EVENING was drawing nigh, and the Fianna-Finn had
decided to hunt no more that day. The hounds were
whistled to heel, and a sober, homeward march began.
For men will walk soberly in the evening, however they
go in the day, and dogs will take the mood from their
They were pacing so, through the golden-shafted,
tender-coloured eve, when a fawn leaped suddenly from
covert, and, with that leap, all quietness vanished: the
men shouted, the dogs gave tongue, and a furious chase
Fionn loved a chase at any hour, and, with Bran and
Sceó1an, he outstripped the men and dogs of his troop,
until nothing remained in the limpid world but Fionn,
the two hounds, and the nimble, beautiful fawn. These,
and the occasional boulders, round which they raced, or
over which they scrambled; the solitary tree which dozed
aloof and beautiful in the path, the occasional clump of
trees that hived sweet shadow as a hive hoards honey, and
the rustling grass that stretched to infinity, and that moved
and crept and swung under the breeze in endless, rhythmic
In his wildest moment Fionn was thoughtful, and now,
although running hard, he was thoughtful. There was
no movement of his beloved hounds that he did not know;
not a twitch or fling of the head, not a cock of the ears or
tail that was not significant to him. But on this chase
whatever signs the dogs gave were not understood by
He had never seen them in such eager flight. They
were almost utterly absorbed in it, but they did not whine
with eagerness, nor did they cast any glance towards him
for the encouraging word which he never failed to give
when they sought it.
They did look at him, but it was a look which he could
not comprehend. There was a question and a statement
in those deep eyes, and he could not understand what that
question might be, nor what it was they sought to convey.
Now and again one of the dogs turned a head in full flight,
and stared, not at Fionn, but distantly backwards, over
the spreading and swelling plain where their companions
of the hunt had disappeared.
"They are looking for the other hounds," said Fionn.
"And yet they do not give tongue! Tongue it, a
Vran!" he shouted, "bell it out, a Heólan!"
It was then they looked at him, the look which he
could not understand and had never seen on a chase. They
did not tongue it, nor bell it, but they added silence to
silence and speed to speed, until the lean grey bodies were
one pucker and lashing of movement.
"They do not want the other dogs to hear or to come
on this chase," he murmured, and he wondered what might
be passing within those slender heads.
"The fawn runs well," his thought continued. "What
is it, a Vran, my heart? After her, a Heólan! Hist and
away, my loves!"
"There is going and to spare in that beast yet," his
mind went on. "She is not stretched to the full, nor half
stretched. She may outrun even Bran," he thought ragingly.
They were racing through a smooth valley in a steady,
beautiful, speedy flight when, suddenly, the fawn stopped
and lay on the grass, and it lay with the calm of an animal
that has no fear, and the leisure of one that is not pressed.
"Here is a change," said Fionn, staring in astonishment.
"She is not winded," he said. "What is she lying down
But Bran and Sceólan did not stop; they added another
inch to their long-stretched easy bodies, and came up on the
"It is an easy kill," said Fionn regretfully. "They
have her," he cried.
But he was again astonished, for the dogs did not kill.
They leaped and played about the fawn, licking its face,
and rubbing delighted noses against its neck.
Fionn came up then. His long spear was lowered in
his fist at the thrust, and his sharp knife was in its sheath,
but he did not use them, for the fawn and the two hounds
began to play round him, and the fawn was as affectionate
towards him as the hounds were; so that when a velvet
nose was thrust in his palm, it was as often a fawn's muzzle
as a hound's.
In that joyous company he came to wide Allen of Leinster,
where the people were surprised to see the hounds and the
fawn and the Chief and none other of the hunters that had
set out with them.
When the others reached home, the Chief told of his
chase, and it was agreed that such a fawn must not be killed,
but that it should be kept and well treated, and that it
should be the pet fawn of the Fianna. But some of those
who remembered Bran's parentage thought that as Bran
herself had come from the Shí so this fawn might have come
out of the Shí also.
Late that night, when he was preparing for rest, the door
of Fionn's chamber opened gently and a young woman
came into the room. The captain stared at her, as he well
might, for he had never seen or imagined to see a woman
so beautiful as this was. Indeed, she was not a woman, but
a young girl, and her bearing was so gently noble, her look
so modestly high, that the champion dared scarcely look at
her, although he could not by any means have looked away.
