The Boyhood Of Fionn

: Irish Fairy Tales

He was a king, a seer and a poet. He was a lord with a manifold and

great train. He was our magician, our knowledgable one, our soothsayer.

All that he did was sweet with him. And, however ye deem my testimony

of Fionn excessive, and, although ye hold my praising overstrained,

nevertheless, and by the King that is above me, he was three times

better than all I say.--Saint PATRICK.



Fionn [pronounce Fewn to rhyme with "tune"] got his first training among

women. There is no wonder in that, for it is the pup's mother teaches it

to fight, and women know that fighting is a necessary art although men

pretend there are others that are better. These were the women druids,

Bovmall and Lia Luachra. It will be wondered why his own mother did not

train him in the first natural savageries of existence, but she could

not do it. She could not keep him with her for dread of the clann-Morna.

The sons of Morna had been fighting and intriguing for a long time to

oust her husband, Uail, from the captaincy of the Fianna of Ireland,

and they had ousted him at last by killing him. It was the only way

they could get rid of such a man; but it was not an easy way, for what

Fionn's father did not know in arms could not be taught to him even by

Morna. Still, the hound that can wait will catch a hare at last, and

even Manana'nn sleeps. Fionn's mother was beautiful, long-haired Muirne:

so she is always referred to. She was the daughter of Teigue, the son of

Nuada from Faery, and her mother was Ethlinn. That is, her brother

was Lugh of the Long Hand himself, and with a god, and such a god, for

brother we may marvel that she could have been in dread of Morna or his

sons, or of any one. But women have strange loves, strange fears, and

these are so bound up with one another that the thing which is presented

to us is not often the thing that is to be seen.

However it may be, when Uall died Muirne got married again to the King

of Kerry. She gave the child to Bovmall and Lia Luachra to rear, and we

may be sure that she gave injunctions with him, and many of them. The

youngster was brought to the woods of Slieve Bloom and was nursed there

in secret.

It is likely the women were fond of him, for other than Fionn there

was no life about them. He would be their life; and their eyes may

have seemed as twin benedictions resting on the small fair head. He was

fair-haired, and it was for his fairness that he was afterwards called

Fionn; but at this period he was known as Deimne. They saw the food they

put into his little frame reproduce itself length-ways and sideways in

tough inches, and in springs and energies that crawled at first, and

then toddled, and then ran. He had birds for playmates, but all the

creatures that live in a wood must have been his comrades. There would

have been for little Fionn long hours of lonely sunshine, when the world

seemed just sunshine and a sky. There would have been hours as long,

when existence passed like a shade among shadows, in the multitudinous

tappings of rain that dripped from leaf to leaf in the wood, and slipped

so to the ground. He would have known little snaky paths, narrow enough

to be filled by his own small feet, or a goat's; and he would have

wondered where they went, and have marvelled again to find that,

wherever they went, they came at last, through loops and twists of the

branchy wood, to his own door. He may have thought of his own door as

the beginning and end of the world, whence all things went, and whither

all things came.

Perhaps he did not see the lark for a long time, but he would have heard

him, far out of sight in the endless sky, thrilling and thrilling until

the world seemed to have no other sound but that clear sweetness; and

what a world it was to make that sound! Whistles and chirps, coos and

caws and croaks, would have grown familiar to him. And he could at last

have told which brother of the great brotherhood was making the noise

he heard at any moment. The wind too: he would have listened to its

thousand voices as it moved in all seasons and in all moods. Perhaps a

horse would stray into the thick screen about his home, and would look

as solemnly on Fionn as Fionn did on it. Or, coming suddenly on him,

the horse might stare, all a-cock with eyes and ears and nose, one

long-drawn facial extension, ere he turned and bounded away with

manes all over him and hoofs all under him and tails all round him. A

solemn-nosed, stern-eyed cow would amble and stamp in his wood to find a

flyless shadow; or a strayed sheep would poke its gentle muzzle through


"A boy," he might think, as he stared on a staring horse, "a boy cannot

wag his tail to keep the flies off," and that lack may have saddened

him. He may have thought that a cow can snort and be dignified at

the one moment, and that timidity is comely in a sheep. He would have

scolded the jackdaw, and tried to out-whistle the throstle, and wondered

why his pipe got tired when the blackbird's didn't. There would be flies

to be watched, slender atoms in yellow gauze that flew, and filmy specks

that flittered, and sturdy, thick-ribbed brutes that pounced like cats

and bit like dogs and flew like lightning. He may have mourned for the

spider in bad luck who caught that fly. There would be much to see and

remember and compare, and there would be, always, his two guardians. The

flies change from second to second; one cannot tell if this bird is a

visitor or an inhabitant, and a sheep is just sister to a sheep; but the

women were as rooted as the house itself.


Were his nurses comely or harsh-looking? Fionn would not know. This was

the one who picked him up when he fell, and that was the one who patted

the bruise. This one said: "Mind you do not tumble in the well!"

And that one: "Mind the little knees among the nettles."

But he did tumble and record that the only notable thing about a well

is that it is wet. And as for nettles, if they hit him he hit back. He

slashed into them with a stick and brought them low. There was nothing

in wells or nettles, only women dreaded them. One patronised women and

instructed them and comforted them, for they were afraid about one.

They thought that one should not climb a tree!

"Next week," they said at last, "you may climb this one," and "next

week" lived at the end of the world!

But the tree that was climbed was not worth while when it had been

climbed twice. There was a bigger one near by. There were trees that no

one could climb, with vast shadow on one side and vaster sunshine on

the other. It took a long time to walk round them, and you could not see

their tops.

It was pleasant to stand on a branch that swayed and sprung, and it was

good to stare at an impenetrable roof of leaves and then climb into it.

