Isle of Sky · Scotland · Travel · Writing

Cú Chulainn and Scáthach Part II

IMG_1887Scáthach’s daughter wiped the tears from her eyes as she heard the horrendous screech and cry of battle, her mother’s cry echoed fearsomely through the hills but it was more than matched by the roar of the man that she fought. She crept out of their home and to the edge of the hill where she could see them battling in a valley below. She could smell the sweat sour on the air as the two of them fought fiercely. It was her mother who drew first blood but it wasn’t long before the brute had managed to make her bleed as well. Scáthach’s daughter wanted more than anything in the world for them to stop, she knew with a deep and frightening certainty that the two of them were evenly matched. She was certain that the battle would only end with both of them dead. She could not fathom a world without her mother in it, her daughter could not watch her die. Filled with shame Scáthach’s daughter fled down the hillside away from the battle. She began to cry as she ran, hot tears seeped out of her swollen eye, her cracked lip stung and she cried all the harder remembering the great hand that had administered the blow. As she ran and cried her vision blurred so that she no longer knew where she was going. She did not see the stone that seemed to rise out of nowhere but her foot found it and she went flailing forwards. She braced herself for hitting the ground but instead found herself splashing into the rushing river. It was shallow enough that she was able to find her footing and sit up but she only cried all the harder for being wet and cold as well as a soon to be orphan.

“Scáthach’s daughter why do you cry?” the voice was light and musical like the babbling of a brook,

“Scáthach’s daughter whatever happened to your face?” another voice joined the first it was stronger and colder and deep like the waters of a loch. Scáthach’s daughter wiped the tears and water from her eyes and looked around herself trying to locate the voices. Two water sprites sat on a rock a little ways from where she sat. They were painfully beautiful to look at with long silvery hair, skin so white it was nearly translucent, wide eyes the flashing blues and greys of a rushing river. A long silvery tail lay where legs should have been. Scáthach’s daughter immediately unburdened herself,

“Scáthach is fighting Cú Chullain and they are sure to kill one another and I don’t know what to do!” She began to cry all over again, she could hear the water sprites conferring with one another and then they laughed loud and freely as though they held all the secrets in the world.

“All you have to do is make them realize how useless their fight is!” the first sprite said, the second one nodded sagely,

“Cook them roast venison and fill it with hazelnuts. They are starving for they have been battling for a half an hour. When they smell the food they will come to you!” The first one took over again,

“And when they eat the hazelnuts, the nuts of wisdom will do their work and they will see that they need not fight one another. That they should respect one another!” The second one giggled,

“Now stop crying!” Scáthach’s daughter saw their tails slap the water, they splashed over and grasping her by the shoulders pushed her under the water. She rose again to the surface sputtering and indignant but there was no sight of the sprites. She blinked in surprise, her eye that had been swollen felt perfectly normal again. She probed her split lip with her tongue and found it healed. She climbed sodden out of the river and leaned over to catch a glimpse of her reflection. Her face was wholly restored and she would have ventured to say, more beautiful than before. She could not waste time gazing at her own reflection. She needed to set to work putting the sprite’s plan into action. She rushed home and began her work.

Scáthach was sweating hard, every muscle in her body screamed for mercy and her breath was coming in gasps. The only thing that kept her going was the knowledge that her opponent was in exactly the same shape she was. He too was gasping for breath, his attacks were becoming less precise and more leaden. His arms were beginning to shake just as hers were. And yet he did not give up and neither would she. She set her teeth and attacked anew, if this was how and where she would die than so be it. She would not shy from death. The smell seemed to hit both of them simultaneously. It was sweet and savory, the rich succulent smell of roasted meat. Scáthach’s mouth began to water and she paused for a breath. She cursed herself for stopping and expected to feel the death blow hit her but none came, she looked over and saw that Cú Cuhllain was also frozen in place. The two of them locked eyes and slowly lowered their weapons. Without a word they set off in the direction of the smell. The rumbling of their stomach’s seemed to be trying to compete with one another for volume. Scáthach kept an eye on Cú Cuhllain as they made their way up the hillside towards the direction of her home where the smell appeared to be emanating from. She had to begrudgingly admit to herself that she had underestimated him. He was much stronger than she had believed. He was also far cleverer than she had anticipated. He was a seasoned warrior, she had no doubt that if he hadn’t killed every Ulsterman it was only due to another’s interference. When they reached the doorway of the keep it was open, Scáthach led the way into the hall. A table was set with roast venison and a bevy of other delicacies. Two places were set at the trestle table with goblets filled with good wine. The two of them barely managed to keep any semblance of manners as they rushed to sit at the table. Scáthach quickly cut herself a healthy section of venison and began to eat, too ravenous to do more than shove the meat into her mouth and chew hurriedly. The venison had been stuffed and Scáthach could detect a multitude of spices and a sweet nuttiness amongst them. As her hunger began to abate she began to slow her eating down and regard Cú Cuhllain once again. She had never before had cause to pause a battle, never had an adversary found themselves supping with her in her keep. As she raised her eyes she saw that he too was regarding her, but the animosity and derision with which he had looked at her as she came tearing down the hillside was gone. His eyes held respect and even a little awe. Scáthac lay down the bones of her meal. The two of them began to speak as one and a genuine laugh overrode their jumbled attempts at speech. Eventually Scáthach was able to make herself heard,

“I have underestimated you Cú Cuhulalin. It appears that in you I have finally met my match.” Cú Cuhllain raised a bushy eyebrow and nodded his great head,

“I agree Scáthach. I have no hope of beating you we are as evenly matched as ever two warriors could hope to be.” Scáthach and Cú Chullain regarded one another unsure of how to proceed. Then Cú Cuhllain raised himself from the bench and took his broadsword and with a bow he lay it on the table before Scáthach, “I concede to you my sword,” he said. Scáthach took her shield from her arm and bid him follow her, he followed her to a window in her keep that showed the mountains that surrounded her,

“This is my true shield” Scáthach said gesturing to the hills, “I will teach you every inch of them if you are willing.” Cú Cuhllain nodded his head,

“I should be honoured to learn from you Scáthach.”

And so it came to be that Scáthach the greatest warrior in all of Elba should train Cú Cuhllain the greatest warrior in all of Ireland. And when he left she named one of the mountains for him and it is known as Cuillin to this day.

 

 

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