When the chief of the Bonna Dearriga was on his death-bed he gave his son three counsels, and said misfortune would attend him if he did not follow them. The first was never to bring home a beast from a fair after having been offered a fair price for it; the second, never to call in ragged clothes on a friend when he wanted a favour from him; the third not to marry a wife with whose family he was not well acquainted.
The name of the young chief was Illan, called Don, from his brown hair, and the first thing he set about doing after the funeral, was to test the wisdom of his father's counsels. So he went to the fair of Tailtean [b] with a fine mare of his, and rode up and down. He asked twenty gold rings for his beast, but the highest bid he got was only nineteen. To work out his design he would not abate a screpal, but rode home on her back in the evening. He could have readily crossed a ford that lay in his way near home; for sheer devilment he leaped the river higher up, where the banks on both sides were steep. The poor beast stumbled as she came near the edge, and was flung head foremost into the rocky bed, and killed. He was pitched forward, but his fall was broken by some shrubs that were growing in the face of the opposite bank. He was as sorry for the poor mare as any young fellow, fond of horses and dogs, could be. When he got home he sent a giolla to take off the animal's two four-legs at the knee, and these he hung up in the great hail of his dun, having first had them properly dried and prepared.
Next day he repaired again to the fair, and got into conversation with a rich chief of Oriel, whose handsome daughter had come to the meeting to purchase some cows. luau offered his services, as he knew most of the bodachs and the bodachs' wives who were there for the object of selling. A word to them from the handsome and popular young chief,--and good bargains were given to the lady. So pleased was her father, ay and she too, with this civility that he forthwith received an invitation to hunt and fish at the northern rath, and very willingly he accepted it. So he returned home in a very pleasant state of mind, and was anxious that this second experiment should succeed better than the first.
The visit was paid, and in the mornings there were pleasant walks in the woods with the young lady, while her little brother and sister were chasing one another through the trees, and the hunting and fishing went on afterwards, and there were feasts of venison, and wild boar, and drinking of wine and mead in the evenings, and stories in verse recited by bards, and sometimes moonlight walks on the ramparts of the fort, and at last marriage was proposed and accepted.
One morning as Illan was musing on the happiness that was before him, an attendant on his promised bride walked into his room. "Great must be your surprise, O Illan Don," said she, "at this my visit, but my respect for you will not allow me to see you fall into the pit that is gaping for you. Your affianced bride is an unchaste woman. You have remarked the deformed Fergus Rua, who plays on the small clarsech, and is the possessor of thrice fifty stories. He often attends in her room late in the evening to play soft music to her, and to put her to sleep with this soft music and his stories of the Danaan druids. Who would suspect the weak deformed creature, or the young lady of noble birth? By your hand, O Illan of the brown hair, if you marry her, you will bring disgrace on yourself and your clan. You do not trust my words! Then trust to your own senses. She would most willingly break off all connexion with the lame wretch since she first laid eyes on you, but he has sworn to expose her before you and her father. When the household is at rest this night, wait at the entrance of the passage that leads to the women's apartments. I will meet you there. To-morrow morning you will require no one's advice for your direction."
Before the sun tinged the purple clouds, next morning, Than was crossing the outer moat of the lios, and lying behind him on the back of his trusty steed was some long object carefully folded in skins. "Tell your honoured chief," said he to the attendant who was conducting him, "that I am obliged on a sudden to depart, and that I request him by his regard for me to return my visit a fortnight hence, and to bring his fair daughter with him." On he rode, and muttered from time to time, "Oh,. had I slain the guilty pair, it would he a well-merited death! the deformed wretch! the weak lost woman! Now for the third trial!"
Illan had a married sister, whose rath was about twelve of our miles distant from his. To her home he repaired next day, changing clothes with a beggar whom he met on the road. When he arrived, he found that they were at dinner, and several neighbouring families with them in the great hail. "Tell my sister," said he to a giolla who was lounging at the door, "that I wish to speak with her." "Who is your sister?" said the other in an insolent tone, for he did not recognise the young chief in his beggar's dress. "Who should she be but the Bhan a Teagh, you rascal!" The fellow began to laugh, but the open palm of the irritated young man coming like a sledge stroke on his cheek, dashed him on the ground, and set him a-roaring. "Oh, what has caused this confusion?" said the lady of the house, coming out from the hall. "I," said her brother, "punishing your giolla's disrespect." "Oh, brother, what has reducedyou to such a condition?" "An attack on my house, and a creagh made on my hands in my absence. I have neither gold nor silver vessels in my dun, nor rich cloaks, nor ornaments, nor arms for my followers. My cattle have been driven from my lands, and all as I was on a visit at the house of my intended bride. You must come to my relief; you will have to send cattle to my ravaged fields, gold and silver vessels, and ornaments and furs, and rich clothes to my house, to enable inc to receive my bride a-nd her father in a few days." "Poor dear Illan!" she answered, "my heart bleeds for you. I fear I cannot aid you, nor can I ask you to join our company within in these rags. But you must be hungry; stay here till I send you some refreshment."
She quitted him, and did not return again, but an attendant came out with a griddle-cake in one hand, and a porringer with some Danish beer in it in the other. Illan carried them away to the spot where he had quitted the beggar, and gave him the bread, and made him drink the beer. Then changing clothes with him he rewarded him, and returned home, bearing the porringer as a trophy.
On the day appointed with the father of his affianced, there were assembled in Illan's hall, his sister, his sister's husband, his affianced, her father, and some others. When an opportunity offered after meat and bread, and wine had gone the way of all food, Illan addressed his guests: "Friends and relations, I am about confessing some of my faults before you, and hope you will be bettered by the hearing. My dying father charged me never to refuse a fair offer for horse, cow, or sheep, at a fair. For refusing a trifle less than I asked for my noble mare, there was nothing left to me but those bits of her fore-legs you see hanging by the wall. He advised me never to put on an air of want when soliciting a favour. I begged help of my sister for a pretended need, and because I had nothing better than a beggar's cloak on me, I got nothing for my suit but the porringer that you see dangling by the poor remains of my mare. I wooed a strange lady to be my wife, contrary to my dying father's injunction, and after seeming to listen favourably to my suit, she at last said I should be satisfied with the crutches of her lame and deformed harper: there they are!" The sister blushed, and was ready to sink through the floor for shame. The bride was in a much more wretched state, and would have fainted, but it was not the fashion of the day. Her father stormed, and said this was but a subterfuge on the part of Illan. He deferred to her pleasure, but though torn with anguish for the loss of the young chiefs love and respect, she took the blame on herself.
The next morning saw the rath without a visitor; but within a quarter of a year the kind-faced, though not beautiful daughter of a neighbouring Duine Uasal (gentleman) made the fort cheerful by her presence. Illan had known her since they were children. He was long aware of her excellent qualities, but had never thought of her as a wife till the morning after his speech. He was fonder of her a month after his marriage than he was on the marriage morning, and much fonder when a year had gone by, and presented his house with an heir.
[a] This in the corrupt wording of our MS. is "Sceal Re Bonna Dearriga na tri chourla do hug she dha mac."
[b] Now Telitown in Meath. Centuries before the Christian era meetings were held there for the purpose of negotiating marriages, and hiring servants, and transacting other matters of business.