Pursuit of Diarmuid and Grainne

IT was told to me by a warrior of the Fiana Eirinn, he who afterwards became thy father, O little prattling ones, how Fionn in the mighty passion of his anger, when the magic sleep had passed away from the wedding-guests in the banqueting hall of King Cormac MacArt, gathered his great host around him, and gave chase to my Princess Grainne and Diarmuid O'Duibhne. Of a surety it would have proved an ill flight for the lovers had they been friendless in this hour of their need, but the hearts of Fionn's army, save a few, were with them, and Angus Oge the Immortal, the foster-father of Diarmuid, followed unseen in their wake from the palace of Tara.

Fast and furious did Fionn ride upon their track until he came to the Ford of Athlone, over against the Shannon river. Here the flowing water guarded the secret of their passage; nor did the pursuers dream at first that Diarmuid, lifting his dear lady high in his strong arms, had borne her in safety across the perilous shallows. But when Fionn found his tracking-men of the Clan Navin at fault he threatened them with death because of the interruption to his journey, so that in fear they waded over the ford, and came upon the brown steeds of Diarmuid and the Princess cropping the short, sweet grass on the farther bank.

"It is even as I deemed," said Fionn exultingly, "that they have sought shelter within the Wood of the Two Tents. Now of a certainty shall I discover and destroy them."

When Oscar and Oisin and Caoilte heard him speak thus they were filled with trouble that his unreasoning hate should move him to this deed; so Oscar called to him by stealth Bran, the hound of Fionn, who loved Diarmuid well-nigh better than his own master, telling him to follow the trail to the Wood of the Two Tents, and bear a warning to the lovers hidden therein.

Now in this wood Diarmuid had built a hut of woven branches for Grainne, and they were resting there when the dog came upon them and thrust his head into Diarmuid's bosom, awakening him. The knight knew that Bran had brought a message of danger, and he said to Grainne—

"Fionn is upon us for the purpose of encompassing my death. It will one day come to me from his hands, for his anger is relentless; therefore I shall not fly, but will bide here to do combat with him."

An agony of fear fell upon Grainne, and, with tears, she begged him to leave the wood; then, seeing the determination of Diarmuid, she forebore to urge him further. And as they waited a great shout, three times repeated, echoed clearly over the land, startling the birds in their flight and chasing the bloom from the cheek of the listening girl.

Her blue eyes, wide with questioning, sought the brown ones of Diarmuid.

"That is the shout of Fergor, the errand-man of Caoilte, love," he said, "and it is my friends who have caused him to utter it, so that I may hear and be forewarned. Yet I will not fly from the approach of Fionn."

So he set himself to build around his dwelling a fence that no man could pierce, and in it he erected seven narrow doors of strong poles interwoven with saplings to face seven different parts of the wood. And when the Clan Navin had reached the thicket in advance of the others they climbed to a high tree, so that they could see the interior of O'Duibhne's fortification, with the fair princess within, a description of whose marvellous beauty they brought back to their master.

"That is in truth she," said Fionn, "and glad I am that they are now surrounded." But Oisin, his son, exclaimed bitterly, "Thou art surely blinded by jealousy, my father, to think that Diarmuid would linger in this unprotected place knowing that his life is sought by thee."

"Thou shall hear him give proof of my foreknowledge in his own voice," Fionn made answer, and going nearer to the fence he cried out—

"Art thou within, O Diarmuid? If so, speak loudly that all may hear thy words."

And Diarmuid spake clearly: "Thou wert never in error yet, O chief. We are indeed here, but my arm is still strong enough to keep thee outside my door."

Then Fionn ranged his men round the enclosure, giving each company a door to guard, and exhorted them to watch closely so that by none of them should the prey escape. From a mound a little way off he observed the hut and saw Diarmuid comfort his wife, kissing her three times.

"Now for that," shrieked the old man in great wrath, "thou shalt not find even a loophole of deliverance. Thy head shall be my trophy speedily," and the burning jealousy that was in his heart lit his face with a purple flame.

But Angus of the Boyne, seeing the plight of his foster-son, came to him and passed into the hut unperceived by Fionn and his men. To the lovers he said—

"Come, O dear ones, under my mantle, and I shall bring you both away from this place unseen."

Yet Diarmuid would not accept of the proffered aid for himself. "I shall not run before the pursuit of Fionn, as thou well knowest," he replied, "but for my princess it is different. Take her away to safety, O Angus, and if the Fianna should slay me leave her under the protection of her father, King Cormac Mac Art."

With many sorrowful kissings Grainne bade him farewell, and, wrapped in the magic mantle of Angus Oge, she passed invisible over the watching companies away to the Wood of the two Sallows, where they halted to wait for Diarmuid.

Meanwhile, he, left behind, girded on his armour and prepared for battle. He took his tall weapons in his hands and stood meditating in silence for a space. Then he approached one of the seven narrow doors and called—

"Who stands without there?"

