Cuchulain of Muirthemne
XI. The War for the Bull of Cuilagne
It happened one time before Maeve and Ailell rose up
from their royal bed in Cruachan, they began to talk with one another. "It is what I am
thinking," said Ailell, "it is a true saying, 'Good is the wife of a good man."
"A true saying, indeed," said Maeve, "but why do you bring it to mind at this
time?" "I bring it to mind now because you are better to-day than the day I married
you." "I was good before I ever had to do with you," said Maeve. "How well
we never heard of that and never knew it until now," said Ailell, "but only that you
stopped at home like any other woman, while the enemies at your boundaries were
slaughtering and destroying and driving all before them, and you not able to
hinder them." 'That is not the way it was at all," said Maeve, "but of the six
daughters of my father Eochaid, King of Ireland, I was the best and the one
that was thought most of. As to dividing gifts and giving counsel, I was the
best of them, and as to battle feats and arms and fighting, I was the best of
them. It was I had fifteen hundred soldiers, sons of exiles, and fifteen hundred
sons of chief men. And I had these," she said, "for my own household; and along
with that my father gave me one of the provinces of Ireland, the province of
Cruachan; so that Maeve of Cruachan is the name that was given to me.
"And as to being asked in marriage," she said, "messengers
came to me from your own brother, Finn, son of Ross Ruadh, king of Leinster, and I gave him
a refusal; and after that there came messengers from Cairbre Niafer, son of Rossa,
king of Teamhair; and from Conchubar, son of Ness, king of Ulster; and after
that again from Eochu Beag, son of Luchta, and I refused them all. For it is not
a common marriage portion would have satisfied me, the same as is asked by the
other women of Ireland," she said; "but it is what I asked as a marriage
portion, a man without stinginess, without jealousy, without fear. For it would
not be fitting for me to be with a man that would be close-handed, for my own
hand is open in wage-paying and in free-giving; and it would be a reproach on my
husband, I to be a better wage-payer than himself. And it would not be fitting
for me to be with a man that would be cowardly, for I myself go into struggles
and fights and battles and gain the victory; and it would be a reproach to my
husband, his wife to be braver than himself. And it would not be fitting for me
to be with a husband that would be jealous, for I was never without one man
being with me in the shadow of another. Now I have got such a husband as I
looked for in yourself, Ailell, for you are not close-handed or jealous or
cowardly. And I gave you good wedding gifts," she said, "suits of clothing
enough for twelve men; a chariot that was worth three times seven serving-maids;
the width of your face in red gold, the round of your arm in a bracelet of white
bronze. And the fine or the tribute you can ask of your enemies is no more than
the fine or the tribute I have a right to ask, for you are nothing of yourself,
but it is in the pay of a woman you are," she said. "That is not so," said
Ailell, "for I am a king's son, and I have two brothers that are kings, Finn,
king of Leinster, and Cairbre, king of Team-hair, and I would have been king in
their places but that they are older than myself. And as to giving of wages and
dividing of gifts," he said, "you are no better than myself; and if this
province is under the rule of a woman, it is the only province in lreland that
is so; and it is not through your right I took the kingship of it, but through
the right of my mother, Mata of Murrisk, daughter of Magach. And if I took the
daughter of the chief king of Ireland for my wife, it was because I thought she
was a fitting wife for me." "You know well," said Maeve, "the riches
that belong to me are greater than the riches that belong to you." "That is a
wonder to me," said Ailell, "for there is no one in Ireland has a better store
of jewels and riches and treasure than myself, and you know well there is not."
"Let our goods and our riches be put beside one another, and let a value be
put on them," said Maeve, "and you will know which of us owns most." "I am
content to do that," said Ailell.
With that, orders were given to their people to bring out their goods
and to count them, and to put a value on them. They did so, and the first things they
brought out were their drinking vessels, their vats, their iron vessels, and all
the things belonging to their households, and they were found to be equal. Then
their rings were brought out, and their bracelets and chains and brooches, their
clothing of crimson and blue and black and green and yellow and saffron and
speckled silks, and these were found to be equal. Then their great flocks of
sheep were driven from the green plains of the open country and were counted,
and they were found to be equal; and if there was a ram among Maeve's flocks
that was the equal of a serving-maid in value, Ailell had one that was as good.
And their horses were brought in from the meadows, and their herds of swine out
of the woods and the valleys, and they were equal one to another. And the last
thing that was done was to bring in the herds of cattle from the forest and the
wild places of the province, and when they were put beside one another they were
found to be equal, but for one thing only. It happened a bull had been calved in
Maeve's herd, and his name was Fionnbanach, the White-homed. But he would not
stop in Maeve's herds, for he did not think it fitting to be under the rule of a
woman, and he had gone into Ailell's herds and stopped there; and now he was the
best bull in the whole province of Connaught. And when Maeve saw him, and knew
he was better than any bull of her own, there was great vexation on her, and it
was as bad to her as if she did not own one head of cattle at all. So she called
Mac Roth, the herald, to her, and bade him to find out where there was a bull as
good as the White-homed to be got in any province of the provinces of Ireland.
"I myself know that well," said Mac Roth, "for there is a
bull hat is twice as good as himself at the house of Daire, son of Fachtna, in the district of
Cuailgne, and that is Donn Cuailgne, the Brown Bull of Cuailgne." "Rise up,
then," said Maeve, "and make no delay, but go to Daire from me, and ask the loan
of that bull for a year, and I will return him at the end of the year, and fifty
heifers along with him, as fee for the loan. And there is another thing for you
to say, Mac Roth, if the people of Daire's district and country think bad of him
for sending away that wonderful jewel the Donn of Cuailgne, let Daire himself
come along with him, and I will give him the equal of his own lands on the
smooth plain of Ai, and a chariot that is worth three times seven serving-maids,
and my own close friendship along with that."
So Mac Roth set out on his journey, and nine men along with him, and when
they came to Daire's house there was a good welcome before them, as there should
be, for Mac Roth was the chief herald of all Ireland.
Daire asked him then what was the reason of his journey, and Mac Roth told
him the whole story of the quarrel between Maeve and Ailell and of the counting
of their herds, and of the great rewards Maeve offered him if he would give her
the loan for one year of the Brown Bull of Cuailgne. Daire was so well pleased
when he heard this, that he wagged himself till the stitches of the feathers
under him burst, and he said: "I will send him to Maeve into Connaught, whether
the men of Ulster like it or do not like it." Mac Roth was well content with
that; and he and his men were attended to, and fresh rushes were spread, and a
feast was put before them, with every sort of food and of drink, so that after a
while they were so clear in their wits as they were before.
Two of them began talking to one another then, and one said: "This is a good
man in whose house we are." "He is good indeed," said the other. "Is there any
man in Ulster better than himself?" said the first. "There is, surely," said the
other, "for Conchubar the High King is a better man, and it is no shame for all
the men of Ulster to gather to him." "It is a wonder," said the first, "Daire to
have given up to us what it would have taken the strength of the four provinces
of Ireland to bring away by force." "That I may see the mouth that spoke those
words filled with blood," said another of the men; "for if Daire had refused to
give it willingly, the strength of Ailell and of Maeve, and the knowledge of
Fergus, son of Rogh, would have brought it from him against his will."
Just as they were talking, the chief steward of Daire's house came in,
and servants along with him bringing meat and drink; and he heard what the men
of Connaught said and great anger came on him, and he bade the servants put down
the food for them, but he never told them to use it or not to use it, but he
went to where Daire was and said: "Was it you, Daire, promised the Brown Bull of
Cuailgne to these messengers?" "It was myself indeed," said Daire. "Then what
they have said is true?" "What is that?" said Daire. "They say that you knew if
you did not give him willingly you would have had to give him against your will
by the strength of Ailell and Maeve and by the guidance of Fergus, son of Rogh."
"If they say that," said Dahe, "I swear by the gods my people swear by, that
they will not take him away till they take him by force."
On the morning of the morrow the messengers rose up and went into the house
where Daire was. "Show us now," they said, "the place where the bull is." "I
will not indeed," said Daire; "but if it was a habit with me," he said, "to do
treachery to messengers or to travellers or to men on their road, not one of you
would go back alive to Cruachan." "What reason have you for this change?" said
Mac Roth. "I have a good reason for it, for you were saying last night that if I
did not give the bull willingly, I would be forced to give it against my will by
Ailell and by Maeve and by Fergus." "If that was said, it was the talk of common
messengers, and they after eating and drinking," said Mac Roth, "and it is not
fitting for you to take notice of a thing like that."
"It may be so," said Daire; "but for all that," he said,
"I will not give the bull this time."
They went back then to Cruachan, and Maeve asked news of them, and Mac Roth
told her the whole story, how Daire gave them the promise of the bull at first,
and refused it afterwards. "What was the reason of that?" she asked. And when it
was told her she said: "This riddle is not hard to guess; they did not intend to
let us get the bull at all; but now we will take him from them by force," she
And this was the cause of the great war for the Brown Bull of Cuailgne.
Then Maeve sent messengers to the six Maines, her sons, to come to
Cruachan, the brothers of Maine Morgor that got his death at Dun Gerg. And she
sent messengers to the sons of Magach; and they came, with thirty hundred armed
men, and to Cormac Conloingeas, son of King Conchubar, and to Fergus, son of
Rogh; and they came, and thirty hundred armed men with them.
This is the appearance that was on the first troop. Black heads of hair they
had, and green cloaks about them, held with silver brooches, and on their bodies
shirts of gold thread, embroidered with red gold, and they had swords with white
sheaths and hilts of silver.
As to the second troop, they had short-cut hair, and grey cloaks about them,
and on their bodies pure white shirts; and they had swords with knobbed hilts of
gold, and sheaths of silver. Every one asked: "Is that Cormac among them?" "It
is not indeed," said Maeve.
As to the last troop, they had gold-yellow hair, falling loose like manes,
and crimson cloaks, well ornamented, about them, and gold brooches with jewels
at their breasts, and long silk shirts coming down to their ankles. And as they
walked they lifted up their feet and put them down again all together. "Is
that Cormac among them?" every one asked. "It is, surely," said Maeve.
So they made their camp there, and between the four fords of Ai, Athmaga,
Athslisen, Athberena, and Athcoltna, there were red fires blazing through the
night. And they stopped a fortnight there at Cruachan, eating, drinking, and
resting themselves, that they might be the better able for the journey and the
Then Maeve bade her chariot-driver to yoke her horses, that she might go and
consult with her Druid and ask a prophecy from him, to foretell for her if the
army she was bringing out would get the victory, and would come back safely. And
she said to the Druid: "There are many that will part here to-day from their
companions and their friends, from their country and their lands, from their
father and their mother. And if it happens that the whole of them do not come
back again safe and sound, it is on me the complaints and the curses will fall.
And besides that," she said, "there is no one that goes out or that stops
behind, that is dearer to us than we are to ourselves. So find out for us now
whether we shall return, or not return." And the Druid said: "Whoever returns or
does not return, you yourself will return"
Her chariot was turned then, and she went back again homeward. But presently
she saw a thing she wondered at, a woman sitting on the shaft of the chariot,
facing her, and this is how she was: a sword of white bronze in her hand, with
seven rings of red gold on it and she seemed to be weaving a web with it; a
speckled green cloak about her, fastened at the breast with a brooch of red
gold; a ruddy, pleasant face she had, her eyes grey, and her mouth like red
berries, and when she spoke her voice was sweeter than the strings of a curved
harp, and her skin showed through her clothes like the snow of a single night.
Long feet she had, very whit; and the nails on them pink and even; her hair
gold-yellow, three locks of it wound about her head, and another that fell down
loose below her knee.
Maeve looked at her, and she said: "What are you doing here, young girl?"
"It is looking into the future for you I am," she said, "to see what will be your
chances and your fortunes, now you are gathering the provinces of Ireland to the
war for the Brown Bull of Cuailgne." "And why would you be doing this for me?"
said Maeve. "There is good reason for it," she said, "for I am a serving-maid of
your own people." "Which of my people do you belong to?" said Maeve. "I am
Fedelm of the Sidhe, of Rath Cruachan." "It is well, Fedelm of the Sidhe; tell
me what way you see our hosts." "I see crimson on them, I see red." "Yet
Conchubar is lying in his weakness at Emain; my messengers are come back from
there, and we need not be in dread of anything from Ulster," said Maeve. "But
look again, Fedelm of the Sidhe, and tell me the truth of the matter." "I see
crimson on them, I see red," said the girl. "Yet Eoghan, son of Durthacht, is in
his weakness at Rathairthir; my messengers are come back from him; we need not
be afraid of anything from Ulster. Look again, Fedelm of the Sidhe; how do you
see our hosts?" "I see them all crimson, I see them all red." "Celtchair, son of
Uthecar, is lying in his weakness within his fort; my messengers are come back
from him. Tell me again, Fedelm of the Sidhe, how do you see our hosts?" "I see
crimson on them, I see red." "There may be no harm in what you see," said Maeve,
"for when all the men of Ireland are gathered together in one place, there will
surely be quarrels and fights among them, about going first or last over fords
and rivers, or about the first wounding of some stag or boar, or such like. Tell
me truly now, Fedelm of the Sidhe, what way do you see our hosts?" "I see
crimson on them, I see red. And I see," she said, "a low-sized man doing many
deeds of arms; there are many wounds on his smooth skin; there is a light about
his head, there is victory on his forehead; he is young and beautiful, and
modest towards women; but he is like a dragon in the battle. His appearance and
his courage are like the appearance and the courage of Cuchulain of Muirthemne;
and who that Hound from Muirthemne may be I do not know; but I know this much
well, that all this host will be reddened by him. He is setting out for the
battle; he will make your dead lie thickly, the memory of the blood shed by him
will be lasting; women will be keening over the bodies brought low by the Hound
of the Forge that I see before me."
