Cuchulain of Muirthemne

X. The Wedding of Maine Morgor

   When Maine Morgor, the Very Dutiful, the son of Ailell and of Maeve, set out for his wedding with Ferb, daughter of Gerg of Rath lni, in Ulster, he brought three troops of young men with him, and fifty men in each troop, and this is the appearance that was on the first two troops. Shining white shirts they had, striped with purple down the sides; gold shields on their backs with borders of white silver, with figures engraved on them, and with edges of white bronze as sharp as knives. Great two-edged swords with silver hilts at their belts; chains of white silver round their necks. And there were neither helmets on their heads, or shoes on their feet.
   And as to the third troop, the one Maine himself was in, there were fifty reddish-brown horses in it, and fifty white horses with red ears, with long manes and tails coloured purple, and bridles on them, with a ball of red gold on the one side, and a ball of white silver on the other side, and a gold or a silver bit to every one of them. A collar of gold with bells from it on the neck of every horse, and when the horses would be moving, the sound of these bells would be as sweet as the strings of a harp when the player strikes it with his hand. There was a chariot of white bronze ribbed with gold and silver to every two of the horses; purple cushions sewed with gold bound to every chariot; fifty fair slender young men in these fifty chariots, and not one among them but was the son of a king and a queen, and was a hero and a brave man of Connaught, and they wearing purple cloaks about them, that had borders ornamented with gold and silver, and a clasp of pure red gold to every cloak; fine silk coats fastened with hooks of gold close to their white bodies; fifty silver shields on their backs with gold rims studded with carbuncles and other precious stones of every colour; two candles of valour were the two shining spears on the hand of every man of them; fifty rivets of bronze and of gold in every spear, and if any man of them had a debt of a bushel of silver or gold, one rivet from his spear would pay it. And there were precious stones on their spears that would flame in the night like the rays of the sun. At their belts they had long, gold-hilted swords with silver sheaths; goads in their hands of white bronze with silver crooks. And as to the young men themselves, they were very handsome and stately, and large and shining; curled yellow hair on them, hanging down on their shoulders; proud, clear, blue eyes; their cheeks like the flowers of the woods in May, or like the foxglove of the mountains There were seven greyhounds following Maine's chariot in chains of silver, and apples of gold on every chain There were seven trumpeters with gold and silver trumpets, wearing clothes of many colours, and having all of them light yellow hair And three Druids went in front of them, and they having bands of silver on their heads, and speckled cloaks on them, and carrying shields of bronze with ornaments of red copper And there were three harpers with them, that had the appearance of kings.
   It is like that they gathered at the royal house of Cruachan, and they went three times round the lawn before the house And they said farewell to Maeve and to Ailell, and then they set out for Rath Ini.
   "It is a fine setting out you are having," said Bricriu, "but maybe the coming back will not be so fine" "It is a journey that will be heard of in every place," said Maine "I suppose," said Bricriu, "it is but a day visit you will make there, for you will hardly stop to feast through the night in a district that is under Conchubar" "I give my word," said Maine, "we will not turn back to Cruachan till we have feasted three days and three nights in Gerg's house" He did not waste any more time talking, but set out on the journey.
   When the messengers they sent before them came to Gerg's house at Rath Ini, the people there began to make all ready before them, and they laid down green-leaved birch branches and fresh green rushes in the house. Then Ferb sent her foster-sister, Findchoem, daughter of Erg, and bade her go a part of the way with the messengers, and bring her back word what appearance was on Maine and on his companions. She was not long away, and as soon as she came back she went with her report to the sunny parlour where Ferb was, and it is what she said: "I never saw since Conchubar was in Emain, and I never will see till the end of life and time, a finer, or grander, or a more beautiful troop, than the troop that is coming now over the plain It was the same as if I was in a sweet apple-garden, from the sweetness that came to me when the light wind passed over them and stirred their clothes."
   With that, the men of Connaught came to the dun, and the people within pressed upon one another to look at them And the gates were set open, and their chariots unyoked, and baths of pure water were made ready for them. And then they were brought into the hall of heroes in the middle of the house, and they were given every sort of food and of drink that is to be found on the whole ridge of the world.
   But as they were using the feast and making merry, there came a sudden blast of wind that shook the whole place, so that the hail they were in trembled, and the shields fell from their hooks, and the spears from their places, and the tables fell like leaves in an oak wood. All the young men were astonished, and Gerg asked Maine's Druids what meaning they could put on that blast. And Ollgaeth, Maine's chief Druid, said: "I think it is no good sign for those who are come to-night to this wedding. A blast of wind," he said; "a sorrowful sound; it is the man that will conquer.
