very awkward it would be."
"Listen!" said Ronan grimly. "That is not the
position at all. You see this spear ? Feel the point
of it well. It is sharp ? Remember it, for, by the
oath of my people, as these Ulstermen say, I will
send it two inches into the fat of your hams if I see
you give way by the breadth of a thumb."
"Take care what you say. That approaches a
threat," said the brehon with dignity.
"It sounded very like one," Mesgedra affirmed
gravely. "How lucky that we know that Ronan is
joking, for if he said such a thing seriously, I be-
lieve he is the very fellow to do as he promised.
But, for your own misgivings, you have my word
THE DEFENSE OF CATHBAR'S DUN 73
that Conal is not in the dun; so if they call on you,
you can give judgment for them to go and hunt for
"If Conal is not here, then they are only tres-
passers," the brehon cried, his professional interest
aroused at once. "It is my advice for you not to
bother With fighting them, but to leave it to me to
settle. Every noble's homestead is a sanctuary.
The green before his gate is a sacred place. Every
one of them, and they are many, would be liable for
eric-fine, three seds in cattle or gold, besides honor
price, which would be a great sum in itself. All that
is necessary is for you not to attempt to fight them,
but to put aside your arms and appeal to the
"This fellow will drive me mad!" cried Ronan,
beside himself. "You fat swine, what use will three
seds of cattle be to a man with his throat cut? I
tell you if you will not fight for your friend's sake,
or for honor, fight for your own skin. Those Lein-
stermen care as little for a brehon as I do for a
Mesgedra had turned away and was examining the
"There are others besides Leinstermen there," he
asserted. "They have many from the fair to help
them. And indeed, Ronan," he went on, lowering
his voice and drawing away a little from the brehon,
"if it were not for the sake of my old friendship with
Cathbar, and the liking I have for our lad Conal, I
would be as well pleased not to be concerned in the
74 THE PORTION OF A CHAMPION
affair myself. Look there where they stand close
together. Do you see the red shields shining in the
sun ? If I am not wrong those are men of the High
King's household soldiers, the Fir Tighe. If Dathi
himself has taken part against us, I do not see what
there is for us to do but to give in or die in the
flames of the dun, an ill death for men whom the
king has honored."
"I saw those red shields on the other side where
I was fighting," replied Ronan. "They are men of
the Fir Tighe without question, but there are few
of them, and they held back, as far as I could see,
and rather hindered the attack than helped it."
"In that case it is likely that they happened to
be at the fair, and came along only because they had
no orders one way or the other. However, they
know that Dathi has no liking for Leinster, and if
we do not single them out and give them cause to
seek revenge on their own part, they will grow weary
soon and make some excuse for going away. In
any case, we are here, and we will stay. Eh,
"I will stay or go at your word," replied the bard
in loyal fashion, "but it is more to my liking to
finish a fight once begun, than to seek safety."
"They are massing their men. We will have more
fighting soon," called Cathbar, appearing with his
picked band. "What do you say, Mesgedra?
Would it not be better for you to take your party
and go out of the dun? I am thankful for the
friendly part you have played, but after all you have
THE DEFENSE OF CATHBAR'S DUN 75
no part in Conal's quarrel. They will let you pass
through now, but later, when their fighting rage is
up, your chance will be gone."
"Ronan and I have been speaking of that," re-
plied the old brugaid frankly, "but we are neither
of us so sickly that we grudge a little blood on a
friend's- behalf. So count us in the garrison, as well
as this brave brehon here, who alone is worth a
"I thank you, Mesgedra, and the noble brehon,
too, and I will confess your spears will be a help,
for, though the dun is strong, it has a great circuit,
and it takes many men to hold it. It will not be
for long though; last night I sent word to my chief
of what was threatening, and by now five hundred
spears are on the road here."
" That was well thought of . But see! Here they
They dropped to their knees behind the parapet
as a fresh flight of arrows sang around them. As
Mesgedra had foretold, the second attack centred
on the gate, though bodies of spearmen, creeping up
on all sides, felt for other weak places along the
wall. The main column came on with a dash. The
front ranks held their shields aloft. Behind them
came men carrying notched trunks, serving equally
as battering rams and ladders. They suffered ter-
ribly in their advance from the missiles of the de-
fenders, but they pushed on gallantly and reached
the wall, where they were sheltered a little, for the
grianan projected, and they gathered under it.
