Cuchulain of Muirthemne

XII. Awakening of Ulster

   Then some of the men of Ulster came to comfort Cuchulain, and among them were Senoll Uathach and the two Sons of Gege, Muredach and Cotreb. They brought him away to the five streams of Conaille Muirthemne, to wash his hurts in them. And the Sidhe threw all sorts of herbs and plants into the streams for his healing, so that they were all strewed over with green leaves.
   Then when Ailell and Maeve heard there were men beginning to come from Ulster, they sent Mac Roth, the herald, to watch at Slieve Fuad, and to warn them if he could see any one coming. And after a while he came back, and Ailell asked news of him. "I saw," he said, "one chariot only, to the north of Slieve Fuad, and it coming straight on, and the man that was in it naked, and without armour or weapons, but only an iron spit in his hand, and he goading on the horses as if he would never get to the army alive." 'Who do you think was that man, Fergus?" said Ailell. "I think," said Fergus, "it was Cethern, son of Fintan, from the North, and he will soon be upon us." With that, Cethern came bursting into the camp, and he attacked everyone he met with his spit, and he himself got many wounds back again, so that he had to hold up the board of the chariot to his body to keep his bowels from falling out; and at last he made his escape, and came to the place where Cuchulain was lying. Then Cuchulain said to Laeg: "Rise up now, and go into the camp, and bring some of Ailell's physicians to cure Cethern; for I give my word, if they do not come before this time tomorrow, I will bring death and destruction on them." So Laeg went, and he brought back the physicians with him, and it was only the dread of Cuchulain that made them come. Then Cethern showed the first one of them his wounds, and it is what he said, that he could not be cured. Then Cethern gave him a blow that sent him out of the house. And the same thing happened with all the rest, fifteen there were of them altogether. Then he asked Cuchulain would he get him another physician, for those of the men of Ireland had done him no good. "Rise up, Laeg," said Cuchulain; "go to Slieve Fuad, to Fingan, the Druid physician of Conchubar, and bid him to come here and to heal Cethern." Now, Fingan was the greatest physician in all Ireland, and it was said of him that he could tell what a person's sickness was by looking at the smoke of the house he was in; and he knew by looking at a wound what sort the person was that gave it. Then he came, and Cethern showed him his wounds. "Look at this wound for me, good Fingan," he said. "There came at me two young men, with clear noble looks, with strange foreign clothes on them, and each of them threw a spear into me, and I threw my spear into each of them." "I know those two very well," said Cuchulain; "they are two choice men of Norway, and they were sent against you by Ailell and Maeve." "Look at this wound for me, Fingan," said Cethern. Fingan looked at it. "That is the work of two brothers," he said. "That is true indeed," said Cethern. "Two young men came at me, and they were like one another; but one had curling brown hair, and the other had curling yellow hair. Two green cloaks about them, with brooches of bright silver; two soft shirts of yellow silk; bright swords in their belts they bad, and shields with bright silver fastenings, and spears with veins of silver on their handles." "I know those two very well," said Cuchulain; "they are Maine Athremail and Maine Mathremail, two sons of Ailell and Maeve."
   "Look at this wound for me, good Fingan," said Cethern. Fingan looked at the wound, and he said: "It was a father and a son made that together." "That is true," said Cethern; "there came at me two large men with flaming eyes, and they having gold bands on their heads, and the dress of kings, and gold swords at their sides." "I know those two very well," said Cuchulain; "it was Ailell and his son Maine Andoe that gave you that wound." "Look at this wound, good Fingan," said Cethern. Fingan looked at the wound. "That is the work of a proud woman," he said. "That is true," said Cethern; "there came at me a beautiful, pale, long-faced woman, with long, flowing yellow hair on her, a crimson cloak with a brooch of gold over her breast, and a straight spear shining red in her hand. It was she gave me that wound, and she got a little wound from me." "I know that woman well," said Cuchulain. "She is Maeve, daughter of the High King of Ireland, and Queen of Connaught. She would have thought it a great victory and a great triumph, you to have fallen by her hand." "Good Fingan," said Cethern then, "tell me now, what do you think of the way I am, and what can you do for me?" "It is what I think," said Fingan, "you will hardly see the calves that are following your cows at this time grow to be yearlings; or if you do itself," he said, "it will not be much use your life will be to you." "That is what all the others said to me," said Cethern, "and it is not much profit or credit they got by it, and it is not much you yourself will get"; and with that he made a kick at him, to drive him out of the house. But in spite of that treatment, Fingan gave him his choice of two things: the first to be a long time on his bed, so that he would see the men of Ulster coming in the end to avenge him; or to be made well enough at the end of three days to go out himself and spend what he had of strength on his enemies.
