Myths and Legends of the Celtic Race

Page: 81

“I may not marry before my sister Fial, who is older than I. She is with me here—she is excellent in handiwork.” “It is not Fial whom I love,” said Cuchulain. Then as they were conversing he saw the breast of the maiden over the bosom of her smock, and said to her: “Fair is this plain, the plain of the noble yoke.” “None comes to this plain,” said she, “who has not slain his hundreds, and thy deeds are still to do.”

So Cuchulain then left her, and drove back to Emain Macha.

[pg 187]

Cuchulain in the Land of Skatha

Next day Cuchulain bethought himself how he could prepare himself for war and for the deeds of heroism which Emer had demanded of him. Now he had heard of a mighty woman-warrior named Skatha, who dwelt in the Land of Shadows,137 and who could teach to young heroes who came to her wonderful feats of arms. So Cuchulain went overseas to find her, and many dangers he had to meet, black forests and desert plains to traverse, before he could get tidings of Skatha and her land. At last he came to the Plain of Ill-luck, where he could not cross without being mired in its bottomless bogs or sticky clay, and while he was debating what he should do he saw coming towards him a young man with a face that shone like the sun,138 and whose very look put cheerfulness and hope into his heart. The young man gave him a wheel and told him to roll it before him on the plain, and to follow it whithersoever it went. So Cuchulain set the wheel rolling, and as it went it blazed with light that shot like rays from its rim, and the heat of it made a firm path across the quagmire, where Cuchulain followed safely.

When he had passed the Plain of Ill-luck, and escaped the beasts of the Perilous Glen, he came to the Bridge of the Leaps, beyond which was the country of Skatha. Here he found on the hither side many sons of the princes of Ireland who were come to learn feats of war from Skatha, and they were playing at hurley on the green. And among them was his friend Ferdia, son of the Firbolg, Daman; and they all asked him of [pg 188] the news from Ireland. When he had told them all he asked Ferdia how he should pass to the dūn of Skatha. Now the Bridge of Leaps was very narrow and very high, and it crossed a gorge where far below swung the tides of a boiling sea, in which ravenous monsters could be seen swimming.

“Not one of us has crossed that bridge,” said Ferdia, “for there are two feats that Skatha teaches last, and one is the leap across the bridge, and the other the thrust of the Gae Bolg.139 For if a man step upon one end of that bridge, the middle straightway rises up and flings him back, and if he leap upon it he may chance to miss his footing and fall into the gulf, where the sea-monsters are waiting for him.”

But Cuchulain waited till evening, when he had recovered his strength from his long journey, and then essayed the crossing of the bridge. Three times he ran towards it from a distance, gathering all his powers together, and strove to leap upon the middle, but three times it rose against him and flung him back, while his companions jeered at him because he would not wait for the help of Skatha. But at the fourth leap he lit fairly on the centre of the bridge, and with one leap more he was across it, and stood before the strong fortress of Skatha; and she wondered at his courage and vigour, and admitted him to be her pupil.

For a year and a day Cuchulain abode with Skatha, and all the feats she had to teach he learned easily, and last of all she taught him the use of the Gae Bolg, and gave him that dreadful weapon, which she had deemed no champion before him good enough to have. And the manner of using the Gae Bolg was that it was thrown with the foot, and if it entered an enemy's [pg 189] body it filled every limb and crevice of him with its barbs. While Cuchulain dwelt with Skatha his friend above all friends and his rival in skill and valour was Ferdia, and ere they parted they vowed to love and help one another as long as they should live.

Cuchulain and Aifa

Now whilst Cuchulain was in the Land of the Shadows it chanced that Skatha made war on the people of the Princess Aifa, who was the fiercest and strongest of the woman-warriors of the world, so that even Skatha feared to meet her in arms. On going forth to the war, therefore, Skatha mixed with Cuchulain's drink a sleepy herb so that he should not wake for four-and-twenty hours, by which time the host would be far on its way, for she feared lest evil should come to him ere he had got his full strength. But the potion that would have served another man for a day and a night only held Cuchulain for one hour; and when he waked up he seized his arms and followed the host by its chariot-tracks till he came up with them. Then it is said that Skatha uttered a sigh, for she knew that he would not be restrained from the war.

When the armies met, Cuchulain and the two sons of Skatha wrought great deeds on the foe, and slew six of the mightiest of Aifa's warriors. Then Aifa sent word to Skatha and challenged her to single combat. But Cuchulain declared that he would meet the fair Fury in place of Skatha, and he asked first of all what were the things she most valued. “What Aifa loves most,” said Skatha, “are her two horses, her chariot and her charioteer.” Then the pair met in single combat, and every champion's feat which they knew they tried on each other in vain, till at last a blow of Aifa's shattered the sword of Cuchulain to the hilt. [pg 190] At this Cuchulain cried out: “Ah me! behold the chariot and horses of Aifa, fallen into the glen!” Aifa glanced round, and Cuchulain, rushing in, seized her round the waist and slung her over his shoulder and bore her back to the camp of Skatha. There he flung her on the ground and put his knife to her throat. She begged for her life, and Cuchulain granted it on condition that she made a lasting peace with Skatha, and gave hostages for her fulfilment of the pledge. To this she agreed, and Cuchulain and she became not only friends but lovers.

The Tragedy of Cuchulain and Connla