And, halting stood in wonder at that wreath ;
Yet none could spell the Ogham. Last drew nigh
Fergus, and read it : on him fell that hour
Memories full dear, and loud he sang and long ;
He sang a warrior's praise : yet named him not ;
He sang ; ' From name of man to name of beast
A warrior changed : then mightiest grew of men ! '
And, as he sang, the cheek of Meave grew red.
Next morn Neara's sons outsped the rest
Car-borne with brandished spears ; and, ere the dew
Was lifted, came to where Cuchullain sat
Beneath an oak, sporting with black-birds twain
That followed him for aye. Toward the youths
The Cause of the Great War. 133
He waved his hand ; ' Away, for ye are young ! '
In answer forth they flung their spears : he caught them,
And snapt them on his knee ; next, swift as fire,
Sprang on the twain, and slew them with his sword,
One blow : anon he loosed their horses' bits,
And they, with madness winged, rejoined the host,
Bearing those headless bulks. Forth looked the queen ;
Beheld ; and, trembling, cried ; ' It might have been
Orloff, my son ! '
That eve, at banquet ranged
The warriors questioned Fergus ; ' Who is best
Among the Uladh chiefs ? ' Ere answer came
King Conor's son self-exiled, Conlinglas,
Upleaping cried, ' Cuchullain is his name !
Cuchullain ! From his childhood man was he !
On Eman Macha ' ever was his thought,
Its walls, its bulwarks, and its Red Branch Knights,
The wonder of the world.' Then told the prince
How, when his mother mocked his zeal, that child
Fared forth alone, with wooden sword and shield,
And fife, and silver ball ; and how he hurled
His little spears before him as he ran,
And caught them ere they fell ; and how, arrived,
He spurned great Eman's gates, and scaled its wall,
And lighted in the pleasaunce of the king,
1 34 The Foray of Queen Meave.
His mother's brother, Conor Conchobar ;
And how the noble youths of all that land
There trained in warlike arts, had on him dashed
With insult and with blows : and how the child
This way and that had hurled them, while the king
Who sat that hour with Fergus, playing chess,
Gazed from his turret wondering.
Next he told
How to that child, Setanta first, there fell
Cuchullain's nobler name. ' To Eman near
There dwelt an armourer, Cullain was his name,
That earliest rose, and latest with his forge
Reddened the night : mail-clad in might of his
The Red Branch Knights forth rode ; the bard, the chief
Claimed him for friend. One day, when Conor's self
Partook his feast, the armourer held discourse ;
" The Gods have made my house a house of fame :
The craftsmen grin and grudge because I prosper :
The forest bandits hunger for my goods,
Yea, and would eat mine anvil if they might
Trow ye what saves me, Sirs ? A Hound is mine,
Each eve 1 loose him, lion-like, and fell ;
The blood of many a rogue is on his mouth :
The bravest, if they hear him bay far off,
Flee like a deer ! " Setanta's shout rang loud
That moment at the gate, and, with it blent,
The Cause of the Great War, 135
The baying of that hound ! " The boy is dead,"
King Conor cried in horror. Forth they rushed
There stood he, bright and calm, his rigid hands
Clasping the dead hound's throat ! They wept for joy :
The armourer wept for grief. " My friend is dead !
My friend that kept my house and me at peace :
My friend that loved his lord ! " Setanta heard
Then first that cry forth issuing from the heart
Of him whose labour wins his children's bread ;
That cry he honours yet. Red-cheeked he spake ;
" Cullain ! unwittingly I did thee wrong !
I make amends. I, child of kings, henceforth
Abide, thy watch-hound, warder of thy house."
Thenceforth the ' Hound of Cullain ' ' was his name,
And Cullain's house well warded.'
Stern of brow
The queen arose : ' Enough of fables, lords !
Drink to the victory ! Ere yon moon is dead
We knock at gates of Eman.' High she held
The crimson goblet. Instant, felt ere heard,
Vibration strange troubled the moonlit air ;
A long-drawn hiss o'er-ran it : then a cry,
Death-cry of warrior wounded to the death.
