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Conary Mor

[T]HE night that Conary was born, strange sweet music sounded on all the hills and valleys of Ireland. His mother heard it, and said that Conary must be laid a little while on the green earth that his kinsfolk might own him. He was laid on the green earth, and Dana, the mother of the stars, spread her mantle over him. Then the people of Faery that dwell in the Land of Heart's Desire and in the Land of the Silver Fleece and in the Land That Is Under The Sea came about him, and each one tied a knot of good luck in the fringes of Dana's mantle. The child was brought back to his mother, Ethaun the wife of King Eterscel.

She sent for her husband, and said:

"High King of Ireland, take into your arms the child of the three gifts. He will hear the music in the heart of silence; he will see the Hidden People; he will have the gift of judgment."

Conary was nurtured in three households--in the household of the High King, in the house--hold of his mother's fosterers, and in the household of the honey-worded Maunya's of the West. Five comrades he had that were nurtured with him, the five grandsons of Donn Dessa, the Champion--Fer Le, Fer Gar, Fer Rogain, Fer Gel, and Lomna Druth the Fool, the boys were named. Conary loved Fer Le, Fer Gar, and Fer Rogain with a great love. They grew up together and shared all that they had. Conary's mother sent him a mantle wrought about the edge and fringed with gold and a chair carved with strange devices. He put the mantle by turns on the three boys and on himself and they sat by turns in the chair: so they grew up till King Eterscel died.

The druids and chiefs consulted as to who should be king.

"Let it be Conary," said some, "for he is beautiful and wise and brave."

Others said: "Conary is no child of King Eterscel; his mother is of the People of Faery, and of a surety his father is beautiful and deathless, a king of the Host of the Sidhe. Let the Bull-Feast be made and the Spell of Truth spoken that we may know what king to choose."

A black bull was slain, and Aodh the Seer wrapped himself in the hide. The druids made a charmed space about him and put the Spell of Truth upon him that in sleep he might see the king. Conary's foster brothers came to him, and said:

"O Conary, all the warriors flock to the Bull-Feast; come with us."

Conary was driving two untried horses in a chariot, and he said:

"Go ye to the feast, and I will follow when I have seen how my horses gallop."

He wheeled his chariot about and shook the reins and sped away from Tara, going to the East. He went so fast that soon he saw far off the rim of the sea, and as he was going through a wide green plain great snow-white birds came suddenly about him circling and circling. One moment they were snow-white and the next they had every colour of the rainbow in their feathers and the colours kept changing. Conary had never seen such birds, and he made a cast of his spear at one of them. The spear did not hit the bird.

"Rein up the horses," he said to the charioteer, "and I will cast again."

'When the horses were reined up, the birds circled round the chariot and kept lighting on the pole of it and on the green grass.

"O Conary, born in a happy hour," said the charioteer, "do not cast at the birds, for they have come from the Land of the Ever Young."

But Conary did not hearken to the charioteer, he made another cast with the spear and failed. Then he leaped from the chariot and followed the birds on foot.

"If the spear fails me," he said, "the stone will not fail."

He made a cast with the stone, and the stone failed him. He followed the birds till they came to the sea and when they touched the water they took their own form and Conary saw before him the strong beautiful terrible warriors of the Faery Hills. They would have cast their spears at Conary, but he who was chief among them protected him, and said:

"Was it not told thee, Conary, that thou shouldst do no evil to thy father's birds? There is not one among them that should not be dear to thee for sake of kinship."

"Never until now was this thing told me!" said Conary

"Small heed hast thou paid to thy mother's counsels, O Conary, else she would have told thee thy geas, [tabu] for long have thy father's birds been known to her.

"Hearken now to me. The people have gathered into Tara that Aodh the Seer may tell them who is to be king. He has seen the king, a naked youth with a sling and a stone, coming to Tara. Even now chiefs and kings are hastening out on every road that leads to Tara with chariots and gold embroidered raiment for that youth.

"Throw off thy garments of foolishness and hearken to me. Thou art the king appointed, and never since the world began has a king so happy-born come into Ireland. The mountains are glad at thy coming; the rivers and lakes are glad; the forests and green flowery places are glad. Thy kinsfolk are glad. No bitter wind will blow while thou art king: sweet as music will be the voice of man to man; the sun will not hide from thee; the stars will not hide from thee thine own folk will not hide from thee until thou breakest faith. Nine bonds I put upon thee, Conary.