This is the foretelling that was made for Maeve by Fedelm of the Sidhe,
before the setting out of the hosts at Cruachan for Ulster.
Now, when Maeve told Fedelm of the Sidhe that there need be no fear of the
men of Ulster coming out to attack the army, for they were lying in their
weakness, she meant that they were under the curse and the enchantment that was
put on them one time by a woman they had ill-treated. And the story of it is
this:--There was a man of the name of Crunden, son of Agnoman, that lived in a
lonely part of Ulster, among the mountains, and he had a good way of living; but
his wife had died, and he had the care of all his children on him. One day he
was sitting in the house, and he saw a woman come in at the door, tall and
handsome, and with good clothes on her, and she did not say a word, but she sat
down by the hearth and began to make up the fire. And then she went to where the
meal was, and took it out and mixed it, and baked a cake. And when the evening
was drawing on, she took a vessel and went out and milked the cows, but all the
time she never spoke a word. Then she came back into the house, and took a turn
to the right, and was the last to stop up and to cover over the fire.
She stayed on there, and Crunden, the man of the house, married her, and she
tended him and his sons, and everything he had prospered.
It happened, one day, there was to be a great gathering of the men of Ulster,
for games and races and all sorts of amusements, and all that could go, both of
men and women, used to go to that gathering. "I will go there to-day," said
Crunden, "the same as every other man is going." "Do not," said his wife,
"for if you so much as say my name there at the fair," she said, "I will be
lost to you for ever." "Then indeed I will not speak of you at all," said
Crunden. So he set out with the others to the fair, and there was every sort of amusement
there, and all the people of the country were at it.
At the ninth hour, the royal chariot was brought on the ground, and the
king's horses won the day. Then the bards and poets, and the Druids, and the
servants of the king, and the whole gathering, began to praise the king and the
queen and their horses, and they cried out: "There were never seen such horses
as these; there are no better runners in all Ireland." "My wife is a better
runner than those two horses," said Crunden. When the king was told of that he
said: "Take hold of the man, and keep him until his wife can be brought to try
her chance and to run against the horses."
So they took hold of him, and kept him, and messengers were sent from the
king to the woman. She bade the messengers welcome, and asked what brought them.
"We are come, by the king's order," they said, "to bring you to the fair, to see
if you will run faster than the king's horses; for your husband boasted that you
would, and he is kept prisoner now until you will come and release him." "It is
foolish my husband was to speak like that," she said; "and as for myself, I am
not fit to go, for I am soon going to give birth to a child." "That is a pity,"
said the messengers, "for if you do not come, your husband will be put to
death." "If that is so, I must go, whatever happens," she said.
So with that she set out for the gathering, and when she got there all the
people were crowding about her to see her. "It is not fitting to be looking at
me, and I the way I am," she cried; "and what have I been brought here for?" "To
run against the two horses of the king," the people called out. "Ochone!" she
said, "do not ask me, for I am close upon my hour." "Take out your swords and
put the man to death," said the king. "Give me your help," she said to the
people, "for every one of you has been born of a mother." And then she said to
the king: "Give me even a delay until my child is born." "I will give no delay,"
said the king. "Then the shame that is on you will be greater than the shame
that is on me," she said. "And because you have showed no pity and no respect to
me," she said, "it is a heavier punishment will fall on you than has fallen upon
me. And bring out the horses beside me now." Then they started, and the woman
outran the horses and gained the race; and at the goal the pains of childbirth
came on her, and she bore two children, a boy and a girl, and she gave a great
cry in her pain.
And a weakness came suddenly on all that heard the cry, so that they had no
more strength than the woman as she lay there. And it is what she said: "From
this out, and till the ninth generation, the shame that you have put on me will
fall on you; and at whatever time you most want your strength, at the time your
enemies are closing on you, that is the time the weakness of a woman in
childbirth will come upon all men of the province of Ulster."
And so it happened; and of all the men of Ulster that were born after that
day, there was no one escaped that curse and that enchantment but only
When the men of Connaught set out from Cruachan for the north they stopped
towards evening at Cuilsilinne, and there they made their encampment for the
night. Ailell took his place in the middle of the camp, and on his right was
Fergus, son of Rogh, and Cormac Conloingeas next to him again, and their people
on the same side; and on Ailell's left there was a place made for Maeve and
Findabair her daughter. But Maeve stopped behind until the whole of the army had
come up, and then she went in her chariot to seee if all was in order, and after
that she came and took her seat at Ailell's right hand. "Which of the troops do
you think the best?" said Ailell. "None of them are any good at all," said
Maeve, "compared with the men of Leinster, the Gailiana." "What have they done
beyond all the others that you praise them so much?" said Ailell. "There is
reason for praising them," said Maeve; "for while the others were choosing a
place for themselves, the Gailiana had their huts and their shelters made, and
while the others were making their shelters, they had their share of food and
drink cooked and set out, and while the others were making ready their food they
had theirs eaten, and while the others were eating, they were laid down and
sleeping. And as their servants have been better than the servants of the men of
Ireland," she said, "so will their young men and their fighting men be better
than the young men of Ireland on this march." "I am well pleased to hear that,"
said Ailell, "for it was with me they came, and they are of my own province."
"Then you need not be so well pleased," said Maeve, "for they shall march no
further with you, for I will not have them boasted of, before me or to me." "Let
them stop in this camp, then," said Ailell. "They shall not do that either,"
said Maeve. "What must they do, then?" said Findabair, "if they are neither to
go on nor to stop in the camp?" "They will get death and destruction from
myself," said Maeve "It is a pity you to say that," said Ailell, "and they only
just after joining us" "If you think to harm them," said Fergus, you will have
to fight with me as well as with them; for by the oath of my people," he said,
"it is only over my body and the bodies of men of Ulster that are with me, you
can come at their death." not speak that way, Fergus," said Maeve; "for if you
were to with these strangers against me, I would have the six Maines and their
men on my side, and the sons of Magach and their men, my own troops along with
them. And I think we would be well for you," she said. "It is not right for you
to say that," said Fergus, "for there are no men in Ireland better than the
young men of Ulster that came to Connaught with me, and they have been a help to
you up to this. But I will tell you another thing to do," he said: "let the men
of Leinster be divided through all the other of the men of Ireland, the way
there will not be more than of them together in any one place." "I will agree to
that," said Maeve, "for I know there would be nothing but fighting and jealousy
if they were left together the way they are now."
On the morning of the morrow, they made ready to set out again, but the chief
men among them consulted together first, what way they could best keep the peace
between so many troops and tribes and families; and it is what they settled, to
put every troop under its own leader, and to let it, great or small, take a road
of its own. And besides that, they consulted who would be the best man to put
over the whole army, to lead them and to show them the way. And they all said
Fergus would be the best, for he had been king of Ulster seventeen years, until
Conchubar put him out of the kingship, and he had stopped on in Ulster after
that until the time Conchubar killed the sons of Usnach in spite of the
guarantee he had given them
So Fergus was made leader of the whole army; but as they went on, a great
love for his own province and his home came on him, and instead of going on
northwards he turned to the south. And while he was delaying the army like:that,
he sent messengers into Ulster to give warning and news of their coming. But
Maeve was keeping a watch on him, and when she saw what had happened, she went
to him and said: "Why is it, Fergus, that we have turned again to the south?"
Then Fergus knew it was no use to try and deceive her, and they turned again,
but they did not go far, but only to the place they had left in the morning,
Then Fergus called to mind that they were coming near the borders of Ulster,
and that it was likely it would not be long before they would meet with
Cuchulain; and he gave a warning to the army to mind themselves well, lest the
Hound of Muirthemne should fall on them, angry and beautiful, and destroy them.
And then the men of Connaught set out again eastward, and when they came to
Monecolthan, they saw before them eight-score deer, in the one herd, and the
whole army surrounded them, and all the deer were killed; but if they were, it
was the Gailiana, scattered as they were, that killed all the deer but five, and
those five were all that were killed by the rest of the men of Ireland.
It was on that same day Cuchulain and his father, Sualtim, came to the
pillar-stone at Ardcullin, for they had got the warning Fergus had sent, and
there they let their horses graze, and Sualtim's horses cropped the grass to the
north of the pillar-stone to the earth, but Cuchulain's horses, at the south
side, cropped it to the bare flags.
"It is in my mind, Sualtim," said Cuchulain, "that the army
of Connaught is not far away from us now. Go now, then," he said, "and bring a
warning to the men of Ulster, and tell them not to stop in the open plains, but to go
into the woods and the valleys of the province, that the men of Ireland may not come upon
them." "And you yourself, little son, what will you do?" said Sualtim. "I must
go," said Cuchulain, "southward to Teamhair, for I promised to go there to-day,
to see a young girl of the household of Fedelm of the Fair Shape, Laegaire's
wife." "It is a pity for you to go for a thing like that," said Sualtim, "and
you leaving Ulster under the feet of enemies and strangers." "I must go,
indeed," said Cuchulain, "for if I break my word to a woman, it will be said
from this out that a woman's word is better than a man's."
So Sualtim set out then, to give a warning to the men of Ulster, and
Cuchulain went into the oak woods and cut down an oak sapling, and twisted it
into a ring, and cut a message on it in Ogham. And then he forced the ring over
the top of the pillar-stone, and down to the thick part of it. And then he went
on to keep his appointment at Teamhair.
As to the men of Ireland, they went on till they came to Ardcullin, and the
whole country of Ulster lay there before them. And then they saw the
pillar-stone and the oak ring that was on it; and Ailell took it off, and
gave it to Fergus, and bade him read the Ogham. And what he read on it was
Cuchulain's name, and the warning on it that the men of Ulster should not pass
the pillar-stone that night, for if they did, he would go a great revenge on
them at the sunrise of the morrow.
"It would be a pity," said Maeve, "that the first blood to be
shed after going into the province should be the blood of our own people: it would be best
for us to draw blood first on the people of Ulster." "I agree to that," said
Ailell, "for I am loth to go against this ring or the man that twisted it; but
let us go into the wood and our camp there for the night." So they went into the
wood, cut a way for the chariots with their swords as they went, and it is from
that the place is called Sleact na Gearbat, the Cut Way of the Chariots, until
this time. And a great snow fell that night, so it made one plain of the five
provinces of Ireland, and they could make no shelter or prepare food, and none
of the men in the,camp knew through the whole night was it friend or enemy was
near him, until the clear light of the sun fell on the snow in the morning. And
then they left that place, and went on into Ulster.
As to Cuchulain, he did not rise very early that morning, and he did, there
was food made ready for him, and a bath of pure water. Then he bade Laeg to make
his chariot ready, and they set out; and after a while they came to the track of
the army of Ireland where it had gone over the border into Ulster. "Well, Laeg,"
said Cuchulain, "I have not much luck out of my appointment that I kept last
night; for it is expected of one that is watching the borders that the least he
should do is to raise a cry or give a-warning of the enemy that is coming, and I
have missed doing this, so that the men of Ireland have slipped by without news
or notice into Ulster." "I told you, Cuchulain," said Laeg, "that if
you kept to your meeting last night, some vexation like this would fall on you."
"Well, Laeg," said Cuchulain, "let you follow their track now, and count
them, and see what number of the men of Ireland are come over the border." Laeg did
this, and he came back and told their number, as he had counted them. "There is a mistake
in your counting," said Cuchulain. "I will count them myself this time." Then he
told their number. "It is with yourself the mistake is, Cuchulain," said Laeg.
"It is not," he said, "but there are eighteen divisions have passed the border,
but the eighteenth is broken up and distributed among the others, so that no
sure reckoning can be made of it." This, now, was one of the three best
estimates ever made in Ireland, and the other two were made by Lugh of the Long
Hand, and by Angus at Brugh na Boinne.
"But now, Laeg," he said; "turn the chariot towards the army,
and hurry on the horses; for unless I can make an end of some of them to-day," he said,
"I will not live through the night myself."
So they went on to the place that is called now Athgowla, northward from
There they met with the two young men, the sons of Neara, that were sent out
in front of Maeve's army, to see was there any hindrance before it, and
Cuchulain struck off their heads and the heads of their chariot-drivers.
And he cut down a tree with his sword, and it having four branches, and he
lopped them short, and cleared the tree; and he stood up in his chariot, and
with one cast he drove the tree into the ground that it stood deep and firm, and
he set the four heads he had struck off on the four lopped branches of it. And
then he turned back their horses in their chariots towards the army.
Now it is the way Maeve used to be going, she in a chariot by herself, and
two chariots on each side of her, and behind her and before her, the way no sod
from the feet of the horses of the army, or foam from their mouths, would touch
her clothing. And when she saw the two chariots coming back, and the bodies in
them without heads, she stopped to see what had happened. "What are these?" she
said. "They are the chariots and the bodies of the two sons of Neara that went
on before us," said her chariot-driver.
Then she held a council with her chief men, and it is what they agreed, that
it must be some part of the army of Ulster was there before them at the ford
they were drawing near, and that it was best to send out Cormac Conloingeas and
his men to see who was in it, for the men of Ulster would not be willing to harm
the son of their High King.
So Cormac and his troop went on to the ford, but when he got there all he saw
was a lopped tree and four heads on it, and the blood dripping down from them,
and the track of one chariot only, going eastward out of the ford. Then the rest
of the army came with the other chief men. "There is wonder on me," said Ailell;
"our four men to have been made an end of so easily as this." "You may wonder as
well," said Fergus, "at the way this pole was driven into the ground by one man,
and it will be hard for you to find a man of your army will drag it out again."