   "A shield struck out of a white hand; the bodies of dead men laid under stones; a high stone over stiff bodies; the story is sorrowful!
   "And if you will take my advice," he said, "you will quit this feast this very night."
   But he got a sharp rebuke from Maine for saying that, and Gerg said: "There is no cause for any uneasiness, for the men of Ulster are not gathered at Emain at this time. And if they were itself," he said, "I and my two sons would be ready to go out and fight against Conchubar along with you."
   They hung up their arms then again, and gave no more heed to what the Druid had said.
   Now on the morning of this very day, when Conchubar was lying in his sleep at Emain, he saw in a dream a beautiful woman coming to his bedside, and she having the appearance of a queen. Yellow plaited hair she had, and folds of silk over her white skin, and a cloak of green silk from her shoulders, and two sandals of white bronze between her soft feet and the ground. "All good be with you, Conchubar," she said. "What is the reason of your coming?" said Conchubar. "It is not long from this time," she said, "that Ulster will be attacked and will be robbed, and the Brown Bull of Cuailgne will be driven away. And the son of the man that will do this thing," she said, "Maine Morgor, son of Ailell and of Maeve, is coming this very night to his wedding with Ferb, daughter of Gerg of Rath Ini, and three times fifty young men with him. Rise up now," she said, "there are but three times fifty men against you, and the victory will be with you."
   Then Conchubar sprang up, and sent for Cathbad, the Druid, and told him his vision. "It is likely enough," he said, "that it is meant to warn us against the men of Connaught. And you may be sure," he said, "that if we stop here quietly, they will be doing their robbery. And let me have the truth from you now, and tell me what is best to do, for there is not the like of you among the Druids."
   And Cathbad said: "It is what your vision means, that many men will get their death, and Maine of Connaught, he that is above all disgrace, along with them; and he and his companions will never go back again to beautiful Cruachan. But you yourself will come back safe," he said, "with fame and victory."
   Then Conchubar set out, and there went with him Cathrach Catuchenn, a queen with a great name, that had come to Emain from the country of Spain for love of Cuchulain; and she went out now with Conchubar's army. And there went with him as well, the three outlaws of the race of the Fomor, Siabarcha, son of Suilremar, and Berngal Brec, and Buri of the Rough Word. And Facen, son of Dublongsech of the old stock of Ulster came, and Fabric Fiacail from Great Asia, and Forais Fingalach from the Isle of Man. So Conchubar set out, and three times fifty men with him, but he brought none of the men of Ulster with him, but himself and his chariot-driver Brod, and Imrinn the Druid, Cathbad's son. And none of them brought a servant with him, except only Conchubar, but their shields on their backs, and their bright green spears in their hands, and their heavy swords in their belts. And if they were not many in number, the pride of their minds was great.
   When they were come within sight of Rath Ini, they saw a great heavy cloud over it, the one end of it black and the middle red, and the other end green. And Conchubar asked Imrinn the Druid, "What is this cloud over the house a token of?" "I know well," said Imrinn, "it is a sign there will be fighting tonight, and the sorrow of death will be on the house like a cloud, and it is for a young man the death darkness is made ready."
   Then Conchubar went on towards the dun, and just at that time the great vat that belonged to the house, and that got afterwards the name of the Ol Guala, was brought into the feasting hall, and it full of wine. But whoever went to draw it let the silver vessel fall into the vat, so that the wine flowed over the edges in three waves. "My grief!" said Ollgaeth the Druid, "it is not long before these vessels will be with strangers. He is not a happy son born of a mother that is in this house to-night."
   Then Conchubar came to the door, and the strangers that were with him gave their shout of attack around the dun, as their Custom was. At that Gerg rose up, and his two sons with him, Conn Coscorach and Cobthach Cnesgel, and they took hold of their arms. And Gerg said to Maine: "Let this be fought out now between us men of Ulster till you see which of us are the bravest. And we are all answerable for you, and it is best for you that we should fight together. But if we fall, then let you hold the place if you can."
   And then Gerg went out and his two sons along with him and their people. And they held the place, and fought Conchubar outside; and for a long time they did not let any one go past them. And Gerg stood outside the door, and a hewing and cutting was aimed at him on every side, and five men of the Fomor fell by him, and Imrinn the Druid, along with them, and he cut his head off and brought it to the door with him.
   Then Cathrach Catuchenn came between him and the door, and she made a sharp attack on him, and Gerg struck her head off, and brought it back with him into the house, for he had got a hard wound. And he threw the heads down before Maine, and he sat down on a bed, and gave a heavy sigh and asked for a drink. And then Conchubar and his people came up to the wall, and they were holding their shields over their heads with their left hands, and tearing down the wall with their right hands, till they were able to make their way through it.