How wonderful the loneliness was up there! When he looked down there

was an undulating floor of leaves, green and green and greener to a very

blackness of greeniness; and when he looked up there were leaves

again, green and less green and not green at all, up to a very snow and

blindness of greeniness; and above and below and around there was sway

and motion, the whisper of leaf on leaf, and the eternal silence to

which one listened and at which one tried to look.

When he was six years of age his mother, beautiful, long-haired Muirne,

came to see him. She came secretly, for she feared the sons of Morna,

and she had paced through lonely places in many counties before she

reached the hut in the wood, and the cot where he lay with his fists

shut and sleep gripped in them.

He awakened to be sure. He would have one ear that would catch an

unusual voice, one eye that would open, however sleepy the other one

was. She took him in her arms and kissed him, and she sang a sleepy song

until the small boy slept again.

We may be sure that the eye that could stay open stayed open that night

as long as it could, and that the one ear listened to the sleepy song

until the song got too low to be heard, until it was too tender to be

felt vibrating along those soft arms, until Fionn was asleep again, with

a new picture in his little head and a new notion to ponder on.

The mother of himself! His own mother!

But when he awakened she was gone.

She was going back secretly, in dread of the sons of Morna, slipping

through gloomy woods, keeping away from habitations, getting by desolate

and lonely ways to her lord in Kerry.

Perhaps it was he that was afraid of the sons of Morna, and perhaps she

loved him.


THE women druids, his guardians, belonged to his father's people.

Bovmall was Uail's sister, and, consequently, Fionn's aunt. Only such

a blood-tie could have bound them to the clann-Baiscne, for it is not

easy, having moved in the world of court and camp, to go hide with a

baby in a wood; and to live, as they must have lived, in terror.

What stories they would have told the child of the sons of Morna. Of

Morna himself, the huge-shouldered, stern-eyed, violent Connachtman; and

of his sons--young Goll Mor mac Morna in particular, as huge-shouldered

as his father, as fierce in the onset, but merry-eyed when the other

was grim, and bubbling with a laughter that made men forgive even his

butcheries. Of Cona'n Mael mac Morna his brother, gruff as a badger,

bearded like a boar, bald as a crow, and with a tongue that could manage

an insult where another man would not find even a stammer. His boast was

that when he saw an open door he went into it, and when he saw a closed

door he went into it. When he saw a peaceful man he insulted him, and

when he met a man who was not peaceful he insulted him. There was Garra

Duv mac Morna, and savage Art Og, who cared as little for their own

skins as they did for the next man's, and Garra must have been rough

indeed to have earned in that clan the name of the Rough mac Morna.

There were others: wild Connachtmen all, as untameable, as unaccountable

as their own wonderful countryside.

Fionn would have heard much of them, and it is likely that he practised

on a nettle at taking the head off Goll, and that he hunted a sheep

from cover in the implacable manner he intended later on for Cona'n the


But it is of Uail mac Baiscne he would have heard most. With what a

dilation of spirit the ladies would have told tales of him, Fionn's

father. How their voices would have become a chant as feat was added

to feat, glory piled on glory. The most famous of men and the most

beautiful; the hardest fighter; the easiest giver; the kingly champion;

the chief of the Fianna na h-Eirinn. Tales of how he had been way-laid

and got free; of how he had been generous and got free; of how he had

been angry and went marching with the speed of an eagle and the direct

onfall of a storm; while in front and at the sides, angled from the prow

of his terrific advance, were fleeing multitudes who did not dare to

wait and scarce had time to run. And of how at last, when the time

came to quell him, nothing less than the whole might of Ireland was

sufficient for that great downfall.

We may be sure that on these adventures Fionn was with his father, going

step for step with the long-striding hero, and heartening him mightily.


He was given good training by the women in running and leaping and


One of them would take a thorn switch in her hand, and Fionn would

take a thorn switch in his hand, and each would try to strike the other

running round a tree.

You had to go fast to keep away from the switch behind, and a small boy

feels a switch. Fionn would run his best to get away from that prickly

stinger, but how he would run when it was his turn to deal the strokes!

With reason too, for his nurses had suddenly grown implacable. They

pursued him with a savagery which he could not distinguish from hatred,

and they swished him well whenever they got the chance.

Fionn learned to run. After a while he could buzz around a tree like

a maddened fly, and oh, the joy, when he felt himself drawing from the

switch and gaining from behind on its bearer! How he strained and panted

to catch on that pursuing person and pursue her and get his own switch

into action.

He learned to jump by chasing hares in a bumpy field. Up went the hare

and up went Fionn, and away with the two of them, hopping and popping

across the field. If the hare turned while Fionn was after her it was

switch for Fionn; so that in a while it did not matter to Fionn which

way the hare jumped for he could jump that way too. Long-ways, sideways

or baw-ways, Fionn hopped where the hare hopped, and at last he was the

owner of a hop that any hare would give an ear for.

He was taught to swim, and it may be that his heart sank when he fronted

the lesson. The water was cold. It was deep. One could see the bottom,

leagues below, millions of miles below. A small boy might shiver as he

stared into that wink and blink and twink of brown pebbles and murder.

And these implacable women threw him in!

Perhaps he would not go in at first. He may have smiled at them, and

coaxed, and hung back. It was a leg and an arm gripped then; a swing for

Fionn, and out and away with him; plop and flop for him; down into chill

deep death for him, and up with a splutter; with a sob; with a grasp

at everything that caught nothing; with a wild flurry; with a raging

despair; with a bubble and snort as he was hauled again down, and down,

and down, and found as suddenly that he had been hauled out.

Fionn learned to swim until he could pop into the water like an otter

and slide through it like an eel.

