The Tain Bo Culaigne

The Foretelling

   When Medb was come to the place where her druid was, she craved light and augury of him. "Many there be," saith Medb, "who do part with their kinsmen and friends here to-day, and from their homes and their lands, from father and from mother; and unless unscathed every one shall return, upon me will they cast their sighs and their ban, for it is I that have assembled this levy. Yet there goeth not forth nor stayeth there at home any dearer to me than are we to ourselves. And do thou discover for us whether we ourselves shall return, or whether we shall never return."
   And the druid made answer, "Whoever comes not, thou thyself shalt come." "Wait, then," spake the charioteer, "let me wheel the chariot by the right, that thus the power of a good omen may arise that we return again." Then the charioteer wheeled his chariot round and Medb went back again, when she espied a thing that surprised her: A lone virgin of marriageable age standing on the hindpole of a chariot a little way off drawing nigh her. And thus the maiden appeared:
   Weaving lace was she, and in her right hand was a bordering rod of silvered bronze with its seven strips of red gold at the sides. A many-spotted green mantle around her; a bulging, strong-headed pin of gold in the mantle over her bosom; a hooded tunic, with red interweaving, about her. A ruddy, fair-faced countenance she had, narrow below and broad above. She had a blue-grey and laughing eye; each eye had three pupils. Dark and black were her eyebrows; the soft, black lashes threw a shadow to the middle of her cheeks. Red and thin were her lips. Shiny and pearly were her teeth; thou wouldst believe they were showers of white pearls that had rained into her head. Like to fresh Parthian crimson were her lips. As sweet as the strings of lutes when long sustained they are played by master players' hands was the melodious sound of her voice and her fair speech. As white as snow in one night fallen was the sheen of her skin and her body that shone outside of her dress. Slender and very white were her feet; rosy, even, sharp-round nails she had; two sandals with golden buckles about them. Fair-yellow, long, golden hair she wore; three braids of hair she wore; two tresses were wound around her head; the other tress from behind threw a shadow down on her calves.
   Medb gazed at her. "And what doest thou here now, O maiden?" asked Medb. "I impart to thee thine advantage and good fortune in thy gathering and muster of the four mighty provinces of Erin against the land of Ulster on the Raid for the Kine of Cualnge." "Wherefore doest thou this for me?" asked Medb. "Much cause have I. A bondmaid 'mid thy people am I." "Who of my people art thou and what is thy name?" asked Medb. "Not hard, in sooth, to say. The prophetess Fedelm, from the Sid ('the Fairy Mound') of Cruachan, a poetess of Connacht am I."
   "Whence comest thou?" asked Medb. "From Alba, after learning prophetic skill," the maiden made answer. "Hast thou the form of divination?" "Verily, have I," the maiden said. "Look, then, for me, how will my undertaking be." The maiden looked. Then spake Medb:--
   "Good now,

"Tell, O Fedelm, prophet-maid
How beholdest thou our host?"
   Fedelm answered and spoke:
"Crimson-red from blood they are;
I behold them bathed in red!"
   "That is no true augury," said Medb. "Verily, Conchobar with the Ulstermen is in his 'Pains' in Emain; thither fared my messengers Sand brought me true tidings ; naught is there that we need dread from Ulster's men. But speak truth, O Fedelm:--
"Tell, O Fedelm, prophet-maid
How beholdest thou our host?"

"Crimson-red from blood they are;
I behold them bathed in red!"
   "That is no true augury. Cuscraid Mend ('the Stammerer') of Macha, Conchobar's son, is in Inis Cuscraid ('Cuscraid's Isle') in his ' Pains.' Thither fared my messengers; naught need we fear from Ulster's men. But speak truth, O Fedelm:--
"Tell, O Fedelm, prophet-maid
How beholdest thou our host?"

"Crimson-red from blood they are;
I behold them bathed in red!"
   "Eogan, Durthacht's son, is in Rath Airthir ('the Eastern Rath') in his ' Pains.' Thither went my messengers. Naught need we dread from Ulster's men. But speak truth, O Fedelm:--
"Tell, O Fedelm, prophet-maid
How beholdest thou our host?"

"Crimson-red from blood they are;
I behold them bathed in red!"
   "Celtchar, Uthechar's son, is in his fort at Lethglas in his 'Pains,' and a third of the Ulstermen with him. Thither fared my messengers. Naught have we to fear from Ulster's men. And Fergus son of Roig son of Eochaid is with us here in exile, and thirty hundred with him. But speak truth, O Fedelm:--
"Tell, O Fedelm, prophet-maid
How beholdest thou our host?"

"Crimson-red from blood they are;
I behold them bathed in red!"
   "Meseemeth this not as it seemeth to thee," quoth Medb, "for when Erin's men shall assemble in one place, there quarrels will arise and broils, contentions and disputes amongst them about the ordering of themselves in the van or rear, at ford or river, over who shall be first at killing a boar or a stag or a deer or a hare. But, look now again for us and speak truth, O Fedelm:--
"Tell, O Fedelm, prophet-maid
How beholdest thou our host?"

"Crimson-red from blood they are;
I behold them bathed in red!"
   Therewith she began to prophesy and to foretell the coming of Cuchulain to the men of Erin, and she chanted a lay:--
"Fair, of deeds, the man I see;
Wounded sore is his fair skin;
On his brow shines hero's light;
Victory's seat is in his face!

"Seven gems of champions brave
Deck the centre of his orbs;
Naked are the spears he bears,
And he hooks a red cloak round!

Noblest face is his, I see;
He respects all womankind.
Young the lad and fresh his hue,
With a dragon's form in fight!

I know not who is the Hound,
Culann's hight, of fairest fame;
But I know full well this host
Will be smitten red by him!

Four small swords--a brilliant feat--
He supports in either hand;
These he'll ply upon the host,
Each to do its special deed!

His Gae Bulga, too, he wields,
With his sword and javelin.
Lo, the man in red cloak girt
Sets his foot on every hill!

Two spears from the chariot's left
He casts forth in orgy wild.
And his form I saw till now
Well I know will change its guise!

On to battle now he comes;
If ye watch not, ye are doomed.
This is he seeks ye in fight
Brave Cuchulain, Sualtaim's son!

All your host he'll smite in twain,
Till he works your utter ruin.
All your heads ye'll leave with him.
Fedelm, prophet-maid, hides not!

"Gore shall flow from warriors' wounds;
Long 'twill live in memory.
Bodies hacked and wives in tears,
Through the Smith's Hound whom I see!"
   Thus far the Augury and the Prophecy and the Preface of the Tale, and the Occasion of its invention and conception, and the Pillow-talk which Ailill and Medb had in Cruachan. Next follows the Body of the Tale itself.