Harigaig and Dunkane

This is a version of a story that is briefly summarised in Winterbirth. It is a much older version, closer to the ancient roots of the tale, that was told amongst the inhabitants of the Dihrve Valley early in the Third Age, before the Kingships rose.

This was in the time of the First People, the One Race, before there was strife between the Gods and them, when the world was in its pure and bountiful youth.

Harigaig was a farmer, a cattle herder and plougher of fields, and he made his home where the Dihrve meets the sea. He lived there with his wife and his four daughters and his brothers and their children, and they were powerful people, befriended by Gods. Now Harigaig had an enemy, whose name was Dunkane, and Dunkane was not a farmer but a hunter. He lived in the north, beyond the Tan Dihrin, on the furthest slopes of the world. Though in those days the world was bountiful, warmed by the light of the Gods, Dunkane’s people still lived hard lives and they often went hungry. The Gods had tried to teach Dunkane the secrets of the plough and the flock, but he was proud and his family stubborn, and they would not learn.

One year, the seals were few in the north and the deer herds sparse, so Dunkane came south. He came down the Dihrve in secret and concealment, and found the youngest of Harigaig’s daughters watching over his cattle in a meadow by the river. Dunkane sang a song that was hidden in the sound of the water and the wind in the trees, and with it he sent the girl to sleep. And once she slumbered he stole from her both cattle and honour.

When Harigaig discovered what had happened he was possessed by a terrible fury. He was so enraged at this theft of his cattle and this misuse of his youngest daughter that he called upon the Gods.

‘Dunkane of the north has broken the peace you decree,’ cried Harigaig. ‘My cattle are stolen and my daughter most ill-used. Give me leave, I beg you, to right these wrongs. Grant me the right of vengeance upon my enemy and take what you will in return.’

And the Gods heard Harigaig’s plea and took his side, and told him that he could take his revenge and that they would take what they wished in return. Then Harigaig spoke to the willow tree that bent its head over the river and asked it, ‘Did the thief who stole my cattle pass this way?’

And the tree shook its leaf-bowed branches and said, ‘He did. I watched him drive your cattle as far as the great boulder in the bend of the river.’ Harigaig thanked the old tree and took his first stride. That first stride carried him to the huge boulder that stood part-in and part-out of the wide river.

‘Did you see an enemy of mine pass this way, driving my cattle before him?’ he asked the rock.

‘I did,’ the rock replied. ‘He passed this way, and I saw him go as far as the dead tree where the great owl roosts at the foot of the mountain.’ And Harigaig thanked the old stone and took his second stride. His second stride carried him to the foot of the tall lightning-struck tree that stood in the morning-shadow of the Tan Dihrin.

‘Did you see the thief Dunkane bring my cattle this way?’ he asked of the owl that lived in the bones of the tree.

‘I saw him. He drove your cattle into the mountains, by rocky paths. I saw him go as far as the highest meadow where the red grass grows.’ And Harigaig thanked the ancient owl and took his third stride. His third stride bore him far up into the Tan Dihrin, the Mountains Unending, onto the highest of the high meadows where red grass grew.

‘Have you seen my cattle, and my enemy, come this way?’ he asked, and the grass answered softly, for it was a small and feeble thing: ‘Cattle and enemy alike are in the valley beyond, and there will be feasting there soon.’ And Harigaig thanked the little red grass and took his fourth, and last, stride. That last stride carried him down into the bare valley where Dunkane had hidden the stolen cattle, and where he meant to slaughter them and make a feast of them. There were no words between Harigaig and Dunkane, for they were enemies of old, and knew there could be no bartering or bargaining between them. They fell to battle.

Harigaig swung his staff, stout as a tree, and Dunkane wielded his spear, made of birch and stag’s antler. They bloodied one another, and broke boulders with their blows, and split the earth with their footsteps. Back and forth they battled, up and down the mountains, and the thunder of their struggle shook rocks from the faces of cliffs and shook rain from the clouds above. As night came on, Harigaig at last bettered Dunkane and with one great strike he cracked his enemy’s head and laid him dead upon the ground. But such were the wounds Harigaig had taken that he too fell, and could not rise again.

Now Harigaig’s wife and three eldest daughters had followed him, and they found him there lying beside the body of his enemy. They fell upon dead Dunkane and cut his limbs away from his corpse, and each arm and each leg was taken by one of these women and carried up to each of four peaks and left there for the carrion birds. They cut his head from his neck and buried it in a secret place in the valley where he had fallen. All of this they did so that his people in the north should not have his body entire to mourn over.

Then they lifted Harigaig, their husband and father, and bore him away from that place, driving his cattle before them. Across the mountains and down into the valley of the Dihrve they carried him, and never did he speak. They carried him down the banks of the river, weeping as they went, and so plentiful were their tears, so unbounded their grief, that the river was filled and overflowed its banks and flooded across the valley in their wake. Not all their longing or all their sorrow could stay the ebbing of his strength, though, and when at last they came to the sea, their husband and their father was dead.

The wrong has been righted,’ the Gods whispered to Harigaig’s wife, ‘and we have taken what we wished. Give us now your husband’s body and we will make of it stone, that he shall not be forgotten.’ So Harigaig’s women bore their heavy burden to the furthest headland of their territory and cast it into the waves. And by the will of the Gods Harigaig’s cold bones and flesh became stone, and he lies there still with the waves breaking across his broad back.

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