   "I will choose that," he said, "for I would not like to leave my enemies after me; and I would sooner get satisfaction from them myself." So then Fingan bade Cuchulain to make a healing bath that would ease Cethern. So Cuchulain went down to the camp, and he brought away with him all that he met of the cattle of the men of Ireland. Then their flesh was cut up with their bones and their skins to make a Druid bath, and Cethern was put in it for the length of three days and three nights. And at the end of that time he rose up and got into his chariot, to do vengeance on the men of Ireland. And his wife londa, daughter of Eochaid, came to him from the North, and brought him his sword that he had forgotten in his hurry at first setting out.
   But it happened that one of the physicians he had driven out with a blow had fallen down outside the tent, and lay there, not able to stir from that. But when Cethern was making ready to set out, he rose up and made his way back to the camp, and he said to the men of Ireland: "Cethern is after being cured by Fingan, the Druid, and he is coming at you now, and do you lay some trap for him." So it is what they did: they took Ailell's cloak and shirt, and they put them about the pillar-stone, at the boundary of Ross, and his crown on top of it, and left them there. Cethern came rushing on them, and when he saw the pillar-stone, he thought it was Mel was standing there, and he made at it, and gave a great blow of his sword, that it broke in pieces against the stone.
   Then he saw what it was, and he said: "This is some trick they have played on me. And by the oath of my people," he said, "I will not stop my hand from killing, until such time as I have killed some man having a dress like this."
   'When Maine Andoe heard that, he put on his father's armour, and came out to meet him. And Cethern saw him, and made for him, and threw his shield at him, so that he was cut through and through the body by the rim of the shield.
   And when the men of Ireland saw that, they pressed on Cethern from all sides and made an end of him. And his wife londa, daughter of Eochaid, came and cried over him there. And it is what she said:
   "It is all one to me, it is all one, since there will be no hand of a man under my head for ever; since a grave has been made in the earth for Cethern from the Dun of the Two Hills.
   "Cethern, son of Fintan, he that was like a king, was in no need of arms for his work; with nothing in his hand but a two-headed spit, his anger did not spare the men of Connaught.
   "I will not take a mate for ever from the flocks of the living world; I will not wed with a man; my husband is sleeping with no woman.
   "Dear the little hill, dear the dun where our fighting men were used to gather; dear the sweet fair water, dear was Inis Ruadh.
   "Pitiful the grief, pitiful the grief the War for the Bull has brought on me; I will be keening him until my death, I londa, daughter of Eochaid!"
   And then Fintan, Cethern's father, came with three times fifty men to get satisfaction for his son, and he made three attacks on the army, and killed a great many of Ailell's men; but Fintan lost a good many of his own men, and his son Crimthan was made prisoner. And the men of Ireland were afraid their army would be too much weakened by little fights of this sort before the great last battle that was foretold would come, and they made an agreement with Fintan to give him back his son, and to fall back themselves a day's march; and he gave his word not to vex them again until the time of the last battle. And they found, where the fight bad been, one of Fin-tan's men and one of Ailell's men lying dead together, and they with their teeth fixed into one another. And it is from this the fight was given the name of Fintan's Tooth-fight.
   Then Rochad, son of Fatheman, came to help Cuchulain, and three times fifty men with him. Now Findabair loved him, and when she heard he was coming, she told her secret, and she said to her mother: "That is my love and my choice out of all the men of Ireland." And when Maeve heard that, she made a plan to draw him off, and she said to Findabair: "If he is dear to you, go and spend the night with him, and bid him to go back with his men until the day of the great battle, and I give you my leave to be his wife." So Findabair went and did as Maeve bid her, and he went back to the North. But this was heard of in the camp, and the twelve kings of Munster that were in Maeve's army began speaking with one another; and it is what they all said, that Maeve had secretly promised Findabair as a wife to each one of them as a reward, if he would join in the war. "And the best thing we can do now," they said, "is to go and avenge ourselves on Maeve's men, and on Rochad, for the treachery that was done on us."
   So they went out and made an attack on them, and Ailell and Maeve's men and Rochad made ready to defend themselves; but Fergus went out and tried to make them leave off, and to make peace between them, and before he could do that, seven hundred men had got their death.
