The wonderful gift-giving of Goll continued, and an uneasiness and embarrassment began to creep through the great banqueting hall.
Gentlemen looked at each other questioningly, and then spoke again on indifferent matters, but only with half of their minds. The singers, the harpers, and jugglers submitted to that constraint, so that every person felt awkward and no one knew what should be done or what would happen, and from that doubt dulness came, with silence following on its heels.
There is nothing more terrible than silence. Shame grows in that blank, or anger gathers there, and we must choose which of these is to be our master.
That choice lay before Fionn, who never knew shame.
"Goll," said he, "how long have you been taking tribute from the people of Lochlann?"
"A long time now," said Goll.
And he looked into an eye that was stern and unfriendly.
"I thought that my rent was the only one those people had to pay," Fionn continued.
"Your memory is at fault," said Goll.
"Let it be so," said Fionn. "How did your tribute arise?"
"Long ago, Fionn, in the days when your father forced war on me."
"Ah!" said Fionn.
"When he raised the High King against me and banished me from Ireland."
"Continue," said Fionn, and he held Goll's eye under the great beetle of his brow.
"I went into Britain," said Goll, "and your father followed me there. I went into White Lochlann (Norway) and took it. Your father banished me thence also."
"I know it," said Fionn.
"I went into the land of the Saxons and your father chased me out of that land. And then, in Lochlann, at the battle of Cnocha your father and I met at last, foot to foot, eye to eye, and there, Fionn!"
"And there, Goll?"
"And there I killed your father."
Fionn sat rigid and unmoving, his face stony and terrible as the face of a monument carved on the side of a cliff.
"Tell all your tale," said he.
"At that battle I beat the Lochlannachs. I penetrated to the hold of the Danish king, and I took out of his dungeon the men who had lain there for a year and were awaiting their deaths. I liberated fifteen prisoners, and one of them was Fionn."
"It is true," said Fionn.
Goll's anger fled at the word.
"Do not be jealous of me, dear heart, for if I had twice the tribute I would give it to you and to Ireland."
But at the word jealous the Chief's anger revived.
"It is an impertinence," he cried, "to boast at this table that you killed my father."
"By my hand," Goll replied, "if Fionn were to treat me as his father did I would treat Fionn the way I treated Fionn's father."
Fionn closed his eyes and beat away the anger that was rising within him. He smiled grimly.
"If I were so minded, I would not let that last word go with you, Goll, for I have here an hundred men for every man of yours."
Goll laughed aloud.
"So had your father," he said.
Fionn's brother, Cairell Whiteskin, broke into the conversation with a harsh laugh.
"How many of Fionn's household has the wonderful Goll put down?" he cried.
But Goll's brother, bald Cona'n the Swearer, turned a savage eye on Cairell.
"By my weapons," said he, "there were never less than an hundred-and-one men with Goll, and the least of them could have put you down easily enough."
"Ah?" cried Cairell. "And are you one of the hundred-and-one, old scaldhead?"
"One indeed, my thick-witted, thin-livered Cairell, and I undertake to prove on your hide that what my brother said was true and that what your brother said was false."
"You undertake that," growled Cairell, and on the word he loosed a furious buffet at Con'an, which Cona'n returned with a fist so big that every part of Cairell's face was hit with the one blow. The two then fell into grips, and went lurching and punching about the great hall. Two of Oscar's sons could not bear to see their uncle being worsted, and they leaped at Cona'n, and two of Goll's sons rushed at them. Then Oscar himself leaped up, and with a hammer in either hand he went battering into the melee.
"I thank the gods," said Cona'n, "for the chance of killing yourself, Oscar."
These two encountered then, and Oscar knocked a groan of distress out of Cona'n. He looked appealingly at his brother Art og mac Morna, and that powerful champion flew to his aid and wounded Oscar. Oisi'n, Oscar's father, could not abide that; he dashed in and quelled Art Og. Then Rough Hair mac Morna wounded Oisin and was himself tumbled by mac Lugac, who was again wounded by Gara mac Morna.
The banqueting hall was in tumult. In every part of it men were giving and taking blows. Here two champions with their arms round each other's necks were stamping round and round in a slow, sad dance. Here were two crouching against each other, looking for a soft place to hit. Yonder a big-shouldered person lifted another man in his arms and threw him at a small group that charged him. In a retired corner a gentleman stood in a thoughtful attitude while he tried to pull out a tooth that had been knocked loose.
"You can't fight," he mumbled, "with a loose shoe or a loose tooth."
"Hurry up with that tooth," the man in front of him grum-bled, "for I want to knock out another one."
Pressed against the wall was a bevy of ladies, some of whom were screaming and some laughing and all of whom were calling on the men to go back to their seats.
Only two people remained seated in the hall.
Goll sat twisted round watching the progress of the brawl critically, and Fionn, sitting opposite, watched Goll.
Just then Faelan, another of Fionn's sons, stormed the hall with three hundred of the Fianna, and by this force all Goll's people were put out of doors, where the fight continued.
Goll looked then calmly on Fionn.
"Your people are using their weapons," said he.
"Are they?" Fionn inquired as calmly, and as though addressing the air.
"In the matter of weapons—!" said Goll.
And the hard-fighting pillar of battle turned to where his arms hung on the wall behind him. He took his solid, well-balanced sword in his fist, over his left arm his ample, bossy shield, and, with another side-look at Fionn, he left the hall and charged irresistibly into the fray.
Fionn then arose. He took his accoutrements from the wall also and strode out. Then he raised the triumphant Fenian shout and went into the combat.
That was no place for a sick person to be. It was not the corner which a slender-fingered woman would choose to do up her hair; nor was it the spot an ancient man would select to think quietly in, for the tumult of sword on sword, of axe on shield, the roar of the contending parties, the crying of wounded men, and the screaming of frightened women destroyed peace, and over all was the rallying cry of Goll mac Morna and the great shout of Fionn.
Then Fergus True-Lips gathered about him all the poets of the Fianna, and they surrounded the combatants. They began to chant and intone long, heavy rhymes and incantations, until the rhythmic beating of their voices covered even the noise of war, so that the men stopped hacking and hewing, and let their weapons drop from their hands. These were picked up by the poets and a reconciliation was effected between the two parties.
But Fionn affirmed that he would make no peace with clann-Morna until the matter had been judged by the king, Cormac mac Art, and by his daughter Ailve, and by his son Cairbre of Ana Life' and by Fintan the chief poet. Goll agreed that the affair should be submitted to that court, and a day was appointed, a fortnight from that date, to meet at Tara of the Kings for judgement. Then the hall was cleansed and the banquet recommenced.
Of Fionn's people eleven hundred of men and women were dead, while of Goll's people eleven men and fifty women were dead. But it was through fright the women died, for not one of them had a wound or a bruise or a mark.