They rose : they gazed around : upon a rock
Cuchullain stood. The warrior said in heart,
1 Cu in Irish means hound.
1 36 The Foray of Queen Meave.
' I will not slay her ; yet her pride shall die ! '
Again that hiss : instant the golden crown
Fell from her head ! In anger round she glared :
Once more that hiss long-drawn, and in her hand
The goblet, shivered, stood ! She cast it down ;
She cried ; ' Since first I sat, a queen new-crowned,
Never such ignominy, or spleen of scorn
Hath mocked my greatness ! ' Fiercely rushed the chiefs
Against the aggressor. Through the high-roofed woods
They saw him distant like a falling star
Kindling the air with speed. Ere long, close by
He stood with sling high holden. At its sound
Ever some great one died !
The morrow morn
Cuchullain reached a lawn : tall autumn grass
Whitened within it ; but the Beech trees round
Were russet brown, the thorn-brakes berry-flushed :
Passing, he raised his spear, and launched it forth
Earthward : there stood it buried in the soil
Halfway, and quivering. Loud Cuchullain laughed,
And cried, ' It quivers like the tail of swine
Gladdened by acorn feast ! ' then drew he rein
And with one sword-stroke felled a youngling Birch
And bound it to that spear, and on its bark
Silvery and smooth, graved with his lance's point
In Ogham characters the words, ' Beware !
The Cause of the Great War. 137
Unless thou know'st what hand this Ogham traced
Twine yonder berries mid thy young bride's locks,
But spare to tempt that hand ! ' An hour passed by
And Meave had reached the spot. Chief following chief
Drew near in turn ; yet none could drag from earth
That spear deep-buried. Fergus laughed ; ' Let be
Connacians ! Task is here for Uladh's hand ! '
Then, standing in his car, he clutched the spear
And tugged it thrice. The third time 'neath his feet
Down crashed the strong-built chariot to the ground.
He laughed ! The queen in anger cried, 'March on !'
The host advanced, disordered. Foremost drave
Orloff, Meave's son. That morning he had wed
A maid, the loveliest in his mother's court,
And yearned to prove his valour in her eyes.
Sudden he came to where Cuchullain stood
Pasturing his steeds with grass and flower forth held
In wooing, dallying hand. Cuchullain said
' The queen's son this ! I will not harm the youth,'
And waved him to depart. That stripling turned
Yet, turning, hurled his javelin. As it flew
The swift one caught it ; poised it ; hurled it home :
It pierced that youth from back to breast ; he fell
Dead on the chariot's floor. The steeds rushed on
Wind-swift ; and reached the camp. There sat the
138 The Foray of Queen Meave.
Throned in her car, listening the host's applause :
In swoon she fell, and lay as lie the dead.
Next morn again the invaders marched, nor knew
What foe was he who, mocking, thinned their ranks,
Trampled their pride ; who, lacking spear and car,
Viewless by day, by night a fleeting fire,
Dragged down their mightiest, in the death cry shrill
Drowning the revel. Fergus knew the man,
Fergus alone ; nor yet divulged his name,
Oft muttering, ' These be men who fight for Bulls
I war to shake a Perjurer from his throne,
And count no brave man foe.' Again at feast
Ailill made question of the Red Branch Knights :
Fergus replied ; ' Cuchullain is their best :
I taught him arms ! Hear of his Knighting Day !
' Northward of Eman lies a pleasaunce green :
The Arch-Druid, Cathbad, gazer on the stars,
While there the youths contended, beckoned one
And whispered, ' Happy shall that stripling prove
Knighted this day ! Glorious his life, though brief ! '
That hour Cuchullain stood beyond the wall
South of the city, yet that whisper heard !
He heard, and cried ; ' Enough one day of life
If great my deeds, and helpful ! ' Swift of foot
He sped to Conor. ' I demand, great king,
Knighthood this day, and knighthood at thy hand.'
But Conor laughed ; ' Not fifteen years are thine !
