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AMONG all the early literatures of Europe, there are two which, at exactly opposite corners of the continent, display most strikingly similar characteristics, characteristics which apparently point to some racial affinity in the peoples who produced them. These literatures are the Greek and the Irish. It has been maintained with much ingenuity that the Greeks of Homer, the early Britons, and the Irish Celts were all of one stock, as shown by the many points they had in common. It is certain that in customs, manner of life, ethics, ideas of religion, and methods of warfare a striking similarity may be seen between the Greeks as described by Homer and the Britons as Julius Cæsar knew them, or the Irish as their own legends reveal them. We must expect to find in their myths and legends a certain resemblance of Celtic ideas to Greek ideas; and if the great Achilles sulks in his tent because he is unjustly deprived of his captive, the fair Briseis, we shall not be surprised to find the Champion of Erin quarrelling over his claim to precedence. The contest between the heroes for the armour of dead Achilles is paralleled by this contest between the three greatest warriors or Ireland for the special dish of honour called the "Champion's Portion," a distinction which also recalls Greek life.

Cuchulain, the Irish Achilles

The resemblance of the Cuchulain legend to the story of Achilles is so strong that Cuchulain is often called "the Irish Achilles," but there are elements of humour and pathos in his story which the tale of Achilles cannot

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show, and in reckless courage, power of inspiring dread, sense of personal merit, and frankness of speech the Irish hero is not inferior to the mighty Greek. The way in which Cuchulain established his claim to be regarded as Chief Champion of Erin is related in the following story, which shows some primitive Celtic features found again in Welsh legends and other national folk-tales.

The Youth of Cuchulain

Cuchulain was the nephew of King Conor of Ulster, son of his sister Dechtire, and men say his father was no mortal man, but the great god Lugh of the Long Hand. When Cuchulain was born he was brought up by King Conor himself and the wisest men of Ireland; when five years old, he beat all the other boys in games and warlike exercises, and on the day on which he was seven he assumed the arms of a warrior, so much greater was he than the sons of mortal men. Cuchulain had overheard his tutor, Cathbad the Druid, say to the older youths, "If any young man take arms to-day, his name will be greater than any other name in Ireland, but his span of life will be short," and as he loved fame above long life, he persuaded his uncle, King Conor, to invest him with the weapons of manhood. His fame soon spread all over Ireland, for his warlike deeds were those of a proved warrior, not of a child of nursery age, and by the time Cuchulain was seventeen he was in reality without peer among the champions of Ulster, or of all Ireland.

Cuchulain's Marriage

When the men of Ulster remembered Cuchulain's divine origin, they would fain have him married, so that he might not die childless; and for a year they searched

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all Erin for a fit bride for so great a champion. Cuchulain, however, went wooing for himself; to the dun of Forgall the Wily, a Druid of great power. Forgall had two daughters, of whom the younger, Emer, was the most lovely and virtuous maiden to be found in the country, and she became Cuchulain's chosen bride. Gallant was his wooing, and merry and jesting were her answers to his suit, for though Emer loved Cuchulain at first sight she would not accept him at once, and long they talked together. Finally Emer consented to wed Cuchulain when he had undergone certain trials and adventures for a year, and had accomplished certain feats, a test which she imposed on her lover, partly as a trial of his worthiness and constancy and partly to satisfy her father Forgall, who would not agree to the marriage. When Cuchulain returned triumphant at the end of the year, he rescued Emer from the confinement in which her father had placed her, and won her at the sword's point; they were wedded, and dwelt at Armagh, the capital of Ulster, under the protection of King Conor.