"The Clan Baisgne, with Oisin and Oscar," came in the sweet, clear voice of his friend the Bard. "Open to us, O brother, and none shall dare molest thee."

"I thank thee, faithful friends," said Diarmuid. "Yet it is by Fionn's door that I must depart, and not by any other," and he came to the second door, calling: "Who keeps guard?"

"Caoilte and the Clan Ronan, thy friends. Put thyself in our hands, O Diarmuid."

"Nay, nay," he answered, gratefully; "I should but bring the anger of Fionn upon thee," and he called to the sentinels of the third door:

"Art thou friends or foes beyond?" "Thy friends—Conan of the Gray Rushes and the Clan Morna. We love thee, Diarmuid, come to us."

"Direful would be the rage of Fionn upon thee, Conan, should I avail myself of thy help," and he spake at the fourth door:

"What warrior stands here?"

"Thy dear comrade, Cuan, with the Munster Fiana. Thou art of our kindred, Diarmuid, and we will fight to the death for thy sake."

"Not to thee, O Cuan, shall I go forth to bring thee harm," and at the fifth door he repeated his question.

"It is the men of Ulster, under the son of Glor of the Loud Voice, who await thy coming, O flower of chivalry! Our ranks shall gird thee round, nor shall a hair of thy head be harmed."

"O noble son of thy father," said Diarmuid, "not for worlds would I earn for thee the enmity of Fionn." Then he went to the sixth door, and the men of the Clan Navin answered him:

"We hate thee, and here we stand to greet thee with our spears—Aedh the Lesser, and Aedh the Tall, and Gonna the Wounder, with all our men."

But Diarmuid heeded little their bitter speech, save to say, "No fear of thee have I, O shoeless vagabonds, yet I do not desire to stain my bright steel with the meanness of thy blood."

At the last door a mighty voice saluted him—

"Greeting from Fionn, the son of Cumhaill, to thee, O Diarmuid. The Leinster Fianna are here to cleave thee to the marrow."

"This is the door by which I shall pass out, O Fionn," cried the knight, and rising on his two spears he bounded like a bird over the fence, alighting on the clear space beyond, unseen by any.

Then southward he turned to the Wood of the Two Sallows, where Grainne and Angus bided his coming.

To him said the latter when bidding farewell: "My son, I leave this counsel to guide you when I am gone. Go not into a tree having only one trunk; nor enter a cave with but one opening; never land on an island that has only one channel of approach; where you cook your food do not stay to eat it; where you eat do not sleep; and where you sleep to-night sleep not there to-morrow night." And Diarmuid promised his foster-father that he would keep this warning in his memory during the days of his life.

From the Rough Stream of the Champions, where Diarmuid killed a salmon with his spear, they journeyed West, until they reached the Grey Moor of Finnlia. There they met a gigantic man of noble features, to whom Diarmuid spake, asking his name. The stranger answered graciously that he was called Modan, and was seeking a master whom he might serve by day and watch by night. Thereupon Diarmuid entered into an agreement with him for this purpose, and the three continued their flight to the River of Carra, which flows into Loch Lein. Over this river Modan bore Diarmuid and Grainne with the greatest ease, and beyond it, in a cave hidden in the hillside above the sea of Tonn Toma, they made their resting place. It was their stalwart servitor who caught and broiled for them their food of the salmon, and after he had served them kept watch while they slept.

In the gold and green of the morning Diarmuid went forth to view the territory lest the pursuers should come upon him unawares. As he gazed towards the west he saw a fleet of black ships sailing shorewards, from which a company of nine nines landed. The knight gave greeting at the foot of the hill to them, inquiring from them their race and country.

"From the Iccian Sea, lying between Albion and Gaul, we come," said the three leaders of the host, "and we are the three sea-champions, namely, Ducoss, Fincoss, and Trencoss. We have come thither to assist Fionn Mac Cumhaill against Diarmuid O'Duibhne, who has rebelled, and is now a wanderer over the land of Eirinn. We have brought with us three venomous hounds to loose on the track of Diarmuid; fire cannot burn them; weapons cannot wound them; nor can water drown. Now, since we have told thee our mission, perchance thou canst give us tidings of the quarry we seek."

"I saw him, indeed, but yesterday," answered the hero, "and I counsel ye to be wary in the quest, for this Diarmuid O'Duibhne is no common man." Then he drank wine with them which they had brought from their ships, and after drinking he offered to show them a champion feat.

"It was Diarmuid himself that taught me," he assured them, "and I challenge any man of ye to do it after me."

He brought the empty wine-cask to the crest of the hill, on the edge of a steep cliff, and leaping up on it, he turned it cunningly aside from the cliff to the smooth slope, down which it rolled to the bottom, while he remained standing on it. Three times did he do this for the wonder of the strangers.

