TWO CELTIC HEROS MEET IN BATTLE...
Many Centuries Ago, when the world was younger, Sheamus O'Shaunessy found himself wandering in a part of the land he had not visited before. For many days Sheamus had battled with Bawn for possession of himself, and so he was weary and confused. All he could say with certainty was that he had been walking for many miles. All that he looked for now was rest and so he trudged on northwards, looking for somewhere that he might sleep and recover himself....
Even as Sheamus was walking north, others were heading south on the same road. Four horsemen surrounded a chariot that clearly belonged to someone wealthy. The horses were fine beasts, and the chariot was ornamented with jewels. Indeed, it might have been thought that four men was not a sufficient guard for such a rich prize, but in truth the occupant of the chariot feared no bandits or robbers. His name was Clovis, and he was a sorcerer from a far land. Yet Clovis clearly was afraid, for he kept turning as if to make sure that he was not being followed. In truth, he was troubled by strange dreams, and being an experienced sorcerer, he had learned to trust his dreams, even when they foretold things that he would rather not believe.
Clovis had only recently come to Ireland, having been forced to leave his own country when his king had discovered him abusing his magical powers. However, although banished, Clovis had not lost heart. He was still young enough to rebuild the wealth and power he had lost, being not yet forty, and so he had journeyed until he came to a land where none had heard of him, a land called Ulster. There he had quickly made himself indispensable to the king who had rewarded him richly. As yet, Clovis had not fallen back into his old habits of using his powers for theft and murder, reasoning that it was wiser to make sure that he was trusted before he did anything that might raise people's suspicions. Not until the time was right would he strike. First he would take Ulster for his own, then more lands and still more, until he could finally return to his own country at the head of an army and humble the king who had once banished him.
Even so, there was still one person who Clovis believed did not trust him, the king's champion, Cuchulain. The small dark warrior watched Clovis suspiciously whenever they were in the same room, although thus far he had found no grounds to attack him. At first, this had not worried Clovis, for what did one warrior's opinion matter, no matter how mighty he may be? After the dreams began, however, Clovis rapidly progressed from worry to fear. His dream was brief, and always the same. He staggered back as the mighty spear of Cuchulain, the Gae Bolg bit deep into his chest. As his life ebbed away, the last thing he saw was the bloodstained face of Cuchulain. For two weeks now he had had this dream, and finally he had come to the conclusion that he must kill Cuchulain before the dream came true.
So he had persuaded the king to send Cuchulain down to this remote southern part of Ulster alone, to "deal with brigands". Still, he was worried. Even alone, Cuchulain would easily overpower Clovis' four guards and, when Cuchulain was in the grip of his ferocious battle rage, the dreaded warp spasm, he would even be immune to Clobis's sorcery. All in all, it was a most disturbing problem for Clovis. Consequently, he was deep in thought when his guards challenged the man walking towards them.
“Out of the way, rabble. You're blocking the road.” The guard spoke roughly and without respect, for in truth Sheamus was dressed poorly, and in any case the guards of Clovis feared little, between their own prowess and their master's spellcraft. Even so, a wiser and more prudent man might have considered that the bulging muscles and mighty axe of the stranger deserved a certain amount of respect.
Sheamus looked up slowly, a certain insolence visible in his very movement. Confused and frustrated by his inability to remember where he was and how he had got there, he was more than willing to work out his frustration in battle. With the glance of an experienced warrior he assessed his situation in a split-second. Four men, mounted and well-armed, well-trained from the look of their posture in the saddle, and a fifth man in a chariot, distracted and soft, no threat there. Sheamus smiled to himself, half happy, half disappointed. He probably wouldn't even need his axe.
“What's that you're saying, boy?” Sheamus responded, a deliberately insulting edge to his voice. “Mebbe it's you needs to be moving out of my way, before I split you're skull open and use it for a toilet!”
The guard needed no further invitation, but urged his horse straight at Sheamus, leveling his spear as he did so. To his astonishment, however, the red-haired vagabond leapt high into the air, vaulting right over the spear, his right arm held stiffly out to the side. The forearm smashed straight into the guard's throat, the impact knocking him from his horse. Caught by surprise, the other guards were a moment slower in their reactions than would normally have been the case, and that moment was all Sheamus needed. As they dismounted from their horses, readying their axes and spears, Sheamus picked up the crumpled body of the first guard and pressed it high above his head, before launching the unfortunate into his comrades like a missile. Bellowing a war cry, Sheamus lowered his head and prepared to charge bull-like into the struggling mass of men, only to stop suddenly, sinking to his knees without warning. The angry guards, picking themselves up, moved forward to finish him off, only to be stopped in their turn by a shout from Clovis.
