Boys' Cuchulain - Eleanor Hull

How Conor Became King of Ulster

There was a great war between Connaught and Ulster, that is, between Conor, King of Ulster, and Meave, the proud and mighty Queen of Connaught. This was the cause of the war between them. When Conor was but a lad, his mother was a widow, and there was no thought that Conor would be king. For the King of Ulster at that time was Fergus mac Roy, a powerful and noble king, whom his people loved; and though Conor was of high rank and dignity, he stood not near the throne. But his mother, Ness, was ambitious for him, and she used all her arts to bring it about that he should be called to the throne of Ulster. Ness was a handsome woman, and a woman of spirit, and in her youth she had been a warrior; and Fergus admired her, and she wrought upon him so that in the end he asked her to be his wife. She made it a condition that for one year Fergus would leave the sovereignty, and that Conor should take his place; "for," said she, "I should like to have it said that my son had been a king, and that his children should be called the descendants of a king." Fergus and the people of Ulster liked not her request, but she was firm, and Fergus all the more desired to marry her, because he found it not easy to get her; so, at the last, he gave way to her, and he resigned the kingdom for one year into the hands of Conor.

But, as soon as Conor was king, Ness set about to win away the hearts of the people of Ulster from Fergus, and to transfer them in their allegiance to Conor. She supplied her son with wealth, which he distributed secretly among the people, buying them over to his side; and she taught him how to act, so that he won over the nobles and the great men of the province. And when, the year being out, Fergus demanded back the sovereignty, he found that the league formed against him was so strong that he could do nothing. The chiefs said that they liked Conor well, and that he was their friend, and they were not disposed to part with him; they said, too, that Fergus having abandoned the kingdom for a year, only to gain a wife, cared little for it and had, in fact, resigned it. And they agreed that Fergus should keep his wife, if he wished, but that the kingdom should pass to Conor. And Fergus was so wrath at this, that he forsook his wife, and went with a great host of his own followers into Connaught, to take refuge with Queen Meave and with Ailill, her spouse. But he swore to be revenged upon Conor, and he waited only an opportunity to incite Meave to gather her army together that he might try to win back the sovereignty, or at least to revenge the insult put upon him by Conor and by Ness.

Now Fergus mac Roy was of great stature, a mighty man and a famous warrior, and his strength was that of a hundred heroes. And all men spoke of the sword of Fergus, which was so great and long that men said that it stretched like a rainbow or like a weaver's beam. And at the head of his hosts was Cormac, the Champion of the White Cairn of Watching, a son of Conor, who liked not the deed of his father; for he was young, and he had been one of the bodyguard of Fergus, and went with Fergus into exile to Connaught. And that was called the Black Exile of Fergus mac Roy.