   And it was told to Findabair how these seven hundred men had got their death on account of her, and how Maeve had promised her in marriage to every one of the twelve kings of Monster. And when she heard that, her heart broke with the shame and the pity that came on her, and she fell dead there and then, and they buried her.
   Now at that time Iliach, son of Cas, of the race of Rudraige, was living in the North with his son's son, Laegaire Buadach. And it was told him how the four provinces of Ireland were plundering and destroying the people of Ulster since the day before Samhain, and driving off their cattle and their goods, and all that they had. So he consulted with his people, and it is what he said, that he would go out himself and make an attack on the men of Ireland, and let loose his strength on them, and destroy what he could of them, and do what he could for Ulster. "For as to myself," he said, "if I come out of it, or do not come out of it, is all one to me." Then his two old spent horses, that had been let loose for life, were brought from where they were on the shore by the dun, and yoked to his old chariot, that had neither cushions nor skins in it. And he took his rough, dark, iron shield, with its hard rim of silver, over his shoulder, and his rough, grey, heavy sword at his left side. And he put in the chariot his two rusty, blunt spears, and his people gave him a store of stones and bits of rocks in a heap about him; and that is the way he went out against the army, and no armour on him at all.
   When the men of Ireland saw him coming that way, they began mocking and laughing at him, but it is what Maeve said: "I would be glad indeed all the men of Ulster to come and meet us like that." Then Doche, son of Magach, chanced to meet him, and bade him welcome. "Who is it bids me welcome?" said Iliach. "The comrade and friend of Laegaire Buadach," said he; "Doche, son of Magach." "I am glad of that welcome," said Iliach, "and for the sake of it, let you come to me when I have spent my rage on the army, and when my strength is going, and when my hand is tired, and let you, and no other of the men of Ireland, make an end of me. And keep my sword," he said, "for your friend, Laegaire Buadach."
   Then be made an attack on the men of Ireland, and when his spears were all broken in pieces, he began hitting and throwing with the stones he had. And when they were out, be attacked the men that were near him with the strength of his own hands, so that he made an end of some of them. And when all he could do was done, he saw Doche, son of Magach, near him, and he said: "Come to me now, Doche, and strike my head off, and take charge of my sword for Laegaire Buadach." And Doche did as he bade him, but he brought his head to Ailell and to Maeve.
   At this time Sualtim, son of Roig, was told that Cuchulain had fought with Calatin and his sons, and with Ferdiad, and of the hard fight he had made, and the wounds he had got. And it is what Suahim said: "Is it the sky bursting I hear, or is it the sea going backward, or the earth breaking up, or is it the groaning of my son in his weakness?" With that he set out to visit him, and he found him covered with hurts and wounds, and he began to cry over him. But that did not please Cuchulain, and he knew Sualtim would do no good by stopping there, for he was not the man to avenge him, for he was no great hero; not that he was a coward, but just like any other good fighting man. And Cuchulain said to him: "Well, Sualtim, stop your crying over me, and rise up and go to Emain, and tell the men of Ulster they must come themselves and follow on with the war from this out, for I am not able to defend them any more; for after all I went through, not one of them comes to help me or to comfort me. And tell them," he said, "what way you found me, that I cannot bear to have my clothing next my skin, but it is with crooks of hazel I have to hold it off me, and it is grass that is laid over my wounds; for there is not the place of the point of a needle on me from head to foot but has some hurt on it, except my left hand that was holding my shield; and tell them to make no delay in coming," he said.
   Then Sualtim set out on the Grey of Macha to give his message; and when lie got close to Emain he called out: "Men are being killed, women brought away, cattle driven off in Ulster," but he got no word of answer. Then he went up to the very wall, and he cried again: "Men are being killed, women brought away, cattle brought away in Ulster"; but the second time he got no answer. Then he went on to the Stone of the Hostages at Emain, and he called out the same words the third time. Then Cathbad, the Druid, asked: "Who are taken, and who is it is taking them?" "It is Ailell and Maeve that are robbing you and destroying you," said Sualtim; "they are bringing away your women, your little boys, your cattle and your horses, and there is only Cuchulain to delay and to hinder the four great provinces of Ireland in the gaps and the passes of Muirthemne; the lad is wounded and no one is coming to his help." But Cathbad was vexed at being waked out of his sleep, and he said: "Any man that comes to scold at the king this way has a right to be put to death." But Conchubar, the king, said: "It is true what Sualtim is saying." "It is true indeed," said all the men of Ulster.
