-stone that stood on the brink of the well; and he saw on its top a large, beautiful drinking-horn, chased with gold and enamelled with precious stones.
"Now surely," said Dermat, "I have been doing wrong; it is, no doubt, one of the virtues of this well, that it will not let any one drink of its waters except from the drinking-horn."
So he took down the horn, dipped it into the well, and drank without hindrance, till he had slaked his thirst.
Scarcely had he taken the horn from his lips, when he saw a tall wizard-champion12 coming towards him from the east, clad in a complete suit of mail, and fully armed with shield and helmet, sword and spear. A beautiful scarlet mantle hung over his armour, fastened at his throat by a golden brooch; and a broad circlet of sparkling gold was bended in front across his forehead, to confine his yellow hair, and keep it from being blown about by the wind.
As he came nearer, he increased his pace, moving [p.249] with great strides; and Dermat now observed that he looked very wrathful. He offered no greeting, and showed not the least courtesy; but addressed Dermat in a rough, angry voice,
"Surely, Dermat O'Dyna, Erin of the green plains should be wide enough for you; and it contains abundance of clear, sweet water in its crystal springs and green bordered streams, from which you might have drunk your fill. But you have come into my island without my leave, and you have taken my drinking-horn, and have drunk from my well; and this spot you shall never leave till you have given me satisfaction for the insult."
So spoke the wizard-champion, and instantly advanced on Dermat with fury in his eyes. But Dermat was not the man to be terrified by any hero or wizard-champion alive. He met the foe half-way; and now, foot to foot, and knee to knee, and face to face, they began a fight, watchful and wary at first, but soon hot and vengeful, till their shields and helmets could scarce withstand their strong thrusts and blows. Like two enraged lions fighting to the death, or two strong serpents intertwined in deadly strife, or two great opposing billows thundering against each other on the ocean border; such was the strength and fury and determination of the combat of these two heroes.
And so they fought through the long day, till evening came, and it began to be dusk; when suddenly the wizard-champion sprang outside the range [p.250] of Dermat's sword, and leaping up with a great bound, he alighted in the very centre of the well. Down he went through it, and disappeared in a moment before Dermat's eyes, as if the well had swallowed him up. Dermat stood on the brink, leaning on his spear, amazed and perplexed, looking after him in the water; but whether the hero had meant to drown himself, or that he had played some wizard trick, Dermat knew not.
He sat down to rest, full of vexation that the wizard-champion should have got off so easily. And what chafed him still more was that the Feni knew nought of what had happened, and that when he returned, he could tell them nothing of the strange hero; neither had he the least token or trophy to show them after his long fight.
Then he began to think what was best to be done; and he made up his mind to stay near the well all night, with the hope of finding out something further about the wizard-champion on the morrow.
He walked towards the nearest point of a great forest that stretched from the mountain down to the plain on his left; and as he came near, a herd of speckled deer ran by among the trees. He put his finger into the silken loop of his spear, and, throwing it with an unerring cast, brought down the nearest of the herd.
Then, having lighted a fire under a tree, he skinned the deer and fixed it on long hazel spits to roast, having first, however, gone to the well, and brought [p.251] away the drinking-horn full of water. And he sat beside the roasting deer to turn it and tend the fire, waiting impatiently for his meal; for he was hungry and tired after the toil of the day.
When the deer was cooked, he ate till he was satisfied, and drank the clear water of the well from the drinking-horn; after which he lay down under the shade of the tree, beside the fire, and slept a sound sleep till morning.
Night passed away and the sun rose, bringing morning with its abundant light. Dermat started up, refreshed after his long sleep, and, repairing to the forest, he slew another deer, and fixed it on hazel spits to roast at the fire as before. For Dermat had this custom, that he would never eat of any food left from a former meal.
