Myths and Legends of the Celtic Race
Page: 89The first attempt of Maev to get possession of the bull was to send an embassy to Dara to ask for the loan of him for a year, the recompense offered being fifty heifers, besides the bull himself back, and if Dara chose to settle in Connacht he should have as much land there as he now possessed in Ulster, and a chariot worth thrice seven cumals,142 with the patronage and friendship of Maev.
Dara was at first delighted with the prospect, but tales were borne to him of the chatter of Maev's messengers, and how they said that if the bull was not yielded willingly it would be taken by force; and he sent back a message of refusal and defiance. “'Twas known,” said Maev, “the bull will not be yielded by fair means; he shall now be won by foul.” And so she sent messengers around on every side to summon her hosts for the Raid.
The Hosting of Queen Maev
And there came all the mighty men of Connacht—first the seven Mainés, sons of Ailell and Maev, each with his retinue; and Ket and Anluan, sons of Maga, with thirty hundreds of armed men; and yellow-haired Ferdia, with his company of Firbolgs, boisterous giants [pg 205] who delighted in war and in strong ale. And there came also the allies of Maev—a host of the men of Leinster, who so excelled the rest in warlike skill that they were broken up and distributed among the companies of Connacht, lest they should prove a danger to the host; and Cormac son of Conor, with Fergus mac Roy and other exiles from Ulster, who had revolted against Conor for his treachery to the sons of Usna.
Ulster under the Curse
But before the host set forth towards Ulster Maev sent her spies into the land to tell her of the preparations there being made. And the spies brought back a wondrous tale, and one that rejoiced the heart of Maev, for they said that the Debility of the Ultonians143 had descended on the province. Conor the king lay in pangs at Emain Macha, and his son Cuscrid in his island-fortress, and Owen Prince of Ferney was helpless as a child; Celtchar, the huge grey warrior, son of Uthecar Hornskin, and even Conall of the Victories, lay moaning and writhing on their beds, and there was no hand in Ulster that could lift a spear.
Nevertheless Maev went to her chief Druid, and demanded of him what her own lot in the war should be. And the Druid said only: “Whoever comes hack in safety, or comes not, thou thyself shalt come.” But on her journey back she saw suddenly standing before her chariot-pole a young maiden with tresses of yellow hair that fell below her knees, and clad in a mantle of green; and with a shuttle of gold she wove a fabric upon a loom. “Who art thou, girl?” said Maev, [pg 206] “and what dost thou?” “I am the prophetess, Fedelma, from the Fairy Mound of Croghan,” said the maid, “and I weave the four provinces of Ireland together for the foray into Ulster.” “How seest thou our host?” asked Maev. “I see them all be-crimsoned, red,” replied the prophetess. “Yet the Ulster heroes are all in their pangs—there is none that can lift a spear against us,” said Maev. “I see the host all becrimsoned,” said Fedelma. “I see a man of small stature, but the hero's light is on his brow—a stripling young and modest, but in battle a dragon; he is like unto Cuchulain of Murthemney; he doth wondrous feats with his weapons; by him your slain shall lie thickly.”144