As she stood within the doorway, smiling, and shy as
a flower, beautifully timid as a fawn, the Chief communed
with his heart:
"She is the Sky-woman of the Dawn," he said. "She
is the light on the foam. She is white and odorous as an
apple-blossom. She smells of spice and honey. She is my
beloved beyond the women of the world. She shall never
be taken from me."
And that thought was delight and anguish to him:
delight because of such sweet prospect, anguish because it
was not yet realised, and might not be.
As the dogs had looked at him on the chase with a
look that he did not understand, so she looked at him, and
in her regard there was a question that baffled him and a
statement which he could not follow.
He spoke to her then, mastering his heart to do it.
"I do not seem to know you," he said.
"You do not know me indeed," she replied.
"It is the more wonderful," he continued gently,
"for I should know every person that is here. What do
you require from me?"
"I beg your protection, royal captain."
"I give that to all," he answered. "Against whom
do you desire protection?"
"I am in terror of the Fear Doirche."
"The Dark Man of the Shí?"
"He is my enemy," she said.
"He is mine now," said Fionn. "Tell me your
"My name is Saeve,1 and I am a woman of Faery,"
she commenced. "In the Shí many men gave me their
love, but I gave my love to no man of my country."
"That was not reasonable," the other chided with a
"I was contented," she replied, "and what we do
not want we do not lack. But if my love went anywhere
it went to a mortal, a man of the men of Ireland."
"By my hand," said Fionn in mortal distress, "I marvel
who that man can be!"
"He is known to you," she murmured. "I lived thus
in the peace of Faery, hearing often of my mortal champion,
for the rumour of his great deeds had gone through the Shí,
until a day came when the Black Magician of the [Tuatha Dé Danann]2
put his eye on me, and, after that day, in whatever
direction I looked I saw his eye."
She stopped at that, and the terror that was in her heart
was on her face.
"He is everywhere," she whispered. "He is in the
bushes, and on the hill. He looked up at me from the
water, and he stared down on me from the sky. His voice
commands out of the spaces, and it demands secretly in the
heart. He is not here or there, he is in all places at all
times. I cannot escape from him," she said, "and I
am afraid," and at that she wept noiselessly and stared on
"He is my enemy," Fionn growled. "I name him as
"You will protect me?" she implored.
"Where I am let him not come," said Fionn. "I also
have knowledge. I am Fionn, the son of Uail, the son of
Baiscne, a man among men and a god where the gods
"He asked me in marriage," she continued, "but my
mind was full of my own dear hero, and I refused the Dark
"That was your right, and I swear by my hand that if
the man you desire is alive and unmarried he shall marry
you or he will answer to me for the refusal."
"He is not married," said Saeve, "and you have small
control over him."
The Chief frowned thoughtfully.
"Except the High King and the kings I have authority
in this land."
"What man has authority over himself?" said Saeve.
"Do you mean that I am the man you seek?" said
"It is to yourself I gave my love," she replied.
"This is good news," Fionn cried joyfully, "for the
moment you came through the door I loved and desired
you, and the thought that you wished for another man
went into my heart like a sword."
Indeed, Fionn loved Saeve as he had not loved a woman
before and would never love one again. He loved her as
he had never loved anything before. He could not bear
to be away from her. When he saw her he did not see
the world, and when he saw the world without her it was
as though he saw nothing, or as if he looked on a prospect
that was bleak and depressing. The belling of a stag had
been music to Fionn, but when Saeve spoke that was sound
enough for him. He had loved to hear the cuckoo calling
in the spring from the tree that is highest in the hedge,
or the blackbird's jolly whistle in an autumn bush, or the
thin, sweet enchantment that comes to the mind when a
lark thrills out of sight in the air and the hushed fields
listen to the song. But his wife's voice was sweeter to Fionn
than the singing of a lark. She filled him with wonder and
surmise. There was magic in the tips of her fingers. Her
thin palm ravished him. Her slender foot set his heart
beating; and whatever way her head moved there came
a new shape of beauty to her face.
"She is always new," said Fionn. "She is always
better than any other woman; she is always better than
He attended no more to the Fianna. He ceased to
hunt. He did not listen to the songs of poets or the curious
sayings of magicians, for all of these were in his wife, and
something that was beyond these was in her also.
"She is this world and the next one; she is completion," said Fionn.
It happened that the men of Lochlann came on an expedition
against Ireland. A monstrous fleet rounded the
bluffs of Ben Edair, and the Danes landed there, to prepare
an attack which would render them masters of the country.