The Cause of the G? eat War. \ 39
Withhold thyself yet three.' That self-same hour
Old Cathbad entered, and his Druid clan,
And spake ; ' King Conor ! by my bed last night
Great Macha stood, the worship of our race,
Our strength in realms unseen. " Arise," she said ;
" To Conor speed : to him report my will :
That youth knighted this day is mine Elect !
I, Macha, send him forth ! "
' She spake and passed :
Trembled the place like cliffs o'er ocean caves :
Like thunder underground I heard her wheels
In echoes slowly dying.
' Fixed and firm
King Conor stood. Sternly he made reply :
' Queen Macha had her day and ruled : far down
Doubtless this hour she rules, or rules aloft :
I rule in Eman and this Uladh realm :
I will not knight a stripling ! ' Prophet-like
Up-towered old Cathbad, and his clan black-stoled.
This way and that they rolled prophetic bolts
Three hours ; and brake with warnings from the stars
And mandates from the synod of the Gods,
The king's resolve. At last he cried, ' So be it !
Since Gods, like men, grow witless, be it so !
The worse for Eman, and great Macha's land
Stand forth, my sister's son ! ' He spake and bound
The Geisa, and the edicts, and the vows
140 The Foray of Queen Meave.
Of that dread Red Branch Order on the boy,
And gave him sword and lance.
' An eye star-keen
That boy upon them fixed, and, each on each,
Smote them. They snapt in twain. Laughing, he cried,
' Good art thou, Uncle mine ; but these are base :
I need a warrior's weapons ! ' Conor signed ;
Then brought his knaves ten swords, and lances ten :
Cuchullain eyed them each and snapt them all,
The concourse marvelling. ' Varlets,' cried the king,
' Bring forth my arms of battle ! ' These in turn
Cuchullain proved : they brake not. Up they dragged
A battle-car. Cuchullain leaped therein :
With feet far set he spurned its brazen floor
That roared and sank in fragments. Chariots twelve
Successive thus he vanquished. ' Uncle mine,
Good art thou,' cried the youth ; ' but these are base ! '
King Conor signed, ' My car of battle ! ' Leagh
The charioteer forth brought it with the steeds :
Cuchullain proved that war-car and it stood.
Careless he spake : ' So, well ! The car will serve. !
Abide ye my return.'
' He shook the reins :
He called the horses by their names well-known :
He dashed through Eman's gateway as a storm :
Far off a darksome wood and darksome tower
Frowned over Mallok's wave : therein abode
The Cause of the Great War. 141
Three bandit chieftains, foes to man : well pleased
Those bandits eyed the on-rushing car, and youth,
Exulting in their prey : arrived, with gibes
He summoned them to judgment : forth they thronged,
They and their clan : he slew them with his sling,
The three ; and severed with his sword their heads,
And fixed them on the chariot's front. His mood
Changed into mirthful : fleeter than the wind
Six stags went by him, stateliest of the herd ;
Afoot he chased them, caught them, bound them fast
Behind the chariot rail. Birds saw he next
White as a foam-wreath of their native sea,
Spotting the glebe new turned. A net lay near :
He caged them ; next he tied them to his car
Wide-winged, and wailing loud. To Eman's towers
Returned he then with laughter : at its gate
The king, the chiefs, grey Druids, maids red-cloaked,
Agape to see him on his chariot's front
The grim heads of those bandits ; in its rear
Those stags wide-horned ; and, high o'erhead the birds ! '
The laughter ceasing, spake King Conor's son ;
' Recount the wonder of those fairy steeds
That drag Cuchullain's war-car ! ' Fergus then,
Despite Queen Meave, who plaited still her robe
With angry hectic hand, the tale began.
' Cuchullain paced the herbage thin that clothes
Slieve Fuad's summit. On that airy height
142 Tke Foray of Queen Meave.
A wan lake glittered, whitening in the blast,
Pale plains around it. From beneath that lake
Emerged a horse foam-white ! Cuchullain saw,
And straightway round that creature's neck high-held
Locked the lithe arms no struggles could unwind.
That courser baffled clothed his strength with speed :
From cliff to cliff he sped ; cleared at a bound
Inlet, and rocky rift ; nor stayed his course,
Men say, till he had circled Erin's Isle.
