Myths and Legends of the Celtic Race

Page: 122

“It will be seventeen years, O Keelta of fair fame, till thou fall by the pool of Tara, and grievous that will be to all the king's household.” “Even so did my chief and lord, my guardian and loving protector, Finn, foretell to me,” said Keelta. “And now what fee will ye give me for my rescue [pg 266] of you from the worst affliction that ever befell you?” “A great reward,” said the Fairy Folk, “even youth; for by our art we shall change you into a young man again with all the strength and activity of your prime.” “Nay, God forbid,” said Keelta, “that I should take upon me a shape of sorcery, or any other than that which my Maker, the true and glorious God, hath bestowed upon me.” And the Fairy Folk said: “It is the word of a true warrior and hero, and the thing that thou sayest is good.” So they healed his wounds, and every bodily evil that he had, and he wished them blessing and victory, and went his way.

The Birth of Oisīn

One day, as Finn and his companions and dogs were returning from the chase to their dūn on the Hill of Allen, a beautiful fawn started up on their path, and the chase swept after her, she taking the way which led to their home. Soon all the pursuers were left far behind save only Finn himself and his two hounds Bran and Skolawn. Now these hounds were of strange breed; for Tyren, sister to Murna, the mother of Finn, had been changed into a hound by the enchantment of a woman of the Fairy Folk, who loved Tyren's husband Ullan; and the two hounds of Finn were the children of Tyren, born to her in that shape. Of all hounds in Ireland they were the best, and Finn loved them much, so that it was said he wept but twice in his life, and once was for the death of Bran.

At last, as the chase went on down a valley-side, Finn saw the fawn stop and lie down, while the two hounds began to play round her, and to lick her face and limbs. So he gave commandment that none should hurt her, and she followed them to the Dūn of Allen, playing with the hounds as she went.

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The same night Finn awoke and saw standing by his bed the fairest woman his eyes had ever beheld.

“I am Saba, O Finn,” she said, “and I was the fawn ye chased to-day. Because I would not give my love to the Druid of the Fairy Folk, who is named the Dark, he put that shape upon me by his sorceries, and I have borne it these three years. But a slave of his, pitying me, once revealed to me that if I could win to thy great Dūn of Allen, O Finn, I should be safe from all enchantments, and my natural shape would come to me again. But I feared to be torn in pieces by thy dogs, or wounded by thy hunters, till at last I let myself be overtaken by thee alone and by Bran and Skolawn, who have the nature of man and would do me no hurt.” “Have no fear, maiden,” said Finn; “we, the Fianna, are free, and our guest-friends are free; there is none who shall put compulsion on you here.”

So Saba dwelt with Finn, and he made her his wife; and so deep was his love for her that neither the battle nor the chase had any delight for him, and for months he never left her side. She also loved him as deeply, and their joy in each other was like that of the Immortals in the Land of Youth. But at last word came to Finn that the warships of the Northmen were in the Bay of Dublin, and he summoned his heroes to the fight; “For,” said he to Saba, “the men of Erin give us tribute and hospitality to defend them from the foreigner, and it were shame to take it from them and not to give that to which we, on our side, are pledged.” And he called to mind that great saying of Goll mac Morna when they were once sore bestead by a mighty host. “A man,” said Goll, “lives after his life, but not after his honour.”

Seven days was Finn absent, and he drove the Northmen [pg 268] from the shores of Erin. But on the eighth day he returned, and when he entered his dūn he saw trouble in the eyes of his men, and of their fair womenfolk, and Saba was not on the rampart expecting his return. So he bade them tell him what had chanced, and they said:

“Whilst thou, our father and lord, wert afar off smiting the foreigner, and Saba looking ever down the pass for thy return, we saw one day as it were the likeness of thee approaching, and Bran and Skolawn at thy heels. And we seemed also to hear the notes of the Fian hunting-call blown on the wind. Then Saba hastened to the great gate, and we could not stay her, so eager was she to rush to the phantom. But when she came near she halted and gave a loud and bitter cry, and the shape of thee smote her with a hazel wand, and lo, there was no woman there any more, but a deer. Then those hounds chased it, and ever as it strove to reach again the gate of the dūn they turned back. We all now seized what arms we could and ran out to drive away the enchanter, but when we reached the place there was nothing to be seen, only still we heard the rushing of flying feet and the baying of dogs, and one thought it came from here, and another from there, till at last the uproar died away and all was still. What we could do, O Finn, we did; Saba is gone.”