Life continued for him in a round of timeless time, wherein days and nights were uneventful and were yet filled with interest. As the day packed its load of strength into his frame, so it added its store of knowledge to his mind, and each night sealed the twain, for it is in the night that we make secure what we have gathered in the day.
If he had told of these days he would have told of a succession of meals and sleeps, and of an endless conversation, from which his mind would now and again slip away to a solitude of its own, where, in large hazy atmospheres, it swung and drifted and reposed. Then he would be back again, and it was a pleasure for him to catch up on the thought that was forward and re-create for it all the matter he had missed. But he could not often make these sleepy sallies; his master was too experienced a teacher to allow any such bright-faced, eager-eyed abstractions, and as the druid women had switched his legs around a tree, so Finegas chased his mind, demanding sense in his questions and understanding in his replies.
To ask questions can become the laziest and wobbliest occupation of a mind, but when you must yourself answer the problem that you have posed, you will meditate your question with care and frame it with precision. Fionn's mind learned to jump in a bumpier field than that in which he had chased rabbits. And when he had asked his question, and given his own answer to it, Finegas would take the matter up and make clear to him where the query was badly formed or at what point the answer had begun to go astray, so that Fionn came to understand by what successions a good question grows at last to a good answer.
One day, not long after the conversation told of, Finegas came to the place where Fionn was. The poet had a shallow osier basket on his arm, and on his face there was a look that was at once triumphant and gloomy. He was excited certainly, but he was sad also, and as he stood gazing on Fionn his eyes were so kind that the boy was touched, and they were yet so melancholy that it almost made Fionn weep. "What is it, my master?" said the alarmed boy.
The poet placed his osier basket on the grass.
"Look in the basket, dear son," he said. Fionn looked.
"There is a salmon in the basket."
"It is The Salmon," said Finegas with a great sigh. Fionn leaped for delight.
"I am glad for you, master," he cried. "Indeed I am glad for you."
"And I am glad, my dear soul," the master rejoined.
But, having said it, he bent his brow to his hand and for a long time he was silent and gathered into himself.
"What should be done now?" Fionn demanded, as he stared on the beautiful fish.
Finegas rose from where he sat by the osier basket.
"I will be back in a short time," he said heavily. "While I am away you may roast the salmon, so that it will be ready against my return."
"I will roast it indeed," said Fionn.
The poet gazed long and earnestly on him.
"You will not eat any of my salmon while I am away?" he asked.
"I will not eat the littlest piece," said Fionn.
"I am sure you will not," the other murmured, as he turned and walked slowly across the grass and behind the sheltering bushes on the ridge.
Fionn cooked the salmon. It was beautiful and tempting and savoury as it smoked on a wooden platter among cool green leaves; and it looked all these to Finegas when he came from behind the fringing bushes and sat in the grass outside his door. He gazed on the fish with more than his eyes. He looked on it with his heart, with his soul in his eyes, and when he turned to look on Fionn the boy did not know whether the love that was in his eyes was for the fish or for himself. Yet he did know that a great moment had arrived for the poet.
"So," said Finegas, "you did not eat it on me after all?" "Did I not promise?" Fionn replied.
"And yet," his master continued, "I went away so that you might eat the fish if you felt you had to."
"Why should I want another man's fish?" said proud Fionn.
"Because young people have strong desires. I thought you might have tasted it, and then you would have eaten it on me."
"I did taste it by chance," Fionn laughed, "for while the fish was roasting a great blister rose on its skin. I did not like the look of that blister, and I pressed it down with my thumb. That burned my thumb, so I popped it in my mouth to heal the smart. If your salmon tastes as nice as my thumb did," he laughed, "it will taste very nice."
"What did you say your name was, dear heart?" the poet asked.
"I said my name was Deimne."
"Your name is not Deimne," said the mild man, "your name is Fionn."
"That is true," the boy answered, "but I do not know how you know it."
"Even if I have not eaten the Salmon of Knowledge I have some small science of my own."
"It is very clever to know things as you know them," Fionn replied wonderingly. "What more do you know of me, dear master?"
"I know that I did not tell you the truth," said the heavy-hearted man.
"What did you tell me instead of it?"
"I told you a lie."
"It is not a good thing to do," Fionn admitted. "What sort of a lie was the lie, master?" "I told you that the Salmon of Knowledge was to be caught by me, according to the prophecy."
"That was true indeed, and I have caught the fish. But I did not tell you that the salmon was not to be eaten by me, although that also was in the prophecy, and that omission was the lie."
"It is not a great lie," said Fionn soothingly.
"It must not become a greater one," the poet replied sternly.
"Who was the fish given to?" his companion wondered.
"It was given to you," Finegas answered. "It was given to Fionn, the son of Uail, the son of Baiscne, and it will be given to him."
"You shall have a half of the fish," cried Fionn.
"I will not eat a piece of its skin that is as small as the point of its smallest bone," said the resolute and trembling bard. "Let you now eat up the fish, and I shall watch you and give praise to the gods of the Underworld and of the Elements."
Fionn then ate the Salmon of Knowledge, and when it had disappeared a great jollity and tranquillity and exuberance returned to the poet.
"Ah," said he, "I had a great combat with that fish."
"Did it fight for its life?" Fionn inquired.
"It did, but that was not the fight I meant."
"You shall eat a Salmon of Knowledge too," Fionn assured him.
"You have eaten one," cried the blithe poet, "and if you make such a promise it will be because you know."
"I promise it and know it," said Fionn, "you shall eat a Salmon of Knowledge yet."