HOW CUCHULAIN TOOK ARMS
HEN Meave had thought awhile, she said, "Are there yet
other stories of this wondrous boy?" "Indeed," cried
Fiacra, one of the companions of Cormac, who came with
him when he went from Ulster into exile, "the story of
his taking arms is not told yet, and I think it more
than all the other stories you have heard." "How so?"
said Meave; "tell it to us now."
Then Fiacra said, "The very year after Cuchulain got
his name, he was playing outside the place where Caffa
the magician sat with eight of his pupils teaching them
his lore. It chanced that he was telling them, as the
magicians and Druids are wont to believe, that certain
days were lucky for special acts and other days
unlucky. 'And for what,' asked one of the boys, 'would
this day at which we now are be counted lucky?' "
"This is the day," said Caffa, "on which any youth who
should assume arms, as became a champion of war, should
attain eternal fame; beside him, no warrior's name in
Ireland should ever more be named, or spoken in the
same breath with it, for his glory would transcend them
all. For such a youth, however, no happy thing were
this, for he should die at an early age, no long-lived
warrior he; his life shall be but fleeting, quickly
 Outside the house Cuchulain overheard the conversation
of the teacher with his boys. Instantly and without a
moment's pause he laid aside his hurley and his ball,
and put off his playing-suit. Then, donning his
ordinary apparel, he entered the sleeping-house of the
King. "All good be thine, O King," said he. "Boy,
what hast thou now come to ask of me?" replied the
King. "I desire," said he, "to take arms as a warrior
and champion to-day." "Who told thee to ask for this?"
said the King, surprised. "My master Caffa, the
magician," answered he. "If that is so, thou shall not
be denied," replied the King, and he called on those
who were about him to give the lad two spears and sword
and shield: for in Emain the King had always ready
seventeen complete equipments of weapons and armature;
for he himself bestowed weapons on a youth of the
boy-corps when he was ready to bear arms, to bring him
luck in using them. Cuchulain began to try those
weapons, brandishing and bending them to try their
strength and fitness to his hand; but one after another
they all gave way, and were broken into pieces and
little fragments. "These weapons are not good," said
he; "they are but the equipment of a common warrior,
they suffice me not." Then when he had tried them all,
and put them from him, the King said: "Here, my lad,
are my own two spears, my own sword and shield." Then
Cuchulain took these weapons, and in every way, by
bending them from point to hilt, by brandishing them,
by thrusting with them, he proved their strength and
mettle. "These arms are good," said he, "they break
not in my hand. Fair fall the land and country whose
King can wield armour and weapons such as these!"
CUCHULAIN DESIRES ARMS OF THE KING.
Just at the moment Caffa came into the tent.
Won-  dering, he asked: "Is the little boy so soon assuming
arms?" "Ay, so it is," said the King. "Unhappy is the
mother whose son assumes arms to-day," said the
magician. "How now?" cried the King; "was it not
yourself who prompted him?" "Not so, indeed," said
Caffa. "Mad boy, what made you then deceive me,
telling me that Caffa it was who prompted you to ask
for arms?" "O King of Heroes, be not wrath," replied
the lad. "No thought, indeed, had I to deceive. When
Caffa was instructing his pupils in the house to-day, I
overheard, as I was playing with my ball outside, one
of the lads asking him what special virtue lay in this
day, and for what it was a lucky day. And he told them
that for him who should assume arms this day, his luck
should be so great that his fame would outstrip the
fame of all Ireland's heroes, and he would be the first
of Ireland's men. And for this great reward no
compensating disadvantage would accrue to him, save
that his life should be but fleeting."
"True is that, indeed," said Caffa, "noble and famous
thou shalt be, but short and brief thy life." "Little
care I for that," replied the lad, "nor though my life
endured but for one day and night, so only that the
story of myself and of my deeds shall last."
"Then get thee into a chariot, as a warrior should, and
let us test thy title to a future fame."
So a chariot of two horses was brought to Cuchulain,
and every way he tried its strength, driving it
furiously round and round the green, goading the horses
and turning suddenly. But for this usage the chariot
was not fit, and it broke beneath him. Twelve chariots
were brought to him, and he tested them all in this
manner, but all of them he reduced to fragments.
"These chariots of
 thine, O Conor, are no good at all, they serve me not,
nor are they worthy of me, thy own foster-son."
Then the King cried: "Fetch me here Ivar, my own
charioteer, and let him harness my steeds into the
kingly chariot, and bring it here to serve Cuchulain."
Then the kingly chariot of war was brought and
Cuchulain mounted, testing it every way; and well it
served him at every test. "The chariot is good, and
the steeds are good, they are worthy of me," said the
boy; "it is my worthy match."
"Well, boy, it is time that thou wert satisfied at
last; now I will take the horses home and put them out
to graze," said Ivar.