He used to try to chase a fish the way he chased hares in the bumpy

field--but there are terrible spurts in a fish. It may be that a fish

cannot hop, but he gets there in a flash, and he isn't there in another.

Up or down, sideways or endways, it is all one to a fish. He goes and

is gone. He twists this way and disappears the other way. He is over

you when he ought to be under you, and he is biting your toe when you

thought you were biting his tail.

You cannot catch a fish by swimming, but you can try, and Fionn tried.

He got a grudging commendation from the terrible women when he was able

to slip noiselessly in the tide, swim under water to where a wild duck

was floating and grip it by the leg.

"Qu--," said the duck, and he disappeared before he had time to get the

"-ack" out of him.

So the time went, and Fionn grew long and straight and tough like a

sapling; limber as a willow, and with the flirt and spring of a young

bird. One of the ladies may have said, "He is shaping very well, my

dear," and the other replied, as is the morose privilege of an aunt,

"He will never be as good as his father," but their hearts must have

overflowed in the night, in the silence, in the darkness, when they

thought of the living swiftness they had fashioned, and that dear fair



ONE day his guardians were agitated: they held confabulations at which

Fionn was not permitted to assist. A man who passed by in the morning

had spoken to them. They fed the man, and during his feeding Fionn had

been shooed from the door as if he were a chicken. When the stranger

took his road the women went with him a short distance. As they passed

the man lifted a hand and bent a knee to Fionn.

"My soul to you, young master," he said, and as he said it, Fionn

knew that he could have the man's soul, or his boots, or his feet, or

anything that belonged to him.

When the women returned they were mysterious and whispery. They chased

Fionn into the house, and when they got him in they chased him out

again. They chased each other around the house for another whisper. They

calculated things by the shape of clouds, by lengths of shadows, by the

flight of birds, by two flies racing on a flat stone, by throwing bones

over their left shoulders, and by every kind of trick and game and

chance that you could put a mind to.

They told Fionn he must sleep in a tree that night, and they put him

under bonds not to sing or whistle or cough or sneeze until the morning.

Fionn did sneeze. He never sneezed so much in his life. He sat up in his

tree and nearly sneezed himself out of it. Flies got up his nose, two

at a time, one up each nose, and his head nearly fell off the way he


"You are doing that on purpose," said a savage whisper from the foot of

the tree.

But Fionn was not doing it on purpose. He tucked himself into a fork the

way he had been taught, and he passed the crawliest, tickliest night he

had ever known. After a while he did not want to sneeze, he wanted to

scream: and in particular he wanted to come down from the tree. But he

did not scream, nor did he leave the tree. His word was passed, and he

stayed in his tree as silent as a mouse and as watchful, until he fell

out of it.

In the morning a band of travelling poets were passing, and the

women handed Fionn over to them. This time they could not prevent him


"The sons of Morna!" they said.

And Fionn's heart might have swelled with rage, but that it was already

swollen with adventure. And also the expected was happening. Behind

every hour of their day and every moment of their lives lay the sons of

Morna. Fionn had run after them as deer: he jumped after them as hares:

he dived after them as fish. They lived in the house with him: they

sat at the table and ate his meat. One dreamed of them, and they were

expected in the morning as the sun is. They knew only too well that the

son of Uail was living, and they knew that their own sons would know

no ease while that son lived; for they believed in those days that like

breeds like, and that the son of Uail would be Uail with additions.

His guardians knew that their hiding-place must at last be discovered,

and that, when it was found, the sons of Morna would come. They had

no doubt of that, and every action of their lives was based on that

certainty. For no secret can remain secret. Some broken soldier tramping

home to his people will find it out; a herd seeking his strayed cattle

or a band of travelling musicians will get the wind of it. How many

people will move through even the remotest wood in a year! The crows

will tell a secret if no one else does; and under a bush, behind a clump

of bracken, what eyes may there not be! But if your secret is legged

like a young goat! If it is tongued like a wolf! One can hide a baby,

but you cannot hide a boy. He will rove unless you tie him to a post,

and he will whistle then.

The sons of Morna came, but there were only two grim women living in a

lonely hut to greet them. We may be sure they were well greeted. One can

imagine Goll's merry stare taking in all that could be seen; Cona'n's

grim eye raking the women's faces while his tongue raked them again; the

Rough mac Morna shouldering here and there in the house and about it,

with maybe a hatchet in his hand, and Art Og coursing further afield and

vowing that if the cub was there he would find him.


But Fionn was gone. He was away, bound with his band of poets for the


It is likely they were junior poets come to the end of a year's

training, and returning to their own province to see again the people at

home, and to be wondered at and exclaimed at as they exhibited bits of

the knowledge which they had brought from the great schools. They would

know tags of rhyme and tricks about learning which Fionn would hear of;

and now and again, as they rested in a glade or by the brink of a river,

they might try their lessons over. They might even refer to the ogham

wands on which the first words of their tasks and the opening lines of

poems were cut; and it is likely that, being new to these things, they

would talk of them to a youngster, and, thinking that his wits could be

no better than their own, they might have explained to him how ogham was

written. But it is far more likely that his women guardians had already

started him at those lessons.

Still this band of young bards would have been of infinite interest to

Fionn, not on account of what they had learned, but because of what they

knew. All the things that he should have known as by nature: the look,

the movement, the feeling of crowds; the shouldering and intercourse of

man with man; the clustering of houses and how people bore themselves

in and about them; the movement of armed men, and the homecoming look

of wounds; tales of births, and marriages and deaths; the chase with its

multitudes of men and dogs; all the noise, the dust, the excitement of

mere living. These, to Fionn, new come from leaves and shadows and the

dipple and dapple of a wood, would have seemed wonderful; and the tales

they would have told of their masters, their looks, fads, severities,

sillinesses, would have been wonderful also.

