Book excerpt

The Sorrows

A Grand Retelling of 'The Three Sorrows'

Ulster Cycle
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The Sorrows
The Fate of the Children of TuirennRachad a haithle searc no laoch don chill.1The Defense of the Sons of Cuireann 
A sin, was it a sin? We are warriors too. We did what all warriors do. We met in battle at Brugh na Boinne, And a warrior we slew. 
Now far and wide we have gone for you To pick foreign apples from where they grew, To steal the skin of a Grecian pig To heal your wounds and your strength renew. 
We have met a king and the spear he threw, The chariot of Dubhar and his whole retinue Fail-miz and eazal and the spit Of Finchory and its bubbling stew. 
We have stood on cnoc na mochaen and shouted our "ballyhoo." It has taken us years to do what you've asked us to But sore and broken we have returned And kneel before you, good Prince Lugh. 
We beg mercy for breaking an old taboo. If God will not forgive us who will? Will you? Quickly now, lay upon us The healing skin in the mountain dew. 
We are soldiers only, and soldiers true. We have made every deadly rendezvous. All we ask is what is our due. Yet you turn your royal cheek in the morning. 
--Micheál O'Ciardhai.AH, BUT WHAT A STORY it is to tell, this one of the Tuirenn children! There is much to it, but one cannot simply begin at the beginning of such a tale. No, it is far too complex a thing to do that and cheapen the story by leaping into it like a dancer playing among the dappled shadows of the willows along the Boyne River. No, no. That won't do at all. Instead, we shall have to begin a little before that story and peek into the dregs of another story first in order to see how this one connects with the next and the next with the one after that and--But one can play word games only too long. Enough. Here, then, is the tale at the proper beginning.Oh, but the Battle of Mag Tuired--the first one--was magnificient! The Tuatha Dé Danann2 sent many of the Fir Bolg to their deaths in that one! Blood washed the ground and a great stench rose up from the battlefield for days after. Crows and ravens feasted well, I tell you! For four days, the battle raged back-and-forth over that plain until at last the Tuatha rallied behind the great warrior Nuada3 and pushed the Fir Bolg back into the rocky recesses of the northwest, where the great king and magician Conn ruled. Perhaps the Tuatha would have ended it for all time then, for the battle-rage was full uponthem, but Conn did not want his country wasted by war and performed great magic, laying a thick field of snow over the entire province in one day. Slowed by having to slog through the great drifts, the Tuatha pulled back and away from the battle, leaving the Fir Bolg in that province they called Conn-snechta.4But the Tuatha had grown weary of battle by then and their great king, Nuada, had nearly been killed in a duel with the Fir Bolg champion Sreng,5 a great hairy monster who wielded a huge, two-handed sword that split Nuada's shield in twain and sliced Nuada's arm from his shoulder. He might have even killed Nuada had not the great Tuatha warrior Oghma6 driven Sreng away from the fallen Nuada.Then did Diancécht7 work his magic by forming for Nuada, a silver hand, and setting it in place against the stump so that from that time on, Nuada was called Nuada Argatlam.8 But since the king of the Tuathas was to have no blemish, he was forced to step aside for another man to rule."Aye," one of them said in council when the question of Nuada's replacement came up. "There are many to chose from, but who among them can do what Nuada can. Perhaps we should--""Tch. Tch. Tch," another said, wagging his forefinger in objection. "I know what you are up to, you rascal! You would have us step away from the ancient laws and let Nuada rule despite his blemish. Well, I say no! Step once away from a law, you step away from others later, and then you have anarchy! No, no, no! We shall have a new king!""I agree," a third chimed in. "But who? And we had better be quick about it. The Fomorians9 have been watching to see how the battle went with the Fir Bolg, and I have a hunch they know how weak we have become.""And your point?" the first asked, snapping his fingers impatiently. "Get to it before an oak grows from an acorn! You could talk the water to dust!""Very well," the former said icily. "I suggest we cast our lot in with the Fomorians. Only temporarily," he hastened to add, raising a hand to stave off argument. "I say let's send an ambassador to Elotha10 and ask to let his son Bres to be our ruler. That would keep the Fomorians from raiding our lands until we can rebuild our strength.""A Formorian as a king over the Tuatha Dé Danann?" the first said indignantly. "What stuff and nonsense! Better to let Nuada continue, I say, than to bring the wolf into the fold!""His mother is Ériu," the former said pointedly. "Who is, I'm certain you recall, a Tuatha Dé Danann. That gives him a foot in both kingdoms, eh?""I'm for it," the second speaker said. "Great balls! We'll be at it until the sun turns to cinder if we don't settle this fast. Besides, what harm can be done? If he's no good, we get rid of him"--he snapped his fingers--"like that!""A wolf in the fold can kill a lot of sheep before he's driven out," the first said. "But I'm ruled against--I can see that! But don't throw my words to the winds! I still say you're wrong!"And so ambassadors were sent to Elotha, who listened to the proposal, scarcely able to hide his glee. He willingly gave up his son to be king of the Tuatha Dé Danann, thinking that he had won the battle without dipping a single spearblade in Tuatha blood.But politics seldom agree with logic. Had Bres been an honorable man, perhaps peace would have existed between the Fomorians and the Tuathas. But Bres had inherited only his mother's beauty, while from his father he inherited the ruthlessness of the Fomorians. He quickly imposed a heavy tax of an ounce of gold upon each man of the Tuatha Dé Danaan, enforcing the tax with soldiers from his father's army. The Tuatha were quickly made slaves, and there was nothing that Nuada could do to help his people.And then Bres imposed another tax upon kneading bowls, another on querns, and yet another on baking stones. Each year, the Tuatha were to gather on Balor's Hill,11 which would soon be called The Hill of Usneach,1213 and there pay their taxes. Any who refused to pay the taxes would have his nose cut off. Year after year, the unhappy Tuathas gathered at the hill to await the tax gatherers sent by Elotha.ii.ONE DAY, THE STEWARD OF Nuada's house, a one-eyed grizzled warrior who had lost an eye the day his master lost his arm, stood on the wall of the Tara house, facing the sun, feeling its warmth soak into his bones. He held a cat in his arms and toyed with its ears, taking comfort in the rumble of its purring against his breast. Idly, he looked across the green plain at the foot of the hill to where a field of grain shone palely gold in the setting light. Two dots appeared in the distance, and he watched as they grew larger into young men, crossing the thick sedge, past clumps of skullcap and monkshood."And who might you be?" he called as they paused at the gate. They looked up at him and smiled."Well," one said in a musical voice, "I am Miach and this is Omiach. We are the sons of Diancécht.""The doctor?" the steward asked."Yes. As are we. And not bad ones either, if I may say so," Omiach answered."We have a few healer's tricks," Miach said cautiously, giving his brother a reproving look.The steward snorted. "That's as here as now. I can't tell you how many of you young sports come to this here gate bragging on how they have the gift of the hazel wand. But