Finn Mac Coolby Morgan Llywelyn
Somewhere in the shadowy borderland between myth and history lies the territory of Finn Mac Cool. Mightiest of the Irish heroes, leader of the invincible army of Fianna, he was a man of many faces: warrior, poet, lover, creator, and destroyer. Finn Mac Cool is a man taken from one of the lowest classes of Irish society, driven by ambition and strength to rise above
Somewhere in the shadowy borderland between myth and history lies the territory of Finn Mac Cool. Mightiest of the Irish heroes, leader of the invincible army of Fianna, he was a man of many faces: warrior, poet, lover, creator, and destroyer. Finn Mac Cool is a man taken from one of the lowest classes of Irish society, driven by ambition and strength to rise above his birth and bring new respect and status to his people.
He had it all and lost it all, but in the end he gained immortality. Finn Mac Cool is a novel of sweeping historical grandeur and awesome adventure.
At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.
“In addition to being fast paced and full of action, this novel is witty in its descriptions of how Finn's legends were seeded . . . . This is vintage Llywelyn, full of color and poetry and the wonderful flavor of real Irish speech.” Booklist
“She exhibits a mastery of complex, emotional themes . . . . Poignantly explores the duality between historical fact and fiction.” Irish American Post
Read an Excerpt
Finn Mac Cool
By Morgan Llywelyn
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 1994 Morgan Llywelyn
All rights reserved.
THE RED STAG BROKE COVER UNEXPECTEDLY. FINN AND his hounds were taken by surprise. The two dogs froze, waiting for his command. He had one glimpse into huge liquid eyes, pleading eyes; then the stag bounded away down the mountain, belling a warning.
Light from the westering sun burnished the deer's russet coat. North beyond Galway Bay, thick, pale clouds sagged with the weight of approaching winter. Sleet hissed on the wind.
Hot with life, the stag flickered like flame across a cold grey landscape.
"Red deer, red deer," Finn murmured, immobilized by beauty. A poem rose in him like spring water.
Shouts exploded behind him.
"Stag, a big one!"
"Kill it! Kill it!"
Men boiled past Finn, waving their spears and howling their hunger. His instincts briefly merged with theirs. His fingers tightened on the shaft of his spear, his muscles contracted for heft and hurl.
But the poem stopped him. The poem, growing in him.
"Hold where you are!" he cried. The two young hounds, Bran and Sceolaun, whined, but stood.
The men found it harder to obey. Momentum had already carried them past him. They were hunters and a stag was running. But they were also warriors of the Fíanna, and he was the new leader of their particular fían of nine.
He called himself Finn Mac Cool.
Planting their spears on the slope to brace themselves, the fénnidi watched with regret as the deer leaped from one limestone outcropping to another. When it disappeared from sight. their eyes turned toward Finn.
"You let a fine fat stag get away," accused Conan Maol, Conan the Hairless. "And us starving."
Dark, slender Cailte added, "I could have run him down and eaten the entire animal myself."
"You could have done." Finn said amiably. "But then he'd be gone, all that grace and beauty destroyed. And you'd just be hungry again tomorrow. A creature that splendid can serve a better purpose surely than swelling your belly."
His men exchanged glances. They were beginning to recognize a certain cadence when it crept into the speech off their newly appointed rígfénnid. Fionn son of Cuhal was a dedicated hunter. But when the impulse to poetry seized him, everything else must wait. His band had already learned that much about him.
With a last wistful glance after the lost deer, they formed a circle around their leader, crossed their legs, and sat. The ground was cold. They ignored discomfort.
Finn remained standing. His eyes were tinned northward. The jagged peaks of the Twelve Bens were dimly visible across the bay, disappearing, into lowering clouds, but Finn was not looking at the mountains anyway,
In his mind, he was watching the red stag run.
His expression grew dreamy and faraway. His hair was as pale as winter sunlight, his eyes as clean as water. But when he was ready to speak, his voice would be deep and sure.
Bran and Sceolaun sniffed out the bed in the bracken where the deer had lain. Some of the animal's warmth lingered in the flattened ferns. Circling three times, the hounds remade the bed to suit themselves and curled up together. Sceolaun rested her muzzle on her crossed forepaws, but her companion's head was propped across her back so Bran could keep watchful eyes on Finn.
The cry of wild geese rang through the sky. Looking up, Finn saw black wings carving lines in silver space.
He nodded. The poem was complete. He recited,
Here's my tale.
Stag cries, winter snarls, summer dies.