   Then anger came on Sualtim that he got no better answer than that, and he turned sharply, and the Grey of Macha reared up, the way the sharp edge of Sualtim's shield came against his own bead, and cut it clean off. Then the Grey turned again to Emain, and the shield dragged after him by its thongs, and Sualtim's head in the hollow of it, and the head said the same words as before: "Men are being killed, women brought away, cattle brought away in Ulster." Then Conchubar said: "The sky is over our heads, the earth is under our feet, the sea is round about us; and unless the sky with all its shower of stars comes down on earth, or the earth breaks open under our feet, or the blue sea goes over the whole face of the world, I swear that I will bring back every cow to its own shed, and every woman to her own dwelling-house."
   Then he called to one of his messengers, Finnched, son of Troiglethan, that chanced to be there, and he bade him to go and to call out the men of Ulster. But with the sleep that was on him still, and the weakness, he bade him go and call those of his people that were dead, as well as those that were living. And one of the names he gave him to call to was Cuchulain, son of Sualtim.
   It was easy work Finnched had to do now, for the men of Ulster were rising from out of their weakness, and they all made ready to come out with Conchubar, and some of them did not wait for Conchubar at all, but set out on the track of the army of Ireland.
   Then Conchubar and his men set out from Emain, and the first day they went as far as Irard Cuillenn, and there they made a halt. "What are we stopping here for?" said Conchubar. "We are waiting for your own two sons," his men said, "Fiachna and Fiacha, that are gone to meet your grandson Erc, son of Fedelm, and of Cairbre, king of Teamhair, to bring him with us." "By my word," said Conchubar, "I will not make any more delay here, for fear the men of Ireland might hear I am risen from my weakness; for they do not know it up to this," he said, "or even if I am alive at all."
   So he himself and Celthair, and thirty hundred fierce chariot-fighters, went on, and it was not long before they came on eight times twenty strong men belonging to Ailell and to Maeve, and each of them bringing away a woman of the women of Ulster with him. And Conchubar and Celthair struck their heads off, and set the women free; and then they went back to Irard Cuillenn.
   Now, as to the men of Ireland, they spent that night at Sleamhain of Meath. And in the night Cormac Conloingeas started up out of his sleep, and he called out that there had a warning dream come to him, and that there was a terrible battle before them. And after a while Dubthach, the Beetle of Ulster, started up out of his sleep, and called out the same thing, that there had a warning dream come to him, and that it would not be long till there would be a great dashing of shields. And with these dreams and foretellings, great fear came on the men of Ireland, and it was an uneasy night they spent at Sleamhain that time.
   And in the morning Ailell said: "We have been harrying Ulster and Cuailgne this long time, and we have taken the women and the cattle and the goods of the men of Ulster, and we have cut down hills behind us; and now," he said, "it is time for us to turn back to Magh Ai, and they can follow us and fight with us there if they have a mind to. But before that," he said, "I will send a messenger to look out across the great plain of Meath, to see if any of them are coming against us; and if they are," he said, "I will not go from this without giving battle to them, for he would not be a good king that would be good at running away."
   So he sent out Mac Roth, the herald. And he had not long to wait before he heard a noise that was like the falling of the sky, or the breaking in of the sea over the land, or the falling of trees on one another in a great storm. And he saw the plain covered with wild creatures that had broken away out of the woods. Then he went back to Ailell and to Maeve, and told them his story, and they asked him what he had seen; and he said: "I thought I saw a grey mist far away across the plain, and then I saw something like falling snow, and then through the mist I saw something shining like sparks from a fire, or like the stars on a very frosty night." "What was it he saw, Fergus?" said Ailell. And Fergus said: "The mist he saw was the dust that went up from the march of the men of Ulster, and the flakes of snow were the foam flakes from the bits of their horses; and what he saw shining like sparks from the fire, or like stars on a frosty night, was the angry light of their eyes shining under their helmets."
   "It is little I care for that," said Maeve; "we have good fighting men to meet them." "It is a pity for you to think that," said Fergus; "for there is neither in Alban nor in Ireland an army that can put down the men of Ulster when once their weakness is gone from them and their anger is kindled."
