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Myths and Legends of the Celtic Race

Page: 102

All these now did Maev by secret messages and by taunts and exhortations arouse against Cuchulain, and they waited till they heard that the curse of Macha was again heavy on the men of Ulster, and then they assembled a host and marched to the Plain of Murthemney.

The Madness of Cuchulain

And first the Children of Calatin caused a horror and a despondency to fall upon the mind of Cuchulain, and out of the hooded thistles and puff-balls and fluttering leaves of the forest they made the semblance of armed battalions marching against Murthemney, and Cuchulain seemed to see on every side the smoke of burning dwellings going up. And for two days he did battle with the phantoms till he was sick and wearied out. Then Cathbad and the men of Ulster persuaded him to retire to a solitary glen, where fifty of the princesses of Ulster, and among them Niam, wife of his faithful friend Conall of the Victories, tended him, and Niam made him vow that he would not leave the dūn where he was until she gave him leave.

But still the Children of Calatin filled the land with apparitions of war, and smoke and flames went up, and [pg 230] wild cries and wailings with chattering, goblin laughter and the braying of trumpets and horns were borne upon the winds. And Bave, Calatin's daughter, went into the glen, and, taking the form of a handmaid of Niam, she beckoned her away and led her to a distance among the woods and put a spell of straying on her so that she was lost and could find her way home no more. Bave then went in the form of Niam to Cuchulain and bade him up and rescue Ulster from the hosts that were harrying it, and the Morrigan came in the form of a great crow where Cuchulain sat with the women, and croaked of war and slaughter. Then Cuchulain sprang up and called Laeg to harness his chariot. But when Laeg sought for the Grey of Macha to harness him, the horse fled from him, and resisted, and only with great difficulty could Laeg yoke him in the chariot, while large tears of dark blood trickled down his face.

Then Cuchulain, having armed himself, drove forth; and on every side shapes and sounds of dread assailed him and clouded his mind, and then it appeared to him that he saw a great smoke, lit with bursts of red flame, over the ramparts of Emain Macha, and he thought he saw the corpse of Emer tossed out over the ramparts. But when he came to his dūn at Murthemney, there was Emer living, and she entreated him to leave the phantoms alone, but he would not listen to her, and he bade her farewell. Then he bade farewell to his mother Dectera, and she gave him a goblet of wine to drink, but ere he could drink it the wine turned to blood, and he flung it away, saying, “My life's end is near; this time I shall not return alive from the battle.” And Dectera and Cathbad besought him to await the coming of Conall of the Victories, who was away on a journey, but he would not.


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