MacCool by Name, and Cool by Nature

Ok, I promised it, so here it is; the second part of my retelling of the Fionn mac Cumhall story.

***

Fiacha’s Gift

 

In the cold light of morning, when the bravado of too much wine had worn off, leaving a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach and a nagging ache in his head, Fionn mac Cumhall sat contemplating his rash actions with some regret.

“Fourteen summers are all that I have seen of this life,” he muttered bitterly. “What have I done?”

Fiacha’s voice was brisk and cheerful in reply. “You must live by your actions, young Fionn. Fourteen years or forty, you must make them count. Act only in the way which makes men speak of you with love and admiration. And above all, learn by your mistakes.”

Fionn’s sombre grey eyes met Fiacha’s. “I hear you, Uncle.”

They were sitting outside the entrance of their tent, a small camp fire blazing merrily before them. A serving woman was cooking porridge for them, and water was boiling for tea.

There were many other tents pitched within Tara’s palisade walls, and also beyond them. The festival of Samhain was not just a feast and celebration. It was also an occasion for trading, forming alliances and political treaties, for brokering marriages and fostering, and for men to compete at sports, showing off their prowess. Lesser Kings, their ladies, servants, warriors and children milled in and around the tents, all going about their daily business. Dogs scavenged for scraps, fighting amongst themselves; chickens wandered freely, horses neighed. For a moment, Fionn felt overwhelmed by it all. He closed his eyes, and rested his head in his hands, giving in to the dull throb which pounded in his skull.

leaf bladed celtic spear

“Here, drink this.” Fiacha thrust a beaker of hot tea into his hands. “The wine has sucked the fluid from you. This will settle your stomach, and take the thunder from your head.”

Fionn sipped it gratefully, although it tasted foul. “How can I face Aillen like this? How can I fight magic with a sword and spear? What was I thinking?”

“You weren’t thinking, lad. That’s the problem. Luckily for you, your skill with sword and spear far outweigh that of any human, in spite of your youth. You have been trained in the arts of combat by none other than the mighty warrior-woman, Liath Luachra. Not many can say that. What she can’t teach you is not worth learning. Your strength and skills surpass even her own. Why do you think that is?”

Fionn shrugged.

Fiacha sighed. “Think, boy! It comes through the line of your mother’s people. Nuada was your great grandfather. From him, you have inherited great might in battle.”

“But he had the Sword of Light,” Fionn protested, unwilling to believe that his battle skills alone could save him.

“So he did.” Fiacha’s voice dropped to a whisper, and he glanced about hurriedly, as if ensuring there was no-one nearby to overhear. “You may not have the Sword, but you have inherited something equally as valuable from your mother’s people. I think now is the time for you to receive it.” He stood, and stooped through the entrance into the tent.

Forgetting his sore head and rebellious belly, Fionn followed, sudden excitement coursing through him.

Fiacha was holding a long, thin package. “This belongs to you.”

Fionn took the package and carefully stripped away the leather and sheepskin wrappings. They were quite stiff; clearly they had not been removed for a very long time.

Fenian warrior and spear

“It’s a spear.”

“A very old, and very special spear,” breathed Fiacha, his eyes full of awe as he gazed at it.

It was a beautiful weapon. The head was made from dark bronze, tapering gracefully into a fine, fearfully sharp point. The edges glittered in the tent’s half-light. It was fastened to the haft by thirty rivets of gold. The haft was made of rowan, darkened with age, worn smooth and polished by the grip of many hands through the years. Fionn hefted the spear, testing its weight. It was perfectly balanced, as if made specifically for him.

“Where did you get it?”

“It belonged to you father. It was given him by your mother, Muirne, but he was just a mortal, and never learned how to use it. It came to Muirne from her brother, when he died.”

“This is Lugh’s spear? The one with which he slew Balor?”

Fiacha smiled. “The very same. And now it belongs to you, Fionn mac Cumhall. Take it, and use it well. I have a feeling that with it, you will make history.”

“How can this be? It has a bronze head and gold rivets. Iron would be so much stronger. This cannot be Lugh’s Spear,” he protested.

“Bronze was used in ancient times, before the way with iron was learned. The Tuatha de Denann brought that knowledge to Ireland. But they also brought that spear with them. Perhaps it was already ancient, even then. One thing is for certain, its point and edges have not dulled with time, and its magic is famous still. If it was strong enough to defeat Balor, it must certainly be capable of killing Aillen.”

Fionn grasped the spear firmly, naturally adopting throwing stance, and with a sudden leap felt its power travel through his hand, into his arm, and surge through his body.

“There is magic in this spear,” he said. “I can feel it. But how do I master it?”

Fiacha’s smile faded. “That, I’m afraid, is something I cannot tell you. The blood of mere mortals flows in my veins, but yours, Fionn, is mingled with that of the Sidhe. It is up to you to find the way of it, for I know not. I suggest you go somewhere distant and quiet, and learn it quickly, for there are only a few hours of the day left before you meet Aillen.”

***

Hope you enjoyed it! Part Three will follow soon. Ali x


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