Bricriu's Feast

It happened that at Conor's court was one chief who delighted in making mischief, as Thersites among the Grecian leaders. This man, Bricriu of the Bitter Tongue, came to King Conor and invited him and all the heroes of the Red Branch, the royal bodyguard of Ulster, to a feast at his new dwelling, for he felt sure he could find some occasion to stir up strife at a feast. King Conor, however, and the Red Branch heroes, distrusted Bricriu so much that they refused to accept the invitation, unless Bricriu would give sureties that, having received his guests, he would leave the hall before the feasting began. Bricriu, who had expected

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some such condition, readily agreed, and before going home to prepare his feast took measures for stirring up strife among the heroes of Ulster.

Bricriu's Falsehood

Before Bricriu left Armagh he went to the mighty Laegaire and with many words of praise said: "All good be with you, O Laegaire, winner of battles! Why should you not be Champion of Ireland for ever?"

"I can be, if I will," said Laegaire.

"Follow my advice, and you shall be head of all the champions of Ireland," said cunning Bricriu.

"What is your counsel?" asked Laegaire.

"King Conor is coming to a feast in my house," said Bricriu, "and the Champion's Bit will be a splendid portion for any hero. That warrior who obtains it at this feast will be acclaimed Chief Champion of Erin. When the banquet begins do you bid your chariot-driver rise and claim the hero's portion for you, for you are indeed worthy of it, and I hope that you may get what you so well deserve!"

"Some men shall die if my right is taken from me," quoth Laegaire; but Bricriu only laughed and turned away.

Bricriu Meets Conall Cearnach

Bricriu next met Conall Cearnach, Cuchulain's cousin, one of the chiefs of the Red Branch.

"May all good be with you, Conall the Victorious," quoth he. "You are our defence and shield, and no foe dare face you in battle. Why should you not be Chief Champion of Ulster?"

"It only depends on my will," said Conall; and then Bricriu continued his flattery and insidious suggestions until he had stirred up Conall to command his

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charioteer to claim the Champion's Portion at Bricriu's feast. Very joyous was Bricriu, and very evilly he smiled as he turned away when he had roused the ambition of Conall Cearnach, for he revelled in the prospect of coming strife.

Bricriu Meets Cuchulain

"May all good be with you, Cuchulain," said Bricriu, as he met the youthful hero. "You are the chief defence of Erin, our bulwark against the foe, our joy and darling, the hero of Ulster; the favourite of all the maidens of Ireland, the greatest warrior of our land! We all live in safety under the protection of your mighty hand, so why should you not be the Chief Champion of Ulster? Why will you leave the Hero's Portion to some less worthy warrior?"

"By the god of my people, I will have it, or slay any bold man who dares to deprive me of it," said Cuchulain.

Thereupon Bricriu left Cuchulain and travelled to his home, where he made his preparations for receiving the king, as if nothing were further from his thoughts than mischief making and guile.

The Feast and the Quarrel

When King Conor and his court had entered Bricriu's house at Dundrum, and were sitting at the feast, Bricriu was forced by his sureties to leave the hall, for men feared his malicious tongue, and as he went to his watch-tower he turned and cried:

"The Champion's Portion at my feast is worth having; let it be given to the best hero in Ulster."

The carving and distribution of the viands began, and when the Champion's Portion was brought forward it was claimed by three chariot-drivers, Laegaire's, Conall's,

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and Cuchulain's, each on behalf of his master; and when no decision was made by King Conor the three heroes claimed it, each for himself. But Laegaire and Conall united in defying Cuchulain and ridiculing his claim, and a great fight began in the hall, till all men shook for fear; and at last King Conor intervened, before any man had been wounded.

"Put up your swords," he said. "The Champion's Portion at this feast shall be divided among the three, and we will ask King Ailill and Queen Meave of Connaught to say who is the greatest champion." This plan pleased every one but Bricriu, who saw his hopes of fomenting strife disappear.

The Women's Quarrel

Just at that moment the women rose and quitted the hall to breathe the fresh air, and Bricriu spied his opportunity. Going down from his watch-tower, he met Fedelm, the wife of Laegaire, with her fifty maidens, and said to her:

"All good be with you to-night, Fedelm of the Fresh Heart! Truly in beauty, in birth, in dignity, no woman in Ulster is your equal. If you enter my hall first to-night, you will be queen of the Ulster women.