High and cold the wind.
Low and dull the sun, and brief its run.
Strong surge the seas.
In red-brown bracken, shapes lie hidden.
Geese sing, fleeing, south, ice on wings
That's my tale.
When Finn stopped speaking, Donn said, "Brrr! That's made me colder than I was already."
The poet smiled, flattered.
"'Winter snarls,'" quoted Fergus. "A particularly nice hit, that." His mouth worked, savouring the words.
"It's a grand poem entirely," Cailte affirmed, "but it won't fill our bellies. Words are no substitute for a haunch of venison or a fine silver salmon with the smell of the sea on him."
"I'd give my good eye for some badger meat dripping grease," sighed the husky voice of Goll Mac Morna.
Lugaid suggested hopefully, "We could still bring down that stag, the hounds could track him."
"Leave him be!" Finn ordered sharply, unwilling to have the source of his inspiration slain. "We'll find something else, we always do." He brandished his spear and whistled. Bran and Sceolaun jumped up and ran to him. wriggling with the exuberance of half-grown hounds. The hunt resumed.
Except for Goll Mac Morna, all of them were young and exuberant, brimming with barely controlled energy. They had unblunted features and blue-white eyeballs and had only recently begun growing warriors' mustaches. They were brash and merry and thought themselves immortal.
Searching the slopes of Black Head, the fían poked spears into every crevice and hollow, seeking to flush out small game hares or red squirrels, or even the half-mouthful of a pigmy shrew. They laughed and swore and shoved each other; they traded insults until the crisp air crackled.
Gael challenged his friend, "If you can put one foot in front of the other, I'll race you to the bottom!"
"Done!" cried Madan Bent-Neck, who owed his permanently cocked head carriage to a slight deformity. He wore the round shield slung across his back higher than his companions did, to conceal the unevenness of his shoulders.
Physical beauty was not required of a fénnid; only strength and courage mattered in battle.
The two bounded away in exaggerated leaps. Goll said disapprovingly, "Those young fools will kill themselves, running headlong on that footing."
Finn flashed a merry grin. "Then that's two less we'll have to find game for. Think of the effort saved!"
Goll chuckled. One of his eyes twinkled. The other was milky, bisected by a slashing scar that puckered cheek and brow. "It's Conan who'll be the most grateful, he's the laziest."
But in spite of Goll's prediction, Cael and Madan reached the bottom without mishap. They turned and trotted back up at a more leisurely pace, watching their footing. By the time they rejoined their companions halfway up Black Head, they were breathing hard, however.
Cailte said scornfully, "Neither of you knows how to run." He pulled his wolf-fur cloak out from under his shield and tossed it aside, revealing a body as thin as a sapling, clad in a leather kilt and a deerskin tunic. "Mind you, this is what running is," he said. He raced off down the mountain, his shield bouncing against his shoulder blades.
In a voice like thick cream, Fergus Honey-Tongue remarked, "Cailte Mac Ronan is faster than thought."
"He makes Cael and Madan look like old women," said Conan.
Madan bristled. "It's not fair to compare us to him. Cailte won the running championship at the last Tailltenn Fair."
"So he did," Finn agreed. "Therefore he should be the standard you set for yourselves. Go and catch him, you two."
Cael's jaw sagged. "You aren't serious."
"I am serious. And since I would never ask you to do anything I wouldn't do myself ..." Without pausing to take off his cloak, Finn turned and ran down the mountain after Cailte. Bran and Sceolaun frisked along beside him, barking excitedly.
With a whoop, Blamec set off after them. Cael and Madan felt compelled to follow. The entire band joined in, slipping and slithering down the north face of Black Head, waving their arms and their spears for balance, cursing and colliding and shouting with laughter.
Reaching the bottom well ahead of the others, Cailte sat down on a slab of stone and dug into the leather bag slung from a thong around his neck. He was just taking a bite of hoarded food when Finn joined him.
"Want some of this?" Cailte offered.
"What is it? Och, honey fungus. I'll wait for meat. You'd eat anything though, wouldn't you? Move over."
Cailte obligingly slid over to make room for Finn. "I'd eat anything if I was hungry. And I'm always hungry."
As the others arrived, Finn called out their names. "Blamec. Lugaid the Serious. Donn.
Conan the Hairless. Cael. Fergus Honey-Tongue. Madan." There was a long pause while they all waited. Then, "And here at last is Goll Mac Morna."