there's the difference between berries and turnips as 'tween them and Diancécht. Sons you may be, but do you have the magic of the old man? There's a difference between taking a splinter out from 'twixt the toes and closing a wound so it don't fester.""We've been known to heal a bit," Miach said. He elbowed his brother in his ribs as the latter opened his mouth to speak."Umph!" Omiach grunted. He rubbed his side. "Now, what would you be doing that for? Eh? And why hide our skills under an whortleberry bush? When you're good, you're good, and there's no two ways about it!"The steward laughed. "Well, if you're that good, then maybe you could put an eye in this hollow where my own good eye once was? Damn nuisance it is, looking at the world through one window when two were meant to be a man's use.""Easy," Omiach said, ignoring Miach's vain attempt to hush him. "How about one of that cat's eyes? Would that serve you?"The steward glared suspiciously at him, but the young man met his stare calmly. "Huh," the steward said. "If you ain't a sassy cockleburr. Very well, let's give you a try."And no sooner were the words from his mouth than the cat leaped up in his arms, raking its claws down his arm, squawking, "Rrrrowrrrr!" It leaped upon the wall, looked wildly around for a moment, then streaked down from the wall and ran into the barn and hid under a sheaf of straw.The steward suddenly looked out at the world from two eyes, blinking wonderingly at what suddenly had depth and a strange mixture of color. He raised his fingers and lightly touched the hollow where the lid had once been stitched down against his cheek. He saw his fingers coming toward the hollow and flinched away."Damme, if you don't have the whisper of the gods in your ears!" he exclaimed. He looked around wonderingly, enjoying the sudden beauty and strangeness that he had missed for so many years."I'm happy for you," Omiach said. He glanced at Miach, who shrugged."It's done, and once the milk's spilt, you can't put it back in the pail," Miach said. He looked up at the steward. "Would you be so kind as to tell your master that we wait outside his gate for his permission to enter?""Right back," the steward said. He climbed down from the wall and hurried across the yard. Suddenly he stumbled as a sparrow slipped across the edge of his sight and the new eye leaped in its socket, following the sparrow's flight. "Damme, if this won't take some getting used to," he muttered to himself. "But there's a bit of bad to all gifts, I'm thinking."As he hurried through the hall, he heard a tiny rustle, and again the eye leaped to focus on a mouse scurrying along the wall to disappearin a crack beside a center beam. He closed the eye and stepped into the warm hall where Nuada lounged on his chair, nursing a cup of honeyed ale."What is it?" Nuada asked crossly as the steward came close to him. He had been cross since rising with new pains where his silver arm joined the stump, and now it seemed to have spread across his shoulders, making the other ache as well."Beg pardon," the steward said, "but two physicians wait outside your gate for permission to enter.""I'm not in the mood for company," Nuada said sulkily. He buried his nose in his ale cup, drinking deeply. "But don't let it be said that we don't pay attention to the laws of hospitality." Take them to the guest house and make my apologies. Say I'm ill and crave their pardon for my seeming rudeness. I'll greet them properly in the morning. If," he grunted as a stab of pain washed up from his shoulder, "if this cursed arm stops giving me trouble!"The steward fidgeted for a moment, then said, "I really think it would be best if you saw them now. They ain't your run-of-the-mill quacksalver. Look!" He opened the new eye and stared at Nuada. "How many you know could put the eye of a cat in place of me old eye that's long been jelly dessert for a battle-crow? Eh?"Nuada stared with sudden interest at the new eye meeting his. "Hmm," he said. "That's truly a gift that one of them has, I'd say. Well, don't just stand there like a stool, bring them in!"The steward scurried away, limping as a stab of arthritis hit him in a hip. "Drat and mouse turds!" he grumbled, swinging one leg shorter than the other in a truncated gait. "Must be a storm gathering!" He cast an eye over the sky as he ordered the bar slipped from the gate and the doors swung wide."My master bids you welcome and to take you to the Great Hall," he said. Something rustled in the grass beside the gatepost. His new eye jerked down and around, seeking the source of the noise. "Damn," he muttered, holding his hand over it. "Becoming a bit of a nuisance, this is. Just takes some getting used to, I suppose.""Thank you," Miach said politely as he and his brother entered andfollowed the steward to the house. As they entered the Great Hall, they heard a deep groan, then a long sigh, as from someone in great pain."There's a warrior here who is injured," Miach said. "That sigh seemed to come from deep within him.""Hmm. Maybe," Omiach said cautiously. The sigh came again. He cocked his head, listening. "Of course, it could be the sigh of a warrior with a darb-dóel14 working within him.""You could be right," Miach said seriously. "I believe we have a bit more work to do before we'll be able to rest tonight. Steward!"The steward turned toward him, staring with one blue eye and one yellow. Miach smiled as the yellow eye turned reflexively toward the wall and a fly buzzing by."It takes a little getting used to," he said solicitously. The steward nodded and sighed."Making me head swim, it is," he muttered. He pressed the heel of his palm against the yellow eye. "But beggars can't be choosers, and it has its blessings as well. What is it?""We heard a groaning and sighing as if someone was in pain when we entered the hall," Miach said. "Tell me: is there a warrior here with some difficulty?""Ah," the steward said, nodding. "That would Nuada. Ever since Diancécht gave him that silver arm, he's been bothered with aches and pains. Getting worse, it is, though he won't admit it." Miach and Omiach exchanged glances."Well, bring us to him," Omiach said. "Perhaps we can help.""I dunno," the steward said, scratching his head with a long nail. He hawked and spat, rubbing the spittle away with the toe of his shoe. "Nuada said to bring you to him, but I reckoned to give him a bit more time to get rid of the bogles if that's what's bothering him.""Oh, I think he'll want to see us," Omiach said breezily. "Lead us to him, then. There's a good lad.""Lad? Old enough to have been a grin on your mother's lips," the steward muttered. "And you ladding me about, are you? Well, then, on your head it is, then."He took the two brothers into the king's room where Nuada layback against his couch, rubbing his shoulder softly. His face was white with pain, tiny beads of perspiration dotting his upper lip. The brothers' noses wrinkled at the sour smell of the sickroom. They looked at each other and nodded."A darb-doél," they said in unison.Nuada's eyes opened. He stared through pain-dulled eyes at them. "Ah, excuse my bad manners, please," he said softly. He grimaced and grabbed his shoulder. "I seem to be having difficulties here.""Your shoulder?" Miacht came forward, and touched Nuada's shoulder gently; Nuada flinched away, growing paler. He grabbed his ale-cup, draining it."Hurts, doesn't it?" Omiach said. He looked over at the steward. "Call a few servants, will you?""What for?" the steward said suspiciously."Well, if it is what we think it is, we will want to kill it when we release it," Miacht said. "A darb-dóel is a tricky devil. Very fast and elusive. You stomp on it, and it's not there.""A darb-dóel?" the steward said, shaking his