But they mocked him, saying, "Even we shall try your boasted champion feat until we show our skill and prove its simplicity." So, one by one, fifty of them tried it in succession, but, not knowing Diarmuid's feint of turning the cask aside from the rocky cliff, they went over headlong, and were dashed to pieces on the shore below.

And the next morning, on the same hill, our warrior found the three sea-champions, with their men. To him they again put the same question concerning Diarmuid O'Duibhne, whereupon he said:

"I have seen a man who has met him this very dawn, and now I shall show you another feat he taught me, that you may tremble at a conflict with him."

He rid himself of his helmet, tunic, and armour, until the shirt was the only covering over his brawny shoulders, and taking the Ga-boi, the spear of Mannanan Mac Lir, he fixed it firmly in the earth, the point standing upwards. Then from a distance he ran towards the spear, rose like a bird into the air, alighted gently on its very point, and leaped to the ground again without hurt or harm of any kind.

Then one of the strangers said, "Even that feat we shall try to thy downfall, O boaster;" so in succession fifty of them strove to follow Diarmuid; but each man bounded on the point of the spear, which pierced him to the heart. After this great havoc amongst their ranks they bade Diarmuid draw his spear out of the ground, because no other of them should lose his life in trying.

When day had again burst through the heart of the dying night Diarmuid returned to the hill, carrying two strong forked poles cut from the wood. And meeting the three sea-champions yet another time, he offered to show them a greater feat of Diarmuid O'Duibhne's. He fixed the poles standing firmly in the earth, and placed the Morallta—that is the long sword of Angus Oge, in the forks, edge upward, with the point on one and the hilt on the other, binding it securely in its place. Then he rose into the air gracefully like a swift-winged bird, alighted gently on the edge, walked over the sharp weapon three times, and leaped to the ground again without hurt or harm. And he challenged the strangers to try the feat after him.

From their ranks one man stepped forth bravely, saying—"No champion feat was ever yet done by a man of Eirinn, but that one of us will do the same," and he bounded up, but came down heavily on the sharp sword, which cut his body into two halves. And in succession the sea-warriors followed his example until full another fifty of them fell by the keen, shining magic blade of Angus.

When in dismay and anger they were about to return to their ships they asked Diarmuid to give them information of the man they sought, that is himself, and he promised to bring them tidings shortly. So in the morning he arose early, and this time arrayed himself for battle in his heavy armour, which was so fashioned that neither through, nor above, nor beneath it, could the wearer be wounded. On his left hip he hung the Morallta, which never left anything for a second blow, and into his hands he took the two famous spears, the Ga-derg and the Ga-boi, from the piercing of which no one ever recovered.

On the shore, at the base of the hill, he again met the strange company, who asked him had he brought them the news they hungered for.

"Diarmuid is not far off," said the knight, "I have spoken with him but lately."

"Lead us to him, O warrior," cried they all, "that we may bring his head to Fionn, the son of Cumhaill."

"I am knit in bonds of friendship to the man ye seek," replied the other, "and since he is under the protection of my valour I shall do him no treachery."

Then in blazing wrath they rushed upon Diarmuid, saying—"Thou art the foe of Fionn, being the friend of Diarmuid O'Duibhne, and we will bring thy head also to the Chieftain of the Fianna."

But Diarmuid's battle-shout rang to the height of the tall hill and along the winding shore, and far away to where the white foamy waves rose and fell in the deep sea, as he drew the Morallta from its sheath and dashed upon them. Asunder he clove them, darting through and under and over them like a wolf among sheep, dealing heavy, vigorous blows with the death-sword until the shore ran red with blood and the watching carrion-birds wheeled lower and lower above their prey. And but a few of all that warlike host escaped from his vengeance to the safety of their ships.

After this he returned to comfort Grainne, who had remained in the cave with Modan, their servitor, wearying for a sight of her lover and husband. Her heart was weak within her at thought of his conflict single-handed against the ferocious champions, but when she saw him ascend towards the cave unhurt and joyous, she ran forward full of gladness to give him greeting. Then Diarmuid told his sweet princess how his good sword and spears had befriended him, while she bent and kissed the blue-black steel for very gratitude.

Yet the battle between Diarmuid and his enemies had not ended, for Ducoss and Fincoss and Trencoss were still alive in the ship on the bay, gazing with dire hate in their souls at the hill that guarded their foe. And when they heard in the early hours of the dawn the challenge of his hollow-sounding shield thundering across the billows, Ducoss straightway armed himself for combat.

When they met these two great fighters, throwing aside their weapons, rushed upon each other for the wrestle. They twisted and tugged and strained in deadly silence, their sinews crackled, and the veins on their bodies stood out like purple cords; the earth trembled beneath them; they seemed like unto raging lions, or deadly writhing serpents, or like savage bulls that struggle to heave each other with horns interlocked. Thus did they contend until Diarmuid, lifting Ducoss on his shoulder, threw him heavily upon the ground, where he lay groaning; and our hero chained him with hard iron bonds.

