There was an inn, an hostelry and place of rest for travellers, at the fording of the Red River known to all as the Gael Ford, which king Concubar maintained for hospitality, as is proper for a king. The lord and master of this house was a man named Wil MacCullen, and he had a daughter named Emer.
Now Emer was skilled in needle-work more than any other maid and so at the great meet that came with the funerary games of Macha for three years she went up to Emain Macha to sell some of the fine work she had worked the previous year. Her father Wil, being prideful, but also thrifty, found it pleasing that she had such renown that brought great credit on him and worth to his family so that he allowed it. And not for that one reason did Wil of Gael Ford send this daughter before the kings of tuaths and the cattle lords and the princes of Ulster for Emer was fair and well spoken and wise so that Wil knew well that some high lord would pay a surpassing bride price for his daughter.
Emer for her part was not pleased that her father should parade her like a prize heifer, but she enjoyed the freedom she found at the fair. Emer, though she would not have boasted of it, knew she was possessed of the six womanly gifts. Though many were taller, and many fairer, and a few brighter of eye, still Emer, no one would deny, possessed the gift of beauty, Some sang sweeter, some spoke stronger, but none could fault her for she possessed the gift of voice, of all other women she was kind in word and generous as a king with her gift of sweet speech, renowned was her gift of needle-work, in spite of her father or by witnessing his faults she possessed the gift of wisdom, and because she knew her own great worth her discretion followed her wisdom and she was known for the womanly gift of chastity.
That day Emer and some other maidens had watched the hurling championship and had seen CuRuada lead the boys troop. At least for Emer the game had been exciting and she was very impressed by CuRuada’s skill and also by his form. For many of the other girls, some of the men who were defeated by the troop were even more interesting as were some of the taller boys among the red branch warriors’ sons.
Emer walked with her hangers-on in such a manner that she came up to a group of the boys who were congratulating Cu. CuRuada was in high spirits from his win and enjoying the attention of his fellows, but when he saw the group of girls he became awkward, blushing slightly, and casting his eyes away from the other girls, but always looking up through long eyelashes to Emer herself.
The boys and the girls soon sorted themselves out, some leaving in a huff, some running off laughing, and some strolling arm in arm until none remained but Emer and CuRuada.
“What do you see, boy?” asked Emer of CuRuada.
“I see a fair country,” he said, though he couldn’t look her in the eye, “And I’m no boy.”
Emer laughed, “mmm, it would take a man to rest in my country.” Saying this she tugged her shawl to cover where his eyes had rested. “I don’t think you are that man, you’ve no beard at all.”
“I’m no boy,” he said stubbornly, “Is it really a beard you need? I would lay my weapon there.”
“What do you know of weapons? I’ll grant, you are marvelous with a cam, but it takes more than that to please me.”
Curuada met her gaze and he reached out and tugged lightly at her shawl, “What would please you? I would lay my weapon there.”
There eyes rested in each other’s gaze and both knew that they were beautiful one to the other. It was Emer who looked away first, mindful of her chastity, for it seemed impossible that this young man could please her father. It made her sad in a way she had never been before, “It is no use, my father demands a very high bride price for me.”
“Why should he not? You are beautiful, you are lovely in voice, in speech,” Cu pulled her closer, caressing her shoulders, “And if you wear your own needle-work then it is exceedingly fine. . .”
Emer shrugged away, and placing her hands on his chest, gently pushed him away, “mmmm, yes, and chaste and above all, wise. So you see. . .”
“I see the woman I would marry.” CuRuada smiled so brightly that Emer found her spirits buoyed as well. “See you, I will get the cows your father demands, but my dear-heart, what would please you?”
He carried himself like a prince, it almost made Emer hope, but he hadn’t even the beginnings of a beard, “If you would please me, then you must know me.”
CuRuada laughed, delighted, “You are indeed wise, there can be no other for me, you are the most virtuous woman in all of Ulster.”
Emer smiled with pleasure, because she knew it to be true. “Who are you? What is your name, bold stranger?”
“My name is Son. . .” He blushed for shame having broken his gesa, but he quickly corrected, “They call me CuRuada. I live here with King Concubar and I train with the boys troop.”
“Hound of the red hair, are you well named CuRuada? I thought you said you were a man, but you are of the boys troop of the Red Branch Warriors.”
“That is a matter of a day only.” CuRuada scoffed with supreme confidence, “Today is the day that the best of the boys take up arms and I am the very best of the best of them. Today I will take up my arms and I will be a man in truth, a warrior of the Red Branch.”
A group of warriors and boys from the boys troop were hurrying toward the event field. Several of the boys called for CuRuada, hailing him and urging him to come show his skill at the spear. Emer shoved him away toward the men and boys, “Go play your games. . .” She said.
“I will win the competition. No one can match my skill with the spear. Come see if I don’t.”
Emer stepped away smiling, “Be careful you don’t swear a boast you can’t fulfill.” She teased.
CuRuada stopped dead, his face hardened and his eyes grew fiery, “It is no boast, not this of the competition, nor that I will make you my wife. These things must be.”
He was so serious that she almost believed that he could, but such was the stuff of legend and not truly wise to contemplate, “I meant no slander she said kindly. I will come watch you win at the spear. I promise.”
He nodded, relieved by her words and Curuada turned to go to the competition. Before he could step away he turned suddenly back, he cleared his throat and was the blushing boy again, “I swear, I will marry you my lady, and no other, but I will find you much easier if I know your name.”
She laughed with joy to see him both boy and man and, she realized, beloved, “I am called Emer and my father’s name is Wil of Gael Ford. I warn you, he is a hard man and not likely to want to hear that a beardless youth seeks my hand.”
He only smiled and repeated her name, “Emer”
For her own part Emer felt he said her name better than anyone else ever did. She watched him go with his friends and wondered if it was wise to hope.