head. "What's that?""You'll see. You'll see. Now, get a few others in here. With shoes on," he called, as the steward turned away. "We don't want to have to go after the creature more than once."When the others had gathered around Nuada's chair, Miacht gently took the silver arm in his hand."Now, this is going to hurt a bit," he said quietly to Nuada. "But there's nothing for it. Ready?"Nuada gritted his teeth, nodding. Miacht took the silver arm, then suddenly wrenched it up and out away from Nuada's body, ripping it away. "Ye--ow!" yelled Nuada. A great stench of putrefying flesh rose from the wound. Within it, a large black beetle, the size of an adult cockroach appeared. The darb-dóel hesitated, then bounded away from the stump and scurried through the Great Hall."There it goes!" yelled the steward. "Filthy beast!"He stamped at it with his good foot, but the darb-dóel slipped away, heading for the door. The servants leaped after it, their feet slapping like thunder as they tried to kill it. The darb-dóel swerved and dashed into the cooking room. The steward leaped over it and raced ahead tothe door, grabbing a meat mallet as he raced past the cook's table. He knelt on the floor, and when the darb-dóel came close, smashed it quickly, spattering it over the floor. He rose with satisfaction and handed the meat mallet to one of the servants."Here. Clean up the mess, now," he ordered. The servant looked with disgust at the splotch before the threshold and left to get a bucket of water. The steward walked back into the Great Hall, pausing to straighten his tunic, before approaching the dais where Nuada slumped pale-faced on his couch."Got the bloody thing," he grunted. Nuada nodded, the color already beginning to return to his cheeks. He glanced at the silver arm in Miach's hands. He shuddered."It was good while it lasted," he said. "But I don't think that I want it back."Miach smiled gently and handed the arm to the steward, who took it gingerly. "Yes, I can understand that. But, all things are possible if you believe in them. Of course, one must be careful with what one wishes to believe as there can be problems unforeseen that come from wishes." He frowned. "More harm has been done in the name of good than you would expect. Good is evanescent. One must remember that.""As should you," Omiach pointed out. He shook his head. "I know what you're thinking, Miach. There's danger in being a meddler."Miach smiled again. "Well, shouldn't one always follow one's beliefs?" He turned back to Nuada. "Would you like a real arm in place of that silver thing?""Here we go," growled Omiach. Miach ignored him."It is possible. Not"--he held up his hand--"completely certain, you understand. But possible.""Of course," Nuada said.And that began Miach's search for an arm to match the arm of the former king. But that was no easy task. The arm had to be equally as long and muscular and flexible. But among all the Tuatha, none could be found that would match Nuada's--except that of Modhan the Swineherd. But this simply wouldn't do, you see, for a man of Nuada's stature simply could not carry a swineherd's arm with him into polite company. Besides, what would the swineherd do withoutit? No, no, there was, as Miach had put it, possible, but not certain.Nuada was crestfallen."I warned you," Miach said softly."Yes, but warnings like that are seldom heeded as warnings," Nuada sighed. "Children do not think of the possibility of failure, and what are we but grown children?""Men," a passing wench muttered to another, "are grown children, perhaps. But who does the washing and cleaning around here, I would ask you? Eh? And then, we're to look sensuous15 for them when they're in their cups! I tell you--""Would the bones of the man's own arm be of any help to you?" Omiach asked.Miach frowned, pursing his lips, musing. "Well, now, 'tisn't a thought I've given to it, but there is that which can be done. If," he emphasized, "we had the true bones.""We can only try," Omiach said.A man was dispatched to the battlefield of Mag Tuired. There he discovered where Nuada's arm had been buried and uncovered it. He brought the bones back to Tara, where Miach examined them closely.16 Then, he looked at Omiach and said, "Would you prefer to place the arm or go for the herbs?""I'd rather do the arm," Omiach said. "You are much more successful grubbing around the dirt for herbs than I."And so Miach left to gather the herbs. When he returned, Omiach had the arm placed and Miach made a paste of some of the herbs and bound the arm straight down Nuada's side. He chanted an incantation:"Joint to joint I join you. To the joints, I join the sinew. After that, we will bend The joint and after that tend To making the flesh that I'll bid To grow under which all will be hid."After three days had passed, the arm had joined once again at the shoulder. Then Miach bent the arm at the elbow, covered itagain with herbs, and bound it for three more days across Nuada's stomach. After those three days were up, he made a paste out of charred bulrushes and cattails and covered the arm and wrapped it for three more days.On the tenth day, he took off the bandage. A great shout went up over the land, for Nuada's arm once again hung from his shoulder and he could again be king. Word quickly spread and reached the ear of Diancécht, who left immediately for Tara to see for himself. When he entered Nuada's hall, Nuada rose from his couch and flexed the arm, saying, "You have a marvelous son there, Diancécht! I daresay that in time his fame will surpass your own."Diancécht grew red with rage, and when Miach entered the room, he drew his sword and slashed his son across the head, slicing the flesh."Father! Why did you do that?" Miacht asked, healing himself immediately. Again, Diancécht slashed at Miacht, cutting his son to the bone. And again, Miacht healed himself."Father! Why did you do that?" he asked again. But Diancécht did not answer and swung his sword a third time at Miach, cutting through the skull to the brain. But again, Miacht healed himself. Enraged, Diancécht trepanned his son. When Miacht's brain fell out upon the floor, Miacht fell dead.Diancécht took his son's body and buried it secretly in a glade deep in the forest. Three hundred sixty-five herbs grew up from his grave, one for each part of the body. His sister, Airmed,17 who had skills as great as her father, gathered the herbs, carefully sorting them upon her cloak. But when Diancécht learned what she was doing, he went to the clearing, grabbed her cloak, and shook the herbs into the air, mixing them. Airmed was unable to sort them again, and Man lost his chance at immortality.Seven years had passed, however, since Bres had taken the throne from which Nuada had once ruled; and during that time, Bres had grown very strong, and the Fomorians ruled them ruthlessly.When the Tuatha went to Bres and told him that they no longer wanted him as their king, Bres laughed at them and laid even heaviertaxes upon them, having grown too strong for Nuada to do anything to upset his rule.One day, Cairpré, the chief poet of the Tuatha, came to the court, expecting to be greatly honored as all poets were, but Bres laughed when he heard that Cairpré had entered his house and ordered the poet to be placed in a small, dingy room without fire, bed, or chair for the table upon which tiny cakes without seeds, burnt from the oven, were left for him to eat. When Cairpré rose the next morning to take his leave, he delivered the first magical satire ever spoken in Ireland against his host, saying:"I received no meat upon the plate Given to me. No milk from a cow, Either. So, now I pronounce the fate Of Bres who has the honor of a sow: May he likewise receive the honor That he cheerfully