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Instead of focusing on historical events, the author emphasizes the customs and daily lives of typical Carthaginian of the era. The drama of the story peaks when Hanno rescues his sister from the murderous priests of Carthage, and eventually joins the army of Hannibal. The scene of this story is among the Carthaginians, an ancient people who lived more than two thousand years ago on the finest harbor in Northern Africa, and who undertook some of the most daring sea expeditions that the world has ever known; a nation of traders who founded so many colonies, amassed so much wealth, gained so much power, that Rome became envious and engaged them in three great conflicts.
These wars finally resulted not only in the Carthaginians being vanquished, but in one of the most complete annihilations of state and people, with their records of every kind, found anywhere in history. Thus it is that almost the only accounts we have of this people have come to us through the "anger and envy and meanness" of their bitterest enemies. Notwithstanding this, one of their men has been accepted as a great world hero.
Hannibal belongs to the second of the chief Rome-Carthage conflicts the Punic Wars , the most important of them all. Some one has spoken of this war as the struggle of a great nation against a great man.
It is now the famous Coronation Stone which is part of the throne on which the English kings sit when they have been crowned in Westminster Abbey; and perhaps some day you may see it there. Meantime Fergus went on with the story of the DeDanaans. When the DeDanaans saw them coming, by their magic arts they raised a terrible storm hoping in this way to keep the boats from landing.
But though many of the boats were destroyed, there were such hosts of Celts that they managed in spite of the storm to land enough men to attack the page: 47 DeDanaans, who were obliged to retreat before them till they came right here to the Blackwater where Tailltenn is now. Here they made a stand and a great battle was fought, and the Celts won.
But the DeDanaans were not driven out of Ireland, you know.
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They are fairies now! Where we can see only green mounds and ruined walls, as at Tara, and under all the pleasant hills, there rise their fairy palaces where they live in continual sunshine and feast on magic meat and ale that keeps them everlastingly young and beautiful. But the boys and girls were quite sure of what they said, and, no doubt, they were right, for everybody knows that to this day there are said to be more fairies in Ireland than in almost any other land.
The high king was to give a dinner there later on and the boys wanted to see what they could.
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At big open fires near the Hall cooks were busy turning spits, made of peeled hazel rods, on which venison and hares and wild birds were roasting. Others were tending huge cauldrons filled with boiling beef and sheep and little pigs.
Potatoes, which we now call Irish but which are really American born, had not yet come to Ireland, because of course you know Columbus did not find America till more than four hundred years after our story; but there were page: 50 cabbages and onions and beans, and there were puddings and red apples and hazel nuts for dessert. There were seats for these only on the side next the wall; for nobody was expected to have his back to the center of the room where the poets always sang their pieces after dinner.
It's just like the one that burns at the door of his palace at Kinkora when Brian Boru is there, and my foster-father says that when he goes to war a big candle like that always burns at the door of his tent at night. At every place was laid a napkin, a platter, a cup for mead and a knife for cutting up the food, all of which was eaten with the fingers.
In front of each was also a small dish of honey, of which every one was immensely fond and in which they liked to dip almost everything, even meat and fish. Soon the dinner was ready and servants began bringing in great dishes of meat which later would be carefully carved and distributed according to the rank of the guests.
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Thus, a certain part of the roast ox was always given to kings and poets, another special part to queens, another to flaiths, and so on till all were served. There was one other part, however, that was always the choicest of all; and of this Conn whispered to Ferdiad, "Who do you suppose will get the hero's morsel?
I dare say it will be the one who has fought and beaten the most Danes.
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Just then "Clear out now, youngsters! As the boys slipped out, "I guess it's time for the feast," whispered Ferdiad, "but let's wait outside and see the folks come. Here one of the men at the door, lifting a large trumpet he carried, blew a loud blast and immediately a number of squires, who had been waiting near by holding the shields of their masters, marched up and handed them to the second of the three men who knew every shield and the rank of its owner.
At a second blast from the trumpet the shields were taken into the Hall and hung on the hooks Ferdiad had noticed in the wall over the tables. It was a gay sight when all were placed; most of them were small and round, some made of wicker covered with leather and coated with lime which shone dazzling white, others painted in different colors, while many were ornamented page: 54 with beautiful bands and bosses of gold and silver.
When all were arranged the trumpeter blew a third blast, and at this the feasters began to arrive. As he was giving the feast, he stood near the entrance and greeted each guest before turning them over to the third of the three men at the door whose business it was to seat each man under his own shield and to lead the ladies to the tables spread for them. Angus was with a group of kings and poets who came directly after the high king, and page: 55 there was a sweet tinkling of musical branches as they passed. I think he was mighty good to take me into your tent to sleep, and I know my foster-father would like to meet him.
