The Celtic Dragon Myth, by J.F. Campbell, , at sacred-texts.com
[Wherein is told the hero's origin, his wooing of Find-abair, his killing of the monster that guarded the rowan-tree, and his betrothal.]
1. Fraoch, son of Idad 1 of Connaught, was a son of Bébinn from the Sídh, 2 whose sister hight Boyne (Bofind). Of the heroes of Erin and of Alba the most beautiful man was he, save only that he was short-lived. Twelve cows his mother gave him from the Sídh; white with red ears were they. For seven years he kept household without taking to himself a wife. The number of his household was fifty princes, in age and dignity his equals, as to form and feature and bearing alike.
2. Find-abair, daughter of Ailill and Mève, from hear-say regarding him, gave him love, of which report was brought him at his place. Erin and Alba were full of his fame and story.
He accordingly bethought him of going to bespeak the girl, and then he talked of the matter with his folk. And his folk said: "Let word too be sent to thy mother's sister that she may give thee somewhat of raiment of the rare treasure of the Sídh.
3. To the sister Boyne (Bofind) he thereupon went to the plain of Bregia or Moy Breg. She gave him fifty mantles of dark blue, each for hue like to a beetle's back, with four black-grey brooch-rings on each, and each with a pin of red gold: with fifty pale white tunics having animal figures chased in gold. Also fifty silver shields edged with gold. For each man's hand a lance like to a candle such as befitted a palace, 1 each having fifty rivets of white-bronze, with knobs of burnished gold: the spear-points from below were of carbuncle inwrought, while the front irons of the spears were chased with precious stones, so that night shone as twere by the rays of the sun.
Further, fifty swords with hilts of gold, and for each rider a dark grey steed with bits of gold. Around each horse's neck was a plate of silver with bells of gold; fifty leather caparisons in purple with threads of silver, with buckles of gold and silver, and animal devices for ornament. Fifty whips in white bronze, with a golden hook on the handle of each. Seven grey-hounds in chains of silver, with an apple of gold a-piece, each having greaves of bronze. There was no colour which the hounds had not.
[paragraph continues] Accompanying them in garments of diverse colours were seven trumpeters, with trumpets golden and silver, and golden pale yellow tresses, and they had plaids that glistened like the Shee. In front of them went three jesters having silver diadems and gilt about. Each had shields engraved with devices, with crested staves and ribs of white metal along the sides. Opposite them were three harpists, each of kingly presence. And in that guise they set out for Cruachan.
4. On coming into the Plain of Cruachan the watchman perceives them from the Dūn. And he spake:
"I behold a host coming towards the fort in their numbers; a troop more beautiful or splendid never came to Ailill and Mève since they assumed sovereignty, nor ever will. It is as if my head were in a wine-vat with the wind that goes over me: I have never seen the equal of the feats and frolic (the games and gestures) of the hero. His play-rods he casts with a shot from him, and the seven grey-hounds with their seven silver chains are at them ere they fall to earth.
5. Then the folks came to view them from the Dūn of Cruachan, insomuch that they smother one another, and sixteen are killed while looking on.
On alighting at the door of the dūn they unyoked their horses and set loose the grey-hounds, which chase to Rath Cruachan seven hinds, seven foxes, seven hares, and seven wild boars, and these the youths kill on the lawn of the fort. Thereafter the dogs dashed into the Brei and caught seven others, which
they deposited at the said entrance to the door of the chief rath, where Fraoch and his folk sat.
6. King Ailill sent word to them, and enquired whence they had come. They accordingly name themselves after their true names, which they gave.
"Here," said they, "is Fraoch, son of Idad." 1
This the steward declares to the king and queen.
"An illustrious young hero," quoth Ailill, "let him come into the Liss." 2
And quarters were allotted them.