Hearken to thy geassa:

It is geas to let rapine break the peace of thy reign.
It is geas to go right-hand wise round Tara or left hand-wise round Bregia.
It is geas to hunt the evil beasts of Cerna.
It is geas to go beyond Tara every ninth night.
It is geas to sleep in a house from which the light is manifest to outsiders.
It is geas to follow the Three Reds to the House of Red.
It is geas to let a lone man or a lone woman come into the same house with thee after sunset.
It is geas to go out of Tara to settle the quarrel of two kings.
It is geas to let thy drinking-cup be empty of water.

"These be thy bonds of kingship. On the day thou breakest geassa, ruin will come upon thee. Keep faith, Conary!"

The strange warriors vanished, and Conary fared forth to Tara, naked, as he was bidden. On the road by which he went his own foster brothers were waiting with gold embroidered raiment and a king's chariot, and right glad they were to bring him into Tara.

The people acclaimed Conary; the druids and poets acclaimed him; the kings acclaimed him the earth acclaimed him; so with acclamation and gladness he was made the High King of Ireland.

Never was there any one so beautiful as Conary, never was there such a wonder as his reign. There was peace in the land and peace in the hearts of men so that every one took joy in his fellow. Every husbandman reaped seven harvests. The wolves did not ravage, the frost winds did not bite, and the Hidden Folk came out of the Faery Hills and made music and gladness everywhere.

Beauty and strength increased with Conary year by year, and he might have reigned till Lir's horses go ploughing if his foster brothers had not drawn destruction on him. They were proud and fierce like eagles, and like eagles they longed to take a prey. The good peace that made the reign of Conary wonderful was no joy to them.

In secret they took their weapons and lifted a prey and a spoil, and those from whom they lifted it came to ask for justice of King Conary. But he loved his foster-brothers over-much, with a foolish fondness, and he could not make his face hard against them. He said to those who came for justice:

"Count up your losses and I will give you seven times as much; take it and go hence contented."

Then the foster brothers became like young eagles that have tasted blood; they exulted in their fierceness, and raided and drove the prey continually, and other chiefs joined them and raided till the peace that was over Ireland was broken. Now, when that peace was broken the luck of Conary was broken, for it was geas to him to let rapine break the peace of his reign.

There was clamour round the judgment seat of Conary: loud voices cried for the death-sentence on the sons of Donn Dessa.

"I cannot slay my foster-brethren," said the king.

Cease then to protect them," said the chiefs, "and we will slay them for thee!"

"I will cease to protect them," said Conary, "but ye shall not slay them! I will give them ships and the sea-path. Let them draw the death-doom on themselves in other lands: only if they come again to Ireland, slay and spare not! "

Conary gave his foster-brethren arms and treasures and sent them from him. He took farewell of them with tears, and to Fer Rogain, whom he loved best, he said:

"O Fer Rogain, I never thought to send thee from me. Though thou hast brought me shame thou wert always my heart's choice and the topmost apple of the tree to me. Thou goest lightly from me now, and there is little sorrow on thee at going."

Fer Rogain said:

"I will have sorrow enough for thee, Conary Mor; bitter sorrow and tears of blood."

He hardened his face then and went out from the king and got to his ship. All the five got to their ships with their followers. There was no wind, but the rowers rowed till the sea was foaming round the ships. So Conary's foster-brothers left Ireland.

On the high seas they met the battle-ships of IngceI the One-eyed, a reaver from Britain. Fierce and cruel was the man and terrible in aspect; one eye he had in the middle of his forehead, large as an oxhide, black as a chafer, and with three pupils in it. He was a king's son that was cast out of his own country because of his misdeeds and he had three hundred men in his battle-ships. He made a compact with the five to go raiding in company with them.

"Let us cast lots," said he, "for the country we shall go to first. I will not draw back, though it be the country of my father: nor shall ye draw back, though it be the country of your brother."

They cast lots, and the lot fell on Britain.

They went to that country and drew their ships up on the first good land they sighted and there they made a slaughter and destruction and they burned the dun of the king of that place. In the dun were Ingcel's father and mother and brothers. They perished.

