| The Carl Of The Drab Coat |
ND AGAIN THEY stared, until their straining eyes grew dim with tears and winks, and they saw trees that stood up and sat down, and fields that wobbled and spun round and round in a giddily swirling world.
"There is a man," Cona'n roared.
"A man there is," cried another.
"And he is carrying a man on his back," said the watcher.
"It is Cael of the Iron carrying the Carl on his back," he groaned.
"The great pork!" a man gritted.
"The no-good!" sobbed another.
"Hog!" screamed a champion.
And he beat his fists angrily against a tree.
But the eagle-eyed watcher watched until his eyes narrowed and became pin-points, and he ceased to be a man and became an optic.
"Wait," he breathed, "wait until I screw into one other inch of sight."
And they waited, looking no longer on that scarcely perceptible speck in the distance, but straining upon the eye of the watcher as though they would penetrate it and look through it.
"It is the Carl," he said, "carrying something on his back, and behind him again there is a dust."
"Are you sure?" said Fionn in a voice that rumbled and vibrated like thunder.
"It is the Carl," said the watcher, "and the dust behind him is Cael of the Iron trying to catch him up."
Then the Fianna gave a roar of exultation, and each man seized his neighbour and kissed him on both cheeks; and they gripped hands about Fionn, and they danced round and round in a great circle, roaring with laughter and relief, in the ecstasy which only comes where grisly fear has been and whence that bony jowl has taken itself away.
The Carl of the Drab Coat came bumping and stumping and clumping into the camp, and was surrounded by a multitude that adored him and hailed him with tears.
"Meal!" he bawled, "meal for the love of the stars!"
And he bawled, "Meal, meal!" until he bawled everybody into silence.
Fionn addressed him.
"What for the meal, dear heart?"
"For the inside of my mouth," said the Carl, "for the recesses and crannies and deep-down profundities of my stomach. Meal, meal!" he lamented.
Meal was brought.
The Carl put his coat on the ground, opened it carefully, and revealed a store of blackberries, squashed, crushed, mangled, democratic, ill-looking.
"The meal!" he groaned, "the meal!"
It was given to him.
"What of the race, my pulse?" said Fionn.
"Wait, wait," cried the Carl. "I die, I die for meal and blackberries."
Into the centre of the mess of blackberries he discharged a barrel of meal, and be mixed the two up and through, and round and down, until the pile of white-black, red-brown slibber-slobber reached up to his shoulders. Then he commenced to paw and impel and project and cram the mixture into his mouth, and between each mouthful he sighed a contented sigh, and during every mouthful he gurgled an oozy gurgle.
But while Fionn and the Fianna stared like lost minds upon the Carl, there came a sound of buzzing, as if a hornet or a queen of the wasps or a savage, steep-winged griffin was hovering about them, and looking away they saw Cael of the Iron charging on them with a monstrous extension and scurry of bis legs. He had a sword in his hand, and there was nothing in his face but redness and ferocity.
Fear fell llke night around the Fianna, and they stood with slack knees and hanging hands waiting for death. But the Carl lifted a pawful of his oozy slop and discharged this at Cael with such a smash that the man's head spun off his shoulders and hopped along the ground. The Carl then picked up the head and threw it at the body with such aim and force that the neck part of the head jammed into the neck part of the body and stuck there, as good a head as ever, you would have said, but that it bad got twisted the wrong way round. The Carl then lashed his opponent hand and foot.
"Now, dear heart, do you still claim tribute and lordship of Ireland?" said he.
"Let me go home," groaned Cael, "I want to go home."
"Swear by the sun and moon, if I let you go home, that you will send to Fionn, yearly and every year, the rent of the land of Thessaly."
"I swear that," said Cael, "and I would swear anything to get home."
The Carl lifted him then and put him sitting into his ship. Then he raised his big boot and gave the boat a kick that drove it seven leagues out into the sea, and that was how the adventure of Cael of the Iron finished.
"Who are you, sir?" said Fionn to the Carl.
But before answering the Carl's shape changed into one of splendour and delight.
"I am ruler of the Shi' of Rath Cruachan," he said.
Then Fionn mac Uail made a feast and a banquet for the jovial god, and with that the tale is ended of the King of Thessaly's son and the Carl of the Drab Coat.