The March Begins
King Ailill and Queen Medb assembled a great army in Connacht, and sent for support from the other provinces. Ailill's six brothers, who were Anluan, Mugcorb, Cet, En, Bascall and Dochae, appeared with 3,000 men each. Then Ailill beckoned Conchobor's son, Cormac Connlongas, who was the leader of the Ulster exiles, and Cormac arrived with three thousand.
One thousand of these wore speckled cloaks, and wore their hair short. Tunics covered them to their knees, and they bore full-length shields and a broad-bladed stabbing spear. The second thousand wore dark grey cloaks and tunics to their calves embroidered with red thread. Their hair was tied back, their shields shone like a full moon and they carried five-pronged spears. The third thousand, led by Cormac himself, wore purple cloaks and hooded red-trimmed tunics that reached the ground. They carried white shields, shaped like a scallop shell, and they carried spears as broad as a granite column.
The assembled army camped on the hills at Cruachan Aí for two weeks while the druids cast for good omens. When finally the force started moving, Queen Medb, standing by her chariot driver, said to him: 'These men will curse me if they are leaving a friend or lover behind today. But this is my battle, and these are my men'. As the two climbed into the war-chariot, the driver turned the carriage to the right to trace the arc of the sun. This he did to propitiate a safe return. But as he did a young woman beautiful with yellow hair pulled in front of them, armed and standing in a war-chariot led by two black horses. Wearing a speckled cloak fastened with a gold pin, her hair was hooded with a red-embroidered tunic and she wore sandals with gold clasps. Broad of brow, narrow jawed, with eyebrows of jet-black. Her lips were coloured with Parthian red, and her teeth were like the whitest diamonds. Her hair was parted in three braids: two wound up on her head and the third fell down her back to her calves. In her hand she bore a weaving-rod inlaid with gold, and her eyes had three irises.
'Who are you?' asked Medb.
'My name is Fedelm, a poet of Connacht. ' she replied.
'Where in Connacht have you come from?' enquired the Queen.
'Not from Connacht but from Alba direct, where I have been learning verse and vision.'
'Do you carry the Light of Foresight, the imbas forasnaí?' asked Medb of the woman. 'If so tell me of my army's fortune.'
The girl looked at the mass of men and her triple irises clouded, and then she cast her eyes to the ground.
'Tell me how you see the Host of Connacht!' ordered Medb, to which the seer replied:
'I see these men in colours of red and crimson and scarlet. '
'You lie!' shouted the Queen. 'The men of Ulster are taken by the Pangs and are as dangerous as babes! Celtchar mac Uthidir awaits us in Dun Lethglaise with a third of Ulster's forces! If you are truly a prophetess, Fedelm, tell me this: how do you see our Host?'
'I see these men in colours of blood!' cried Fedelm, 'I see them so, truly. '
'This doesn't matter; your vision means only that blood is spilled in battle, and I will take it that it will be my men spilling Ulster blood. Is this what you see, prophetess?'
'I see battles, and I see a blond man, with skull trophies about his belt and a war halo on his crown. He has known only victories; his eyes are set with seven jewels in the iris. His mouth snarls, his tunic is red, maybe with blood, and it is looped, maybe tattered. He may be Cúchulainn of Murtheimne who is called the hound of Culann. I cannot tell for sure, but I see your entire Host has been coloured crimson by his hand alone. I see him as a giant alone on a plain against an army, with four short quick swords in each hand. Now he wears a breastplate, and a red cloak. Behind him spins an up-turned chariot wheel. Yet it is not he, for his shape shifts, and it is no longer the fair form I saw at first but a Warped Man. Queen Medb, the blood I see falls from your fingers for it is your men's blood. Whole clans and kin will be slaughtered by his hand. There will be ripped corpses and women wailing and cursing your name, all because of him the Forge-Hound. '
Medb ordered her chariot-man to turn away and to say nothing of the woman's vision. The Monday morning after Samain the Host set off to Ulster, south-east from Cruachan Aí.
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