The Headless Phantoms

This is a fair in Magh Eala of the king: the fair of Liffey with its brilliancy: happy for each one that goes thither, he is not like Guaire the Blind.
Guaire the Blind was not in truth my name when I used to be in the king's house, in the house of excellent Fearghus on the strand over Bearramhain.
The horses of the Fiana would come to the race, and the horses of the Munstermen of the great races: they once held three famous contests on the green of the sons of Muiridh.
A black horse belonging to Dil, son of Da Chreag, in each race that they held at the rock above Loch Goir, he won the three chief prizes of the fair.
Fiachra then besought the horse from the druid, his grandfather, gave him a hundred cattle of each kind, that he might give it in return.
“There is the fast black horse for thee,” said Fiachra to the Fiana's chief: “here I give thee my sword of fame, and a horse for thy charioteer.
“Take my helmet equal to a hundred, take my shield from the lands of the Greeks, take my fierce spears and my silvern weapons.
“If it please thee better than to have nothing, chief of the Fiana, handsome king, thou shalt not go off without a gift, chief of the blade-blue Fiana.”
Thereupon Fionn himself arose: he was thankful to Eoghan's son: they salute each other: not without stir was their rising together.
Fionn went before us on the way: we come with him three score hundred; to Cathair to Dún-over-Lake, 'tis there we went from the fair.
Three days and three nights in high honour we spent in Cathair's house, without lack of ale or food for Cumhall's son from the great king.
Fifty rings Fionn gave him, fifty horses and fifty cows: Fionn gave the worth of his ale to Cathaoir son of Oilill.
Fionn went to try the black steed to the strand over Bearramhain; I and Caoilte follow in sportiveness, and we race right cunningly.
Even we were not slow, full swift were our bounds: one of us on his left, one on his right—there is no deer we could not have outrun.
When the king (Fionn) noticed this, he spurred his horse to Tráigh L , from Tráigh L over Tráigh Doimh Ghlais, over Fraochmhagh and over Fionn-ghlais.
Over Magh Fleisge, over Magh Cairn, over the Sean-umair of Druim Garbh, over the brink of the silvery Flesk, over the “Bedside” of the Cochrainn. Over Druim Eadair, over Druim Caoin, over Druim Dha Fhiach, over Formaoil.
When we had come to the hill, we were first by eight times: though it was we that got there first, the king's horse was nowise slow.
“This is night, the day is ended,” said Fionn in good sooth: “folly it was that brought us here, let us go seek a hunting-booth.”
As the king glanced aside at the crag to his left, he saw a great house with a fire in the valley before him.
Then said Caoilte a stout saying that was no matter for boasting: “Till this night I have never seen a house in this valley though I know it well.”
“Let us start off,” quoth Caoilte, “and visit it; there are many things that I am in ignorance of:” a welcome, best of all things, was given to the son of Cumhall of Almhain.
After this we went in on a night's visit that was rued: we were met with screeching, wailing, and shouting, and a clamorous rabbly household.
Within stood a grey-haired churl in the midst: he quickly seizes Finn's horse: he takes down the door on this side from its iron hinges.
We sit down on the hard couch that has to rest us all at once: the log of elder that is on the hearth has all but quenched the fire.
The unmusical churl spoke a speech that did not greatly please us: “Rise up, ye folk that are within: sing a song for the king-feinnidh.”
Nine bodies rise out of the corner from the side next to us: nine heads from the other side on the iron couch.
They set up nine horrid screeches: though matched in loudness, they were not matched in harmony: the churl answered in turn, and the headless body answered.
Though each rough strain of theirs was bad, the headless body's strain was worse: there was no strain but was tolerable compared to the shriek of the one-eyed man.
The song they sang for us would have wakened dead men out of the clay: it well-nigh split the bones of our heads: it was not a melodious chorus.
After that the churl gets up and takes his firewood hatchet, comes and kills our horses, flays and cuts them up at one task.
Fifty spits that were pointed, the which were spits of rowan—on each in turn he puts two joints and sticks them round the fireplace.
No spit of them had to be taught, as he took them up from the fire; and he brought before Fionn his horse's flesh on spits of rowan.
“Thou churl, take off thy food: horse-flesh I have never eaten, and never yet will I eat, for the matter of going foodless for one mealtime.”
“If for this my house has been visited, to refuse food,” quoth the churl, “it will fall out pleasantly for you, Caoilte, Fionn and Oisin.”
With that we started up to get our swords of temper: each man seized another's sword—it was an omen of fist-play.
The fire that was set is quenched, so that neither flame nor embers were visible: a dark and murky corner is narrowed round us three in one place.
When we were man to man, who should prove our stay but Fionn: slain outright were we, but for Fionn of the Fian.
Man against man we were in the house, the whole long night till morning, until the sun came in at rising time on the morrow.
When the sun rose, down fell each man eastward or westward: into each man's head a black mist came, till they lay lifeless in that hour.
Not long we were in our swoon: we rise up hale and sound: the house had vanished from us, and vanished from us are the inmates.
The party that had fought with us were the Nine Phantoms from Yewvalley, to avenge on us their sister whose name was Cuilleann broad of foot.
In this manner rose Fionn—his horse's reins in his hand: the horse was whole, head and foot: every injury had left him.
I am Caoilte the beloved, left behind the faultless heroes: greatly I miss it out and out that I no longer see the Fair.
Author of original: 
Unknown
Rate this poem: 

Reviews

No reviews yet.