“Hold! I have ensorcelled him. He cannot move until I release him from my spell, and I have no mind to do so yet.” Clovis' words, though decisive, did not mollify his guards, however.
“He's killed Dara! We must have blood,” demanded Clovis' lieutenant, a grizzled veteran of many battles. “Fear not! He will die, and soon I think. Yet I have a use in mind for this mighty stranger. I'd guess that even the mighty Cuchulain himself would not easily deal with such a warrior.”
With that the discussion was over, for while the guards were not entirely happy with the decision, they all knew that Clovis did not permit debate. Besides, none of them had especially wanted to face Cuchulain themselves. Therefore, they stood back as Clovis laid a mighty enchantment on Sheamus, causing him to seek always for Cuchulain, and not to rest until he had slain him. Long did Sheamus resist the magic, but Bawn, ever seeking to take the soul of the cursed warrior saw an opportunity in Clovis' spell. Reasoning that if Sheamus could be forced into such a dishonourable deed as slaying Cuchulain without provocation the Irish warrior's resistance to Bawn's evil would forever be lessened, Bawn added its own strength to the spell, undermining Sheamus' resistance from within. Finally, the spell that was intended to doom two of Erin's greatest warriors was complete. As soon as Clovis released Sheamus from his paralysis, the cursed warrior bounded off, seeking Cuchulain.
“And now, we have only to follow him and he will lead us to Cuchulain. Then, when he is weary from fighting this red giant, you will strike down the Hound of Ulster. But, remember! No one is to attack until Cuchulain has thrown the Gae Bolg. As long as the spear is in his hand, he is too dangerous.”
Cuchulain himself was several miles away, roaming a great forest and wondering why he was there. He had been sent there on the king's instructions to deal with a band of brigands that the king had had report of. Now that he was in the right area, however, Cuchulain could find no trace of any brigands, and the bandit had not been born that could hide from the Hound of Ulster. In truth, this region was sparsely populated, and any bandits would have found little enough to steal here. Cuchulain was beginning to wonder why he had been sent so far from his king, almost to the borders of Ulster, and he rightly suspected that it had to do with some plot conceived by Clovis. Yet, never once did the thought occur to the mighty warrior that the plot was directed against him. Rather, he thought that Clovis purposed some mischief to the king, and had therefore made sure that his most loyal and powerful protector was away.
With that in mind, Cuchulain began the long journey north back to his king, and it was therefore almost nightfall when, upon entering a wide clearing he saw a flame-haired giant enter from the other side. The two paused for a moment before Cuchulain spoke.
“Good evening, friend. Know you of any home nearby where a servant of the king may sleep the night?” Cuchulain spoke politely, but something about the demeanour of the man facing him warned him to be wary, and not without reason. Sheamus made no answer, but simply took his great axe in his hands and advanced upon the one that every impulse told him he must kill. For his part, Cuchulain needed no further warning and quickly drew his own axe. His spear, the mighty Gae Bolg which never failed to kill he did not touch at this point, preferring to use it only when all else failed....
With a ringing clash, the two axe-blades met as battle was joined. Never was such a battle seen as this. If Sheamus had thought from Cuchulain's small, wiry frame that he would be easy prey then he soon realised the truth. The Hound of Ulster was stronger by far than his size indicated, and his small stature actually gave him some advantage over the larger man. The ferocious blows that their axes dealt smote the tress and earth about them, but always the two warriors managed to avoid the fatal strike from their enemy. In later times men called it the Battle of the Longest Day, for it was said that the Sun ceased his setting in order that he might see the fight to its end...
Eventually, Sheamus put forth all his strength in one mighty blow of his axe, only for Cuchulain once again to dodge away at the last second. The axe of Sheamus buried itself deep in a huge ancient tree that Cuchulain had been in front of, sinking a full foot into the bark. As Sheamus wrenched at it he was forced to let go and leap back as Cuchulain came forward swinging his own axe with reckless abandon, ready now to make an end of this mighty stranger who attacked without cause or provocation.