"No destruction will seem grievous to me after this one! " said Ingcel.

The spoil they brought out of that country was rich, and it was divided among them. Then Ingcel said:

"Raid for raid, let the ships go to Ireland!"

To Ireland then they turned their ships.

Now, when Conary had banished his foster--brothers and those other disturbers, there was quietness, and every one was glad but Conary. His heart wasted for Fer Le, Fer Gar, and Fer Rogain, and he took no delight in his royal house at Tara. Word came to him that two kings in the south were at variance and he journeyed down to make peace between them. Now, it was geas to Conary to settle such a quarrel. He made peace between the kings and he stayed with them till ten nights had gone by. This also was geas to Conary.

Then, because he had broken geassa and loosed the bonds of his kingship, his Faery kinsfolk loosed their bonds of protection from him and their anger showed itself in flames of wizardry that spread over the hills and covered the plains of Tara, and in a desolation that blackened the sky.

Conary saw the flames as he journeyed back to Tara.

"What is this? " he said to his warriors.

"It is not hard to tell," said they, " the king's law has broken down and evil men have made the land a desolation. Lo! Tara is burning!"

But Tara was not burning, and what they saw were fires of enchantment and wizardry that consumed nothing but the luck of Conary Mor.

"Let us turn aside," said the king, "and seek shelter, since our men are not armed for a battle."

Then they wheeled hastily and drove right-hand wise round Tara and left-hand wise round Bregia. This also was geas to Conary.

As they went, three of Conary's white hounds broke their chains of silver and dashed into a thicket where they started a beast. It leaped on the roadway before the chariot of the king--a strange black beast with fiery wrathful eyes; it spat fire at Conary and vanished.

"Alas! " said the king, " it is one of the beasts of Cerna, and by the nine bonds of my kingship I bound myself not to hunt them. Evil is my fortune this night! "

They fared heavily along the road of Cualu.

"Whither shall we go to-night," said the king, "and what house will shelter us? "

"Would that I could tell thee," said Mac Cecht, the Champion. "Often have kings contended for thee: thou hast never sought a shelter till to-night."

"Once I was counted wise," said Conary, "and asked advice from no man. I will go to the Bruiden Da Derga."

"Well I know the great Court of Da Derga," said Mac Cecht; "nine doors it has, always open to dispense hospitality, and if the king of a district with all his people were to come to it, Da Derga would have guest-rooms and to spare for them. Well hast thou chosen, Conary. I will go before and strike the spark that kindles fire for thee."

Mac Cecht strode forward on the road of Cualu. Huge was lie, mountainous and terrible of aspect into the boss of his shield an ox would fit, and faster than a horse could gallop he strode along the road of Cualu with mighty earth-shaking feet.

Heavy then was the heart of Conary and heavy the hearts of those about him as they fared along the road. Soon they were aware of three red horsemen riding before them. Red were the horses, red the men that rode them, red their cloaks and armour, all red together.

"Alas," said Conary, "if these three do not cease to ride before me it needs be I am faring to my death! Who will tell them to quit the roadway?"

Scarce had Conary spoken the word when his young son, Le-Fri-Flaith, rode forward. Seven years were the years of his age and he was the desire of every eye that looked on him. He was the candle of beauty at every feast. He was the little silver branch with white blossoms.

I will go, my father," Le-Fri-Flaith said, and he shook the golden bells on his bridle-reins so that they all rang together.

"Nay," said Conary, "thou art over-young to go." But the chief druid who rode in the chariot with Conary, said:

"Let be; if any one can win obedience from these riders it is Le-Fri-Flaith, for never in his life has anything been refused to him, and he is the dearest and best loved prince in the world."

Conary's son rode after the horsemen. He came within a spear-cast of them. He could not gain on them, for swift as he was they were swifter.

"Conary, the High King of Ireland, commands you to leave the road!" he cried to them.

The riders did not swerve aside or slacken speed, but as they rode one turned his head and cried:

"Lo, my Son! We are the bearers of dule! We may not stay till we reach the place appointed. Lo, my son!"

Le-Fri-Flaith returned to Conary, and said over those words to him.