   Then Brod, Conchubar's chariot-driver, threw one of the spears he had in his hand into the house, and it went through Gerg's body, and through the body, of Airisdech his servant that was behind him, so that the two of them fell together. And Conchubar attacked Gerg's people in the house, so that thirty of them fell, and he killed Conn, Gerg's son, by his own hand, and many of his own people got their death as well.
   Then Nuagal, Gerg's wife, rose up, and she gave three great angry cries of grief, and she took the head of her husband into her bosom. "By my word," she said, "it is a fine servant's deed, Brod to have killed Gerg in his own house. But there are many," she said, "that will keen you, and as you have fallen on account of your daughter, many women shall have sorrow on account of you." And she made this complaint:
   "It is a good fight Gerg made, that is lying here now, the fair-haired champion with the red sword; he that was proud, open-handed, brave, wise, beautiful.
   "Where is there a better hero than Gerg? Where is the man that has not anger on him. Where is the army that does not keen for your death?
   "It is grief to me to see you on your bed of death, O beautiful fair-haired Gerg! It is a pity for me, you to be dead.
   "Before you here in Rath Ini, and at Loch Ane and at Irard, and in the valleys of the south, there were many women that gave you their love.
   "You were the friend of every army; every one gave you full obedience; your friendly word was dear to every one; surely it is you were the good adviser.
   "It is great indeed your deeds were, it is stately your assemblies were; you were a king among great lords.
   "Your house was great, it was well-known, the house within which harm came to you; it was there Brod killed you in the hail of kings.
   "It was a great harm and a great curse Brod put on us, he to kill a king of Ireland before his time; he has killed him; he has killed all of us along with him."
   Then Gerg's two sons said they would hold the place, and they were not without killing many in the fight. Then Maine could not hold in his strength any longer, and he went out to avenge his father-in-law. And his three times fifty companions rose up along with him, and it was not easy to stand against them. There was great pride in the mind, and great courage in the heart of every one of them, and there was great desire and longing on them to do high deeds.
   And as to Maine, the king's son, he was stately, kind, mannerly, and although he was hardly out of his boyhood, he was braver in the fight than any other. He was gentle in the drinking-house, and he was hard in battle, and he was mindful of his enemies, and he was pitiful in wounding, and a spender of treasure, and a stone of anger, and a wave of justice; and he was the head in the gatherings of the three Connaughts, and their hand in spending, and their fitting king.
   He thought it would be dishonour on him, ever to be overcome in equal fight by any men in the world, or the place to be taken that he was defending. And he went out and drove the Fomor away from the house, and it is not a hand of healing Maine had that time; and nine of the Fomor fell by his first attack. Then the out- law of Great Asia, Fabric Fiacail, came up to the threshold, and began destroying the men before him, and no one stood against him till he came to the place where Maine was. And then they two set their shields one against the other, and they were fighting together till after midnight; and Fabric gave Maine three deep Wounds, and when they were tired out with the fight, Maine struck off his head. Then Conchubar came, and thirty of Gerg's men were killed by him, and the two armies fell upon one another, and it is much that even the toes of their feet did not make an attack of their own. And the blood that was in the dun was as high as a man's knees, and in all the district round nothing could be heard but the striking of blows on shields, and the clinking of spears, and the clash of swords against one another, and the roar of beaten men.
   And Maine, when he had overcome the Fomor, came where Facen, son of Dublongsech was, and they fought together a good while, and then Facen was killed. Then Maine and Cobthach were driven up into the house after their people were put down, and they held it bravely till morning, and no one was able to make a way in.
   In this same night, the same woman that had brought news to Conchubar, went to where Maeve was lying in her sleep at Cruachan, and said to her: "If you had the Druid sight, Maeve," she said, you would not be in your sleep now. What has happened? said Maeve. "Conchubar is at this very moment," said the strange woman, "getting the upper hand of Maine, and he is on the point of putting him to death. Rise up now, and gather your men together," she said, "and go out and avenge him."
   With that Maeve wakened out of her sleep, and she called to Ailell and told him the vision, and told it to her people as well. "There is no truth in it," said Bricriu.
   But when Fiannamail, the innkeeper's son at Cruachan, heard it he waited for no one and made no delay, but set out for the place where Maine was, for Maine was his foster-brother. And Maeve chose out seven hundred armed men, the best that were to be found in Cruachan at that time. And then Donall Dearg came, that was the best fighter in the province, and that was another of Maine's foster-brothers. And he set out in the same way, before the others, and thirty fighting men with him, and the name of every one of them was Donall. And then Maeve set out after them on her journey.