Next came Fincoss against Diarmuid, and after him Trencoss, but both of them he overcame easily, and bound them likewise, leaving this speech to them for their solace—

"Your heads should be my trophies, but these bonds are crueller for ye than instant death, and your torment shall be more enduring, since none can release ye from them save myself."

Then in the security of his cave he gave Grainne tidings of the fray. "I have left them fettered on the hill so that their pain shall be prolonged, nor is there any fear that they shall be freed from my binding, for only four men in Eirinn can loosen the bonds I tie, namely, Oisin, and Oscar, and Mac Luga, and Conan Maol; nor will one of these four free them. When Fionn hears of their state he will follow us more closely with the three venomous dogs, so we must leave this place to escape him without delay."

And again they set forth upon their journeying till they reached the broad heathery slopes of Slieve Lougher, where they halted to rest on the banks of a mountain stream that danced and rippled along from the heart of the hillside. From this spot Diarmuid looked down into the valley, and saw approaching it from westward the foreigners of the sea-champions in battle array, with silken banners waving overhead their ranks. In front of all marched three green-clad warriors, who held the three fierce hounds by three chains, at sight of whose horrid bristling ugliness Diarmuid was filled with loathing. Then Modan lifted Grainne once more, and walked a mile with Diarmuid up the stream into the solitude of the mountain.

Now the reason of the sudden coming of these three green warriors upon Diarmuid's track was because of the advice given them by Derdri of the Black Mountain, an enchantress, and the errand-woman of Fionn, who, travelling speedily over the land to bring the Chieftain tidings of his hunted enemy, had found the three sea-champions lying bound on the hillside above the wave of Tonn Toma. To their lamenting army she spake, telling them to take the three fierce dogs and follow O'Duibhne, who could not be far off. Which advice they at once complied with.

When the green-clad warriors caught sight of Diarmuid they loosed one of the three hounds on him. The hoarse yelping of this hound awakened great dread in the breast of Grainne, but Modan told her not to fear, for that he would deal with it. Turning round he drew from beneath his girdle a little hound-whelp, which he placed in the palm of his hand. There it stood until the great hound came up raging, with wide-open jaws, when, with a swift spring, the small hound leaped from Modan's hand into the yawning throat of the other, breaking its heart, so that it fell dead upon the spot. And after that the whelp leaped back again on Modan's hand, and the brave servitor placed it under his girdle again.

They walked another mile up the stream, Modan carrying Grainne, whose spirit was in terror lest evil should befall them from the pursuers. Then they heard another time the fierce, hoarse baying of the second hound, and Diarmuid turning said—

"I will try the Ga-derg, the magic spear of Angus, on this hound;" and putting his finger into the silken loop of the spear he threw it at the hound, driving its point down the open throat, so that the brute was pierced from mouth to tail and fell dead like its comrade.

Then they climbed another mile into the fastnesses of the mountain, and after them sped the third hound, at sight of which Grainne cried:

"Guard thyself, O love, for this is the fiercest of the three; his eyes are as torching flames, and his teeth are sharp as a battle-brand," and even as she uttered these words the hound overtook them at a place called Duban's Pillar Stone. Diarmuid stepped in front of his wife to shield her, but the beast rose with one great spring over Diarmuid's head and had almost seized the princess, when the knight grasped him by the two rough hind legs, and, whirling him round, dashed out his brains against a rock.

In an instant he had faced upon the green-clad knights who followed close upon the passage of the hound, and placing his finger into the silken string of the Ga-derg he threw the spear at the foremost of the three and slew him. Then he made another cast with the Ga-boi and brought down the second warrior, and, drawing the Morallta, he sprang nimbly on the third and struck off his head.

Seeing their leaders slain, the foreigners ran hither and thither seeking escape; but Diarmuid fell upon them with sword and spear, dealing death heavily amongst them, scattering and slaughtering. And the news of this terrific conflict was conveyed to Fionn by Derdri of the Black Mountain, who had been watching near by to the Hill of Allen. He journeyed forth by the shortest ways to the spot where the three champions lay bound, and when he saw the fetters that had been placed upon them by Diarmuid his grief was sore, of a truth, knowing well that no man save the four who lay under geasa to Diarmuid that they would not undo his bonds, could untie these strong and flesh-wounding iron knots.

Yet Fionn asked the four in turn to deliver the three sea-kings—Oisin and Oscar, Mac Luga and Conan They refused, saying, "None shall be released by us that Diarmuid O'Duibhne hath bound. Fain, indeed, would we place heavier bonds upon his enemies."

And drawing nearer the great chief, Derdri continued her story of Diarmuid's prowess, relating how he had slain the three fierce hounds and made a slaughter of the foreigners. Hearing which the three kings, being tormented sorely with their fetters, and anguished by the direful import of her tidings, fell back upon the sward and died.

