Cuchulain of Muirthemne

VI. The High King of Ireland

   There was a king over Ireland before this time whose name was Eochaid Feidlech, and it is he was grandfather to Conaire the Great.
   He was going one time over the fair green of Bri Leith, and he saw at the side of a well a woman, with a bright comb of silver and gold, and she washing in a silver basin, having four golden birds on it, and little bright purple stones set in the rim of the basin. A beautiful purple cloak she had, and silver fringes to it, and a gold brooch; and she had on her a dress of green silk with a long hood embroidered in red gold, and wonderful clasps of gold and silver on her breasts and on her shoulders. The sunlight was falling on her, so that the gold and the green silk were shining out. Two plaits of hair she had, four locks in each plait, and a bead at the point of every lock, and the colour of her hair was like yellow flags in sum-met, or like red gold after it is rubbed.
   There she was, letting down her hair to wash it, and her arms out through the sleeve-holes of her shift. Her soft hands were as white as the snow of a single night, and her eyes as blue as any blue flower, and her lips as red as the berries of the rowan-tree, and her body as white as the foam of a wave. The bright light of the moon was in her face, the highness of pride in her eyebrows, a dimple of delight in each of her cheeks, the light of wooing in her eyes, and when she walked she had a step that was steady and even, like the walk of a queen.
   Of all the women of the world she was the best and the nicest and the most beautiful that had ever been seen, and it is what King Eochaid and his people thought, that she was from the hills of the Sidhe. It is of her it was said, "All are dear and all are shapely till they are put beside Etain."
   Then Eochaid sent his people to bring her to him, and when she came, he said, "Who are you yourself, and where do you come from?" "It is easy to say that," she said; "I am Etain, daughter of Etar, king of the Riders of the Sidhe. And I have been in this place ever since I was born, twenty years ago, in a hill of the Sidhe, and kings and great men among them have been asking my love, but they got nothing from me, for since the time I could first speak I have loved yourself, and given you a child's love, because of the great talk I heard of your grandeur. And when I saw you now I knew you by all I had heard of you; and so I have reached to you at last."
   "It is no bad friend you have been looking for," said Eochaid, "but there will be a welcome before you, and I will leave every other woman for you, and it is with yourself I will live from this out, so long as you keep good behaviour."
   Then he gave her the bride price, and she lived with him till he died. But one time she was brought away from him by Midhir, and Eochaid brought her back by force, and the Sidhe had no good will towards him after that, but brought a revenge on his house, and on his grandson, Conaire.
   They had one daughter, that was called by the same name as her mother, Etain, and that was married to Cormac, king of Ulster. And, like her mother, she had but the one daughter, and there was vexation on Cormac when she had no son, and he bade two of his serving-men to bring the child away out of his sight, and to do away with her. So they brought her to a pit, but when they were putting her in, she smiled a laughing smile at them, and they had not the heart to harm her. So they brought her to a calf-shed belonging to the herds that minded the cattle of Eterscel, great-grandson of lar, king of Teamhair; and they cared her well there, and there was not a king's daughter in Ireland was nicer than herself. And they made a little house of wicker-work for bet, with no door, but only a window high up in it.
   King Eterscel's people thought it was provisions the herds used to keep in that house. But one day a man of them got up and looked in through the window, and what he saw was the nicest and the most beautiful young girl of the whole world.
   When King Eterscel heard that, he sent his people to break into the house and to bring her away, and ask no leave of the cowherds. For he had no child, and it is what his Druids had foretold, that it was a woman of unknown race would bear him a son; and he was sure this was the woman that had been foretold for him.
   But before the king's messengers reached the house in the morning, Etain saw a bird coming in at the window. And when it came in, it left its birdskin on the floor, and what she saw was a man before her. And he said, "The king is sending messengers to bring you to him, that he may have a son. But it is to me you will bear a son, and no bird must ever be killed by him. And his name will be Conaire, son of Mes Buachall, that is, son of the cowherd's foster-child."