Goll was gasping for breath and sweating profusely. He had an appalling stitch in his side. He stopped before he got to Finn and bent over with his hands braced on his knees. "I had to bring up the rear," he panted. A fit of coughing ensued. When it had passed, he added, "Someone had to guard the young ones' backsides."
Sceolaun ran to him and began trying to lick his face. He elbowed her away but she came right back. Her tongue slopped noisily across Goll's mouth. He made a strangled sound of disgust. "Finn, call off this wretched bitch!"
Finn whistled. At once Sceolaun left her victim and trotted to her master, mouth agape as if laughing.
Goll followed, clutching his side. "When I was the age of these young ones," he said raspingly, "I was as fleet as any of them."
Finn smiled. "It's not your age that hampers you, Goll. It's your girth. You grow thicker and thicker, like an oak tree."
"And like an oak tree, I'm hard to cut down," Goll growled.
Finn's smile held. "Everyone knows that Goll Mac Morna is unkillable."
Seen together, the two might have been taken for father and son. Both were tall and fair. But while Finn was lean and taut, Goll was bulky, thick through chest and shoulder, short of neck and broad of thigh. Compared to Finn, he looked clumsy and past his prime.
Yet he had his pride. His voice had been permanently hoarsened during long service as Rígfénnid Fíanna, chief of all the Fíanna, commander of the army of Tara long before Finn joined them.
Now, however, he marched with Finn's band and followed Finn's orders. That alone should have made them enemies, though there was another, darker reason for enmity between them. Finn never referred to it, but Goll could not forget that he was one of the men who had killed Finn's father.
Any other man in Erin would have devoted himself to finding his father's killers and exacting a terrible vengeance. But Finn Mac Cool did not seem interested in revenge. He treated Goll as he treated everyone else.
The situation made Goll acutely uncomfortable. He was a professional warrior, accepting a demeaning assignment with the obedience born of long discipline. Finn's apparent friendliness should have made it easier.
But it could never be easy.
Cailte drawled, "I notice none of you bothered to bring my cloak down for me."
"We thought you'd want to run back up the mountain and get it yourself," Finn teased.
"I will of course, no bother on me! And I assume you'll accompany me as a courtesy?"
Gael snorted with laughter, but Finn replied without batting an eye, "I will of course." He was on his feet and running, with his hounds beside him, before Cailte realized what was happening. The thin man had to sprint madly to catch up.
They raced up the mountain together. Cailte inclined his lean torso parallel to the slope. Watching from the corner of his eye, Finn copied his technique and matched him stride for stride. They ran faster than Gael and Madan ever could.
The earlier running had been for fun. This was different. Both men recognized that a serious challenge had been offered and accepted.
They competed on a treacherous slope studded with slabs of limestone and fern- concealed potholes. One misstep could break a man's leg.
Black Head was the northernmost point of the region known as the Burren, an eerie moonscape land where plants and flowers thrived that grew nowhere else in Erin. Wind and weather had sculpted stone into thousands of time-fissured faces, until the Burren became not a place, but a Presence. Using the wind off the sea for a voice, grassy uplands hummed songs of a Stone Age past.
Time circled and spiralled and had no shape. Stone tombs erected millennia earlier were monuments to forgotten chieftains who still haunted the corkscrew hills. Natural terraces of striated limestone shifted colour from grey to violet to rose in the pellucid light of an Atlantean sky.
Nothing changed and nothing stayed the same not in the Burren.
Two young men raced up the headland in a ringing silence broken only by the sound of their harsh breathing and a curlew's cry.
Black Head was steep above the sea.
Under their eyebrows, both youths darted covert glances upward, assessing the remaining distance. Every fénnid was an experienced runner, but this racecourse was vertical and each footstep potentially deadly. And by some trick of the light, the summit of the mountain seemed to be receding even as they climbed.
There are strange tales told of the Burren, Cailte thought. Can the mountain be growing taller to spite us?
Finn, however, was telling himself, I should have carried Cailte's cloak down with me. I should have foreseen this and been able to avoid it.
His lungs burned agonizingly. The air he breathed was liquid fire.
He ran. Cailte ran. Up and up and up they went, and still they could not see Cailte's cloak waiting above them.
What a stupid mistake, Finn thought, to challenge Cailte. If he beats me, I'll be diminished in their eyes.
If he beats me.
The word took on new meaning. "If" indicated there was an alternative. "If" meant Cailte might not beat him.
Finn did not tell himself, I will win. He told himself, I will not lose.
