Celtic Tales - Told to the Children
by Louey Chisholm
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And Dermat, who would see no ill befall his dear wife, said he would bring her the berries.

When the two chiefs heard this, they prayed Dermat to loose their bonds that they also might fight the giant.

But Dermat answered, 'At the mere sight of Sharvan ye would flee, and even were it not so I wish the aid of none.'

Then the chiefs begged that they might see the fight, and Dermat gave them leave.

When the champion came to the foot of the quicken-tree he found Sharvan there, asleep. And he struck the giant a mighty blow to awake him.

Then Sharvan raised his head, and, glaring at Dermat with his one red eye, said, 'There hath been peace betwixt us heretofore, wherefore should we now depart from it?'

And Dermat said, 'It is not to strive that I come hither, but to beg of thee berries from the quicken-tree, for Grania, my wife, longeth for them with a great longing.'

But the giant answered, 'Though the Princess were at the point of death, yet would I not give her berries from the quicken-tree.'

When Dermat heard this he said, 'It had pleased me well to remain at peace with thee, but now must I take the berries from the tree whether it be thy will or no.'

At these words Sharvan waxed exceeding wroth, and with his club did he deal Dermat three sore blows. But the champion, recovering, sprang upon the giant, and seizing his great club, he ceased not to belabour him until he fell to earth a dead man.

Then Dermat sat down to rest. And he told the captive chiefs to drag the body of the giant into the wood and bury it, that Grania might not be affrighted. And when they had come back he sent for the Princess.

And Grania, when she came to the quicken-tree, would not gather the fruit, for she said, 'I will eat no berries save those plucked by the hand of my husband.'

So Dermat plucked the berries, and Grania ate and was satisfied.

Then the champion gave berries of the quicken-tree to the captive chiefs, saying, 'Take these to Finn and so win your peace.' And this he said as though they were free men.

They thanked the hero for his words, and also for the berries, which they could not have got of themselves. Then having bid Dermat and Grania farewell they journeyed forth towards the hilly slopes of Allen.

When they were gone, Dermat and Grania went to the top of the quicken-tree, into the hut of Sharvan, and the berries below were but bitter compared to the berries that were above upon the tree.

Now when Finn's two enemies were come to Allen he asked them how they had fared, and whether they had brought with them the head of Dermat or a handful of berries from the quicken-tree.

And they answered, 'Sharvan the giant is slain, and behold here we have brought thee berries from the quicken-tree so that henceforth we may live at peace.'

Then Finn took the berries in his hand, and when he had smelled them three times he said, 'Of a truth these be the berries of the quicken-tree, but not of your own strength have ye gotten them. Full well I know that by Dermat hath Sharvan the giant been slain, and from his hand have ye gotten the berries. Therefore have ye no peace from me, and now shall I summon an army that I may march to the wood of the quicken-tree, for there surely doth Dermat dwell.'

Now when Finn came with his army to the quicken-tree it was noon, and the sun shone with great heat.

Therefore Finn said to his men, 'Under this tree shall we rest until the sun be set, for well I know that Dermat is among the branches. Bring hither a chess-board that I may play.'

And Finn sat down to play against Oisin his son, but there were with Oisin three nobles to help him, while Finn played without aid.

With care and with skill did they play, until at length Finn said to his son, 'I see one move, Oisin, that would win thee the game, yet is there none of thine helpers that can show thee how thou mayest win.'

Then Dermat, who had watched the game from among the branches overhead, spoke aloud to himself the move that should be played.

And Grania sat by her husband ill at ease. 'It matters not, Dermat,' she said, 'whether Oisin win or lose the game, but if thou speakest so that they hear, it may cost thee thy life.'

Yet did Dermat pay no heed to the counsel of Grania, but plucked a berry, and with it took aim so true that he hit the chessman that Oisin should move.

And Oisin moved the man and won the game.

Yet again did Finn play against Oisin and his friends, and once more had Oisin to make but one move to win the game.

Then did Dermat throw down a berry as before and it struck the right man.

And Oisin moved the piece and won the game.

A third time did Oisin, son of Finn, play against his father, and it fell as before, for once more he won with Dermat's aid. And this time the nobles raised a mighty cheer.

But Finn said, 'No marvel is it, Oisin, that thou hast won the game, for of a surety thou hast had the aid of Dermat who dwelleth amid the branches of the quicken-tree.' And looking up he said, 'Have I not, Dermat, spoken truth?'