And after he had eaten of the deer's flesh and drunk from the horn, he went towards the well. But though his visit was early, he found the wizard-champion there before him, standing beside the pillar-stone, fully armed as before, and looking now more wrathful than ever. Dermat was much surprised; but before he had time to speak the wizard-champion addressed him,
"Dermat O'Dyna, you have now put the cap on all your evil deeds. It was not enough that you took my drinking-horn and drank from my well: you have done much worse than this, for you have hunted on my grounds, and have killed some of my speckled deer. Surely there are many hunting-grounds in [p.252] Erin of the green plains, with plenty of deer in them; and you need not have come^hither to commit these robberies on me. But now for a certainty you shall not go from this spot till I have taken revenge for all these misdeeds."
And again the two champions attacked each other, and fought during the long day, from morning till evening. And when the dusk began to fall, the wizard-champion leaped into the well, and disappeared down through it, even as he had done the day before.
The selfsame thing happened on the third day. And each day, morning and evening, Dermat killed a deer, and ate of its flesh, and drank of the water of the well from the drinking-horn.
On the fourth morning, Dermat found the wizard-champion standing as usual by the pillar-stone near the well. And as each morning he looked more angry than on the morning before, so now he scowled in a way that would have terrified any one but Dermat O'Dyna.
And they fought during the day till the dusk of evening. But now Dermat watched his foe narrowly; and when he saw him about to spring into the well, he closed on him and threw his arms round him. The wizard-champion struggled to free himself, moving all the time nearer and nearer to the brink; but Dermat held on, till at last both fell into the well. Down they went, clinging to each other, Dermat and the wizard-champion; down, down, deeper and deeper they went; and Dermat tried to look round, but nothing could he [p.253] see save darkness and dim shadows. At length there was a glimmer of light; then the bright day burst suddenly upon them; and presently they came to the solid ground, gently and without the least shock.
DERMAT O'DYNA IN TIR-FA-TONK13
AT the very moment they reached the ground, the wizard-champion, with a sudden
effort, tore himself away from Dermat's grasp and ran forward with great speed.
Dermat leaped to his feet; and he was so amazed at what he saw around him that
stock still and let the wizard-champion escape: a lovely country, with many
green-sided hills and fair valleys between, woods of red yew trees, and plains
laughing all over with flowers of every hue.
Right before him, not far off, lay a city of great tall houses with glittering roofs; and on the side nearest to him was a royal palace, larger and grander than the rest. On the level green in front of the palace were a number of knights, all armed, and amusing themselves with various warlike exercises of sword and shield and spear.
Straight towards this assembly the wizard-cham- [p.254] pion ran; which, when Dermat saw, he set off in pursuit, hoping to overtake him. But the wizard-champion had too long a start, and when he reached the exercise green, the knights opened to the right and left, leaving a broad way through which he rushed. He never halted or looked behind till he had got inside the palace gate; and the moment he had passed in, the knights closed their ranks, and stood facing Dermat with threatening looks and gestures.
Nothing daunted, Dermat held on his pace towards them; and now those of the front rank started forward with spears and swords, intending to crush him at once, and hew his body to mincemeat. But it was not terror nor weakness nor a desire of flight that this produced in Dermat, for his battle-fury was on him; and he rushed through them and under them and over them, as a hawk rushes among a flight of sparrows, or like a whale through a shoal of little fishes, or like a raging wolf among a flock of sheep, or like a vast billow among a fleet of small vessels, or like a great brown torrent rushing down the steep side of a mountain, that sweeps everything headlong before it. So did Dermat cleave a wide laneway through the hosts, till, from a solid band of warriors, he turned them into a scattered crowd, flying in all directions. And those that did not fall by his hand, ran hither and thither, some to hide themselves in the thick forests and remote, wooded glens of the surrounding country; while others rushed in through the outer gate of the palace, and shut themselves up in the [p.255] strongest part of the fortress, neither did they deem themselves safe till they had shot home every bolt, and securely fastened every strong iron lock.
At last not a living soul remained on the green, and Dermat sat down, weary after his battle-toil, and smarting all over with wounds. He was grieved and downcast also, for he knew not where he was, and he saw no chance that he should be able either to find any tidings of the friends he was in search of, or to return to his companions in the ship.