That band should have chattered like a rookery.

They must have been young, for one time a Leinsterman came on them, a

great robber named Fiacuil mac Cona, and he killed the poets. He chopped

them up and chopped them down. He did not leave one poeteen of them

all. He put them out of the world and out of life, so that they stopped

being, and no one could tell where they went or what had really happened

to them; and it is a wonder indeed that one can do that to anything let

alone a band. If they were not youngsters, the bold Fiacuil could not

have managed them all. Or, perhaps, he too had a band, although the

record does not say so; but kill them he did, and they died that way.

Fionn saw that deed, and his blood may have been cold enough as he

watched the great robber coursing the poets as a wild dog rages in a

flock. And when his turn came, when they were all dead, and the grim,

red-handed man trod at him, Fionn may have shivered, but he would have

shown his teeth and laid roundly on the monster with his hands. Perhaps

he did that, and perhaps for that he was spared.

"Who are you?" roared the staring black-mouth with the red tongue

squirming in it like a frisky fish.

"The son of Uail, son of Baiscne," quoth hardy Fionn. And at that the

robber ceased to be a robber, the murderer disappeared, the black-rimmed

chasm packed with red fish and precipices changed to something else, and

the round eyes that had been popping out of their sockets and trying

to bite, changed also. There remained a laughing and crying and loving

servant who wanted to tie himself into knots if that would please the

son of his great captain. Fionn went home on the robber's shoulder, and

the robber gave great snorts and made great jumps and behaved like a

first-rate horse. For this same Fiacuil was the husband of Bovmall,

Fionn's aunt. He had taken to the wilds when clann-Baiscne was broken,

and he was at war with a world that had dared to kill his Chief.


A new life for Fionn in the robber's den that was hidden in a vast cold


A tricky place that would be, with sudden exits and even suddener

entrances, and with damp, winding, spidery places to hoard treasure in,

or to hide oneself in.

If the robber was a solitary he would, for lack of someone else,

have talked greatly to Fionn. He would have shown his weapons and

demonstrated how he used them, and with what slash he chipped his

victim, and with what slice he chopped him. He would have told why a

slash was enough for this man and why that man should be sliced. All men

are masters when one is young, and Fionn would have found knowledge here

also. He would have seen Fiacuil's great spear that had thirty rivets

of Arabian gold in its socket, and that had to be kept wrapped up and

tied down so that it would not kill people out of mere spitefulness. It

had come from Faery, out of the Shi' of Aillen mac Midna, and it would

be brought back again later on between the same man's shoulder-blades.

What tales that man could tell a boy, and what questions a boy could ask

him. He would have known a thousand tricks, and because our instinct is

to teach, and because no man can keep a trick from a boy, he would show

them to Fionn.

There was the marsh too; a whole new life to be learned; a complicated,

mysterious, dank, slippery, reedy, treacherous life, but with its own

beauty and an allurement that could grow on one, so that you could

forget the solid world and love only that which quaked and gurgled.

In this place you may swim. By this sign and this you will know if it is

safe to do so, said Fiacuil mac Cona; but in this place, with this sign

on it and that, you must not venture a toe.

But where Fionn would venture his toes his ears would follow.

There are coiling weeds down there, the robber counselled him; there are

thin, tough, snaky binders that will trip you and grip you, that will

pull you and will not let you go again until you are drowned; until

you are swaying and swinging away below, with outstretched arms, with

outstretched legs, with a face all stares and smiles and jockeyings,

gripped in those leathery arms, until there is no more to be gripped of

you even by them.

"Watch these and this and that," Fionn would have been told, "and always

swim with a knife in your teeth."

He lived there until his guardians found out where he was and came after

him. Fiacuil gave him up to them, and he was brought home again to

the woods of Slieve Bloom, but he had gathered great knowledge and new


The sons of Morna left him alone for a long time. Having made their

essay they grew careless.

"Let him be," they said. "He will come to us when the time comes."

But it is likely too that they had had their own means of getting

information about him. How he shaped? what muscles he had? and did

he spring clean from the mark or had he to get off with a push? Fionn

stayed with his guardians and hunted for them. He could run a deer down

and haul it home by the reluctant skull. "Come on, Goll," he would say

to his stag, or, lifting it over a tussock with a tough grip on the

snout, "Are you coming, bald Cona'n, or shall I kick you in the neck?"

The time must have been nigh when he would think of taking the world

itself by the nose, to haul it over tussocks and drag it into his

pen; for he was of the breed in whom mastery is born, and who are good


But reports of his prowess were getting abroad. Clann-Morna began to

stretch itself uneasily, and, one day, his guardians sent him on his


"It is best for you to leave us now," they said to the tall stripling,

"for the sons of Morna are watching again to kill you."

The woods at that may have seemed haunted. A stone might sling at one

from a tree-top; but from which tree of a thousand trees did it come? An

arrow buzzing by one's ear would slide into the ground and quiver there

silently, menacingly, hinting of the brothers it had left in the quiver

behind; to the right? to the left? how many brothers? in how many

quivers...? Fionn was a woodsman, but he had only two eyes to look with,

one set of feet to carry him in one sole direction. But when he was

looking to the front what, or how many whats, could be staring at him

from the back? He might face in this direction, away from, or towards a

smile on a hidden face and a finger on a string. A lance might slide at

him from this bush or from the one yonder.. In the night he might have

fought them; his ears against theirs; his noiseless feet against their

lurking ones; his knowledge of the wood against their legion: but during

the day he had no chance.

Fionn went to seek his fortune, to match himself against all that might

happen, and to carve a name for himself that will live while Time has an

ear and knows an Irishman.