   But as to Maine, he held the house till the bright rising of the sun on the morrow, and it was not pleasant rest this night brought to either side. When they could see each other by the light of day, each remembered the other to his hurt, and Conchubar began to rouse up his people. "If it was the men of Ulster I had with me now," he said, "they would not be dragging on with this battle, the way the Fomor are doing." When the Fomor heard that sharp reproach, their courage rose up in them, and they pressed on hard in the fight, and never left off till they were through the door of the house. The house they came into had a great name for grandeur, but it was bad work that was done in it now. There were a hundred tables of white silver in it, and three hundred of brass, and three hundred of white bronze. And there were thirty vessels with pure silver from Spain on their rims, and two hundred cowhorns ornamented with gold or silver, and thirty silver cups, and thirty brass cups, and on the wails there were hangings of white linen with wonderful figures worked on them.
   Then the two armies met one another in the middle of the house; and a great many were killed there. And Cobthach, Gerg's son, after he had killed many of the Fomor, came to where Berngal was hewing the heads off the men of Connaught, and they fought together, and Berngal was worsted in the end.
   And as to Maine, he killed Buri of the Rough Word, and after that he went mad and raging through the house, and thirty other fell by him. But when Conchubar saw the madness that was on Maine, he turned to him, and Maine waited for him, and they fought a long while, and Maine threw his casting spear so strong and straight, that it went through Conchubar's body; and while Conchubar was striving to draw out that spear, Maine wounded him with the long spear that was in his hand. Then Brod came to help Conchubar, and Maine gave him three heavy wounds, so that he was able to fight no more. But then Conchubar attacked him with blows on every side, until he laid him dead before him.
   And after he had killed Maine, he began to attack the crowd about him, so that they fell, foot to foot, and neck to neck, all through the house. And at the end, there was not one of Maine's people left living; and of the three times fifty men that came with Conchubar, there was not one left living but himself and Brod, and if they were itself, they did not come whole out of it.
   Then Conchubar drove Cogthach, Gerg's son, out of the house; and while he was following him over the plain, Ferb came with her foster-sister to the place where Maine was lying, and she cried and lamented over him, and she said: "My grief! you are alone now, you that spent so many nights in company." And she made this complaint:
   "O young man, it is red your bed is! It is bad the signs were, and you coming into the house, a foretelling of tears to all your people.
   "O son of Maeve! O branch of high honour! O son of Ailell who is not weak. It is a pity it is for my heart and my body, you to be lying there for ever!
   "O young man, the best I ever saw; a rod of gold and you lying on the pillow; whenever you and an enemy met together, that was the last meeting there was between you.
   "There is grief on me, you to be lying there, young man, son of Maeve; your face was ruddy, your hand was rough in battle; it is grief has been put into my heart that was waiting for you.
   "It is seldom you were without arms up to this until you were struck down, lying dead. The shining spear pierced you, the hard sword wounded you, till blood was dropping down on your cheeks.
   "Och! What were you to me, and l not to have seen your death; my darling, my choice among men, he that was worth good treasure.
   "He is my husband for all my days, great Maine, Ailell's son; I will die for the want of him, and he not able to come and care me.
   "His purple cloak is grief to me, and himself lying there on the floor of the house, and his hand that was struck off after he fell, and his head in the hand of Conchubar.
   "And his sword that was strong, heavy in striking, Conchubar has carried it far away; and his shield there where he fell, and he defending his people.
   "He himself a hero, and no lie in it; it is he divided much riches; it is not a little thing he did to die like that, and he defending his people.
   "The fair young man of Connaught to be lying there cold, and the best of his troop along with him; it is a pity for his people that died defending him; it is a pity for me, his unmarried wife.
   "There is nothing I can do for you, Maine; it is on myself the hurt is come; my heart is broken with it, and I looking at you, Maine."
   Then Fiannamail, the innkeeper's son from Cruachan, came to the house, and Ferb saw him, and she said: "Here is Fiannamail come to visit us, but whatever companions he has left at home, he will find none before him here." "That is rough news you are giving me, Ferb," said Finnnamail; "and indeed I am parted from my companions if it is they that are lying here," he said. "They are your companions indeed," said Ferb; "they overcame others, and now they are overcome themselves."
   And Fiannamail said: "And Maine, is he living? my comrade, my dear friend, my prince at home!" And Ferb said: "It is bitter to me, you to ask this, for I know you did not think it was Maine's last bed you would find here."
