The Tain Bo Culaigne
The Battle Of Fergus And Cuchulain
The hosts of the four grand provinces of Erin pitched camp and entrenched
themselves for that night at the pillar-stone in Crich Roiss ('the Borders of
Ross'). Then Medb called upon the men of Erin for one of them to contend and do
battle with Cuchulain on the morrow. And every one of them spake thus: "It shall
not be I! it shall not be I!" cried each from his place. "No victim is owing
from my people."
Thereupon Medb summoned Fergus to go forth and contend and fight with
Cuchulain, for that the men of Erin had failed. "Ill would it befit me," quoth
Fergus, "to fight with a callow young lad without any beard, and mine own
disciple." Howbeit Medb murmured sore that Fergus foreswore her combat and
battle. They bode the night in that place. Early on the morrow Fergus arose, and
he fared forth to the place of combat where Cuchulain was.
Cuchulain saw him coming nigh. "A vain surety is the one wherewith my master
Fergus comes to me, for no sword is in the sheath of the great staff he bears."
It was true what he said. A year before this tale, Ailill had found Fergus going
to a tryst with Medb on the hillside in Cruachan and his sword on a branch near
by him. And Ailill had torn the sword from its sheath and put a wooden sword in
its stead and vowed he would not restore him the sword till came the day of the
"It matters not to me, O fosterling," replied Fergus; "for had I a sword in
this, it never would cut thee nor be plied on thee. But, by the honour and
training I bestowed upon thee and the Ulstermen and Conchobar bestowed, give way
before me this day in the presence of the men of Erin!" "Truly I am loath to do
that," answered Cuchulain, "to flee before any one man on the Cattle-spoil of
Cualnge." "Nay then it is not a thing to be taken amiss by thee," said Fergus;
"for I in my turn will retreat before thee when thou wilt be covered with wounds
and dripping with gore and pierced with holes in the battle of the Táin. And
when I alone shall turn in flight before thee, so will all the men of Erin also
flee before thee in like manner."
So zealous was Cuchulain to do whatever made for Ulster's weal that he had
his chariot brought to him, and he mounted his chariot and he went in confusion
and flight from Fergus in the presence of the men of Erin. The men of Erin saw
that. "He is fled from thee! He is fled from thee, O Fergus!" cried all. "Pursue
him, pursue him quickly, Fergus," Medb cried, "that he do not escape thee."
"Nay then," said Fergus, "I will pursue him no further. For however little ye
may make of the flight I have put him to, none of the men of Erin could have
obtained so much as that of him on the Cow-creagh of Cualnge. For this cause,
till the men of Erin take turns in single combat, I will not engage again with
this same man." Hence here we have the '[White] Battle' of Fergus; [and it is
for this cause it is called the 'White Battle,' because no blood on weapons