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The Tale of the Wanderings of the Spear Which Was Called the Red Lance


The Tale of the Wanderings of the Spear Which Was Called the Red Lance

         I dedicate the edition of this tiny volume to the memory of my beloved mother—Mary Amalgad O'Carroll.
         It was under her tutelage I learned the trenchant, precise, glorious, and kindly–gentle Gaelic. Many a new and ancient tale which came down by oral tradition she had to embellish a story or adorn her conversation, as is instanced in the following narrative.
         I have transferred to writing this story, in order that it may not perish, as, alas! many historic accounts of the Gaels have been lost beyond recovery. Scripta manent.


     On the day of the crucifixion of the Only Son, it was Longinus the Giant, afterward surnamed Lamdearg, a commander of three fifties,
who gave a spear thrust opening the side and splitting his heart in his bosom for Jesus. An issue of blood streamed from the wound of the Lord, which encrimsoned the spear and the hand of Longinus.

     Furthermore, it was impossible to cleanse it from the shaft of the spear or from the hand of the hero. From that date forth Longinus had the surname Lamdearg, from the reddening of the Savior's blood.

     Indeed, Longinus Lamdearg, after that, wedded Salome, the beautiful but capricious daughter of the consort of Phillip, the tetrarch of the territory of Itur. When Longinus and his wife Salome went to Spain with the army, there she led him an unhappy life, committing unseemly escapades and infidelities with the commanders of the army until such pangs of jealousy seized the heart of Longinus that he desired to slay Galba, her paramour, though commander of the legions. Life in the army became insupportable for Lamdearg on account of the persecutions of Galba, as well as the dishonor and contempt his spouse, Salome, publicly heaped upon him.


     Longinus Lamdearg resolved to flee to the fortress of the Lugataos Parisiorum, where a Roman cohort usually encamped. It was not easy to accomplish this flight, for a military company pursued him. The Romans inflicted the penalty of decapitation on military deserters. As soon, however, as Lamdearg got amongst the mountains it was impossible for the pursuers to trace him, indeed, they were not over-zealous in the search, for they knew the mighty exploits heretofore performed by Lamdearg with the Red Lance, and that in his desperation he would defend himself fiercely, wrathfully, most hurtfully and manfully. Thus in his wanderings Lamdearg advanced until he arrived at the port of Ith. Many were the dangers he encountered by road and rustic on that long and lonesome journey, but he arrived safely with the aid of the conquering Lance, for it emitted a shower of fiery sparks from the point of its head on the approach of danger, and after the day of the Crucifixion it never was darted without piercing its aim, and returned to the hand which thrust it. Besides, there was not the peer of Lamdearg in prowess and strength on the back of the great world at that period. At the port of Ith an army was preparing to cross over to Britain. It was what Lamdearg said: That he himself would go with it. After passing some time in Britain, word came that Lamdearg was a military deserter.

     For Galba, the male paramour of Salome, had obtained the sovereignty over the Romans. As quickly as Lamdearg heard that he divested himself of his suit of mail and put away his shield and spear and fled, rapidly and secretly, by way of each dense forest and each dark glen and each mountain trail, until he reached the shore of the great sea, for he was moved by fear of ignominious death, and he crossed in a small boat to Gallia, where he took the staff and cowl of a Culdee, and terminated his life in happiness and peace at last.


     When Lamdearg fled from dread of decapitation, he pitched his shield and the Red Lance into an abandoned well, where they remained a long time, until on a certain night Lucius Balbus and a company of fifty marched past. Points of fire like lightning were belched from the mouth of the well.

     "By Hercules," said Lucius to his comrades, "is not that yonder a wonderful effulgence? Approach and ascertain what it is?" "Fortune between us and it," they replied. "How do we know but it is the upper part and vestibule of hell? We will charge heroically and speedily any native battalion, but we have neither battle, contest, nor war, against Pluto, and we won't scorch our courage against him. So, hail! all hail !" "Out on your courage, you rustics, brave indeed to face food and wine!" said Lucius. "Stand aside until I investigate what this wonderful prodigy may be." As he peered into the well he saw the Red Lance and a shower of sparks shedding from its point. At once he concluded it was a magic lance, and as he grasped it he realized it was the most excellent he had seen up to that moment; its shaft shining red as blood and it emitting a blaze of light from its piercing point. But terror would not permit a man of the company of fifty to touch a finger to it for the treasures of the world, except Lucius only. And the hero, Lucius, himself believed some god had placed a spell on that spear. So he bore the shield and spear with him to the fortress of Donancaster, where were stationed at that time three legions: Legio nona Hispana, Legio Decima Quarta Gemina Victrix, and Legio Vigesima Valeria Victrix, under the command of the Proconsul Aulus Plautus.