   That night the men of Ireland made their camp in Clartha, and they put Mac Roth and another man to keep a good watch, the way the men of Ulster would not fall on them without warning. Now Conchubar and Celthair, with their thirty hundred men, had followed them to Slieve Sleamhain, and when they found them gone from there they followed on to Clartha, for they thought to get the start of the rest of Ulster in reddening their hands upon the men of Ireland. So Mac Roth was not long waiting when he saw men and horses coming from the north-east, and he went back into the camp. "Well, Mac Roth," said Ailell, "have you seen any of the men of Ulster on our track?" "I saw men and horses coming," be said. "What is the number of them?" said Ailell. "Not less than thirty hundred chariots." "Those are the men of Ulster coming with Conchubar," said Ailell; "and what did you mean a while ago, Fergus, threatening us with the dust of a great army in the plain, when a little troop like that is all that can be brought against us?" "You are too quick in complaining of that," said Fergus, "and you will soon know what their number is."
   "Let us make some good plan now," said Maeve, "for I am sure it is that hot, rude man, Conchubar, king of Ulster, that is coming to attack us. Let us make a pen before him," she said, "of all the army standing round on three sides, and thirty hundred men ready to shut the mouth of it on him when he comes in. For we must take these fellows alive and not kill them, for it would be unworthy of our name to do more than make prisoners of them, and they so few." Now this was one of the most laughable things that was said in the whole course of the war, Conchubar and his thirty hundred of the best men of Ulster to be taken alive. And when Conchubar's son, Cormac Conloingeas, heard this, there was great anger on him, and it is what he thought: "If I do not get satisfaction now at once from Maeve for this boast of hers, I will never get it again." So he rose up with his three thousand men to make an attack on her, and on Ailell; and they rose up as well, and their Sons the Maines along with them, and the sons of Magach. But then the Gailiana, and the men of Munster, and of Teamhair, came between them, and made peace, and persuaded them to lay down their arms. But for all that, Maeve did make a pen of the army of Ireland to shut up Conchubar, and she had men ready to close it up when once he would be in. But it is what Conchubar did, he never so much as looked for an opening, but when he saw the army before him, he went straight through it, and he broke open a gap of two hundred on the right hand, and a gap of two hundred on the left, and went through them all, and cut them down in the very middle, so that eight hundred men of them were killed.
   And then he went away from them, back to Slieve Sleamhain, to join the army of Ulster.
   Then the men of Ulster began to gather upon the plain in their full strength, and when Ailell heard it, he said: "Let some one go up and watch them coming, and bring us a report of the appearance that is on them, and of the chief men that are leading them." "Let Mac Roth go," said Fergus.
   So Mac Roth went out and took a post on the plain from the early light of the morning till the fall of evening, and through all that time the men of Ulster were coming, so that the ground was not naked under them, every division under its own chief man, and every troop under its own lord, and each one of them apart from the others, and they came on till they had covered the Hill of Sleamhain.
   And when evening came, Mac Roth came back to Ailell and to Maeve, and they questioned him and said: "What sort were the men of Ulster as they came across the plain?" And Mac Roth said: "The first troop I saw coming had three thousand men in it, and as soon as they got to the hill, they took their armour off, and they began to dig and to make a seat of sods and of earth on the highest part of the hill, for their leader to sit on until the rest of the army would come.
   "He had the appearance of a tall, proud man, used to giving orders; and he had yellow, curling hair on him, and a yellow forked beard, and a red, pleasant face, and blue eyes you would be afraid of. A five-folded crimson cloak he had on him, and a gold pin over his breast, and a white shirt with threads of gold woven into it next his body." "Who was that man, Fergus?" said Ailell. "He was Conchubar, son of Fachta and of Ness, High King of Ulster." "There was a man stood beside him," said Mac Roth, "with scattered white hair, and a purple cloak, and a shield with bosses of red brass, and a long iron sword of foreign make. And he looked up to the sky, and threw his hand upwards, and with that the clouds seemed like as if they were rushing at one another, and fire came from them towards the men of Ireland." "That was Cathbad the Druid," said Fergus, "and he trying by his enchantments to know how the battle would go to-morrow."
