The Tain Bo Culaigne
The four grand provinces of
Erin proceeded till they pitched camp and took
quarters in Druim En ('Birds' Ridge') in the land of Conalle Murthemni, and they
slept there that night, and Cuchulain held himself at Ferta Illergaib ('the
Burial-mound on the Slopes') hard by them that night, and he, Cuchulain, shook,
brandished and flourished his weapons that night, so that one hundred warriors
of the host perished of fright and fear and dread of Cuchulain.
Medb called upon Fiachu son of Ferfebè of the Ulstermen to go parley with
Cuchulain, to come to some terms with him. "What terms shall be given him?"
asked Fiachu son of Ferfebè. "Not hard to answer," Medb replied: "He shall be
recompensed for the loss of his lands and estates, for whosoever has been slain
of the Ulstermen, so that it be paid to him as the men of Erin adjudge.
Entertainment shall be his at all times in Cruachan; wine and mead shall be
poured out for him. And he shall come into my service and Ailill's, for that is
more seemly for him than to be in the service of the lordling with whom he is.
Accordingly this was the greatest word of scorn and insult spoken on the
Cow-Raid of Cualnge, to make a lordling of the best king of a province in Erin,
even of Conchobar.
Then came Fiachu son of Ferfebè to converse with Cuchulain. Cuchulain bade
him welcome. "I regard that welcome as truly meant," said Fiachu. "It is truly
meant for thee," replied Cuchulain. "Not for hospitality am I come, but to
parley with thee am I come from Medb, and to bring thee terms." "What hast thou
brought with thee?"
"Thou shalt be recompensed for whatsoever was destroyed of Ulster which shall
be paid thee as best the men of Erin adjudge. Entertainment shalt thou enjoy in
Cruachan; wine and mead shall be poured out for thee and thou shalt enter the
service of Ailill and Medb, for that is more seemly for thee than to be in the
service of the lordling with whom thou art." "Nay, of a truth," answered
Cuchulain, "I would not sell my mother's brother for any other king!" "Further,"
continued Fiachu, "that thou comest to-morrow to a tryst with Medb and Fergus in
Accordingly, early on the morrow, Cuchulain set forth for Glenn Fochaine.
Likewise Medb and Fergus went to meet him. And Medb looked narrowly at
Cuchulain, and her spirit chafed her at him that day, for no bigger than the
bulk of a stripling did he seem to her. "Is that yonder the renowned Cuchulain
thou speakest of, O Fergus?" asked Medb. And Medb began to address Fergus and
she made this lay:--
M: "If that be the noble Hound,
"Accost Cuchulain, O Fergus," said Medb. "Nay, then," quoth Fergus, "but do
thou accost him thyself, for ye are not asunder here in the valley, in Glenn
Fochaine." And Medb began to address Cuchulain and she made a lay, to which he
Of whom ye of Ulster
What man e'er stout foe hath faced
Will fend him from Erin's
F: "Howe'er young the Hound thou seest
That Murthemne's Plain
That man hath not stood on earth
Whom he'd crush not with
M: "We will bring this warrior terms;
If he slight them, he is
Half his cows, his women, half.
He shall change his way of fight! "
F: "My wish, that ye'll not o'ercome
This Hound from proud
Deeds he fears not-- fierce and bright--
This I know, if it
M: "Culann's Hound, whom quatrains praise,
When this lay was finished, Cuchulain accepted none of the terms which she
had offered. In such wise they parted in the valley and withdrew in equal anger
on the one side and on the other.
Keep thy staff-sling
far from us;
Thy fierce, famed fight hath us ruined,
Hath us broken and
C: "Medb of Mur, he, Maga's son,
No base arrant wight am
While I live I'll never cease
Cualnge's raid to harass sore!"
M: "If thou wilt take this from us,
Valiant chief, thou
Half thy cows; thy women, half,
Thou shalt have through
fear of thee!"
C: "As by right of thrusts am I
Ulster's champion and
Naught I'll yield till I retrieve
Cow and woman ta'en from
M: "What thou askest is too much,
After slaughtering our fair
That we keep but steeds and gauds,
All because of one sole man!
