HE KING WISHED to see him, and Fionn must have wondered what the king thought as that gracious lord looked on him. Whatever was thought, what the king said was as direct in utterance as it was in observation.
"If Uail the son of Baiscne has a son," said the king, "you would surely be that son."
We are not told if the King of Finntraigh said anything more, but we know that Fionn left his service soon afterwards.
He went southwards and was next in the employment of the King of Kerry, the same lord who had married his own mother. In that service he came to such consideration that we hear of him as playing a match of chess with the king, and by this game we know that he was still a boy in his mind however mightily his limbs were spreading. Able as he was in sports and huntings, he was yet too young to be politic, but he remained impolitic to the end of his days, for whatever he was able to do he would do, no matter who was offended thereat; and whatever he was not able to do he would do also. That was Fionn.
Once, as they rested on a chase, a debate arose among the Fianna-Finn as to what was the finest music in the world.
"Tell us that," said Fionn turning to Oisi'n [pronounced Usheen]
"The cuckoo calling from the tree that is highest in the hedge," cried his merry son.
"A good sound," said Fionn. "And you, Oscar," he asked, "what is to your mind the finest of music?"
"The top of music is the ring of a spear on a shield," cried the stout lad.
"It is a good sound," said Fionn. And the other champions told their delight; the belling of a stag across water, the baying of a tuneful pack heard in the distance, the song of a lark, the laugh of a gleeful girl, or the whisper of a moved one.
"They are good sounds all," said Fionn.
"Tell us, chief," one ventured, "what you think?"
"The music of what happens," said great Fionn, "that is the finest music in the world."
He loved "what happened," and would not evade it by the swerve of a hair; so on this occasion what was occurring he would have occur, although a king was his rival and his master. It may be that his mother was watching the match and that he could not but exhibit his skill before her. He committed the enormity of winning seven games in succession from the king himself! ! !
It is seldom indeed that a subject can beat a king at chess, and this monarch was properly amazed.
"Who are you at all?" he cried, starting back from the chessboard and staring on Fionn.
"I am the son of a countryman of the Luigne of Tara," said Fionn.
He may have blushed as he said it, for the king, possibly for the first time, was really looking at him, and was looking back through twenty years of time as he did so. The observation of a king is faultless--it is proved a thousand times over in the tales, and this king's equipment was as royal as the next.
"You are no such son," said the indignant monarch, "but you are the son that Muirne my wife bore to Uall mac Balscne."
And at that Fionn had no more to say; but his eyes may have flown to his mother and stayed there.
"You cannot remain here," his step-father continued. "I do not want you killed under my protection," he explained, or complained.
Perhaps it was on Fionn's account he dreaded the sons of Morna, but no one knows what Fionn thought of him for he never thereafter spoke of his step-father. As for Muirne she must have loved her lord; or she may have been terrified in truth of the sons of Morna and for Fionn; but it is so also, that if a woman loves her second husband she can dislike all that reminds her of the first one. Fionn went on his travels again.
All desires save one are fleeting, but that one lasts for ever. Fionn, with all desires, had the lasting one, for he would go anywhere and forsake anything for wisdom; and it was in search of this that he went to the place where Finegas lived on a bank of the Boyne Water. But for dread of the clann-Morna he did not go as Fionn. He called himself Deimne on that journey.
We get wise by asking questions, and even if these are not answered we get wise, for a well-packed question carries its answer on its back as a snail carries its shell. Fionn asked every question he could think of, and his master, who was a poet, and so an honourable man, answered them all, not to the limit of his patience, for it was limitless, but to the limit of his ability.
"Why do you live on the bank of a river?" was one of these questions. "Because a poem is a revelation, and it is by the brink of running water that poetry is revealed to the mind."
"How long have you been here?" was the next query. "Seven years," the poet answered.
"It is a long time," said wondering Fionn.
"I would wait twice as long for a poem," said the inveterate bard.
"Have you caught good poems?" Fionn asked him.
"The poems I am fit for," said the mild master. "No person can get more than that, for a man's readiness is his limit."
"Would you have got as good poems by the Shannon or the Suir or by sweet Ana Life'?"
"They are good rivers," was the answer. "They all belong to good gods."
"But why did you choose this river out of all the rivers?"
Finegas beamed on his pupil.
"I would tell you anything," said he, "and I will tell you that."
Fionn sat at the kindly man's feet, his hands absent among tall grasses, and listening with all his ears. "A prophecy was made to me," Finegas began. "A man of knowledge foretold that I should catch the Salmon of Knowledge in the Boyne Water."
"And then?" said Fionn eagerly.
"Then I would have All Knowledge."
"And after that?" the boy insisted.
"What should there be after that?" the poet retorted.
"I mean, what would you do with All Knowledge?"
"A weighty question," said Finegas smilingly. "I could answer it if I had All Knowledge, but not until then. What would you do, my dear?"
"I would make a poem," Fionn cried.
"I think too," said the poet, "that that is what would be done."