Panting then lay he, on his conqueror's knee
Resting his head ; thenceforth that conqueror's friend,
His 'Liath Macha.' Gentle-souled is she
' Sangland,' the wild one's comrade. As the night
Sank on those huge red-berried woods of Yew
Loch Darvra's girdle, from beneath the wave
She issued, darker still. Softly she paced,
As though with woman's foot, the grassy marge
In violets diapered, and laid her head
Upon Cuchullain's shoulder. In his wars
Emulous those mated marvels drag his car :
In peace he yokes them never.'
Fergus rose :
' Night wanes,' he said, 'and tasks await my hand : '
Passing the throne he whispered thus the queen,
' The Hound of Uladh is your visitant
Both day and night' The cheek of Meave grew pale.
THE DEEDS OF CUCHULLAIN.
FERGUS is sent to Cuchullain with gifts, and requires him to forsake
King Conor. This he will not do, yet consents to forbear Meave's
host till she has reached the border of Uladh, the queen engaging
that the warfare shall then be restricted to a combat between him-
self and a single champion sent against him day by day. Each day
Meave's champion is slain. Cailitin, lord of the Magic Clan,
counsels Meave to send against Cuchullain his best-loved friend
Ferdla ; yet she sends, instead, Lok Mac Favesh. When he too
falls, Cailitin and his twenty-seven sons, all magicians, fling them-
selves upon Cuchullain to slay him. Cuchullain slays them. The
Mor Reega, the War-Goddess of the Gael, prophesies to him that
there yet awaits him the greatest of his trials. After ninety days of
combat Cuchullain's father brings him tidings that all Uladh lies
bound under a spell of imbecility.
THUS ever day by day, and night by night,
Through strength of him that mid the royal host
Passed, and re-passed like thought, the bravest fell ;
For ne'er against the inglorious or the small
That warrior raised his hand. Then Ailill spake ;
' Let Fergus seek that champion in the woods,
Gift-laden, and withdraw him from his king : '
1 44 The Foray of Queen Meave.
But Fergus answered ; ' Sue and be refused !
That great one loves his country. Heard ye never
How when King Conor's sin, that forfeit pledge
Plighted with Usnach's sons, had left the Accursed
Crownless, and Eman's bulwarks in the dust,
Her elders on Cuchullain worked, what time
He came my work of vengeance to complete ?
They said, " Cuchullain loves his land o'er all !
The man besides, though terrible to foes,
Is tender to the weak. Through Eman's streets
Send ye proclaim, ' Will any holy Maid
To save the city take her station sole
On yonder bridge, at parting of the ways,
That city's Emblem-Victim, robed in black
Down from her girdle to the naked feet ;
Above that girdle this alone the chains
Of Eman's gate, circling that virgin throat
And down at each side streaming? It may be
That dread one will relent, pitying in her
Great Uladh's self despoiled of robe and crown,
Her raiment bonds and shame.' Of Eman's maids
But one, the best and purest gave consent :
Alone she stood at parting of the ways :
While near and nearer yet that war-car drew
Wide-eyed she stood, death -pale : it stopp'd : she spake
Eman, thy Mother, stands a widow now :
The Deeds of Cuchullain. 145
And many a famished babe that wrought no ill
Lies mid her ruins wailing." To the left
The warrior turned his steeds. The land was saved.'
Then spake the kings confederate ; ' Hard albeit
That task, to draw Cuchullain from his charge,
Seek him, and proffer terms ! ' Fergus next morn
Made way through those sea-skirting woods, and cried
Three times, ' Setanta ; ' and Cuchullain heard
And knew that voice, and, beaming, issued forth,
And clasped his ancient master round the neck,
And led him to his sylvan cell. Therein
Long time they held discourse of ancient days
Heaven-fair through mist of years. The youthful host
Set forth their rural feast, whate'er the woods
And they that in them dwelt, swine-herds, and hinds,
Yielded, their best : nor lacked it minstrel strain,
Bird-song by autumn chilled, that brake through bou
Lit by unwarming sunshine. Banquet o'er,
Fergus his errand shewed, and named the gifts
By Ailill sent, and Meave. Cuchullain rose
And curtly answered ; ',Never will I break
My vow ; nor wrong the land ; nor sell my king : '
Fergus too royal was to hear surprised,
Or grieved, his friend's resolve, nor touched again
Upon that pact unworthy. Happier themes
Succeeded, mirthful some. Of these the last
146 The Foray of Queen Meave.
Made sport of Ailill. Fergus spake ; ' One night
To Heave's pavilion swift of foot I sped ;
War-tidings wait not. Ailill from afar
Furtively followed, stung by jealous spleen.
