“Has anyone seen her in our time?” asked the lad.
“I have,” said Concobar. “I saw her at the great fair of Tailteen. There she pronounced a curse upon me and upon the Red Branch. [Footnote: At Tailteen a man boasted that his wife could outrun Concobar’s victorious chariot-steeds. Concobar compelled the woman to run against his horses. She won the race, but died at the goal leaving her curse upon the Red Branch.] The curse hath not yet fallen, but it will fall in my time, and the promised one will come in my time and he will redeem us from its power. Great tribulation will be his. Question me no more, dear Setanta, I have said more than enough.”
They went forth from the sacred chamber and Concobar locked the doors.
As they crossed the vacant space going to the palace, Concobar said—
“Why art thou sad, dear Setanta?”
“I am not sad,” answered the boy.
“Truly there is no sadness in thy face, or thy lips, in thy voice or thy behaviour, but it is deep down in thine eyes,” said the King. “I see it there always.”
Setanta laughed lightly. “I know it not,” he said.
Concobar went his way after that, musing, and Setanta, having replaced the sacred vessels in their chamber and having locked the door, strode away into the boys’ hall. There was a great fire in the midst, and the boys sat round it, for it was cold. Cuculain broke their circle, pushing the boys asunder, and sat down. They tried to drag him away, but he laughed and kept his place like a rock. Then they called him “a Fomorian, and no man,” and perforce made their circle wider.
THE WEIRD HORSES
“On the brink of the night
and the morning
My coursers are wont to respire,
But the earth has just whispered a warning,
That their flight must be swifter than fire,
They shall breathe the hot air of desire.”
One night when the stars shone brightly, Setanta, as he passed by Cathvah’s astrological tower, heard him declare to his students that whoever should be knighted by Concobar on a certain day would be famous to the world’s end. He was in his coming out of the forest then with a bundle of young ash trees under his arm. He thought to put them to season and therewith make slings, for truly he surpassed all others in the use of the sling. Setanta went his way after that and came into the speckled house. It was the armoury of the Red Branch and shone with all manner of war-furniture. A fire burned here always, absorbing the damp of the air lest the metal should take rust. Setanta flung his trees into the rafters over the fire very deftly, so that they caught and remained there. He said they would season best in that place.
As he turned to go a man stood before him in the vast and hollow chamber.
“I know thee,” said the boy. “What wouldst thou now?”