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Gods and Fighting Men by Lady Gregory

And we will go hunting to Gleann na Smol

style="text-align: justify;"> CHAPTER XII. THE RED WOMAN

One time the Fianna were in Almhuin with no great work to do, and there came a very misty morning, and Finn was in dread that sluggishness would come on his men, and he rose up, and he said: "Make yourselves ready, and we will go hunting to Gleann-na-Smol."

They all said the day was too misty to go hunting; but there was no use in talking: they had to do as Finn bade them. So they made themselves ready and went on towards Gleann-na-Smol; and they were not gone far when the mist lifted and the sun came shining out.

And when they were on the edge of a little wood, they saw a strange beast coming towards them with the quickness of the wind, and a Red Woman on its track. Narrow feet the beast had, and a head like the head of a boar, and long horns on it; but the rest of it was like a deer, and there was a shining moon on each of its sides.

Finn stopped, and he said: "Fianna of Ireland," he said, "did you ever see a beast like that one until now?" "We never did indeed," said they; "and it would be right for us to let out the hounds after it." "Wait a while," said Finn, "till I speak with the Red Woman; but do not let the beast go past you," he said. They thought to keep back the beast then, going before it; but they were hardly able to hinder it at all, and it went away through them.

style="text-align: justify;">And when the Red Woman was come up to them, Finn asked her what was the name of the beast she was following. "I do not know that," she said, "though I am on its track since I left the borders of Loch Dearg a month ago, and I never lost sight of it since then; and the two moons that are on its two sides shine through the country all around in the night time. And I must follow it till it falls," she said, "or I will lose my own life and the lives of my three sons that are the best fighting men in the whole world." "We will take the beast for you if you have a mind," said Finn. "Do not try to do that," she said, "for I myself am swifter than you are, and I cannot come up with it." "We will not let it go till we know what sort of a beast is it," said Finn. "If you yourself or your share of men go after it, I will bind you hand and foot," said she. "It is too stiff your talk is," said Finn. "And do you not know," he said, "I am Finn, son of Cumhal; and there are fourscore fighting men along with me that were never beaten yet." "It is little heed I give to yourself or your share of men," said the Red Woman; "and if my three sons were here, they would stand up against you." "Indeed it will be a bad day," said Finn, "when the threat of a woman will put fear on myself or on the Fianna of Ireland." With that he sounded his horn, and he said: "Let us all follow now, men and dogs, after that beast that we saw."

He had no sooner said that word than the woman made a great water-worm of herself, and made an attack on Finn, and she would have killed him then and there but for Bran being with him. Bran took a grip of the worm and shook it, and then it wound itself round Bran's body, and would have crushed the life out of her, but Finn thrust his sharp sword into its throat. "Keep back your hand," said the worm then, "and you will not have the curse of a lonely woman upon you." "It is what I think," said Finn, "that you would not leave me my life if you could take it from me; but go out of my sight now," he said, "and that I may never see you again."

Then she made herself into a Red Woman again, and went away into the wood.

All the Fianna were gone on the track of the beast while Finn was talking and fighting with the Red Woman; and he did not know in what place they were, but he went following after them, himself and Bran. It was late in the evening when he came up with a share of them, and they still on the track of the beast. The darkness of the night was coming on, but the two moons in the sides of the beast gave a bright light, and they never lost it from sight. They followed it on always; and about midnight they were pressing on it, and it began to scatter blood after it, and it was not long till Finn and his men were red from head to foot. But that did not hinder them, and they followed him on till they saw him going in at the foot of Cnoc-na-righ at the breaking of day.

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