   Then she was brought away to the king, and the herds that had fostered her went with her, and they all got good treatment. And it is what she asked, when her son Conaire was born, that he might be brought up between three households, the household of her own fosterers, and of the two honey-worded Maines, and her own. And she said that if any of the men of Ireland had a mind to give help in his bringing up, they should give it to those three households.
   So it was like that the boy was reared, and there were five other boys reared along with him, Ferger, Fergel, Ferogain, Ferobain, and Lomna Druth the Fool, of the house of Dond Dessa, the champion of the army from Muclesi. And they all used the same food, and their clothing and their armour and the colour of their horses were the same.
   And after a while King Eterscel died, and there was a bull feast made ready at Teamhair, as the custom was, to find out by it the best man for the kingship.
   It is this way the bull feast was made. A white bull was killed, and one man would eat his fill of the meat and of the broth, and in his sleep after that meal, a charm of truth would be said over him by four Druids. And whoever he would see in his sleep would be king, and he would tell them his appearance; and if he told what was not true, his lips would perish. And what the dreamer saw in his sleep his time was a young man, and he naked, and having a stone in his sling, passing the road to Teamhair.
   Now just at that time Conaire was out playing games near the Lifé River with his foster-brothers, and the cowherds that had reared him came and bid him go up to Teamhair to attend the bull feast that was going on there.
   So he left his foster-brothers at their games, and turned his chariot and went on till he came to Ath Cliath. And there he saw great white speckled birds, the best in size and appearance he had ever seen, and he followed after them till his horses were tired, but he could not come up with them, for they always kept just out of his reach. Then he got down from his chariot and took his sling and followed them to the strand, and they went into the sea and were swimming on the waves, and he went after them to take hold of them. Then they left their birdskins, and it was men he saw before him, and they turning to face him with spears and swords.
   But one of them took him under his protection and said, "I am Nemglan, king of your father's birds, and there was a command put on you never to make a cast at birds, for there is not one here but should be dear to you." "I never knew of that command till this day," said Conaire. Then Nemglan said, "What you have to do is to go to Teamhair to-night, to the bull feast, and it is through it you will be made king, for it is a man that will go naked, and having a sling and a stone in his hand, along one of the roads to Teamhair, towards the end of the night, that will be king.
   "And your bird reign will be great," be said. "But there is geasa, that is a bond, on you not to do these things:
   "Do not go righthandwise round Teamhair, and lefthandwise round Bregia; do not hunt the evil beasts of Cerna; do not go out beyond Teamhair every ninth night; do not settle the quarrel of two of your own people; let no robbery be done in your reign; do not sleep in a house you can see the firelight shining from after sunset; do not let one woman or one man come into the house where you are after sunset; do not let three Reds go before you to the House of Red."
   Then Conaire set out for Teamhair, naked, and having a stone in his sling. And on every one of the four roads to Teamhair there were three kings waiting, and having clothing with them, for the king that was foretold. And when the three kings on Conaire's road saw him coming, they met him, and put royal clothes on him, and brought him in a chariot to Teamhair. But the people of Teamhair said when they saw him: "Our bull feast and our charm of truth were not worth much, when it is only a young beardless lad they have brought us!"
   "That is no matter," said Conaire, "for it is no disgrace for you to have a young king, when my father and my grandfather held the same place" "That is true," they all said then, and they gave him the kingship, and he said, "I will learn of wise men, that I myself maybe wise."
   Now there was great plenty in Ireland through his reign; seven ships coining at the one time to Inver Colptha, and corn and nuts up to the knees in every harvest, and the trees bending from the weight of fruit, and the Buais and the Boinne full of fish every summer, and that much law and peace and good-will among the people; that each one thought the other's voice as sweet as the strings of harps. And the wolves themselves were held by hostages not to kill more than one calf in every pen. There was no thunder or storm in his reign, and from spring to harvest there was not as much wind as would stir a cow's tail, and the cattle were without keepers because of the greatness of peace. And in his reign there were the three crowns in Ireland, the crown of flowers, the crown of acorns, and the crown of wheatears.