   "I saw another man with Conchubar," said Mac Roth, "and he having a smooth, dark face, and white eyes in his head; a long bronze rod in his hand, and a little bell beside him, and when he touched it with his rod, all the people near him began to laugh." "Who is that man?" said Ailell. "It is easy to know that," said Fergus; "that is Rocmid, the king's fool. There was never trouble or tiredness on any man of Ulster that he would not forget if he saw Rocmid." "There came another troop then," said Mac Roth, "and it is what I thought, that the leader they had was the handsomest and the most comely of all the men of Ireland, tall and well formed. Deep red-yellow hair he had, his face wide at the top and narrow below; thin, red lips, and grey eyes that were laughing. A red and white cloak on him, that the wind stirred as he walked, a white shield with gold fastenings at his shoulder, a long, dark green spear in his hand." "Who was that man, Fergus?" said Ailell. "That man is himself half an army, Rochad, son of Fatheman, from Rachlainn, in the North," said Fergus. Now this was the same Rochad that Findabair had loved. "There was another troop came then," said Mac Roth, "and a quiet, grey-haired man at the head of it. A dark-green, long-woolled cloak he had about him, and a white shirt, and a silver belt around his waist, and a bell branch at his shoulder. He sat before King Conchubar when he came to the hill, and his whole company sat about him. And the sound of his voice when he spoke before the king, and when he was advising him, was sweeter than a three-cornered harp in the player's hand." "Who was that man, Fergus?" said Ailell. "That was Sencha, the orator, the best-spoken of all the men of the whole world, and the peace-maker of the army of Ulster," said Fergus; "and the whole of the men of the world, from the rising to the setting of the sun, he would pacify with his three fair words. But by my word, it is no cowardly or no peaceful counsel that man will give his king to-day, but counsel of courage, and of strength, and of battle."
   "There came another troop," said Mac Roth, "and a man at the head of them, and it would not be easy to find a man with better appearance, or with hair more like gold than what he has. There was a sword with an ivory hilt in his hand, and be throwing it up and catching it in his hand again, as it was coming on the heads of the people near him." "That is Aithirne, the poet and satirist," said Fergus. it was said now of that man that he was very covetous, and that he would ask the one-eyed man for his one eye, and that the rivers and the lakes went back before him when he made a satire on them, and rose when be praised them. And one time when the men of Ulster were fighting to protect him against the men of Leinster, that he had stirred up, and were shut up in Beinn Etair, he had plenty of cows himself in the fort, but he would not give a drop of milk to man or boy, or to a wounded man itself, but left them without food and without drink, unless they would eat the clay or drink the salt water of the sea.
   "I saw another troop coming," said Mac Roth, "wild-looking, and in the middle of it a young little lad, red and freckled. He had a silk shirt on him with a border of red gold, and a shield faced with gold, with a golden rim, and a little bright gold sword at his side." "Who is that, Fergus?" said Ailell. "I do not remember leaving any such boy as that when I left Ulster," said Fergus; "but it is likely it may be Erc, son of Cairbre, that has come without leave of his father to help his grandfather, Conchubar; and the men of Teamhair with him. And if what I think is true," he said, "you will find that troop to be a drowning sea, and it is by that troop and by that little boy the battle will be won against you."
   Now that was the same Erc that fought afterwards in the last battle against Cuchulain at Muirthemne, and some said it was he that made an end of Cuchulain, but others said it was only the Grey of Macha he made an end of. And Conall Cearnach killed him afterwards in his red vengeance; and his sister Acaill came to Teamhair where he was buried, and cried for him through nine days, till her heart broke like a nut inside her, and she desired that her grave and her mound should be made in a place where the grave and the mound of Erc could be seen from it. And it was made in the place that used to be called the place of the poet Maine, but that is called now the place of Acaill.
   "I saw another company," said Mac Roth, "having at its head a tall, large man, with high looks, with soft brown hair in smooth locks on his forehead; a deep grey cloak wrapped around him, having a silver brooch in it; a soft white shirt next his skin." "I know that man," said Fergus; "he is Eoghan, son of Durthact, king of Fernmaige, one of the twelve chief heroes of the Red Branch."
   "I saw another company coming," said Mac Roth, "and a great many in it; and they red with the fire of their anger, strong and eager and destroying. At their head an angry man, dreadful to look at, long-nosed, large-eared, with coarse grey hair; a striped cloak on him1 an iron skewer in place of a brooch, a coarse striped shirt next his skin, a great spear in his hand."
   "I know that man," said Fergus; "Celthair, son of Uthecar; a head of battle in Ulster. And the spear in his hand is the great spear, the Luin, that was brought back from the East by the three sons of Tuireann."
   "I saw the troop that came last," said Mac Roth, "and it without a leader. There were thirty hundred in it, of proud, clean, ruddy men; long fair hair they had, and shining eyes, and long shining cloaks with good brooches, blue shining spears, good coverings on their heads, and shirts of striped silk. But they seemed to have some great trouble on them, And to be very down-hearted." "What men are those, Fergus?" said Ailell. "I know them well," said Fergus. "It is well for those on whose side they are, and it is a pity for those they are against; for they are able by themselves," be said, "to fight the whole army of Ireland; for they are Cuchulain's men from Muirthemne."