"Go after them again," said Conary, "and offer them the gifts of a king, and my protection, if they will leave the road."

Conary's son rode after the horsemen. He came within a spear-cast of them. He could not gain on them, for swift as he was they were swifter.

"Leave the road for the High King of Ireland," he cried, "and ye shall have gifts and a king's protection!"

The riders did not swerve aside or slacken speed, but as they rode one turned his head and cried:

"Lo, my son! We are the bearers of dule! Through ancient enchantment nine shall perish. Lo, my son!"

Le-Fri-Flaith returned to Conary, and said over those words to him.

"Go after them again," said Conary, "offer them double gifts, and my goodwill and protection."

Conary's son rode after the horsemen. He came within a spear-cast of them. He could not gain on them, for swift as he was they were swifter.

"Leave the road for the High King of Ireland," he cried, "and ye shall have gift upon gift and a king's goodwill and protection!"

The riders did not swerve aside or slacken speed, but as they rode one turned his head and cried:

"Lo, my son! We are the bearers of dule! We are alive and dead. The steeds we ride are from the Faery Hills. They are aweary. Where we go the ravens follow. There will be shields to-night with broken bosses at sun-down. Lo, my son!"

Le-Fri-Flaith returned to Conary, and said over those words to him.

"Alas!" said Conary, "of a truth you have spoken with the banished folk, the outcasts from the Faery Hills. Three times they must destroy a king and be themselves destroyed."

They fared behind the horsemen on the road. Then from a wood came forth a fearsome thing, a mis-shapen man with one leg and one arm and one eye; he had a black pig squealing and twisting on his back, and a hag with a twisted mouth following him. One eye had the hag and one leg and one arm.

"Welcome to Conary," said the swine-carrier; "long has thy coming been known to us."

"Who art thou," said the king, "and what woman is with thee?"

"I am Fer Caille, the Man of the Woods. The woman is Cicuil. We bring a black swine for thy feasting lest thou be hungry to-night, for thou art the noblest king that ever came into the world!"

"Some night of my life, Fer Caille, I will taste thy swine; to-night I go to other feasting."

"To-night, O Conary, thou wilt taste my swine, and 'tis my feast will be ready in the house to which thou journeyest."

Foot for foot he kept pace with the king's horses, his ugly wife behind him with her mouth awry and his black pig squealing and twisting on his back.

In this guise they journeyed till they came to the Bruiden Da Derga: and it happened that as Conary was journeying thither along the road of Cualu, his five foster-brothers with Ingcel the One-eyed were heading towards Ben Edar with their ships.

Ingcel sent two men of Erin to stand on the ridge of Ben Edar to spy out a prey, and they saw the train of Conary as it fared along the road of Cualu with the redness of sunset on the spear-blades and chariot wheels.

"A good prey!" said the reavers, and they went back to tell Ingcel that they had seen the chariots and horsemen of Conary, the High King of Ireland.

"Whither do they go?" said Ingcel.

"There is but one house great enough to receive them, and that is the Bruiden Da Derga," said they. Not far off is the house."

"I will take it," said Ingeel, "for my share of good luck."

As he spoke there was a loud sharp sound that made the earth tremble; the ships were hurled backward on the sea; and fire leaped up, red and ruddy, in the Bruiden.

"What is that? " asked Ingcel, of Fer Rogain.

It is the Champion, Mac Cecht, striking a fire of welcome for Conary. Ill-omened is the fire he kindles to-night. Terrible is Mac Cecht, terrible is the king and the folk who befriend him. Let us turn our ships and our hands from Conary and take a prey in the North."

Never," said Ingcel, "have I turned back from a raid. I saw flames lick the blood of my father, I stepped across the body of my mother, and though Mac Cecht should shake the world-serpent from its hold on the earth I would not go back!"

He cried to the reavers:

"Let the battle-ships row in to the land!"

Thrice fifty ships rowed in and were drawn upon the beach. The reavers landed.

Now, when their keels grated on the Irish land the weapons in the Bruiden Da Derga fell to the floor with a scream, and Conary, who had reached the green in front of the Court, paused and listened.

"What sound do you hear? " said those about him, "beyond the sound of weapons falling?"