has given to another!"Upon hearing the poet's words, red splotches broke out upon Bres's face, which caused the Tuatha to heave a sigh of relief since no one who had a blemish could be their king. Bres was forced to leave and Nuada stepped upon the throne. But Bres's strength was so great that Nuada could do nothing to ease the heavy taxes that had been placed upon his people.iii.ONE DAY AS NUADA SAT in a feast, a stranger dressed as a prince came to the door of his house and demanded of the gatekeepers, Gamal and Camall, that his presence be announced to the king. Gamal looked at Camall and winked, then turned to the young man, saying:"Aye, that we'll be certain to do. But tell us, youth, what reason does the king have for seeing you?""Tell him that I am Lugh, the grandson of Diancécht by Cian, my father, and Balor's grandson by Ethniu, my mother," the youth replied."Uh-huh," grunted Camall. "But that tells us little, as Balor has many grandsons from dallying his tallywhacker in so many honey-wells. So, young one, tell us what it is that you do. This is the master's feast, and one must be a master to gain entrance.""Then, tell your king that I am a carpenter."Gamal spat. "That may be well and good, but we already got the best of them: Luchtainé's his name. Doubt you see many that can mortise joints like him.""I'm also a very good smith," Lugh said again."Got one of them, too," Camall said. "No one turns iron like Goibniu.""And I am a champion among warriors," Lugh said."Uh-huh," Gamal said doubtfully. "Well, we have the king's own brother, Oghama in there. One of them's enough.""And I am a harper," Lugh continued."Can you play as well as Abcan?""I'm as good with my wits as I am my strength," Lugh said."So is Bresal," Gamal said."I have many stories to tell.""We already got a poet," Camall yawned."I am no stranger to magic.""And we got a lot of sorcerers and Druids," Gamal said."I am a healer.""We got the best: Diancécht.""I bear cups.""Got nine of them. That's more than enough.""I work well in bronze.""Well, if you could best Credné, then you might be worth the coal for the forge. But I doubt it," Camall said.Lugh smiled. "But," he asked gently, "do you have one man who can do all these things? Take this to your king, and if he has, I will shake Tara's dust from my heels.""Best go and see about it," Gamal said to Camall. He eyed Lughcarefully. "'Tis a good brag and if he's half as good with his hands as he is his words, he might be of use to the king."Camall sighed and trudged away from the gate, making his way into the banquet hall. There, he approached Nuada and told him about the boastful youth at the gate."We got a young one, dressed like a prince, who claims to be an ioldánac,"18 he said. He shrugged. "Thought it best to let you know. Might be a bit of amusement in it for you."Nuada laughed. "Well, then, let the young man in! And bring the fidchell19 board and our best players. If he beats them, why, then, bring him to us!"Camall sighed and went off to do Nuada's bidding. But Lugh beat all of the players, inventing a move that came to be known as "Lugh's Enclosure" as he did. When he saw this, Carnal brought the youth into the banquet hall. There was a seat vacant beside Nuada that was known as the "Sage's Seat," and Lugh went straight to the seat and took it. Eyebrows rose at his brashness as the four great leaders of the Tuatha--Dagda, the chief Druid; Diancécht, the physician; Oghma, the champion; and Goibniu, the smith--all exchanged glances."Well, now," Oghma said quietly to the others, "let's see about this young rooster."He rose and went to a huge stone that four teams of oxen had brought in. He spat on his hands, bent, and lifted it, then hurled it through the thick wall of the fort."Always with the theatrics," Nuada sighed. "Now we'll have to have it brought back in again. I really wish you would find something else to amuse yourself with."Lugh smiled and rose, and walked through the hole in the wall where he picked up the stone and tossed it negligently back through the hole in the wall where it landed in the exact same place from which Oghma had plucked it. Oghma shook his head as he retook his seat. "Boy has a set of shoulders on him under that tunic, I'm thinking," he said.Then Lugh took a harp off the wall and smiled gently at the court as he plucked the strings. Golden notes rang softly through the room as Lugh played the "Sleeping Lullaby," and Nuada and his court fell fastasleep. They awoke the next day at the same hour, bewildered. Then Lugh played the "Song of Sorrow," and Nuada and his court wept buckets of tears."'Tis a fine hand you have with the strings," Nuada blubbered.Lugh smiled and his fingers danced faster and faster across the strings, playing tune after tune, and the Tuatha laughed and began dancing wildly as music rose and soared around the room. At last he stopped, and Nuada smiled and stepped down from the throne."A better man you are than any here," he declared. "You must be the king of the Tuatha, not I."And so Lugh reigned for thirteen days among the Tuatha Dé Danaan. Then he took Nuada aside along with his advisors and spoke with them about doing battle with the Fomorians. Then, he disappeared, promising to return when the Tuatha needed him the most.Nuada and his advisors went back to the halls of Tara, and again Nuada took the throne. But nothing was done about the heavy taxes laid upon the Tuatha and for three years, they languished under the Fomorian rule while memory of the magical youth slowly disappeared.iv.NOW, ONE DAY WHEN THE time rolled around for the new collection of taxes, Nuada and the rest of the Tuatha Dé Danaan assembled at the Hill of Usneach, waiting for the Fomorian tax collectors the duties imposed upon them by Bres. A cold wind blew that day, stinging the eyes of the Tuatha as they stared across the plain, waiting."'Tis an evil day," remarked Aengus, staring across the plain. His nose began to run, and he wiped it absently with the back of his hand, then heeled the tears from his eyes, drying his hands upon his scarlet cloak. He turned to face Nuada. "What I don't understand is why we put up with them. You're whole again."Nuada moved his new arm uneasily, feeling it leap to his command. He felt the temptation to once again place his sword, the great sword brought by the Tuatha from Findias in Greece that no one couldescape and whose injury no one could heal. He shook his head. "We left Bres on the throne too long," he said at last. "He has grown very strong over the past seven years while we have not prepared ourselves for battle.""Speak for yourself," growled Lir. He fingered his sword, then hawked and spat. The wind drew his spittle and splattered the face of Ogham, who frowned angrily at Lir, but the great warrior ignored him. "As for me, I'd give anything to cross swords with that Bres. Why, I'd--""--cause all of us a great deal of harm," Aengus finished for him. Lir glared at him. "No, Lir, we must be a bit tactful on this. Nuada is right; we must bide our time until we can down them. Remember the last battle with the Fir Bolg? The Fomorians will be worse.""Better the dust than the bended knee, you ask me," Lir said. Forgetting the wind blowing from the east, he turned and spat and swore when his spittle blew back upon him. He wiped his paw across his tunic, then frowned and stared hard at a small cloud of dust coming toward them across the plain."Now, who's this, you suppose?" he asked.Nuada and Aengus turned, looking where he pointed. A stately band of warriors rode toward them upon white horses, with a young man leading them. Bright sunlight seemed to gleam from his figure, his forehead. They blinked as the brightness burned their eyes, then tried to make out his features