   But after a while there began to be discontent on the sons of Donn Dessa, because they were hindered from the robbery and killing there used to be in the old time. And to vex the king, and to see what he would do, they stole three things, a pig and a bullock and a cow, from the same man every year for three years. And every year the countryman would come to the king to make his complaint, and every year the king would say, "It is to the sons of Donn Dessa you should go, for it is they took the beasts." But whenever he would go and speak to them, they would go near to kill him, and he would not go back to the king for fear he might be vexed.
   So the sons of Donn Dessa went on with their robbery, and three times fifty other young men joined with them, sons of the great men of Ireland.
   But one time they went doing their bad work in Connaught, and they followed a swineherd that ran from them, and he called out for help, and the people gathered to him, and the robbers were taken and brought back to Teamhair.
   King Conaire was asked to give judgment then, and it is what he said, "Let every father of a robber put his own son to death, but let my foster-brothers be spared." "Give us leave," said all the people, "and we will put them to death for you." "I will not consent to that, indeed," said Conaire. "Their life must be spared. But if they must do robbery," he said, "let them go across the sea, and do it on the men of Alban."
   So the sons of Donn Dessa and their men were driven out of the country, and some of the Maines went with them, the sons of Ailell and Maeve, and three great fighting men of Leinster, that were called the Three Red Hounds of Cualu, and they brought a troop of wild restless men with them.
   They set out then in their ships, and when they were out on the rough sea, they met with the ship of Ingcel, the One-Eyed, grandson of Cormac of Britain. They were going to make an attack on him, but Ingcel said, "It would be best for us to come to an agreement together, for you have been driven out of Ireland, and I myself have been driven out from Britain. Let us make this agreement," he said. "Let you come and spoil the people of my country, and then I will go back with you and spoil the people of your country."
   So they agreed to that, and they cast lots as to where they would go first, and it is how the lot fell, that they should go first to Britain with Ingcel. And when they got there it chanced that the father and mother and the seven brothers of Ingcel had been sent for to the house of the king of the district, and Ingcel and his comrades made an attack on them, and killed them all in the one night.
   Then they made for Alban, and there they did every sort of destruction and robbery. And at last they turned back again to Ireland, that Ingcel might spoil their people the same way as they had spoiled his.
   Now just at that time peace was after being broken in Ireland by the two Carbres that were at war with one another in Tuathmumain of Munster, and no one was able to put an end to their quarrel till Conaire himself went there to make peace. And he did that, although by doing it he broke two of the bonds put on him by the Man of the Waves. And on his way back to Teamhair, when he was passing Usnach in Meath, he and his people thought they saw fighting from east to west, and from north to south, and armies of naked men, and the country of the Ua Neills like a cloud of fire around them.
   "What is that?" said Conaire. "It is easy to know that," said his people. "The king's law has broken down, and the country is on fire." "What way had we best go?" said Conaire. "To the northwest," said his people.
   So then they went righthandways round Teamhair, and lefthandways round Bregia, and that was another breaking of his bonds, and they met with beasts and hunted them, and he did not know till afterwards that they were the evil beasts of Cerna.
   And it was the Sidhe had made that Druid mist of smoke about him, because he had begun to break his bonds.
   Great fear came on Conaire then, and he did not know what way would be best to go, and they went on by the sea-coast, towards the south by the road of Cualu. And then Conaire said, "Where shall we go to spend the night?"