"I hear," said he, "a sound like the keels of my brethren grating on land. Would that indeed to-night they grated on the Irish land, and I might see Fer Rogain and the others again!"

He passed through the carved door of red yew into the Court, and Da Derga welcomed him, and mead-cups were filled and a feast prepared.

The Bruiden had nine doors and at every door there were seventeen of Conary's chariots. The great road of Cualu ran through the Bruiden and the River Dodder ran through it. The doors were open, and Mac Cecht's fire shone out like the red heart of a mountain when the Faery People are feasting within it.

From the darkness outside came in a lone woman. Evil-looking and hideous, she stood at the door and cried on King Conary.

"What is thy desire, O woman? " said the king.

"Thine own desire, O King!" said she.

"Who art thou?"

I am Cailb."

"It is no good name," said the king.

"It is no hidden name," said the woman, "and I have many names besides."

Then standing on one foot, with one hand lifted, she chanted in one breath her many names:

"I am Cailb, Samon, Sinand, Seisciend, Sodb, Soegland, Samlocht, Caill, Coll, Dichoem, Dichiuil, Dithim, Dichuimne, Dichruidne, Dairne, Darine, Deruaine, Egem, Egam, Ethamne, Gnim, Cluiche, Cethardam, Nith, Nemain, Noennen, Badb, Blose, Bloar, Huae, oe, Aife la Sruth, Mache, Mede, Mod. These be my names, O King!"

"I will call thee by none of them," said Conary, "but say what thou seest for me."

"I see death," said the woman, "and thy flesh in the beaks of ravens."

Mis-shapen and hideous, she stood in the doorway and cast her evil eye on the king and the chiefs about him.

"Leave the doorway," said the king, " food and a gift will be given thee outside."

"Nay," said the woman, "I claim hospitality this night. The Bruiden of Da Derga was built that no one might pass by it shelterless, and never till to-night has any one been driven from the door. If the High King drives me out I will go."

"I do not drive thee out," said Conary, "come through the door."

So, after night-fall into, the same house with Conary came a lone woman, and it was geas to him.

When that woman entered the house, Ingcel was holding counsel with the reavers.

"Let each one," he said, "bring a stone and build a cairn. Those who come back alive from the Bruiden will each one lift his stone again, and the stones that remain will be a monument to the dead. I will go to spy out the prey."

Ingcel set out with fifteen men, and the reavers began to build the cairn. The five scions of Donn Dessa lit a great beacon-fire. "It will guide Ingcel!" they said, but they meant it for Conary.

Ingcel returned, and they all gathered round him.

"What tidings hast thou of the Bruiden? "they asked.

"Royal and kingly is the house, and royal and kingly are the folk within it. My share of luck in the spoils of it."

"Tell us, O Ingcel, what thou sawest within the Bruiden this night?"

"I saw many guest-places and noble guests, weapons, instruments of music, and golden cups. The first man that I saw when I looked in was large and fair. He had a shield with five golden circles and a five-barbed spear a golden hilted sword at his hand and a brooch of silver in his mantle. About him were nine warriors, all goodly alike, all young and of one appearance. Rods of gold in their mantles, shields of bronze on their arms, ivory-hiked swords beside them. Who are these, Fer Rogain?"

"Well I know them," said Fer Rogain. "The large fair man is Cormac Conloingeas, son of the King of Ulaidh, and the men about him are his nine comrades. Valiant are the champions and valiant is Cormac. They will slay many of the reavers to-night."

"Woe is me!" said Lomna the Fool, "that evil should come to the Bruiden to-night. Well might the place be spared for sake of Cormac!"

"Thy voice is broken, O Lomna," said Ingcel, "thou art no warrior. Hide thy head. No man shall say of me that I went back from a raid, but let the scions of Donn Dessa go back if they have a mind to it."

"We have sworn an oath to thee," said Fer Rogain, "and while life remains to us we will abide by it."

Tell us," said Fer Gar," whom thou sawest?"

"After that I saw a wondrous champion with a tree of red-gold hair on him. It was curly as a ram's fleece and covered him like a mantle, and though a sackful of red nuts were spilled on his crown not one would fall to the ground but each would stick on the curls and twists and swordlets of that hair. He had a purple tufted cloak on him, and his red shield had plates of gold with rivets of white bronze between the plates. His eyes were of two colours--one black, the other blue. Who is that man, Fer Rogain?"