The queen had passed into the inner tent ;
I sought her there. In the outer Ailill marked
My sword, that morning thither sent, a loan,
For Meave had vowed with braided gems, her boast,
To out-brave its hilt His wrath was changed to joy
He snatched it up ; he cried ; " Hail, forfeit mine !
Hail Eric just ! " and laughed his childish laugh.
Since then he neither frowns on me nor smiles :
He will not let me rule his foolish kings ;
Yet, deeming still my sword a charm 'gainst fate
Wears it. An apter one for him I keep :
One day 'twill raise a laugh ! ' In graver mood
At parting Fergus spake ; ' For thee unmeet
That pact of Meave, though not for her : but thou
Conceal not, know'st thou meeter terms, and fit ? '
To whom Cuchullain ; ' Fergus, terms there be,
Other, and fitter. I divulge them not :
Divine them he that seeks them ! ' On the morn
Fergus these things narrated to the chiefs
In synod met Then rose a recreant churl,
And thus gave counsel ; ' Lure Cuchullain here
On pretext fair ; and slay him at the feast ! '
The Deeds of Cuchullain. 147
Against that recreant Fergus hurled his spear,
And slew him, and continued, ' Hundreds six,
Our best, have perished, and our march is slow :
Now, warriors, hear my counsel, and my terms.
Cuchullain scorns your gifts of such no more !
Twixt southern Erin and my Uladh's realm,
Runs Neeth : across that river lies a ford ;
Speak to Cuchullain ; " By that ford stand thou,
Guarding thy land. Against thee, day by day,
Be ours to send one champion one alone :
While lasts that strife forbear the host beside ! " '
Then roared the kings a long and loud applause,
Since wise appeared that counsel : faith they pledged,
And sureties in the hearing of the Gods :
Likewise Cuchullain, when his friend returned,
Made answer ; ' Well you guessed ! a month or more
My strength will hold : meantime our Uladh arms.'
To seal that pact he sought the hostile camp,
And shared the banquet. Wondering, all men gazed,
And maidens, lifted on the warriors' shields,
Gladdened, so bright that youthful face. At morn
Meave, when the chief departed, kissed his cheek :
' Pity,' she said, ' that such a one should die ! '
The one sole time that Meave compassion felt.
That eve Cuchullain drank the wave of Neeth,
And wading reached Murthemne"'s soil, his charge
T 48 The Foray of Queen Meave.
And knelt, and kissed it. As the sun declined
He clomb a rocky height, and northward gazed,
And cried ; ' Ye Red Branch warriors, haste ! I keep
The ford ; but who shall guard it when I die ? '
Next morning by that stream the fight began,
Two champions face to face : and, every morn,
Rang out, renewed, that combat ; every eve
Again went up from that confederate host
The shout of rage. Daily their bravest died ,
Thirty in thirty days. Feerbraoth fell ;
And Natherandal, though the Druid horde
Above his javelins, carved at set of moon
From the ever-sacred holly stem, had breathed
Vain consecration, and with futile salve
Anointed them : confuted soon they sailed
In ignominy adown that seaward tide
With him that hurled them. Eterconnel next,
Dalot, and Cuir. Yet he who laid them low
Was beardless at the lip : While thus they strove
A second month went by.
Such things beholding
The queen was moved ; and in her grew one day
Craving for Cruachan. But on her ear
Rolled forth that hour the lowings of that Bull
Cuailgne"'s Donn : for he from Dare's house
Had heard, though far, the clamours of the host,
The Deeds of Cuchullain. 1 49
And answered rage with rage. Then Meave resolved,
Though all my host should perish to a man
This foot shall tread no more my native plains
Save with that Bull in charge !