   "I can say this truly," said Mac Cecht, one of his fighting men, he that kept three of the Fomor as hostages at the king's court, the way their people would not spoil corn or milk in Ireland through his reign; "it is oftener the men of Ireland have been quarrelling to have you in the house, than you have been straying about, looking for a lodging." "I have a friend not far from this," said Conaire, "if we but knew the way to his house." "What is his name?" said Mac Cecht. "Da Derga of Leinster, that keeps the great Inn," said Conaire. "He came to ask a gift of me, and it is not a refusal he met with. I gave him a hundred head of cattle, I gave him a hundred fat swine, I gave him a hundred cloaks of fine cloth, I gave him a hundred swords and spears, I gave him a hundred red-gilded brooches, I gave him ten vats of good brown ale, I gave him three times nine white hounds in silver chains, I gave him a hundred swift horses. I would give him the same if he would come again. He will make a return to me to-night, for it would be a strange thing, he to begrudge me anything when I come to his house."
   "When I knew his house," said Mac Cecht, "the road we are in now led straight to it. Seven doorways there are in it, and seven sleeping-moms between every two doorways." "We will go to the house with all our people," said Conaire. "If that is so," said Mac Cecht, "I will go on first till I light a fire in the house before you."
   They went on then towards Ath Cliath, and presently a man with hair cut short, with dreadful appearance, with but one hand and one foot and one eye, overtook them. A forked pole of black iron he had in his hand, and on his back a black-bristled singed pig, and it squealing: and there was a woman coming after him, ugly anf big-mouthed. "Welcome to you, my master, Conaire, "he said. "It is long we have known of your coming." "Who gives that welcome?" said Conaire. "Fer Coille, the Man of the Wood," he said, "and his black pig with him, that you may not be fasting to-night, for you are the best king that ever came into the world." "Leave me for to-night," said Connaire, "and I will go to you any other night that pleases you." "We will not," said he; "but we will go to the place you will be in to-night, O fair little master, Conaire."
   So he went on towards the Inn, and his wife behind him, and his black pig squealing on his back.
   After that Conaire saw before him three horsemen going towards the Inn. Red cloaks they had, and red shields, and red spears in their hands, and they riding on red horses.
   "What men are these before me?" said Conaire. "It is my bonds not to let them go before me; three Reds to the House of Red, that is of Derga. Who will follow them and bid them to come back and to follow after me?" "I will follow them," said Lefriflaith, Conaire's son.
   So he struck his horse and went after them, but he could not come up with them. So he called to them to turn back, and not to go on before the king. And he did this three times, and the third time one of the men turned his head and said, "There is great news before us, my son; wetting of swords, destroying of life, shields with broken bosses, after the fall of night. Our horses are tired; we are riding the horses of the Sidhe; although we are alive we are dead." And with that they went from him, and he went back to his father.
   "You did not keep back the men," said Conaire. "It was not my fault indeed," said Lefriflaich. Then he told the answer they had given him, and Conaire and his people were not well pleased to hear that, and uneasiness came on them, "All my bonds are ended to-night," said Conaire, "and those three Reds before me are sent by the Sidhe,"
   Now while he and his people were in the road of Cuala going towards the Inn, Ingcel and the outlaws of Ireland were come in their ships to the coast of Bregia against Etair. And the sons of Donn Dessa said, "Strike the sails now, and let some light-footed messenger go on shore and see can we keep our bargain with Ingcel, and give him a spoil for the spoil he gave us." "Let some man go," said Ingcel, "that has the gift of hearing and of far sight and of judgement."
   "I have the gift of hearing," said Maine Milscothach, "I have the gift of far sight and of judgment," said Maine Andoe. "It is as well for you to go, so," said the others.
   So they landed and went on till they came to Beinn Etair, and they stopped there to try what they might see and hear. "Be quiet now," said Maine Milscothach, "and listen." "What do you hear?" said Maine Andoe. "I hear the coming of a king," he said, "and look now and tell me what you see." "I see," he said, "a great company of men, travelling over hills and rivers. Clothes of every colour they have, and grey spears over their chariots, and swords with ivory hilts beside them, and silver shields; and I swear by the oath my people swear by," he said, "the horses they have with them are the horses of some good lord. And it is my opinion that it is Conaire, son of Eterscel, and a good share of the men of Ireland with him, that is travelling the road."