Fionn and the Fianna-Finn marched against them. He
did not like the men of Lochlann at any time, but this
time he moved against them in wrath, for not only were
they attacking Ireland, but they had come between him
and the deepest joy his life had known.
It was a hard fight, but a short one. The Lochlannachs
were driven back to their ships, and within a week the only
Danes remaining in Ireland were those that had been buried
That finished, he left the victorious Fianna and returned
swiftly to the plain of Allen, for he could not bear
to be one unnecessary day parted from Saeve.
"You are not leaving us!" exclaimed Goll mac
"I must go," Fionn replied.
"You will not desert the victory feast," Conán reproached him.
"Stay with us, Chief," Caelte begged.
"What is a feast without Fionn?" they complained.
But he would not stay.
"By my hand," he cried, "I must go. She will be
looking for me from the window."
"That will happen indeed," Goll admitted.
"That will happen," cried Fionn. "And when she sees
me far out on the plain, she will run through the great gate
to meet me."
"It would be the queer wife would neglect that run,"
"I shall hold her hand again," Fionn entrusted to
"You will do that, surely."
"I shall look into her face," his lord insisted.
But he saw that not even beloved Caelte understood
the meaning of that, and he knew sadly and yet proudly
that what he meant could not be explained by any one and
could not be comprehended by any one.
"You are in love, dear heart," said Caelte.
"In love he is," Conán grumbled. "A cordial for
women, a disease for men, a state of wretchedness."
"Wretched in truth," the Chief murmured. "Love
makes us poor. We have not eyes enough to see all that
is to be seen, nor hands enough to seize the tenth of all
we want. When I look in her eyes I am tormented
because I am not looking at her lips, and when I see
her lips my soul cries out, "Look at her eyes, look at her
"That is how it happens," said Goll rememberingly.
"That way and no other," Caelte agreed.
And the champions looked backwards in time on these
lips and those, and knew their Chief would go.
When Fionn came in sight of the great keep his blood
and his feet quickened, and now and again he waved a
spear in the air.
"She does not see me yet," he thought mournfully.
"She cannot see me yet," he amended, reproaching
But his mind was troubled, for he thought also, or he
felt without thinking, that had the positions been changed
he would have seen her at twice the distance.
"She thinks I have been unable to get away from the
battle, or that I was forced to remain for the feast."
And, without thinking it, he thought that had the
positions been changed he would have known that nothing
could retain the one that was absent.
"Women," he said, "are shamefaced, they do not like
to appear eager when others are observing them."
But he knew that he would not have known if others
were observing him, and that he would not have cared about
it if he had known. And he knew that his Saeve would not
have seen, and would not have cared for any eyes than his.
He gripped his spear on that reflection, and ran as he
had not run in his life, so that it was a panting, dishevelled
man that raced heavily through the gates of the great
Within the Dun there was disorder. Servants were
shouting to one another, and women were running to and fro
aimlessly, wringing their hands and screaming; and, when
they saw the Champion, those nearest to him ran away,
and there was a general effort on the part of every person
to get behind every other person. But Fionn caught the
eye of his butler, Gariv Cronán, the Rough Buzzer, and
"Come you here," he said.
And the Rough Buzzer came to him without a single
buzz in his body.
"Where is the Flower of Allen?" his master demanded.
"I do not know, master," the terrified servant replied.
"You do not know!" said Fionn. "Tell what you
And the man told him this story.
"When you had been away for a day the guards were
surprised. They were looking from the heights of the
Dun, and the Flower of Allen was with them. She, for
she had a quest's eye, called out that the master of the
Fianna was coming over the ridges to the Dun, and she
ran from the keep to meet you."
"It was not I," said Fionn.
"It bore your shape," replied Gariv Cronan. "It had
your armour and your face, and the dogs, Bran and Sceó1an,
were with it."
"They were with me," said Fionn.
"They seemed to be with it," said the servant humbly.
"Tell us this tale," cried Fionn.
"We were distrustful," the servant continued. "We
had never known Fionn to return from a combat before it
had been fought, and we knew you could not have reached
Ben Edair or encountered the Lochlannachs. So we urged
our lady to let us go out to meet you, but to remain herself
in the Dun."
"It was good urging," Fionn assented.
"She would not be advised," the servant wailed. She
cried to us, "Let me go to meet my love."
"Alas!" said Fionn.
"She cried on us, "Let me go to meet my husband,
the father of the child that is not born."
