Fion son of Cumhail was one day separated from his knights as they were engaged at the chase, and came out on a wide grassy plain that stretched along the sea strand.
There he saw the twelve sons of Bawr Sculloge playing at comán (hurling), and wonderful were the strokes they gave the ball, and fleeter than the wind their racing after it. As Fion approached they ceased their sport, and all coming forward hailed him as the protector of the wronged, and the defender of the island against the white strangers. "If you like to amuse yourself, Fion son of Cumhail," said the chief of one party, " take my cornan, and pull down the vanity of our opponents." "I would do your party no honour with this toy," said Fion, taking the coman between his finger and thumb. "Let that not disturb you," said the hurling chief. So he pulled up a neanthog (nettle), and muttering a charm over it, and changing it thrice from one hand to the other, it became a weapon fitting for the hand of the son of Cumhail. It was worth a year of idle life-to see the blows struck by the chief, and hear the terrible heavy sound as the coman met the ball, and drove it out of sight. And there was Cosh Lua (fleet foot) to pursue the flying globe and bring it back. "My hand to you," said the eldest boy, "I never saw hurling till now." Fion's party won the first game, and while they were resting for the second a boat neared the land, and a man sprung out and approached the party. "Hail, very noble and courageous chief! " said he, addressing Fion. "My lady, the Queen of Sciana Breaca, lays on you geasa, binding on every Curadh, that you come forthwith to visit her in her island. She is persecuted by the powerful witch Chluas Haistig (flat ear), and she has been advised to call on you for help." "Perhaps in vain," said Fion. "I can find out from the gift of the Salmon of Wisdom what is passing in any part of the island, but I am unprovided with charms against witchcraft." "Let not that be a hindrance," said the eldest boy of Bawr Sculloge, Grune Ceanavaltha (young bearded man): "my two brothers, Bechunach (thief) and Chluas Guillin [b] (Guillin's ears), and myself will go with you. We were not born yesterday."
He took two hazel twigs in his hand; and when they came to the edge of the water, one became a boat and the other a mast. He steered; one brother managed the sail, the other baled out the water, and so they sailed till they came to the harbour of the island, and there the helmsman secured the boat to a post with a year's security. [c]
They visited the Queen, and were hospitably treated, and after they were refreshed with the best of food and liquor she explained her trouble. "I had two fair children, and when each was a year old it fell sick, and on the third night was carried away by the wicked sorceress Cluas Haistig. My youngest, now a twelve-month old, has spent two sick nights. This night she will surely carry him away unless you or your young friends prevent her."
When the darkness came, Fion and the three brothers took their station in the room of the sick child; Grunne and Bechunah played at chess, Cluas Guillin watched, and Fion reclined on a couch. Vessels full of Spanish wine, Greek honey (mead), and Danish beer, were laid on the table. The two chess players were intent on their game, the watcher kept his senses on the strain, and a druidic sleep seized on the son of Cumhail. Three times he made mighty efforts to keep awake, and thrice he was overcome by powerful weariness. The brothers smiled at his defeat, but left him to repose. Soon the watcher felt a chill shiver run over him, and the infant began to moan. A feeling of horror seized on the three boys, and a thin, long hairy arm was seen stealing down the opening above the fire. Though the teeth of Cluas Guillin were chattering with terror, he sprung forward, seized the hand, and held it firm. A violent effort was made by the powerful witch sprawling on the roof to draw it away, but in vain. Another, and then another, and down it came across the body of Cluas Guillin. A deadly faintness came over him, the' chess players ran to his aid, and when his senses returned, neither child nor arm was to be seen. They looked at each other in dismay, but in a moment Cluas cried, "Grunne, take your arrows, you, Bechunah, your cord, and let us pursue the cursed Druidess." In a few minutes they were at the mooring post, and away in their boat they went as fleet as the driving gale till the enchanted tower of the witch came in sight. It seemed built with strong upright bars of iron with the spaces between them filled by iron plates. A pale blue flame went out from it on every