With a suddenness that belied his gigantic frame, however, Sheamus dropped to the floor, catching Cuchulain's ankles between his own feet and bringing the Hound of Ulster crashing to the forest floor, sending his axe flying away out his grasp. In a heartbeat, Sheamus was on his fallen foe, gripping the smaller man's waist and squeezing with all his might. Lifting Cuchulain high by the waist, Sheamus smashed him into the floor again, never relenting in his grip, and squeezing all the while. A sickening crack and a gasp from Cuchulain told Sheamus that a rib was broken, and he smiled, sure now that the day was his...
Yet suddenly, Sheamus felt Cuchulain shift and twist impossibly in his grasp. His burden grew with a terrifying speed and Sheamus found even his grip broken. In the grip of the warp spasm, Cuchulain had transformed into something barely human. Sheamus found himself facing a creature even taller than his own six and a half feet, its features hideously twisted and deformed. With a primal cry of rage, The beast-that-was-Cuchulain charged, and Sheamus answered with a scream of his own. Once more battle was joined, yet now all skill and guile was abandoned. This was now purely a contest of power and strength. Relentlessly the two rained blows upon each other, heedless of the damage they were taking in their eagerness to defeat their enemy.
Only now did Clovis and his three guards arrive, hiding at the edge of the clearing and trying to restrain themselves from crying out at the monstrous spectacle in front of them. So quickly had Sheamus set off after Cuchulain when Clovis had completed his enchantment that only now had they caught up to him. Axes at the ready, the three guards awaited Clovis' command.
Time wore on. Sheamus' face was a bloody mess, and his left arm hung limp at his side; still he battled on. For his part, Cuchulain was beginning to revert to his normal form. So tired was he, and so much fury he had expended, his warp spasm was beginning to fade. Lunging forward, he feinted an attack, forcing Sheamus back for a moment, and buying him time to spring backwards. With space between them, Cuchulain was free to use the Gae Bolg. With one smooth motion he took the spear and hurled it unerringly into the chest of Sheamus, knocking him down. Yet Cuchulain did not have any time to relax.
“Now!” roared Clovis, and his men set upon Cuchulain, who barely had time to defend himself before they had reached him. For all his skill and strength, it seemed that the Hound of Ulster had finally been brought to bay, and Clovis stepped into the clearing, a greedy smile upon his face.
Across the clearing, however, Sheamus stirred, the Gae Bolg still jutting from his chest. As soon as the fabled weapon had struck him the enchantment that clouded his mind had been broken. Looking up, Sheamus saw Cuchulain battling for his life, wounded and unarmed against three hardened mercenaries and knew the part that he himself had played in bringing this about. Looking to the right, he saw Clovis, still drinking in his triumph and a white-hot fury awoke in the heart of the Irish Curse.
Taking the Gae Bolg, he pulled with all his might. The barbs that ran the length of the dread spear tore through his flesh, but Sheamus did not relent, nor did he once let out a noise that might alert his enemies. Finally, with a last agonising wrench, the spear came free. With all the strength that was left to him, Sheamus hurled the spear at Clovis, yelling as he did so...
“Sorcerer!” Turning to face that dreadful cry, Clovis' eyes widened in terror as he saw the Gae Bolg coming for him. The black spear caught him directly in his evil heart, driving in and bearing him to the earth. As Sheamus rose to his feet, blood flooding from his chest and face he looked like something truly otherworldly. The cowardly warriors Clovis had brought with him wanted no part of him, and quickly they turned and fled.
A weary Cuchulain readied himself for battle once more as the bloody Sheamus approached him, but Sheamus only pointed at Clovis. Seeing the sorcerer there, Cuchulain soon understood what must have happened. Cuchulain staggered over to the sorcerer to reclaim his spear and look upon his fallen enemy. As the dying Clovis loosed his final breath, the last thing he saw was Cuchulain standing over him, exactly as in his dream.
The two warriors were men of few words, although Sheamus certainly felt that Cuchulain was owed a full explanation of what had happened. The next morning the Sun rose late, and the two men had already gone their separate ways. Yet Sheamus' heart was lighter than it had been in some time, for although he did not remember what had brought him to Ulster, in coming there he had found a friend...
And did they ever meet again? That would be a story for another time.
Go to First Chapter: Chap #1