Fedelm walked on merrily enough, but determined that she would soon re-enter the hall, and certainly before any other woman. Bricriu next met Lendabair the Favourite, Conall's wife, and gave her similar flattery and a similar prophecy, and Lendabair also determined to be first back at the house and first to enter the hall.

Then Bricriu waited till he saw Emer, Cuchulain's fair wife. "Health be with you, Emer, wife of the best man in Ireland! As the sun outshines the stars, so do you outshine all other women! You should

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of right enter the house first, for whoever does so will be queen of the women of Ulster, and none has a better claim to be their queen than Cuchulain's wife, Forgall's fair daughter."

The Husbands Intervene

The three fair women, each with her train of fifty maidens, watched one another carefully, and when one turned back towards the house the others accompanied her, step for step; and the noise of their returning footsteps as they raced along alarmed their husbands. Sencha, the king's wise counsellor, reassured them, saying, "It is only a woman's quarrel; Bricriu has stirred up enmity among the wives of the heroes"; and as he spoke Emer reached the hall, having suddenly outrun the others; but the doors were shut. Then followed bitter complaints from Fedelm and Lendabair, both united against Emer, as their husbands had been against Cuchulain. Again King Conor was forced to call for silence, since each hero was supporting his own wife's claims to be queen of the Ulster women. The strife was only calmed by the promise that the claim to the highest place should be settled by Ailill and Meave of Connaught, who would be impartial judges.

The Heroes Journey to Connaught

Bricriu's feast lasted for three days longer, and then King Conor and the Red Branch heroes returned to Armagh. There the dispute about the Championship began again, and Conor sent the heroes to Cruachan, in Connaught, to obtain a judgment from King Ailill. "If he does not decide, go to Curoi of Munster, who is a just and wise man, and will find out the best hero by wizardry and enchantments." When Conor had decided thus, Laegaire and Conall, after some disputation


''All three drove furiously towards Cruachan''
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''All three drove furiously towards Cruachan''

''Three monstrous cats were let into the room''
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''Three monstrous cats were let into the room''


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as to who should start first, had their chariots got ready and drove towards Cruachan, but Cuchulain stayed amusing himself and the women in Armagh. When his chariot-driver reproached him with losing the Champion's Portion through laziness Cuchulain replied: "I never thought about it, but there is still time to win it. Yoke my steeds to the chariot." By this time, however, the other two heroes were far, very far, in advance, with the chief men of Ulster following them.

Cuchulain's Steeds

Cuchulain had quite lately won two mighty magic steeds, which arose from two lonely lakes--the Grey of Macha, his best-beloved horse, and the Black Sainglain. The struggle between the hero and these magic steeds had been terrible before he had been able to tame them and reduce them to submission; now he had them yoked to his chariot, and when he had once started he soon came up with the other two heroes, and all three drove furiously towards Cruachan, with all the warriors of Ulster behind them.

Queen Meave Watches the Heroes

The noise of the advancing war-chariots reached Queen Meave at Cruachan, and she wondered greatly to hear thunder from a clear sky; but her fair daughter, looking from her window, said: "Mother, I see chariots coming.

"Who comes in the first?" asked Queen Meave.

"I see a big stout man, with reddish gold hair and long forked beard, dressed in purple with gold adornments; and his shield is bronze edged with gold; he bears a javelin in his hand."

"That man I know well," answered her mother.

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[paragraph continues] "He is mighty Laegaire, the Storm of War, the Knife of Victory; he will slay us all, unless he comes in peace."

"I see another chariot," quoth the princess, "bearing a fair man with long wavy hair, a man of clear red and white complexion, wearing a white vest and a cloak of blue and crimson. His shield is brown, with yellow bosses and a bronze edge."