"It is Conall Carnach, well-beloved of Conary. That man is a hero among heroes. His shield has shown its gold in many a fight, and his three-ridged spear has brought down many a strong high-headed warrior. He, single-handed, can hold against you seven doors of the Bruiden, and if he chance to come outside he will go through you like a hawk through sparrows or a wolf through sheep, and multitudinous as the stars in heaven will be the fragments of your cloven heads and shattered bones."

"Woe is me," said Lomna the Fool, "that evil should come to Conall Carnach! If heed were given to me the Destruction would not be wrought to-night!"

"Clouds of weakness to thee!" said Ingcel, "thou art no warrior, Lomna."

"Easy is it for thee to speak loud-mouthed," said Lomna, "thou wilt ruin a country not thine own and carry off the head of a king that is a stranger. But woe is me, my head will be the first one lopped this night. It will be tossed among once-kindly spears. Woe is me for Conary!"

Next," said Ingcel, "I saw three champions together; all of them large and fierce of aspect. One had a black shield with ornaments of gold and a cloak flecked with red. His hair was short and brown. The other two had grizzled locks and long, black swords. With them was a wondrous spear, a wizard-weapon, plunged in a cauldron of black sleepy liquid. One of the warriors lifted it out, and as he held it by the haft the spear writhed and twisted in his grasp like a living thing and flames ran along the blade so that he was forced to plunge it again in the black liquid. What strange weapon was that, Fer Rogain?"

"That is the spear brought over the rim of the world for Lugh the Long-Handed. He is the only one who can wield it and he smote the hosts of the Fomor with it and slew Balor of the Evil Eye. Dubthach the Chafer of Ulaidh has the spear. The brown man was Muinremar, son of Seirgind; the other Sencha, son of Aileel."

"What sawest thou next?"

"I saw three fierce mis-shapen ones beside the wall. Big-mouthed and horrible, with grinning teeth."

"Those are the chiefs of the Fomor from the Land of Darkness. They are hostages with Conary lest their people destroy the harvests or molest the flocks and herds. An evil time thy reavers will have when those are loosed against them."

"Woe is me!" said Lomna the Fool, "wise were it to stay the Destruction this night!"

"After that I saw a strange thing, Fer Rogain, "a huge battle-dividing champion with a shield beside him that could hold oceans in its boss. Two bare hills by him and the ridge of a mountain with two lakes. What meant this appearance, Fer Rogain?"

"It is Mac Cecht, the Champion, in his earth-form. Huge is Mac Cecht, terrible is Mac Cecht, an earth-shaker, a tamer of heroes: the bare hills were his knees, the mountain-ridge was his nose, the two lakes were his two eyes. He will break your warriors as a flail breaks corn, they will be threshed in pieces and the ravens will not pick the fragments of their bones out of the sodden ground."

The terror of Mac Cecht fell on the reavers at this word and they went back three ridges:

but Ingcel did not go back.

"Tell me," he said to Fer Rogain, "who were the nine beautiful folk with hair outflowing and cloaks about them like silver mist? A ring of gold on each man's thumb; nine rings of crystal on their arms. Gold in their ears, torques of silver round their necks, silver rods in their hands, and above them on the wall nine bags with golden ornaments."

"Those are Conary's harpers: thou hast never heard ought like their harping."

"Woe is me!" said Lomna the Fool, "that they should be scattered to-night! Praise and songs of honour would the man have who would stay the Destruction to-night!"

"I will not go back," said Ingcel.

"Easy for thee to speak loud-mouthed," said Lomna, "thou wilt bring ruin to a country not thine own and carry off the head of a king that is a stranger. Woe is me, my head will be the first one lopped!"

"Mayhap 'tis mine will be the first," said Ingcel.

"Nay," said Lomna the Fool, "thou wilt come safely out of the Destruction, thou and thy brothers, Echell and the Yearling of the Reavers--I foresee it--but I shall be the first to fall. Woe is me!"

"Whom saw you next O Ingcel," said Fer Rogain.

"I saw three youths, beautiful as the harpers, with hair outflowing and mantles of silver mist. In front of each a cup of crystal filled with water, on the water a floating branch of cress."