Chapter IV.

     The advice Lucius followed, was to show the shield and spear to the Haurispex and the Flamen Dialis for an interpretation of the spell and the cause of the fire running from the piercing point and the crimson color of its shaft. But, in truth, none of the soothsayers in the camp had the sagacity to interpret the prodigy. The fame of the lance and shield became great throughout all that country at that time. All, indeed, became convinced that they belonged to some god.

     Lucius Balbus presented them to Aulus Plautus, the proconsul, for he understood that Aulus greatly coveted them. It was certain that Plautus had no jewel nor wealth he prized so highly and cherished so dearly as he did the Red Lance. For a long time he kept it with his valuables in Donancaster, until he went campaigning to the northward, and took the Red Lance with him, and many an exploit he did with it, and many a brave, knightly battle he fought with the enemy.

     And when he began to celebrate his victory, he founded an altar to Venus Victrix, and hung the mighty shield and the Red Lance above it. But the altar and the statues on it were found the following morning thrown down. The Flamen Dialis said it was an "evil omen," but Plautus maintained it was an accident. The Flamen Dialis reconstructed the altar and placed the Penates upon it, and at eventide hung the shield and the Red Lance again above the altar.

     The following morning they found the altar overthrown and the penates broken to pieces. For the third time Plautus ordered the altar to be re-erected, and the Red Lance to be hung above it, and a military guard to watch the night through. It was ordered accordingly.

     About midnight, like a gust of wind, though the night was calm, it sounded, and the shield rattled on the wall and the blade of the lance was encircled by a fiery cross, but the altar was crushed to powder and sad voices as of lamentation passed over the whole camp, crying: "Alas, oh, blood! Alas, oh, blood! Abide thy time." The air reddened with lightning and vibrated with terrific thunder, the guards blew the trumpets, the whole camp was alarmed and kept vigil the remainder of the night.


     After the confusion of the camp, this was what the proconsul, Aulus Plautus, did: He sent Vespasian a military tribune with an embassy to the Isle of Man to a seat of learning of the Cromfir of Baal, to obtain an interpretation of the event which happened to the altar of Venus, and the said voices of the night, and to explain also what the Red Lance might be? But the cromfir could not tell, only that the god of the lance was manifestly greater than the god of the altar.

     But they said if the embassy proceeded to Magnas in Erin perhaps the Ardcromfear of Gaelen might reveal to them the mystery of the Red Lance and the cause of the prodigy. So the embassy set out, bringing great store of wealth, jewels, gold and silver as an offering for the god and his attendants. But the Ardcromfear replied that it was not customary for himself to prophesy or reveal except in matters strictly pertaining to Baal. However, he would appoint a cromfear to seclude himself and perform the incantation, Teinm Laoga, for revelation on the subject. But he obtained no response. Then a higher caste cromfear secluded himself, making the incantation, Dioceadail do Canad. But he likewise received no response. Very great surprise ensued when the cromfir who secluded themselves did not receive an answer, as was usual.

     After that the head of the embassy besought the Ardcromfear not to suffer them to return after so long a journey without an answer to the proconsul. It was then the Ardcromfear secluded himself in his Druidic cave and performed the mystic incantation, Imbas For Osna.

     On the third day he emerged from the penetralia in which he was shut, and this answer in Ogam with him: "The blood has terrified all the gods. The lance is crimson from the blood of Mighty Pan. Amissa cessit!" I. e.: The blood so terrified all the gods that they fled, the shaft of the lance is red from the blood of Mighty Pan (i.e. He who is all). If lost there will be a downfall.

     When Aulus Plautus, the proconsul, heard this, he said: "Though I do not clearly understand the words, I know it will not augur well for me to lose the Red Lance, for 'Amissa cessit' may signify if the lance is lost I and all may be lost with it.


