He marched through the successive fortifications until he came to the outer, great wall, the boundary of the city, and when he had passed this he was on the wide plain of Tara.
Other than himself no person was abroad, for on the night of the Feast of Samhain none but a madman would quit the shelter of a house even if it were on fire; for whatever disasters might be within a house would be as nothing to the calamities without it.
The noise of the banquet was not now audible to Fionn—it is possible, however, that there was a shamefaced silence in the great hall—and the lights of the city were hidden by the successive great ramparts. The sky was over him; the earth under him; and than these there was nothing, or there was but the darkness and the wind.
But darkness was not a thing to terrify him, bred in the nightness of a wood and the very fosterling of gloom; nor could the wind afflict his ear or his heart. There was no note in its orchestra that he had not brooded on and become, which becoming is magic. The long-drawn moan of it; the thrilling whisper and hush; the shrill, sweet whistle, so thin it can scarcely be heard, and is taken more by the nerves than by the ear; the screech, sudden as a devil's yell and loud as ten thunders; the cry as of one who flies with backward look to the shelter of leaves and darkness; and the sob as of one stricken with an age-long misery, only at times remembered, but remembered then with what a pang! His ear knew by what successions they arrived, and by what stages they grew and diminished. Listening in the dark to the bundle of noises which make a noise he could disentangle them and assign a place and a reason to each gradation of sound that formed the chorus: there was the patter of a rabbit, and there the scurrying of a hare; a bush rustled yonder, but that brief rustle was a bird; that pressure was a wolf, and this hesitation a fox; the scraping yonder was but a rough leaf against bark, and the scratching beyond it was a ferret's claw.
Fear cannot be where knowledge is, and Fionn was not fearful.
His mind, quietly busy on all sides, picked up one sound and dwelt on it. "A man," said Fionn, and he listened in that direction, back towards the city.
A man it was, almost as skilled in darkness as Fionn himself "This is no enemy," Fionn thought; "his walking is open."
"Who comes?" he called.
"A friend," said the newcomer.
"Give a friend's name," said Fionn.
"Fiacuil mac Cona," was the answer.
"Ah, my pulse and heart!" cried Fionn, and he strode a few paces to meet the great robber who had fostered him among the marshes.
"So you are not afraid," he said joyfully.
"I am afraid in good truth," Fiacuil whispered, "and the minute my business with you is finished I will trot back as quick as legs will carry me. May the gods protect my going as they protected my coming," said the robber piously.
"Amen," said Fionn, "and now, tell me what you have come for?"
"Have you any plan against this lord of the Shl?" Fiacuil whispered.
"I will attack him," said Fionn.
"That is not a plan," the other groaned, "we do not plan to deliver an attack but to win a victory."
"Is this a very terrible person?" Fionn asked.
"Terrible indeed. No one can get near him or away from him. He comes out of the Shi' playing sweet, low music on a timpan and a pipe, and all who hear this music fall asleep."
"I will not fall asleep," said Fionn.
"You will indeed, for everybody does."
"What happens then?" Fionn asked.
"When all are asleep Aillen mac Midna blows a dart of fire out of his mouth, and everything that is touched by that fire is destroyed, and he can blow his fire to an incredible distance and to any direction."
"You are very brave to come to help me," Fionn murmured, "especially when you are not able to help me at all."
"I can help," Fiacuil replied, "but I must be paid."
"A third of all you earn and a seat at your council."
"I grant that," said Fionn, "and now, tell me your plan?"
"You remember my spear with the thirty rivets of Arabian gold in its socket?"
"The one," Fionn queried, "that had its head wrapped in a blanket and was stuck in a bucket of water and was chained to a wall as well—the venomous Birgha?" "That one," Fiacuil replied.
"It is Aillen mac Midna's own spear," he continued, "and it was taken out of his Shi' by your father."
"Well?" said Fionn, wondering nevertheless where Fiacuil got the spear, but too generous to ask.
"When you hear the great man of the Shi' coming, take the wrappings off the head of the spear and bend your face over it; the heat of the spear, the stench of it, all its pernicious and acrid qualities will prevent you from going to sleep."
"Are you sure of that?" said Fionn.
"You couldn't go to sleep close to that stench; nobody could," Fiacuil replied decidedly.
He continued: "Aillen mac Midna will be off his guard when he stops playing and begins to blow his fire; he will think everybody is asleep; then you can deliver the attack you were speaking of, and all good luck go with it."
"I will give him back his spear," said Fionn.
"Here it is," said Fiacuil, taking the Birgha from under his cloak. "But be as careful of it, my pulse, be as frightened of it as you are of the man of Dana."
"I will be frightened of nothing," said Fionn, "and the only person I will be sorry for is that Aillen mac Midna, who is going to get his own spear back."
"I will go away now," his companion whispered, "for it is growing darker where you would have thought there was no more room for darkness, and there is an eerie feeling abroad which I do not like. That man from the Shi' may come any minute, and if I catch one sound of his music I am done for."
The robber went away and again Fionn was alone.