7. The plan of the house was thus: seven apartments it had from fire to wall all around, decorated with gold, each with a fronting of bronze, and partition carvings of red yew variegated by fine planing withal. Three layers of bronze in the arched skirting of each apartment, with seven layers of brass from where the shields rested to the roof-tree. Of pine the house was made, and it had a covering of shingle on the outside. Sixteen windows it had with brass shuttings in each, and a brass yoke across the roof-light. Four beams of brass in the apartment of Ailill and Mève, all adorned with bronze and in the very centre of the house. Two silver frontings it had, and overlaid with gold; and by the fronting facing Ailill there was a silver wand that would reach the mid "hips" of the house, so as to command the inmates at all times and circuit the house all around from one door to the other. Having hung up their arms within,
they make the circle of the house and were made welcome.
8. "Welcome are ye!" quoth Ailill and Mève.
"It is for that we have come," quoth Fraoch.
"Not a journey for boasting shall this be," quoth Mève.
Thereafter Ailill and Mève arrange the chessboard. Fraoch then takes to playing chess with a man of their company.
The most beautiful of chess-boards it was: it had a board of white metal with four ear-handles, and gold edgings. A candlestick of precious stone gave them light. The chess-men were of gold and silver.
"Get ye food in readiness for the braves," quoth Ailill.
"That is not what I wish," quoth Mève. "I want to have a game with Fraoch."
"It liketh me well," quoth Ailill, "get up and go to him."
Mève then goes to Fraoch and at chess they play.
9. Fraoch's folk in the meantime were a-roasting the animals of the chase.
"Let thine harpers play for us!" quoth Ailill to Fraoch.
"Let them play in sooth!" quoth Fraoch.
Harp-bags they had of otter-skins mounted with ruby, adorned with gold and silver, and roe-skins, white as snow around the middle, with black-grey "eyes" in the centre. Gold and silver and bronze in the harps, which were chased with figures of
serpents and birds and hounds in silver and gold. With the movement of the strings the figures would move all about. The harpers having played, twelve of Ailill and of Mève's folk died of sorrow and of grief.
10. Gentle and melodious this Triad; theirs were the chants of child-birth. 1 Three noble brothers were they: Sorrow-strain, Joy-strain, Sleep-strain, and Boyne from the Shee (Sídhe) their mother: it is of this music which Uaithne the Dagda's harp played that the three are named. What time children were being born its strain was sorrow and travail from the soreness of birth-pangs beginning; next a strain of glee and of joy it played because of the pleasure of bringing the two sons to the birth; the strain played by the last son was one soothing and soft because of the heaviness of birth, so that it is from him that the third of the music has been named.
Boyne then awoke out of sleep.
"I receive," she said, "thy three sons, O Uaithne of full ardour, since Sorrow-strain, Joy-strain, Sleep-strain are on kine and women who shall fall by Mève and Ailill. Men shall fall on hearing the strains being played."
Thereupon the playing ceased.
"Splendidly has it come off!" said Fergus.
11. "Apportion us the food," said Fraoch to his folk. "Bring it in."
Lothar, having stepped within, divides them the
food. On his hand used he to divide each joint with his sword, leaving neither shred nor skin; since he took to dividing he never hacked the meat under his charge.
Three days and three nights, then, were Mève and Fraoch playing chess, by reason of the abundance of precious stones with Fraoch's folk. Thereafter Fraoch addressed Mève.
"Well have I played against thee: I take not thy stake from the chess-board that there be to thee no decay of honour."
"Since ever I have been in this dūn," said Mève, it is this day that I feel the longest."
"Yea, certainly indeed," quoth Fraoch, "three days and three nights have we been playing chess."
12. At this Mève starts up. She felt shame at the warriors being without food. And she goes and tells this to Ailill.
"An extraordinary deed have we donethe warriors outside who have arrived to be without food!"
"Dearer to thee is chess-playing," quoth Ailill.
"It hinders not food being distributed throughout the house to his suite. Three days and three nights are they there without our having perceived the night through the glare of the precious stones within."
"Tell them then," said Ailill, to cease the lamentations they make until food be served them."
Thereupon food is served them and it pleased
them well; and they stayed there three days and three nights a-feasting.
And thereafter Fraoch was called to the hall of audience to converse with Ailill and Mève. They ask him his errand.
"It pleases me in sooth to visit you," said he.
