AN EPISODE OF THE CATTLE SPOIL OF CUALNGE IN THE BOOK OF LEINSTER
Of rings great treasure sending,[FN#51]
Wide plains and woodlands bending
A bond must hold thee tightly,
Our chiefs, with oaths the gravest,
Shall give the pledge thou cravest;
For thee, of all men bravest,
Mere words are naught availing
These kings and chiefs behind me
Ere thou to slaughter lure me,
In chariots Donnal raceth,
Much poison, Maev, inflameth
This brooch, as champion's token,
Thereupon Fergus caused men to harness for him his horses, and his chariot was yoked, and he went to that place where Cuchulain was that he might tell him what had passed, and Cuchulain bade him welcome. I am rejoiced at your coming, O my good friend Fergus," said Cuchulain. And I gladly accept thy welcome, O my pupil," said Fergus. But I have now come hither in order to tell thee who that man is who comes to combat and fight with thee early on the morning of the day which is at hand." "We shall give all heed to thy words," said Cuchulain. "'Tis thine own friend," said Fergus, "thy companion, and thy fellow pupil; thine equal in feats and in deeds and in valour: even Ferdia, the son of Daman, the son of Dare, the great and valiant champion of the men of Irross Donnan." "Truly," said Cuchulain, "I make mine oath to thee that I am sorry that my friend should come to such a duel." "Therefore," said Fergus, "it behoves thee to be wary and prepared, for unlike to all those men who have come to combat and fight with thee upon the Tain be Cuailgne is Ferdia, the son of Daman, the son of Dare." "I have stood here," said Cuchulain, "detaining and delaying the men of the four great provinces of Ireland since the first Monday in Samhain (November) till the beginning of the spring, and not one foot have I gone back before any one man during all that time, nor shall I, as I trust, yield before him." And in this manner did Fergus continue to put him on his guard, and these were the words that he spoke, and thus did Cuchulain reply:
Rise, Cuchulain! foes are near,[FN#52]
All their covenant is clear;
Here I stand, whose valiant toil
Fierce is he in rage; his trust
Fergus, much thine arms excel;
He is fierce, with scores can fight,
Spear nor sword can on him bite;
Yea! Ferdia's power I know;
Loss of much I'd little mourn
Though in boasts I count me weak,
Brought by me, hosts eastward came,
Ulster sought to hurt my fame;
Sickness Conor's might withheld,
Greater deeds than done by me
There was no cheerfulness, or happiness, or even melancholy pleasure among the inmates of Ferdia's camp that night: they were all cheerless, and sorrowful, and low in spirit; for they knew that whenever those two champions, those two slayers of hundreds met, one of the two must fall in that place, or that both of them should fall: and if one only was to fall they were sure that that one would be their own master; for it was not easy for any man to combat and fight with Cuchulain on the Tain bo Cuailnge.