with quick flicks of their eyes."I don't know about this," Aengus said doubtfully. "What more can happen to us?""Ah, shut your gob," Lir said. Aengus gave him an indignant look, but Lir ignored him. "From the looks of this group, they know which end of the sword to use. I say we make ready." He glanced over his shoulder at the Fomorians still riding toward them in their groups of nines. "We could be caught between two stones like grain in a gristmill.""Hold your sword," Nuada said quietly, placing his hand on Lir's arm to keep him from drawing his weapon. "Diplomacy, my friend. Let us see what they want before we do anything."Lir hawked, then remembered the wind, and swallowed. Heglared at Nuada. "It's the fine words of people like you that got us in this mess in the first place. Bres as king. Phaw! A cold blade's what we should have given him instead of the crown!""And who else should we have placed upon the throne," Aengus asked. "You?""And what would be wrong with that?" Lir asked, glowering at the fair-faced youth whose beauty caused all women to sigh and conspire to meet with him in the dark."Enough," Nuada commanded quietly as the riders came up the hill to them. "Greetings!" he called. He blinked at the brightness burning from the forehead of the leader. "I bid you good day! I am Nuada of the Tuatha Dé Danaan."The leader reined in and lowered his head, removing his helmet that had a precious stone set behind it and two more in front. For the first time, they saw fully his comely countenance as bright and glorious as the setting sun. He looked over the people, still sitting or squatting on their haunches. He frowned; then a small smile crept over his face and many a maiden there felt her heart flutter in her breast and her breath come in shallow gasps."I am Lugh Lamfada20 from the Tir Tairnmigiri.21 These"--he turned to indicate the warriors behind him--"are my foster-brothers, the sons of Manannán Mac Lir.22 Sgoith Glegeal and Rabach Slaitin, Gleigal Garb, Goithne Gormsuileach, Sine Sinderg, Domnall Donruad, and Aed, the son of Eathall." His mare moved restlessly beneath him, shuffling her feet daintly. He smiled and smoothed her brightly flowing mane. "And this is Enbarr," he added. He laughed, and the notes of his laughter tinkled over the crowd like a bell tone rung from clear glass. The others stared admiringly at the beautiful horse, recalling the legend of the mare of Manannán who was as fast as the naked cold wind of spring and so swift that she could run equally over land and water and so quick that no rider upon her back was ever harmed in battle."We know her," Lir said gruffly. He nodded at the breastplate and mail Lugh wore. "And I see your foster-father gave you the loan of his armor as well."Lugh laughed again and touched the sword hanging from his leftside. "And his sword, Fregartach, 'The Answerer,' from whose wound no one recovers. I would draw it, but all who gaze upon it become so frightened that they become as weak as a woman in the arms of a deadly disease or childbirth." He grinned at Lir. "Even you, Grandfather," he said teasingly.Lir flushed, his face growing dark with suppressed anger. He fingered the hilt of his sword. "For an acorn, I'd teach you a bit of respect," he said.Lugh held up his hands. "Is this a greeting or an invitation to battle?" he said. He shook his head, laughing merrily. Then, he noticed the Formorians drawing nearer to the bottom of the hill. "But I see you are expecting other company."Nuada glanced over his shoulder at the Fomorians. The others stood as the tax gatherers rode up the hill toward them. Nine times nine groups of them, they were, each as dirty as the other, greasy hair hanging in half-ringlets beneath their helmets, the smell of rotting flesh following them. Nuada recognized four of the riders, the cruelest and fiercest of the Fomorians: Eine, Eithfaith, Coron, and Compar, who inspired such fear in the Tuatha that none dared punish their children or foster-children without begging their permission first.Lugh frowned at the honor paid the Fomorians. "Now, what are these rógaires who bring you to your feet when you stayed seated when we came, eh? From the looks of them, they could stand a good wash and currying.""Sh," Nuada said nervously. "Don't anger them. If anyone--even the smallest child--a month-old babe, even--had stayed on the ground when they came up, that would have given them the excuse they want for killing us. Especially, those four in front. Why, they would rather drink blood than honeyed-beer."Lugh glared at them for a moment, then said, "Why for a hickory nut or acorn, I'm half-minded to put them down myself.""I'm telling you--" Nuada began nervously, but Lugh spoke loudly over him."Why, these rascals should be killed themselves. I'm half-minded to do it now.""We would meet our own deaths and destruction would follow across our fair land if you did," Nuada said."At least, we'd be men," Lir muttered darkly.Lugh shook his head and gathered his reins. He looked down at the group and said, "You have been under the thumb of the Fomorians long enough, I'm thinking." A bright smile flashed across his comely face. He clamped the helmet on his head, controlling the dancing Enbarr with his knees. "I say let's see how thin their blood runs!""Lugh!" Nuada said sharply, but Lugh only laughed again and took Enbarr down the hill in a gallop toward the group. Manannán's sons followed, loosening their weapons in their sheaths. Lugh slid to a stop, brazenly barring the path up the hill from the Fomorians. Eine frowned at this behavior."What's this, puppy?" he asked. He bared his long yellow teeth. "You're a handsome one, I'll give you that. Not very smart, though, to stand in the way of your betters.""Oh?" Lugh asked carelessly. "And who might they be?""Let me take his head," Compar growled. He pulled his sword, the blade well-blooded. "A little chop-chop, and we'll be done with this mosquito."Coron gave Lugh a careful look, then shook his head. "Don't look like there's much sting to him. Swat him and be done with it, I say!"Compar nudged his lathered horse forward, but never saw Lugh's hand move as Fregartach leaped from its scabbard and sliced cleanly through Compar's neck. Compar's eyes twitched. "An accident!" he mumbled. "Blind, mindless accident!" Then his head toppled from his shoulders and rolled across the dusty grass.The others stared dumbly at Compar's head rolling like an agate among the hooves of their horses, then Enbarr reared, lashing out with her hooves and striking Eithfaith's horse between the eyes, stoning him dead instantly."What the--waa!?" Eithfaith exclaimed as he found himself thrown sideways. "Trickery!" he howled. "Watch yourselves!" A blinding flash exploded in his eyes. He blinked. Felt a tug at his neck. Then looked stupidly up at his body, staggering and falling. "Arm yourselves!" he roared, but the words came out in a squeak.Then Lugh's battle-cry roared over the plain and his foster-brothers fell upon the Fomorians from the flanks. Fregartach leaped and danced in the bright sunlight, deadly rays like rainbows flying from its edge as Lugh boldly carved his way through the troop, slaughtering and disfiguring all who stood in his way."Mercy!" howled one, but Lugh ignored his plea as he dealt red slaughter to all until only nine of the nine times nine remained standing in a tiny, bewildered knot, staring in dismay at the carnage around them."Sanctuary!" Eine exclaimed, tossing his sword aside. He held his bare hands up beseechingly. Lugh frowned at the grimed wrinkles in the hairy knuckles then relented."All right," he said. He reached down and ripped a section from Eine's tunic, grimaced at its filth, then wiped the blood from Fregartach's blade. He