Your company is indeed not displeasing to the household," said Ailill. "Your arrival is preferable to your departure. 1"
"We shall stay with you another week, then," said Fraoch.
They stay until the end of a fortnight at the dūn; every day they go to the chase and hunt. And the men of Connaught used to come to view them.
13. It was, however, a trouble with Fraoch not to have converse with the daughter, for it was that "benefit" that had specially brought him.
Night at end he got up one day to bathe in the river. It was at the same time that she with her maid went to bathe.
He takes her hand. "Stay to speak with me, it is for thee I have come," he said.
"Pleased am I," said the girl, "but if I come I could do nothing for thee."
"Wouldst thou not elope?" he queried.
"I will not elope," she said, "I am a king and queen's daughter. Thine estate is not so humble that thou wouldst not get me from my people, and it is my choice too to go to thee, for it is thou whom I
have loved. And do thou take this ring of gold with thee," said the girl, "and it shall ever be a token between us. My mother gave it me to put by; I will say that I mislaid it."
They each then part.
14. "I am fearing indeed," quoth Ailill, "the eloping of yon daughter with Fraoch.
"Twere not in vain 1 even should she be given him; he would come to us with his cattle to aid us at the Tāin," said Mève.
Fraoch goes to the audience chamber. "Is it a secret ye are speaking of?" he quoth.
"Though it were a secret, thou would'st fit in," said Ailill.
"Will ye give me your daughter?" said Fraoch.
"She will be given thee," said Ailill, "if thou give me her purchase-price 2 which I shall name."
"Thou shalt have it," said Fraoch.
"Sixty black-grey steeds to me," said Ailill, "with their bridle-bits of gold, and twelve milch-cows, each in milk, and each having a white red-eared calf; and do thou come to me with all thy force and with thy musicians for the bringing of the kine from Cuailngemy daughter to be given thee provided thou dost come to the Hosting."
"I swear," Fraoch spake, "by my shield, by my sword, and by mine arms, I would not give that purchase-price even were it for Mève herself."
Then he marched out of the house.
15. Mève and Ailill thereafter fell to conversing within, and said:
"Should he carry off the girl he will bring a host of the Kings of Erin against us. What is good is, let us dash after him and slay him forthwith ere he work us ruin."
That were 1 a pity and a loss of honour to us," said Mève.
"It shall not be a loss of honour for us," said Ailill, "the way I shall prepare it."
16. Ailill and Mève go into the Palace.
"Let us set off," said Ailill, "that we may see the chase-hounds a-hunting until midday, until they are tired."
Thereafter they set off to the river to bathe themselves.
"Fraoch! I am told," said Ailill, "thou art expert in water; get into this linn 2 that we may behold thy swimming."
"What kind of linn is it?" said Fraoch.
"We know not any danger therein, and bathing in it is frequent," Ailill said.
Fraoch then strips off his clothes and goes into the linn; his girdle he leaves on shore. Ailill opens Fraoch's purse behind his back, and finds therein the gold ring, which Ailill recognises.
"Come here, O Mève!" said Ailill.
Then Mève goes to the place where Ailill was.
"Dost thou recognise that?" said Ailill.
"I do recognise it," said Mève.
Ailill casts the ring into the water.
Fraoch, however, perceived that, and saw how a salmon leaped to meet it and took it into his mouth. Fraoch made a dash for the salmon, caught it by the jowl, went to land and brought it to a hidden spot by the brink of the river. He then proceeded to come out of the water.
17. "Come not out of the water," said Ailill, "until thou bring me a branch from yonder rowan-tree that is on the brink of the river: beautiful I deem its berries."
He then goes off and breaks a branch from off the tree, and brings it on his back across the water. And the remark of Find-abair was:
"Is that not beautiful that ye see?" Beautiful she thought it to see Fraoch over the black linn: 1 the body of great whiteness, the hair of great loveliness, the face so well formed; the eye of deep grey, and he a tender youth without fault, without blemish; with his face small below and broad above; his build straight and flawless; the branch with the red berries between the throat and the white face. Find-abair was wont to say that she had not seen aught that would come up to him half or third for beauty.