     From that date the Roman warriors called the Red Lance the "Spear of Pan," with which he threw the peoples of Scind into Panic terror and wrested the victory from the farther India.

     Immediately Aulus Plautus stored the spear with his valuables in the army treasure chest and placed a cauldron of water under its blade so that it would not ignite the treasure house. He beheld the Red Lance no more, for trouble and grief came upon him through envy and persecution, and shortly after his return to Rome he was most foully assassinated. But the fame and power of the mystic spear circulated through all the land of Erin and the Cruitni. In truth the Ardcromfear did not relate the whole prophecy nor its augury to the Roman embassy. For while secluded in his Druidic cave under the influence of the incantation he foresaw that the Romans would lose the spear and with it sovereignty and power. That they would lose it in a war with the Gaels of Cruithni toward the north, and from that day forth both their rule and sovereignty would shrink. But the Ardcromfear was too sagacious to return an evil report in exchange for the opulent gifts of gold and silver bestowed on him by Vespasian and the embassy.

     After the Romans had subjugated and banished the Brigantes they marched northward and gave battle to Caracht and the Silureis. And driving them from their domiciles, they came to the boundaries of the land of the Cruithni, and they sent heralds who shot javelins into the soil of the land of Cruithen, proclaiming: "The Senate and the Roman people make war on the land of Cruithen, because the Cruithni have aided the enemies of the Roman people!" That is the rite by which the Romans declare war.


     But the Cruithni sent a delegation to Suetonius Paulinus, the proconsul, saying: "We live peacefully, and have done no injury to the Senate nor the Roman people, therefore why do you begin an unprovoked war with evil intent against us? Indeed, a true account has reached us of the unmerited devastation wrought by Ostorius Scapula on Caracht and the Silureis. Know, then, it is better for us, and more to our liking, to fight bravely in defense of our land and its boundaries than to accept the ignoble meed of food and servitude from any alien whatsoever."

     The clan Cruithni massed their comlanns and dispatched swift couriers to every tribe and townland. They also sent an embassy to the Ardrig of Erin, for they were intermarried. This was the message: "Oh, high king, and free sons of Erin, be it known to you that the evil brood of Romans have come upon us with violence to spread ruin and slaughter over our territories. Send us aid and we will give the robbers a grave in our soil. It is the wisest policy to reinforce us, for if we are destroyed, immediately the Romans will invade your territories in Erin." It transpired that at this very time the imperial Congress was in session in Teacmor Tara. The counsel the Ardrig and the free sons of the congress reached: To send five battalions of the Gaelic rank and file and a phalanx of the Clanna Rory and a phalanx of the Clanna Morna under the command of Gol, the terrible son of Morna. At this same session the Ardcromfear of Gaalen came and related the augury of the spear called the Red Lance, and the heroic Gol, the terrible son of Morna, sat at the shoulder of the Ardrig of Erin, while the Ardcromfear delivered his address.

     The fleet assembled at the mouth of the Foist, and at the fall of the first darkness they quietly sailed for Alipban.


