Cathbad’s Oracle at the Games of Macha

It was the time of the sacrifice of the bull and the subsequent seeing of Cathbad.  Nobody knew what the chief druid would see, what he would divine from the liver, and from reading the entrails of the sacrifice.  Ever since Cathbad had risen to the chief druid this sacrifice had always been a great show.  People crowded around, hoping to hear a good word, fearing to hear bad.

Concubar found it all a bit too theatrical for his taste.  The process could have been finished in a quarter of the time and all the show could be put aside in favor of the point of the thing, the oracle.  In the main, the visions were not for the rabble, the visions involved the king, his men, and his leadership of the Tuath.  As such, though he found Cathbad’s show an annoyance, there was no denying the power of the chief druid’s auguries.

Concubar sat with Fergus and a few captains of his Red Branch warriors.  They were comfortable enough, but this kind of thing was not for men of action like them, it was the purview of magicians.  As such they sat, feeling like men awaiting the judgement of the Brehon.

Fergus huffed, “by the Dagda above, why can’t they get to the point?”  There was mumbled agreement and Concubar felt the same without being able to express it.  Still it felt good to know that his fellows felt like he did.

It was his bull that was going to get the knife, it always was, and standing there among all the druids it looked as befuddled as Concubar felt, poor fellow.  Cathbad thrust the long thin knife into the air and there was a hush that fell over the crowd.  Quick as lightning Cathbad reached under the young bulls neck and with a quick slice slit it ear to ear.  All the druids hemmed it in and before it truly knew its end it collapsed to its knees and moments later was dead.

Blood was carried away, and Cathbad and his druids fell too with knife and skill.  Cathbad, red to the elbow in sacrificial blood, dominated the center of the maelstrom of druidic activity.  His concentration was absolute, focused on what remained of the animal as his assistants took away parts with practiced efficiency.  “Good water, good crops, good birthings, good wine, all this I see.  Good increase, good trading, good. . .”  Cathbad frowned and bent lower over the entrails, “. . . I see gold, good mining.”

The massed people gasped, the word gold spread to every mouth, whispered  throughout the crowd.  

“Wait!” shouted Cathbad, “Good wheat, good cattle, good oats, but tragedy and woe . . .” Cathbad cut into the liver and examined it avidly, “Good mining, good milling, good calving, good fishing, but there is trouble.  There is war, there is loss, there is death.”

Concubar sat forward.  This was a telling that he must address, “Tell on druid, what is our path?”  Cathbad turned toward the king, his eyes were dead, vacant as they were when he was thus entranced, dark portals to a wider, darker, world.  “Speak, what should we do?”

“There is no ban, no geasa, no sacrifice that can forestall this.”

“War and doom and no way to avoid it?” Concubar frowned, concentrating, “Who is this augury for?  War certainly, but from where, and who might die?”

“Will.  There is no might in this augury,”

Concubar laughed, “Will die!  But don’t we warriors all hope for this?  Is this woe to a druid, but glory in battle for a man?  Why all the hand wringing Cathbad?  Who dies?  Tell me that so that he can put his affairs in order and make certain there is a bard near to remember his glory.”

Concubar’s statement was reinforced by the men around him, but Cathbad sneered, “Oh yes, a good rousing song is better than you deserve.  Do you think you are the only ones who suffer in war?”

“Tell us then, who suffers loss, who will die?”

Cathbad frowned and looked down at what remained of the sacrifice, “The signs are not clear.”  Cathbad looked puzzled, “Kingly, but not you oh king. A battler, a warrior, a youth. . .”

“This is meaningless”

Cathbad stared hard at the ground, but then shook his head violently, “I can not see.  Maybe if I do the consumption vision.  I can not say for sure.”  Cathbad’s assistants looked appalled.

“Advise me chief druid,” said Concubar, “If this is truly important then choose.  If not. . .”

“I will seek the consumption vision.”  A forceful nod from Cathbad sent his assistant druids scattering.