"Do it yourself, Fergus," said Maeve, "for you are of my army." So Fergus called
for a chariot, and stood up in it, and gave such a strong pull at the pole, that
the chariot broke under him. "Give me another chariot," he said. And when he had
broken seventeen of the war-chariots of Connaught one after another, and had not
so much as loosened the pole, Maeve said: "Leave off now, Fergus, from breaking
my people's chariots; and if you yourself had not been with us on this march,"
she said, "we would have been up with the men of Ulster before now, and we would
have taken men and cattle. And I know well why you did this, it was to give the
men of Ulster time to get over their weakness and their pains, and to come out
against us to defend their bull and their cattle." "Give me my own chariot,
then," said Fergus. So they gave him his own chariot, and he got up in it and
gave a great pull at the pole; and neither the frame nor the wheels of his
chariot started or strained like the others, and he pulled up the pole and gave
it into Ailell's hand, and Ailell looked at it and said: "There is dread on me,
of the man that set that pole there; do you think, Fergus," he said, "was it
Conchubar the High King that did it?" "It was not," said Fergus, "for if
Conchubar had come here, his army would have come along with him, and all the
men of Ulster, and he would not have been so near to you without offering you
battle, and by this time whichever got the better would be boasting of it." "Do
you think was it Cuscraid, Conchubar's son?" said Ailell; "or Eoghan, son of
Durthacht, king of Fernmaighe; or Celthair, son of Uthecar?" "I do not," said
Fergus, 'but it is what I think, that it was my own foster-son and Conchubar's
that was here, Cuchulain, son of Sualtim." "We heard you often talking at
Cruachan about that young man, and what is his age at this time?" "His age is of
no great matter," said Fergus, "for he did great deeds, when he was but a soft
child." "He is young enough yet," said Maeve, "and I think it will not be hard
to find Some one of our own men that will get the better of this wild Hound, fir
he has but the one body to wound or to put to flight." "You will get no one,"
said Fergus, "among your fighting men and your young men and your champions that
will be able to put down Cuchulain."
They stopped there then and made their camp, and rested that night, with food
and with music.
And it was in that night Fergus gave Maeve and Ailell the whole story of the
boy deeds of Cuchulain, and how he used to have a stone for a pillow, and no one
dared wake him, lest he might chance to give them a blow of the stone in his
anger; and he told of one night when he was asleep, and Conchubar was attacked
and was beaten by Eoghan, son of Durthact. And Cuchulain was awakened by the
cries of the beaten men that were running away, and he went out in the darkness
of the night to look for Conchubar; and where the battle had been, he saw a man
with the half of a man's body on his back, and he called to Cuchulain to help
him, and threw the half-body to him, and Cuchulain threw it back again, and they
fought, and he struck off the man's head. And then he found Conchubar lying in a
grave, and he dug him out of that, and as they went home, they met Cuscraid that
was wounded, and Cuchulain brought him home to Emain on his back. And another
time he went into a wood and saw a terrible-looking man having a wild boar in
one hand, and his weapon in the other hand, and he killed him, and brought home
the boar. And another time when the men of Ulster were in their weakness, three
times nine sea-robbers came to Emain, and the women ran shrieking to the palace
when they saw them, and when the boys that were at play on the lawn knew what
they were running from, they ran along with them. But Cuchulain went out and
killed nine of the sea-robbers and wounded the rest of them, so that he drove
them all back. And he told them many other stories of his doings beside these.
The next day, the army marched on eastward beyond the mountain. But there was
a narrow place they had to pass through, and Cuchulain cut down a great oak
tree, and laid it across the gap, and wrote an Ogham on it; and when the men of
Ireland came up to it, it hindered them, and they could not move it, and they
made their camp there that night. And early in the morning they sent the young
man Fraech, son of Idath, to get the hindrance cleared away.
But Fraech went on beyond it, till he came to a river, and there he found
Cuchulain bathing. And they attacked one another in the water, and Fraech was
beaten, and Cuchulain went away and left his body on the bank.
And when the men of Ireland found his body they began to keen him. And then
they saw a great band of women of the Sidhe, with green dresses on them, coming
for his body, and they gave out a great cry over him and brought him away to a
hill of the Sidhe. And Findabair cried after him, and went to see the green bank
where he was lying.
And they knew that Cuchulain was not far from them, for presently
Maeve's little dog, Baiscne, got his death by a stone from a sling. There was
anger on Maeve then, and she urged her men to follow after Cuchulain, so that
they broke the poles of their chariots in their hurry.
The next day Cuchulain was going through the wood, and he heard the sound
of blows on the trees.
"It is too bold the men of Ulster are, Laeg," he said, "to
be cutting down trees like this, with the men of Ireland coming on them; and stop here,"
he said, "till I find out who is it that is in the wood."
He went on till he met with a young man of Connaught, that was chariot-driver
to Orlam, son of Maeve and Ailell. "What is it you are doing there, young man?"
he asked. "I am cutting holly poles," said the young man, "for we have broken
our chariots hunting that notable deer, Cuchulain. And now, good friend," he
said, "lend me a hand with these poles, lest that same notable Cuchulain should
come upon me here." "Your choice, boy; shall I cut the holly poles, or shall I
trim them for you?" "Let you do the trimming," said he. So Cuchulain took them
and trimmed them straight and smooth, that a fly could not have kept his footing
on them. The chariot-driver looked at the poles, and he said: "I am thinking
this is not the work you have a right to be put to. And who are you at all?" he
said. "I am that notable Cuchulain you were speaking of just now." "That is bad
news for me," said the driver, "for surely I am a dead man." "There need be no
fear on you," said Cuchulain, "for I do not fight against drivers or messengers
or unarmed men. But where is your master?" he said. "He is out before you on the
plain." "Go to him, then, and give him this warning, that I am here, and
that if we meet, he will surely get his death from me." With that the young man
went to look for his master, but quick as he went, Cuchulain was quicker, and as
soon as he came up with Orlam he struck off his head, and held it up and shook
it before the men of Ireland.
After that, the three sons of Garach came out and made an attack on him, but
he overcame them, and struck off their heads, and he killed their
chariot-drivers as well, that they had armed against him. And Lethan and his
chariot-driver came against him, and he killed them in the same way.
At that time the harpers of Cainbile came to Maeve's camp, and played on
their magic harps; but the men of Ireland thought it might be as spies they
came, and they drove them out of the camp, and followed after them till they
came to the great stone of Lecmore. But when they thought to overtake them
there, the harpers took on themselves the shape of wild deer, and went away. And
it was on the same day that Cuchulain, with two casts of a sling stone, killed
the marten and the pet bird that were sitting on Maeve's two shoulders.
Then the men of Ireland came into Magh Breagh and Muirthemne, and carried off
and destroyed all before them. And Fergus warned them that Cuchulain was not far
off, and that he would do a great vengeance on them, since they had spoiled
Muirthemne. And it was at that time Lugaid, son of Nois, that had gone into
Connaught with Fergus, went secretly to Cuchulain and told him of all that was
going on in the camp, and of the dread of him that was on all the men of
Ireland, so that they did not dare to stir out alone, and that he himself was
true to him yet.
And now that the army was coming so near to Cuailgne, the War-goddess, the
Battle Crow, the Morrigu, came and sat on a pillar-stone at Teamhair, and gave a
warning to the Brown Bull of Cuailgne, and it is what she said. "Have a care,
and keep a good watch, my poor bull, or the men of Ireland will come on you and
will drive you away to their camp." And when the bull heard the warning, he
brought fifty of his heifers with him, and went away to a valley of Slieve
And the men of Ireland came on, bringing the herds of cattle they took on the
way, where there was no one to defend them. And they stopped for the night at
Conaille Muirthemne, and there Maeve bade one of her women go down to the stream
for water. And the woman was wearing Maeve's golden covering on her head, and
Cuchulain saw her, and he thought it was Maeve herself that was in it, and he
made a cast of a stone that killed her, and the gold covering was broken in
And they were delayed there for a while, for the river was in flood, and when
they tried to cross it, the chariots that went in were swept away to the sea;
and one of Maeve's best men, UaIa, that she sent to try the depth of it, was
swept away along with them. And while they were stopping there, Cuchulain killed
Raen and Rae, that were come to tell the story of the war, and a hundred men
along with them.
Then Maeve said: "Some man of you must go out and stand against Cuchulain
to save the army." "It is not I that will go," said one of them. "It
is not I," said all the others, "for Cuchulain is no easy man to stand against."
And they were for going round by the head of the river, but Maeve made them cut a way
through the mountain before them, that it might be left as a lasting disgrace to
Ulster. So they did this, and it is called Berna Ulaid, the Gap of Ulster, to
Now, when they were setting out to cross the mountain, Maeve gave orders that
the army was to be divided in two parts, each with its own share of cattle, and
of all other things, and she said that she herself and Fergus would go with the
one part, by the Gap of Ulster, and that Ailell should go with the other part,
by the road of Midluachair.
So Ailell set out, and his chariot-driver, Ferloga, with him, and that was
the same Ferloga that made a bargain with Conchubar, the High King, one time;
and this is the way it happened. It was at the time Mac Datho of Leinster had
stirred up a fight between the men of Ulster and the men of Connaught, about the
dividing of a pig at a feast he made, the same way Bricriu had stirred up a
fight about the Championship, and Conchubar was following after the men of
Connaught over the plain of Fearbile; and all of a sudden Ferloga, that had been
left behind by Ailell, and that was hiding himself, made a leap to the back of
Conchubar's chariot, and took hold of his neck between his two hands. "What will
you give me to let you loose, king?" he said. "What is it you are asking?" said
Conchubar. "Indeed it is no great gift I am asking," said Ferloga, "but only you
to bring me along with you to Emain Macha, and the young women and the young
girls of Ulster to sing a song around me every evening, and every one of them to
say, Perloga is my favourite." Conchubar agreed to that, and Ferloga went with
him to Emain; but at the end of a year they sent him back, and presents with
him, to Ailell and to Maeve.
At that time, a suspicion came on Ailell, that there was some understanding
between Maeve and Fergus, and he bade Ferloga to keep a watch on them. After a
while, Ferloga saw that Maeve and Fergus had stopped in a wood behind the rest
of the army, and he followed after them quietly, the way they would not hear
him, and there he found Fergus's sword lying on the ground So he took the sword
out of the sheath, and he cut a wooden sword and shaped it, and put it into the
sheath in its place, and he brought Fergus's sword back to Ailell, and told him
how he had found it, and Aillel bade him hide it in his chariot When Fergus saw
that his sword was gone and a wooden sword was put in its place, there was great
confusion on him, but Ailell said nothing of it when they met, but asked him to
come and play a game of chess with him. And at the game they quarrelled, and
Ailell said sharp words of blame to Fergus and to Maeve, and they answered him
back, and Fergus bade him give him up his sword. But Ailell said he would never
give it to him until the day of the great battle would come, between the men of
Ireland and the men of Ulster.
Then Cuchulain came there and stood on a height and shook his spears and his
sword before them, so that great dread came on them.
After that, Maeve sent Fiacha, son of Firaba, to talk with Cuchulain, and to
try could he win him over. "What will you offer him?" said Fiacha. "I will give
him full payment for all that has been spoiled of his goods, and a good place
for himself in Cruachan Ai, and my own protection and Ailell's, if he will give
up Conchubar's service and come into ours. And indeed that would be better for
him," she said, "than to stop under a little king like Conchubar."
So Fiacha went to speak with Cuchulain, and he gave him a good welcome. And
Fiacha told him the message he had brought from Maeve, and the offer she had
made if he would quit Conchubar's service. "I will not do that," said Cuchulain;
"I will not betray my mother's brother for the sake of any strange king. But I
will consent to go myself to-morrow," he said, "to speak with Maeve and Ailell
and with Fergus." So Fiacha bade him farewell, and went back to the army.
On the morning of the morrow Cuchulain went to Glen Ochain, and Maeve and
Fergus came to meet him; and Maeve looked at him and she said: "Is this the same
Cuchulain you put such a great name on, Fergus? I see that he has not yet grown
out of his boyhood." Then she spoke with Cuchulain and made her offer again, and
he refused it, and they left the place with great anger on them one against the
other. And that night, and the two nights after it, the men of Ireland were
afraid either to eat or to sleep or to make music; for Cuchulain killed so many
of their men before the clear light of every morning, that it was as if the
whole army was melting away. "Some one must go and make him another offer," said
Maeve, and this time she sent Mac Roth, the herald. "Where will I find him?"
said Mac Roth. "Ask Fergus for news of him," said Maeve. "It is likely," said
Fergus, "he will be between Ochain and the sea, letting the sun shine and the
wind blow upon him after so many nights spent without sleep."
It was there he found him sure enough, and Laeg keeping a watch a good way
off. "There is an armed man coming towards us, Cuchulain," said Laeg. "What sort
of man is he?" said Cuchulain. "A brown-haired, broad-faced, handsome young man;
a fine brown cloak on him; a bright bronze spear-like brooch fastening his
cloak; a well-fitting shirt next his skin; two strong shoes between his feet and
the ground. There is a white hazel rod in one hand, and a sword with a sea-horse
tooth for a hilt in the other." "Well, Laeg," said Cuchulain, "let him
come, for these are the tokens of a herald."
Mac Roth came up to him then and asked: "Who are you serving under, young
man?" "We are serving under Conchubar, High King of Ulster." "Can you tell me
where can I find Cuchulain, that has killed so many of the men of Ireland?"