"That is valiant Conall the Victorious," quoth Meave. "Small chance shall we have if he comes in anger."

"Yet a third chariot comes, wherein stands a dark, sad youth, most handsome of all the men of Erin; he wears a crimson tunic, brooched with gold, a long white linen cloak, and a white, gold-embroidered hood. His hair is black, his look draws love, his glance shoots fire, and the hero-light gleams around him. His shield is crimson, with a silver rim, and images of beasts shine on it in gold."

Terror in Connaught

"Alas I that is the hero Cuchulain," said Meave. "He is more to be feared than all others. His voice in anger tells the doom of men; his wrath is fatal. Truly we are but dead if we have aroused Cuchulain's wrath." After a pause: "Tell me, daughter, are there yet other chariots?"

"The men of Ulster follow in chariots so numerous that the earth quakes beneath them, and their sound is as thunder, or the dashing waves of the sea."

Now Queen Meave was terrified in good earnest, but hoped by a hearty welcome to turn aside the wrath of the heroes of Ulster; thus when they arrived at the dun of Cruachan they found the best of receptions, and all the Red Branch warriors were feasted for three days and nights.

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Conor Explains the Matter

After three days Ailill of Connaught asked their business, and King Conor related to him everything as it had occurred--the feast, the dispute for the Champion's Portion, the women's quarrel, and the decision to be judged by King Ailill. This angered Ailill, who was a peaceable man.

"It was no friend of mine who referred you to me, for I shall surely incur the hatred of two heroes," quoth he.

"You are the best judge of all," replied King Conor. "Then I must have time--three days and nights--to decide," said Ailill.

"We can spare our heroes so long," quoth Conor, and therewith the Ulster men returned to Armagh, leaving the three claimants to the Championship at Cruachan.

The First Test

That night Ailill put them to an unexpected test. Their feast was served to them in a separate room, and the king went to his protectors, the Fairy People of the Hills, in the Good People's Hill at Cruachan, and begged some help in his judgment. They willingly aided him, and three magic beasts, in the shape or monstrous cats, were let into the room where the heroes feasted. When they saw them Laegaire and Conall rose up from their meal, clambered up among the rafters, and stayed there all night. Cuchulain waited till one attacked him, and then drawing his sword, struck the monster. It showed no further sign of fight, and Cuchulain kept watch all night, till the magic beasts disappeared at daybreak. When Ailill came into the room and saw the heroes as they had spent the night he laughed as he said:

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"Are you not content to yield the Championship to Cuchulain?"

"Indeed no," said Conall and Laegaire. "We are used to fighting men, not monstrous beasts."

The Second Test

The next day King Ailill sent the heroes to his own foster-father, Ercol, to spend a night with him, that he also might test them. When they arrived, and had feasted, Laegaire was sent out that night to fight the witches of the valley. Fierce and terrible were these witches, and they beat Laegaire, and took his arms and armour.

When Conall went to fight them the witches beat him and took his spear, but he kept his sword and brought it back with honour. Cuchulain, who was the youngest, went last, and he too was being beaten, when the taunts of his chariot-driver, who was watching, aroused him, and he beat the witches, and bore off in triumph their cloaks of battle. Yet even after this the other two heroes would not acknowledge Cuchulain's superiority.

Ercol's Defeat

The next day Ercol fought with each champion separately, and conquered both Laegaire and Conall, terrifying the former so much that he fled to Cruachan and told Meave and Ailill that Ercol had killed the other two. When Cuchulain arrived victorious, with Ercol tied captive at his chariot-wheels, he found all men mourning for him and Conall as for the dead.