"Alas!" groaned deep-wounded Fionn.
"She ran towards your appearance that had your arms
stretched out to her."
At that wise Fionn put his hand before his eyes, seeing
all that happened.
"Tell on your tale," said he.
"She ran to those arms, and when she reached them
the figure lifted its hand. It touched her with a hazel
rod, and, while we looked, she disappeared, and where
she had been there was a fawn standing and shivering.
The fawn turned and bounded towards the gate of the Dun,
but the hounds that were by flew after her."
Fionn stared on him like a lost man.
"They took her by the throat," the shivering
"Ah!" cried Fionn in a terrible voice.
"And they dragged her back to the figure that seemed
to be Fionn. Three times she broke away and came
bounding to us, and three times the dogs took her by
the throat and dragged her back."
"You stood to look!" the Chief snarled.
"No, master, we ran, but she vanished as we got to her;
the great hounds vanished away, and that being that
seemed to be Fionn disappeared with them. We were left
in the rough grass, staring about us and at each other,
and listening to the moan of the wind and the terror of
"Forgive us, dear master," the servant cried.
But the great captain made him no answer. He stood
as though he were dumb and blind, and now and again
he beat terribly on his breast with his closed fist, as though
he would kill that within him which should be dead and
could not die. He went so, beating on his breast, to his
inner room in the Dun, and he was not seen again for the
rest of that day, nor until the sun rose over Moy Lifé in
For many years after that time, when he was not fighting
against the enemies of Ireland, Fionn was searching and
hunting through the length and breadth of the country
in the hope that he might again chance on his lovely lady
from the Shí. Through all that time he slept in misery
each night and he rose each day to grief. Whenever he
hunted he brought only the hounds that he trusted, Bran
and Sceó1an, Lomaire, Brod, and Lomlu; for if a fawn was
chased each of these five great dogs would know if that was
a fawn to be killed or one to be protected, and so there
was small danger to Saeve and a small hope of finding her.
Once, when seven years had passed in fruitless search,
Fionn and the chief nobles of the Fianna were hunting
Ben Gulbain. All the hounds of the Fianna were out,
for Fionn had now given up hope of encountering the
Flower of Allen. As the hunt swept along the sides of the
hill there arose a great outcry of hounds from a narrow
place high on the slope, and over all that uproar there came
the savage baying of Fionn's own dogs.
"What is this for?" said Fionn, and with his companions
he pressed to the spot whence the noise came.
"They are fighting all the hounds of the Fianna,"
cried a champion.
And they were. The five wise hounds were in a circle
and were giving battle to an hundred dogs at once. They
were bristling and terrible, and each bite from those great,
keen jaws was woe to the beast that received it. Nor did
they fight in silence as was their custom and training, but
between each onslaught the great heads were uplifted, and
they pealed loudly, mournfully, urgently, for their master.
"They are calling on me," he roared.
And with that he ran, as he had only once before run,
and the men who were nigh to him went racing as they
would not have run for their lives.
They came to the narrow place on the slope of the
mountain, and they saw the five great hounds in a circle
keeping off the other dogs, and in the middle of the ring
a little boy was standing. He had long, beautiful hair,
and he was naked. He was not daunted by the terrible
combat and clamour of the hounds. He did not look at
the hounds, but he stared like a young prince at Fionn
and the champions as they rushed towards him scattering
the pack with the butts of their spears. When the fight
was over, Bran and Sceólan ran whining to the little boy
and licked his hands.
"They do that to no one," said a bystander. "What
new master is this they have found?"
Fionn bent to the boy.
"Tell me, my little prince and pulse, what your name
is, and how you have come into the middle of a hunting-
pack, and why you are naked?"
But the boy did not understand the language of the
men of Ireland. He put his hand into Fionn's, and the
Chief felt as if that little hand had been put into his heart.
He lifted the lad to his great shoulder.
"We have caught something on this hunt," said he
to Caelte mac Ronan. "We must bring this treasure
home. You shall be one of the Fianna-Finn, my darling,"
he called upwards.
The boy looked down on him, and in the noble trust
and fearlessness of that regard Fionn's heart melted away.
"My little fawn!" he said.
And he remembered that other fawn. He set the boy
between his knees and stared at him earnestly and long.
"There is surely the same look," he said to his wakening
heart; "that is the very eye of Saeve."