"Whatever you would say to him, you may say it to me," said Cuchulain. Then Mac
Roth told him all the new offers he had brought from Maeve, and Cuchulain said:
"I am Cuchulain that you are looking for, and I refuse all your offers." So Mac
Roth went back to the camp. "Did you find Cuchulain?" said Maeve. "I found," he
said, "an angry boy between Ochain and the sea, and I do not know if it was
Cuchulain." "Did he take your offer?" said Maeve. "He did not," said Mac Roth.
"It is Cuchulain he was talking to," said Fergus. "You must go to him
again," said Maeve, "and make new offers." So Mac Roth went out again to make
some terms with Cuchulain, but he refused all his offers. "And another thing,"
he said, "I would never consent to give in to a woman, or to be under a
woman's rule." "Is there any bargain you would make?" said Mac Roth. "If there
is," said Cuchulain, "you must find it out for yourselves, and there is one in
the camp can tell you of it," he said; "and if he himself comes to me, I will
speak with him, but if any other man comes to me again with offers, that will be
the last day of his life."
So Mac Roth went back again and told all this to Maeve. "And I will not go
near him again, myself," he said, "for all that any king in Ireland could give
me." Then Maeve said to Fergus: "Have you any knowledge of the terms Cuchulain
would take?" "I have not," said Fergus. But after she had questioned him a
while, he said: "It is what he wants, that one man of the men of Ireland should
meet him and fight alone with him every day. And while that fight is going on,
he will put no hindrance on the rest of the army but it may march on. But so
soon as he has killed the man set I against him, the army must stop, and make
its camp until the morning of the morrow." "I will agree to that," said Maeve,
"for it is better to lose one man every day than a hundred every night. And Who
will go and make this agreement with him?" "Fergus must go," they all said. "I
will not go," said Fergus. "Why so?" said Ailell. "I will not go," he said,
"unless you bind yourselves on your oath to keep to your agreement with him."
"We will do that," they said; and so Fergus bound them on their oath, and his
horses were yoked to his chariot.
Then a young lad, Etarcomal by name, of the people of Maeve and of Ailell,
made ready his own chariot. "What side are you going, Etarcomal?" said Fergus.
"I am going with you," he said, "the way I will get a sight of Cuchulain."
"If you take my advice, you will not make that journey," said Fergus. "Why
so?" "Because if your pride and his pride meet together, some misfortune will surely
happen." "I give my word not to anger him in any way," said Etarcomal.
They went on then to where Cuchulain was, between Ochain and the sea, and
himself and Laeg were playing a game with their casting spears. "There is an
armed man coming to us," said Laeg. "What sort of man is he?" said Cuchulain.
"He is large and proud, and he standing in a high chariot, and the waving yellow
hair about his head gives him the appearance of the top of a tall tree that
stands on a green lawn," said Laeg. "He has a crimson cloak about him with a
deep border of gold thread, and an inlaid gold brooch in the cloak; a broad
green spear in his hand; a shield with a boss of red gold over him; a long sword
in a toothed sheath across his knees." "It is Fergus that is in it," said
Cuchulain. Then Fergus came where he was and got out of his chariot, and
Cuchulain gave him a great welcome. "Do you welcome me indeed?" said Fergus. "I
do surely," said Cuchulain; "but if it is to look for a feast from me you are
come, when a flock of birds passes over the plain a wild goose will fall to your
share, and when fish rise in the invers a salmon will fall to your share; a
handful of seaweed and a handful of watercress." "We know well your hospitality
is straitened in this war," said Fergus. "But I am come for the men of Ireland,
to agree to your conditions. And from this out they will send one of their best
men to fight with you alone every day." "I agree to keep to my part of the
bargain," said Cuchulain, "and let us not stop talking here any more," he said,
"or the men of Ireland will be thinking you are doing some treachery on them."
So Fergus went back to the camp, but Etarcomal stopped for a while looking at
Cuchulain. "What are you looking at?" said Cuchulain. "I am looking at
yourself," he said. "Then take your eyes off me, and go after Fergus; and maybe
you think yourself a better fighting man than the one you are looking at," said
Cuchulain. "You look to me as good a fighter as I ever saw for one of your age,"
said Etarcomal, "but you would not be thought much of among trained fighters and
grown men." "It is well for you," said Cuchulain, "it is under Fergus's
protection you came, or I swear, by the gods my people swear by, you would not
go back safe and sound to the camp." "You have no right to say that," said
Etarcomal; "and what you want of the men of Ireland, I will give it to you," he
said, "for you ask for one champion at a time to fight with, and I myself will
be the first to come to you to-morrow." "Come, then," said Cuchulain, "and
however early you may come in the morning, you will find me here before you."
So Etarcomal set out, and he began to tell his chariot-driver all he had
said, and how he had promised to go out and fight with Cuchulain on the morrow.
"Did you make that promise?" said the driver. "I did," said Etarcornal,
"and I have given my word I will go; and I do not know," he said, "would it
be better for me to wait till to-morrow, or to go back and fight with him to-day."
"You will not get the better of him to-morrow," said his driver, "and it
would be just as well for you to be beaten to-night." "Turn the chariot and let
us go back," said Etarcomal, "for I swear by the oath of my people, I will not
go back to the camp without bringing Cuchulain's head in my hand." So they turned back
again towards the sea.
Then Laeg said: "That chariot that was here a while ago has turned back again
to us, Cuchulain." "It is Etarcomal coming back to challenge me, and it is not I
that will fall in this fight," said Cuchulain. "But bring me my arms," he said,
"for it would not be right for me not to be ready to meet him." So he went to
meet him, and took his sword out of the sheath, and said: "What are you come
back for?" "I am come to fight with you." "I am loth to fight with you,"
said Cuchulain, "for it was under the protection of Fergus you came here."
And with that he gave a blow of his sword that cut the sod clean away from
under the soles of Etarcomal's feet, so that he fell on his back. "Go back now,"
he said, "for you have had a warning." "I will not go back until I have fought
with you." Then Cuchulain gave another stroke with the edge of his sword that
cut the hair close off his head, but drew no blood. "You may go back now, at
least," he said. "I will not go," said Etarcomal, "until I have made an end of
you, or you have made an end of me." "Well," said Cuchulain, "if you are set
upon that, it is I must make an end of you." With that he made a cross blow at
him that cut him through and through, so that he fell dead.
Fergus, now, had seen nothing of all this, for it was his custom, when he was
travelling, never to look back, but always to be looking before him; and
presently, Etarcomal's chariot-driver came up with him, and he said: "Where have
you left your master?" "Cuchulain is after attacking and making an end of him on
the plain," said the man. "It was not right of him to do that," said Fergus, "to
any one that came under my protection. Turn my chariot about now," he said,
"until I go back and talk with him." And when he came to where Cuchulain was, he
said: "It was not right of you, my own foster-son; to kill one that came under
my protection." "Ask his chariot-driver," said Cuchulain, "on which of us the
blame should be laid." Then the chariot-driver told the whole story, and when
Fergus heard it, he said: "There is no blame on you, Cuchulain." Then he bound
the body of Etarcomal to his chariot, so that it was dragged after it along the
road and through the camp to the door of Ailell and Maeve. "There is the young
man you sent out," he said, "and this is the treatment Cuchulain will give to
every other man that goes out against him." And Maeve came out of the door and
spoke high, angry, loud words: "I had put great hopes in that young man," she
said, "and I did not think it was under bad protection he was going, when he
went under the protection of Fergus." And. Fergus said: "What business had he
going out at all, to meddle with Cuchulain? And if I went there myself," he
said, "it is well pleased I was to get back again safely."
The next day, the men of Ireland consulted together as to who should go
against Cuchulain, and they agreed that it was best to send Natchrantal, that
was a great fighting man.
So he set out, but he would bring no arms with him but three times nine holly
rods, and they having hardened points.
Cuchulain was at that time following after a flock of wild birds, to bring
some of them down for the evening's food, and he took no notice of Natchrantal,
but went on following after the birds. But Natchrantal thought it was afraid of
him he was, and he went back to the door of Maeve's tent and gave a loud shout,
and he said: "That great Cuchulain there is so much talk about, is running away
now after the challenge I gave him." "I would hardly believe that," said Maeve,
"for he has stood against many good fighting men before now, and why would he
not stand against you?" Fergus heard what was said, and it vexed him, any man to
say Cuchulain had run before him; and he sent Fiacha, son of Firaba, to reproach
him, for letting such a thing be said, and Cuchulain bade him welcome. "I am
come from Fergus," said Fiacha, "and it is what he says, that it would have been
more fitting for you to spill the blood of the man that was sent against you,
than to run from him." "Who did I run from?" said Cuchulain. "Tell me
who makes that boast." "It is Natchrantal," said Fiacha. "What would
Fergus have me do?" said Cuchulain; "would he have me kill an unarmed man? For he
brought nothing with him but wooden rods, and it is not my custom to wound chariot-drivers or
messengers or unarmed men. But let him come out armed to meet me," he said, "on
the morning of tomorrow." So Fiacha went back to the camp, and the day seemed
long to Natchrantal till he could meet Cuchulain. But when he went out in the
morning and came to the plain he said to Cormac Conloingeas: "Where is Cuchulain?"
"He is there before you," said he. "That is not the appearance that
was on him yesterday," said Natchrantal; for Cuchulain's anger had come on him
so that the appearance he bad was changed, and he was leaning against a
pillar-stone, and in the strength of his anger, as he was throwing his cloak
about him, he broke off the pillar-stone, and he never noticed that it was
wrapped between the cloak and himself; and Natchrantal threw his sword at him,
and it broke to pieces against the pillar-stone, and then Cuchulain gave him a
blow over the top of his shield that struck off his head.
While this fight was going on, Maeve, having a third part of the army with
her, set out Northward to Dun-Sobairce, to look for the Brown Bull. And
Cuchulain followed after her for a while; but then he turned back to defend his
own country. And he saw before him Buac, son of Bainblai, that was the man Maeve
trusted better than any other, and twenty-four men along with him, and they
driving the Brown Bull before them and fifteen of his heifers, that they had
brought out of Glen-na-masc in Slieve Cuilinn. "Where are you bringing these
cattle from?" said Cuchulain. "Out of that mountain beyond." "What is your
name?" he said. "If I tell it, it is not either through love of you or through
fear of you," he said. "I am Buac, son of Bainblai, from Ailell's countly and
Maeve's." "Take this from me, then," said Cuchulain, and with that he threw his
spear at him so that it went through his body, and he fell dead. But while he
was doing this, the rest of the men drove away the Bull with great haste to the
camp of the men of Ireland; and this was the greatest affront that was put on
Cuchulain through the whole of the war for the Brown Bull of Cuailgne.
Then the men of Ireland began saying to one another that Cuchulain would not
have the mastery over them but for the bronze spear he had, and that there must
be enchantment on it, for none of them could stand against it. And they said to
Maeve that she should send Rae, the satirist, to ask it of him, for he could not
refuse a satirist; so Rae went and asked it of him. "Give me your spear," be
said. "I will not give you that indeed," said Cuchulain, "but I will give you
other things." "I will not take any other thing," said Rae, "and I will
put a bad name on you, if you refuse me the spear." Take it, then," said Cuchulain,
and with that he threw it with all his force at his head. "That is a weighty
present," said the satirist, and he dropped dead.
Then Cur, son of Daltach, was sent out, for the men of Ireland thought he
would be able to rid them of Cuchulain. But it was hard to persuade Cur, because
he thought it was not worth his while to go and fight with a young beardless
boy. And when he went out in the morning, Cuchulain was practising all his feats
that he had learned, and Cur was for a while trying to get near enough to come
at him with his weapons, but he could not; and Cuchulain was so taken up with
doing his feats that he never noticed him at all. Then Laeg saw him and
said: "Have a care, Cuchulain; there is an armed man making ready to attack
you." Cuchulain was doing his apple feat at that time, keeping nine apples, and
his shield, and his sword in the air, that none of them fell to the ground. And
when he saw Cur, he threw the apple that was in his hand straight at his
forehead, and it went through, and brought out a share of his brains the size of
itself, at the other side.
And after that, other fighting men were sent out every day through a week,
and he killed them all. And one day he said: "Go, Laeg, to the camp, to my
friends, Lugaid and Ferbaeth and Ferdiad, and say you are come from me, and ask
them which of the men of Ireland is to be sent against me tomorrow." So Laeg
went, and when he came back he said: "It is your own comrade and fellow-pupil
with Scathach, Ferbaeth, your blood-friend, is coming against you; for he has
only lately joined the army, and he has brought four-fifths of his men with him,
and Maeve has promised him her daughter Findabair, and he has drunk from her
cup, and been fed by her hand. And it is not to every one Maeve gives the ale
that she gave out for Ferbaeth." "I am sorry to hear that," said Cuchulain,
"for I think worse of a comrade of my own coming against me, than of any other man."
And when Ferbaeth came out to fight against him in the morning, Cuchulain did
his best to make him give up the fight, for the sake of their old friendship,
but Ferbaeth would not listen. Cuchulain turned from him then in anger, and he
struck the sole of his own foot with a spear, that it drew blood, and then he
threw his spear at Ferbaeth, but he did not look to see did it hit him or not.
But the spear went through his head and out of his mouth, and this is the way
Ferbaeth came to his death.