Meave's Plan to Avoid Strife in Cruachan

Now indeed Ailill was in great perplexity, for he durst not delay his decision, and he dreaded the wrath

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of the two disappointed heroes. He and Queen Meave consulted long together, and at length Meave promised to relieve him of the responsibility of judgment. Summoning Laegaire to the king's room, she said:

"Welcome, O Laegaire! You are greatest of the warriors of Ulster. To you we give the headship of the heroes of Ireland and the Champion's Portion, and to your wife the right to walk first of all the women of Ulster. In token thereof we give you this cup of bronze with a silver bird embossed, to be seen by no man till you be come to King Conor in the Red Branch House at Armagh. Then show your cup and claim your right, and none will dispute it with you."

So Laegaire went away well pleased, and they sent for Conall. To him they gave a silver cup, with a bird embossed in gold, and to him they pretended to adjudge the Championship, and Conall left them well content.

Cuchulain, who was playing chess, refused to attend the King of Connaught when he was summoned, and Queen Meave had to entreat him to come to their private room. There they gave him a golden cup, with a bird designed in precious gems, with many words of flattery for Cuchulain and his fair and noble wife, Emer.

The Return of the Champions

Now the heroes, each well content, bade farewell to the court at Cruachan, and drove back to Armagh, but none durst ask how they had sped. That evening, at the banquet, when the Champion's Portion was set aside, Laegaire arose and claimed it, showing as proof that his claim was just the bronze cup he brought from Queen Meave.

But alas! Conall the Victorious had a silver cup, and while he was exulting in this proof of his rightful claim

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to the championship Cuchulain produced his golden cup, and the dispute began all over again. King Conor would have allowed Cuchulain's claim, but Laegaire vowed that his rival had bribed Ailill and Meave with great treasures to give him the golden cup, and neither Laegaire nor Conall would yield him the victory or accept the judgment as final. "Then you must go to Curoi," said the king, and to that they all agreed.

The Champions Visit Curoi

The next day the three champions drove to Kerry, where Curoi dwelt in a magic dun. He was away from home planning enchantments to test them, for he knew they were coming, but his wife welcomed them, and bade them watch the dun for one night each, beginning with Laegaire, as the eldest. Laegaire took up his sentinel's post outside the dun, and Curoi's wife worked the charm which prevented entrance after night-fall. The night was long and silent, and Laegaire thought he would have a quiet watch, when he saw a great shadow arise from the sea.

The Giant Fights Laegaire and Conall

This shadow took the shape of a huge giant, whose spears were mighty branch-stripped oaks, which he hurled at Laegaire. They did not touch him, however, and Laegaire made some show of fight; but the giant took him up, squeezed him so tightly as nearly to slay him, and then threw him over the magic wall of the dun, where the others found him lying half dead. All men thought that he had sprung with a mighty leap over the wall, since no other entrance was to be found, and Laegaire kept silence and did not explain to them.

Conall, who took the watch the second night, fared exactly as Laegaire had done, and likewise did not


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''The body of Uath arose''
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''The body of Uath arose''


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confess how he had been thrown over the wall of the dun, nor what became of the giant in the dawn.

Cuchulain's Trials

The third night was Cuchulain's watch, and he took his post outside the dun, and the gates and wall were secured by magic spells, so that none could enter. Vainly he watched till midnight, and then he thought he saw nine grey shadowy forms creeping towards him.

"Who goes there?" he cried. "If you be friends, stop; if foes, come on!" Then the nine shadowy foes raised a shout, and fell upon the hero; but he fought hard and slew them, and beheaded them. A second and a third time similar groups of vague, shadowy foemen rushed at him, and he slew them all in like manner, and then, wearied out, sat down to rest.

The Dragon

Later on in the night, as he was still watching, he heard a heavy sound, like waves surging in the lake, and when he roused himself to see what it was he beheld a monstrous dragon. It was rising from the water and flying towards the dun, and seemed ready to devour everything in its way. When the dragon perceived him it soared swiftly into the air, and then gradually sank towards him, opening its terrible jaws. Cuchulain sprang up, giving his wonderful hero-leap, and thrust his arm into the dragon's mouth and down its throat; he found its heart, tore it out, and saw the monster fall dead on the ground. He then cut off its scaly head, which he added to those of his former enemies.