And Fionn caused them to be placed in three wide graves, with Ogham stones laid above them. He gave them funeral rites such as are given to dead kings, and then, filled with an enduring hate and jealousy towards Diarmuid, he marched northward with his host to his home on the broad green slopes of the Hill of Allen.

Then Diarmuid and my Princess, still intent only upon finding a resting-place secure from the vengeance of Fionn, came in their journeying to the Forest of Dooras, in the territory of Hy-Fiachra, and here the knight determined to make an abode for his dear lady, safe in the heart of the leafy shade, quiet and remote.

"Shall we venture into this thick, dark wood, dear love?" said Grainne when they had reached its verge, tired out with the travel of many days. "I am very weary, and would rest; yet what if Fionn should lurk beyond there and his tracking men?"

"Nay, sweet one," laughed Diarmuid, "drive that fear away from thy heart. Fionn would not dare to follow us to the tree of Sharvan the Surly."

"Tell me of him," she besought. "Is he another danger thou hast yet to face?"

"A danger truly if I meddle with the quicken-tree he guards for the Dedanaans—his fairy kinsfolk. Otherwise we may dwell in peace anear him. The tree grew up in Dooras from a berry of their sacred food brought from fairyland and dropped unheeded when the Dedannans passed through on their way to Loch Lein for a game of hurley with the Fianna. And hence it came that, hearing afterwards of the growth of this magic tree, the fairy people sent Sharvan the Surly to guard it, so that none might eat the berries save such as were of their own race. For those little red-clusters thou may'st see glowing like a robin's breast among the green leaves, O Grainne, possess the power to change an old man of a hundred years, frail and toothless, into one of thirty, straight and agile and beautiful in form and feature, if he should but eat three of their number. And to the tongue their flavour is sweet as of honey; one who hath tasted them shall feel his spirit grow cheerful as if his lips had dipped into the luscious richness of old mead, and pain and conflict had no longer power to trouble him. Therefore, thou see'st, my fair one, that many would dare danger for sake of plucking three berries of this wonderful tree, but Sharvan sleeps not night nor day; fire cannot burn him nor water drown, nor can any weapon known of man make the least little wound in his body save his own great club, which is tied to an iron girdle round his waist. Three blows of it in a strong hand will leave him silent for evermore—yet what man in Eirinn would willingly seek battle with such as he?"

"Go not near him, O Diarmuid," said Grainne tearfully, "save in peace. Thou hast had knowledge of war and unequal combat; now let us have a little quiet home to ourselves under these shadowy boughs." And Diarmuid consenting, kissed the bright, clear drops from her lovely eyes ere he went to hold parley with the giant-guardian of Dooras.

When Sharvan saw the warrior come stepping boldly down the green pathways of the forest he rose up from his seat at the foot of the quicken tree, showing his enormous proportions and the direful ugliness of his dusky face. He was of the wicked race of Cain; his features were thick and sullen, and in the middle of his black forehead gleamed one broad, red, fiery eye. To him Diarmuid spoke bravely, seeking leave to dwell in the forest and hunt its wild animals for food. Whereupon the giant, in brief and surly speech, told him he might hunt or dwell where he would so long as he sought not to lay hands upon the sacred quicken berries.

Without delay Diarmuid built for himself and Grainne a hunting-booth near a spring in the heart of the Forest of Dooras, and round about it, in a clear space, he raised a fence of strong stakes interwoven with tough withes, through which the only passage was one well-barred door. Here they abode in love and peacefulness, drinking the water of the well and eating the food that each day Diarmuid brought down in the chase.

But Fionn MacCumhaill had not forgotten his cause of anger against Diarmuid, and night after night he brooded during his sleepless hours over the injury that had been done him by my Princess and her husband. Many were the plans he wove in the dark silence as to how the death of Diarmuid should be encompassed, yet when morning dawned, with its flame of trailing glory in the east, the memory of O'Duibhne's world-famed prowess came back to him, and he knew that by no ordinary means could this man's downfall be assured.

In this wise he kept his hatred active as the fire of fever, and the passion of his bitter mood was at its height when one day there arrived at the palace on the Hill of Allen a strange company of fifty horsemen led by two warriors taller and nobler and more radiantly clad than the others. They bowed low in greeting to Fionn, relating to him in courteous tones the reason of their coming.

"We are thine enemies of the Clan MacMorna, chieftain, Angus, the son of Art, and Aed, the son of Andala MacMorna. Thou did'st outlaw us because our fathers fought against and slew thy father, Cumhaill, at the battle of Knocka, though they afterwards atoned for that crime with their lives at thine own hands. It is not meet that we should suffer longer for sake of this ancient feud, seeing that we are blameless, for we had not opened our eyes upon the earth at the time this harm did happen thee. Therefore, we beg thee now to make peace with us and grant us our father's places in the ranks of the Fianna."