Then Ailell made up a plan by which he thought to make Cuchulain give up the
stand he was making against the army, and his plan was to offer Findabair to him
if he would give his word to leave off attacking the men of Ireland, and he sent
Lugaid to make the offer to him. Cuchulain was not very well pleased with the
message, and he thought there might be some treachery in it, but he agreed that
he would meet Ailell and Findabair, and speak with them. But when the time came,
Ailell made his fool put on his clothes, and wear his gold circle on his head,
and go with Findabair; and he bade him stop as far back as he could, the way
Cuchulain would not know it was not the king that was in it; and then Findabair
was to bind him over to their side, not to fight any more against the men of
Ireland, and when that was done, she herself and the fool were to hurry back to
the camp together. But when Cuchulain saw them, he knew the fool, and he sent a
stone out of his sling and killed him. And because Findabair had taken a share
in the treachery, he cut off her two plaits of hair and took them away. And
after a while Ailell and Maeve came to see what had happened them, and there
they found Findabair beside the dead body of the fool. And they brought her home
and said nothing of it, but all the same the story was talked of in the camp.
Then Cuchulain sent Laeg into the camp again to ask news of Lugaid. And it is
what Lugaid told him that the next to be sent against him was his own brother
Larine, that Maeve had persuaded with wine, and with the promise of Findabair,
to go against him. "And it is what they think," said Lugaid, "that if Cuchulain
should kill my brother, I myself would have to go and get satisfaction for his
death; and tell Cuchulain," he said, "not to make an end of Larine, but only to
give him some punishment he will not forget." So when Larine came out, at the
breaking of the day, Cuchulain struck the weapons out of his hands as one might
strike toys out of the hands of a child, and he took him in his two hands and
shook him, and left him there with the life still in him. But he was never the
better of the shaking he got to the end of his life.
As Cuchulain lay in his sleep one night a great cry from the North came to
him, so that he started up and fell from his bed to the ground like a sack. He
went out of his tent, and there he saw Laeg yoking the horses to the chariot.
"Why are you doing that?" he said. "Because of a great cry I heard from the
plain to the northwest," said Laeg. "Let us go there then," said Cuchulain. So
they went on till they met with a chariot, and a red horse yoked to it, and a
woman sitting in it, with red eyebrows, and a red dress on her, and a long red
cloak that fell on to the ground between the two wheels of the chariot, and on
her back she had a grey spear. "What is your name, and what is it you are
wanting?" said Cuchulain. "I am the daughter of King Buan," she said,
"and what I am come for is to find you and to offer you my love, for I have heard of all
the great deeds you have done." "It is a bad time you have chosen for coming,"
said Cuchulain, "for I am wasted and worn out with the hardship of the war, and
I have no mind to be speaking with women." "You will have my help in everything
you do," she said, "and it is protecting you I was up to this, and I will
protect you from this out." "It is not trusting to a woman's protection I am in
this work I have in my hands," said Cuchulain. "Then if you will not take my
help," she said, "I will turn it against you; and at the time when you will be
fighting with some man as good as yourself, I will come against you in all
shapes, by water and by land, till you are beaten." There was anger on Cuchulain
then, and he took his sword, and made a leap at the chariot. But on the moment,
the chariot and the horse and the woman had disappeared, and all he saw was a
black crow, and it sitting on a branch; and by that he knew it was the Morrigu
had been talking with him.
After that, Loch, son of Mofebis, was sent for to Maeve, and she asked him
would he go out to the next day's fight. "I will not go," he said, "for it
would not be fitting for me to go out against a young boy, whose beard is not grown;
but I have one to meet him," he said, "and that is my brother Long, son of
Emonis, and you can make an agreement with him." So then Long was sent for, and
Maeve promised him a great reward, suits of armour for twelve men, and a
chariot, and Findabair for a wife, and the right of coming to every feast at
Cruachan. Then Long went out to the fight, but Cuchulain killed him.
Then Maeve said to her women: "Go now to Cuchulain, and tell him to put some
likeness of a beard on himself, and say to him there is no good warrior in the
camp thinks it fitting to go out and fight him, he being young and beardless."
When Cuchulain heard what Maeve had said, he smeared his face, the way he
would have the appearance of a beard, and then he came out on the hill and
showed himself to the men of Ireland. When Loch, son of Mofebis, saw him, he
said: "Is that a beard on Cuchulain?" "That is certainly what I see," said
Maeve. "Then I will go out and meet him," said Loch. So they met beside the
ford, where Long had got his death. "Come to the ford that is higher up," said
Loch, for he would not fight at the ford where his brother died. So they fought
at the upper ford, and while they were fighting, the Morrigu came against
Cuchulain with the appearance of a white, red-eared heifer, and fifty other
heifers along with her, and a chain of white bronze between every two of them,
and they made a rush into the ford. But Cuchulain made a cast at her, and
wounded one of her eyes. Then she came down the stream in the shape of a black
eel, and wound herself about Cuchulain's legs in the water; and while he was
getting himself free of her, and bruising her against a green stone of the ford,
Loch wounded his body. Then she took the appearance of a grey wolf, and took
hold of his right arm, and while he was getting free of her, Loch wounded him
again. Then great anger came on him, and he took the spear Aoife had given him,
the Gae Bulg, and gave him a deadly wound. "I ask one thing for the sake of your
great name, Cuchulain," he called out. "What thing is that?" "It is not
to spare my life I am asking you," said Loch, "but let me rise up, the way I may
fall on my face, and not backwards towards the men of Ireland, so that none of them can
say it was in running away or in going backward I fell." "I will surely give
that leave," said Cuchulain, "for the thing you ask is a right gift for a
fighting man." And after that he went back to his own camping-place.
Now, on that day above any other, a very downhearted feeling came on
Cuchulain, he to be fighting alone against the four provinces of Ireland. And he
bade Laeg to go to Conchubar and to the men of Ulster, and to say to them that
he, the son of Dechtire, was tired with fighting every day, and with the wounds
he had got, and not one of his people or his friends coming to help him.
After that Maeve sent out six all together against him, three men and three
women that understood enchantments; but he destroyed than all. And now that
Maeve had broken her agreement with him, not to send more than one against him
at a time, he did not spare her men any longer, but from where he was he used
his sling so well that in the whole army there was neither dog, horse, or man,
that dared turn his face towards Cuchulain.
It was one day at that time the Morrigu came to try and get healing of her
wounds from him, for it was only by his own hand the wounds he gave could be
healed. She took the appearance of an old woman on her, and she milking a cow
with three teats. Cuchulain was passing by, and there was thirst on him, and he
asked a drink, and she gave him the milk of one teat. "May this be to the good
of the giver," he said, and with that her eye that was wounded was healed. Then
she gave him milk from another teat, and he said the same words; then she gave
him the milk from the third teat. "The full blessing of the gods, and of the
people of the plough, on you," he said. And with that, all the wounds of the
Great Queen were healed.
Then the men of the four great provinces of Ireland made their camp, and put
up walls at the place called the Great Breach, on the plain of Muirthemne; but
they sent the cattle they had with them southward. And Cuchulain took his place
on a mound; and in the evening Laeg made a fire for him there, and the flame
flashed on the bright shining weapons of the man of Ireland. And when Cuchulain
saw so many of them, and they so near him, great anger came on him, and he took
his spears and his shield and his sword and shook them, and he gave out his loud
hero cry, and it was such a treat cry he gave that the Bocanachs and Bananachs
and the Witches of the valley answered it from all parts.
And when the men in the camp heard these great cries, they thought it was an
attack that was being made upon them, and they ran against one another, and
fought one another in their fright, so that a hundred of them were killed in
Then Laeg saw a man coming through the camp from the northeast. "There is a
man coming towards us, little Hound," he said. "What is the appearance on him?"
said Cuchulain. "He is very tall and handsome and shining, and he has a green
cloak about him, fastened with a silver brooch; a shirt of silk that is
embroidered with red gold, falling to his knees; a black shield in his hand,
with a border of white bronze, and a spear with five prongs. And it is a strange
thing," he said, "that no one in the whole camp seems to see him or to take any
heed of him." "That is so," said Cuchulain; "and the men of Ireland take
no heed of him because they cannot see him; and I know well it is one of my friends
among the Sidhe that is coming to give me help and relief; for they know it is
hard for me to be standing alone against the four provinces of Ireland."
Then the man of the Sidhe, that was Lugh of the Long Hand, came and spoke
with Cuchulain, and it is what he said, that he knew he was tired out and in
want of sleep. "And sleep now, Cuchulain," he said, "by the grave in the Lerga,
and I myself will keep watch over you till the end of three days and three
nights." So Cuchulain fell asleep there and then by the grave that is in the
Lerga, and no wonder in that, for he had been fighting since before the feast of
Samhain without sleep, but all the while killing and attacking and destroying
the men of Ireland--unless he might sleep a little while beside his spear in the
middle of the day, his head on his hand, and his hand on his spear, and his
spear on his knee. And while he was lying in his heavy sleep, the man of the
Sidhe put Druid herbs on his wounds, so that they were all healed. So he slept
for three days and three nights, and at the end of that time he rose up and
passed his hand over his face, and he blushed red from head to foot with the
strengthening of his courage that he felt in him, and he would have been ready
to go there and then into any great gathering or feasting hall in all Ireland.
"How long have I been in my sleep?" he asked the man. "Three days and three
nights." "Then you have done me a bad turn indeed," he said, "for the men of
Ireland have been left in quiet all that time." "They were not indeed," said the
man. "Who was it stood up to them then?" said Cuchulain. "It was the boy troop
came from the North, from Emain Macha," he said; "three times fifty sons of the
chief men of Ulster, and they attacked the army three times, and they killed
three times their own number, but they themselves were all killed in the end.
And Follaman, son of Conchubar, was leading them, and he had made a boast that
he would never go home again unless he could bring Ailell's head along with him,
and the gold crown that was on it. But two foster-sons of AileIl, the two sons
of Betchach, son of Baen, fell on him and wounded him, so that he got his death"
"My grief, and oh! my grief that I was not there," said Cuchulain, "for if I had
been in it, the boy troop would never have been destroyed, and Conchubar's son
would not have come to his death." "Do not be fretting, little Hound," said the
strange man, "there is no reproach on your name by it." "Stop here with me
to-night," said Cuchulain, "and the two of us together will avenge the boy
troop." "I will not indeed," said he; "but let you yourself play the game out
now with the men of Ireland, for it is not they that have power over your life
at this time."
With that he went away, and Cuchulain said to Laeg, "Yoke the scythed chariot
for me now, if you have the things belonging to it." Then Laeg rose up and got
ready the chariot, and he put on his light dress of deerskins, that was spotted
and striped and closefitting, so that his arms were left free. And over that he
put his raven-black cloak, and his shining helmet on his head; and on his
forehead he put the narrow band of gold that chariot-drivers were used to wear.
And then he threw over the horses the cloths that covered them all over, and
that were studded with little blades, and spikes, and points, so that every time
the chariot moved, it brought some sharp point against those that were near it,
the way every point and every head of the chariot would cut its sure path; and
he gathered the reins in his hand, and the goad, and the long whip.
And then Cuchulain put on his armour, and took his spears, and his sword, and
his shield that had a rim so sharp it would cut a hair against the stream, and
his cloak that was made of the precious fleeces of the land of the Sidhe, that
had been brought to him by Manannan from the King of Sorcha. He went out then
against the men of Ireland, and attacked them, and his anger came on him, so
that it was not his own appearance he had on him, but the appearance of a god.
And after that he turned back and left them, and there was no wound on himself,
or on the horses, or on Laeg that day. And he made a round of the whole army,
mowing men down on every side, in revenge for the boy troop of Emain.
But the next day he was standing on the hill, young, and comely, and shining,
and the cloud of his anger had gone from him. Then the women and the young girls
in the camp, and the poets and the singers, came out to look at him; but Maeve
hid her face behind a shelter of shields, thinking he might make a cast at her
with his Sling. And there was wonder on these women to see him so quiet and so
gentle to-day, and he such a terror to the whole army yesterday; and they bade
the men lift them up on their shields to the height of their shoulders, the way
they could have a good sight of him.
But Dubthach, the Beetle of Ulster, saw his own wife climbing up with the
other women to look at Cuchulain, and great anger and jealousy came on him; and
he said to the chief men of the army that it would be best for them to surround
Cuchulain secretly on all sides, and then to let on to be fighting among
themselves, so as to lead him down where he could not escape them. But when
Fergus was told this, he gave a great kick of his foot to Dubthach, that sent
him from where he was. And he spoke angry words against Dubthach, and he told
him he would be well paid for the harm he had planned, whenever the men of
Ulster would get up from their weakness, and come out to help Cuchulain.
And that night the army of Ireland made their camp at the great stone in the
country of Ross; and then Maeve asked which of them would go out and fight with
Cuchulain on the morrow. But every one of the men of Ireland said: "It is not I
that will go." "It is not one of my family that should be sent to his death."
Then Maeve asked Fergus to go out and fight him. "It is not right for you," said
Fergus, "to ask me to go against a young boy, and he my own pupil and my
foster-son." But Maeve pressed him so hard that he could not but take the work
in hand; and early in the morning he went out to the ford of fighting where
Cuchulain was. When Cuchulain saw him coming he said: "Truly, my master, it is
not safe for you to come and fight, and you without a sword," for Ailell had not
given him back his own sword yet. "It is no matter," he said, "for if I had a
sword in my sheath, it is not on you I would use it. And now, Cuchulain," he
said, "for the sake of all I did for you, and all Conchubar and the whole of
Ulster did for you in your bringing-up, let you give way before me to-day, in
the sight of the men of Ireland." "Indeed I am loth to give way before any man
in this war," said Cuchulain. "You need not mind that," said
Fergus, "for I will do the same for you when the great last battle of this war
is fought; it is then I will turn and run before you, when you are covered with
wounds and with blood. And if I run then," he said, "all the men of Ireland will
run along with me." So Cuchulain agreed to do that, because it would be for the
profit of Ulster. And he bade Laeg make ready his chariot; and presently, as if
he had been beaten by Fergus, he gave way to him in the sight of the men of
Ireland. When they saw it, they called out: "He is running before you, Fergus."