   With that they went back and told their comrades what they had heard and seen. And when they heard it they brought the boats to shore and landed on the strand of Furbuithe. And it was just at the same moment Mac Cecht was striking a spark to kindle a fire at the Inn before the High King.
   Then Conaire came to the lawn of the Inn, and he went in, and his people, and they took their seats, and the three Red Men sat down along with them, and the Man of the Wood that was a swineherd of the Sidhe with his squealing pig.
   And Da Derga came to them with three times fifty fighting men, every one of them having a long head of hair and a short cloak and a great blackthorn stick with bands of iron in his hand. "Welcome, my master, Conaire," said Da Derga, "and if you were to bring the whole of the men of Ireland with you, there would be a welcome before them all."
   After the fall of evening they saw a lone woman coming to the door of the Inn; long hair she had, and a grey woollen cloak, and her mouth was drawn to one side of her head. She came and leaned up against the doorpost, and she threw an evil eye on the king and the young men about him. "Well, woman," said Conaire, "if you have the Druid sight, what is it you see for us?" "It is what I see for you," she said, "that nothing of your skin or of your flesh will escape from the place you are in, except what the birds will bring away in their claws. And let me come into the house now," she said. "There are bonds on me," said Conaire, "not to let one woman come by herself into the house after the setting of the sun. And bring her out," he said, "a good share of food from my own table, but let her stop for the night in some other place."
   "If the king's hospitality is gone from him," she said, "and if it is the way with him not to have room in his house for one lone woman to be fed and lodged, I will go and get food and lodging from some better man." "Let her in, in spite of my bonds," said Conaire, when be heard that. So they let her in, but none of them felt easy in their minds after what she had said.
   Now all this time the outlaws were on their way to the Inn, and they stopped at Leccaibcend Slebe. And when they saw the great light that was shining from the Inn through the wheels of the chariots that were outside the doors, Ingcel said to Ferogain, "What is that great light beyond?" "It is what I think," said Ferogain, "that it is the fire of Conaire, the High King. And I would be glad he not to be there to-night, for it would be a pity if harm would come on him, or his life be shortened, for he is a branch in its blossom."
   "It is good luck for me," said Ingcel, "if he is there. Spoil for spoil. It is no worse for you than it was for me when I gave up my father and mother and my seven brothers and the king of my country into your hands." "That is true, that is true," said all the others.
   Then every man of them brought up a stone from the strand to make a cairn, as they were used to do before they would make an attack on any place, to know by it afterwards how many men they had lost. For every man that would come from the fight would take his stone from the cairn, and the stones of all that would be killed would be left there.
   After that they held a council, and it is what they agreed, that one man should go and spy out what way things were at the Inn. And it was Ingcel himself went to do that, and he was a good while looking in by the seven doors of the house, but at last some one of the men inside caught sight of him, and he made his way back to his comrades, where they were all sitting down, and their leaders in the middle, waiting to hear his news.
   "Did you see the house, Ingcel?" said Ferogain. "I did see it," said lngcel; "and whether or not there is a king in it, it is a royal house, and I will take it as my share when the time comes." "You may do that," said Conaire's foster-brothers. "But we will not go against it before we know who is in it."
   "The first I saw," said Ingcel, "was a large man, of good race, with bright eyes, with hair like flax; his face open, wide above and narrow below; with modest looks, and having no beard. A five barbed spear in his hand, and a shield with five gold circles on it.
   Nine men he had about him, all beautiful and all alike, so that you would think they had the one father and mother. Who were those men, Ferogain?" he said.
   "It is easy to say that," said Ferogain. "That was Cormac Conloingeas, son of Conchubar, the best fighter behind a shield in all Ireland, but he is modest with all that And those were his nine comrades about him; they have never put men to death because of their poverty, or spared them because of their riches. He is a good leader they have with them. I swear by the gods my people swear by, it is no small slaughter they will make before the Inn to-night."