76 THE PORTION OF A CHAMPION
The gate began to shake under their blows, and
the wooden bolts jumped and rattled in their sockets.
Up the notched trunks the warriors swarmed, set-
ting foot again and again on the wall, to be beaten
down and overwhelmed by the bowlders plunging
down on them from the roof of the sunny house.
Cathbar was fighting furiously with a gay and
impetuous valor that contradicted his white hair
and wrinkled cheeks. His sword seemed to twist
and struggle hi his hand with impatience to slay.
He leaned far out over the verge, exposing himself
recklessly, and defying the sling-stones that struck
and bounded about him.
Mesgedra hurled spears steadily, with an easy,
regular swing of the arm like a woman throwing
grain to chickens.
A long leather sling whirled continuously over
Ronan's head. It made a smooth, humming sound,
ending in a clean swish as the stone left the pocket.
He muttered angrily when he missed, and hissed be-
tween his teeth when he made a good throw, and
sometimes, when the Leinstermen came crowding
up the ladders and pressed them hard, he would
drop the sling and cast the stones from his hand
with scarcely less force.
Eoghan the brehon knelt inside the parapet with
his nose against the palings. From time to time he
extended his arm into view, and made a labored
stroke with his mace, but as he always waited for
the moments when the attack slackened, and never
by any chance raised his head to see where to strike,
THE DEFENSE OF CATHBAR'S DUN 77
his efforts were without any great effect on the result
of the battle.
It was easy to deal with those who tried to climb
the wall, but those who kept under shelter beneath
the overhang of the grianan and put forth their
strength on the gate were having better success.
They were working there without a pause, and it
became evident that they must be dislodged or the
gate would go. Cathbar sent a few of his men to
place braces and balks against it on the inside, but
the timbers could be gotten only by tearing them
out of the houses inside the dun, and the work went
"If we could reach those below there," said Mes-
gedra, "we could keep the wall clear easily. Is
there no way of getting at them except to leap down
and fight them on the ground?"
"Of course, there is a way !" said Cathbar, striking
his brow. "I was so taken up with the joy of fight-
ing that I have forgotten to put any men in the
grianan. The floor is loose, and it is only a matter
of moving a few staves to be able to drop on their
heads from above."
"You might have thought of that before," Ronan
grumbled. "Let us hurry, or that forgetfulness of
yours will lose us the gate." He began to make his
way to the ladder, but at the moment Mesgedra
raised his eyes and with a shout pointed to the dis-
tance. Just within arrowshot a strange engine was
approaching the dun. It was a sort of hut on wheels ;
a framework of chariot shafts and the wicker sides
78 THE PORTION OF A CHAMPION
of chariots, hung with hides, and robes, and shields
set close together, so that it completely hid and pro-
tected a number of men within it. A heavy beam
protruded through an opening. It swung freely
from stout ropes, and an iron knob was lashed to
the tip of it. The whole was set on the wheels and
axles of the chariots that had been destroyed to
make it, and it was being pushed rapidly up to the
gate of the dun.
Every one on the roof turned his weapons against
it at once, but the bolts glanced off the hides with-
out effect, and the respite encouraged the party
below to batter on the gate with redoubled vigor.
"Now, there is something clever !" Mesgedra cried
in honest admiration. "They have a good man
among them who thought of that."
"More stones here! More stones!" shouted
Ronan Dhu, toppling a huge bowlder over the edge
of the roof. "The frame shakes. They are loosen-
ing it in the wall."
The machine came forward steadily, and was at
the very gate. The men who had been battering
with axes and tree-trunks leaped aside to allow the
formidable thing to have free play, and with a deaf-
ening crash it set its head against the stout leaves of
the entrance. The force of the impact could be
felt even on the top of the grianan.
Over from the roof went stones and timbers, a
crushing weight of them, but the inventive Leinster-
man had done his work well; the frame of the
machine withstood all their attempts to crush it.
THE DEFENSE OF CATHBAR'S DUN 79
The defenders looked at each other in doubt.
Surely the gate was nothing against the rhythmical
pounding that made the grianan quiver. Secure as
they had felt themselves, this fellow's perverse in-
genuity had no sooner seen the weak spot they had
overlooked than he had taken advantage of it.