And Maeve called out: "Follow him, Fergus--make haste, the way he will not
escape you." "I will not indeed," said Fergus, "I will follow him no farther;
and if you think I did not make him run far enough," he said, "I did more than
all the rest of the men that went against him up to this; and I will make no
other attack on him," he said, "until all the men of Ireland have fought with
him, one by one."
So that was the end of the fight between Fergus and Cuchulain.
There was a man of Connaught at that time whose name was Ferchu, and he had
been at war with Ailell and Maeve from the time they got the kingdom, and he
used to be robbing the country and destroying it, so that he was made an outlaw.
And some of his men heard that the whole army of Connaught was being vexed and
hindered by one man; and when they told it to Ferchu, he said: "It would be a
good chance for us to go and attack that man, and to bring his head with us to
Ailell and Maeve, for if we do that," he said, "they will forgive us all the
harm we have done their country."
So he himself and his twelve men went forward to where Cuchulain was, and
they attacked him all together. But Cuchulain was not long in making an end of
them, and he struck off their heads, and put them on twelve stones; and he put
Ferchu's head on a stone by itself.
Then the men of Ireland consulted together again who they would send out to
fight on the next day; and it is what they all said, that it was Calatin and his
twenty-seven sons and his sister's son, Glas, son of Delga, should go out. Now
it is the way they were, every man of them had poison in himself and in his
weapons; and there was not one of them ever made a cast of a spear or a stone
that missed, and there was no one that would be wounded by them but be would
die, either on the spot or within nine days. So great rewards were promised
them, if they would go out against Cuchulain. And Fergus was there at the time
the business was knotted. "And surely," every one said, "they are only one man,
for they are all members of Calatin's body." After that, Fergus went into his
tent, to his people, and he gave a deep groan of trouble, and he said: "My grief
for the thing that is to be done to-morrow." "What thing is that?" said they
all. "Cuchulain to be killed," he said. Who would kill him?" said they. "Calatin
and his sons," he said, and if there is any one of you would go and watch the
fight and bring me word what happens, I would give him a good reward, and my
blessing." "I will go," said Fiacha, son of Firaba.
So in the morning Calatin, with his sons and his sister's son, rose up and
went to where Cuchulain was, and Fiacha, son of Firaba, went along with them.
And as soon as they came near him, they threw their twenty-nine spears at him
all together, in one cast, and not one of them drew blood, for he caught them
all on his shield. Then Cuchulain drew his sword from the sheath to hack off the
spears and to lighten his shield; but while he was doing that, they all ran at
him as one man and put their twenty-nine right hands on his head, and forced his
face down to the gravel and the sand of the ford. And he gave out his great hero
cry, and the cry of a man in unequal fight, and there was not a man in the camp,
and he not dead or asleep, but heard it.
Then Fiacha, son of Firaba, came up, and when he saw what had happened, the
love of his own countryman came over him, and he pulled out his sword and hit
the nine-and-twenty hands off Calatin and his sons, with one blow. Cuchulain
raised up his head then, and gave a deep sigh of relief, and he saw who it was
had come to his help. "That was done quiet and easy, my good comrade," he said.
"You may think it is quiet and easy I was," said Fiacha, "but if what I did is
heard of in the camp, the reward that will fall on me will not be quiet and
easy. For if the men of the children of Rudraige should hear of the stroke I
made for you, it is with sword and spear my reward will be paid." "I give you my
word," said Cuchulain, "that now I have lifted my head and got my breath again,
unless you tell tales on yourself, none of these men will tell tales on you."
With that he made an attack on Calatin and his sons, and he began to hack and
to cut at them till there was nothing left of them but limbs and little pieces
eastward and westward over the whole face of the ford. Only one man of them,
Glas, son of Delga, got away and ran, but Cuchulain rushed after him and gave
him a great blow. But he got as far as Ailell and Maeve's tent, and all he could
say was, "Fiacha! Fiacha! "before he fell dead.
Fergus and Maeve said: "What debts are those he called out about?"--for
Fiacha is the word for a debt in Irish. "I do not know indeed," said Fergus,
"unless it might be that some one in the camp owed him a debt, and that it was
on his mind." "That must have been so," said Ailell. "By my word,"
said Fergus, "however it was, all his debts are paid now."
And at the ford where Calatin and his sons got their death, there is a stone
with the marks of their sword-hilts, and the butt-ends of their spears on it to
Then it was settled by the men of Ireland that it was Ferdiad, son of Daire,
the great champion of the men of Domnand, should go out and meet Cuchulain the
next day. For they had the same way of fighting, and it was with the same
teachers they had learned the knowledge of arms, with Scathach and with Uathach
and with Aoife; and neither of them had an advantage over the other, except that
Cuchulain had the feat of the Gae BuIg. But Ferdiad had good armour to protect
him against any man he would fight with.
So they sent messengers to bring Ferdiad, but he refused and would not come,
for he knew it was what they wanted of him, to fight against his friend, his
companion and his fellow pupil, Cuchulain.
Then Maeve sent the Druids and the satirists to him, that they might make
three hurtful satires and three hill-top satires on him, if he would not come
with them, that would raise three blisters on his face, Shame and Blemish and
Reproach, so that if he did not die on the moment, he would be dead before the
end of nine days.
Then Ferdiad came with them for the sake of his good name, for he thought it
better to fall by spears than by satires. And when he came he was received with
honour and attendance, and he was served with pleasant drinks, so that he grew
merry, and his mind was confused. And great rewards were offered him if he would
go out against Cuchulain; clothes of all colours for his men, and speckled
satins, and silver and gold, and the equal of his own lands of the level plains
of Magh Ai, without rent or disturbance, secure to his son and to his grandson
and to their children to the end of life and time.
And it is what Maeve said: "It is a great reward I am giving you, Ferdiad,
and why would you not accept it?" And Ferdiad was making excuses. "I will not
take your reward without good pledges," he said, "for it is a heavy fight is
before me; he that has the name of Cuchulain is surely a good Hound." "I will
give you a champion's pledge," said Maeve; "you will not be bound to come to our
gatherings, you will get horses and bridles; I will call you my friend above all
other men." "I will not go to this fight," said Ferdiad, "without some other
securities, for this is a fight will be heard of till the end of life and time."
"Take all you want," said Maeve. "There is no delay except with yourself. Bind
us till you are satisfied by the right hand of kings and of princes; there is
nothing I will refuse you." "I must have six securities and no less," said
Ferdiad, "before I will go out and be destroyed by Cuchulain, and all the whole
army looking on." "I will give you whatever securities you want," said Maeve,
"however hard it may be to come at them; Domnall in his chariot; Niaman of the
Slaughter, both of them protectors of bards; bind Morann if you want sure
payment; bind Carpre Min of Manand, he that has a string of knowledge in his
harp; bind our own two sons." "O Maeve, it is a bitter woman you are," said
Ferdiad. "And it is not a gentle wife to a husband you are, but it is a fit
queen you are for Cruachan of the Swords, with your high talk and your fierce
strength. But in spite of all the words you are stirring me up with," he said,
"if you would offer me the land and the sea, I would not take them, without the
sun and the moon along with them." "You need not wait longer than to-day and
to-morrow," said Maeve, "before you will get your fill of all sorts of the
jewels of the earth. And here is my brooch with its hooked pin," she said; "and
more than all that, Ferdiad, so soon as you have killed this Hound of feats, I
will give you Findabair of the champions, queen of the west of Elga." Then every
one was saying what great rewards those were. "But however great they are," said
Ferdiad, "it is with Maeve herself they will stay and not with myself; and I
will not take them to go into battle with my fellow and my dear friend, that is
Cuchulain." And it is what he said:
"A pity indeed a woman to have come between myself and himself! The half of
my heart is Cuchulain's without fault, and I am the half of his own heart.
"By my shield! If Cuchulain were killed from Ath Cliath, it is I would thrust
my sword through my heart, through my side, through my breast.
"By my sword! If Cuchulain were killed from Glen Bolg, I would kill no man
after him till I had leaped over the edge of the well.
"By my hand! If the Hound were killed from Glen an Scail, I would make an end
of Maeve and her army and of no one else of the men of Ireland.
"By my spear! If it were from Ath Cro the Hound was killed, it is I would be
buried in his grave; the one grave would be for the two of us.
"Say to him, the Hound without blemish, that Scathach without fear made a
prophecy I would be put down by him at a ford.
"Misfortune on Maeve, misfortune on Maeve, that put her face between us!
Sending us one against the other, myself and strong Cuchulain."
Then Maeve said to her people, the way she would stir him up: "It is a true
word Cuchulain spoke." "What word was that?" said Ferdiad. "He said it would be
no great wonder if you would fall by him in the first trial of arms in this
country." "He had no right to say that," said Ferdiad; "for it is not fear or
want of skill he learned of me up to this time. And I swear by my arms if it is
true he said this thing, that I will be the first to fight with him to-morrow
before the men of Ireland." "May good be with you for saying that," said Maeve;
"and this is better to me than to see you show fear or weakness, for every man
cares for his own country, and why has he a right to do more for the profit of
Ulster than you would do for the profit of Connaught?"
Ferdiad gave in to her then, and he bound her on the sureties of the
aforesaid six for the fulfillment of her promises of the reward; and she bound
him to fight with Cuchulain on the morrow.
Then Fergus got his horses harnessed and his chariot yoked, and he went out
to where Cuchulain was, to tell him of all that had happened. "My welcome before
you, my master Fergus," said Cuchulain. "I am glad of that welcome, my pupil,"
said Fergus. "But what I am come for is to tell you who it is that is coming to
fight at the early hour of the morning of to-morrow." "I will listen to that,"
said Cuchulain. "Your own friend and companion, and fellow-pupil, the man that
learned the use of arms with you, Ferdiad, son of Daire, the hero of the men of
Domnand." "I give my word," said Cuchulain, "it is not my wish, my friend to
come out against me." "And now," said Fergus, "you must be careful and ready
more than any other time, for there was not the like of Ferdiad among any of the
men who have fought you up to this." "I am here," said Cuchulain, "hindering and
delaying the four great provinces of Ireland, from the beginning of the winter
to the beginning of spring, and I have not drawn back one foot before any man in
that time, and I think it likely I will not draw back before him." "Neither has
Ferdiad any fear on him before you, now his anger is stirred up," said Fergus,
"and besides that, be has good armour to protect him." "Be quiet now, Fergus,
and do not let me hear any more of that story," said Cuchulain. "I was always
well able to stand against him in any place, or on any ground." "It is not easy
to get the better of him," said Fergus, "for he is fierce in fighting, and he
has the strength of a hundred." "There will be a sharp fight when myself and
Ferdiad come to the ford," said Cuchulain; "it will not be without being told in
stories." "O Cuchulain of the red sword," said Fergus, "it would be better
to me than a great reward, you to carry proud Ferdiad's purple cloak eastward." "I
give my word and my oath," said Cuchulain, "it is I myself will get the victory
over Ferdliad." Then Fergus Went back to the encampment.
At the same time Ferdiad went to his tent and to his people, and told them
how he was bound by Maeve to fight with Cuchulain on the morrow, and he told how
he had bound Maeve by six sureties for the fulfilment of her promises, if
Cuchulain should fall by him.
It is not happy in their minds the people of Ferdiad's tent were that night,
but gloomy and heavy-hearted; for they were sure that wherever Cuchulain and
Ferdiad would meet, it was there one of them would get his death, and they were
sure that one would be their own master; for no one at all had been able to
stand against Cuchulain since the beginning of the war.
Ferdiad slept through the early part of the night very heavily, and when the
latter end of the night came, his sleep went from him, and his drunkenness had
passed away, and the thought of the fight was pressing on him. And he bade his
driver to harness the horses, and to yoke his chariot. But the driver tried to
turn him from it. "It would be better for you to stop here than to go," he said,
"for my liking of it is not more than my disliking."
"Be silent, boy," said Ferdiad, "for I will not be turned from
this journey by any young lad; but I will go to the ford, a ford the ravens will be croaking
over; I will fight with Cuchulain till I wound his strong body, till I crush the
courage out of him the way that he will die."
"It would be better for you to stop here," said the driver, "for
it is not gentle your threats are; your parting will be sorrowful; there is one to whom it
will be a sickness; grief will come of that meeting with Cuchulain; it is long
it will be remembered; it is a pity for him who goes that journey." "It is not
right what you are saying," said Ferdiad; "it is not for a brave man to
refuse--it is not in our race. I will delay no longer, courage is better than
fear; let us set out now to the ford."
Then Ferdiad's horses were harnessed, and his chariot was yoked, and he went
forward to the ford, and the day with its full light came upon him there. "Now,
boy," he said, "spread out the skins and the cushions of my chariot under me
here, until I get some sleep and rest, for I got no sleep at the end of the
night, with the care of the fight upon me."
So his servant unharnessed the horses, and settled the skins and cushions of
the chariot under him, and the heavy rest of sleep came upon him.
But as to Cuchulain, he did not rise up at all till the day had come with its
full light, the way the men of Ireland would not say it was fear that was on him
that made him rise. And when the day came: "It would be as well, Laeg," he said,
"to yoke the chariot, for it is an early-rising man that is coming to meet us
"The horses are harnessed, and the chariot is yoked," said Laeg;
"let you get into it, and there will be no hindrance to your courage."