"Even that shall I promise ye," said Fionn tardily, "provided ye pay eric to me for the death of my father."

"What may that eric be?" they questioned humbly, "for we have neither gold nor rich garments nor cattle to offer."

"It is only one of two things, O sons of Morna—namely, the full of my hand of quicken-tree berries or else the head of a warrior whom I hate."

Then ere they could reply, Oisin the Bard raised his silver voice for their hearkening, and said, "Take this counsel from me, O sons of Morna, for well I know the thoughts that darken the soul of Fionn, and would warn ye against your own undoing. The head my father seeks is that of Diarmuid O'Duibhne, than whom no braver warrior abides in the land of Eirinn, and little chance would ye have of overthrowing him in combat. As for the berries, O youths, they are those of the quicken-tree of Dooras, which is guarded by a giant, whom even the Fianna hold in dread, and the Danaan people shall cast their spells upon whosoever seeks to touch its leaves or fruit against their wishes."

But the two chieftains, in answer to the counselling of Oisin, replied that they had rather pay the eric demanded by Fionn than return to their own country again; so they set forth on their quest for the Wood of Dooras and the hunting-booth of Diarmuid and Grainne When the knight, hearing the sound of their approach, had gone forward to meet them, and had learned the object of their mission, he laughed out loud, a clear, deep laughter, at the foolhardiness of the errand they had undertaken.

"I fear ye will find it no easy matter to deprive me of my head, O sons of Morna, and as for the quicken-berries, Sharvan the Surly keeps a watchful eye upon them night and day. Hath Fionn told ye the tale of this giant—how he cannot be burned with fire, or drowned with water, or wounded with weapons? And which will ye fight for first—my head or the quicken-berries?"

"It is with thee we shall deal first," said they eagerly.

Then Diarmuid proposed that they should throw aside all their weapons and in this combat rely upon their bodily strength alone. But the wrestle was, indeed, a short one, for he overcame them easily and bound them in close and bitter bonds even as he had bound the three great sea-kings on the hillside above Tonn Toma.

Now this contest between Diarmuid and the MacMornas was witnessed by Grainne, upon whom there suddenly came a strong desire to taste the berries of the quicken-tree, and after striving against the craving, at last she told Diarmuid she would surely die unless he brought to her a cluster of the ripe red fruit. The request troubled Diarmuid exceedingly, for he had no wish to quarrel with Sharvan, yet he could not deny his love, seeing the longing that was in her face.

Thereupon the sons of Morna, speaking from the ground, where they lay, exclaimed, "Loosen our bonds, O hero, and we will go with thee to fight the giant." And Diarmid loosed them gladly, for their aid was welcome to him.

At the foot of the fairy-tree they found Sharvan asleep, and Diarmuid dealt him a heavy blow to waken him. He lifted his huge head, glared at the three with his great red eye, saying:

"Art thou come in enmity against me, with whom thou hast been at peace, oh foolish warrior?" and Diarmuid made answer in this wise:

"It is not in strife I come altogether, but my wife, Princess Grainne, the daughter of King Cormac Mac Art, longs to taste of those quicken-berries, and if she does not eat them she will die. Therefore, I pray thee, give me a few that her desire may be satisfied."

"Nay," replied the other, "if she were dying in very truth and that one of my berries would avert her death it should not be plucked for her."

At this a rush of fury filled the heart of Diarmuid, and seeing that he was intent upon fight, the giant struck three great blows at him with his club, which the knight had trouble to ward off and which hurt him sorely. But watching narrowly his chance, he swiftly threw down his sword and spear and sprang upon his foe, taking him unguarded. He clasped his strong arms round the ungainly body, and, heaving him with his shoulder, hurled him with mighty shock to the earth; then, seizing the ponderous club, he dealt him three powerful blows, dashing out his brains upon the forest leaves.

Weary and aching in every limb, Diarmuid sat down to rest, bidding the sons of Morna drag the slain giant into a secret place of the wood and bury him there, lest Grainne should see and be afraid. Then when at their calling she had come from her house of saplings Diarmuid pointed to the tree:

"The way is clear to the quicken-berries, my dear one. Take thou and eat." But she replied softly:

"It is only from thy hands I shall eat them, beloved." So Diarmuid, standing up, drew down a glowing branch and filled the little white hands extended towards him. He gave also to the MacMorna, speaking thus in his generosity:

"Take these berries to Fionn, O youths, and pay your eric, telling him, if ye choose, that Sharvan the Surly fell by your prowess alone."

And they thanked Diarmuid, bidding him farewell, and went their ways to the Hill of Allen, taking with them the one handful stipulated for by Fionn.