"Not yet awhile," said Cuchulain. "Drive but the
horses round the kingly fort." Ivar did so, and then
he said again: "Be satisfied now, my lad; I go to turn
the horses out to grass." For it was but seldom that
King Conor went forth in his war-chariot, because the
men of Ulster willed not that the King should expose
his person in battle; so Ivar was grown idle, and fat
through his idleness, and he liked not at all the
unwonted exertion that the wee boy asked of him.
"Not yet awhile," said Cuchulain again; "too early is
it to turn in; drive now towards the playing-fields
that the boy-corps may salute me on this the first day
of my taking arms." They did so, and the boy-corps
gathered round. "These are a warrior's arms that thou
hast taken!" cried they all, surprised to see him thus
equipped in the King's own warrior-gear, and driving in
the chariot of the King. "Just so, indeed," replied
the boy. Then they wished him well in his
warrior-career. "May success in winning of spoils, and
in blood-drawing, be thine," they cried. "But all too
soon it is
thou leavest us and our boyish sports for deeds of
war." "In no way do I wish to part with the beloved
boy-corps," replied the lad; "but it was a sign of luck
and good fortune that I should take arms to-day;
therefore I thought not well to miss my luck."
Then Ivar urged the child again, for he was growing
tired of the thing, to let him take the horses out to
graze. " 'Tis early yet, O Ivar," said the boy;
"whither then goes this great High-road I see?" "That
is the High-road to the borders of the Province, and to
the Ford of Watching or the Look-out Ford," replied the
charioteer. "Why is it called the Look-out Ford?"
asked then the boy. "Because there, on the extreme
limits of the Province, a watcher who is a prime
warrior of Ulster always stands, prepared to challenge
any stranger, before he pass the ford, of his business
in the Province: if he who comes be a bard or peaceful
man, to grant him protection and entertainment; but if
he be a foe, to challenge him to combat at the ford.
And seldom," said the charioteer, "does a day pass, but
at the ford some enemy is slain. As to the bards who
pass in peace, no doubt it is the kindness of that
warrior they will praise when once they come to Emain,
and stand before the King." "Who guards the ford this
day, if thou dost know?" inquired Cuchulain. "Conall
the Victorious, Ulster's foremost man of war, it is who
holds the ford this day." "Away then," cried the lad,
"goad on thy steeds, for we will seek the ford and
 They come at last to the ford's brink, and there beside
the Ford of Watching stood young Conall, at that time
Ulster's foremost man of war.
When he saw the lad driving fully equipped for war in
the chariot of the King, he felt surprise. "Are you
taking arms to-day, small boy?" he said. "He is
indeed," said Ivar. "May triumph and victory and
drawing of first blood come with them," answered
Conall, for he loved the little lad, and many a time he
had said to his fellows: "The day will come when this
young boy will dispute the championship of Ireland with
me." "Nevertheless," said he to Cuchulain, "it seems
to me that oversoon thou hast assumed these arms,
seeing that thou are not yet fit for exploits or for
war." The boy heeded not this, but eagerly asked,
"What is it thou doest at the Ford of Watching,
Conall?" "On behalf of the Province I keep watch and
ward, lest enemies creep in."
"Give up thy place to me, for this one day let me take
duty," said Cuchulain. "Say not so," replied the
champion, "for as yet thou art not fit to cope with a
"Then on my own account must I go down into the
shallows of yon lake, to see whether there I may draw
blood on either friend or foe." "I will go with thee,
then, to protect thee, to the end that on the
border-marshes thou run not into danger." "Nay, come
not with me, let me go alone to-day," urged the lad.
"That I will not," said Conall, "for, were I to allow
thee all alone to frequent these dangerous fighting
grounds, on me would Ulster avenge it, if harm should
come to thee."
Then Conall had his chariot made ready and his horses
harnessed; soon he overtook Cuchulain, who, to cut
 short the matter, had gone on before. He came up
abreast with him, and Cuchulain, seeing this, felt sure
that, Conall being there, no chance for deed of prowess
would come his way; for, if some deed of mortal daring
were to be done, Conall himself would undertake the
same. Therefore he took up from the road a smooth
round stone that filled his fist, and with it he made a
very careful shot at Conall's chariot-yoke. It broke
in two, and the chariot came down, Conall being thrown
forward over his horses' heads.
"What's this, ill-mannered boy?" said he.
"I did it in order to see whether my marksmanship were
good, and whether there were the makings of a
man-at-arms in me." "Poison take both thy shot and
thyself as well; and though thy head should now fall a
prize to some enemy of thine, yet never a foot farther
will I budge to keep thee."
"The very thing I asked of thee," replied the boy, "and
I do so in this strange manner, because I know it is a
custom among the men of Ulster to turn back when any
violence is done to them. Thus have I made the matter
sure." On that, Conall turned back to his post beside
the Look-out Ford, and the little boy went forward
southward to the shallows of the marshy loch, and he
rested there till evening-tide.