   And then she told Fiannamail all that had happened. And Fiannamail said; "When this news of the thing the people of Ulster have done goes out, they will be attacked in the west and in the east as long as there is a man living in Connaught." But Ferb said:
   "There are not left of the army of Ulster but Conchubar himself and Brod his chariot-driver, and the both of them were wounded by Maine before Conchubar killed him at the last."
   Then Fiannamail went out to follow after Conchubar, to get satisfaction for Maine's death. And he met with Niall of the Fair Head, Conchubar's son, and a hundred men with him, and they looking for Conchubar; and for all they were so many, he fought a hot battle with them, till he fell dead.
   And after he left Ferb, she was looking at the young men of Connaught, and she made this complaint:
   "A pity it is, young men of Connaught, that there is not soft down in your pillows under you; you that took the defence and would not give it up. What troop was there better than yourselves, and now you are lying like a loosened thread.
   "It is a heavy hand was laid on your eyes; you were given the sour drink of beaten men; your story is hard, it will be a cause of battles; it will be a foretelling of many tears.
   "It is a pity there is no help for me to bring you, but only to be keening and crying over you; it would be better for me to go with you, and my ashes to be scattered abroad.
   "You were the best of the armies of Ireland, young men of Connaught; and I keening you; many women will cry Och! Och! after your proud ways.
   "It is proud you were coming into the house; it is not common men you had for your fathers. O beautiful young men of Connaught, it is a pity it is the way you are now!"
   Then Donall Dearg came to the lawn before the dun. And Ferb's foster-sister saw him, and she said: "It is a pity he was not here and Maine living, for he would have given him good help." And when Ferb heard he was there, she went out to him and she said: "Well, Donall, hawk of valour, here is a thing for you to do, to avenge your foster-brother that has got his death." And it is what Donall said: "If Maine has fallen, the man has fallen that was above all his companions, in courage, in wisdom, and in gentleness." And Ferb, said: "It is not the work of a hero, you to be sighing and keening and crying Ochone! But since Maine will not come back for that, it is better for you to go out against his enemies." And Donall said: "I will go; I will destroy Conchubar, I will destroy his two sons in revenge for Maine." And Ferb said: "If it had been yourself, Donall Dearg, that had got your death from the men of Ulster on account of me, the story of the great vengeance Maine did for it would be told in every place." Then Donall said: "And as it is Maine Morgor himself has got his death, I will never go home westward so long as there is a man left living in Ulster.
   So Donall went out, and he had not long to wait till he saw a great troop coming towards him, and Feradach of the Long Hand, Conchubar's son, with them. And Donall and his men attacked them but they were outnumbered, and all his men fell. And he himself wounded Feradach twice, but then his men came at him, and Feradach struck his head off, and let out his shout of victory, and his people shouted along with him.
   And Ferb was gone into the house again, and she was looking at Maine. "There is no good appearance on you now, the way you are Maine," she said; "and my father got his death through you, and my father's son; but even so, I will die with the fret of losing you." And it is what she said: "There are many women and many young girls will be lonely after you, you to be the only one to fail them.
   "It is beautiful you were up to this, proud and tall, going out with your young hounds to the hunting; it is spoiled your body is now, it is pale your hands are.
   "It is bad the news is that will travel westward to Findabair of the Fair Eyebrows; the story of her brother that failed Ferb; it is not I that have not my fill of sorrow."
   Then Maeve and her men came up to where Conchubar was, and his two sons that had joined him, and they faced one another, and the fight began; and Maeve broke through the army of Ulster to get satisfaction for her son and for her people, and she killed Conchubar's two sons. But Conchubar stood out and faced her in spite of his wounds, and in spite of being tired out; for his hurts were healed by the greatness of his anger after his two sons being killed.
   Then Maeve was driven back and lost the battle; and the Druids brought her away as was their custom; and Conchubar followed after them till they had passed Magh Ini. And then he turned back to spoil Gerg's dun, and he carried away with him all he could find of treasures; and he took away the great brass vat that was in the house, and brought it to Emain. And when it was filled with beer, all the province of Ulster used to drink from it; and it got the name of the Champion's Drinking Vat.
   And Ferb died with grief for Maine, and Nuagal died with grief for her husband and for her two sons. And a grave was made for them, and a stone put over it, and their names were written in Ogham; and Rath Ini got the name of Duma Ferb, Ferb's Mound, after that.
   And this was the first blood shed in Ulster on the account of the Brown Bull of Cuailgne.


Cuchulain by John Duncan
Cuchulain by John Duncan