Fionn went away, and now he was alone. But he was as fitted for

loneliness as the crane is that haunts the solitudes and bleak wastes

of the sea; for the man with a thought has a comrade, and Fionn's mind

worked as featly as his body did. To be alone was no trouble to him who,

however surrounded, was to be lonely his life long; for this will be

said of Fionn when all is said, that all that came to him went from him,

and that happiness was never his companion for more than a moment.

But he was not now looking for loneliness. He was seeking the

instruction of a crowd, and therefore when he met a crowd he went into

it. His eyes were skilled to observe in the moving dusk and dapple of

green woods. They were trained to pick out of shadows birds that were

themselves dun-coloured shades, and to see among trees the animals that

are coloured like the bark of trees. The hare crouching in the fronds

was visible to him, and the fish that swayed in-visibly in the sway and

flicker of a green bank. He would see all that was to be seen, and he

would see all that is passed by the eye that is half blind from use and


At Moy Life' he came on lads swimming in a pool; and, as he looked

on them sporting in the flush tide, he thought that the tricks they

performed were not hard for him, and that he could have shown them new


Boys must know what another boy can do, and they will match themselves

against everything. They did their best under these observing eyes, and

it was not long until he was invited to compete with them and show his

mettle. Such an invitation is a challenge; it is almost, among boys, a

declaration of war. But Fionn was so far beyond them in swimming that

even the word master did not apply to that superiority.

While he was swimming one remarked: "He is fair and well shaped," and

thereafter he was called "Fionn" or the Fair One. His name came from

boys, and will, perhaps, be preserved by them.

He stayed with these lads for some time, and it may be that they

idolised him at first, for it is the way with boys to be astounded and

enraptured by feats; but in the end, and that was inevitable, they grew

jealous of the stranger. Those who had been the champions before he came

would marshal each other, and, by social pressure, would muster all the

others against him; so that in the end not a friendly eye was turned on

Fionn in that assembly. For not only did he beat them at swimming, he

beat their best at running and jumping, and when the sport degenerated

into violence, as it was bound to, the roughness of Fionn would be ten

times as rough as the roughness of the roughest rough they could put

forward. Bravery is pride when one is young, and Fionn was proud.

There must have been anger in his mind as he went away leaving that lake

behind him, and those snarling and scowling boys, but there would have

been disappointment also, for his desire at this time should have been

towards friendliness.

He went thence to Lock Le'in and took service with the King of

Finntraigh. That kingdom may have been thus called from Fionn himself

and would have been known by another name when he arrived there.

He hunted for the King of Finntraigh, and it soon grew evident that

there was no hunter in his service to equal Fionn. More, there was no

hunter of them all who even distantly approached him in excellence. The

others ran after deer, using the speed of their legs, the noses of their

dogs and a thousand well-worn tricks to bring them within reach, and,

often enough, the animal escaped them. But the deer that Fionn got the

track of did not get away, and it seemed even that the animals sought

him so many did he catch.

The king marvelled at the stories that were told of this new hunter, but

as kings are greater than other people so they are more curious; and,

being on the plane of excellence, they must see all that is excellently

told of.

The king wished to see him, and Fionn must have wondered what the king

thought as that gracious lord looked on him. Whatever was thought, what

the king said was as direct in utterance as it was in observation.

"If Uail the son of Baiscne has a son," said the king, "you would surely

be that son."

We are not told if the King of Finntraigh said anything more, but we

know that Fionn left his service soon afterwards.

He went southwards and was next in the employment of the King of Kerry,

the same lord who had married his own mother. In that service he came to

such consideration that we hear of him as playing a match of chess with

the king, and by this game we know that he was still a boy in his mind

however mightily his limbs were spreading. Able as he was in sports and

huntings, he was yet too young to be politic, but he remained impolitic

to the end of his days, for whatever he was able to do he would do, no

matter who was offended thereat; and whatever he was not able to do he

would do also. That was Fionn.

Once, as they rested on a chase, a debate arose among the Fianna-Finn as

to what was the finest music in the world.

"Tell us that," said Fionn turning to Oisi'n [pronounced Usheen]

"The cuckoo calling from the tree that is highest in the hedge," cried

his merry son.

"A good sound," said Fionn. "And you, Oscar," he asked, "what is to your

mind the finest of music?"

"The top of music is the ring of a spear on a shield," cried the stout


"It is a good sound," said Fionn. And the other champions told their

delight; the belling of a stag across water, the baying of a tuneful

pack heard in the distance, the song of a lark, the laugh of a gleeful

girl, or the whisper of a moved one.

"They are good sounds all," said Fionn.

"Tell us, chief," one ventured, "what you think?"

"The music of what happens," said great Fionn, "that is the finest music

in the world."

He loved "what happened," and would not evade it by the swerve of

a hair; so on this occasion what was occurring he would have occur,

although a king was his rival and his master. It may be that his mother

was watching the match and that he could not but exhibit his skill

before her. He committed the enormity of winning seven games in

succession from the king himself!!!

It is seldom indeed that a subject can beat a king at chess, and this

monarch was properly amazed.

"Who are you at all?" he cried, starting back from the chessboard and

staring on Fionn.

"I am the son of a countryman of the Luigne of Tara," said Fionn.

He may have blushed as he said it, for the king, possibly for the first

time, was really looking at him, and was looking back through twenty

years of time as he did so. The observation of a king is faultless--it

is proved a thousand times over in the tales, and this king's equipment

was as royal as the next.

"You are no such son," said the indignant monarch, "but you are the son

that Muirne my wife bore to Uall mac Balscne."

And at that Fionn had no more to say; but his eyes may have flown to his

mother and stayed there.

"You cannot remain here," his step-father continued. "I do not want you

killed under my protection," he explained, or complained.