What use in the thickness and height of the wall, or
the baffling intricacy of the barrier of flints, when,
under the shelter of their own projecting battlement,
this machine, flung together of what came first to
hand, was undoing them?
"Every man out of the grianan!" cried Cathbar
suddenly. " For your lives ! Back!"
His followers sprang down on the walls at the
word, Mesgedra was hurried down a ladder, and the
Old Hero, beckoning to Ronan to follow, dropped
down into the interior of the building. He seized a
great axe himself, and thrust another into the bard's
hand, and tearing up loose boards from the floor,
began to hack and hew frantically at the timbers
which, running athwart the wall, supported the walls
of the sunny house. Ronan imitated him, though
he could not make out what he was at, and with a
few dozen hearty strokes they severed the two
main beams. With a creak and a groan the walls
settled and separated a little, until only the stout
wooden pegs that pinned the frame together kept
the structure from falling apart.
"Down now !" Cathbar gasped, and running to the
window, first he and then Ronan jumped clear to
the pavement of the dun, far below. It was a feat
8o THE PORTION OF A CHAMPION
for Ronan; for Cathbar, in his old age, so extraor-
dinary a piece of daring and agility that the clans-
men stopped in their resistance and cheered him.
He landed erect, although he staggered a few paces,
and at once grasped a long pole, placed the point of
it against the inner wall of the grianan, and pushed
mightily. Some hurried to help him. Others took
his idea and brought other poles, and as many of
the fighting men as could be spared came down from
the wall to help. The veins leaped out on their faces
as their strong backs bent, and their feet slipped
and shifted under the strain.
The building quivered and the timbers widened,
but their utmost efforts were still not enough to
dislodge it from its place.
Then the women and the children, too, came run-
ning from the houses, for they saw that even a little
more strength would turn the scale. The men
shouted at them to go back, but they came on across
the open, dodging the falling arrows and sling-stones,
and, flinging their slight weight against this pole or
that, called for one more effort. The men responded ;
they pushed as if they would lift the wall from its
bed. The grianan rocked, split, parted, and toppled
bodily over. With one accord they made for the
waU to see what had been accomplished by its fall.
All this time the machine had kept steadily in
motion against the gate. Its blows had splintered
one leaf and broken it, although the bars still held
the shattered pieces together. One more good swing
and the breach would have been made, but as the
THE DEFENSE OF CATHBAR'S DUN 81
ram leaped forward and crashed its way through,
the grianan above it swayed, slid forward a little,
and dissolving into a mere jumble of timbers, fell
in a mass on the heads of the surprised assailants.
Most of them were caught and crushed under the
pile without a chance of escape. The others fled
without stopping to see how the catastrophe had
A moment elapsed and a movement was seen
among the tumbled beams. They heaved and
parted, and a yellow-robed figure crawled into view
and raised himself painfully to his feet. He held a
small iron mace in his hand, and his form was squat
and chubby. He staggered a step or two, and then,
catching up his robe, he started to run lumberingly
after the retreating Leinstermen.
The observers on the wall stared open-mouthed
after him, and he had nearly reached the edge of
the flint-stone maze before they recognized him, or
rather, before they could believe their eyes, for they
knew him at once.
"It is Eoghan !" Ronan shouted. "Crom Cruach
and the sacred Twelve ! What is the fat fool about ?
He is charging them ! "
"After him!" said Cathbar. "Will you let him
lead the way and not follow? Open the gates and
They threw open the gates, scrambled over the
ruins, and charged madly after the flying brehon.
Eoghan's speed increased as he heard the noise of
running behind him. His fat legs twinkled under the
82 THE PORTION OF A CHAMPION
saffron kilts, and his breath came in gasps through
his wide-open mouth. He was far in advance still
and making his best speed when one of the retreating
besiegers turned his head and, seeing his single form
within reach and the others so far behind, turned
and waited for him. The brehon came on blindly
until he was within spearthrust of the waiting enemy,
then he faltered and swerved heavily sideways.
The Leinsterman thrust too forcibly, so as to over-
balance himself, and as he stumbled the brehon's
mace rose and fell, and the two went down together,
their limbs tangled inextricably.
Cathbar bellowed with rage when he saw the
brehon fall, and bounded on, his clansmen at his
heels. They had passed the last of the planted
flints, and were driving the fugitives before them
through their very camp, when suddenly the pur-
sued turned and withstood them, and enemies
sprang upon them from behind every bush and tree.