'I have never known thy judgment err, O King,' replied Dermat. 'In truth I dwell here with Grania in the hut that was built by Sharvan the giant.'

And they looked up, and through an opening in the branches they beheld Dermat kiss Grania three times, for the Princess was in great fear.

Then was Finn exceeding wroth, and he bade his men surround the tree, each holding the hand of each so that Dermat might by no means escape. And he offered great reward to any man that would go up into the tree and bring to him the hero's head or force him to come down.

One of Finn's men then spake: 'It was Dermat's father that slew my father, therefore will I go up into the tree.' And he went up.

Now it was revealed to Angus of Bruga that Dermat was in sore plight, and on the wings of the wind he came to his aid, unseen of Finn or his chiefs. So when the avenger climbed into the tree, Angus was there. And when Dermat with a stroke of his foot flung his enemy to the ground, Angus caused him to take the shape of Dermat, and for this reason Finn's men fell upon him and slew him.

But no sooner was he slain than he again took his own shape, and Finn knew that Dermat was still alive in the quicken-tree. Then nine times did a man of Finn's army climb the tree, and nine times was he thrown to earth and killed by his own friends. For each time did Angus cause the warrior to take Dermat's shape.

When Finn saw nine of his men lie dead before him his heart failed him, and his soul was filled with bitterness.

At this time Angus said that he would take Grania away with him. And Dermat was content and said, 'If it be that I live until evening I will follow thee, but if Finn killeth me, I pray thee send the Princess to her father at Tara.'

So Angus flung his magic mantle around Grania, and on the wings of the wind they were carried to Bruga, unknown to Finn or his men.

Then Dermat spake from the tree: 'Thou surely shalt not escape my vengeance, O Finn, nor shalt thou easily compass my death. Oft have I cleared the way for thee when thou didst go forth to battle, and oft have I sheltered thy retreat when thou didst quit the field. Yet art thou unmindful of mine help, and I swear that I will be avenged.'

When the hero ceased from speaking, one of Finn's nobles said, 'Dermat speaketh truth, now therefore grant him thy forgiveness.'

But Finn answered, 'I will not to the end of my life grant him forgiveness, nor shall he know rest or peace until he yieldeth to me his head.'

Again the noble spake: 'Now pledge I thee the word of a true warrior that, unless the skies fall upon me or the earth open and swallow me up, no harm shall come nigh Dermat, for under my care I take his body and his life.' And looking up, the noble cried, 'O Dermat, I pledge thee my body and my life that no ill shall befall thee this day, therefore come down out of the tree.'

Then Dermat rose and stood upon a high bough. With an airy, bird-like bound he sprang forward and alighted outside the circle formed by the men who had joined hands, and was soon far beyond the reach of Finn.

And the noble who saved him followed, and they came together to Bruga, and there Angus and Grania met them, and the joy of the Princess cannot be told.

Yet was it not long ere Dermat was again in sore strait, for Finn followed him to Bruga, and with Finn came his old nurse. And she was a witch.

Now it chanced on the day that they came thither that Dermat hunted alone in the wood. And the witch flew on the leaf of a yellow water-lily till she came straight over the place where Dermat was. Then through a hole in the leaf she aimed deadly darts at the hero, and though he was clad in strong armour they did him great hurt.

So sore were his wounds that Dermat thought the witch would cause his death on the spot, unless he could pierce her through the hole in the leaf.

Therefore he took his red javelin and cast it with all care. And so sure was his aim that it reached the witch through the leaf, and she fell to the ground dead. Then Dermat cut off her head and took it to Angus.

Early on the morrow Angus rose and went where Finn was, and he asked him if he would make peace with Dermat.

And Finn, because he had now lost his witch-nurse as well as many men, was glad to make peace in whatever way Dermat might choose.

Then Angus went to Cormac, and he too was glad to make peace with the hero.

But when Angus came to Dermat he said he would not make peace unless he received from Finn and from Cormac all the wide lands that he asked.

And Cormac and Finn gave him the lands, and forgave him all he had done.

Then was there at last peace between them, and Dermat and Grania built a house in Sligo, far from Cormac and Finn, and they called the name of their house Rath-Grania. And there were born unto them one daughter and four sons.

And it was said that there was not living in Erin a man richer than Dermat in gold and silver, in sheep and cattle herds.

* * * * *

Now it fell on a day after many years that Grania sat as one in a dream. And Dermat asked his wife in what troublous thought she was lost, for he saw well that she was ill at ease.