sheathed it and said, "I suppose it's only good form to spare some of you. Besides," he added thoughtfully, "I want you to take word of this slaughter back to your king and tell him and the rest of the foreigners that they are no longer welcome in the land of the Tuatha Dé Danaan. Better he should kill you as the messengers than my own men."He turned Enbarr and rode up the hill as the Fomorians whipped their horses away from the red slaughter, galloping back to the coast, where their long ships waited to take them and the taxes they had gathered back to Balor of the Evil Eye."By the great balls, but that was something!" Lir exclaimed as Lugh rode up to them. He slapped Lugh's knee. "It's no knitting boy you are, I can see! That's as fine a blade dancing as I've ever seen!""Now you've done it for certain," Aengus sighed mournfully, watching the Fomorians disappear in the distance. "We're in it for sure, now! Balor will not take this lightly."Lugh smiled at him. "We can only hope that he doesn't.""Hope? Hope?" Nuada shook his head. "There's little hope for us, I'm thinking.""Isn't it better to live like men, then die and be done with it, instead of starving and wasting away little by little?" Lugh demanded. Heshook his head. "Why men prefer to live on their knees instead of their feet is beyond me."Lir slapped Nuada on the shoulder, staggering him. "The boy speaks truth! I say we make ready!""Yes, of course," Nuada said, rubbing his shoulder. "We have little choice in the matter, now. That's all been decided for us."And then memory of the youth who had come to the halls of Tara three years before returned and he smiled."But," he said, "I believe the time has come for us to make plans."And so they returned to the halls of Tara and went into council, planning for the battle they knew was coming.v.BALOR FROWNED AS HE LISTENED to the tale Eine told, his hands dancing nervously in the air as he described the rack and ruin Lugh had carved through their ranks."Monstrous!" Eine finished, beads of perspiration dotting his forehead. "Monstrous, I say. Gave no warning that he was going to be carving on our hides. Uncivilized, you ask me!" He snarkled, hawked, and spat to the side, wiping his nose with a dirty forefinger. "And there was poor Eithfaith, head rolling among the hooves of our horses like a rock being kicked this way and that, still yelling. A sight I won't forget for a long time, I tell you that!"Balor sucked the end of his long mustache into his mouth, chewing. He glared at the others. "Well?" he demanded. "Anyone know who this upstart is?"The others stirred uneasily, looking away from the angry Balor, hoping that he wouldn't part his hair in the back and release the beams and dyes of venom from his evil eye that could fry men's courage and drop them dead in their tracks.23"Your grandson," said Cathleann the Crooked-Toothed, his wife. His good eye clicked toward her like agate stones in a cold stream."What's this?" he asked suspiciously, his brow lowering like a dark thundercloud. "What's this you say?""Oh, stuff and nonsense!" she said exasperatedly. "He's Lugh It-Dana, 24 the son of Ethniu, our daughter, the grandson known as Lugh the Long-Armed. The one of the prophecy."A hard look settled over Balor's face. His cheeks grew dark with anger. A strange grinding noise seemed to come from his direction, and it took a moment before all there realized he was grinding his teeth in fury. They stirred uneasily, moving slowly toward the door, for all knew Balor's fury and what might happen when reason left him like leaves leaving the branches of oak trees in autumn."Yes," she said grimly. "That one. The one who's coming will end our power over the Tuatha. And stop grinding your teeth. It's most unseemly.""Quiet, woman!" he growled. "There's enough of your yammering! I know that it cannot be our grandson. It must be somebody else. All right, enough of your sniveling!" he said to the others, raising his voice. "All of you leave except for the council. We'll give weight to the words we have heard and decide what to do.""How do you know--" Cathleann began, but fell silent as Balor glared at her."Women," Balor growled. He leaned back in his chair, tugging his fingers through his gnarled beard, glowering into the center of the room. Now, how could it be the one of the prophecy? Did I not have him killed? Did I not send Ethniu's son out onto the cold gray sea?And indeed he had after Cian, a Tuatha nobleman, disguised himself and made his way to the crystal tower on Tory Island where Balor had imprisoned his daughter after hearing a prophecy from a rogue Druid who warned the king of the Fomorians that his grandson would slay him in a last great battle, and there Cian had made love to the lonely Ethniu. After the child was born, Balor had given the baby boy to one of his minor rulers by the sea and ordered the infant to be drowned. But because Balor did not say why he wanted such a terrible thing done, the retainer hesitated and looked at the glowing face of the gurgling babe and his heart went out to the infant. As he stood beside the shore of the cold gray sea, torn between his duty and his desire, word came tohim that his wife had given birth to a stillborn child. With that, the retainer wrapped the child in his cloak and smuggled the baby into his house and to his wife's side, taking the dead child away and giving it to the sea in place of Balor's grandson. When it came time for the fostering of the child, Manannán Mac Lir, the god of the waves, took the child for his own and raised it carefully in the old ways.But all of this Balor did not know as he waited for the council to settle: Eab, the grandson of Nét,25 Senchab, the grandson of Net; Sotal Salmor, Luath Leborcham, Tinne Mor of Triscadal, Loisginn Lomgluineach, Luath Lineach, Lobais the Druid, Liathlabar, the son of Lobais; the nine wise poets and prophets of the Fomorians; the twelve white-mouthed sons of Balor; and Cathleann."Well," he asked when the great oaken door had been swung shut, leaving them alone. "Well?""Well, yourself," Cathleann said grouchily. "First you tell people to hold their lip, then you want them to banter about like fishwives. Make up your mind, husband!"Balor sighed and dug his knuckles furiously into his temples. "Woman, if you have something to be adding that will help us here, say so! Otherwise, stop your gob!""A mouth at rest offers nothing," she said stoutly, then fell silent, folding her arms across her heavy breasts, glaring defiantly back at him."We'll get nowhere at this," Senchab said. "Remember that a wedge from an oak tree splits itself.""Enough homilies," Balor said. He glanced around the table. "Well? There's an upstart standing tall in Ireland, now, defying us. Will no one rid us of this man?"The council members exchanged quick looks with each other, holding caution on their tongues, for none knew more than the other about the man who had sent the nine tax collectors packing with their tails between their legs like tick-filled dogs. That he was a man to be reckoned with was obvious: The heads of Compar and Eithfaith had been solidly attached to their broad shoulders, and many a man had tried to separate them before, only to be cleaved from gob to stopper by the warriors themselves. 