No sooner had they left Dun Rudraige and returned to Eamhain Macha, than the old quarrel over the champion’s portion broke out again so much so that Conor, exasperated by the whole affair, ordered the three foremost heroes, Laoghaire the Triumphant, Conall the Victorious and Cú Chulainn, the Hound of the North, to travel to the far southern kingdom of Da Mumhainn to seek the judgement of Cu Roi mac Dáire at Sliabh Mis.
‘You can be sure,’ Fergus added, ‘that it is a fair judgement you will get there from him for it is well known that he is just and fair-minded but it will be a brave man who questions him for he is well versed in enchantments and mysteries long forgotten, even by the Tuatha de Danamm, and he can do things that no other man can do.’
‘You should go first to my father, Ailil, king of Connachta for that is on your path,’ Sencha advised, ‘for the way to Da Mumhainn is long and treacherous, for you must go on the wooden plank road over the bogs.’
‘So be it,’ Cú Chulainn said, clapping his hands together. ‘Let us get our horses yoked to the chariots but I would lifer Laoghaire go last as everyone knows his style of driving does not permit others to accompany him both for the clumsiness of his horses and the unsteadyness of his chariot.’
‘You’re right there,’ Conall agreed, ‘and besides, if we let him go first, the ruts his wheels churn up in the turf make tracks not easily followed for more than a season after he has passed that way.’
‘Ah, don’t be jeering out of you at me for that,’ Laoghaire snapped. ‘You both know I am quick enough to cross the fords and watercourses, to storm the shield wall and to outstrip all the warriors of Eamhain Macha, so don’t go comparing me with famed chariot men until I get more practice steering and racing through hard and rocky defiles until I gain the master hand,’
and he leapt unto his chariot and urged Sedlang to lash the horses on their way.
Not to be out done, Conall followed suit at once but Sétanta dallied where he was, a beaker of wine at his elbow, amused by the chatter of the ladies and amusing them by juggling nine apples above his head never letting the one touch another nor letting one fall to the ground before doing the same with nine feather darts and nine bone handled knives, the iron blades flashing in the morning sun.
Meanwhile, Sedlang urged the grey mares westwards over the slopes of Brega until on a perilous descent from the heights, Laoghaire motioned for the charioteer to slow down as a thick, dank mist enveloped them, making it too risky to proceed.
‘Better stop here,’ Laoghaire ventured, pulling his cloak tighter around him as he surveyed the dismal scene.
Sedlang nodded as he attended to the horse, unyoking them from the chariot and leading them over to some stunted plants in the lee of the cliff. Startled by his approach, a surly brute emerged from a fissure in the cliff where he had been sleeping.
Grotesque in both size and deformity, the giant had a patch of coarse black hair growing down in a peek over his forehead which was large and bulbous. Small close-set eyes glared above a loose, fleshy mouth. Bunched hairy shoulders supported a roughly hewn club while a kilt of crudely tanned skins hung to knees over broad spatulate feet.
‘Whose horse them be?’ He grunted at Sedlang.
Sedlang glanced over his shoulders for Laoghaire, before answering ‘The horses of Laoghaire.
’Ahh, fine fellow he is,’ said the brute, before suddenly swinging his huge cudgel at Sedlang knocking him sideways powerfully.
Laoghaire saw his servant fall from the corner of his eye and he bounded over.
‘What did you do that for?’ He demanded.
The brute eyed Laoghaire furiously.
‘For the damage ye have done to my property,’ he snarled, before swinging his fearsome club again and laying Laoghaire low.
Laeg, concerned about the amount of time Cú Chulainn was spending with the ladies, yoked the horses and stacked Cú Chulainn’s weapons in the chariot, before going over to him.
‘You’re a right eejit, you know, squinting away here at the girls while those other two have gone on ahead of you. I thought you wanted the champion’s portion.’
‘You’re right,’ Cú Chulainn said, ‘come on, Let’s go.’
Crossing Magh Brega, Laeg gave the horses their head so that they seemed to fly across the whole kingdom of the Ulaidh before beginning their descent in the darkness.
Laeg reined in and eased the Grey and the Dubh into a gentle walk as the dark fog closed in around them. No sooner had he unyoked the horses than a burly figure emerged from the mist. Gross and muscular, the giant held a heavy cudgel over one massive shoulder from which hung a rank kilt barely covering his rump,
‘Whose horses them be?’ He demanded, nodding at the two stallions
‘They belong to Cú Chulainn,’ Laeg said, leaping back out of range of the giant’s club and calling out for his master. Cú Chulainn was there instantly, standing proudly between his charioteer and the brute.
‘What is it that you want?’
‘Reparation for the damage you have done,’ snarled the giant.
‘Well, take this then,’ smiled Cú Chulainn and in one fluid motion he had plucked the long sword which hung at his side and sliced the giant across the back of his legs, toppling him forward so that he could more conveniently lop the brute’s head off.
Almost instantly, the fog dissipated and Laeg was amazed to find no trace of the giant but in its place, the puzzled looking Laoghaire and Conall as well who appeared to be waking up from a deep sleep, curled beside their patiently waiting horses.
‘What class of enchantment is this?’ Conall demanded, sitting up and rubbing his eyes.
‘We must have met some of Setanta’s Sídhe friends, I think,’ muttered Laoghaire.
But Laeg could help but notice as the trio rode on towards Crúachan the large bruises they both bore, evidence of the giant’s club.