   "It is a pity for him that will make the attack," said Lomna Druth, the Fool, "because of that man only, Cormac Conloingeas. And if I had my way," he said, "the attack would not be made, for the sake of that man alone and his beauty and his goodness."
   "You will not be able to hinder it, Lomna," said Ingcel. "You are no good of a fighter; I know you well, there are clouds of weakness coming on you. No one, whether old man or story-teller, will be able to say I drew back from this fight before I had gone through with it."
   "It is well enough for you, Ingcel," said Lomna; "you will escape after the fight, and you will bring away the head of a strange king with you, but as for myself," he said, "it is my head will be the first to be tossed to and fro to-night."
   "What did you see after that?" said Ferogain.
   "I saw a room with three soft young boys in it and they wearing cloaks of silk with gold brooches. Long yellow hair they had, as curly as a ram's head; a golden shield and a candle of a king's house over each of them, and every one in the house humours them. Who were those, Ferogain?" he said.
   But Ferogain was crying tears down, so that the front of his cloak was wet, and it was a long time before he could bring out his voice. "O little ones," he said then, "I have good reason for crying. Those are the three sons of the king, Oball and Obline and Corpre Findmor."
   "There is grief on us if that story is true," said the other sons of Donn Dessa; "for it is good those three are. They are as mannerly as young girls, and they have the hearts of brothers, and the courage of lions. Whoever has been with them and parts from them, it is little he sleeps or eats till the end of nine days, fretting after their company. It is a pity for him that will destroy them."
   "I saw after that," said Ingcel, "a very fair man, having a golden bush of hair, the size of a reaping basket. A long, heavy three-edged sword in his hand, a red shield speckled with rivets of white bronze between plates of gold."
   "That man is known to all the men of Ireland," said Ferogain. "It is Conall Cearnach, son of Amergin, and he is the man Conaire thinks most of in the world; and that shield in his hand is the Lamtapaid. There are seven doorways in that inn, and when the attack is made, Conall Cearnach will be at every one of them. What did you see after that, Ingcel?" he said.
   "I saw," he said, "a brown big man, with short brown hair and a red speckled cloak, and a black shield with clasps of gold; and with him two chief men, in their first greyness, and black swords at their sides. And one of them had in his hand a great spear, with fifty rivets through it, and he shook it over his head, and struck the halt against the palm of his hand three times, and then he plunged it into a great pot that stood before them, with some black thing in it, and when he was putting it in there were flames on the shaft. Who were those men, Ferogain?"
   "That brown man is Muinremar, son of Geirgind, one of the champions of the Red Branch. And another is Sencha, the beautiful son of Ailell; and the man with the spear is Dubthach, the Beetle of Ulster, and the spear in his hand is Celthair's Luin, that wasin the battle of Magh Tuireadh, and that was brought from the east by the three children of Tuireann, and when a battle is coming near, it flames up of itself, and it must be kept quenched in a vessel, or it will go through whoever has it in his hand."
   "I saw after that," said Ingcel, "a room with nine men in it, fair-haired and beautiful, with speckled cloaks, and above them were nine bagpipes, and light was shining from the ornaments that were on them."
   "Those are the nine pipers that came to Conaire out of the hill of the Sidhe at Bregia," said Ferogain, "because of the great stories about him. The best pipers they are in the whole world. And they are good fighters, but to fight with them is to fight with a shadow, for they kill but cannot be killed, because they are from the Sidhe."
   "I saw after that," said Ingcel, "three very big men, with terrible looks. A dress of rough hair they had, and a club of iron with chains on it in every man's hand. There was sadness on them, and they standing alone, and every one in the house avoiding them. Who were those, Ferogain?"