'Twas a mighty man, indeed, who could send those two kicking their way through the dark to the land of Donn.26"Not one man?" Balor asked again, his words cutting through their thoughts like a pruning knife. "Is there not a one of you who drinks real beer and not watered wine?""Enough," growled Balor's son Bres, whose authority had been flouted by the Tuatha and Lugh. "Give me seven brigades of brave men and I'll bring Lugh's head to the green of Berva in Lochlann."27"That makes sense," Eab said. The others looked at him. "Well, he's the one who lost his place in Ireland. Only right that he should take it back." He looked at Bres. "And it would be good for your name that you do so. After all"--he shrugged--"what else does a man have? A sword is only temporal. But victories, ah, yes, victories leave a man immortal."Bres nodded and, drawing himself up straight, said, "Then it is settled. Make ready the warships and the barks and let them be filled with food and stores."The council closed quickly before he could change his mind and Luath Leborcham scuttled down to the docks to give orders to have the best warships and deeply prowed barks hauled up and their sides freshly caulked with pitch. Luath Lineach hurried to the warehouses and ordered the supplies to be taken down to the docks while Sotal Salmor ordered the smiths to grind fresh edges upon the blades of all warriors. Then they went throughout Lochlann, bringing the warriors from their hearts and homes.At last, all was made ready, and the ships were filled with frankincense 28 and myrrh.29 Bres made his way down to the docks with Balor. There, he clapped Bres upon the shoulder and cried loudly so that all could hear: "Go now, then! Go to Ireland and lop the head of Lugh Il-Dana from his shoulders and bring it back to Berva. And for good measure, tie that island to the sterns of your ships with stout cables and yank it from those green waters and drag it north of bitter-cold Lochlann. None of the Tuatha Dé Danaan will follow it there. And if they do," he added grimly, "'tis cold enough to freeze a bear's balls. Their magic won't work in that wasteland!"The warriors gave a mighty shout and pushed away from the port, raising their sails. A sudden wind from the south caught the red and blackand yellow sails and sped them away from the untilled land and out upon the blue-gray sea that flowed over the formidable abyss, upon the ridge-backed flood, over the high, cold-venomed mountains of the fathomless ocean. Straight did the pilots set their courses, never varying until they rounded the Skellig Rocks and made hard for the harbor at Es Dara.30There the warriors stormed from their ships, laying waste to the land of Connacht, burning fields and villages, slaying men who tried to stand against them, raping women where they found THE KING OF CONNACHT at the time was Bodb Dearg, the son of The Dagda.31 Who quickly sent word to Tara32 where Nuada was entertaining Lugh after the Long Arm had slain a pocket of Fomorians who had remained behind as spies at Es Dara, while the others fled back to Balor's court. The red spearpoints of dawn struck the palace when the news reached them. Immediately Lugh prepared Enbarr of the Flowing Mane to ride over Ireland and draw the Tuatha together to drive the Fomorians from the land.When Lugh reentered the palace, he went to Nuada and said, "Well, friend, I will ride to Connacht and gather the men as I go. We will hold the Fomorians there until you can bring your army up to support us. Together, we'll rid this land of those rogues once and for all."33"Ah, yes, that," Nuada said. He refused to meet Lugh's eye and pretended to admire the curving hip of a serving wench as she hip-slinked her way past, casting a saucy glance over her shoulder. Lugh frowned."Explain, what you mean by that," he said, toying with the pommel of Manannán's sword hanging by his side."Well, what's happening is happening in Connacht, not here in Tara," Nuada said. He sipped from his cup of spiced wine. "Yes, that is very good," he said. He glanced at Lugh, who looked at him in disbelief. "Oh, I mean no harm to Bodb Derg and his people," he saidquickly. "But really, I don't think the affairs of Connacht should become the affairs of Tara."Lugh shook his head. "They could become the affairs of Tara if Bodb Derg cannot hold the Fomorians at Connacht. The country is like a loaf of bread. As a slice is taken off, the rest becomes easier to handle.""Ha, ha. Yes, very humorous." Nuada laughed politely. "But nevertheless, I don't think we should dive into that briar patch just now. Why, it was only a few weeks ago that we managed to drive the Fomorians out of our own country.""I drove the Fomorians out of your country while you sat sniveling with others on top of Usneach's Hill, fawning over the filth that came to tax you," Lugh said hotly. "I gave you help. Now you must return the favor by going to the aid of Bodb Dearg.""I won't give it," Nuada said. "I will not lift a hand against someone who hasn't done anything against me. There is no deed there that calls for me to avenge it. Now, there's an end to it. I don't want to talk about it any more.""It isn't talking that will be done with the flapping lips of politicians if the Fomorians get past the Connacht borders," growled Lugh. "But I'll leave you to your sweetmeats and wine and"--he glanced at the serving wench batting her long eyelashes at Nuada from the end of the room--"a saucy wench's hips. You'll fit that saddle better than a warhorse.""Now, there's no reason to be insulting," Nuada complained, but Lugh ignored him and, turning on his heel, walked angrily from the room. He leaped onto his horse and galloped westward.The sun had risen nearly to merdian height when he saw three men loping toward him. He reined in Enbarr and waited on the crest of a hill until they neared and he recognized his father Cian34 and his two uncles Cu and Ceithen. Then his face broke into a wide grin, and he rode down the hill to greet them."Greetings, Father!" Lugh called as he neared the others. He drew in Enbarr who danced and shuffled her feet, snorting impatiently. Automatically, he ran his hand down under the flowing mane, soothing her."Good morning, Lugh!" called his father. They drew up besideLugh. "And what brings you out on this fine morning before the dew is gone from the long grass?""Bad news." Lugh shook his head. "The Fomorians have landed in Connacht. Even as we speak, they lay waste to the country. 'Tis said they burn what they cannot use, scorching the land, and that grass doesn't grow where the hooves of their horses strike. I ride to give them a taste of my sword, but I don't know for how long I can hold them there.""Well," said Cu, brightening. "Sure, and we'll ride with you for a bit of carving on Fomorians hide. Each of us is easily the worth of a hundred Fomorians. Eh, what say you, Ceithen?""Only a hundred? I suppose that's enough for a woman's arm, but a man will take another hundred for himself," Ceithen said."A wager!" Cu cried happily. He clapped his hands together, the sound like thunder. Their horses danced uneasily. "A fingerlength of white gold for every warrior over the other's count!""Hate to make a pauper out of my own brother, but beggars get the pelf they seek," he said. He looked at Lugh. "So, let's ride to the sound of swords against shields! Each of us will easily keep a hundred or so of the Fomorians off your back."Lugh laughed, the notes of his laughter putting the songs of the birds on the meadow to shame. "And I accept! But first, each of you must ride throughout Ireland where the Tuatha gather in their Sidhes and bid them to join me at Mag Mor over the mountain of Keshcorran. There, we will find the Fomorians and there we shall drive them from the land.""Rather go with you now and carve a bit of their dirty hides," growled Cu, fingering his sword. Lugh laughed and shook his head."No, there'll be more than enough to go around and enough blood to bathe your blade. Now, go! Time's wasting!""Perhaps it would be better if you brought Nuada from Tara," Cian suggested, putting out his hand to stay Enbarr. Lugh's face clouded."Nuada would rather stay behind and play the king rather than be the king," he said.Cian shook