With that the ready-handed, battle-winning son of Sualtim leaped into the
chariot, and there shouted around him the Bocanachs and Bananachs, and witches
of the valley. For the Tuatha de Danaan were used to set up their shouts around
him, the way the fear and the wonder would be great before him in every fight he
would go into.
And it was not long until Ferdiad's driver heard the noise coming near, the
straining of the harness, the creaking of the chariot, the ringing of the armour
and of the shield, the trampling of the horses, the joyful coming of Cuchulain
to the ford.
The driver came and laid his hand on his master. "Good Ferdiad," he said,
"rise up; here they are coming. For I hear," he said, "the creaking of a
chariot; it has come over Breg Ross, over Braine; it has come over the highway
by the foot of Baile-in-Bile; he is a mighty Hound that urges it; he is a good
driver that yokes it; he is a free hawk that hurries his horses towards the
south. It is not he that will be slow in the fight. It is a pity for him that is
on the height waiting for the Hound of valour. It is a year ago I foretold there
would come a Hound, the Hound of Emain, a Hound with all colours about him - the
Hound of Ulster, the Hound of Battle; I hear him--I have heard him coming."
"Good servant," said Ferdiad, "why is it you have been praising
that man ever since you came out from the house? It is likely you are not without wages for
your great praise of him. Yet it has been foretold to me by Aileil and by Maeve,
it is he that will fall by me. And it is a time to help me," he said; "and let
you be silent, and give up praising him, that your foretelling may not come
true. It is not for you to give up on the brink of the fight; surely I will soon
have the reward."
And the driver said: "He is coming, not slowly, but quick as the wind, or as
water from a high cliff, or like swift thunder." "Surely you have taken wages
for these great praises you put upon him," said Ferdiad; "it is not against him
you are, but praising him, and putting a great name on him."
It was not long then until Ferdiad saw Cuchulain coming to towards him in his
chariot, and it is how his two horses were going, a hawk sweeping from a cliff
on a day of hard wind, or like a sweeping gust of the spring wind on a March day
over a smooth plain, or like the swiftness of a wild stag when he is first
started by the hounds in his first field; as if they were on fiery flagstones,
so that the earth was shaking and trembling with the quickness of their going.
So Cuchulain reached the ford, and Ferdiad came to the south side, and
Cuchulain drew up on the north side, and Ferdiad bade Cuchulain welcome. "I am
happy at your coming, Cuchulain," he said. "I would have been glad of that
welcome up to this time," said Cuchulain, "but to-day I do not take it as the
welcome of a friend. And, Ferdiad," he said, "it would be fitter for me to
welcome you than for you to welcome me, for it is you have come to me in the
country and province where I am, and it is not right for you to come to fight
with me, but it is I should go to fight with you, for it is out before you are
the women and the children, the young men and the horses, the flocks, the herds,
and the cattle of the province of Ulster."
"Good Cuchulain," said Ferdiad, "what has brought you to fight
with me at all? For when we were with Scathach and with Uathach and with Aoife, you were my
serving-boy, to tie up my spears and to make ready my bed." "That is true
indeed," said Cuchulain; "but it was as less in age than you I was used to do
so; but that is not the story that will be told of us after this day, for there
is not a man in the whole world I would not fight to-day."
And it is then each of them spoke sharp, unfriendly words against the other;
and it is what Ferdiad said: "What has brought you, O Hound, to fight with a
strong fighter? It is red your blood will be, flowing over the harness of your
horses; it is a pity for your journey; it is long it will be spoken of; you will
be in much want of healing if you ever get back to your own house," he said.
"I have fought with heroes, with chiefs of armies, with troops, with hundreds
before now," said Cuchulain, "and what I have to do to-day is to make an end of
you, to bring you down in our first path of battle."
"You have met now with a man that will put reproach on you," said Ferdiad,
"for it is I myself will do that. It is well the loss of the men of Ulster will
be remembered," he said, "their champion to be put down, and they looking on."
"What way shall we meet one another?" said Cuchulain. "Is it in our
chariots we had best fight, or is it with my sword and spear I am to overthrow you, if
the time has come?" And Ferdiad said: "Before the setting of the sun to-night,
you will be fighting as if with a mountain, and it is not white that battle will
be. The men of Ulster will be shouting for you," he said, "till you grow
overbold; but it is sorrowful they will be, when your ghost passes over them and
through them." "You are fallen into the gap of danger, Ferdiad," said Cuchulain;
"the end of your life has come, not by treachery, but by sharp weapons. You may
think much of yourself till we meet one another, but you will never fight in a
battle again, from this day to the end of time." "Leave off now from your
boastings," said Ferdiad; "it is you are the greatest boaster in the world. I
know well you are no fighter at all, you heart of a bird in a cage; you are but
a giggling fellow, without courage, without strength." But Cuchulain said: "When
we were together with Scathach, we used to be practising together, we used to go
to every battle together, because of our bravery that was equal. You were my
heart companion, you were my people, you were my family--I never found one was
dearer; it is sorrowful your death would be to me."
"Where is the use of all this talk?" said Ferdiad; "your great name
will be lost, your head will be on a stake before the crowing of the cock. Madness and
grief are taking hold of you, Cuchulain," be said, "and it is bad treatment you
will get from me, because it is on yourself the fault is."
"Good Ferdiad," Cuchulain said then, "it was not right for you to
come out against me, through the stirring up and the meddling of Ailell and of Maeve, and
none of those who came before you got victory or success, but they all fell by
me, and you will fall along with them. And, O Ferdiad, strong fighter," he said,
"do not come against me; the meeting will bring sorrow to many, and what is
worse than sorrow to you. Have you not been bought with many presents? A purple
belt, a suit of armour? But, Ferdiad," he said, "the woman for whom you are come
to this fight, Findabair, daughter of Maeve, however comely she may be, will
never be given to you; for she has been offered to many before you," he said,
"and many like you have been wounded for her sake." And he said, and Ferdiad
began to listen to him:
"Do not break your oath not to fight me; do not break friendship. Do not
break the word you gave me, do not come against me.
"The woman has been promised to fifty others; it was a heavy gift for them;
it is by me they were sent to their grave; it was by me they got the end that
was fitting for them.
"Though Ferbaeth was boastful, he who had a houseful of brave men, it is
short the time was till I quieted his rage; I killed him by the one cast.
"The striking down of Srub Daire's courage was bitter to him; it is he held
the secrets of a hundred women; he had a great name at one time; it is not
silver thread but gold thread was in his clothes.
"If it were to me the woman was promised on whom the kings of the fair
province smile, I would not bring the red blood on your body for it, south or
north, east or west.
"And, good Ferdiad," he said, "this is why it is not right for you
to come to this fight. When we were with Scathach, it is together we used to go to every
battle, to every wild place, through every darkness and every hardship. We were
heart companions; we were comrades in gatherings; we shared the one bed where we
used to steep sound sleep. We used to practise together, in many far countries;
we used to go to hard fights; we used to go through every forest together."
"O Cuchulain of the wonderful feats," said Ferdiad, "although we
learned knowledge together, and although I know the bonds friendship put upon us, it is
I that will give you your first wounds; not be remembering our companionship,
for it will not protect you. And it is too long we are delaying like this," he
said; "and what arms shall we use to-day, Cuchulain?"
"It is you have the choice of arms to-day," said Cuchulain; "for
it is you were the first to reach the ford." "Do you remember at all," said
Ferdiad, "the casting spears we used to practise with Scathach and with Uacthach and with
Aoife?" "I remember them indeed," said Cuchulain. "If you remember, let
us begin with them," said Ferdiad.
So they began with their casting weapons, and they took their protecting
shields, and their round-handled spears, and their little quill spears, and
their ivory-hiked knives, and their ivory-hafted spears, eight of each of them
they had. And these were flying from them and to them like bees on the wing on a
fine summer day; there was no cast that did not hit, and each one went on
shooting at the other with those weapons from the twilight of the early morning
to the full midday, until all their weapons were blunted against the faces and
the bosses of the shields. And as good as the throwing was, the defence was so
good that neither of them drew blood from the other through that time.
"Let us leave these weapons now, Cuchulain," said Ferdiad, "for it
is not by the like of them our fight will be settled." "Let us leave them indeed if the
time is come," said Cuchulain.
They stopped then, and threw their darts into the hands of their
chariot-drivers. "What weapons shall we use now, Cuchulain?" said Ferdiad. "The
choice of weapons is yours till night," said Cuchulain. "Let us, then," said
Ferdiad, "take to our straight spears, with the flaxen strings in them." "Let us
now indeed," said Cuchulain. And then they took two stout shields, and they took
to their spears.
Each of them went on throwing at the other with the spears from the middle of
mid-day until the fall of evening. And good as the defence was, yet the throwing
was so good that each of them wounded the other in that time.
"Let us leave this now," said Ferdiad. "Let us leave it indeed if
the time has come," said Cuchulain.
So they left off, and they threw their spears away from them into the hands
of their chariot-drivers. Each of them came to the other then, and each put his
hands round the neck of the other, and gave him three kisses. Their horses were
in the one enclosure that night, and their chariot-drivers at the one fire; and
their chariot-drivers spread beds of green rushes for them, with wounded men's
pillows on them. The men that had knowledge of healing came then, and put herbs
of healing to their wounds. And of every herb and plant that was put to
Cuchulain's wounds, he would send an equal share from him westward over the ford
to Ferdiad, the way the men of Ireland might not say if Ferdiad should fall by
him, that it was by better means of cure he was able to overcome him.
And of every kind of food and of drink that was sent by the men of Ireland to
Ferdiad, he would send a fair share over the ford northward to Cuchulain;
because the providers of Ferdiad were more than the providers of Cuchulain. All
the men of Ireland were providers to Ferdiad for beating off Cuchulain from
them, but only the Bregians were providers to Cuchulain. They used to come and
to be talking with him at the dusk of every night.
They rested there that night, and they rose up early on the morrow, and came
forward to the ford of battle.
"What weapons shall we use to-day, Ferdiad?" said Cuchulain.
"It is you have the choice of weapons until night," said Ferdiad,
"because I had my choice of them the last day." "Let us then," said
Cuchulain, "take to our great broad spears to-day; for we shall be nearer to the end
of our battle by the thrusting to-day than we were by the throwing yesterday."
Each of them continued to cut, and to wound, and to redden the other, from
the twilight of the early morning till the fall of the evening. If it were the
custom for birds in their flight to pass through the bodies of men, they could
have passed through their bodies on that day, and they could have carried pieces
of flesh and blood through their stabs and cuts, into the clouds and the sky all
around. And when the fall of evening came, their horses were tired, and their
chariot-drivers were down-hearted, and they were tired themselves as well.
"Let us stop from this now, Ferdiad," said Cuchulain, "for our
horses are tired, and our chariot-drivers are down-hearted; and when they are tired, why
would not we be tired as well? And we are not bound to go on for ever," he said,
"as is the custom with the Fomor. Let us put the quarrel away for a while, now
the noise of the fighting is over." "Let us leave off indeed if the time is
come," said Ferdiad.
They threw their spears from them then into the hands of their
chariot-drivers, and each of them came towards the other. Each of them put his
hand round the neck of the other and gave him three kisses. Their horses were in
the one enclosure that night, and their chariot-drivers at the one fire.
Their chariot-drivers made beds of green rushes for them, with wounded men's
pillows on them, and the men that had knowledge of healing came to examine them
that night, but they could do nothing more for them, because of the deepness of
their many wounds, but to use charms and spells on them, to staunch their blood.
Every charm and every spell that was used on the wounds of Cuchulain, he sent a
full share of them over the ford westward to Ferdiad. And of every sort of food
and of drink that was sent to Ferdiad, he sent a share of them over the ford
northward to Cuchulain.
They rested there that night, and they rose up early on the morrow, and they
came forward to the ford of battle. Cuchulain saw a sort of a dark look on
Ferdiad that day. "It is bad you are looking to-day, Ferdiad," he said; "there
is a darkness on your face, and a heaviness on your eyes, and your own
appearance is gone from you." "It is not from fear or dread of you I am like
this to-day," said Ferdiad; "for there is not a champion in Ireland to-day I
could not put down." And Cuchulain was fretted to see him that way, and it is
what he said: "O Ferdiad, if it is you yourself, I am sure you are a miserable
man, to have come at the bidding of a woman to fight against your own
companion." But Ferdiad said: "O Cuchulain, giver of wounds, true hero, every
man must come in the end to the sod where his last grave shall be."
"As to Findabair, daughter of Maeve," said Cuchulain. "whatever
her beauty may be, it is not for love of you she was given to you, but only for the sake of
your great strength." "O Hound of the gentle sway," said Ferdiad, "it is long
ago my strength was tried; but I never heard of any man braver in fight than
yourself; I never met so brave a man until to-day." "It is your own fault what
has happened," said Cuchulain; "you to have come at the bidding of a woman to
try your sword against your fellow." "If I had gone back," said Ferdiad,
"without doing battle with you, it is little my name and my word would be
thought of by Ailell and by Maeve of Cruachan." "No one has ever put food to his
lips," said Cuchulain, "and no one has ever been born in honour of a king or
queen, for whose sake I would have harmed you." "O Cuchulain, winner of
battles," said Ferdiad; "it was not you but Maeve that betrayed me; let you take
the victory and the fame, for it is not on you the blame is."
