Myths and Legends of the Celtic Race

Page: 93

The Compact of the Ford

Maev now tried to tempt him by great largesse to desert the cause of Ulster, and had a colloquy with him, the two standing on opposite sides of a glen across which they talked. She scanned him closely, and was struck by his slight and boyish appearance. She failed to move him from his loyalty to Ulster, and death descends more thickly than ever upon the Connacht host; the men are afraid to move out for plunder save in twenties and thirties, and at night the stones from Cuchulain's sling whistle continually through the camp, braining or maiming. At last, through the mediation of Fergus, an agreement was come to. Cuchulain undertook not to harry the host provided they would [pg 211] only send against him one champion at a time, whom Cuchulain would meet in battle at the ford of the River Dee, which is now called the Ford of Ferdia.149 While each fight was in progress the host might move on, but when it was ended they must encamp till the morrow morning. “Better to lose one man a day than a hundred,” said Maev, and the pact was made.

Fergus and Cuchulain

Several single combats are then narrated, in which Cuchulain is always a victor. Maev even persuades Fergus to go against him, but Fergus and Cuchulain will on no account fight each other, and Cuchulain, by agreement with Fergus, pretends to fly before him, on Fergus's promise that he will do the same for Cuchulain when required. How this pledge was kept we shall see later.

Capture of the Brown Bull

During one of Cuchulain's duels with a famous champion, Natchrantal, Maev, with a third of her army, makes a sudden foray into Ulster and penetrates as far as Dunseverick, on the northern coast, plundering and ravaging as they go. The Brown Bull, who was originally at Quelgny (Co. Down), has been warned at an earlier stage by the Morrigan150 to withdraw himself, and he has taken refuge, with his herd of cows, in a glen of Slievegallion, Co. Armagh. The raiders of Maev find him there, and drive him off with the herd in triumph, passing Cuchulain as they return. Cuchulain slays the leader of the escort—Buic son of Banblai—but cannot [pg 212] rescue the Bull, and “this,” it is said, “was the greatest affront put on Cuchulain during the course of the raid.”

The Morrigan

The raid ought now to have ceased, for its object has been attained, but by this time the hostings of the four southern provinces151 had gathered together under Maev for the plunder of Ulster, and Cuchulain remained still the solitary warder of the marches. Nor did Maev keep her agreement, for bands of twenty warriors at a time were loosed against him and he had much ado to defend himself. The curious episode of the fight with the Morrigan now occurs. A young woman clad in a mantle of many colours appears to Cuchulain, telling him that she is a king's daughter, attracted by the tales of his great exploits, and she has come to offer him her love. Cuchulain tells her rudely that he is worn and harassed with war and has no mind to concern himself with women. “It shall go hard with thee,” then said the maid, “when thou hast to do with men, and I shall be about thy feet as an eel in the bottom of the Ford.” Then she and her chariot vanished from his sight and he saw but a crow sitting on a branch of a tree, and he knew that he had spoken with the Morrigan.

The Fight with Loch

The next champion sent against him by Maev was Loch son of Mofebis. To meet this hero it is said that Cuchulain had to stain his chin with blackberry juice so as to simulate a beard, lest Loch should disdain to do combat with a boy. So they fought in the Ford, and the [pg 213] Morrigan came against him in the guise of a white heifer with red ears, but Cuchulain fractured her eye with a cast of his spear. Then she came swimming up the river like a black eel and twisted herself about his legs, and ere he could rid himself of her Loch wounded him. Then she attacked him as a grey wolf, and again, before he could subdue her, he was wounded by Loch. At this his battle-fury took hold of him and he drove the Gae Bolg against Loch, splitting his heart in two. “Suffer me to rise,” said Loch, “that I may fall on my face on thy side of the ford, and not backward toward the men of Erin.” “It is a warrior's boon thou askest,” said Cuchulain, “and it is granted.” So Loch died; and a great despondency, it is said, now fell upon Cuchulain, for he was outwearied with continued fighting, and sorely wounded, and he had never slept since the beginning of the raid, save leaning upon his spear; and he sent his charioteer, Laeg, to see if he could rouse the men of Ulster to come to his aid at last.

Lugh the Protector

But as he lay at evening by the grave mound of Lerga in gloom and dejection, watching the camp-fires of the vast army encamped over against him and the glitter of their innumerable spears, he saw coming through the host a tall and comely warrior who strode impetuously forward, and none of the companies through which he passed turned his head to look at him or seemed to see him. He wore a tunic of silk embroidered with gold, and a green mantle fastened with a silver brooch; in one hand was a black shield bordered with silver and two spears in the other. The stranger came to Cuchulain and spoke gently and sweetly to him of his long toil and waking, and his sore wounds, and said in the end: “Sleep now, Cuchulain, by the grave in Lerga; sleep [pg 214] and slumber deeply for three days, and for that time I will take thy place and defend the Ford against the host of Maev.” Then Cuchulain sank into a profound slumber and trance, and the stranger laid healing balms of magical power to his wounds so that he awoke whole and refreshed, and for the time that Cuchulain slept the stranger held the Ford against the host. And Cuchulain knew that this was Lugh his father, who had come from among the People of Dana to help his son through his hour of gloom and despair.

The Sacrifice of the Boy Corps