The Tain Bo Culaigne
The Violent Death Of Etarcumul
Fergus' horses were
brought and his chariot was hitched and two horses were
brought for Etarcumul son of Fid and of Lethrinn, a soft youth of the people of
Medb and of Ailill. "Whither goest thou?" Fergus demanded. "We go with thee,"
Etarcumul made answer. "To behold the form and appearance of Cuchulain, and to
gaze upon him, for he is unknown to me." "Wilt thou do my bidding," said Fergus,
"thou wilt in no wise go thither." "Why shall I not, pray?"
Thy light-heartedness, thy haughtiness (I know), but (I also know) the
fierceness and valour and hostility of the youth against whom thou goest. And
methinks ye will have contention before ye part." "Art thou not able to come
between us to protect me?" "I am, to be sure," Fergus answered, "provided thou
thyself seek not the combat." "I will not seek it," said Etarcumul, "till the
very day of doom!"
Then they went their ways to come up to Cuchulain where Cuchulain was between
Fochain and the sea. There it is that he was that day, playing draughts with
Laeg. And not a living thing entered the entire plain without Laeg perceiving it
and, notwithstanding, he continued to win every other game of draughts from
Cuchulain. "A lone warrior cometh towards us over the plain, my master Cucuc,"
spake Laeg. "What manner of warrior?" queried Cuchulain.
"As large as one of the chief mountains that are highest on a great plain
appears to me the chariot that is under the warrior; as large as one of the
noble trees on a main fort's green meseems the curly, tressed, fair-yellow,
all-golden hair hanging loose around the man's head; a purple mantle fringed
with thread of gold wrapped around him; a broad and gray-shafted lance,
perforated from mimasc to horn, flaming red in his hand; over him, a bossed,
plaited shield, curved, with applied ornaments of red gold thereon; a lengthy
sword, as long as the oar of a huge currach on a wild, stormy night, resting on
the two thighs of the great haughty warrior that is within the chariot."
"Holla! Welcome the coming of this guest to us!" cried Cuchulain. "We know
the man; it is my master Fergus that cometh hither." "Yet another single
chariot-fighter I see coming towards us. With fulness of skill and beauty and
splendour his horses speed." "One of the youths of the men of Erin is he, O my
master Laeg," responded Cuchulain. "To scan my appearance and form is that man
come, for I am renowned amongst them in the midst of their camp, and they know
me not at all."
Fergus came up to where Cuchulain was and he sprang from the chariot, and
Cuchulain bade him a hearty welcome. "Thy welcome I take for true," Fergus
"Verily, it is truly meant for thee," said Cuchulain; "for comes there a
brace of birds into the plain, thou shalt have a wild goose with half the other.
If fish rise to the river-mouths, to the stones or waterfalls, thou shalt have a
salmon with as much again. Thou shalt have a handful of watercress and a handful
of sea-grass and a handful of laver. If thou hast a fight or combat with warrior
before thee, I myself will go in thy stead to the ford. And I will watch and
guard thee as long as thou sleepest."
"Well, then," said Fergus. "We know of what sort is thy hospitality on this
occasion, on the Cow-spoil of Cualnge. But, as for this compact which thou hast
asked of the men of Erin, single-handed combat with one man, thou shalt have it.
It is for that I am come, to bind thee thereto, and do thou take it upon thee."
"I pledge myself truly," said Cuchulain, "oh, my master Fergus." And no longer
than that did he remain in parley, lest the men of Erin should say they were
betrayed or deserted by Fergus for his disciple. Fergus' two horses were brought
and his chariot was harnessed and he went back.
Etarcumul tarried behind gazing for a long time at Cuchulain. "At what
starest thou, gilla?" asked Cuchulain. "I look at thee," said Etarcumul. "In
truth then, thou hast not far to look," said Cuchulain. "There is no need of
straining thine eye for that. If thou but knewest how angered is the little
creature thou regardest, myself, to wit! And how then do I appear unto thee
gazing upon me?" "Thou pleases me as thou art; a comely, shapely, wonderful,
beautiful youth thou art, with brilliant, striking, various feats. Yet as for
rating thee where goodly warriors are or forward youths or heroes of bravery or
sledges of destruction, we count thee not nor consider thee at all.
"Though thou reviles me," said Cuchulain, "it is a surety for thee that thou
camest from the camp under the protection of Fergus, as thou well knowest. For
the rest, I swear by my gods whom I worship, were it not for the honour of
Fergus, it would be only bits of thy bones and shreds of thy limbs that would be
brought back to the camp!" "But threaten me no longer in this wise, Cuchulain!"
cried Etarcumul; "for the wonderful terms thou didst exact of the men of Erin,
that fair play and combat with one man should be granted thee, none other of the
men of Erin but mine own self will come to-morrow at morn's early hour." "Come
out, then," said Cuchulain, "and how so early thou comest, thou wilt find me
here. I will not fly before thee. "
Etarcumul returned and began to talk with his driver. "I must needs fight
with Cuchulain to-morrow, gilla," said Etarcumul. "'Tis true," quoth the
charioteer. "Howbeit, I know not wilt thou fulfil it." "But what is better for
us, to fulfil it to-morrow or forthwith tonight?" "To our thinking," said the
gilla, "albeit no victory is to be won by fighting to-morrow, there is still
less to be gained by fighting to-night, for thy combat and hurt is the nearer."
