THE KNIGHTING OF CUCULAIN
“Then felt I like
a watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken.”
The prophecies concerning the coming of some extraordinary warrior amongst the Red Branch had been many and ancient, and by certain signs Concobar believed that his time was now near. Often he contemplated his nephew, observed his beauty, his strength, and his unusual proficiency in all martial exercises, and mused deeply considering the omens. But when he saw him slinging and charioteering amongst the rest, shooting spears and casting battle-stones at a mark before the palace upon the lawn, and saw him eating and drinking before him nightly in the hall like another, and heard his clear voice and laughter amongst the boys, his schoolfellows and comrades, then the thought or the faint surmise or wish that his nephew might be that promised one passed out of his mind, for the prophesyings and the rumours had been very great, and men looked for one who should resemble Lu the Long-Handed, son of Ethlend, [Footnote: This great deity resembled the Greek Phoebus Apollo. He led the rebellion of the gods against the Fomorian giants who had previously reduced them to a condition of intolerable slavery. Some say that he was Cuculain’s true father. His favourite weapon was the sling, likened here to the rainbow. It was not a thong or cord sling, but a pliant rod such as boys in Ireland still make. The milky way was his chain.] whose sling was like the cloud bow, who thundered and lightened against the giants of the Fomoroh, who was all power and all skill, whose chain wherewith he used to confine Tuatha De Danan and Milesians, spanned the midnight sky. The rumours and prophecies were indeed exceeding great and Cuculain, though he far surpassed the rest, was but a boy like others. He stood at the head of Concobar’s horses when the King ascended his chariot. His shoulder was warm and firm to the touch when the King lightly laid his hand upon him.
One night there were terrible portents. All Ireland quaked; there was a druidic storm under bright stars; the buildings rocked; a brazen clangour sounded from the Tec Brac; there were mighty tramplings and cries and a four-footed thunder of giant hoofs, and they went round Ireland three times, only the third time swifter and like a hurricane of sound. Cuculain was abroad that night. There was deep sleep upon the people of Emain, only the chiefs were awake and aware. Cuculain was sick after that. The Druids stood around his bed.
“The world labours with the new birth,” said Concobar. “Maybe my nephew is the forerunner, the herald and announcer of the coming god!”
One evening, after supper, when the lad came to bid his uncle good-night as his custom was, he said, “If it be pleasing to thee, my Uncle Concobar, I would be knighted on the morrow, for I am now of due age, and owing to the instructions of my tutor, Fergus Mac Roy, and thyself, and my other teachers and instructors, I am thought to be sufficiently versed in martial exercises, and able to play a man’s part amongst the Red Branch.”