The Hector Cycle I: Scél na Trí Mac Duibh Dá Leine

The title of my recent post, ‘The Hector Cycle II,’ did not make much sense without this, the first one. I had first developed it as an exercise in mythography, but it has quickly surpassed this (as my other post suggests).

Once upon a time, there was a man named Dubh Dá Leine who lived in the Islands of Western Scotland. He had three sons .i. Erc, Echbél and Finn Srianmhór.

Erc was an excellent sailor and the sea called to him in Winter as in Summer. Echbél was a bard and a judge, who excelled at poetry, jurisprudence and all forms of learning, but he left the islands for the sake of foreign lore in the wide world and was not heard from again. Finn was good with horses and it was from his ability to tame any horse that he got this name Srianmhór: Great Bridle.

Their father’s wife was a jealous woman who was also a powerful poetess; and, because Dubh Dá Leine’s sons were not hers, she took a great disliking to them.

Dubh Dá Leine was a great man for fighting and loved nothing more than standing at the headlands watching for raiding parties of Pictish warriors, as these promised the greatest challenge. Some say that, as he stood watching from the top of Beann Dá Fhíthich on Aídhche Shamhna, the mountain was opened beneath him. There he saw a bright woman among a throng emerge and, watching her closely, followed the host through the country and back into the mountain. As told in Togail Glinn na nGall Uaine, there he performed three great feats in seeking her out and at last won her favor; she gave him the three sons .i. Erc, Echbél and Finn Srianmhór.

After a full year in the mountain, Dubh Dá Leine returned home on the same night he left, but a great jealousy lay on his wife. ‘No welcome before you’ said she. ‘Then welcome these three sons’ said Dubh Dá Leine. ‘No welcome for them indeed but my curse,’ she said. ‘From where have they come?’ ‘From the headlands by the Western sea,’ he answered, ‘and you a mother to them.’ ‘That is not true indeed,’ she said, ‘but the sea shall be mother, wife and daughter to them. It shall be their life and death, for of women is the fortune of a man, good or bad.’

‘Of whose family are they?’ she asked. ‘They are of your family,’ he answered. ‘That is not true indeed,’ she said. ‘Breacan was their mother’s brother; Airdomain his father, son of Dídomuin, son of Ard; Cindomain Abainn their mother’s messenger. Derrit, Díomra, and Dolbach her three handmaidens.’

‘What are their names?’ She asked. ‘They are nameless save that you name them,’ he answered. ‘That is not true indeed,’ she said, ‘for their mother named them in secret.’ Then she said:

Erc the eldest,

Ocean’s rider,

Riches seeking,

Heavens’ fire,

A fickle journey

A Joyfull lyre,

Loving wonder,

Wandering Erc.

Echbél the salient,

A sage’s psalter

Somber pages,

A steed’s halter,

Home departing,

Deepest fountain,

Fickle travel,

Touring Echbél.

Then she fell silent. ‘What of the third boy?’ Asked Dubh Dá Leine. Then she said:

Finn the youngest

Of youthful hosts

Hungry wolves

Waiting ghosts

Gripping swords

A saddling post

Crooked paths

Biting frost

Finn the youngest …

‘He has the makings of a horseman,’ she said ‘but will never see sixteen years in these lands.’ ‘That is a bitter curse,’ said his father.

‘That is the least of my curse,” said she, “for these are not the sons of my house.’ This then was the cause of the jealousy of his wife .i. that he should bring home three boys who were none of hers, and for that she cursed them.

This was the curse laid on the Trí Mhic Duibh Dá Leine in the time of Nennius, apostle to the Southern Picts, and Martin, the soldier-saint: that they should die far from their father’s lands and that each son to the end of seventy-two generations should always die in a land different from that of their birth.

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