18. Thereafter he throws them the branches out of the water. "Lovely and beautiful are the berries; bring us more of them."
He goes off again; as he was in the middle of the linn, the monster from out the water lays hold of him.
"Give me a sword," Fraoch cried, "The monster hath got hold of me."
There was not on land one who would dare give it to him for fear of Ailill and of Mève.
Thereupon Find-abair strips off her clothes and gives a leap into the water with the sword. Ailill casts a five-pronged spear at her from above, a shot's length, so that it passes through her two tresses of hair. Fraoch, however, caught the spear in his hand, shoots it to landwards, the monster all the while being in his side. It was a bow-cast, a species of champion's weapon-feat, so that it pierces Ailill's purple robe and tunic. Thereupon the young braves who were in Ailill's suite got up. Find-abair then gets out of the water, and leaves the sword in Fraoch's hand. Fraoch cuts off the monster's head so that it lay above on its rump, and Fraoch brings the monster to land. From this is named Duiblind Fráich, Fraoch's Black-Linn (Black-Pool) on the Brei in the lands of the men of Connaught. Thereafter Ailill and Mève go to their dūn.
19. "A great deed we have done!" quoth Mève.
"Of what we have done to the man we repent," says Ailill, "for he is not to blame. As for the girl, on the other hand, her lips shall pale in death ere the morrow's eve, nor shall her guilt be the bringing of the sword. For this man do ye prepare a bath
of fresh-bacon broth and heifer-flesh minced in it with adze and axeFraoch therein to be bathed." All that was done as he said.
20. Then the Horn-blowers (or Trumpeters) preceded Fraoch to the dūn, and such was their playing that thirty of Ailill's and of Mève's friends-in-chief die from the magic music.
Fraoch was led into the dūn, and brought into the bath. And the women-folk rise around him at the vat to rub him and to lave his head. On being brought out of it a bed was made.
Then was heard the sore lament from over Cruachan drawing nigh, and there were seen thrice fifty women in crimson tunics, with head-dresses of green, and silver rings on their wrists.
One is sent to them for tidings to learn why they keen.
"For Fraoch son of Idad" (Fraoch mac Idhaidh), spake the Banshee, "in south for the darling of the Sídheprincess of Erin."
Thereat Fraoch hears that plaintive keen.
"Lift me out," said he to his folk, "this is the keen of my mother and of the ladies of Boyne."
Thereupon he is lifted and brought out to them. The women come around him and bring him off to the Sídhe (Shee) of Cruachan.
On the morrow at the ninth hour they saw him return, with fifty women around him, and quite whole. Flawless and stainlessthe women being alike in age, shape, form, and loveliness, in beauty
and symmetry and figure alike in appearance as the women of the Sídhe, so that there was no means of knowing the one from the other. Men all but smothered one another [as they pressed] around them, until in the door of the liss or outer court they separate. They raise their keen at departure, so that they set the men in the liss beside themselves. From this is named the Keen of the Banshee, a fairy-melody with the musicians of Erin.
21. Into the dūn goes Fraoch, and the hosts rise up before him, and bid him welcome as if it were from another world he came.
Ailill and Mève arise and show they are penitent for the misdeed they did him; they make full peace and betake themselves to feasting until night.
Fraoch summons a servant of his suite and said:
"Get thee off to the spot where I went into the water: a salmon I left there, bring it to Find-abair, and of it let herself take charge, and let her broil it well. The gold-ring is in the salmon's middle. I expect it will be asked of her to-night."
They become inebriated, and music and playing delight them.
22. Quoth Ailill to his steward: "Bring me all my treasures."
They were brought him and were before him.
"Wonderful, wonderful!" they all exclaimed.
"Call ye Find-abair to me," said Ailill.
With a train of fifty maidens she comes in.
"Well, daughter," Ailill spake, "the ring which
[paragraph continues] I gave thee last year is it in thy possession? Bring it me that the warrior-braves may see it; thou shalt have it again."