The Giant Worsted by Cuchulain

Towards daybreak, when feeling quite worn out and very sleepy, he became slowly aware of a great

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shadow coming to him westward from the sea. The shadow, as before, became a giant, who greeted him in a surly tone with, "This is a bad night." "It will be worse yet for you," said Cuchulain. The giant, as he had done with the other heroes, threw oaks, but just missed him; and when he tried to grapple with him the hero leaped up with drawn sword. In his anger the hero-light shone round him, and he sprang as high as the giant's head, and gave him a stroke that brought him to his knees. "Life for life, Cuchulain," said the giant, and vanished at once, leaving no trace.

Cuchulain Re-enters the Dun

Now Cuchulain would gladly have returned to the fort to rest, but there seemed no way of entrance, and the hero was vexed at his own helplessness, for he thought his comrades had jumped over the magic walls. Twice he boldly essayed to leap the lofty wall, and twice he failed; then in his wrath his great strength came upon him, the hero-light shone round him, and he took a little run and, leaning on his spear, leaped so high and so far that he alighted in the middle of the court, just before the door of the hall.

As he sighed heavily and wearily, Curoi's wife said: "That is the sigh of a weary conqueror, not of a beaten man"; and Cuchulain went in and sat down to rest.

The Decision

The next morning Curoi's wife asked the champions: "Are you content that the Championship should go to Cuchulain? I know by my magic skill what he has endured in the past night, and you must see that you are not equal to him."

"Nay, that we will not allow," quoth they. "It was one of Cuchulain's friends among the People of

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the Hills who came to conquer us and to give him the Championship. We are not content, and we will not give up our claim, for the fight was not fair."

"Go home now to Armagh, is Curoi's word, and wait there until he himself brings his decision," said Curoi's wife. So they bade her farewell, and went back to the Red Branch House in Armagh, with the dispute still unsettled; but they agreed to await peaceably Curoi's decision, and abide by it when he should bring it.

Uath, the Stranger

Some time after this, when Curoi had made no sign of giving judgment, it happened that all the Ulster heroes were in their places in the Red Branch House, except Cuchulain and his cousin Conall. As they sat in order of rank in the hall they saw a terrible stranger coming into the room. He was gigantic in stature, hideous of aspect, with ravening yellow eyes. He wore a skin roughly sewn together, and a grey cloak over it, and he sheltered himself from the light with a spreading tree torn up by the roots. In his hand he bore an enormous axe, with keen and shining edge. This hideous apparition strode up the hall and leant against a carved pillar beside the fire.

"Who are you?" asked one chieftain in sport. "Are you come to be our candlestick, or would you burn the house down? Is this the place for such as you? Go farther down the hall!"

"My name is Uath, the Stranger, and for neither of those things am I come. I seek that which I cannot find in the whole world, and that is a man to keep the agreement he makes with me."

The Agreement

"What is the agreement?" asked King Conor.

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"Behold my axe!" quoth the stranger. "The man who will grasp it to-day may cut my head off with it, provided that I may, in like manner, cut off his head to-morrow. Now you men of Ulster, heroes of the Red Branch, have won the palm through the wide world for courage, honour, strength, truth, and generosity; do you, therefore, find me a man to keep this agreement. King Conor is excepted, because of his royal dignity, but no other. And if you have no champion who dare face me, I will say that Ulster has lost her courage and is dishonoured."

"It is not right for a whole province to be disgraced for lack of a man to keep his word," said King Conor, "but I fear we have no such champions here."

Laegaire Accepts the Challenge

"By my word," said Laegaire, who had listened attentively to the whole conversation, "there will be a champion this very moment. Stoop down, fellow, and let me cut off your head, that you may take mine to-morrow."