At length, being quite overcome with weariness, he fell into a deep sleep. After sleeping for some time, he was awakened by a smart blow. He started up, and saw a young man standing over him, tall, and of a commanding appearance, with long, golden hair, and a manly, open countenance. Now this young man had come to Dermat, and finding him asleep in such a dangerous place, he struck him with the flat of his sword to awaken him. In an instant Dermat sprang to his feet and seized his arms; but the youth addressed him in a friendly voice, and said,
"Dermat O'Dyna, put up your arms; I am no enemy, and I have come, not to harm, but to serve you. This, indeed, is a strange place for you to fall asleep, before the very door of the castle, and within sight of your enemies. Come now with me, and I will give you a better place to sleep in, where you will also get a welcome and kindly entertainment."
This speech pleased Dermat very much; and he thanked the young man and went with him. After [p.256] walking for some time, they came to a large splendid house, and passing through the outer gate they entered the banqueting hall. There they found a noble company of twelve score and ten knights, and almost as many beautiful ladies, with their long hair falling on their shoulders, shining like the golden flower of the marsh-flag, and gentle and modest in their looks and conversation. They wore mantles of scarlet satin, and each mantle was fastened in front by a brooch of burnished gold.
The company sat at tables round the walls of the banquet hall, some feasting, some playing chess, and some listening to the music of harps. When the two heroes entered, all the knights and ladies rose and received them with much respect, and they welcomed Dermat and invited him to join their entertainment. But the young prince for he was in truth a prince pointing to Dermat's clothes and arms, all soiled and stained, told them that he had endured much toil that day, and that he wanted rest and refreshment.
He then brought Dermat away, and ordered the attendants to prepare a bath in a great caldron. He put soothing balsams and healing herbs into it with his own hands, and when Dermat had bathed he was immediately healed of his wounds, and he came forth refreshed and cheerful. The prince then directed that his clothes should be put aside, and had him clad in rich garments like the others.
Dermat now joined the company, and ate and [p.257] drank, for he had taken neither food nor drink since he had made his meal on the deer early that morning near the well; after which he talked and was cheerful with the others. Then rose up the harpers, and the professors of divers arts and sciences, and one after another they played their sweet music, and recited their poems and their tales of the heroes of the olden time. And when they had ended, the knights gave them gifts of gold and silver and jewels. At last the company broke up, and Dermat was shown to a bed richly ornamented, and soft with the red feathers of wild fowl, and soon he fell into a sound sleep after his long day's adventures.
Now Dermat marvelled much at all he saw and heard; and he knew not what place he was in, or who the people were, that had treated him with such kindness. So next morning, when the company had again assembled, he stood up, and addressed the prince with gentle words and modest demeanour; and this is what he said
"I am much surprised, prince, at what I have seen, and at all that has befallen me in this land. Though I am here a stranger, thou hast shown me much kindness, and these noble knights and ladies have permitted me to join their sports, and have treated me with much gentleness and consideration. I wish to know, then, who thou art, prince, and what country this is, of which I have never before heard, and who is the king thereof. Tell me also, I pray thee, the name of the champion who fought with me [p.258] for four days at the well, till at last he escaped from me at the palace."
The prince replied, "I will tell you all, Dermat, as you have asked, concealing nothing. This country is Tir-fa-tonn; the champion who fought with you is called the Knight of the Fountain, and that very champion is king of this land. I am the brother of the king, and my name is the Knight of Valour. Good reason indeed have I to be kind to you, Dermat O'Dyna, for though you do not remember me, I spent a year and a day in the household of Finn the son of Cumal.
"A part of this kingdom belongs by right to me. But the king and his son have seized on my patrimony, and have banished me from the palace, forcing me to live here in exile with a few of my faithful followers.
" It is my intention, however, to make war on the king for my part of the kingdom; and right glad I am that you have come hither, for I would rather have you on my side than all the other Feni put together, for your nobleness of mind and your valour in battle.