   Now all this time Cuchulain was lying on his bed, with the dint of his wounds. But when he knew by the noise on the plain that the men of Ulster were gathering for the battle, he used all his strength and tried to rise Up; and he gave a great shout, that all his own troop heard it, and all the whole army. But his people that were about him laid him down on the bed again by force, and put ropes and fastenings over him, the way he could not move from it to open his wounds again. And as he was lying there, two mocking women came from Ailell's camp, and stood beside his bed, and let on to be crying and lamenting; and it is what they told him, that the men of Ulster were beaten, and that Conchubar was killed, and that Fergus was killed along with him. And in the night the Morrigu came like a lean, grey-haired hag, shrieking from the one army to the other, hopping over the points of their weapons, to stir up anger between them, and she called out that ravens would be picking men's necks on the morrow. And with all this outcry, Cuchulain could not sleep, and when the day began to break he said to Laeg: "Look out now, and bring me word of everything that happens on this day." So Laeg looked out, and he said: "I see a little herd of cattle breaking out from the west of Ailell's camp, and there are lads following after them and trying to bring them back; and I see more lads coming out from the army of Ulster to attack them." "That little herd on the plain is the beginning of a great battle," said Cuchulain, "for it is the Brown Bull of Cuailgne and his heifers are in it, and now the young men of the east and of the west will come out against one another. And go now, Laeg," he said, "for I cannot go out myself, and call to the men of Ulster, and stir them up to the battle." So Laeg went out and called to them in Cuchulain's name to get themselves ready and to come out to the battle.
   When the men of Ulster heard that message from Cuchulain, they rose up, and rushed out without stopping to put on their clothing, but only taking their weapons in their hands, and such of them as had the door of their tents facing eastwards did not wait to go through it, but broke out to the west.
   But Conchubar was not in such haste to bring his own men out, but he said to Sencha: "Keep them back till the right time will have corn; when the, sun will have lighted all the valleys and the hills."
   Then Laeg went to look out again, and he saw the army of Ireland coming out to meet the men of Ulster, and there began a great fight between them, and it went on a good while without one side getting the better of the other. And when Cuchulain heard it he said: "My grief! I not to be able to go among them!"
   Now as to Maeve, she was sending out her men, the three Conaires from Slieve Lis, the three red Luachras, the three nimble Suibhnes, the three sky-like Eochaids, the three bards from Lough Riach, the three Fachtnas from the woods of Navan, the three sad-faced Murroughs, the three boiling Laegaires, the three dove-like Conalls, the three sons of Driscoll that fought together, the three Fintans from beside the sea. And some say that besides these there were three young men of the Sidhe in shining armour, that mixed through the army to stir up courage, and that none of the men of the army could see among them, Delbhaeth, son of Eithlin, and Cermat Honey-mouth, and Angus Og, son of the Dagda.
   But when Maeve saw the battle going on, and neither side getting the victory, she called to Fergus, and she said: "It is time for you, Fergus, to go out and avenge yourself on your enemy Conchubar; and besides that," she said, "it is right for you to go and to fight for us now, after all the good treatment you got from us in Connaught." "I would go out willingly," said Fergus, "if I had my own sword again, the Caladcholg, the sword that Leite brought from the country of the Sidhe." Then Ailell said to his chariot-driver, Ferloga: "Go now and bring Fergus's sword that I bade you to hide away." So Ferloga brought the sword, and put it in Fergus's hand, and Fergus gave it a great welcome. "Come out now into the battle, Fergus," said Maeve, "and spare no one to-day, unless it might be some very dear friend."
   Then Fergus and Maeve and Ailell went out into the battle, and three times they made the army of Ulster go back before them. And when Conchubar heard his people were being driven back, he called out to the household of the Red Branch: "Let you hold the place I am in now, till I go see who has turned back our men against us three times on the north side."
   And the men of the Red Branch called back to him: "We will do that, and unless the sky should fall on us, or the earth give way under us, we will not give up one inch of ground before the men of Ireland till you come to us again, or till we get our death."
   Then Conchubar went to see who it was that was driving back his army, and it was Fergus he found before him; and Fergus struck three great blows on Conchubar's shield, the Ochain, so that the shield screamed out loud, and all the shields of the army of Ulster screamed with it, and the three great waves of Ireland answered it.