C: "Eocho's daughter, fair, of Fal,
I'm not good at wars of
Though a warrior-- fair the cheer--
Counsel mine is little worth!
M: "Shame thou hast none for what thou sayest
Famous are the terms for thee,
O thou battling Culann's
The warriors of four of the five grand provinces of Erin pitched camp and
took quarters for three days and three nights at Druim En ('Birds' Ridge') in
Conalle Murthemni, but neither huts nor tents did they set up, nor did they
engage in feasts or repasts, nor sang they songs nor carols those three nights.
And Cuchulain destroyed a hundred of their warriors every night ere the bright
hour of sunrise on the morrow.
"Our hosts will not last long in this fashion," said Medb, "if Cuchulain
slays a hundred of our warriors every night. Wherefore is a proposal not made to
him and do we not parley with him?" "What might the proposal be?" asked Ailill.
"Let the cattle that have milk be given to him and the captive women from
amongst our booty. And he on his side shall check his staff-sling from the men
of Erin and give leave to the hosts to sleep, even though he slay them by day."
"Who shall go with that proposal?" Ailill asked. "Who," answered
macRoth the chief runner!" "Nay, but I will not go," said macRoth, "for I am in
no way experienced and know not where Cuchulain may be, and even though I should
meet him, I should not know him." "Ask Fergus," quoth Medb; "like enough he
knows where he is." "Nay, then, I know it not," answered Fergus; "but I trow he
is in the snow between Fochain and the sea, taking the wind and the sun after
his sleeplessness last night, killing and slaughtering the host single handed."
And so it truly was.
Then on that errand to Delga macRoth set forth, the messenger of Ailill and
Medb. He it is that circles Erin in one day. There it is that Fergus opined that
Cuchulain would be, in Delga.
Heavy snow fell that night so that all the five provinces of Erin were a
white plane with the snow. And Cuchulain doffed the seven-score waxed, boardlike
tunics which were used to be held under cords and strings next his skin, in
order that his sense might not be deranged when the fit of his fury came on him.
And the snow melted for thirty feet all around him, because of the intensity of
the warrior's heat and the warmth of Cuchulain's body. And the gilla remained a
good distance from him for he could not endure to remain near him because of the
might of his rage and the warrior's fury and the heat of his body.
"A single warrior approacheth, O Cuchulain," cried Laeg to
manner of warrior is he?" asked Cuchulain. "A brown, broad-faced, handsome
fellow; a splendid, brown, hooded cloak, about him; a fine, bronze pin in his
cloak; a leathern three-striped doublet next his skin; two gapped shoes between
his two feet and the ground; a white-hazel dog-staff in one of his hands; a
single-edged sword with ornaments of walrus-tooth on its hilt in the other.
"Good, O gilla," quoth Cuchulain, "these be the tokens of a herald. One of the
heralds of Erin is he to bring me message and offer of parley."
Now was macRoth arrived at the place where Laeg was. "How now! What is thy
title as vassal, O gilla?" macRoth asked. "Vassal am I to the youth up yonder,"
the gilla made answer. MacRoth came to the place where Cuchulain was. "How now!
What is thy name as vassal, O warrior?" asked macRoth. "Vassal am I to Conchobar
son of Fachtna Fathach, son of the High King of this province." "Hast not
something, a name more special than that?" "'Tis enough for the nonce," answered
"Haply, thou knowest where I might find that famous Cuchulain of whom the men
of Erin clamour now on this foray?" "What wouldst thou say to him that thou
wouldst not to me?" asked Cuchulain. "To parley with him am I come on the part
of Ailill and Medb, with terms and friendly intercourse for him." "What terms
hast thou brought with thee for him?" "The milch-kine and the bondwomen of the
booty he shall have, and for him to hold back his staff-sling from the hosts,
for not pleasant is the thunder-feat he works every evening upon them."
"Even though the one thou seekest were really at hand, he would not accept
the proposals thou askest." "For the Ulstermen, in reprisal for injuries and
satires and hindrances, will kill for meat in the winter the milch-cows ye have
captured, should they happen to have no yeld cattle. And, what is more, they
will bring their bondwomen to bed to them, and thus will grow up a base progeny
on the side of the mothers in the land of Ulster.
MacRoth went his way back. "What! Didst thou not find him?" Medb asked.
