The Charioteer

The army of Connaught then raised camp and set off for the Pigkeeper's Plain, known as Mag Muceda, but before they arrived Cúchulainn got there before them and cut down an oak tree, cutting an Ogam message deep into the bark, declaring that no-one was to pass until a warrior in his chariot should leap over the tree at the first attempt. When the army arrived they set up camp by the tree and prepared for his challenge. Over a score of them fell there, and their chariots were wrecked. To this day the place has been called Belach nAne, 'The Pass Where They Drove'.

The following morning Medb called for Fraech mac Fidaig.
'You must find out this Cúchulainn and challenge him, for we cannot bear with these delays.' Fraech prepared himself and took nine men with him, and they found Cúchulainn washing in a river nearby.
'You lot stay here. I'm going to challenge him there in the river for I've heard tell that he is not one for fighting in water,' said Fraech, stripping off his clothes.
Cúchulainn spotted him approaching and rose, saying to him 'Stay where you are. If you come closer I shall have to kill you, and that I don't want to do.'
'Well lad,' said mac Fidaig, 'you're welcome to try,' and he stepped down the bank to the water's edge.
'Choose your style of combat then,' then the young Ulsterman, and Fraech said they were to keep one arm wrapped around the other.

They clashed there in the swift-flowing water of the river, and they fought a long while, until Cúchulainn got the upper hand and pushed the older man under the water.
'Yield now, man; I have no wish to kill you,' he said.
'That I'll never do,' replied Fraech mac Fidaig, struggling to get free of Cúchulainn's grasp. He was pushed under the water again and drowned. Cúchulainn pulled the body from the water and laid him down by the bank, where he was collected by his comrades and returned to the camp. That spot, by the river, is now called Áth Froich.

On a hill by the camp the Connacht men laid out the body for burial, but fled when they saw a host of women, draped in green tunics, materialise around them. From a distance they witnessed the women pick up the corpse and then fade into the earthen mound. This hill was a faery sidhe, and they named it Síd Froich afterwards. Hurriedly they gathered their equipment and made to set off, but not before the renegade Ulsterman in their midst, Fergus mac Ríoch, leapt in his chariot and leaped over the toppled oak tree, accomplishing Cúchulainn's challenge.

From there they proceeded to Ath Meislir, where Cúchulainn slew six of their number, among them Meslir himself. They finally settled for the night at Fornacht, and set up camp with Medb ordering a stout and vigilant watch. She patrolled the encampment with her dog, a wolfhound named Baiscne, and was feeling secure with the arrangements until Cúchulainn infiltrated the guard's watch and slung a stone at the hound, taking the poor animal's head clean off. Distraught, blood-spattered and no longer quite so confident, Medb fled to her tent, crying out to all as she passed 'Shame on all of you, that you're not out after that demon.' A force of men took up arms and gave chase but could not catch the youth, even though he was on foot and they were in chariots. It is said that some of the chariots burned through their wooden axles during the chase and had to be abandoned. And so it continued from day to day, that they would proceed north with Cúchulainn ever just a step ahead of them.

On one given day Cúchulainn came to a clearing in the woods and came across a charioteer who had cut some trees to make chariot shafts. This man was Orlám's chariot driver, and Orlám himself was the son of Ailill and Medb. At first Cúchulainn thought the man was from Ulster, for he did not recognise him at all. He strode up to where the man was shaving the bark off the trees.
'What are you doing here in this place, with the army just south of you?' asked Cúchulainn. The charioteer looked up from his work, not recognising who Cúchulainn was either, and replied 'I'm cutting wood for chariot shafts, you idiot, what does it look like I'm doing? We smashed up those we had after chasing that Cúchulainn across half the country. Don't just stand there: I could do with some help - trim the bark off those trees lying there beside you.'
As the other watched Cúchulainn picked up a tree-trunk and stripped the bark off by pulling it through his clenched fist. The charioteer's eyes widened in terror as it dawned on him who this stranger was.
'You are Cúchulainn!' he exclaimed, leaping to his feet and preparing to flee, but he was caught by the scruff of the neck and lifted, his feet dangling above the ground.
'And who are you, then?' asked a smiling Ulsterman.
'I am Orlám's charioteer. He is the son of Medb and Ailill, and he is resting over there through the trees, by the dike.'
'Is he then? Don't you worry; I have no quarrel with charioteers. Take me to this Orlám.'
                                                                                                                                                                        Cúchulainn found Orlám, challenged him and took off his head. Holding the head by the hair he gave the charioteer on wear it on his back until he returned to the camp.
'Do exactly that; if you do anything else you can expect a shot from my sling.'
The charioteer did as he was told and wore the head on his back until he arrived close to the camp, where Aillill and Medb and others met him. He removed the head and told them the story, concluding with the order given him from Cúchulainn that he was not to remove the object until he was within the camp, else he have his head pierced from a slingshot.
'Silly man, you are still outside the camp,' said Medb. 'But not to worry, there's no shot can reach you here; we're miles from the tree-line of the forest.'
At that the charioteer's head exploded in a red blossom of mist, spattering all those around him.

This is not to say that Cúchulainn killed charioteers: he only killed them if they did wrong.

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