The Red Hand of Courage

Two Son’s of the UiNiall, Eremon and Crimthan, were returning from battle training on an island near Alba. These two had always been rivals, brothers they were, and always seeking to best each other and liking it not at all if his brother was viewed as superior in any sense. They had been sent to sharpen their battle skill, but ruth to tell also to see if one might better the other and so be clearly more fit to lead the clan.

The sly one, Crimthan, brought up the subject that runs thick between them, “At some point we will be forced to fight each other if one or the other does not yield.” Then followed a long recitation of all the arguments and counter-arguments that both know well and have heard all their lives, but always they lead to this impasse. “If only there was a way…” The sly fellow mused.

The ship master feared to land his boat lest it be dashed on the rocks and they all be lost, so they ride at anchor on a storm tossed sea. And such a ride, even the sailors, veterans all, looked a bit queasy. The two sons of clan Niall are impatient. Their training and their pride will not let them show anything but exasperation at the delay.

“What if we agree to a race?” Crimthan eyed his brother, gauging him, “First one ashore will rule the clan?”

Eremon sighed, “Truly? A race? Is that a fit way to decide so great a question, I wonder?”

“Isn’t it as good as any? Better than most, for I do not have to raise a hand against you my brother, and you do not have to raise a hand against me.”

“What if we both perish in this fool contest? ” asked the stronger.

“I’m surprised by you, Eremon, I’d have not thought you would give into fear. I’ve never known you to lack courage.” And this he said knowing that whether geas or just willfulness his brother would die rather than have his courage put in doubt.

Eremon growled deep in his throat, “Courage…”

Crimthan fought hard to hide his excitement as Eremon mulled but for a moment, “If we do this fool thing, and I win will you support me? There can be no turning from this course if we decide, this is far too important a thing. I know you think you are wiser than me, but I think you trust yourself too much. I will want your advise, but I do not think you would be the best to rule. Will you swear to support me if I reach shore before you?”

“You know that I will.” Crimthan promised.

“Let us have witnesses then, Ferdiad, Eochaid come witness.”

The witnesses gathered with the brothers, “Let the one who’s right hand touches shore first lead the clan with the full support of the other, setting aside concerns and trusting to fate and blood. Swear it Crimthan as I swear it now before these witnesses, the one who’s hand touches first will rule.”

“I swear it. The one who’s right hand touches first will rule.”

Prepare you then, I will speak to the captain and ask him to carry us closer into shore that we may not both parish for your impatience.  Eremon turned to the captain, but his brother was already in motion.

“You should prepare, but as for me I have prepared all my life. Wit should lead bravery. He ran to the rail dropping his cloak, revealing his body stripped for swimming and greased against the cold. With not a word more  Crimthan dove into the heaving sea.

The boat approached as Crimthan labored in the waves and for a moment he feared he had miscalculated. Had Eremon taken command and decided to dash the boat on the rocks? It sounded like the kind of direct action that he would favor, but Crimthan didn’t think he would risk so many lives.

The boat turned parallel and the waves crashed over him so all he could do was fight for his life. As he thrashed he felt the sand beneath him, then the wave slammed him into the bottom.

Crimthan struggled out of the surf. His body was numb he was shaking, and his teeth chattered, but that meant nothing. He was elated, he had done it.

“Save my hand!” The shout rang out over the roar of the waves, but the words meant nothing to Crimthan until he staggered out of the surf and  saw the ghastly lump, like a fat white spider, on a smear of red.

“That, is the right hand of the chief!” shouted Eremon.

Crimthan crawled to the hand. He’s mad he thought. Crimthan grabbed the cold dead thing and clamored to his feet. An urge to throw the thing into the surf came and just as soon left him, washed away in peals of laughter. Exhausted he collapsed, but couldn’t stop laughing. “I have it!” He laughed and couldn’t gather himself for a moment. “That was a long reach my brother, but I think you will need a new right hand!”

“You always were the wise one, good thing for me I favor the dexter. But a chief ought to have a strong right hand,” Eremon called from the boat.

“I have what you lack my brother,” He waved the grizzly trophy above his head.

“Instruct me. Do I lack wisdom?”

“No, not that. Now I see you are wiser than I am.”

“Surely not courage.”

“No brother, I risked my life to cheat you, but no one can doubt your courage this day.”

“Strength then?”

“You know as do I, you are the stronger.”

“You will have to tell me then, what do I lack?”

“I told you, but perhaps you need ears.” Crimthan could hear his brother Eremon laughing, “You will need a strong right hand, and that I have.”

“Better at my side than at my throat! eh brother?”

And ever after that clan wore the hand gules as a badge of courage.

This is an adaptation or reimagination of a legend that explains the Red Hand on our arms.