     Nor was it child's play the Roman army accomplished, for they had built a wall across the face of the country from sea to sea. They lay behind it free from danger and anxiety. They sallied forth from behind their walls in sudden forays when the Cruithni were off their guard, and swept the territory nearest them with sword and fire, leaving it as bare as bosom of the desert. Go1 immediately arrayed his forces and they fought the battle of Bearna, in which five thousand legionaries fell; the rest retreated in confusion behind their walls. Such a paralyzing fear seized hold of the Roman legions that it was impossible for Suetonius Paulinus or his military tribunes to march them out to battle. They mutinously refused to move a foot's width from their walls. They, however, fought with zeal from the top of their wall, working the balista and military engines that shot rocks and gigantic arrows to a great distance. Whenever the Gael or the Cruithni approached the wall they poured burning pitch, boiling oil, and fire-sand on them. But after the battle of Bearna fear did not permit the Romans to march out on field or plain while Gol, the terrible son of Morna, and his army were in the land of Cruithen. One day Go1 said to Garrid Glundub Mac Morna: "Oh, Garrid, this is cold work awaiting on this bare mountain back, without hope of a battle or a brush with this robber tribe of Romans, who are in the agony of death from white terror. We have no wish to found a fortification across the country, like Suetonius Paulinus. Oh, god whom I adore, if I could but get a spear charge on them in field or plain before I return to the happy land of Erin!" "What is on your mind now, oh, brother?" said Garrid. "It is said, Gol, though we have wrested the victory from the Romans in the first encounter, we have not found the Red Lance, nor will the Romans come from behind their walls; yet I dislike to return without the spear, for there is enchantment on its blade, nor without the shield, for there is enchantment on its rim. Indeed, the Ardcromfear said in my hearing: 'When the Romans lose the Lance their sovereignty will begin to decay.' If we but knew where the Lance is, oh, brother!" "We know that very thing, oh, Garrid, from the captive soldiers. It is in the camp of the army treasure house, and it is the Legio nona Hispana that guards it." "My brave brother, you will array the whole army except the phalanx of the Clanna Morna, and early tomorrow morning you will give battle all along the wall, fiercely, manfully, and for all you have ever seen give no respite until I and my phalanx return. Tonight keep the fires burning throughout the camp and in front of the phalanx of the Clanna Morna as every other night."


     "Blow the trumpet and order the watches as usual." "By my head, I will," said Garrid, "but victory on your life, my brother, into what gap of danger do you tend with your fierce exploit-compelling phalanx?" "Tonight, at the second watch, you will see, oh, Garrid."

     When the trumpet sounded the second watch every warrior of the Clanna Morna stood full-armed in his ship, and Gol, the terrible son of Morna, with them. They sailed in the calm of silence, on the rolling back of the flood, until they touched the shore behind the wall, beside the camp of the Legio nona Hispana. The terrible son of Morna set a third of his phalanx to guard the fleet, and with the rest he scaled the camp and like lightning he broke every defense of battle, extinguished every torch of war, and gave a lasting death and destruction to all. A legionary to tell the tale escaped not, but in one hour they sank into death together.

     Gol loaded his fleet with wealth from the treasure house of the Roman army, and with the shield and Red Lance returned to his own camp without wound of spear or cut of sword on any of the phalanx. Never before was such treasure gained in quality and quantity as Go1 captured in one hour that night; for all the wealth of Britain was gathered there by the army to ship to Rome. But it so chanced that the Romans plundered Britain only to enrich the Gaels.


     Shortly after Suetonius Paulinus returned to Rome in great dishonor. He was discredited on two counts : For having lost five thousand legionaries in the battle of Bearna; for the destruction also of the Legio nona Hispana and the loss of the treasury and army pay-chest. When all danger from the Romans in the land of Cruithen passed, Gol and his victorious army sailed for Erin. Though great the wealth of treasures, jewels and golden armor he bore away in his navy, there was no jewel among them all so dear to him as the talismanic shield and the Red Lance. Many brave battles and fierce knightly contests Gol, the terrible son of Morna, fought with the Red Lance after that, until he fell by ambuscade himself at the battle of Gavrad. It was by the shot of a dart that Goll of the mighty exploits, the terrible son of Morna, perished at last. When he saw that he was on the brink of inevitable death he tore his military cloak into bandages and tied in his bowels without drawing the slinn from the wound, and ran fleet-footed to the Lake of Alt, where his father was, saying: "Farewell, a long farewell, oh, beloved father! The slinn of Cairbre Cinn has pierced my navel to the spine." He made his last great cast with which he hurled the shield and Red Lance far out into the waters of the deep. The Red Lance remained submerged in the lake until Thorwolf Mac Starn came to Erin in search of Fionawara, a daughter of the Tuatha de Danaan, but the shield was lost forever.


     Thorwolf Mac Starn, son of the king of Loclann, gave his true love and first affection to a surpassingly beautiful daughter of the Tuatha de Danaan, whose name was Fionawara Allaoi. She was the most beautiful maiden in figure and form in the world at that period. But the king banished herself and her tribe from the kingdom of Loclann because of the unchangeable affection and true love his son, the Prince Thorwolf, gave her.