Now the first part of that night Ferdia slept very heavily, and when the middle of the night had come his sleep had left him, and the dizziness of his brain has passed away, and care for the combat and the fight pressed heavily upon him. Then he called for his charioteer to harness his horses, and to yoke his chariot; and the charioteer began to rebuke him, if haply he might turn him from his purpose. "It would be better for thee to stay!" said the charioteer. "Be thou silent, O my servant!" said Ferdia, and he then spoke the words that follow, and thus did his servant reply to him:--
'Tis a challenge provoking
Nay, thy threats show no meekness;
An ill word art thou saying;
Now in this place I will tell of the acts of Cuchulain. He rose not at all from his couch until the full light of the day; and this he did in order that the men of Ireland should not be able to say that it was from fear or from dread that he rose, if it had been early that he had arisen. And when the full daylight had come, he commanded his charioteer to harness for him his horses, and to yoke his chariot: "O my servant!" said Cuchulain, "harness for us our horses, and put the yoke to our chariot, for early rises the champion who cometh to meet us this day: even Ferdia, the son of Daman, the son of Dare." "The horses are harnessed," said the charioteer, "and the chariot is yoked; step thou into it, for it will bring no shame on thy valour." Then did Cuchulain, the fighter of battles, the skilful in feats, the winner of victory, that red-sworded hero, the son of Sualtam, leap into his chariot. All around him screamed the Bocanachs, and the Bananachs, and the wild people of the glens, and the demons of the air; for it was the custom of the people of the wizard race of Danu to raise their cries about him in every battle, on every stricken field, in every duel, and in every fight to which he went, that thereby in such fight the hatred, and the fear, and the avoidance, and the terror that men felt for him should be increased. In no short time the charioteer of Ferdia heard the roar of Cuchulain's approach; the clamour, and the hissing, and the tramp; and the thunder, and the clatter, and the buzz: for he heard the shields that were used as missiles clank together as they touched; and he heard the spears hiss, and the swords clash, and the helmet tinkle, and the armour ring; and the arms sawed one against the other, and the javelins swung, and the ropes strained, and the wheels of the chariot clattered, and the chariot creaked, and the hoofs of the horses trampled on the ground as that warrior and champion came forward in triumph to the ford, and approached him.
Then that servant of Ferdia arose, and he placed his hand upon his lord: "Arise now, O Ferdia!" said the servant, "for here they come towards thee, even to the Ford;" and this was the speech of the driver of the chariot of Ferdia as he stood before him:
Woe to him who here on hillock stands, that Hound to wait;
Emain Macha's perfect Hound is he, foretold by fate:
Last year I cried
'Tis time that I grant my assistance! Be still: let thy praise of him sink: Peer not, like a seer, at the distance; Wilt fail me on battle-field's brink? Though Cualgne's proud champion, displaying His gambols and pride thou dost see; Full soon shalt thou witness his slaying For price to be paid down to me.
If he who this glory is showing
'Tis pay at his hand thou hast taken,
So loudly resoundeth thy praise;
Then did Ferdia bid welcome to Cuchulain: "O Cuchulain!" said Ferdia, I rejoice to see thine approach." "Thy welcome would have been received by me upon an earlier day," said Cuchulain, "but this day I cannot receive it as one from a friend. And Ferdia," said he, "it were more suitable that it was I who bade welcome to thee rather than that thou shouldest welcome me; for out in flight before thee are my women, and my children; my youths, and my steeds, and my mares; my flocks, and my herds, and my cattle." "Ah, Cuchulain!" said Ferdia, "how hast thou been persuaded to come to this fight and this battle at all? For when we were with Scathach, with Uathach, and with Aife, thou wert mine attendant; thine was the office to whet my spears, and to make ready my couch." "'Tis true indeed," said Cuchulain, "but it was then as thy younger in years and in standing that it was my custom to perform this office for thee; and that is not my quality to-day; for now there is not in all the world any champion with whom I would refuse to fight." And then each of them reproached the other bitterly with breach of friendship, and there Ferdia spoke the words which here follow, and thus did Cuchulain reply:
Hound! why hither faring,[FN#54]
Hot with indignation,
Here is one to shame thee;
Thine shall be the choosing;
Ere the twilight gleameth,
Down a chasm appalling
Cease this endless vaunting,
Ah! in bygone story
Naught this strife avails thee,
"O my friend Ferdia!" said Cuchulain, "it was not right for thee to have come to the combat and the fight with me, at the instigation and the meddling of Ailill and Maev: none of those who came before thee have gained for themselves victory or success, and they all fell at my hand; neither shalt thou win victory or success from this battle, by me shalt thou fall." And it was in this manner that he was speaking, and he recited these words, and Ferdia hearkened to him:
Thou for gifts wert passed in sale,
Purple sash, firm coat of mail;
Findabar, Maev's lovely child,
Wouldst thou win the prize they bring,
Findabar, the child of king?
