Defeat of Balor

The heavy heat of the day pressed on the warriors like a relentless hand, sweat soaking clothing and slipping grips. The battle did now wait for a cloud or surcease of wind. Blood ran on heated ground, a deafness of clashing filled every ear, unending.
Lug heard the battle but could not see it from the safe place the Tuath Déa had set him, guarded by his nine foster brothers to protect him and his arts. But he knew the fate on him, know it lay on the field and not in the safety of the hall. No tyrant would release the land because he only lived.

One hour of waiting became two and his brothers did not mind when he began to sing to pass the time and did not hear when he wove the sleep strain into the song. Asleep, they did not see him slip from the hall and race to the field, just as the Tuath Déa fell back, wounded and tired and missing the healers’ well. Lug saw the slaughter, the blood and the torn ground, its harvest only pain and bones, and knew it must end soon.

Lug began to sing the chants of battle, hopping one-footed, one eye closed, one arm behind in the crane stance that called up the powers of the three realms. He sang to them of the death of tyrants, sang them tall in their love of their kin, sang them strong in their hope for a better future and the knowledge of their own gifts. He turned to the Fomoire and sang them fear, the knowledge of their enemies’ strengths and the heat of the long day wearying their arms, weighing on their weapons, too heavy to lift, the weight of death breathing on their necks. *

Heartened, the Tuath Déa cried out in defiance and rushed the field. Fearful, the Fomoire held their ground with the grimness of those who knew death spoke their names.

Lug fought among them, but with his goal always in mind. It was not hard to see Balor—the strong warrior stood a head taller than all those around him, his poisoned eye covered with a flashing metal shield to keep him from burning everything he faced. Lug knew his goal and knew his fate and came to the towering warrior and cried out:

“My challenge to you, O Balor of the Mighty Blows, tyrant who bleeds the land of Eire and harvests the cries of the people! It is I, Lug Lamfada, Samildánach, who calls to you, though you were the one who named me!”

Cold crept into Balor’s belly at the sight of the young man with his daughter’s golden hair and sea-shifting eyes. He heard the name and knew it, remembered the roll of apples and the dark-eyed gardener with his weak little son. If this was his death, if the words of his wife must come to be, he would die with the host of his enemies.

“What chatterer is this?” he cried. “I will look upon you before you die.” He began to lift the metal shield from his poisoned eye turning it to the golden youth, the grandson who was not to be, and the shining host beyond.

Lug held steady, the spear still in his hand, and when the space was enough made the cast, crying its name to speed its flight. Ibar found its mark flawlessly, piercing the poisoned pupil, driving the deadly orb backward, burning the embattled band of Balor with furious fire. The Fomoire wailed as Balor fell and with him nine nines of warriors.

Ibar returned to the call of its master, and spear in hand Lug Lonnbeimnech stood in stillness, Balor beaten, the Fomoire fleeing with their first warriors fallen. Fate was full.
Balor was beaten but not yet dead, beckoned to his grandson, grim and silent. Macnia came to the fallen warrior, looked in his ruined face, the black burning poison that burned his cheek, and wondered what would happen now that he had done what he had been born for.

“You are a brave, strong lad,” Balor said, “and I am not sorry to have such a destroyer, but I would not have all I am lost, grandson. Take my head and put it upon your own and the blood of my head will grant you all my power, all my knowledge, and the leadership of the Fomoire.”

Lug looked again at the burning hole that had been the poisoned eye, the steam that rose from it, hotter than blood. He looked at the strong arms of the man who was his grandfather, saw the light of life fading in him. “I will take your head, grandfather,” he said, and saw triumph in the remaining eye. Lug drew the Answerer, the sword Manannán had gifted him, and cut cleanly. He lifted the great head to the level of his own. “But I do not choose your power. It was no fool Tailtiu raised.” He set the head on a tall stone of the field, and the first drop of blood spilt the stone in two.

And this was the end of Balor, war-chief of the Fomoire, and the fulfillment of the prophecy of his wife Cethlenn. **


* If you’d like to read a translation of the poem that appears as Lug’s speech in the Cath Mage Tuired, Isolde Carmody has a translation here: I’ve taken liberties with this very dense and not entirely intelligible piece of poetics.

** This tale owes inspiration obviously to the Cath Maige Tuired as translated by Elizabeth Grey, but also to folktales of Balor’s defeat. In some, Lug chases Balor all over Ireland before he finally defeats him. I didn’t feel the need to leave the Plain of Pillars, but felt the final test of Lug’s choices was a good inclusion.


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