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By Loch and by Lin
Tales from Scottish Ballads
By Sorche Nic Leodhas
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1969 Leclaire G. Alger
All rights reserved.
The Tale of the Lay of the Smithy
KNOW then, all who listen, that in the beginning the Finne, the noble company of Finn, had neither swords nor lances. Shields they had, fashioned of cowhide stretched upon frames of willow withes, and helmets and arm protectors of leather. Gold they had, also, cunningly worked by craftsmen among them into rings and chains and other ornaments, and the secret of making colored enamels was known to them. But for weapons the Finne had naught but tunnachen, or pointed wooden poles and staves, hardened in the fire. The craft of the blacksmith was not known then in the land of the Finne.
Then upon a fair day a company of the Finne lay resting from the hunt on thick heaps of rushes strewn about the edge of the machair, that grassland above the shore of the sea. Six of them there were, and they were Osein, Coilte, Diarmid, Osgar the son of Osein, Goll MacMorna, and the fair Finn MacChumhail himself.
While they lay, idly talking, there came a beangruagach, a giant woman, walking under the waters along the sands at the bottom of the sea. When she reached the shallows she came striding up through the white-topped waves that broke upon the shore.
Finn and his company rose and stood together to watch her as she came up from the sea. Although she was a giant, it was not her size that made the flesh of the heroes creep with horror. She was but little taller than the Finne, who were themselves big men. It was her ugliness, which was beyond believing, from which they shrank.
The yellow hair that sprang from her head was coarse, and spiky like an old thorn bush, and every hair stood quivering on end. She had but one eye and that one in the middle of her forehead, encircled by long matted dark eyelashes, and a black furry eyebrow overhung the eye. Her nostrils were broad and flat and flaring, like the snout of a boar, her teeth the length of a grown man's finger, and from each corner of her wide mouth projected a long sharp fang, and her skin was scaly like that of a fish.
Upon her back she bore an anvil, strapped to her shoulders by stout woven bands that crossed upon her breast and were wound thrice about her waist. Through the bands were thrust a great heavy hammer, a bellows, and a pair of tongs.
Finn, for the sake of courtesy, hid his loathing and spoke to the creature as she came toward him.
"Who are you, stranger?" he asked. "Whence have you come and what brings you to the land of Finne, O woman from the sea?"
"I am known as the uallach gobhain, the blacksmith to whom all the smithy's mysteries are known. My name is Lon Lonnrach, and I am the daughter of the Yellow Muilearteach. I have come here from Lochlan, that far country across the surging sea, to set up for myself a smithy where I shall forge weapons such as your eyes have ne'er beheld."
"Shall my eyes not behold them now, then?" asked Finn. "We will come with you to see you set up your smithy."
"That you will not if I can help it!" said the giant woman, and turning away from Finn she hastened across the plain, and her feet sped so swiftly that soon she was out of sight. But the Finne lost no time in taking up her trail, following where her footprints led.
Over the machair and over the moor strode the beangruagach, Lon Lonnrach. She leaped up the yellow hill beyond the plain and down the other side. She climbed up and down a green hill and a brown hill, but her feet did not falter on the way. Then she came to a hill that was neither yellow nor green, nor was it brown. The earth upon it showed dark through patches of heather, and it was as red as if the blood of warriors had been spilled upon the ground.
At the foot of the hill the giant woman built her smithy, and placed her anvil within it. She built a fire of birchwood beside the anvil, adding fuel and blowing upon it with her bellows until the flame leaped high and the heart of the fire, like the sun at midday, glowed too brightly for the eye to look upon.
She cast red earth from the hill on the fire and melted it, and worked it into a fiery ball. Taking the ball with her tongs she laid it on the anvil, and with her hammer she beat it with all her might, and her arm moved so swiftly it seemed that the smith had seven hands. She shaped the glowing metal into a blade, and as she worked she murmured to it, whispering magic runes, until the blade took form and leaped on the anvil and sang back to her, and so the sword was born.
The Finne, in the pursuit of Lon Lonnrach, the giant woman, met and passed a bard of their clan. He was curious to know what game they tracked so hotly, so he turned about and followed after them.
While the sword was yet in the making the Finne came to the smithy and stood peering through the narrow slit that served for a door, watching the gruagach at her work. As the blade on the anvil took shape beneath her hammer, Finn, impatient to see the weapon closer, put a hand on either side of the doorway and tore the opening wider. He passed into the smithy and went to stand at the beangruagach's side. And after him came Osein, Coilte, Diarmid, Osgar the son of Osein, and Goll MacMorna, and presently the bard of the clan, having found his way to them at last, came in to join them.
The gruagach, until the shining blade was finished, paid the intruders no heed. Then she laid the sword aside and set the hammer against the anvil on the ground. She turned to Finn and a smile full of evil and malice showed on her face. "Since you came unbidden, Finn MacChumhail, you are unwelcome," said she. "Better for you 'twould be, if you had stayed behind."
Finn had eyes for naught but the sword. His heart leaped for joy at the sight of the gleaming weapon.
