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The Boyhood Deeds of Cú Chulainn
I


He was brought up, according to Fergus mac Róich, by his mother and his father, in the Airdirg, on Muirthemne Plain. At that time they called the boy Sétanta. They told him about the boy-troop in Emain: for three fifties of boys are at their play on the playing-field there. Thus does Conchobar mac Nessa spend his royal day: one third watching the boys at their games, one third playing fidchell, and one third drinking his beer until sleep takes him. There is no greater warrior in Ériu.

Sétanta asked his mother to let him go to join the boy-troop.

»Not yet«, said she. »You must wait, at least, until it can be arranged to have some warriors of the Ulaid take you there.«

»Too long that«, said the boy. »Point me which way is Emain

»It is in the north«, she said; »the steeps and slopes of Fuad's Mountain lie between it and you.«

»Nevertheless I will attempt it«, said the boy.

He sets off then, with his wicker shield and his toy javelin, and his hurley stick and his ball. As he went, he would throw his javelin ahead of him, and then run after it and catch it out of the air, so that it never touched the ground.

He goes to the boys then, going into the field without first asking his protection of them. The three fifties of them would never allow anyone to come into their playing-field without first giving the guarantee of their protection; but the boy did not know of it.

»This boy insults us! And this though we can see that he is of the Ulaid«, said Follomain mac Conchobar. »Let's kill him.«

They throw their three fifties of toy javelins at him then; but he catches them all on his wicker shield, so that it bristles with points. They shoot their three fifties of balls at him, but he catches them on his chest one and all. Then they throw their three fifties of hurley-sticks; he strikes them away with his own, so that none of them touch him, and all of them fall about him except for a bundle which he takes on his back.

Then the warping-spasm comes upon the boy.

His hair stood on end, so that you would have thought each hair a wire, hammered into his head; a spark on the tip of each hair. He squeezed one eye shut so that it was no wider than the eye of a needle; he opened one eye wide so that it was as wide as the mouth of a goblet. He bared his teeth to the ear; he opened his mouth so wide that you could see into his gullet. The hero-halo rose above his head.

He makes his onslaught upon the boys. He strikes fifty of them down there on the field, before the gates of Emain; then he runs after the rest of the troop into the fort. Nine of them ran past Fergus and Conchobar where they were playing fidchell; the boy comes after, leaping over the fidchell table. Conchobar catches him then by the elbow.

»These boys are not well treated«, says he.

»Good cause, master Conchobar!«, cries out the boy. »I came from my home to join the boy-troop, from my mother and father, and I was poorly treated by them.«

»What's your name, sprite?« said Conchobar.

»Sétanta mac Súaltam,« says the boy, »and the son of Deichtire your sister. I did not expect to be greeted this way!«

»Why weren't the boys bound over to protect you, then?«, asked Conchobar.

»I didn't know that was necessary«, said the boy.

»Will you take your protection from me, then?«, said Conchobar.

»From you I will take it«, said Sétanta; »no dishonor that.«

Then he turned from the table, and he ran once again after the boys, throughout the house.

»What sets you after them now, sprite?« said Conchobar.

»I should be bound over to protect them,« said the boy, »or if I'm not bound over to it, I'll harry them again.«

»Undertake it, then«, said Conchobar.

»Well, I undertake it«, said Sétanta.

Then the foster-mothers and the foster-fathers of the boys who had been struck down went into the playing-field, and helped them to rise.


The Boyhood Deeds of Cú Chulainn

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