Perhaps it was on Fionn's account he dreaded the sons of Morna, but no

one knows what Fionn thought of him for he never thereafter spoke of his

step-father. As for Muirne she must have loved her lord; or she may have

been terrified in truth of the sons of Morna and for Fionn; but it is so

also, that if a woman loves her second husband she can dislike all that

reminds her of the first one. Fionn went on his travels again.


All desires save one are fleeting, but that one lasts for ever. Fionn,

with all desires, had the lasting one, for he would go anywhere and

forsake anything for wisdom; and it was in search of this that he went

to the place where Finegas lived on a bank of the Boyne Water. But

for dread of the clann-Morna he did not go as Fionn. He called himself

Deimne on that journey.

We get wise by asking questions, and even if these are not answered we

get wise, for a well-packed question carries its answer on its back as

a snail carries its shell. Fionn asked every question he could think of,

and his master, who was a poet, and so an honourable man, answered them

all, not to the limit of his patience, for it was limitless, but to the

limit of his ability.

"Why do you live on the bank of a river?" was one of these questions.

"Because a poem is a revelation, and it is by the brink of running water

that poetry is revealed to the mind."

"How long have you been here?" was the next query. "Seven years," the

poet answered.

"It is a long time," said wondering Fionn.

"I would wait twice as long for a poem," said the inveterate bard.

"Have you caught good poems?" Fionn asked him.

"The poems I am fit for," said the mild master. "No person can get more

than that, for a man's readiness is his limit."

"Would you have got as good poems by the Shannon or the Suir or by sweet

Ana Life'?"

"They are good rivers," was the answer. "They all belong to good gods."

"But why did you choose this river out of all the rivers?"

Finegas beamed on his pupil.

"I would tell you anything," said he, "and I will tell you that."

Fionn sat at the kindly man's feet, his hands absent among tall grasses,

and listening with all his ears. "A prophecy was made to me," Finegas

began. "A man of knowledge foretold that I should catch the Salmon of

Knowledge in the Boyne Water."

"And then?" said Fionn eagerly.

"Then I would have All Knowledge."

"And after that?" the boy insisted.

"What should there be after that?" the poet retorted.

"I mean, what would you do with All Knowledge?"

"A weighty question," said Finegas smilingly. "I could answer it if I

had All Knowledge, but not until then. What would you do, my dear?"

"I would make a poem," Fionn cried.

"I think too," said the poet, "that that is what would be done."

In return for instruction Fionn had taken over the service of his

master's hut, and as he went about the household duties, drawing the

water, lighting the fire, and carrying rushes for the floor and the

beds, he thought over all the poet had taught him, and his mind dwelt on

the rules of metre, the cunningness of words, and the need for a clean,

brave mind. But in his thousand thoughts he yet remembered the Salmon of

Knowledge as eagerly as his master did. He already venerated Finegas

for his great learning, his poetic skill, for an hundred reasons; but,

looking on him as the ordained eater of the Salmon of Knowledge, he

venerated him to the edge of measure. Indeed, he loved as well as

venerated this master because of his unfailing kindness, his patience,

his readiness to teach, and his skill in teaching.

"I have learned much from you, dear master," said Fionn gratefully.

"All that I have is yours if you can take it," the poet answered, "for

you are entitled to all that you can take, but to no more than that.

Take, so, with both hands."

"You may catch the salmon while I am with you," the hopeful boy mused.

"Would not that be a great happening!" and he stared in ecstasy across

the grass at those visions which a boy's mind knows.

"Let us pray for that," said Finegas fervently.

"Here is a question," Fionn continued. "How does this salmon get wisdom

into his flesh?"

"There is a hazel bush overhanging a secret pool in a secret place. The

Nuts of Knowledge drop from the Sacred Bush into the pool, and as they

float, a salmon takes them in his mouth and eats them."

"It would be almost as easy," the boy submitted, "if one were to set on

the track of the Sacred Hazel and eat the nuts straight from the bush."

"That would not be very easy," said the poet, "and yet it is not as easy

as that, for the bush can only be found by its own knowledge, and that

knowledge can only be got by eating the nuts, and the nuts can only be

got by eating the salmon."

"We must wait for the salmon," said Fionn in a rage of resignation.


Life continued for him in a round of timeless time, wherein days and

nights were uneventful and were yet filled with interest. As the day

packed its load of strength into his frame, so it added its store of

knowledge to his mind, and each night sealed the twain, for it is in the

night that we make secure what we have gathered in the day.

If he had told of these days he would have told of a succession of meals

and sleeps, and of an endless conversation, from which his mind would

now and again slip away to a solitude of its own, where, in large hazy

atmospheres, it swung and drifted and reposed. Then he would be back

again, and it was a pleasure for him to catch up on the thought that was

forward and re-create for it all the matter he had missed. But he could

not often make these sleepy sallies; his master was too experienced a

teacher to allow any such bright-faced, eager-eyed abstractions, and as

the druid women had switched his legs around a tree, so Finegas chased

his mind, demanding sense in his questions and understanding in his


To ask questions can become the laziest and wobbliest occupation of a

mind, but when you must yourself answer the problem that you have posed,

you will meditate your question with care and frame it with precision.

Fionn's mind learned to jump in a bumpier field than that in which he

had chased rabbits. And when he had asked his question, and given his

own answer to it, Finegas would take the matter up and make clear to him

where the query was badly formed or at what point the answer had begun

to go astray, so that Fionn came to understand by what successions a

good question grows at last to a good answer.

One day, not long after the conversation told of, Finegas came to the

place where Fionn was. The poet had a shallow osier basket on his arm,

and on his face there was a look that was at once triumphant and gloomy.