The grief flooded out of his heart as at a stroke, and joy
foamed into it in one great tide. He marched back singing
to the encampment, and men saw once more the merry
Chief they had almost forgotten.
Just as at one time he could not be parted from Saeve, so
now he could not be separated from this boy. He had a
thousand names for him, each one more tender than the
last: "My Fawn, My Pulse, My Secret Little Treasure,"
or he would call him "My Music, My Blossoming Branch,
My Store in the Heart, My Soul." And the dogs were
as wild for the boy as Fionn was. He could sit in safety
among a pack that would have torn any man to pieces,
and the reason was that Bran and Sceó1an, with their three
whelps, followed him about like shadows. When he was
with the pack these five were with him, and woeful indeed
was the eye they turned on their comrades when these
pushed too closely or were not properly humble. They
thrashed the pack severally and collectively until every
hound in Fionn's kennels knew that the little lad was their
master, and that there was nothing in the world so sacred
as he was.
In no long time the five wise hounds could have given
over their guardianship, so complete was the recognition
of their young lord. But they did not so give over, for it
was not love they gave the lad but adoration.
Fionn even may have been embarrassed by their too
close attendance. If he had been able to do so he might
have spoken harshly to his dogs, but he could not; it was
unthinkable that he should; and the boy might have
spoken harshly to him if he had dared to do it. For this
was the order of Fionn's affection: first there was the boy;
next, Bran and Sceólan with their three whelps; then
Caelte mac Ronan, and from him down through the
champions. He loved them all, but it was along that precedence
his affections ran. The thorn that went into
Bran's foot ran into Fionn's also. The world knew it,
and there was not a champion but admitted sorrowfully
that there was reason for his love.
Little by little the boy came to understand their speech
and to speak it himself, and at last he was able to tell his
story to Fionn.
There were many blanks in the tale, for a young child
does not remember very well. Deeds grow old in a day
and are buried in a night. New memories come crowding
on old ones, and one must learn to forget as well as to
remember. A whole new life had come on this boy, a Hfe
that was instant and memorable, so that his present memories
blended into and obscured the past, and he could not be
quite sure if that which he told of had happened in this
world or in the world he had left.
"I used to live," he said, "in a wide, beautiful place.
There were hills and valleys there, and woods and streams,
but in whatever direction I went I came always to a cliff,
so tall it seemed to lean against the sky, and so straight that
even a goat would not have imagined to climb it."
"I do not know of any such place," Fionn mused.
"There is no such place in Ireland," said Caelte,
"but in the Shi there is such a place."
"There is in truth," said Fionn.
"I used to eat fruits and roots in the summer," the boy
continued, "but in the winter food was left for me in a
"Was there no one with you?" Fionn asked.
"No one, but a deer that loved me, and that I loved."
"Ah me!" cried Fionn in anguish, "tell me your tale,
"A dark stern man came often after us, and he used
to speak with the deer. Sometimes he talked gently and
softly and coaxingly, but at times again he would shout
loudly and in a harsh, angry voice. But whatever way
he talked the deer would draw away from him in dread,
and he always left her at last furiously."
"It is the Dark Magician of the [Tuatha Dé Danann]," cried
"It is indeed, my soul," said Caelte.
"The last time I saw the deer," the child continued,
"the dark man was speaking to her. He spoke for a long
time. He spoke gently and angrily, and gently and
angrily, so that I thought he would never stop talking,
but in the end he struck her with a hazel rod, so that she
was forced to follow him when he went away. She was
looking back at me all the time and she was crying so
bitterly that any one would pity her. I tried to follow her
also, but I could not move, and I cried after her too, with
rage and grief, until I could see her no more and hear her
no more. Then I fell on the grass, my senses went away
from me, and when I awoke I was on the hill in the middle
of the hounds where you found me."
That was the boy whom the Fianna called Oisín, or the
Little Fawn. He grew to be a great fighter afterwards,
and he was the chief maker of poems in the world. But
he was not yet finished with the Shí. He was to go back
into Faery when the time came, and to come thence again
to tell these tales, for it was by him these tales were told.
1. Sadb, or Sadhbh.
2. The source text has "Men of God", which could be confusing.
"Tuatha Dé Danann" means "People of the Goddess Danu".
Fer Doirich, lit. "The Dark Man" was an evil entity, and one
of the Tuatha Dé Danann.
Stephens, James, ed. Irish Fairy Tales.
London: The Macmillan Co., Ltd., 1920. 109-132.