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THE HUMBLING OF QUEEN MEAVE
OWARDS the fall of day, Cuchulain reached the ford of the
Shannon at the place that is now called Athlone. He
saw the army of Meave flying, broken and disbanded,
across the river, and weariness and dislike of the rout
overtook him, so that he turned aside into a wood close
by to rest awhile, for of his chariot there remained
but a few bent ribs, and the wheels were loosened from
the pole. "I will watch the flying host," he thought,
"until the Ulstermen come up, and together we will
smite them and cut off their rear." As he pushed his
way into the wood, he saw before him, in the dimness of
the fading light, Queen Meave herself, fallen, forsaken
and exhausted, on the ground. So close was she that he
could have smitten her from behind, and taken off her
head, had he so willed. But it was not the wont of
Cuchulain to smite from behind, or ever to hurt a
woman. But he stood over her, and sternly spoke.
"What dost thou here, O Meave, O captain of the host of
Erin? Behold thy army flies, broken and discomfited,
across the stream, seeking its native province, and the
army of the men of Ulster presses hard upon their rear.
No leader have they to guide their flying bands; why
liest thou here alone?"
Then the haughty queen replied sadly, and with all her
 spirit gone: "Queen as I am, and captain of mine host,
yet have I but a woman's strength; my forces are
exhausted, and my power is gone; fain must I lie and
rest. Help me, O generous foe, I claim a boon from
"What boon is this that thou dost crave of me, O Meave,
"I ask of thee to take myself and all my host under the
strong protection of thy arm; keep thou the ford for
them; ward off the men of Ulster who press on us from
behind; let Connaught's bands return in peace and
safety to their homes. Guard me besides till to my
help Ailill and Fergus come, and safe to Cruachan
escort me back again. Full many and many a time have
I, in folly, bragged about my strength and all the
power of my enormous host; now all is come to nought,
and I am spent and ill. To thee, my foe, I turn;
protect me now."
"Never shall it be said," Cuchulain replied, "that I
was heedless of a woman's appeal. Lie there in peace.
I will protect the host."
So while the twilight deepened into night, Cuchulain
stood up, dauntless and alone, between the men of Erin
and their foes. Safely they crossed the stream, while
his own followers Cuchulain held at bay, hindering and
staying them from cutting off the rear. Chafing and
vexed they stood, yet at Cuchulain's command they
restrained themselves, nor was one man of Erin's host
cut off till all in safety reached the further side.
Late in the evening came Fergus up, looking for Meave
to conduct her back to Cruachan. Strange was the sight
he saw. In peace and quiet, Meave was taking rest
beneath the forest trees; her troops all passed across
the ford, save for late stragglers who came safely
through the Ulster troops, no one destroying them.
 the brink Cuchulain stood, leaning upon his sword the
'Little Hard,' his face lined deep with toil and
thought. He seemed to guard the enemy's troops from
his own men. Amazed, and uttering not a sound, Fergus
stood still awhile to watch. Then in a mighty laugh
that reached the firmament he burst forth: "Verily and
indeed," he cried, "strange is the ending of this day.
A woman's lead we followed in this war, fighting
against the bands of our own kith and kin, to gratify a
woman's jealousy. To-day our host is cleared and swept
away; it flies without a path, without a lead, caring
for nought but safely to reach home. Our queen lies at
her ease, and our worst enemy is he who guards and
shields our troops. Surely and in truth, 'tis wise and
champion-like to follow where a woman leads the way."
Cuchulain heard that scornful laugh, and looking up,
saw Fergus standing contemplating him and them.
"High time thou camest, my foster-father Fergus, to
guard and help thy queen. I leave her now to thee; my
task is done. Yet that it never may be said that
cowardice or weakness made Cuchulain spare the flying
troops of Ulster's foes, one blow I strike in Ulster's
honour here." Then turning quickly, his 'Little hard'
he swung aloft, and on the summit of a hillock near at
hand he brought it down, shearing its top clean off.
"Between Connaught and Ulster let that hill stand
evermore, a witness to our strength and to our
Then once again into his ruined chariot he sprang, and
fast as his two steeds would bear him on, he hurried
back to Ulster and the king, returning glad and full of
victory among his troops to Emain and to Emer once
again. And from that time Connaught withheld its
 hand, nor did Meave venture ever again to dispute or
war with Ulster.
Now the Brown Bull had passed over the Shannon
westward, accompanied by his fifty heifers. With head
in air and bellowing loudly he surveyed the great
trackless land that lay before him. The Whitehorned
heard his bellowing and came to meet him, and when they
saw each other, straightway with terrific force they
A paroxysm of exceeding fury came upon them, and up and
down they moved, their nostrils distended and with
lowered horns, pushing and driving and goring, until
the ground was red with blood and the sods torn up and
flung on high. Had any ventured near them, he would
without doubt have been crushed to death beneath their
hoofs; and when night came, no one in all the country
dared to sleep, for terror at the bellowing and noise
they made. But at length the Whitehorned gave way
before the Brown Bull, and by him was chased and gored
until no spark of life was left in him, and portions of
his flesh were caught upon the Brown Bull's horns.
Then, as he was, all red with blood and fearful to
behold, the Brown Bull took his path back to his native
home, scattering the people right and left before him,
or trampling them into the earth beneath his hoofs.
And, at the last, exhausted with his flight, the spirit
fled from him, and with a mighty roar and fearful
bellowings, the great Brown Bull of Cooley's raid fell