Afterwards Diarmuid took Grainne to live in Sharvan's hut among the broad waving branches high above the ground, and they discovered that the topmost berries were the sweetest of all—so sweet and so life-giving that they pined not for other food, but dwelt in peace and bliss in their airy home wrapped in the security of their passionate devotion for one another.

* * * * * * * * * *

When the sons of Morna reached the Palace of Fionn and he asked them had they brought him their eric, they handed him the cluster of quicken-berries in answer.

"How came ye to do this deed?" he questioned, looking closely the while at them out of the corners of his keen, shaggy-browed eyes.

"The surly giant of Dooras is slain, O Fionn, and we have brought thee the eric demanded for the death of Cumhaill, thy father. Surely that is all it beseemeth thee to know."

But Fionn smelled the berries three times, and exclaimed:

It was Diarmuid O'Duibhne who plucked these from the quicken-tree and not ye, untruthful youths, for I know his touch. And well I know it was he, and he alone, who slew the giant. Therefore, it shall avail ye nothing to have brought me these, since ye have made peace with mine enemy, and I shall still hold ye to an eric before ye attain to a place in the ranks of the Fianna. But for myself I shall go to the Wood of Dooras to learn if Diarmuid abides in its solitudes."

So the chieftain took with him the choice men of the seven battalions of the Fianna and marched away to the territory of Hy-Fiachra. They found Diarmuid's tracks to the fairy-tree and eat, until they were satisfied, of the ruddy fruit. Then Fionn, being weary, said:

"We shall rest here until the heat is gone and evening comes, for well I know that Diarmuid O'Duibhne is on high among the branches."

Said Oisin, "Truly this jealousy hath tainted thy mind with unworthy suspicions since thou dreamest that Diarmuid would wait for thy approach on this tree, knowing that his head is thy quarry." And Fionn, smiling bitterly, made no reply, but called for a chessboard and men to be brought to him. He and Oisin played the game together until there remained but one move left to the Bard, over which he sat puzzled and silent.

From his seat on a swaying bough Diarmuid had watched the father and son prove their skilful knowledge of chess, but now he felt grieved that Oisin should be the loser, and flinging a berry down with true aim he struck a chessman that Oisin might move it. Thereupon his friend moved the man discreetly and won the game against Fionn.

Immediately they started a new game, which went on until the same pass was reached and the same difficulty had befallen Oisin. And again Diarmuid threw down a berry and struck the right man, and again Oisin moved him and won the game.

A third time the game went on and the chessman was struck by Diarmuid as before, so that Oisin won yet again. Then Fionn gave vent to bitter taunting of his son:

"It is no marvel that thou should'st have beaten me in this game, Oisin, seeing that thou hast acted by the prompting of Diarmuid O'Duibhne."

"Foolish, indeed, thou art, O Fionn," spake Oscar the Valiant, "to dream that Diarmuid remains within thy reach above on the tree-trunk."

"Now, say which of us tells truth, Oscar or I, O Diarmuid?" cried Fionn, gazing up into the dark-green shadows.

"Thou, Fionn," came Diarmuid's familiar voice, like the echo of a clear-toned bell. "I am here with the Princess Grainne, my wife, in the hut of Sharvan the Surly."

Then the Fianna, darting eager looks overhead, saw them there together; and when Grainne began to tremble for fear of danger, O'Duibhne put his arm round her and comforted her with three warm kisses before them all.

"Those kisses but add another to the score thou shalt yet pay me," muttered Fionn between his clenched teeth, "so now defend thy head if thou art able." And he offered a suit of armour, arms, and a high place among the Fianna to any man who would climb into the tree and bring him Diarmuid alive or dead.

Garva of Slieve Cua cried out eagerly, "Let mine be the task, for it was Diarmuid's father, Donn, who slew my father, and I would avenge the deed."

But Angus Oge learning that his foster-son was in deadly peril travelled to him on the pure cold wind, and without the knowledge of the Fianna came to his aid. His approach brought great joy to the hearts of Grainne and Diarmuid, for Garva was creeping nearer them from branch to branch, and below the eight other Garvas waited to assist their kinsman if he needed help.

When he had well-nigh reached the hut Diarmuid struck him a blow with his foot which dashed him to the ground among the Fianna. And they cut off his head in a trice, because Angus had caused him to take the shape of O'Duibhne, but after he was slain he became like unto himself again, so that all knew it was Garva of Slieve Cua that had been killed.

Then in anger at the death of their chieftain, in succession the eight Garvas tried to destroy Diarmuid, until one by one they met with the same fate—namely, Garva of Slieve Crot, of Slieve Gora, of Slieve Mucka, of Slieve More, of Slieve Luga, of Ath-free, of Slieve Mish, of Drom-more. And the soul of Fionn was harassed with agony beholding this appalling slaughter.

