Myths and Legends of the Celtic Race
Page: 90At this the vision of the weaving maiden vanished, and Maev drove homewards to Rathcroghan wondering at what she had seen and heard.
Cuchulain Puts the Host under Geise
On the morrow the host set forth, Fergus mac Roy leading them, and as they neared the confines of Ulster he bade them keep sharp watch lest Cuchulain of Murthemney, who guarded the passes of Ulster to the south, should fall upon them unawares. Now Cuchulain and his father Sualtam145 were on the borders of the province, and Cuchulain, from a warning Fergus had sent him, suspected the approach of a great host, and bade Sualtam go northwards to Emania and warn the men of Ulster. But Cuchulain himself would not stay there, for he said he had a tryst to keep with a handmaid of the wife of Laery the bodach (farmer), so he went into the forest, and there, standing on one leg, [pg 207] and using only one hand and one eye, he cut an oak sapling and twisted it into a circular withe. On this he cut in Ogham characters how the withe was made, and he put the host of Maev under geise not to pass by that place till one of them had, under similar conditions, made a similar withe; “and I except my friend Fergus mac Roy,” he added, and wrote his name at the end. Then he placed the withe round the pillar-stone of Ardcullin, and went his way to keep his tryst with the handmaid.146
When the host of Maev came to Ardcullin, the withe upon the pillar-stone was found and brought to Fergus to decipher it. There was none amongst the host who could emulate the feat of Cuchulain, and so they went into the wood and encamped for the night. A heavy snowfall took place, and they were all in much distress, but next day the sun rose gloriously, and over the white plain they marched away into Ulster, counting the prohibition as extending only for one night.
The Ford of the Forked Pole
Cuchulain now followed hard on their track, and as he went he estimated by the tracks they had left the number of the host at eighteen triucha cét (54,000 men). Circling round the host, he now met them in front, and soon came upon two chariots containing scouts sent ahead by Maev. These he slew, each man with his driver, and having with one sweep of his sword cut a forked pole of four prongs from the wood, he drove the pole deep into a river-ford at the place called Athgowla,147 and impaled on each prong a bloody head. When the host came up they wondered and feared at [pg 208] the sight, and Fergus declared that they were under geise not to pass that ford till one of them had plucked out the pole even as it was driven in, with the fingertips of one hand. So Fergus drove into the water to essay the feat, and seventeen chariots were broken under him as he tugged at the pole, but at last he tore it out; and as it was now late the host encamped upon the spot. These devices of Cuchulain were intended to delay the invaders until the Ulster men had recovered from their debility.