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A great legendary hero of ancient Ireland, Finn Mac Cool comes vividly to life in an enthralling historical fantasy of love, betrayal, magic , myth, and war. By the author of Lion of Ireland. 100,000 first printing. Tour.
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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.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. 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 fíanof nine.
He called himself Finn Mac Cool.
Planting their spears on the slope to brace themselves, the fénnidiwatched 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 of 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 turned 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 clear 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 wing.
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 bit, 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 fian 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.
Cael 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 uneven-ness 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 th...
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Book Description Tor Books, 1994. Hardcover. Condition: New. Seller Inventory # DADAX0312854765
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