And Cuchulain said: "My faithful heart is like a clot of blood; my life is
nearly gone from me; I have no strength for high deeds, fighting with you,
Ferdiad." "Much as you are complaining over me now," said Ferdiad, "what arms
shall we use to-day?" "It is you have the choice to-day," said Cuchulain,
"because it was I had it yesterday." "Let us then," said Ferdiad,
"take to our swords to-day, for we will be nearer the end of our battle by the hewing to-day,
than we were by the thrusting yesterday." "Let us do so indeed," said Cuchulain.
And then they put two long wide shields on them, and they took to their
swords, and each of them continued to hack at the other, from the dawn of the
early morning till the time of the fall of evening. "Let us leave off from this
now," said Cuchulain. So they left off.
They threw their swords from them into the hands of their chariot-drivers,
and it was the parting, mournful, sorrowful, down-hearted, of two men that
'Their horses were not in the one enclosure that night, their chariot-drivers
were not at the one fire. They rested that night there.
And Ferdiad rose up early next morning, and went forward by himself to the
ford. For he knew that day would decide the fight, and he knew one of them would
fall on that day there, or they would both fall.
And then he put on his battle suit, before the coming of Cuchulain to him. He
put on his shirt of striped silk, with its border of speckled gold, next his
white skin. He put on his coat of brown leather, well sewed, over the outside.
He put on his apron of purified iron, through dread of the Gae BuIg that day. He
put his crested helmet of battle on his head, on which were forty gems,
carbuncles, in each division, and it was studded with crystal and with shining
rubies of the eastern world. He took his strong spear into his right hand, and
his curved sword upon his left side, with its golden hilt, and its knobs of red
gold, and his great large, bossed shield on his back.
And then he began to show off many changing, wonderful feats, that he had
never learned with any other person, neither with nurse or with tutor, or with
Scathach or with Uacthach, or with Aoife, but that were made up that day by
himself against Cuchulain.
Then Cuchulain came to the ford, and when he saw all Ferdiad was doing: "I
see, my friend Laeg," he said, "all those feats will be tried on me one after
another; and because of that," he said, "if It is I that begin to give in
to-day, it is for you to reproach me, and to speak hard words to me, the way
that the strength of my anger may grow the more on me. But if I am getting the
better of him, you are to praise me, and make much of me, that my courage may be
the greater." "I will do that indeed, my master Cuchulain," said Laeg.
And then Cuchulain put on his battle suit, and he said: "What arms shall we
take to-day, Ferdiad?" "The choice is yours to-day," said Ferdiad. "Let us try
the ford feat then," said Cuchulain. "Let us indeed," said Ferdiad. But though
Ferdiad agreed to it, it is sorry he was to say those words, for he knew
Cuchulain was used to put an end to every fighter that was against him in the
feat of the ford.
It was great work, now, that was done on that day at the ford; the two
champions of western Europe, the two gift-giving and wage-giving hands of the
north-west of the world; the two pillars and the two keys of the courage of the
Gael; to be brought from far off, to fight one against the other, through the
stirring up and the meddling of Ailell and Maeve. Each of them began to throw
his weapons at the other, from the dawn of early morning to the middle of
midday. And when mid-day came, the anger of the men grew hotter, and each of
them drew nearer to the other. And then it was that Cuchulain leaped on to the
boss of Ferdiad's shield, to strike at his head over the rim of the shield. But
Ferdiad gave the shield a blow of the left elbow, and threw Cuchulain from him
like a bird on the brink of the ford. Cuchulain leaped up again to the boss of
the shield, but Ferdiad gave it a stroke of his left knee, and threw Cuchulain
from him like a little child.
Laeg saw that done. "My grief indeed," he said, "the fighter
that is against you, Cuchulain, casts you away as a light woman would cast her child. He
throws you as foam is thrown by the river; he grinds you as a mill would grind fresh
malt; he Cuts through you as the axe cuts through the oak; he binds you as the
woodbine binds the trees, he darts on you as the hawk darts on little birds; and
from this out, you have no call nor claim to courage or a brave name to the end
of life and time, you little fairy fighter," said Laeg.
It is then Cuchulain leaped up with the quickness of the wind, and with the
readiness of the swallow, and with the fierceness of the lion, towards the
troubled clouds of the air the third time, until he lit on the boss of Ferdiad's
shield to strike at his head from above. And Ferdiad gave his shield a shake and
cast Cuchulain from him, the same as if he had never been cast off before at all.
And it is then Cuchulain's anger came on him, and the flames of the hero
light began to shine about his head, like a red-thorn bush in a gap, or like the
sparks of a fire, and he lost the appearance of a man, and what was on him was
the appearance of a god.
So close was the fight they made now, that their heads met above and their
feet below, and their hands in the middle, over the rims and bosses of their
shields. So close was the fight, that they broke and loosened their shields from
the rim to the middle. So close was the fight, that they turned and bent and
shattered their spears from the points to the hilts. So close was the fight,
that the Bocanachs and Bananachs and the witches of the valley screamed from the
rims of their shields and from the hilts of their swords, and from the handles
of their spears. So close was the fight, that they drove the river out of its
bed and out of its course, so that it might have been a place for a king or a
queen to rest in, so that there was not a drop of water in it, unless it dropped
into it by the trampling ad the hewing the two champions made in the middle of
So great was the fight, that the horses of the men of Ireland broke away in
fright and shyness, with fury and madness, breaking their chains and their
yokes, their ropes and their traces; and the women and the young lads and the
children and the crazy and the followers of the men of Ireland broke out of the
camp to the south-west.
They were using the edge of their swords through that time; and it was then
Ferdiad found a time when Cuchulain was off his guard, and he gave him a stroke
of the sword, and hid it in his body, and the ford was reddened with Cuchulain's
blood, and Ferdiad kept on making great strokes at him. And Cuchulain could not
bear with this, and he called to Laeg for the Gae Bulg, and it was sent down the
stream to him, and he caught it with his foot. And when Ferdiad heard the name
of the Gae BuIg, he made a stroke of his shield down to protect his body. But
Cuchulain made a straight cast of the spear, the Gae Bulg, off the middle of his
hand, over the rim of the shield, and it passed through his armour and went out
through his body, so that its sharp end could be seen.
Ferdiad gave a stroke of his shield up to protect the upper part of his body,
though it was "the relief after danger," as the saying is. "That is enough,"
said Ferdiad; "I die by that. And I may say, indeed, you have left me sick after
you, and it was not right that I should fall by your hand. O Hound of the
beautiful feats, it was not right, you to kill me; the fault of my death is
yours, it is on you my blood is. A foolish man does not escape when he goes into
the gap of danger; my grief! I am going away, my end is come. My ribs will not
hold my heart, my heart is all turned to blood. I have not done well in the
battle; you have killed me, Cuchulain."
Cuchulain ran towards him after that, and put his two arms about him, and
lifted him across the ford northwards, so that his his body should be by the
ford on the north, and not on the west of the ford with the men of Ireland.
He laid him down then, and a cloud and a weakness came on as he stood over
Ferdiad. Laeg saw that, and he saw that all the men of Ireland were rising up to
come towards him. "Good Cuchulain," said Laeg, "rise up now, for the men of
Ireland are coming towards us, and it is not one man they will put to fight
against us now that Ferdiad has fallen by you." "What use is it to me to rise up
now, and he after falling by me?" said Cuchulain. But Laeg said: "Rise up, O
chained Hound of Emain; it is glad and shouting you have a right to be now,
since Ferdiad of the hosts has fallen by you." "What are joy and shouting to me
now?" said Cuchulain; "it is to madness and to grief I am driven after the thing
I have done, and the body I wounded so hard." "It is not right for you to be
lamenting him," said Laeg. "It is making rejoicings over him you should be. It
was at you he aimed his spears." But Cuchulain said: "Even if he had cut one arm
and one leg from me, it is my grief Ferdiad not to be riding his horses through
the long days of his lifetime." And Laeg said: "It is better pleased the women
of the Red Branch will be, he to have died and you to be living. They know it is
not few but many you have sent away for ever; for from the day you came out of
Cuailgne to meet Maeve of the great name, it is a grief to her all you have
killed of her people and of her fighting men. You have not taken quiet sleep
since the spoiling of your country began; though there were few along with you,
many were the mornings you rose up early."
Then Cuchulain began to keen and to lament for Ferdiad there, and it is what
he said: "Well, Ferdiad, it is a pity for you it was not one of the men that
knew my courage you asked an advice of before you came to meet me in the fight
that was too hard for you. It is a pity it was not Laeg, son of Riangabra, you
asked how we stood one to another. It is a pity you did not ask a true advice of
Fergus. It is a pity it was not pleasant comely Conall you asked which of us
would put down the other.
"And these men know well," he said, "there will never be born one
among the men of Connaught who will do deeds equal to yours, to the end of life and time.
And they know that if they looked among the places, the gatherings, the
swearings, the false promises of the fair-haired women of Connaught, or in the
playing with targets and shields, the playing with shields and swords, the
playing backgammon and chess, the playing with horses and chariots, there wifi
not be found the hand of a man that will wound like Ferdiad's hand, or a man to
bring the red-mouthed birds croaking over the speckled battle, nor one that will
fight for Cruachan, that will be your equal to the end of life and time, O
red-cheeked son of Daman." And then he rose up and stood over Ferdiad. "Well,
Ferdiad," he said, "it is great wrong and treachery was played on you by the men
of Ireland, to bring you out to fight with me. For it has not been easy to stand
against me in the war for the Bull of Cuailgne." And he made this complaint:--
"O Ferdiad, you were betrayed to your death; your last end was sorrowful; you
to die, I to be living; our parting for ever is a grief for ever.
"When we were far away, with Scathach the victorious, we gave our word that
to the end of time we would never go against one another.
"Dear to me was your beautiful ruddiness; dear to me your comely form; dear
to me your clear grey eyes; dear to me your wisdom and your talk.
"There has not come to the battle, there has not been made in the fight,
there has not held up shield on the field of spears the like of you, O red son
"Findabair, the daughter of Maeve, with all her great beauty, it was putting
a gad on the sand, or on the sun, for you to think to get her, Ferdiad."
Then Cuchulain was still looking down on Ferdiad. "Well, my friend Laeg," he
said, "strip Ferdiad now, and take his armour and clothes off him, until I see
the brooch for the sake of which he undertook the fight."
Laeg stripped Ferdiad then, and when Cuchulain saw the brooch, he began to
lament and complain over him again, and it is what he said:
"My grief, O gold brooch! O Ferdiad of the poets, O strong striker of many
blows, it is brave your arm was.
"Your yellow hair, curled, well-loved; your soft, leaf-like belt about you
"Dear was our fellowship, dear the brightness of your eyes; your shieId with
its rim of gold; your chessboard that was worth riches.
"It was not right, you to fall by my hand; it was not a friendly ending. My
grief, O gold brooch, my grief!
"Well, my friend Laeg," he said then, "come now and take the Gae
Bulg out of him, for I cannot afford to be without my spear."
So Laeg took the Gae BuIg out of him, and when Cuchulain saw his reddened
spear lying beside Ferdiad, he said: "O Ferdiad, it is sorrowful story to me,
that I should see you so red and so pale, I with my spear reddened, and you in a
bed of blood.
"When we were over in the east with Scathach, there would not have been angry
words between us, or destroying weapons.
"Scathach spoke fiery words to us, 'Go all of you to the battle that will be
fought by Germain the terrible.'
"I said to Ferdiad and to Lugaid, the always generous, and to the son of
Baetan the fair, 'Let us all go against Germain.'
"We all of us came to the battle-ground on the shore of the lake of Lind
Formait; we brought four hundred out with us from the islands of the Athisech.
"As I and brave Ferdiad were together in the door of Germain's dun, I killed
Rind, the son of Niul, I killed Ruad, son of Finnial.
"Ferdiad killed upon the shore Blath, son of Calba of the red swords. Lugaid
killed Mugarne of the Torrian Sea, a surly, fierce man.
"We spoiled the dun of Germain the crafty; we brought him with us alive over
the wide sea of speckled waters; we brought him to Scathach of the broad-shield.
"She, our teacher, whose name was well known, bound us to friendship
together, the way our anger would not turn against one another among the fair
tribes of Elga.
"Sorrowful the morning when the strength was taken from the son of Daman. My
grief! I loved the friend to whom I have given a drink of red blood.
"It is a sorrowful thing has happened to us the pupils of Scathach--I myself
red and wounded; you yourself not driving your chariot "It is a sorrowful thing
has happened to us the pupils of Scathach--I myself hard with blood; you
yourself entirely dead.
"It is a sorrowful thing has happened to us the pupils of Scathach--yourself
to have died, myself to be alive and strong; it is angiy we were in the battle."
"Good Cuchulain," said Laeg, "let us leave this ford now; it is too
long we are here." "Let us leave it now indeed, my friend Laeg," said Cuchulain.
"But every other fight I ever made was as a game and a sport beside the fight with
Ferdiad." And it is what he said:
"Each fight was a game, each one was a jest, until Ferdiad came to the ford;
we got the same teaching, we got the same rewards; our teacher was kind to us
both alike, setting us both above all the others.
"Each was as a game, each was as a jest, until Ferdiad came to the ford; we
had the same ways, we used to do the same deeds; it was at the one time Scathach
gave a shield to me, and a shield to Ferdiad.
"Each was a game,;each was a jest, until Ferdiad came to the ford; dear to me
was the pillar of gold that I broke down on the ford; he who, when he attacked
the tribes, was braver than any other.
"Each was a game, each was a jest, until Ferdiad came to the ford, like a
proud swelling wave, threatening to destroy all before him.
"Each was a game, each was a jest, until Ferdiad came to the ford; this thing
will hang over me for ever. Yesterday be was larger than a mountain; to-day
there is nothing of him but a shadow."
Cuchulain by John Duncan