Then Uath chanted magic spells over the axe as he stroked the edge, and laid his neck on a block, and Laegaire hewed so hard that the axe severed the head from the body and struck deep into the block. Then the body of Uath arose, took up the head and the axe, and strode away down the hall, all people shrinking out of its way, and so it passed out into the night.

"If this terrible stranger returns to-morrow he will slay us all," they whispered, as they looked pityingly at Laegaire, who was trying in vain to show no signs of apprehension.

Laegaire and Conall Disgraced

When the next evening came, and men sat in the

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[paragraph continues] Red Branch House, talking little and waiting for what would happen, in came Uath, the Stranger, as well and sound as before the terrible blow, bearing his axe, and eager to return the stroke. Alas! Laegaire's heart had failed him and he did not come, and the stranger jeered at the men of Ulster because their great champion durst not keep his agreement, nor 'face the blow he should receive in return for one he gave.

The men of Ulster were utterly ashamed, but Conall Cearnach, the Victorious, was present that night, and he made a new agreement with Uath. Conall gave a blow which beheaded Uath, but again, when the stranger returned whole and sound on the following evening, the champion was not to be found: Conall would not face the blow.

Cuchulain Accepts the Challenge

When Uath found that a second hero of Ulster had failed him he again taunted them all with cowardice and promise-breaking.

"What! is there not one man of courage among you Ulstermen? You would fain have a great name, but have no courage to earn it! Great heroes are you all! Not one among you has bravery enough to face me! Where is that childish youth Cuchulain! A poor miserable fellow he is, but I would like to see if his word is better to be relied on than the word of these two great heroes."

"A youth I may be," said Cuchulain, "but I will keep my word without any agreement."

Uath laughed aloud. "Yes! that is likely, is it not? And you with so great a fear of death!"

Thereupon the youth leapt up, caught the deadly axe, and severed the giant's head as he stood with one stroke.

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Cuchulain Stands the Test

The next day the Red Branch heroes watched Cuchulain to see what he would do. They would not have been surprised if he had failed like the others, who now were present. The champion, however, showed no signs of failing or retreat. He sat sorrowfully in his place, waiting for the certain death that must come, and regretting his rashness, but with no thought of breaking his word.

With a sigh he said to King Conor as they waited: "Do not leave this place till all is over. Death is coming to me very surely, but I must fulfil my agreement, for I would rather die than break my word."

Towards the close of day Uath strode into the hall exultant.

"Where is Cuchulain?" he cried.

"Here I am," was the reply.

"Ah, poor boy! your speech is sad to-night, and the fear of death lies heavy on you; but at least you have redeemed your word and have not failed me."

The youth rose from his seat and went towards Uath, as he stood with the great axe ready, and knelt to receive the blow.

Curoi's Decision and Cuchulain's Victory

The hero of Ulster laid his head on the block; but Uath was not satisfied. "Stretch out your neck better," said he.

"You are playing with me, to torment me," said Cuchulain. "Slay me now speedily, for I did not keep you waiting last night."

However, he stretched out his neck as Uath bade, and the stranger raised his axe till it crashed upwards through the rafters of the hall, like the crash of trees falling in a

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storm. When the axe came down with a terrific sound all men looked fearfully at Cuchulain. The descending axe had not even touched him; it had come down with the blunt side on the ground, and the youth knelt there unharmed. Smiling at him, and leaning on his axe, stood no terrible and hideous stranger, but Curoi of Kerry, come to give his decision at last.

"Rise up, Cuchulain," said Curoi. "There is none among all the heroes of Ulster to equal you in courage and loyalty and truth. The Championship of the Heroes of Ireland is yours from this day forth, and the Champion's Portion at all feasts; and to your wife I adjudge the first place among all the women of Ulster. Woe to him who dares to dispute this decision!" Thereupon Curoi vanished, and the Red Branch warriors gathered around Cuchulain, and all with one voice acclaimed him the Champion of the Heroes of all Ireland--a title which has clung to him until this day.

Next: Chapter X: The Tale of Gamelyn