Conn looked pleased, and as he was not of an envious disposition, he said he hoped Angus would get the prize and that the high king would choose him for chief poet. Meantime within the Hall the feasting went merrily on; by and by the dark fell and all the kings'-candles were lighted, and then, when the feast was over, the chain of silence was shaken and the poets one by one stood out and sang their songs. But we have not time in this story to tell of what they sang nor of how beautifully they played on their harps, for they were very skillful musicians as well as makers of songs.
Many fine poems were thus given, but, of course, Angus won the prize of the jeweled ring and was chosen by the high king to be his chief poet, while over his shoulders was hung the wonderful mantle of feathers, which was worn only by chief poets, and his silver musical branch was replaced by one of pure gold. I say of course this happened to Angus, because page: 57 Eileen was quite sure it would, and so was Ferdiad, and so was I when he came into this story which must move now for awhile to Kinkora; for Angus and his family would be expected to live in the poet's house by the palace of Brian Boru.
But before we go to Kinkora I must tell you how Ferdiad went with his foster-parents and Eileen back to their home near Kells where Angus wished to arrange his affairs before quitting it for the court of the high king.
T HE curragh in which they had come to the fair was pointed up the Blackwater which it parted in long ripples of silver as Ferdiad and Angus pulled at the oars. They were all very proud and happy over the honor Angus had won the night before, and Eileen had hugged and kissed him and begged to hear all about it.
Our Little Irish Cousin
But "There, child," said her father, "I will tell you by and by. We must hurry now to reach Kells, for you know we want to stop there to see the new high-cross they have been putting up, and we must be home by dark, for we cannot sleep in the curragh neither can we camp in the forests; there are too many bears!
Indeed, for much of their way after leaving page: 59 Tailltenn the great trees came close to the water's edge and in their deep shadows prowled many dangerous beasts; for a large part of Ireland was still wild and unsettled. Now and then they passed open bog lands with perhaps a glimpse of blue mountain tops in the distance; and sometimes the river led through meadows where cows and sheep were grazing near the homes of their owners.
As I have told you, most of the Celtic people lived in the country and their homes, which they called "raths" were much alike. There was always a round or oblong house in the middle of a piece of ground enclosed by a circular wall of earth often planted on top with a prickly hedge to better protect the place from the attack of enemies or wild beasts. Even the palaces of the kings were built much the same, only larger and finer, and they were called "duns" instead of raths. But the curragh on the Blackwater had been page: 60 making good progress and before long they could glimpse through the trees the stone walls of Kells, while clustering about rose the thatched roofs of the round wattled huts where lived the young students.
For Kells was not a town but a monastery where a number of monks lived and studied and taught, and in their spare time made beautiful painted books. There were many such places in Ireland and the Celtic monks had become so famous for their learning that people not only from their own country but even from Britain and Gaul which we now call England and France , sent their sons to be educated by them.
Much of Europe was then very heathenish and ignorant, and had it not been for those Celtic monks, many of whom went as missionaries and started schools in other countries, the world would not be nearly so wise as it is to-day. As they now drew near Kells, "Shall we go to the monastery landing? We will land there and go up and look at it. In a few minutes they had all climbed to the hill top where the new stone cross had just been put in place. It was very large, more than twice as high as a tall man, and wonderfully carved with scenes from the Bible as it was meant to tell its story to people who had no books of their own.
There are to-day more than fifty of these great Celtic crosses standing on the hills of Ireland and artists from many countries copy them because of their beauty. Who of you made it? One of them was about to answer him when page: 62 suddenly there came a sharp jangle of bells from a tall round tower of stone near the monastery. Some were carrying children in their arms and others driving before them a few cows or sheep, while from the door of the monastery the brown-robed monks were already pouring out, their arms filled with precious books and such sacred things of gold and silver as they had been able to snatch from the altar of the monastery church.
For everywhere the young students were running about shouting "The Danes! The Danes! We must hurry to reach the tower! Angus at once snatched up Eileen, who was screaming from fright, and bidding Fianna and Ferdiad to follow, they all ran like deer down the hill. By this time the country folk had given up hope of saving their cattle and sheep and were trying only to save themselves as both they and the monks and their pupils crowded to the foot of the tower and scrambled as fast as they could up a wooden ladder which led to a door high above the ground. For the tower was page: 64 not only a belfry for the monastery church but also a place of refuge from just such sudden attacks as the Danes were now making.
And how often these places of refuge were needed in those wild warring times is proven by the many ancient towers, solitary and deserted, which still rise from innumerable Irish hills and valleys. And very good strongholds they were when every one was inside, the ladder drawn up and the great door barred.