   Ferogain was silent for a while, and he said then, "I do not know of any such men in the world, unless they might be the three giants Cuchulain spared, the time he took them from the men of Falga, he would not let them be killed because of their strangeness; Conaire bought them from Cuchulain after that, so it is along with him they are."
   "I saw nine men in the north side of the house." said Ingcel, "having very yellow manes of hair, and short linen dresses, and purple cloaks without brooches; broad spears, and red curved shields."
   "I know those men," said Ferogain; "three royal princes of Britain that are with the king, Oswald and his two foster-brothers, Osbrit of the Long Hand and his two foster-brothers, Lindas and his two foster-brothers."
   "Three red men I saw after that," said Ingcel; "red shields above them, red spears in their bands, their three red horses in their bridles in front of the Inn."
   "Those are the three champions that did deceit and falsehood among the Sidhe," said Ferogain, "and it is the punishment was put on them by the king of the Sidhe, to be three times destroyed by the King of Teamhair; and Conaire is the last king through whom they will be destroyed; yet they will not be killed, nor will they kilt any one. It is to work out their own destruction they are come?"
   "I saw after that," said Ingcel, "a big man, and his hair white, and the shame of baldness on him, and gold earrings in his ears. Nine swords he had in his hand, and nine silver shields, and nine golden apples. He was throwing each of them upwards, and not one would fall on the ground, but each of them rising and falling past each other like bees on a sunny day. But as I looked at him, he let all fall to the ground, and the people about him cried out, and the king that was sitting there said to him, 'We have been together since I was a little boy, and your tricks never failed till to-night.'
   "My grief!' he said. 'Fair master, Conaire, I have good cause for it; an unfriendly eye looked at me; there is some bad thing in front of the Inn.'
   "And when the king heard that, it is what he said: 'I had a dream in my sleep a while ago, of the howling of my dog Ossar, of wounded men, of a wind of terror, of keening that overcame laughter."
   "That was Taulchinne, Conaire's juggler," said Ferogain. "And tell me now," he said, "what was the appearance of the king?"
   "Of all the men I ever saw in the world," said Ingcel, "he is the best in shape, and the most beautiful; young he is, and wise and kinglike. The colour of his hair was like the shining of purified gold; the cloak about him was like the mist of a May morning, changing from colour to colour, every colour more beautiful than another; a wheel brooch of gold reaching from his chin to his waist; his golden-hiked sword within his reach."
   "That was Conaire, the High King, indeed," said Ferogain; "and it is he is the greatest and the best and the comeliest of the kings of the whole world, and there is no fault in him, either as to wisdom or bravery or knowledge or words or worthiness. Tender he is, a sleepy, simple man, till he chances on some brave thing to do, but when his anger is awaked, the champions of Ireland and of Scotland will not win their battle so long as he is against them. And I swear by the oath my people swear by, unless drink should fail him, or the like, that man alone would hold the Inn till help would gather to him from the Wave of Cliodna in the south, to the Wave of Essruadh in the north."
   "It is time for us to rise up," said Ingcel then, "and to get on to the house."
   So with that the outlaws rose up and went on to the Inn, and the noise of their voices were heard about it.
   "Be quiet now and listen," said Conaire. "What is that we hear?"
   "Fighting men about the house," said Conall Cearnach. "There are fighting men to meet them here," said Conaire. "They will be wanted to-night," said Conall.
   Then Lomna Druth, the Fool, broke in first to the house, and the doorkeepers struck off his head, and it was tossed three times in and out of the Inn, just as he himself had foretold.
   Then they all attacked one another, and Conaire himself went out with his people and killed a great many of the outlaws outside. And three times the Inn was set on fire, and three times it was put out again. And Conaire got to his arms then, for he had not got them in the first attack, and he went out again and made a great slaughter, so that the outlaws were driven back. "I told you," said Ferogain, "that all the men of Ireland and of Alban could not take the house till Conaire's rage would be quenched." "It is short his time will be," said the Druids that were along with the outlaws. And what they put on him by their enchantments was a great thirst, so that he went back to the house and called for a drink "A drink to me, Mac Cecht," he said. "That is not the order you are used to give me," said Mac Cecht "What I have to do is to keep you from the men that are attacking you all round the house; ask a drink of your steward and of your cup-bearers," he said.