And Grania answered, 'It seemeth not well to me that, having so great wealth, we live removed from the world, and welcome to our home neither my father nor Finn, though with both are we now at peace.'

Dermat gave heed to the words of his wife and then spake thus: 'Of a truth there is peace betwixt us, but thou knowest well that neither thy father the King nor yet Finn bears me aught but ill-will, and for this cause have we dwelt apart.'

'Yet will time have softened their hearts,' replied Grania, 'and wouldst thou but make them a feast, so mightest thou win their favour and their love.'

And Dermat, because of the love he bore Grania, granted her wish, and for a year they were making ready for the great feast.

Then were messengers sent to bid thither Cormac and Finn. And they came, and with them their nobles, their horses and their dogs, and for a full year they hunted and feasted at Rath-Grania.

When a year had passed, it chanced one night that the distant yelping of a hound woke Dermat from his sleep, and Grania too awoke and in great fear said, 'Of a truth doth that sound forebode ill. Heed it not, but lie down on thy bed and rest.'

Dermat lay down, but ere long he again heard the hound's voice. Then he started up, and made as though he would go to find for himself wherefore the hound disturbed the silence of the night. But again Grania begged him to lie down and to give no heed to the matter.

So Dermat lay down and fell into a light sleep, and when the hound awakened him the third time it was broad day. And Grania, seeing that his mind was set, did not beg him longer to stay, yet, fearing danger, she begged him to take with him his red javelin and his sword named 'The Greater Fury.'

But Dermat, deeming the matter light, took with him his yellow javelin and his sword 'The Lesser Fury,' and leading his faithful hound by the chain, went forth. And he did not rest till he came to the summit of a hill where he found Finn, and of him he asked the meaning of the chase.

And Finn answered that the men and hounds were tracking a wild boar which had ofttimes been chased, but had always escaped. Even now was it coming towards them, so it were well that they should betake themselves to some safer spot.

Dermat knew no fear of the wild boar, and he would not leave the summit of the hill where he stood. Yet did he pray Finn to leave with him his hound Bran, that it might help his own dog were he in need.

But Finn would not leave Bran to be torn by the wild boar that could now be seen coming towards them.

So Dermat stood alone on the summit of the hill, and he knew well it was that he might meet his death that Finn's men did hunt the boar this day. Yet would he not leave the hill, for if it were his fate to meet death, nought could save him from his doom.

Then as the boar came rushing up the face of the hill, Dermat let loose his good hound, but it, seeing the fearful monster, fled before him.

And now Dermat knew that he would have need of his red javelin, and he sorrowed that he had given no heed to the counsel of Grania. Yet seizing his yellow javelin he cast it with careful aim and it struck the boar in its forehead. But it fell harmless to the ground, doing the monster no hurt.

Then Dermat drew his sword from its sheath, and with a mighty blow did he strike at the boar's neck. But the sword broke in his hand, and the boar felt not so much as a prick.

Now was Dermat without any weapon save the hilt of his sword, and the boar made a deadly onslaught, thrusting his tusk into the hero's side. But with the strength that was left him Dermat flung the hilt of the sword at the brute's head, and it pierced his skull and entered his brain, whereupon the boar fell dead.

But so deep was the wound in Dermat's side that when Finn came to him he found the hero near unto death.

And Finn said, 'Now am I well content, for thine end hath come.'

'Sure the words that thou speakest come not from thine heart,' answered Dermat, 'for it is in thy power to heal me, and that thou knowest full well.'

'How might I heal thee?' asked Finn.

'Thou knowest that power was given thee to heal him who might be at the point of death. Let him but drink water from the palms of thy closed hands, and he is healed of his hurt.'

'Yet wherefore should I heal thee who hast worked me nought but ill?'

'Thou wouldst not speak thus wert thou mindful of the day when I saved thee from the flames. Thou wast bidden to a banquet, and ere the feast began the palace was set a-fire by those who wished thee ill. And I and my men rushed forth and quenched the flames and slew thy foes. Had I begged water from thy hands that night thou hadst not said me nay.'

'Thou forgettest that but for thee the fair Grania were my wedded wife.'

'Of a surety am I not blameworthy in this matter, O Finn, for Grania laid upon me a solemn vow that I should follow her from Tara ere thou shouldst wake from thy sleep. And I took counsel of many nobles, and there was not one but said, "Even though death come of it, thou canst not depart from the solemn vow that Grania hath laid upon thee." And now, I pray of thee, let me drink from thine hands, else surely death will overtake me in this place. From many another deadly strait have I delivered thee, yet hast thou forgotten them all. But the hour will come when surely thou wilt need my help shouldst thou let me die this day. Yet grieve I not to think that thou wilt be in deadly strait, but rather grieve I for those true heroes whom I shall no longer aid.'