"I have here in my household seven score and ten heroes, all champions of great deeds; and if you consent to aid me, these shall be placed under your command. By day you shall fight against the king of Tir-fa-tonn and his son, and by night you shall feast and rest and sleep with me in this palace. If you enter into friendship with me and fight on my side, well I know that I shall win back my right without delay."
Dermat agreed to this. So he and the Knight of Valour made a covenant; and, placing hand in hand, they pledged themselves to observe faithfully the conditions of the league of friendship.
FINN, IN QUEST OF DERMAT, FIGHTS MANY BATTLES.
As to Finn Mac Cumal and those that remained behind with him in the ship, I will
now relate what befell them.
It was now many days since Dermat had left them, and they marvelled much that he did not return with tidings of the Gilla Dacker. At length, when they began to be alarmed, the two sons of the king of Innia offered to go in search of him; but Finn said no, for that they should all go together.
So Feradach and Foltlebar took all the cables and ropes they could find in the ship, and tied them end to end in hard, sure knots, till they had a rope long enough to reach from the top of the rock to the bottom. Then they clambered up the steep face of the cliff, bringing with them the end of the rope; and one by one they drew up Finn and the rest. And when they looked round, they were as much surprised and delighted as Dermat was at the look of the country.
Foltlebar now made a search, and soon found the track of Dermat; and the whole
party set out to walk across the plain, Foltlebar leading the way. Having
travelled some distance, they saw the great fruit tree afar off; and, turning to
the left, they found a place where a fire had been lighted, and near it the
remains of several meals of deer's flesh. By this they knew
that it was here Dermat had slept, for all were well aware of his custom not to
eat of what was left from a meal.
They then went towards the tree, and there they found the traces of deadly combat the ground all trampled and ploughed up, and a broken spear handle lying at the brink of the well. While they stood pondering on these things, with anxious hearts, they saw a horseman at a distance, speeding towards them across the plain. In a little while he came up and reined in.
He was a young man of majestic mien, fair and noble of countenance; and he rode a beautiful chestnut steed, with a bridle of twisted gold, and a saddle of surpassing splendour, ornamented all over with gold and jewels.
He alighted and saluted Finn and the Feni, and told them they were welcome to his country, for that he was king; and he put his hand on Finn's neck and kissed his cheek three times. Then he invited them to go with him, saying that the Plain of the Fountain was a comfortless resting-place after a long journey.
Finn's heart was glad at this, for he and his com- [p.261] panions were weary; and they set out to walk across the plain with the young king. Having walked a good distance, they came in sight of a noble palace, with tall towers and carved front. As they came near, they were met by a company of knights on the level green in front, who welcomed them with gentle words. And so they passed into the palace. A bath was prepared, and they bathed and were refreshed after their toils. Then they sat down to supper; and while they ate and drank, the harpers played for them, and the poets told their tales and sang their songs.
They slept that night in the palace; and next day they mingled with the knights on the green, and took part in their games and pastimes. In the evening they sat down to a feast. The people of the palace were ranged at tables according to rank and inheritance, every man in his proper place.
Then the feast went on; and abundance of the newest food and of the oldest drink was served out; and they ate of the savoury food, and drank of the sparkling wines and of the strong ales, till they became merry and gently intoxicated. And Finn could not call to mind that he ever saw an entertainment in the house of either king or chief better ordered. In this manner they were feasted and entertained for three days and three nights.
At the end of that time a meeting was held by the king on the palace green. And Finn stood up and said,
"Tell me, I pray thee, thy name and the name of [p.262] this country, which I have never seen before, or even heard of."
"This country," replied the king, "is called Sorca, of which I am king; and although you know us not, we know you well, for the fame of your deeds has reached even to this land. But now I wish to know why you have come hither; also the reason why you have brought so few companions, and where the rest have tarried."
Then Finn told him the whole story from beginning to end; how the Gilla Dacker and his great horse had carried off sixteen of their chief men; "And," added Finn, "I and these fifteen companions of mine are now in quest of them."