He was excited certainly, but he was sad also, and as he stood gazing on

Fionn his eyes were so kind that the boy was touched, and they were yet

so melancholy that it almost made Fionn weep. "What is it, my master?"

said the alarmed boy.

The poet placed his osier basket on the grass.

"Look in the basket, dear son," he said. Fionn looked.

"There is a salmon in the basket."

"It is The Salmon," said Finegas with a great sigh. Fionn leaped for


"I am glad for you, master," he cried. "Indeed I am glad for you."

"And I am glad, my dear soul," the master rejoined.

But, having said it, he bent his brow to his hand and for a long time he

was silent and gathered into himself.

"What should be done now?" Fionn demanded, as he stared on the beautiful


Finegas rose from where he sat by the osier basket.

"I will be back in a short time," he said heavily. "While I am away you

may roast the salmon, so that it will be ready against my return."

"I will roast it indeed," said Fionn.

The poet gazed long and earnestly on him.

"You will not eat any of my salmon while I am away?" he asked.

"I will not eat the littlest piece," said Fionn.

"I am sure you will not," the other murmured, as he turned and walked

slowly across the grass and behind the sheltering bushes on the ridge.

Fionn cooked the salmon. It was beautiful and tempting and savoury as

it smoked on a wooden platter among cool green leaves; and it looked all

these to Finegas when he came from behind the fringing bushes and sat

in the grass outside his door. He gazed on the fish with more than his

eyes. He looked on it with his heart, with his soul in his eyes, and

when he turned to look on Fionn the boy did not know whether the love

that was in his eyes was for the fish or for himself. Yet he did know

that a great moment had arrived for the poet.

"So," said Finegas, "you did not eat it on me after all?" "Did I not

promise?" Fionn replied.

"And yet," his master continued, "I went away so that you might eat the

fish if you felt you had to."

"Why should I want another man's fish?" said proud Fionn.

"Because young people have strong desires. I thought you might have

tasted it, and then you would have eaten it on me."

"I did taste it by chance," Fionn laughed, "for while the fish was

roasting a great blister rose on its skin. I did not like the look of

that blister, and I pressed it down with my thumb. That burned my thumb,

so I popped it in my mouth to heal the smart. If your salmon tastes as

nice as my thumb did," he laughed, "it will taste very nice."

"What did you say your name was, dear heart?" the poet asked.

"I said my name was Deimne."

"Your name is not Deimne," said the mild man, "your name is Fionn."

"That is true," the boy answered, "but I do not know how you know it."

"Even if I have not eaten the Salmon of Knowledge I have some small

science of my own."

"It is very clever to know things as you know them," Fionn replied

wonderingly. "What more do you know of me, dear master?"

"I know that I did not tell you the truth," said the heavy-hearted man.

"What did you tell me instead of it?"

"I told you a lie."

"It is not a good thing to do," Fionn admitted. "What sort of a lie was

the lie, master?" "I told you that the Salmon of Knowledge was to be

caught by me, according to the prophecy."


"That was true indeed, and I have caught the fish. But I did not tell

you that the salmon was not to be eaten by me, although that also was in

the prophecy, and that omission was the lie."

"It is not a great lie," said Fionn soothingly.

"It must not become a greater one," the poet replied sternly.

"Who was the fish given to?" his companion wondered.

"It was given to you," Finegas answered. "It was given to Fionn, the son

of Uail, the son of Baiscne, and it will be given to him."

"You shall have a half of the fish," cried Fionn.

"I will not eat a piece of its skin that is as small as the point of its

smallest bone," said the resolute and trembling bard. "Let you now eat

up the fish, and I shall watch you and give praise to the gods of the

Underworld and of the Elements."

Fionn then ate the Salmon of Knowledge, and when it had disappeared a

great jollity and tranquillity and exuberance returned to the poet.

"Ah," said he, "I had a great combat with that fish."

"Did it fight for its life?" Fionn inquired.

"It did, but that was not the fight I meant."

"You shall eat a Salmon of Knowledge too," Fionn assured him.

"You have eaten one," cried the blithe poet, "and if you make such a

promise it will be because you know."

"I promise it and know it," said Fionn, "you shall eat a Salmon of

Knowledge yet."


He had received all that he could get from Finegas. His education was

finished and the time had come to test it, and to try all else that he

had of mind and body. He bade farewell to the gentle poet, and set out

for Tara of the Kings.

It was Samhain-tide, and the feast of Tara was being held, at which all

that was wise or skilful or well-born in Ireland were gathered together.

This is how Tara was when Tara was. There was the High King's palace

with its fortification; without it was another fortification enclosing

the four minor palaces, each of which was maintained by one of the four

provincial kings; without that again was the great banqueting hall, and

around it and enclosing all of the sacred hill in its gigantic bound ran

the main outer ramparts of Tara. From it, the centre of Ireland, four

great roads went, north, south, east, and west, and along these roads,

from the top and the bottom and the two sides of Ireland, there moved

for weeks before Samhain an endless stream of passengers.

Here a gay band went carrying rich treasure to decorate the pavilion of

a Munster lord. On another road a vat of seasoned yew, monstrous as a

house on wheels and drawn by an hundred laborious oxen, came bumping and

joggling the ale that thirsty Connaught princes would drink. On a road

again the learned men of Leinster, each with an idea in his head that

would discomfit a northern ollav and make a southern one gape and

fidget, would be marching solemnly, each by a horse that was piled high

on the back and widely at the sides with clean-peeled willow or oaken

wands, that were carved from the top to the bottom with the ogham signs;

the first lines of poems (for it was an offence against wisdom to commit

more than initial lines to writing), the names and dates of kings, the

procession of laws of Tara and of the sub-kingdoms, the names of places

and their meanings. On the brown stallion ambling peacefully yonder

there might go the warring of the gods for two or ten thousand years;

this mare with the dainty pace and the vicious eye might be sidling

under a load of oaken odes in honour of her owner's family, with a

few bundles of tales of wonder added in case they might be useful; and

perhaps the restive piebald was backing the history of Ireland into a


On such a journey all people spoke together, for all were friends, and

no person regarded the weapon in another man's hand other than as an

implement to poke a reluctant cow with, or to pacify with loud wallops

some hoof-proud colt.