"I do not know," she said, what has become of it."
"Well, find out," said Ailill, it must be sought, else the soul must part with thy body."
"It is unworthy to say so; there is much that is fine besides," said the warrior-braves. And Fraoch spake:
"I possess no treasure which I would not give up on behalf of the girl, for she has brought me the word to save my life." 1
"Of treasures thou hast none which can save her if she bring not the ring back," Quoth Ailill.
"I have no power to give it," said the girl, do with me what thou wilt."
"By the god of my folk," said Ailill, thy lips shall pale in death if thou return it not. Why it is asked of thee is because of the impossible. Until the dead come back who died since the world began, from where it was flung I know it doth not return."
"Verily, not for reward or longing shall the wished for treasure return," said the girl. "Since, however, thou dost long for it so pressingly I go to bring it thee."
"Go, indeed, thou shalt not," said Ailill, but let some one go from thee to fetch it."
And the girl sent her maid.
"I swear by my people's god," she said, "should anyone be found to protect me from the tyrant's stroke, 1 I shall no longer be in thy power should the ring be found."
Should the ring be found," said Ailill, "I shall certainly not prevent thee, should it even be with the groom (stable-boy) that thou shouldst go."
23. The maid then brought into the palace the dish with the broiled salmon thereon, well prepared with honey dressing. Over the salmon lay the golden ring.
Ailill and Mève view it.
Let me see!" said Fraoch, "and he looked for his purse."
"Meseemeth, it is for a testimony that I left my girdle behind," said Fraoch. "Declare on thy Royal Word what thou hast done with the ring!"
"Yea I will not conceal it from thee," Ailill said. "Mine is the ring which was in the purse, and I knew it was Find-abair who gave it thee. On this account I flung it into the Black Linn. On thy word of honour, and by thy soul, declare O Fraoch, how it has happened to be brought out."
Fraoch spoke: "I will not conceal it from thee. On the first day I found the thumb-ring at the door of the Liss, and I knew it was a lovely gem; therefore I carefully put it by in my purse. On the day that I went to the water I heard how the girl had gone
out to seek it. I said to her: 'What reward shall I have from thee for finding it?'
"She told me that she would give me a year's love. It chanced that I had not got it with me; I had left it behind me in the house. We met not until we met as she gave the sword into my hand in the river. And thereafter I saw when thou didst open the purse, and didst fling the thumb-ring into the water, and I saw the salmon spring to meet it so that it took it into its mouth. Then I caught the salmon, took it up on the bank and put it into the girl's hand. It is that salmon then which is on the dish."
24. At these tales the household were struck with astonishment and they marvelled.
"I shall not bestow my thought on another youth in Erin after thee," said Find-abair.
"Betroth thee to him," said Ailill and Mève, "and do thou come to us with thy kine to the raid of the kine of Cualnge: on thy return once more from the east with thy kine, ye twain shall wed that same night, thou and Find-abair."
"I will do so," Fraoch replied.
They are there until the following day, when Fraoch with his companions got ready and bade farewell to Ailill and to Mève. They then set out for their own bounds.
1:1 mc̄ Idaid (Book of the Dun Cow, facsimile, p. 63b, line 27); Idaith (Book of Leinster); Fiduig (Egerton, 1782); Idhaig (Edinburgh, MS. XL.); mc Feit (Book of Dean of Lismore). Hence nominative Idad, genitive Idaid, the form of the oldest manuscript, seems preferable: it would readily yield the other variants in regular development. Fraoch may be pronounced as Fraech.
1:2 Pronounce Shee.
2:1 For brightness, i.e.
4:1 Mac IdhuidhEgerton, 1782.
4:2 Outer court.
8:1 Lit., "Your addition is better than your diminution."
9:1 "Love's labour lost."
9:2 Dowry from the bridegroom; cf. marriage-settlement.
10:1 Lit., is.
11:1 Eg. version adds: in the Brei.
15:1 Lit., in pledge for my soul.
16:1 This rendering only paraphrases the original, where sarol mogreiss seems to convey the ideas of oppression and servility.