The king replied, "This is a dangerous undertaking; and you and your fifteen men, valiant even as you are, are too few to venture into unknown lands, where you may meet with many enemies. Now my knights are brave and generous, and they love battle and adventure. Wherefore I will place a band of them under your command, who will follow you whithersoever you go, and who will not be behindhand even with the Feni in facing hardship and danger."
Finn stood up to thank the king; but before he had time to speak, they saw a messenger speeding towards them across the plain from the north-west, breathless, and begrimed all over with mud and dust. When he had come in presence of the company, he bowed low to the king, and, standing up, waited impatient for leave to speak. [p.263] The king asked him what news he had brought; and he replied,
"Bad and direful news I have for thee, king. A foreign fleet has come to our shores, which seems to cover all the sea, even as far as the eye can reach; and until the stars of heaven are counted, and the sands of the sea, and the leaves of the woods, the hosts that are landing from their black ships shall not be numbered. Even already they have let loose their plunderers over the country, who are burning and spoiling the farmsteads and the great mansions; and many noble heroes and keepers of houses of hospitality, and many people of the common sort, have been slain by them. Some say that it is the King of the World and his host, who, after conquering every country he has yet visited, has come now to ravage this land with fire and sword and spear, and bring it under his power; but I know not if this be true. And this, king, is the news I bring thee."
When the messenger had ended, the king spoke nought, though his countenance, indeed, showed trouble; but he looked earnestly at Finn. Finn understood this to mean that the king sought his help; and, with clear voice, he spoke,
"Thou hast been generous to me and my people in our day of need, king of Sorca; and now thou shalt not find the Feni lacking in grateful memory of thy kindness. We will, for a time, give up the pursuit of the Gilla Dacker, and we will place ourselves under thy command, and help thee against [p.264] these marauders. Neither do I fear the outcome of this war; for many a time have we met these foreigners on the shores of Erin and elsewhere, and they have always yielded to us in the battle-field."
The king of Sorca was glad of heart when he heard these words; and he sent his swift scouts all over the country to gather his fighting men. And when all had come together, he arranged them in fighting order, and marched towards the shore where the foreigners were spoiling the land. And they met the plundering parties, and drove them with great slaughter back to their ships, retaking all the spoils.
Then they formed an encampment on the shore, with ramparts and deep ditches and long rows of pointed stakes all round. And each day a party of the foreigners landed, led by one of their captains, who were met by an equal number of the men of Sorca, led by one of the Feni; and each time they were driven back to their ships, after losing their best men.
When, now, this had continued for many days, the King of the World called a meeting of the chiefs of his army, and asked their counsel as to what should be done. And they spoke as one man, that their best chiefs had fallen, and that they were in worse case now for overcoming the men of Sorca than they were at first; that their sages and prophets had declared against them; and that they had met with ill luck from the day of their arrival. And the advice they gave the king was to depart from the shores of Sorca, [p.265] for there seemed no chance of conquering the country as long as the Feni were there to help the king.
So the king ordered the sails to be set, and he left the harbour in the night with his whole fleet, without bringing the king of Sorca under subjection, and without imposing tribute on the people.
FINN AND DERMAT MEET.
WHEN the people of Sorca and the Feni arose next morning, not a ship was in
sight; and they began to rejoice greatly, finding themselves freed from this
invasion. And while the king and Finn, with the chiefs and people, stood eagerly
conversing on all these matters, they saw a troop at a distance coming towards
them, with banners and standards and arms glittering in the morning sun. Now
they wondered much who these might be; and Finn desired that some one might go
and bring back tidings.
So Fergus Finnvel went with a few followers, and when he was yet a good way off, he knew Dermat O'Dyna at the head of the troop, and ran forward with joy to meet him. And they embraced, even as brothers embrace who meet after being long parted. Then they came towards the assembly; and when the Feni saw Dermat they shouted with joy and welcome. [p.266] And Dermat, on his part, could scarce restrain the excess of his joyfulness; for, indeed, he did not expect to meet his friends so soon; and he embraced them one by one, with glad heart, beginning with Finn.