"Those were three of Conary's nine cup-bearers who go about with him continually. All the nine are from the Faery Hills."

"I saw after that, Fer Rogain, three strange beings. Red they were as the heart of a flame--spectral, awesome--and they sat in a guest-place like folk of honour."

"Those are the banished ones, the bearers of dule, evil-omened. They will slay many to-night, but no man will slay them. They are of the Hidden People, strong and terrible."

"Alas!" said Lomna the Fool, "Conary is but a dead man if these be in the same house with him to-night! Woe is me for Conary, the High Noble Flame of the World!"

Fer Rogain said nothing but he held his cloak before his eyes and his tears wetted it.

"Then," said Ingcel, " I saw a fair young boy seated on a chair of silver with three times fifty youths round him on chairs of silver. He had a cloak on him the colour of an amethyst and a light of three colours was about his head so that his hair looked green and purple and gold. Strange it was to see that young boy. He had fifteen bulrushes in his hand, a thorn at the point of each one, and he was weeping and lamenting where he sat. Who is he, Fer Rogain?"

It was then Fer Rogain shed tears of blood. He had no voice to answer.

"It is Le-Fri-Flaith," said Lomna, " Conary's son! Woe is me for Le-Fri-Flaith! Dear is that young prince to every one that looks on him! A bosom-solace of warriors, a bough that has blossomed in winter! Woe is me for Le-Fri-Flaith!"

"Then," said Ingcel, "I saw a richly ornamented guest-place hung with curtains of woven silver. Midmost of it was the goodliest man I have ever looked on. His hair was like gold that boils over the melting pot. His face was like the sun on a May morning and his mantle had the changing colours of the day; now it was one colour, now another, and again every colour at once. About his head a wheel of light flashed and pulsed continually. Two warriors were with him, one on either side, white and fair to look on. Who was that man, Fer Rogain?"

"That man was Conary, the noblest of the world's kings. He is without blemish or defect, the joy-bringer, the wise in counsel, the invincible. He, himself, will keep every door of the nine doors to-night. There is none among you that can slay him, nor can anything slay him but thirst, and he will not be without water to-night. What was the High King doing when you looked, Ingcel the One-Eyed?"

"He was sleeping with his feet in the lap of one warrior and his head in the lap of the other. As I looked he started up and said:

"'There is a wind of terror about me! I hear Ossur my hound lamenting.'

"Those beside him said nothing, and he slept and started again. Three times he wakened and said: 'There is a wind of terror about me and a lamentation that quenches laughter; it is Ossur my hound.' The third time those beside him said:

"'It is not your hound that is making lamentation, Conary, but your son.'

"Then Conary sat up wide-eyed and said:

"'Tuichinne, my juggler, throw up the golden apples and the silver shields and set the bright swords whirling for Le-Fri-Flaith!'

"Then stepped forward a man in a many-coloured mantle with gold rings in his ears. He had nine shields and nine swords and nine golden apples and he cast them one after the other into the air and kept them whirling and passing each other, rising and falling like bees about their home in a day of Summer. The young prince did not smile to see them, and all at once they clashed, together and fell with a scream to the floor. The man with the mantle picked them up. He set them whirling again. Again they screamed and fell to the floor. He picked them up and set them whirling a third time. They screamed and fell.

"'Never before, O Tuichinne,' said the king, 'has skill failed thee; why does it fail thee tonight?'

'Good the cause,' said Tuichinne, 'there is an evil thing in front of the Bruiden, a terrible eye regards me from the door.'

"Then that strange young boy that was a-wailing lifted up his face and shook the bulrushes in his hand towards the door; fifteen bulrushes he had, and I had fifteen men. Each man lost the sight of his right eye, and a third of my own eye was darkened. Very powerful is that boy, but I will darken his house about him to-night."

"Woe is me," said Lomna the Fool, "the Destruction is come upon us! A wind of keening is before me! Ochone for Conary! Ochone for Le-Fri-Flaith! Ochone for the goodly chiefs that will die to-night!"

"Rise up, my Sea-Wolves," said Ingcel, "and seek your prey!"

They rose up and went forward in the darkness till they spread themselves about the Bruiden Da Derga.