His legs pumped and his heart hammered and he matched Cailte stride for stride, refusing to be beaten.
Cailte was not under the same pressure. Already an acknowledged champion at running, he knew that one race lost to Finn Mac Cool would not irretrievably damage his reputation. So Cailte ran his best, but he did not put in that extra effort beyond one's best that can burst the heart.
Finn did. He lengthened his stride. When rocks rose in his path, he leaped over them, gaining ground with every jump. For a time, Cailte kept up with him. Then there was a moment when the rhythm of the champion's breathing faltered, and in that moment, Finn passed him.
Try as he might, Cailte could not draw even with Finn again.
The hounds, running ahead of them, stopped abruptly and dropped their muzzles, sniffing. At their feet lay a puddle of wolf fur—Cailte's cloak
Finn reached it one stride before Cailte did. Swooping, he brandished the cloak above his head. The men watching below saw him wave the silvery banner and cheered.
"I can't make out who has it," Blamec complained.
"Cailte, of course," said Conan.
Lugaid cupped his hands around his eyes. "I don't think so. That looks like Finn to me."
"Not possible," Conan snorted. "Finn could never outrun Cailte."
"I think he has," Lugaid insisted quietly. He sounded impressed.
All of them were impressed.
Halfway to the summit, Finn and Cailte were each struggling to keep the other from seeing how breathless he was. Finn had clamped his lips together and was trying to make himself breathe softly through his nose. Cailte had bent over the fur as he brushed bits of bracken from it, hiding his flushed and panting face. From that position, he did not see the two men come down from the ridge above.
"Look here, Cailte," Finn alerted him. "We aren't alone."
Startled, Cailte glanced up. Two men, one his own age and one slightly older, were making their way toward them. The older one had a dead deer slung over his shoulder,
Finn tensed, then relaxed. It wasn't his stag, his poetic inspiration, but an old doe. Her head was grey with the frost of too many winters.
It was her time to die.
"You're very welcome, strangers," Finn called in the time honoured greeting.
The man carrying the deer had a round, pleasant face but hostile eyes. "We aren't strangers. You are. This is my mountain." His speech was clipped, abrupt with anger.
Finn had been in the Fíanna long enough to know that men sometimes made unwarranted claims to territory. "Is it now?" he asked with icy politeness.
"It is indeed. I am Iruis son of Huamor, who is chieftain of the Burren. He's given me use of this mountain to build a fort on because I'm taking a wife next Beltaine."
"Huamor!" Finn's voice thawed. "The very man we're looking for. We must have missed his stronghold somehow. Do you know where he is now?"
"I don't know who you are."
Finn lifted his chin. In a voice like the ringing of bells, he announced, "I am Fionn son of Cuhal son of Trenmor."
Iruis sniffed. "Fionn means "fair," and your hair's the colour of bleached linen, so that much is true. As for your being a son of Cuhal, Mac Tremor ... he was famous but he's been dead a long time. Who can vouch for you now?"
Finn's lips tightened. He spat the words between them. "No one questions me. I'm a rígfénnid, an officer of the Fíanna."
Iruis was openly contemptuous now. "A boy like you?"
"He is a rígfénnid!" Cailte burst out. "His fían are down below. He has eight armed and dangerous men in addition to me, and when the rest of them learn you wouldn't take his word for his identity, you're going to be in real trouble."
Excerpted from Finn Mac Cool by Morgan Llywelyn. Copyright © 1994 Morgan Llywelyn. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
Since 1980 Morgan Llywelyn has created an entire body of work chronicling the Celts and Ireland, from the earliest times to the present day. her critically acclaimed novels, both of history and of mythology, have been translated into many languages. She is an Irish citizen and lives in Dublin.
Since 1980, Morgan Llywelyn has created an entire body of work chronicling the Celts and Ireland, from the earliest times to the present day. Her critically acclaimed novels, both of history and of mythology, have been translated into many languages. Her books include 1916 and Bard: The Odyssey of the Irish. She is an Irish citizen and lives in Dublin.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews
Great book loved it, he gains power and keeps power, excellent story. He goes down then comes back up.
The blending of myth and fact leads you through the woods and back in time. It gives clear signals to the facts of myth and those of history.This book draws form historical beliefs as well as ledgends and presents them realisticaly with well documented and easly resarched historical facts.
This is another great book from Llywelyn. It takes all the myths and legends of Finn Mac Cool and turns them into a believable story full of emotion and adventure!
Any1 want to chat