Then Finn inquired from Dermat all particulars, what places he had visited since the day he had climbed up the rock, and whether he had heard any news of their lost companions; and he asked him also who were they those valiant-looking fighting men he had brought with him.
Dermat told him of all his adventures from first to last of his long combat at the well with the Knight of the Fountain, of his descent to Tir-fa-tonn, and how the Knight of Valour had entertained him hospitably in his palace. He related also how he headed the men of the Knight of Valour, and made war on the king of Tir-fa-tonn (who was also called the Knight of the Fountain, the wizard-champion who fought with Dermat at the well), whom he slew, and defeated his army.
"And now," continued he, bringing forth the Knight of Valour from among the strange host, "this is he who was formerly called the Knight of Valour, but who is now the king of Tir-fa-tonn. Moreover, this king has told me, having himself found it out by his druidical art, that it was Avarta the Dedannan (the son of Illahan of the Many-coloured Raiment) who took the form of the Gilla Dacker, and who brought the sixteen Feni away to the Land of Promise, where he now holds them in bondage."
Finn and the young king then put hand in hand and made covenants of lasting friendship with each other. And the Feni were much rejoiced that they had at last got some tidings of their lost companions.
CONAN AND HIS COMPANIONS FOUND AND RESCUED.
Now after they had rested some days in the palace of the king of Sorca, Fergus
Finnvel told Finn that it was time to begin once more their quest after Conan
and the others. They held council, therefore; and the resolution they came to
was to return to the rock at the spot where they had turned aside from the track
of the Gilla Dacker, and to begin their search anew
from that. And when both the king of Sorca and the king of Tir-fa-tonn would
have sent men with them, Finn thanked them, but said that the small party of
Feni he had with him were quite enough for that adventure.
So they took leave of the two kings, and went back to the rock, and Foltlebar at once found the track. He traced it from the very edge of the rock across the plain to the sea at the other side; and they brought round their ship and began their voyage. But this time Foltlebar found it very hard to keep on the track; for the Gilla Dacker, knowing that there [p.268] were not in the world men more skilled in following up a quest than the Feni, took great pains to hide all traces of the flight of himself and his horse; so that Foltlebar was often thrown out; but he always recovered the track after a little time.
And so they sailed from island to island, and from bay to bay, over many seas and by many shores, ever following the track, till at length they arrived at the Land of Promise. And when they had made the land, and knew for a certainty that this was indeed the Land of Promise, they rejoiced greatly; for in this land Dermat O'Dyna had been nurtured by Mannanan Mac Lir of the Yellow Hair.
Then they held council as to what was best to be done; and Finn's advice was that they should burn and spoil the country, in revenge of the outrage that had been done to his people. Dermat, however, would not hear of this. And he said,
"Not so, O king. The people of this land are of all men the most skilled in druidic art; and it is not well that they should be at feud with us. Let us rather send to Avarta a trusty herald, to demand that he should set our companions at liberty. If he does so, then we shall be at peace; if he refuse, then shall we proclaim war against him and his people, and waste this land with fire and sword, till he be forced, even by his own people, to give us back our friends."
This advice was approved by all. And then Finn said,
"But how shall heralds reach the dwelling of this [p.269] enchanter; for the ways are not open and straight, as in other lands, but crooked and made for concealment, and the valleys and plains are dim and shadowy, and hard to be traversed?"
But Foltlebar, nothing daunted by the dangers and the obscurity of the way, offered to go with a single trusty companion; and they took up the track and followed it without being once thrown out, till they reached the mansion of Avarta. There they found their friends amusing themselves on the green outside the palace walls; for, though kept captive in the island, yet were they in no wise restrained, but were treated by Avarta with much kindness. When they saw the heralds coming towards them, their joy knew no bounds; they crowded round to embrace them, and asked them many questions regarding their home and their friends.