The astute Leinstermen had prolonged their flight
only to lead them farther from the dun. They were
ambushed, surrounded, utterly cut off, doomed.
It was hand to hand now, and every man for him-
self. A dozen heroic struggles were going on at
once, and a dozen times every man of them, by
superhuman feats, saved his skin. Arm to arm,
shoulder to shoulder, they pressed slowly backward
toward the gate, not daring to look at the dun they
had left undefended for fear of seeing the smoke
begin to rise already above the wall. They knew
their fate would come soon. Their spears made a
THE DEFENSE OF CATHBAR'S DUN 83
thorny and a bristling hedge about them, but one
rush and they would be overborne and trampled
down. None the less they held their lives at a
high price, and were determined to exact full pay-
And- now the Leinstermen make ready, and now
they come on, pell-mell.
"Stand fast, sons of Fiacra!" Cathbar exhorted,
and he waved his shield above his head.
But before the swords clashed and the ranks
touched something seemed to numb the arms of the
attackers. A confused shouting came from their
rear, and they pressed no longer but went slipping
off between the trees. Their horses were flying over
the fields in every direction. Then was heard the
thunder and rumble of many hoofs and wheels, and
around the corner of the fort came rank after rank
of swaying, bumping chariots, whirling at the full
speed of their stretched-out, foam-specked spans.
The besiegers ran weaponless with outstretched arms
before them, looking about for refuge.
A glad cry went up from the children of Fiacra as
they recognized their kinsmen and rescuers. The
horses sank back on their haunches, the chariots
slid to a stop, and on all sides men threw themselves
into one another's arms.
EOGHAN THE READY
From the wall the women had watched the chang-
ing fortunes of the sally. Each blow that had been
struck had shaken them, they had mourned each
man who fell. But when rescued and rescuers came
streaming back to the dun, and they saw that the
day was saved, they forgot their terrors and came
flocking down to the gate to see them enter in
First of all came Cathbar, leading by the halters
of the horses a sumptuous and roomy chariot occu-
pied by an extraordinary figure, a man whose
shrunken body and parchment skin spoke of age and
weakness beyond belief. A few bunches of white
hair clung to his scalp, a few long wisps descended
from his chin nearly to his knees. His skin, crossed
and furrowed by myriads of wrinkles, hung loosely
over his great bones and swollen veins ran through
it like mole-hills in soft earth. He was banked in
by cushions and robes, and crossed straps of soft
leather supported and steadied him in his seat. His
head was bent on his chest, and his arms rested
limply at his sides, but there was fire smouldering at
the back of his dun eyes, and his hand was clenched
EOGHAN THE READY 85
on the hilt of an ancient sword which he could hardly
have been able to lift for a generation past.
Cathbar loosened the straps and lifted the wasted
form tenderly to the ground.
"Gods of our people !" the Old Champion grum-
bled. " I had sooner seen the dun burn than that you
should have taken this ride. I never thought that
you would come yourself. Are there no trusty
young men of Fiacra's house to take the burden of
such things from you?"
The patriarch lifted his toothless lip in a grin, and
replied hi a voice so thin and high-pitched that it
could barely be heard:
"Once for all, Cathbar, I need no one to bear my
burdens for me. Trusty men ! I suppose I am not
trusty myself! The old man is not too feeble yet
to lead the spearmen and, until he is, none of these
boys shall come thrusting themselves into his place
and setting him aside. I know them. They would
like nothing better than to pretend that I am grow-
ing old and that my vigor is failing. 'Back by the
fire, grandfather, and give up your crown to another !'
I know them."
His eye wandered about the dun and he went on
"I know this place. I remember it well. It is
many years ago, but I remember it. I lived here in
fosterage with Tuathal. He has a grandson who
will do him credit; Cathbar is his name a strong,
handsome boy. It is many years ago. I forget
things sometimes, but I believe I remember things
86 THE PORTION OF A CHAMPION
that happened here then better than things that
happened yesterday." He hesitated a moment, and
looked about him uneasily, searching for some one
who was not there.
"I tell you, B rigid," he resumed feebly, "it is
warmer at Tuathal's fire than here. I remember
being warm and comfortable there, but here I am
cold, cold, always cold, and smoke passes over my
eyes and dims my sight."