"Be that as it may," said he ; "turn the horses and chariot back again from the
hill for us, gilla, till we go to the ford of combat, for I swear by the gods
whom I worship, I will not return to the camp till the end of life and time,
till I bring with me the head of that young wildling, even the head of
Cuchulain, for a trophy!"
The charioteer wheeled the chariot again towards the ford. They brought the
left board to face the pair in a line with the ford. Laeg marked this and he
cried to Cuchulain: ("Wist thou) the last chariot-fighter that was here a while
ago, O Cucuc?" "What of him?" asked Cuchulain. "He has brought his left board
towards us in the direction of the ford." "It is Etarcumul, O gilla, who seeks
me in combat. And unwelcome is his coming, because of the honour of my
foster-father Fergus under whom he came forth from the camp, of the men of Erin.
But not that I would protect him do I thus. Fetch me my arms, gilla, to the
ford. I deem it no honour for myself if the fellow reaches the ford before me."
And straightway Cuchulain betook himself to the ford, and he bared his sword
over his fair, well-knit spalls and he was ready on the ford to await Etarcumul.
Then, too, came Etarcumul. "What seekest thou, gilla?" demanded Cuchulain.
"Battle with thee I seek," replied Etarcumul. "Hadst thou been advised by me,"
said Cuchulain, "thou wouldst never have come. Because of the honour of Fergus
under whom thou camest out of the camp, and not because I would spare thee, do I
Thereupon Cuchulain gave him a long-blow whereby he cut away the sod that was
under the soles of his feet, so that he was stretched out like a sack on his
back, and his limbs in the air and the sod on his belly. Had Cuchulain wished
it, it is two pieces he might have made of him. "Hold, fellow. Off with thee
now, for I have given thee warning." "I will not go. We will fight on," said
Cuchulain dealt him a well-aimed edge-stroke. With the edge of his sword he
sheared the hair from him from poll to forehead, from one ear to the other, as
if it were with a light, keen razor he had been shorn. Not a scratch of his skin
gave blood. "Hold, fellow. Get thee home now," said Cuchulain, "for a
laughing-stock I have made of thee." "I go not," rejoined Etarcumul. "We will
fight to the end, till I take thy head and thy spoils and boast over thee, or
till thou takest my head and my spoils and boastest over me!" "So let it be,
what thou saidst last, that it shall be. I will take thy head and thy spoils and
boast over thee!"
Cuchulain dealt him a cleaving blow on the crown of the head, so that it
drove to his navel. He dealt him a second crosswise stroke, so that at the one
time the three portions of his body came to the ground. Thus fell Etarcumul son
of Fid and of Lethrinn.
And Fergus knew not that the combat had been. For thus was his wont: he never
for aught looked back, whether at sitting or at rising or when travelling or
walking, in battle or fight or combat, lest some one might say it was out of
fear he looked back, but ever he looked at the thing that was before and beside
And when Etarcumul's squire came up abreast of Fergus, Fergus asked, "But,
where is thy lord, gilla?" "He fell a while since at the ford by the hand of
Cuchulain," the gilla made answer. "That indeed was not fair!" exclaimed Fergus,
"for that elf-like sprite to wrong me in him that came under my safeguard and
protection. Turn the chariot for us, gilla," cried Fergus, "that we may go to
the ford of fight and combat for a parley with Cuchulain."
Thereupon the driver wheeled the chariot. They fared thither towards the
ford. "How darest thou offend me, thou wild, perverse, little elf-man," cried
Fergus, "in him that came under my safeguard and protection? "After the nurture
and care thou didst bestow on me, which wouldst thou hold better, for him to
triumph and boast over me, or for me to triumph and boast over him? And yet
morel. Ask his own gilla which of us was in fault in respect of the other." Then
Etarcumul's gilla related to Fergus how it all befel. Fergus replied, "Liefer to
me what thou hast done, fosterling," said Fergus, "and a blessing on the hand
that smote him."
So then they bound two spancels about the ankle-joints of Etarcumul's feet
and he was dragged along behind his horses and chariot. At every rock that was
rough for him, his lungs and his liver were left on the stones and the rugged
places. At every place that was smooth for him, his skilfully severed limbs came
together again round the horses. In this wise he was dragged through the camp to
the door of the tent of Ailill and Medb.
"There's your young warrior for you," cried Fergus, "for 'Every restoration
together with its restitution' is what the law saith." Medb came forth to the
door of her tent and she raised her quick, splitting, loud voice of a warrior.
Quoth Medb: "Truly, methought that great was the heat and the wrath of this
young hound on leaving us awhile since at the beginning of the day as he went
from the camp. We had thought that the honour under which he went was not the
honour of a dastard, even the honour of Fergus!"
"What hath crazed the virago and wench?" cried Fergus. "Good lack, is it
fitting for the mongrel to seek the Hound of battle whom the warriors and
champions of four of the five grand provinces of Erin dare not approach nor
withstand? What, I myself was glad to escape whole from him!" In this manner
fell Etarcumul and such was the combat of Etarcumul with Cuchulain.