At last Avarta himself came forth, and asked who these strangers were; and Foltlebar replied,
"We are of the people of Fnm Mac Cumal, who has sent us as heralds to thee. He and his heroes have landed on this island, guided hither by me; and he bade us tell thee that he has come to wage war and to waste this land with fire and sword, as a punishment for that thou hast brought away his people by foul spells, and even now keepest them in bondage."
When Avarta heard this, he made no reply, but called a council of his chief men, to consider whether they should send back to Finn an answer of war or [p.270] of peace. And they, having much fear of the Feni, were minded to restore Finn's people, and to give him his own award in satisfaction for the injury done to him; and to invite Finn himself and those who had come with him to a feast of joy and friendship in the house of Avarta.
Avarta himself went with Foltlebar to give this message. And after he and Finn had exchanged friendly greetings, he told them what the council had resolved; and Finn and Dermat and the others were glad at heart. And Finn and Avarta put hand in hand, and made a league of friendship.
So they went with Avarta to his house, where they found their lost friends; and, being full of gladness, they saluted and embraced each other. Then a feast was prepared; and they were feasted for three days, and they ate and drank and made merry.
On the fourth day, a meeting was called on the green to hear the award. Now it was resolved to make amends on the one hand to Finn, as king of the Feni, and on the other, to those who had been brought away by the Gilla Dacker. And when all were gathered together, Finn was first asked to name his award; and this is what he said,
"I shall not name an award, Avarta; neither shall I accept an eric from thee. But the wages I promised thee when we made our covenant at Knockainy, that I will give thee: For lam thankful for the welcome thou hast given us here; and I wish that there should be peace and friendship between us for ever."
But Conan, on his part, was not so easily satisfied; and he said to Finn,
"Little hast thou endured, Finn, in all this matter; and thou mayst well waive thy award. But hadst thou, like us, suffered from the sharp bones and the rough carcase of the Gilla Dacker's monstrous horse, in a long journey from Erin to the Land of Promise, across wide seas, through tangled woods, and over rough-headed rocks, thou wouldst then, methinks, name an award."
At this, Avarta, and the others who had seen Conan and his companions carried off on the back of the big horse, could scarce keep from laughing; and Avarta said to Conan,
"Name thy award, and I will fulfil it every jot: for I have heard of thee, Conan, and I dread to bring the gibes and taunts of thy foul tongue on myself and my people."
"Well then," said Conan, "my award is this: that you choose fifteen of the best and noblest men in the Land of Promise, among whom are to be your own best beloved friends; and that you cause them to mount on the back of the big horse, and that you yourself take hold of his tail. In this manner you shall fare to Erin, back again by the selfsame track the horse took when he brought us hither through the same surging seas, through the same thick thorny woods, and over the same islands and rough rocks and dark glens. And this, Avarta, is my award," said Conan.
Now Finn and his people were rejoiced exceedingly when they heard Conan's
award that he asked from Avarta nothing more than like for like. For they feared
much that he might claim treasure of gold and silver, and thus bring reproach on
Avarta promised that everything required by Conan should be done, binding himself in solemn pledges. Then the heroes took their leave; and having launched their ship on the broad, green sea, they sailed back by the same course to Erin. And they marched to their camping-place at Knockainy, where they rested in their tents.
Avarta then chose his men. And he placed them on the horse's back, and he himself caught hold of the tail; and it is not told how they fared till they made harbour and landing-place at Cloghan Kincat. They delayed not, but straightway journeyed over the selfsame track as before, till they reached Knockainy.
Finn and his people saw them afar off coming towards the hill with great speed; the Gilla Dacker, quite as large and as ugly as ever, running before the horse; for he had let go the tail at Cloghan Kincat. And the Feni could not help laughing heartily when they saw the plight of the fifteen chiefs on the great horse's back; and they said with one voice that Conan had made a good award that time.
When the horse reached the spot from which he had at first set out, the men began to dismount. Then the Gilla Dacker, suddenly stepping forward, held up his arm and pointed earnestly over the heads of the [p.273] Feni towards the field where the horses were standing; so that the heroes were startled, and turned round every man to look. But nothing was to be seen except the horses grazing quietly inside the fence.