"Whether I be welcome or not is of little consequence," he said. "Strike a bargain with me, O uallach gobhain, to whom the smithy's mysteries are known. What will you take for this blade of earth and fire, and for others like it, one for each of my chiefs who are with me here?"
"The earth's wealth, the sea's wealth would not purchase even one sword were I in Lochlan," said Lon Lonnrach the beangruagach. "But I am in a strange land and far from my home. What do you offer me for the swords?"
"For each sword I will give ten golden chains, each the length of the sword, and golden armlets and wristlets enough to cover each sword from end to end," said Finn.
With a screech of scornful laughter the giant woman replied, "I see your lips move, and your mouth seems to form words, but no sound do I hear. You must speak louder—and to better purpose, Finn MacChumhail!"
"Let us have done with the haggling!" Finn shouted. "Waste no time in idle talk. Tell me what price you set upon the blades!"
"For each sword you must give me one hundred golden chains, and one hundred wristlets, one hundred armlets, one hundred finger rings, all of ruddy gold."
The chiefs at Finn's side stirred uneasily and protested.
"Six hundred chains, six hundred wristlets, six hundred armlets!" exclaimed Osein.
"And beside, six hundred rings," Diarmid added.
"'Tis a hard bargain you drive, Lon Lonnrach," said Goll MacMorna, frowning.
"Take it or not, as you please," the gruagach said.
But Finn spoke up, silencing the others. "You shall have the price you demand," he told Lon Lonnrach. "Make us the swords."
Six were the days of the forging of the swords, counting the day on which the first one was made, until the day upon which the last blow of the hammer was given to the last blade on the anvil. The fire glowed hotly, the red earth turned to a molten ball in the leaping flames, the hammer beat out its song, and a sword was finished and laid by with the others beside the anvil, day by day. Early in the morn of the fifth day, Finn sent Goll MacMorna home to fetch the price of the swords. Toward midday of the sixth day, Goll, returning, approached the smithy with the gold chains and armlets, the wristlets and rings, in a great sack on his back.
When he was coming through the glen that led to the smithy he met the bard of the clan who had come to meet him.
"There's trouble in store, Goll MacMorna," the bard said. "Set down your burden and hear what I have to say."
Goll was not unwilling, since his load was heavy, and he had walked far with it that day. He lowered the sack to the ground and sat down beside it, and waited for the bard to speak again.
"From the day my eyes first beheld Lon Lonnrach I have mistrusted her and doubted her goodwill toward the Finne," the bard told Goll MacMorna. "She is a creature of deceit and lies, as foul within as she is hideous to see. In the long years of my life I have learned of some of the ways of magic, and among them the power to read the thoughts of others. Deep and dark is the mind of Lon Lonnrach, and full of wickedness. But she has not been able to hide from me the plan she has made to destroy Finn and his chiefs."
"What can she do against us?" scoffed Goll MacMorna. "There being six of us, and each man of us nearly as big as herself."
"By wiles and witchcraft," said the bard.
"Have you not warned Finn and the others, that they may be on their guard?" asked Goll.
"Warned them? Have I not tried!" cried the bard. "They are all too bemused and enchanted by the beauty of the blades, the like of which they have not seen before in all their days. They are like men in a trance! When I speak they will not listen. Finn says, 'Leave me! I will talk to you another day.' Coilte and Osgar and Osein bid me, 'Be off!' and as for Diarmid, he shakes his head as if I were a gadfly buzzing around it, and says nothing at all."
"Aye," said Goll MacMorna. "I see how it is. Well, then, since there is no one else who will listen to you, you may as well tell me."
"This gruagach keeps in her mind the secret of the forging of battle weapons. She is the guardian of the uallach gobhain, the mysteries of the smithy, and calls herself by that name. One of the secrets in her mind concerns the tempering of the swords she makes. No sword beaten out upon her anvil will ever be battle-worthy unless it is bathed in blood before it is ten days old."
"Hoo!" grunted Goll MacMorna, beginning to understand.
"Aye!" said the bard. "What the miserable ugly creature has in her mind is to give the swords their first taste of blood by plunging them into the hearts of Finn and his chiefs. She has not forgotten you, Goll MacMorna. You will be counted with the dead—if she succeeds."
"Life is sweet to me, O bard my kinsman," said Goll. "I am too young to yield it willingly. But what of Finn and the others? Here we sit, wasting the precious moments, and there is no telling what may be happening to them."
"They are safe for the time," the bard told him. "She has thrown dust in their eyes, which has put them into a deep sleep. It is for you she waits, Goll MacMorna, and the treasure you bring to pay for the swords. She will not harm them until she is sure of the gold. But having laid hold of that, her plan is to get rid of you first. The others, lost in their slumbers, will be at her mercy then."
"So it is with my blood she means to temper the first sword!" said Goll MacMorna. "I am not sure her choice has been wise." His mouth set grimly. "There seems to be an even chance. She dies or I do. Well," he said, as he rose and shouldered the sack of gold. "Perhaps I will be able to tip the balance my way."