   Then Conaire called to his cup-bearers for a drink. "There is none," they said, "for every drop in the house was thrown on the fire to put it out." "Get me a drink, Mac Cecht," he said again then; "for if I am to die, it is all the same to me by what death I die."
   Then Mac Cecht gave a choice to the champions of Ireland that were in the house, would they go out and look for a drink for Conaire, or would they stop in the house and defend him. And Conall Cearnach called out: "Leave the defence of the king to us, and go you and look for the drink, for it was of you it was asked."
   And he was vexed with Mac Cecht for putting the choice to them, and there was never a very friendly feeling between them afterwards.
   Then Mac Cecht went to look for a drink, and he brought Conaire's great golden cup with him, and an iron spit, the cauldron spit, in his other hand.
   He burst out on the outlaws, and attacked them with blows of the spit, so that many got their death; and then he took his shield and made a round with his sword above his head, and cut down all before him, and got through the whole band.
   And it would be too long to tell, and it would tire the hearers, all that happened after that; the people of the Inn coming out and making attacks, and some of them getting their death, and the most part making their escape. And at last there were none left in the Inn with Conaire but Conall, and Sencha, and Dubthach.
   Now from the rage that was on Conaire, and the greatness of the fight he had fought, a great drouth came on him again, and such a fever of thirst, and no drink to get, that he died of it in the end.
   Then the other three, when they saw the High King was dead, went out and cut their way through their enemies, and got away with their lives, but if they did, they were wounded, and hurt, and broken.
   And Conall Cearnach, after he got away, went on to his fathers house, and but half his shield in his hand, and a few bits left of his two spears. And he found Amergin, his father, out before his dun in Tailltin.
   "Those are fierce wolves that have hunted you, my son," said he. "It was not wolves that wounded me, but a sharp fight with fighting-men," said Conall. "Have you news from Da Derga's Inn?" said Amergin. "Is your lord living?" "He is not living," said Conall. "I swear by the gods the great tribes of Ulster swear by, the man is a coward that came out alive, leaving his lord dead among his enemies," said Amergin. "My own wounds are not white, old hero," said Conall. And with that he showed him his right arm, that was full of wounds. "That arm fought there, my son," said Amergin. "That is true," said Conall "There are many in front of the Inn now it gave drinks of death to last night."
   Now, as to Mac Cecht, after he got away from the Inn, he went on to the well of Casair, that was near him in Crith Cualann, but he could not find so much as the full of the cup of water in it. Then he went on through the night, from lake to lake, and from river to river, but he could not find the full of the cup of water in any one of them. But at last he came to Uaran Garad on Magh Ai, and it could not bide itself from him, and he filled the cup, and went back again, and reached Da Derga's Inn before morning. And when he got there, he saw two men, and they striking off Conaire's head; and Mac Cecht struck off the head of one of them, and then the other man was going away with the king's head, and he took up a stone and threw it at him, that it broke his back.
   Then Mac Cecht stooped down and poured the water into Conaire's mouth and his throat. And when the water was poured in, the head spoke and it said: "A good man Mac Cechtis, a good man, a good champion without and within. He gives drink, he saves a king, he does a deed; it is well he fought at the door, it is well he made an end of fighting men. It is good I would be, and I alive, to Mac Cecht of the great name."
   And it was after that, Mac Cecht brought the body of the High King on his back to Teamhair, and buried him there as some say. And he himself went to his own country, into Connaught. And the place he stopped in was called, from his sharp grief, Magh Brongear.
   And there was no High King chosen to rule over Ireland for a good many years after that.


Cuchulain by John Duncan
Cuchulain by John Duncan