his head. "Perhaps you should try again," he said."Even the wisest king often needs pause to consider. He may have changed his mind."Lugh hesitated, then shrugged. "It will make little difference, but we'll see." He nudged Enbarr with his heels and the great horse shook himself and turned and galloped back toward Tara. Cu and Ceithen watched him ride away, sunlight breaking radiantly off him, and shook their heads."'Tis a fine lad you sired there, Cian," Ceithen said. "I'm surprised you got him with only one night of romping."Cian laughed and gathered the reins of his horse. "Well, there's loving as a man gives a woman and loving that a lad wishes for," he chided. "You and Cu head south. I'm for Muirthemne."35 The others watched as he galloped off toward the north.Cu sighed and turned to Ceithen. "Well, brother, there's a hard day and night of riding ahead of us if we are to do our nephew's bidding.""Aye," Ceithen said, grinning. "And let's get to it before that bloodthirsty youth robs us of the battlefield."They touched their heels to their horses and galloped away to the south.Meanwhile, Cian had reached the Plain of Muirthemne and reined in as he saw the three sons of Tuirenn riding toward him. He bit his lip, pondering what to do, for a great hatred existed between the sons of Cainte and the sons of Tuirenn. When they met, fighting broke out. Now, Cian was no coward, but he quickly realized that he was no match for the three sons by himself. He glanced around and saw a herd of pigs rooting for acorns beneath an oak tree nearby."Well," he said to himself. "If Cu and Ceithen were with me, we'd have a brave fight of it all. But alone, well, there is little I could do. Ah, well. Discretion is the better part at this time." He pulled a hazel wand from his cloak and dismounted. He muttered a magic spell and touched himself with the wand, changing instantly into the shape of a pig. He fell down upon all fours and quickly ran in the middle of the pigs and joined them in rooting for the acorn mast.The riders reined in, Iuchar and Iucharba looking curiously attheir brother, Brian, tall, bronzed from the sun, his blond hair bleached almost white, his blue-gray eyes flashing curiously, watchfully."Well?" Iuchar asked impatiently. "What is it? What do you see?" He turned and stared out over the land, searching for riders or walkers, but all he saw was a herd of pigs rooting for acorns beneath an oak tree at the edge of a forest."I thought I saw a rider," Iucharba, his twin, said from beside him. They were both dark-haired and black-eyed, so dark that many did not think they were brothers with Brian. But a closer look would see the similarity in them in the planes of their faces: high foreheads, hard chins, and shoulders broad enough to bear the weight of an oxen yoke."Is that what you are looking for?" Iuchar said.Brian nodded, his eyes still scanning. "Yes, it is. But now, I don't see him anywhere. Why do you suppose that is?"Iuchar shrugged. "Maybe it was an illusion.""Or a wizard. Or an enemy with magic," Brain said dryly. "You really should be more watchful riding in the open country when war is upon the land. This is damned careless of you." His eyes fell upon the pigs rooting. "But," he added thoughtfully, "I think I know what has happened here. The rider must have been a Druid who changed himself into one of those pigs. And whoever he is, you can bet your walnuts that he's no friend of ours.""Mere speculation," Iuchar grumbled. "Maybe he just didn't want to have any truck with us, eh? Did you think of that?""Yes," Iucharba echoed. "Did you think of that? Always seeing weasels when cats are around. You've got a suspicious mind.""And a good thing, too. Otherwise, we would have been in a tanner's pool many times if things had been left up to the two of you."Iuchar shook his head, gesturing toward the pigs. "Words, words, words. A lot of good they do us now. Those pigs belong to one of the Tuatha. Even if we killed all of them, there's no certainty that we would get the right one. He could shape-shift into something else while we slaughtering the others. Logic, brother. Logic," he added loftily, for he was very proud of his schooling."Logic, is it?" Brian said dryly, pulling a wand out from under hiscloak. "'Tis a sad state when you play pithy word games and cannot tell a Druidical beast from a natural beast. If you had attended to other learning instead of concentrating on pretty songs and phrasing, you might know that.""What are you going to do?" Iuchar asked nervously, trying to edge away from Brian."Root out the right pig," Brian said, and quickly struck both of his brothers with his wand, changing each into a fast-hunting hound.They fell from their horses, rolling in the heather. Iuchar was first up and sat immediately upon his haunches, scratching vigorously behind his ear with his hind foot."Ah well," sighed Iucharba, shaking himself. "He's at playing games again.""Get the pig!" Brian commanded.And the two hounds bayed and ran after the pigs, scattering them hither and thither, sniffing at their heels, until finally the Druidical pig slipped out the back of the herd and scrambled toward the protection of the forest. But Brian had been watching this and when the pig separated itself, he cast his long spear at it, striking the pig in the chest."AHHH!!" cried the pig and fell to the ground. "'Tis an evil thing you have done to stick me with your spear! More so since you know me!"Brian laughed grimly as he rode up beside the pig. He leaned over, striking the hounds with his wand, changing them back once again into his brothers."Ow!" Ichubar said, glaring at Brian. He rubbed his head. "You were a bit hard with that blow!" But Brian ignored him."And what kind of a pig would speak the language of men?" he asked."One who is a human," the pig said in anguish. "I am Cian, the son of Cainte.36 Give me quarter!""Of course," Iuchar said, shaking himself and settling again into his human form."Indeed," Iucharba said. "And sorry we are for the ill that has befallen you.""In a pig's arse," Brian said firmly. He glared at his brothers."There's no quarter I'll be giving to you. I swear this by the gods of the air."37"'Tis a hard man, you are," the pig said painfully. It coughed and a great gout of blood gushed from its mouth. "Well, then, if that be the way of things, at least do me the decency of letting me die in my own form. I was in it far longer than in this disguise.""A man should die as a man, a pig as a pig," Brian said."I take that as a yes," the pig said. The air shimmered for a moment over the pig, and Cian emerged from the pig form and lay gasping on the green."Now, then, since you wouldn't give quarter to the pig, I ask for quarter for the man you see before you now," Cian gasped. Blood pulsed gently from a huge gash in his chest."Not by your chinny hair," Brian growled.Cian laughed painfully. "That is the mark of a hard man. But, 'tis the last laugh that I'll be having upon you now! You should have killed me as a pig! It would have been far cheaper for you! Yo Randy Lee Eickhoff holds several graduate degrees, including a Ph.D. in Classics. He lives in El Paso, Texas where he works on translations in several languages, poetry, plays, and novels of which two have been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. His translation of Ireland's national epic is now a text in not only schools in the United States, but countries overseas as well. His nonfiction work on the Tigua Indians, Exiled, won the Southwest History Award. He has been inducted into the Paso Del Norte Writers Hall of Fame, the local chapter of the Texas Institute of Arts and Letters. He spends his time in El Paso, Ireland, and Italy, lecturing on Dante and The Ulster Cycle.