| The Enchanted Cave Of Cesh Corran |
OR THERE WAS a great hole like a doorway in the side of the mound, and in that doorway the daughters of Conaran sat spinning. They had three crooked sticks of holly set up before the cave, and they were reeling yarn off these. But it was enchantment they were weaving.
"One could not call them handsome," said Cona'n.
"One could," Fionn replied, "but it would not be true."
"I cannot see them properly," Fionn complained. "They are hiding behind the holly."
"I would he contented if I could not see them at all," his companion grumbled.
But the Chief insisted.
"I want to make sure that it is whiskers they are wearing."
"Let them wear whiskers or not wear them," Cona'n counselled. "But let us have nothing to do with them."
"One must not be frightened of anything," Fionn stated.
"I am not frightened," Cona'n explained. "I only want to keep my good opinion of women, and if the three yonder are women, then I feel sure I shall begin to dislike females from this minute out."
"Come on, my love," said Fionn, "for I must find out if these whiskers are true."
He strode resolutely into the cave. He pushed the branches of holly aside and marched up to Conaran's daughters, with Cona'n behind him.
The instant they passed the holly a strange weakness came over the heroes. Their fists seemed to grow heavy as lead, and went dingle-dangle at the ends of their arms; their legs became as light as straws and began to bend in and out; their necks became too delicate to hold anything up, so that their heads wibbled and wobbled from side to side.
"What's wrong at all?" said Cona'n, as he tumbled to the ground.
"Everything is," Fionn replied, and he tumbled beside him.
The three sisters then tied the heroes with every kind of loop and twist and knot that could be thought of.
"Those are whiskers!" said Fionn.
"Alas!" said Conan.
"What a place you must hunt whiskers in?' he mumbled savagely. "Who wants whiskers?" he groaned.
But Fionn was thinking of other things.
"If there was any way of warning the Fianna not to come here," Fionn murmured.
"There is no way, my darling," said Caevo'g, and she smiled a smile that would have killed Fionn, only that he shut his eyes in time.
After a moment he murmured again:
"Cona'n, my dear love, give the warning whistle so that the Fianna will keep out of this place."
A little whoof, like the sound that would be made by a baby and it asleep, came from Cona'n.
"Fionn," said he, "there isn't a whistle in me. We are done for," said he.
"You are done for, indeed," said Cuillen, and she smiled a hairy and twisty and fangy smile that almost finished Cona'n.
By that time some of the Fianna had returned to the mound to see why Bran and Sceo'lan were barking so outrageously. They saw the cave and went into it, but no sooner had they passed the holly branches than their strength went from them, and they were seized and bound by the vicious hags. Little by little all the members of the Fianna returned to the hill, and each of them was drawn into the cave, and each was bound by the sisters.
Oisi'n and Oscar and mac Lugac came, with the nobles of clann-Baiscne, and with those of clann-Corcoran and clann-Smo'l; they all came, and they were all bound.
It was a wonderful sight and a great deed this binding of the Fianna, and the three sisters laughed with a joy that was terrible to hear and was almost death to see. As the men were captured they were carried by the hags into dark mysterious holes and black perplexing labyrinths.
"Here is another one," cried Caevo'g as she bundled a trussed champion along.
"This one is fat," said Cuillen, and she rolled a bulky Fenian along like a wheel.
"Here," said Iaran, "is a love of a man. One could eat this kind of man," she murmured, and she licked a lip that had whiskers growing inside as well as out.
And the corded champion whimpered in her arms, for he did not know but eating might indeed be his fate, and he would have preferred to be coffined anywhere in the world rather than to be coffined inside of that face. So far for them.
Within the cave there was silence except for the voices of the hags and the scarcely audible moaning of the Fianna-Finn, but without there was a dreadful uproar, for as each man returned from the chase his dogs came with him, and although the men went into the cave the dogs did not.
They were too wise.
They stood outside, filled with savagery and terror, for they could scent their masters and their masters' danger, and perhaps they could get from the cave smells till then unknown and full of alarm.