"Verily, I know not, but I found a surly, angry, hateful, wrathful gilla in the
snow betwixt Fochain and the sea. Sooth to say, I know not if he were Cuchulain." "Hath he accepted these proposals from thee?" "Nay then, he hath
not." And macRoth related unto them all his answer, the reason why he did not
accept them. "It was he himself with whom thou spakest," said Fergus.
"Another offer shall be made him," said Medb. "What is the offer?" asked
Ailill. "There shall be given to him the yeld cattle and the noblest of the
captive women of the booty, and his sling shall be checked from the hosts, for
not pleasant is the thunder-feat he works on them every evening." "Who should go
make this covenant?" said they. "Who but macRoth the king's envoy," said every
one. "Yea, I will go," said macRoth, "because this time I know him."
Thereupon macRoth arose and came to parley with Cuchulain. "To parley with
thee am I come this time with other terms, for I wis it is thou art the renowned
Cuchulain." "What hast thou brought with thee now?" Cuchulain asked. "What is
dry of the kine and what is noblest of the captives shalt thou get, and hold thy
staff-sling from the men of Erin and suffer the men of Erin to go to sleep, for
not pleasant is the thunder-feat thou workest upon them every evening."
"I accept not that offer, because, as amends for their honour, the Ulstermen
will kill the dry cattle. For the men of Ulster are honourable men and they
would remain wholly without dry kine and milch-kine. They would bring their free
women ye have captured to the querns and to the kneading-troughs and into
bondage and other serfdom besides. This would be a disgrace. Loath I should be
to leave after me this shame in Ulster, that slave-girls and handmaids should be
made of the daughters of kings and princes of Ulster."
"Is there any offer at all thou wilt accept this time?" "Aye, but there is,"
answered Cuchulain. "Then wilt thou tell me the offer?" asked macRoth. "By my
word," Cuchulain made answer, "'tis not I that will tell you." "It is a
question, then," said macRoth. "If there be among you in the camp," said
Cuchulain, "one that knows the terms I demand, let him inform you, and I will
abide thereby." "If there be not," said Cuchulain, "let no one come near me any
more with offers or with friendly intercourse or concerning aught other
injunction, for, whosoever may come, it will be the term of his life! "
MacRoth came back, and Medb asked his tidings. "Didst thou find him?" Medb
asked. "In truth, I found him," macRoth replied. "Hath he accepted the terms?"
"He hath not accepted," replied macRoth. "Is there an offer he will accept?"
"There is one, he said," answered macRoth. "Hath he made known to thee this
offer?" "This is his word," said macRoth, "that he himself would not disclose it
to ye." "'Tis a question, then," said Medb.
"But" (macRoth continued), "should there be one in our midst that knows his
terms, that one would tell it to me." "And if there be not, let no one go seek
him any more. But, there is one thing I promise thee," said macRoth; "even
though the kingdom of Erin were given me for it, I for one would not go on these
same legs to that place to parley with him again."
Therewith Medb looked at Fergus. "What are the terms yonder man demands, O
Fergus?" Medb asked. "I know what the man meant to disclose. I see no advantage
at all for ye in the terms he demands," Fergus replied. "But what are those
terms?" asked Medb. "That a single champion of the men of Erin be sent to fight
and contend with him every day. The while he slayeth that man, the army will be
permitted to continue its march. Then, when he will have slain that man, another
warrior shall be sent to meet him on the ford. Either that, or the men of Erin
shall halt and camp there till sunrise's bright hour in the morning. And
further, Cuchulain's food and clothing shall be provided by you, so long as he
will be on this expedition."
"By our conscience," said Ailill, "this is a grievous proposal." "What he
asks is good," replied Medb; "and he shall obtain those terms, for we deem it
easier to bear that he should have one of our warriors every day than a hundred
every night." "Who will go and make known those terms to Cuchulain?" "Who, then,
but Fergus?" replied Medb.
"Nevermore!" said Fergus. "Why not?" asked Ailill. "Bonds and covenants,
pledges and bail shall be given for abiding by those terms and for their
fulfillment towards Cuchulain." "I abide by it," said Medb, and she fast bound
Fergus to them in like manner.