To her by night
Came Cailitin, who ever walked by night
Shunning mankind, and Fergus most of all,
Cailitin, father of the Magic Clan,
And thus addressed her ; ' Place in me thy trust !
I hate Cuchullain, for he hates my spells
Resting his hope on virtue. In thy camp
Ferdia bides, a Firbolg feared of all.
Win him to meet Cuchullain. They in youth
Were friends : to slay that friend will lay a hand
Icy as death upon Cuchullain's heart.
Ferdia dies thus much mine art foreshews
Then I, since magic spells have puissance most
Upon a soul depressed and body sick,
Fall on him with my seven and twenty sons,
Magicians all. One are we : thence with one
May fight, thy pledge unflawed. A drop of blood
Shed by our swords, though small as beetle's eye,
Costs him his life.' Fiercely the queen replied,
' A Firbolg ! Never ! ' Cailitin resumed,
' Then send for Lok Mac Favesh ! '
With the morn*
1 50 The Foray of Queen Meave.
Mac Favesh sought her tent. Direful his mien ;
Massive his stride ; his body brawny and huge ;
For, though of Gaelic race, the stock of Ir,
With him was mingled giant blood of old,
Wild blood of Nemedh's brood that hurled sea rocks
'Gainst the Fomorian. Oft the advancing tide
Drowned both, in battle knit. Before the queen
Boastful the sea-king laid his club, and spake :
' Queen, though to combat with a beardless boy
Affronts my name, my lineage, and my strength,
His petulance shall vex thine eye no more !
Uladh is thine to-morrow ! ' At the dawn
By hundreds girt, the great ones of his clan,
Down drave he to the ford, and onward strode
Trampling the last year's branches strewn hard by
That snapp'd beneath him. Hides of oxen seven
Sustained the brazen bosses of his shield ;
And forth he stretched a hand that might have grasped
A tiger's throat and choked him. O'er his helm
Hovered an imaged demon raven-black.
Cuchullain met him ; hours endured the strife,
That mountained strength triumphant now, anon
Cuchullain's might divine. Then first that might
Was fully tasked. Upon the bank that day
Stood up a Portent seen by none save him,
A Shape not human. Terribly it fixed
The Deeds of Cuchiillain, 1 5 1
On him alone its never-wandering eye \
The dread Mor Reega, she that from the skies
O'er-rules the battle-fields, and sways at will
This way or that the sable tides of death.
He gazed ; and, though incapable of fear,
Awe, such as heroes feel, possessed his heart :
Its beatings shook his brain : his corporal mould
Throbbed as a branch against some river swift ;
And backward turned his hair like berried trails
Of thorn athwart the hedge. Three several times
He saw her, yet fought on. With beckoning hand
At last that Portent summoned from the main
A huge sea-snake : round him it twined its knots :
Then on Cuchullain fell the rage from heaven :
A sword- blow, and that vast sea-worm lay dead !
A sword uplifted, and Mac Favesh fell
Prone on the shuddering flood. In death he cried,
' Lay me with forehead turned to Uladh's realm ;
They shall not say that fugitive I died.'
Cuchullain wrought his will : then, bleeding fast,
Stood upright, leaning on his spear aslant ;
A warrior battle -wearied.
From the bank
Meantime, the dark magician, Cailitin,
He and his sons, with wide and greedy eyes,
That still, like one man's eyes, together moved,
152 The Foray of Queen Meave.
Had watched that fight, counting each drop that fell
Down from Cuchullain's wounds. When faint he stood
At once their cry rang out like one man's cry ;
Like one their seven and twenty javelins flew :
As swift, Cuchullain caught them on his shield :
An instant more, and all that horde accursed
Was dealing with him. From the trampled ford
Went up a mist of spray that veiled that strife,
Though pierced by demon cries, and flash beside
Of demon swords. O'er it at last up-towered
On-borne, such power to blend have Spirits impure,