   Then Fergus said: "Who is it is holding his shield against me?" And Conchubar knew then who was before him, and he cried out: "It is the man, Fergus, that is greater and more comely and younger and better than yourself, the man whose father and mother were better than your own; the man that put to death the three great candles of the valour of the Gad, the three prosperous sons of Usnach, in spite of your guarantee and your protection; the man that banished you out of your own country; the man that made your house a dwelling-place for deer and foxes; the man that never left you so much as the breadth of your foot of land in Ulster; the man that drove you to the entertainment of a woman; and the man that will drive you back to-day in the presence of the men of Ireland, Conchubar, son of Fachtna Fathach, High King of Ulster, the High King of Ireland."
   When Fergus heard that, he took his sword, the Caladcholg, in his two hands, and he was swinging it over his head, that it seemed to have the size and appearance of a rainbow, and he was about to give his three great strokes on the men of Ulster.
   But Conchubar's son, Cormac Conloingeas, saw what be was doing, and he made a rush at Fergus, and put his arms about his knees, and be said: "Do not put out your great strength, my master Fergus, to destroy the whole army of Ulster." "Let me go," said Fergus, "for I will not live through the day unless I strike my three blows on the men of Ulster." But Cormac Conloingeas would not leave off from asking him, and then he said: "Tell Conchubar to go back to his own place in the battle, and I will spare the army." So Conchubar went back, and then Fergus struck his three blows on three little hills that were near him, and cut their tops off, and they are called "the three bare hills of Meath" to this day.
   But when Cuchulain heard the scream of Conchubar's shield the time Fergus struck it, he called out to Laeg: "Who has dared to strike those three blows upon the Ochain, and I still living?" "It is Fergus, son of Rogh, struck them," said Laeg. "Where is the battle going on now?" said Cuchulain. "The armies are come as far as Gairech," said Laeg. "By my hand of valour," said Cuchulain, "they will not have reached to Ilgairech before I will be with them." With that he put out all his strength, and he broke the ropes that were about him, and threw them off, and he scattered the grass that was on his wounds into the high air. And the two mocking women were there yet, and he dashed them one against the other, and left them there on the ground. And he looked for his arms, but he could see none of them; but only his chariot, that was broken, was lying there. And ho took hold of a shaft of it, and rushed, with all his wounds, straight into the battle, till he found Fergus, and he called to him to go back before him now, as he had promised he would do. But Fergus gave him no answer. Then Cuchulain said: "Go back, now, Fergus, or by the oath of my people," he said, "I will grind you to pieces as a mill grinds the malt." Then Fergus said: "Do not be giving out threats to me, for my army is well able for the army of Ulster." "You gave me your promise, Fergus," said Cuchulain, "to go back before me when we would meet in the great battle, and when I would be covered with wounds. You bound yourself to that the time I went back before you, and you without your sword."
   Then Fergus, when he heard that, went back three steps, and then he turned, and his men with him, and gave way before Cuchulain. And all the men of Ireland turned when they saw that, and broke out of their ranks, and ran over the hill westward, and Cuchulain and the men of Ulster followed after them, making a great slaughter. And Cuchulain came up with Maeve, and she called out:
   "A gift to me, Cuchulain." "What is it you are asking of me?" he said. "Take what is left of my army under your protection, and let it pass over the great ford westward." So he agreed to do that, and what was left of the army of Ireland went over the great ford of the Sionnan at Athluain, and Maeve and Ailell and Fergus, and the Maines, and the sons of Magach stopped to the last, and drew their shields of protection behind the men of Ireland, till they had got back to Cruachan in Connaugh; the place they set out from.
   It was mid-day when Cuchulain came into the battle, and the sun was setting when the last of them went over the ford. And then Cuchulain took his sword that Laeg had brought him, for he had but a few splinters left of the shaft of the chariot he had used in the fight, and he made three blows at three rocks, and cut the tops off them, for an insult to Connaught for ever, the way if any one should speak of the three bare hills of Meath, the three bare rocks of Athluain would be there to give the answer.
   And Fergus was watching the army of Ireland going back over the ford, and it is what he said: "This army is swept away to-day; it is wandering and going astray like a mare among her foals that goes astray in a strange place, not knowing what path to take. And it is following the lead of a woman," he said, "has brought it into this distress."
   This then was the end of the battle of Gairech and Ilgairech, and the end of the war for the Brown Bull of Cuailgne.


Cuchulain by John Duncan
Cuchulain by John Duncan