The Tain Bo Culaigne
The Repeated Warning of Sualtaim
Now while the deeds we have told here were being done, Sualtaim ('Goodly
fosterer') son of Becaltach ('of Small belongings') son of Moraltach ('of Great
belongings'), the same the father of Cuchulain macSualtaim, was told of the
distress of his son contending in unequal combat on the Cualnge Cattle-spoil,
even against Calatin Dana ('the Bold') with his seven and twenty sons, and
against Glass son of Delga, his grandson.
"Whate'er it be, this that I hear from afar," quoth Sualtaim, "it is the sky
that bursts or the sea that ebbs or the earth that quakes, or is it the distress
of my son overmatched in the strife on the Driving of the Kine of Cualnge?" In
that, indeed, Sualtaim spoke true. And he went to learn all after a while,
without hastening on his way. And when Sualtaim was come to where his son
Cuchulain was, Sualtaim began to moan and lament for Cuchulain.
Forsooth Cuchulain deemed it neither an honour nor glory that Sualtaim should
bemoan and lament him, for Cuchulain knew that, wounded and injured though he
was, Sualtaim would not be the man to avenge his wrong. For such was Sualtaim:
He was no mean warrior and he was no mighty warrior, but only a good, worthy man
was he. "Come, my father Sualtaim," said Cuchulain, "do thou go to Emain Macha
to the men of Ulster and tell them to come now to have a care for their droves,
for no longer am I able to protect them in the gaps and passes of the land of
Conalle Murthemni. All alone am I against four of the five grand provinces of
Erin from Monday at Summer's end till the beginning of Spring, every day slaying
a man on a ford and a hundred warriors every night. Fair fight is not granted me
nor single combat, and no one comes to aid me nor to succour. Spancel-hoops hold
my cloak over me. Dry tufts of grass are stuffed in my wounds. There is not a
single hair on my body from my crown to my sole whereon the point of a needle
could stand, without a drop of deep-red blood on the top of each hair, save the
left hand alone which is holding my shield, and even there thrice fifty bloody
wounds are upon it. And let them straightway give battle to the warriors, and
unless they avenge this anon, they will never avenge it till the very day of
doom and of life!"
Sualtaim set out on Liath ('the Roan') of Macha as his only horse, with
warning to the men of Ulster. And when he was come alongside of Emain, he
shouted these words there: "Men are slain, women stolen, cattle lifted, ye men
of Ulster!" cried Sualtaim.
He had not the answer that served him from the Ulstermen, and forasmuch as he
had it not he went on further to the rampart of Emain. And he cried out the same
words there: "Men are slain, women stolen, cattle lifted, ye men of Ulster!"
Again he had not the response that served him from the men of Ulster. Thus
stood it among the Ulstermen: It was geis for the Ulstermen to speak before
their king, geis for the king to speak before his druids. Thereafter Sualtaim
drove on to the 'Flag-stone of the hostages' in Emain Macha. He shouted the same
words there: "Men are slain, women stolen, cows carried off!"
"But who has slain them, and who has stolen them, and who has carried them
off?" asked Cathba the druid. "Ailill and Medb have overwhelmed you," said
Sualtaim. "Your wives and your sons and your children, your steeds and your
stock of horses, your herds and your flocks and your droves of cattle have been
carried away. Cuchulain all alone is checking and staying the hosts of the four
great provinces of Erin at the gaps and passes of the land of Conalle Murthemni.
Fair fight is refused him, nor is he granted single combat, nor comes any one to
succour or aid him. The youth is wounded, his limbs are out of joint.
Spancel-hoops hold his cloak over him. There is not a hair from his crown to his
sole whereon the point of a needle could stand, without a drop of deep-red blood
on the top of each hair, except his left hand alone which is holding his shield,
and even there thrice fifty bloody wounds are upon it. And unless ye avenge this
betimes, ye will never avenge it till the end of time and of life."
"Fitter is death and doom and destruction for the man that so incites the
king!" quoth Cathba the druid. "In good sooth, it is true!" said the Ulstermen
all together. Thereupon Sualtaim went his way from them, indignant and angry
because from the men of Ulster he had not had the answer that served him.
Then reared Liath ('the Roan') of Macha under Sualtaim and dashed on to the
ramparts of Emain. Thereat Sualtaim fell under his own shield, so that the edge
of the shield severed Sualtaim's head. The horse himself turned back again to
Emain, and the shield on the horse and the head on the shield. And Sualtaim's
head uttered the same words: "Men are slain women stolen, cattle lifted, ye men
of Ulster!" spake the head of Sualtaim.
"Some deal too great is that cry," quoth Conchobar; "for yet is the sky above
us, the earth underneath and the sea round about us. And unless the heavens
shall fall with their showers of stars on the man-like face of the world, or
unless the ground burst open in quakes beneath our feet, or unless the furrowed,
blue-bordered ocean break o'er the tufted brow of the earth, will I restore to
her byre and her stall, to her abode and her dwelling-place, each and every cow
and woman of them with victory of battle and contest and combat!"
Thereupon a runner of his people was summoned to Conchobar, Findchad
Ferbenduma ('he of the copper Horn') to wit, son of Fraech Lethan ('the Broad'),
and he bade him go assemble and muster the men of Ulster. And in like manner,
Conchobar enumerated to him their quick and their dead, in the drunkenness of
sleep and of his 'Pains,' and he uttered these words: The Order of the men of
"Arise, O Findchad!
I Thee I send forth:
A negligence not to
be wished (?);
Proclaim it to the chiefs of