Finn and the others now turned round again, with intent to speak to the Gilla Dacker and bring him and his people into the tents; but much did they marvel to find them all gone. The Gilla Dacker and his great horse and the fifteen nobles of the Land of Promise had disappeared in an instant; and neither Finn himself nor any of his chiefs ever saw them afterwards.
So far we have related the story of the pursuit of the Gilla Dacker and his horse.
1 Beltane, the first of May; Samin, the first of November.
2 Beta, a public house of hospitality.
3 Offaly, now the name of two baronies in the connty Kildare.
Fera-call, or Fircal, an ancient territory in the present King's County.
Brosna, a small river rising in the Slieve Bloma, or Slieve Bloom mountains, which flows by Birr, and falls into the Shannon near Banagher; usually called the Little Brosna, to distinguish it from the Great Brosna, which flows through King's County into the Shannon.
The Twelve Mountains of Evlinn.
Knockainy, a small hill much celebrated in fairy lore, in the county Limerick, giving name to the village of Knockainy at its base. It appears from the text that it was more anciently called Collkilla, or hazel-wood.
4 Ardpatrick, a beautiful green hill, with a remarkable church ruin and
graveyard on its summit, two miles from Kilfinane, county Limerick.
Kenn-Avrat was the ancient name of Seefin mountain, rising over the village of Glenosheen, two miles from Ardpatrick. Slieve-Keen, the old name of the hill of Carrigeennamroanty, near Seefin.
Fermoy, a well-known town and barony in the county Cork. It appears from the text that the district was anciently known by the name of Coill-na-drna, or the wood of the druids.
Lehan, the ancient name of the district round Castlelyons, in the county Cork.
Fermorc, now the baronies of Connello, in Limerick. (See note, page 184.)
Curoi Mac Dara, a celebrated chief who flourished in the time of the Red Branch Knights of Ulster, viz., in the first century of the Christian era. Cnroi had his residence on a mountain near Tralee, still called Caherconree (the fortress of Curoi), and his "patrimony" was South Munster. The remains of Curoi's great stone fortress are still to be seen on Caherconree.
Loch Lein, the Lakes of Killarney.
Caher-Dun-Isca, now the town of Caher,on the Snir, in Tipperary.
Femin was the name of the great plain lying to the south and west of the mountain of Slievenaman, or Slieve-na-man-finn, near Clonmel, in Tipperary.
Balla-Gavran, or the pass of Gavran, an ancient road, which ran by Gavran (now Gowran), in the county Kilkenny.
Cratloe, a well-known district on the Clare side of the Shannon, near Limerick.
5 Cliach, the old name of the plain lying round Knockainy.
6 Fomor, a gigantic warrior, a giant; its primitive meaning is "a sea-robber," commonly called a Fomorian.
7 Gilla Dacker means "a slothful fellow" a fellow hard to move, hard to manage, hard to have anything to do with.
8 Fermorc, now the baronies of Connello, in Limerick. Slieve Lougher, a celebrated mountain near Castle Island, in Kerry. Corca Divna, now the barony of Corkaguiny, the long peninsula lying west of Tralee, and containing the town of Dingle, and the mountain range of Slieve Mish. Cloghan Kincat, now called Cloghan, a small village on the northern coast of the peninsula.
9 Ben Edar, now Howth Hill, near Dublin.
10 Gael Glas, the traditional ancestor of the Gaels.
11 Crann-tavall, a sort of sling for projecting stones, made of an elastic piece of wood, and strung somewhat like a cross-bow.
12 The original word, which I have translated "wizard-champion," is gruagach. This word literally means "hairy," "a hairy fellow;" and it is often used in the sense of "giant." But in these romantic tales it is commonly used to signify a champion who has always something of the supernatural about him, yet not to such a degree as to shield him completely from the valour of a great mortal hero like Dennat O'Dyna.
13 Tir-fa-tonn, literally "the country beneath the wave."