side, and it kept turning, turning, and never stood at rest. As soon as the boat approached, Cluas began to mutter charms in verse, and to raise and sink his arms with the palms downwards. He called on his gods to bring a mighty sleep on the evil dweller within, and cause the tower to cease its motion. It was done according to his incantation, and Bechunah taking his cord-ladder and giving it an accurate and very powerful heave, it caught on the pike of the steep circular roof, and up he sprung fleeter than the wild cat of the woods. Looking in through the opening, he beheld the dread woman lying on the floor weighed down with the magic sleep,. the floor stained with the blood which was still flowing from her torn shoulder, and the three children crying, and striving to keep their feet out of it. Descending into the room he soothed them, and one by one he conveyed them through the opening, down the knotted cords, and so into the boat. The power of the spell ceasing as soon as the boat began to shoot homewards, the tower began again to whirl, and the witch's shriek came over the waves. It was so terrible that if Cluas had not covered the heads of the children with a thick mantle, their souls would have left their bodies with terror. A dark form was seen gliding down the building, and the dash of an oar was heard from the witch's corrach, which was soon in swift pursuit. "Draw your bowstring to your ear, O Grunne," said Cluas, "and preserve your renown." He waved his arms and said his spells, and light proceeding from his finger-ends, illumined the rough, dark, foam-crested waves for many a fathom behind them. The hellish woman and her corrach were coming fleet as thought behind, but the light had not rested on the fearful figure and face a second moment when were heard the shrill twang of the bowstring, and the dull stroke of the arrow in her breast. Corrach and rower sunk in the waters; the magic light from Cluas's hands vanished, but a purple-red flame played over the spot where the witch had gone down till the boat was miles ahead.
As they approached the harbour, the landing-place and all around were lighted up with numberless torches held in the hands of the anxious people; the sight of the three children and their three deliverers made the sky ring with cheers of gladness.
At the entrance of the fort they met the mother and her attendants, and the joy the sight of the recovered children gave them is not to be told. Fion had awakened at the moment of the witch's destruction, and was found walking to and fro in high resentment against himself. He knew by his druidic knowledge that the children were safe on their return, and cheered the Queen with the glad news, and thus the people had been waiting at the mooring point.
Three months did Fion and the three boys remain with the Queen of Sciana Breaca, and every year a boat laden with gold and silver, and precious stones, and well-wrought helmets, shields, and loricas, and chess tables, and rich cloaks, arrived for the sons of Bawr Sculloge at the point of the shore where the Queen's messenger had laid geasa on the famous son of Cumhail.
To any one conversant with the spirit of the Ossianic stories, the MacPherson imposture was self-evident. In hardly a single instance is Fion found superior to any of his curais in personal prowess. He is their chief in generosity, and kindliness, [d] and wisdom; but when the terrible foreign adventurers, male or female, attack the Fianna, he shares the general doom of defeat, the "Beam of Battle" still declining on their side till set straight by "Diarmuid of the Beauty-spot," or Goll Mac Morna, or chief of all in might, invincible Oscur.
The same thing takes place in the cycles of which King Arthur, Charlemagne, and Robin Hood were the centres. But in the "Temora" and "Fingal" of MacPherson, Fion is always kept in reserve till Cuchullain and the other chiefs are put beyond fighting, and then he comes clothed in terror and gloom, and crushes the ruthless invaders--Kings of Lochlin and elsewhere.
[a] The MS. from which this story is extracted is distinguished by very careless spelling. The title means "the Queen with the Speckled Dagger," or with a slight alteration in the letters, "the Queen of the Many-Coloured Bed-Chamber." The principal word is pronounced vanreen.
[b] Guillin, the Celtic Vulcan. Several mountains have his name attached to them One of the devil's titles is "Giolla Guillin,"
[c] No stranger was to unmoor it for a twelvemonth. After that it became the property of the chief who owned the harbour.
[d] A saddening exception is to be found in the tale of the "Pursuit of Diarmuid and Grainne."