Into this teem and profusion of jolly humanity Fionn slipped, and if his

mood had been as bellicose as a wounded boar he would yet have found

no man to quarrel with, and if his eye had been as sharp as a jealous

husband's he would have found no eye to meet it with calculation or

menace or fear; for the Peace of Ireland was in being, and for six weeks

man was neighbour to man, and the nation was the guest of the High King.

Fionn went in with the notables.

His arrival had been timed for the opening day and the great feast of

welcome. He may have marvelled, looking on the bright city, with its

pillars of gleaming bronze and the roofs that were painted in many

colours, so that each house seemed to be covered by the spreading wings

of some gigantic and gorgeous bird. And the palaces themselves, mellow

with red oak, polished within and without by the wear and the care of

a thousand years, and carved with the patient skill of unending

generations of the most famous artists of the most artistic country of

the western world, would have given him much to marvel at also. It

must have seemed like a city of dream, a city to catch the heart, when,

coming over the great plain, Fionn saw Tara of the Kings held on its

hill as in a hand to gather all the gold of the falling sun, and to

restore a brightness as mellow and tender as that universal largess.

In the great banqueting hall everything was in order for the feast. The

nobles of Ireland with their winsome consorts, the learned and artistic

professions represented by the pick of their time were in place. The

Ard-Ri, Corm of the Hundred Battles, had taken his place on the raised

dais which commanded the whole of that vast hall. At his Right hand his

son Art, to be afterwards as famous as his famous father, took his seat,

and on his left Goll mor mac Morna, chief of the Fianna of Ireland, had

the seat of honour. As the High King took his place he could see every

person who was noted in the land for any reason. He would know every one

who was present, for the fame of all men is sealed at Tara, and behind

his chair a herald stood to tell anything the king might not know or had


Conn gave the signal and his guests seated themselves.

The time had come for the squires to take their stations behind their

masters and mistresses. But, for the moment, the great room was seated,

and the doors were held to allow a moment of respect to pass before the

servers and squires came in.

Looking over his guests, Conn observed that a young man was yet


"There is a gentleman," he murmured, "for whom no seat has been found."

We may be sure that the Master of the Banquet blushed at that.

"And," the king continued, "I do not seem to know the young man."

Nor did his herald, nor did the unfortunate Master, nor did anybody; for

the eyes of all were now turned where the king's went.

"Give me my horn," said the gracious monarch.

The horn of state was put to his hand.

"Young gentleman," he called to the stranger, "I wish to drink to your

health and to welcome you to Tara."

The young man came forward then, greater-shouldered than any mighty

man of that gathering, longer and cleaner limbed, with his fair curls

dancing about his beardless face. The king put the great horn into his


"Tell me your name," he commanded gently.

"I am Fionn, the son of Uail, the son of Baiscne," said the youth.

And at that saying a touch as of lightning went through the gathering

so that each person quivered, and the son of the great, murdered captain

looked by the king's shoulder into the twinkling eye of Goll. But no

word was uttered, no movement made except the movement and the utterance

of the Ard-Ri'.

"You are the son of a friend," said the great-hearted monarch. "You

shall have the seat of a friend."

He placed Fionn at the right hand of his own son Art.


It is to be known that on the night of the Feast of Samhain the doors

separating this world and the next one are opened, and the inhabitants

of either world can leave their respective spheres and appear in the

world of the other beings.

Now there was a grandson to the Dagda Mor, the Lord of the Underworld,

and he was named Aillen mac Midna, out of Shi' Finnachy, and this Aillen

bore an implacable enmity to Tara and the Ard-Ri'.

As well as being monarch of Ireland her High King was chief of the

people learned in magic, and it is possible that at some time Conn had

adventured into Tir na n-Og, the Land of the Young, and had done some

deed or misdeed in Aillen's lordship or in his family. It must have been

an ill deed in truth, for it was in a very rage of revenge that Aillen

came yearly at the permitted time to ravage Tara.

Nine times he had come on this mission of revenge, but it is not to be

supposed that he could actually destroy the holy city: the Ard-Ri'

and magicians could prevent that, but he could yet do a damage so

considerable that it was worth Conn's while to take special extra

precautions against him, including the precaution of chance.

Therefore, when the feast was over and the banquet had commenced, the

Hundred Fighter stood from his throne and looked over his assembled


The Chain of Silence was shaken by the attendant whose duty and honour

was the Silver Chain, and at that delicate chime the halt went silent,

and a general wonder ensued as to what matter the High King would submit

to his people.

"Friends and heroes," said Conn, "Aillen, the son of Midna, will come

to-night from Slieve Fuaid with occult, terrible fire against our

city. Is there among you one who loves Tara and the king, and who will

undertake our defence against that being?"

He spoke in silence, and when he had finished he listened to the same

silence, but it was now deep, ominous, agonized. Each man glanced

uneasily on his neighbour and then stared at his wine-cup 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


"What," said he, "will be given to the man who undertakes this defence?"

"All that can be rightly asked will be royally bestowed," was the king's


"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


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 man.

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 ferret's claw.

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 Shl?" Fiacuil whispered.

"I will attack him," said Fionn.

"That is not a plan," the other groaned, "we do not plan to deliver an

attack but 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."

"What payment?"

"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 its


"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 m