Into the smithy came Goll MacMorna, bearing the sack of golden chains and armlets, wristlets and rings, upon his shoulder. He saw Osein, Coilte, Diarmid, Osgar the son of Osein, and the fair Finn himself, lying deep in slumber against the farther wall. The beangruagach turned from the forge and her one eye glistened as she beheld the sack of gold. "Welcome!" she said, speaking fair words in a soft voice. "You came in good time. Here is the last of the six swords—just ready, Goll MacMorna, for you." She came forward, the sword in her outstretched hand. "Do you see anything that needs to be done yet?" she asked as, smiling horribly, she approached him.
"That I will have to see for myself!" said Goll MacMorna. He dropped the heavy sack from his shoulder with a sudden jerk that sent it thumping down upon the woman's toes. "Aie! My toes! My toes!" she cried. "My toes are broken! Broken! Broken!" She forgot the sword and her intention to temper it in Goll MacMorna's blood. She thought only of the pain that she felt, and stooped to rub her aching toes.
Goll MacMorna snatched the sword from the hand of Lon Lonnrach. "There is just one thing it needs!" he said, and he plunged in into the gruagach's treacherous heart. With an air of satisfaction Goll MacMorna looked at the blade as he drew it out. "This sword is well-tempered," he told the bard. "I will have this one for my own."
When Finn and his chiefs were roused from the sleep that was caused by the magic dust, each man took a sword for himself and tempered it in Lon Lonnrach's blood. Then Finn turned to his chiefs. "I am a great fool," said Finn MacChumhail. "I am a fool of fools, to trust a beangruagach, and one from the land of Lochlan beside, and put you all in peril of your lives!"
"The guilt is equally ours," said Osein.
"Did we hold you back?" asked Coilte.
"The business did not end badly," said Diarmid.
"No harm was done to anyone of us," said Osgar son of Osein.
"And the swords," said Goll MacMorna, "are ours. And the treasure as well."
Then the Finne made a bier of branches. They put the body of Lon Lonnrach, the hideous, treacherous, evil beangruagach upon the bier. They carried her over the brown hill, and over the green hill, and over the yellow hill and across the plain. They came to the shore and cast the body of Lon Lonnrach into the sea. There the waves took her and carried her back across the sea to Lochlan and cast her up on the shore from which she came. On the shore of Lochlan the Yellow Muilearteach, the father of Lon Lonnrach, waited for his daughter to come home with the swords and the stolen treasure. Her body was washed up at his feet. He saw the six wounds, made by the six swords Lon Lonnrach had forged in the land of the Finne. He shrieked wildly, and shook his fists and stamped his feet with rage, but all his fury could not bring the giant woman back to life again.
There was a great feasting in the land of the Finne, to honor Goll MacMorna, who had slain the beangruagach and saved the lives of Finn and his chiefs. The bard who followed them to the red hill made a new song about the adventure. He called the song "Duan na Ceardach" ("The Lay of the Smithy"), and it was sung for the first time at Goll MacMorna's feast.
At the time of the feast, each chief took his sword in his hand and gave it a name by which it would henceforth be known. These are the names of the six swords made by Lon Lonnrach the beangruagach, as set down by the bard in "The Lay of the Smithy":
Of Osgar son of Osein
Druidhe Lannach (Magic Blade)
Chruaidh Cosgarreach (Hardy Slayer)
Liobhanach (The Polisher)
Ceard nan gallan (The Tinker of Striplings)
Of Goll MacMorna
Fasdail (Make Sure)
Of Finn MacChumhail
Mac an Luine (Son of the Surge)
While the bard of the clan was reading the thoughts of Lon Lonnrach, he read also (and reading, learned and remembered) all the mysteries of the smithy that she had hidden there. The secret lore, the bard taught to men who used it for the good of the Finne.
Then there were blacksmiths throughout the land as there had never been before. The tunnachen, the fire-hardened poles and staves, were cast aside forever. Every warrior had his battle weapons, his dagger, his sword, and his spear, made according to the mysteries of the smithy, the uallach gobhain, by the mating of fire and red earth, beaten out by the hammer on the anvil in the same fashion that Lon Lonnrach had forged the six swords for Finn and his chiefs.CHAPTER 2
The Tale of the Lay of the Amadhain Mhor
IN the olden times long before our days there dwelt in Caledonia a fearless warrior who was of great renown throughout the land. Hosts fled from him in battle and no man could withstand his might. Far and wide, he was known as the Amadhain Mhor, the Great Fool, because he relied not upon his sword and his spear, but in combat would throw away his weapons and trust to the grasp and the strength of his own two arms. He had never felt defeat nor known the meaning of fear. Many great chiefs were subdued by him and many a knee was bent to pay him homage, and at last no one dared to challenge his rule.
Then said the Amadhain Mhor, "There is no one left to stand against me. Shall the sinews of my good arm wither for lack of use? I shall sail over the sea to Lochlan and seek a worthy opponent there."
In his tall-masted ship with the black sails the Amadhain Mhor set forth to Lochlan. He took no servants, no page to wait upon his needs. His one companion was his young wife, Gealmhin, the delicate fair one, whom he loved well.
Excerpted from By Loch and by Lin by Sorche Nic Leodhas. Copyright © 1969 Leclaire G. Alger. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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