"There are armed men without!" said Conall Carnach and he leaped to his weapons. All the chiefs leaped to their weapons and ran to keep the doors. Lomna the Fool was the first who tried to enter and his head was shorn from him and tossed among the spears. Conall Carnach burst out of the Bruiden and great was the slaughter he made. The reavers brought fire to the walls and carved door-posts of red yew. Three times the flames caught hold and three times those within quenched the fire. The reavers were beaten back, and their men of might and magic consulted together as to what they should do.

"If water were lacking in the Bruiden," they said, "we would have the victory."

They put a spell on the water. They went again to the attack, and so fierce was the fighting that Conary took his weapons to keep the door. He made the champion's laneway at every door, and the heat and toil of the conflict made him a-thirst.

"Give me to drink! " he cried, and the chief cup-bearer lifted the golden cup that was always full of water for Conary, and lo! it was empty! The water had been poured on the flames. The cup-bearer cried to his fellows: "Give me water from your cups, for the King's cup is empty!"

And lo! their cups were empty too! They sought for water in the stream that went through the Bruiden, the Dodder it was named, and the Dodder was dried up at its fountain-head.

They went to Conary, and said:

"O King, thy cup that was never empty is empty to-night, and there is no water to fill it."

"What Champion will fill my cup to-night?" said the King, and no one answered. Then he cried on Mac Cecht, and Mac Cecht came to him.

"Get me a drink, thou Tamer of Heroes, for thirst consumes me."

"It is not for a little water that I should leave thee, King," said Mac Cecht; "ask a drink of thy cup-bearers."

"My drinking cup is empty," said the King, "and my cup-bearers cannot fill it. Fill it thou, Mac Cecht."

"If I leave thee, Conary, thou wilt get thy death in this Bruiden."

"I get death now, for thirst like raging fire consumes me."

"Thou shalt have thy drink! " said Mac Cecht, and took the goblet. He cast his eyes round the Bruiden and beheld the son of Conary in his chair of silver. "If there is only one thing saved out of the Bruiden this night it will be Le-Fri-Flaith!" he said: and he took the young prince in his arms and wrapped his mantle closely round him. Under his shield arm he had him, and with his sword bare he went out of the Bruiden.

He made a path for himself through the reavers. He went to the well that was nearest there was no water in the well. He went to the River Liffey; there was no water in the Liffey. He went to the River Boyne; there was no water in the Boyne. "Hard it is to fill my cup to-night," said Mac Cecht, and he went to the River Shannon; there was no water in the Shannon. He went to every lake and river in Ireland that night, and every lake and river was empty of water. "I will go to my own lake," he said," it will not hide itself from me to-night!"

He went to the Uaran Garad on Magh Ai, and lo! his own lake was empty of water! He searched the lake; he searched it three times over, but he could not find a single drop of water. He was leaving the place when a little bird rose up before him shaking the water from its wings.

"A blessing be about thee and upon thee for ever little bird, little light above the water, thou hast saved the life of Conary to-night!" He saw the lake of Uaran Garad, and he filled the drinking cup of Conary with water. The dew came out on the grass again and the whiteness of morning climbed into the sky.

"Look at the good light in the East, Le-Fri-Flaith!" he said, and drew back the covering mantle from Conary's young son. Le-Fri-Flaith was dead!

Mac Cecht laid the body down on the young grass. He straightened the limbs. He drew the curls of Le-Fri-Flaith's hair through his fingers. "It is seven years to-day since I first saw thee, son of Conary, and never until now did a sight of thee bring grief." He tore boughs from a pine-tree and covered Le-Fri-Flaith from head to foot. Then he took the drinking cup and set his face towards Conary.

Speedy was his going till he reached the Bruiden. It was a desolation that he saw before him. The house was charred and ruined with fire. All the Chiefs had gone from it. The reavers had gone from it. Conary, the king, was lying dead. A wolf prowled by him. Mac Cecht seized the wolf and crushed it with his hands. He lifted up the dead king.

"O Conary," he said, "never believe that Mac Cecht failed thee. Here is the drink."

He poured the water down the throat of Conary.

"Is the drink good, O King?" he said; and out of the other world the voice of Conary answered:

"It is a good drink, Mac Cecht."