Then one of the nobles, hearing these words, prayed Finn that he would let Dermat drink from his hands.

Finn replied, 'I know not of any well on this hill whence I can bring water.'

But Dermat said, 'Right well thou knowest that hidden by yonder bush is a well of crystal water. No more than nine paces must thou go to reach it. Let me, I pray thee, drink from thine hands.'

Then Finn went to the well, and in his two hands tightly together did he bring the water towards Dermat. But as he came nearer he spilled it through his fingers, saying that he could not in such manner carry water so far.

But Dermat believed him not, and said, 'Of thine own will hast thou spilled the water. I pray thee go once more to the well and bring me to drink, or I die.'

Again the King went to the well, and with failing sight did Dermat follow the dripping hands that came nearer and yet more near. But of a sudden Finn thought of Grania, and a second time was the water spilled. And when Dermat saw it, he uttered a piteous cry.

Then were the champions no longer able to see Dermat in such grievous plight, and one said to Finn, 'I swear to thee that if thou bringest not water to Dermat, thou shalt not leave this hill alive, save I be a dead man.'

Finn, hearing these words and seeing their frowns, went a third time to fetch water from the well. And this time he made haste to bring it to Dermat, but ere he had got half-way, the hero's head fell backward and he died.

Then were raised three long cries of sorrow for Dermat, who had been dear unto them all.

After some time had passed Finn said, 'Let us leave this hill lest Angus come, for he may not believe that it was not at our hands that Dermat met his death.'

So Finn and his nobles left the hill, Finn leading Dermat's hound. But four of the nobles turned back and laid their mantles over the champion. Then they once more followed the King.

Grania sat that day on the highest tower of Rath-Grania, watching for Dermat. The fear she had felt in the night would not be stilled, and when at length Finn came in sight, leading by the chain Dermat's hound, she knew that she would not henceforth see Dermat alive. And when the truth had taken hold upon her, she fell in a swoon from the tower, and her handmaiden stood over her in great fear.

But at length her eyes opened, and when it was told her that Dermat was dead she uttered a long, piercing cry, so that all flocked to hear what had befallen the Princess. And when it was told that Dermat had been killed by the wild boar, the air was rent with cries of lamentation.

At length, when silence had fallen upon her grief, Grania arose, and ordered that five hundred men should go to the hill and bring to her the body of Dermat. Then turning to Finn she begged of him to leave with her Dermat's hound. And Finn would not. But a noble, hearing that Grania wished the hound took him from the hand of Finn and gave him to the Princess.

Now as the men left Rath-Grania to bring home the body of Dermat, it was revealed to Angus of Bruga that the hero lay dead on the hill. And he at once set out on the wings of the wind and reached the sorrowful place ere Grania's messengers had come there. And they, when they came, found Angus mourning over the body of Dermat, and he asked them wherefore they were come.

When it was told Angus that Grania had sent them to bring the body of Dermat to Rath-Grania, he stayed for some time wrapt in thought. At length he spake these words: 'Let it be told the Princess that I will take with me the body of Dermat to my home, that he may be preserved by my power as though he still lived. For though I cannot bring him back to life, yet each day shall he speak with me for some space.'

And Angus turned to his men that he had brought with him there and ordered that Dermat's body should be placed on a golden bier, with the red and yellow javelins, one on either side, points upward. Thus was the dead hero carried to the home of Angus.

When Grania's messengers came back to her bringing not with them the body of Dermat, she was at first sore grieved. But when she heard how the hero lay on a golden bier in the keeping of his foster-father, and would each day speak with Angus for some space, then was she content, for she knew that Angus loved Dermat as a father loveth his only son.

And Grania sent messengers to her sons to bid them come to her. And when they were come, she welcomed them gently and kissed them. Then with an exceeding loud and clear voice she said, 'O dear children, your father hath been slain by the will of Finn, though peace had been sworn between them. Therefore get ye hence and avenge his death. And that ye may have success in the battle, I will myself portion out among you your inheritance of arms, of arrows, and of sharp weapons. Spare none that would do good to Finn, yet see ye to it that ye deal not treacherously with any man. Hasten ye and depart.'

Then the sons of Dermat bade their mother a tender farewell, and went forth to avenge their father's death.


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