"Now I shall descend to do combat with mine enemies, O Angus," said Diarmuid, "and if I live till evening I shall follow to Brugh of the Boyne, whither thou shalt take my dear one," and he bade a sorrowful and most loving farewell to Grainne. Angus threw around her his magic mantle, under cover of which they flew away invisible to the watchful Fianna.

The clear voice of Diarmuid was heard speaking then to Fionn:

"Since thou art resolved to encompass my death, why should I fear to meet it now or at any other time? Yet before thou shalt lay me low on the sward, O chieftain, many of thy hirelings shall wend before me through the dark gates. Often in the press of battle did I shelter thee, and when leaving the field I was ever behind, thy shield and thy friend, nor is it meet to-day that thou should'st be arrayed against me. Yet, be it so, I shall not fall tamely nor in dishonour."

"Truly doth Diarmuid speak," said Oscar. "Let him have mercy and forgiveness, for he hath suffered much."

"Neither peace nor forgiveness shall I grant him," answered Fionn; "his head must be eric for the injury he hath done me."

"Shame on thee for that speech," did Oscar reply to the grim and jealous old man. "And now I take the body and life of Diarmuid into my keeping, under the protection of my knighthood and valour, so that from henceforth no man in Eirinn dare harm him. Come down in safety, O Diarmuid, my friend and brother; Oscar is here to give pledge for thy keeping."

Then Diarmuid, walking carefully along a thick branch unseen until he was beyond the circle of the waiting warriors, sprang forward and downward with a graceful airy bound, and alighted outside the host that stood with joined hands round the tree-trunk, and in a moment he was distant from the reach of sword and spear. After him came Oscar, before whose threatening backward glances the pursuing Fianna fell back afraid.

So the two heroes travelled together to Brugh of the Boyne, where Angus and Grainne waited their coming, and Diarmuid's sweet lady almost swooned with joy in her gladness at beholding him again.

The passionate wrath grew yet more active in the soul of Fionn when he saw Oscar and Diarmuid depart together, and he vowed that the latter should not escape his vengeance any longer. Leaving the Wood of Dooras he marched to Allen and gave orders that his best ship should be made ready and provisioned for a voyage. Now this voyage to Tir Tairnngire on which he set forth was to his old nurse, an old woman well skilled in magic, to whom he related his cause of enmity against O'Duibhne, and his will that means should be found to bring his enemy into safe custody.

She promised to abet him in his evil designs, and returned with the company to Brugh of the Boyne, enveloped in a thick mist, so that no man in Eirinn knew of their arrival.

It so chanced that Diarmuid hunted alone in the forest that day without Oscar, which being known to the witch-hag, she caused herself to fly into the air by magic on a water-lily leaf, having by her spells turned it into a broad flat millstone with a hole in the middle. She floated straight on, borne along by the clear, cold wind, until she hovered straight above the hero, and began to aim deadly darts at him through the hole. This was the worst distress Diarmuid ever endured, for the darts having had venomous spells breathed over them, stung him through his shield and armour, so that no part of him was likely to escape from their piercing. Seeing that death was, indeed, his portion unless he slew the wicked enchantress, he seized the Ga-derg, and, leaning backward, flung it with sure aim at the millstone. It flew right through the hole, piercing the heart of the hag, who fell lifeless at his feet. He beheaded her and brought the vile head to Angus Oge, relating to him and Grainne the story of their wonderful encounter and his escape.

Angus meanwhile, seeing that the quarrel between Fionn and Diarmuid could not go on in this way for ever, went to the Chieftain of the Fianna and invited him to make peace. Fionn, knowing well that he had been worsted in every attempt made against Diarmuid's life, consented, for he was weary of the quarrel and of the loss of his brave men. Then Angus approached King Cormac MacArt with the same intentions, and he also agreed to be at peace with O'Duibhne, being sorrowful at the woe and trouble arising from the enmity between these warriors.

Afterwards the Druid returned to Brugh and told Diarmuid the result of his embassy. The latter stipulated that he should be reinstated in his father's possessions and land—namely, the cantred of O'Duibhne without rent or tribute to the King of Eirinn, also the cantred of Ben-Damis—that is, Ducarn of Leinster. These two to be granted to him by Fionn, and a restriction made that neither MacCumhaill nor any of the Fianna were to hunt over them without leave. And from the King of Eirinn he demanded the cantred of Kesh-Corran as dowry with his daughter Grainne.

Again Angus went to Fionn and afterwards to King Cormac MacArt with these conditions. And they were granted, so that peace was made between all, and the land became once more restful and law-abiding.

Then Diarmuid and Grainne went to live in Kesh-Corran, far away from Fionn and Cormac, building themselves there a house called Rath-Grainne, in which they abode many years in quiet and joy. And in time there came to them four sturdy sons and one little daughter, plenty and prosperity flowed upon them, so that people said there was no man of his time so rich in gold and silver and jewels, in sheep and in herds of cattle, as Diarmuid of the Bright Face.

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