"Take him hi," said Cathbar solicitously. "This
has been too much for him."
" I fear so," said one of those who stood by. " His
mind fails him recently, and he talks to his wife as
if she were alive beside him. It is weird to hear
"It is so with old men," said Mesgedra. "It
would have been better to have left him at home.
He is not strong enough for many such rides."
"You do not know our old king. Even to-day
no one dares resist his will, and he will trust no one
except Cathbar to lead his fighting men. When
Cathbar is not by, he will take the field himself in
spite of what we say."
"Has he no tanist to help him?"
"I was his tanist," Cathbar answered, "until a
splinter robbed me of the sight of my eye and, being
so blemished, I had to give it up. Since then no
one has been chosen in my place, for he has become
very jealous of his dignity, and thinks that even the
choosing of a successor hurts his power in some way.
It is an old man's fancy, but we give way to him, of
EOGHAN THE READY 87
course. Still he is not apt to last long, and when
he dies we will wish, I suppose, that we had settled
it in his lifetime."
"There is always trouble and quarrelling over
choosing a new chief, unless it is done leisurely,
during -the life of the last one," Mesgedra agreed.
He pursed his lips and began to walk up and down.
"You have other sons than Conal?" he said at
"One other, Ferdiad. A good boy, too."
"Where is he?"
"At Cruachan, as a hostage to the Connaughtmen
that we will keep the truce we have sworn with
Mesgedra nodded, as if pleased.
"You still have the good will of the clan?"
"You saw how they fought for me."
"Conal, too, will be well thought of now."
"No doubt, no doubt. They are proud of the
way he stood up for our name and rights."
"Old Hero," said Mesgedra, "it is my advice that
you send out to the borders of the tuath and call
all the flaiths of the clan together to a feast on some
set day. Those who are here can be detained on
the excuse that you fear the Leinstermen will return
in force. Ronan must go back to Tailtenn and see
if anything has been heard of Conal. If we act
cautiously and make no blunder, I see a way to
bring things right, perhaps."
"I see you have a plan," exclaimed Cathbar in
open admiration. "Ah, Mesgedra, if I had not
88 THE PORTION OF A CHAMPION
seen you in battle, I would not believe that a man
could be good with both hands and head. I leave
it to you; only remember, when fighting is to be
done, I am to have my share."
"That you shall," said Mesgedra, in high good
humor at the compliment, "for I grow fat with much
thinking, and I do not swing a spear as I did twenty
years since while time has not changed you at all."
They prodded one another merrily, and stepped
aside to allow a litter to be carried through the gate.
A body was stretched on it, and they recognized
the yellow robes and rotund figure of the brehon
Eoghan. A score of willing hands were struggling
for a share of the burden, and as the litter passed
men of the garrison told those of the rescue party
how Eoghan had led the way against the enemy.
"He leaped down from the wall on their heads,
and chased them till they howled for quarter.
Then he fought with a giant, was stabbed seven
times. Oh, no doubt he is dead but it was a
gallant thing; brave beyond measure."
A dozen versions of the story were going on at
"It will hurt me to the heart, if that brave fellow
has found death," exclaimed Cathbar. "It is not
often that one is before me in charging. He bore
himself in a way that would have done credit to
one of Niall's old warriors. You said well that he
was worth a dozen men."
"I was joking when I said that," Mesgedra ad-
mitted penitently, "for I thought he was of a cow-
EOGHAN THE READY 89
ardly nature. But in truth he made amends to-day
if he ever failed before, for I never saw a man die
in more knightly fashion."
Inside the gate the litter bearers put down their
load. At once the brehon sat upright, swung his
legs over the side of the litter, and blinked owlishly
at the bystanders.
"By the favor of Bel ! He is unhurt !"
"Unhurt!" cried the brehon indignantly, "It is
easy for you to say unhurt! Look at me, unhappy
man that I am ! There is not a whole bone in me;
and see my cloak, torn to rags; and my mace, where
is it? Show me the man who played that trick on
me, and I will fast on him until he is a mass of
boils from head to heels."
"He is raving," muttered the clansmen compas-
sionately. "A blow on the head has dazed him."
"I tell you I will find him out," continued the
brehon furiously, "and proceed against him with the
rigor of the law. It is no light thing to hurl a man
from the housetop, pursue him with weapons, and