     The king had planned that Thorwolf would marry the youngest sister of his own queen, for rumor crept that she was the king's mistress in private. Prince Thorwolf would not obey the command of his father, though the perquisite of a crown and kingdom was attached to it. This was what that savage, wrathful king ordered: If Prince Thorwolf would not marry her within two weeks, to cut off his head, and the inheritance to go to the noble who would marry her. Thorwolf did not await events, but quickly sailed away, seeking through the world the woman to whom he pledged the affection of his heart and the love of his bosom. He left no county, land, nor tribe, in the west of Europe but he searched, until on a certain night he stood on the beach of the Lake Alt. There he beheld a shower of fiery sparks rising from the surface of the water. He wondered at that, and swam out to the blaze and found the Red Lance, with its blade protruding from the water. It was with it he afterward fought many brave battles and fierce encounters, and gained victories and performed exploits throughout the world, and after he accepted the faith of the Only Son, and died, the Red Lance was buried with him in his tomb in the Forest of the Dead.

     It remained in his grave until his three sons came in search of him, and they bore it, together with Aonbean, back to the happy land of Erin. In those days Diarmud O'Duibne was the champion in prowess and feats of arms at the field of exploits on the Lios of Tara. Thither to the games came the three sons of Thorwolf Mac Starn and Aonbeam, the wife of the eldest. They gave Diarmud the severest trial in every feat he contested.

     The Fiana Erin were present as spectators and watched the three heroes and were filled with envy against them, for they were not sprung from the blood of the Gael, so that Diarmud and the Fiana Erin hated the three sons of Mac Starn from that day forth. But it happened too that Aonbean gave her affection and undying love to Diarmud the very hour he defeated the three brothers on the Lios, and Diarmud returned the love and sent trackers to find her tribe and dwelling.

     Diarmud was commander of a thousand Fenian soldiers of the rank and file. This was what he said to the officers of hundreds, and to the officers of fifties, and to the officers of tens: "Early tomorrow morning we will follow the hunt, oh, fellow soldiers." Then they marched from Corcaclann westward, through Magcru of the Cuigeac, and over Mount Callan, and past Loc Greine, until they came to the castle of Mac Starn, the Bold. Aonbean told of the Red Lance, and eloped with Diarmud, for they were mutually enamored. When the three brothers returned and found the false Aonbean fled, and the Red Lance lost, an impulse of wild madness seized them, and the three, hand in hand, leaped far down into the sea and died together. Not long after that Aonbean died from Diarmud.


     Now, Graine, the daughter of Cormac, the king of Erin, was wife of Fionn, the commander of seven battalions of the Fiana Erin. She became involved in an intrigue with Diarmud and finally eloped with him. It was during his flight from the vengeance of Fionn that he did many wonderful exploits with the Red Lance, for Fionn said it was his design to give quick death and a short life to Diarmud. After the fall of Diarmud, Fionn hung the Red Lance in the armory at Tara, where it remained until the day holy Patrick drove his chariot on to the Lios of Tara. Then a champion of the free sons of Erin ran straight to the armory and grasped the Red Lance, for it was prohibited by law and usage for any knight or soldier to bear arms on Tara while the imperial Congress was in session. He ran toward the chariot of holy Patrick and gave a thrust, swift and terrible, to Odran, the charioteer, who instantly fell in death. An influence as of anger came upon the holy Patrick, and he said: "Oh, God, thou almighty Creator, Ruler of the elements, show this day thy transcendant power over Baal and all his demons!"

        He took the Red Lance in his hand, and immediately it was revealed unto him that its shaft was sacred by the blood upon it. For this reason he carried the Red Lance with him, so that it might not commit an exploit of blood again forever!

        When he ascended the mountain of Fasting, which is now called the Reek of Patrick, a wish came over him to separate the blade from the shaft, and the enchanted blade he buried deep and irrecoverable in the bosom of the mountain. But the shaft he cast out on the world of waters, out on the great sea, out on the high back of the flood, out on the immense, foam-crested waves of the ocean, saying: "Oh, wood, reddened by the blood of the Holy One, go forth to bless every sea and every land that is unknown, until in aftertimes the tidings of the Lord's redemption shall come upon them-

    "To blood-purchase the remnant of the nations,
    "To establish a wall of light in the impenetrable darkness,
    "To bring universal peace to the valley of tears!"

    Here end the wanderings of the spear called the Red Lance.