Thou hast sworn, and plighted. troth, Ne'er to fight me: keep thine oath: Friendship's tie thee firm should hold, Come not nigh me, champion bold.
Fifty chiefs, who sought that maid,
Fought me, fell, in earth are laid;
Well I know that tempting bait,
Ferbay fell, though bold his boast,
Him obeyed a valiant host;
Cruel fate Srub Darry slew,
Though that maid, whom Erin's best
"To what weapons shall we next resort, O Cuchulain?" said Ferdia.
"Thou hast the choice of weapons until the night," said Cuchulain, "because thou wert the first to reach the Ford." "Then," said Ferdia, "let us turn to our straight, well-trimmed, hard, and polished casting-spears with tough cords of flax upon them." "Let us do so indeed," said Cuchulain. Then they took two stout shields of defence, and they turned to their straight, well-trimmed, hard, and polished casting-spears with the tough cords of flax upon them, and each of them continued to hurl his spears at the other from the middle of midday until the ninth hour of the evening: and though the defence was most excellent that each of them made, yet so good was the casting of the spears that each of them wounded the other at that time, and drew red blood from him. "Let us desist from this now, O Cuchulain!" said Ferdia. "Let us desist indeed," said Cuchulain, "if the time has come."
They ceased, and they threw away their weapons into their charioteers' hands; and each of them at the end of that fight sought the other, and each threw his arms about the other's neck, and gave him three kisses. Their horses were in the same paddock that night, the men who had driven their chariots sat by the same fire, moreover the charioteers of both those warriors spread couches of fresh rushes for the two, and supplied them with such pillows as are needed by wounded men. And such folk as can heal and cure came to heal and to cure them, and they applied soothing and salving herbs and plants to their bruises, and their cuts, and their gashes, and to all their many wounds. And of every soothing and salving herb and plant that was brought for the bruises, the cuts, and the gashes, and all the wounds of Cuchulain, he used to send an equal portion westward across the ford to Ferdia, so that in case Ferdia fell at his hand the men of Ireland should not be able to say that it was owing to superiority in leech-craft that he had done it. And of each kind of food, and of pleasant, palatable, intoxicating drink that the men of Ireland brought to Ferdia, he would send a fair half northward across the ford to Cuchulain; for the men who provided food for Ferdia were more in number than they who provided food for Cuchulain. All the army of the men of Ireland helped to provide Ferdia with food, because he was their champion to defend them against Cuchulain; yet to Cuchulain also food was brought by the people who dwell in the Breg. And it was the custom with these that they came to converse with him at the dusk of each night.
Thus they remained that night, but early in the morning they arose, and repaired to the Ford of Combat. "What weapons shall we turn to to-day, O Ferdia?" said Cuchulain. "Thou hast the choice of weapons until the night," answered Ferdia, "because it is I who had my choice of them in the day that is past." "Let us then," said Cuchulain, "resort to our great, broad-bladed, heavy spears this day, for nearer shall we be to our battle by the thrusting of our spears this day than we were by the throwing weapons of yesterday: let our horses be harnessed for us, and our chariots yoked, that upon this day from our chariots and our horses we may fight." "Let us turn to these indeed," said Ferdia. They then took to them two exceedingly stout, broad shields, and they resorted to their great, broad-bladed, heavy spears that day. And each of them continued to thrust at, and to pierce through, and to redden, and to tear the body of the other from the dawn of the morning until the ninth hour of the evening; and if it were the custom for birds in their flight to pass through the bodies of men, they could have passed through the bodies of those warriors that day, carrying with them pieces of their flesh from their wounds into the clouds and to the sky around them. So when the ninth hour of the evening was come, the horses were weary, and the charioteers were weak; and they themselves, champions and heroes of valour as they were, had themselves become weary; and "Let us cease now from this, O Ferdia!" said Cuchulain, "for our horses are weary, and our charioteers are weak; and now that these are weary, why should not we be weary too?" and then it was that he sang this stave:
Thus they rested that night: but early in the morning they arose, and repaired to the Ford of Combat; and Cuchulain saw that an evil look and a lowering cloud was on the face of Ferdia that day. "Ill dost thou appear to me to-day, O Ferdia!" said Cuchulain. "Thy hair hath been darkened to-day, and thine eye hath been dimmed, and the form and the features and the visage that thou art wont to have are gone from thee." "'Tis from no fear or from terror of thee that I am what I am to-day," said Ferdia, "for there is not in Ireland to-day a champion that I am not able to subdue." And Cuchulain complained and lamented, and he spoke the words that follow, and thus did Ferdia reply:
Is't indeed Ferdia's face?[FN#57]
Thou who warrior art indeed,
Maev her daughter, Findabar,
Gently ruling Hound, I know
All that's chanced from thee hath sprung,
Darry's grandchild, Daman's son;
Comrade! had I fled, nor found
None put meat his lips between,
Thou who deep in wars dost wade,
Clots of blood my faithful heart
After this fashion did each of them hew at each other from the dawn of the day until the ninth hour of the even, and then Ferdia said, "Let us desist from this now, O Cuchulain!" "Let us cease indeed," said Cuchulain, "if the time has come."
They ceased from their strife, and they threw from them their arms into the hands of their charioteers. Pleasant and cheerful and joyous was the meeting of the two: mournfully, and sorrowfully, and unhappily did they part from each other that night. Their horses were not in the same paddock, their charioteers were not at the same fire, and there they stayed for that night.
It was early in the morning when Ferdia arose, and he advanced alone towards the Ford of Combat. Well did he know that the battle and the conflict would be decided that day; that upon that day and in that place one of the two would fall or that both would fall. And then, before Cuchulain could come, Ferdia put on the armour that he was to use for that battle in the conflict and fight. And this was the battle armour that he used for that conflict and fight; he put a kilt of striped silk, bordered with spangles of gold, next to his white skin, and over that he put his well-sewn apron of brown leather to protect the lower part of his body. Upon his belly he put a great stone as large as a millstone, and over that great stone as large as a millstone he put his firm deep apron of purified iron, on account of the fear and the dread that he had of the Gae-Bulg that day. And his crested helmet that he used for battle and conflict and fight he put upon his head: there were upon it four jewels of carbuncle, each one of them fit to adorn it: also it was studded with enamels, with crystals, with carbuncles, and with blazing rubies that had come from the East. Into his right hand he took his death-dealing sharp-pointed strong spear; upon his left side he hung his curved sword of battle with its golden hilt and its pommels of red gold: upon the slope of his back he took his great and magnificent shield with great bosses upon it: fifty was the number of the bosses, and upon each of them could be supported a full-grown hog: moreover in the centre of the shield was a great boss of red gold. Upon that day Ferdia displayed many noble, rapidly changing, wonderful feats of arms on high; feats which he had never learned from any other, either from his nurse or his tutor, or from Scathach, or from Uathach, or from Aife, but which he himself invented that day for his battle with Cuchulain. And Cuchulain approached the ford, and he saw the many, rapidly changing, wonderful feats that Ferdia displayed on high; and "O my friend Laeg!" said Cuchulain, "I mark those noble, rapidly changing, wonderful feats which Ferdia displays, and I know that all of those feats will in turn be tried upon me; and for this reason if it be I who begin to go backwards this day, let it be thy part to rouse me by reproaches, and by evil speech, so that my rage and my wrath may be kindled, and increase. And if it be I that shall prevail, then do thou give to me praise and approval; and speak good words tome, that my courage may be the greater." "This indeed will I do, O Cuchulain!" said Laeg.
Then did Cuchulain put on his battle armour that he used for the combat and fight. And that day he displayed noble, many-changing, wonderful, and many feats that he had learned from none: neither from Scathach, from Uathach, or from Aife. And Ferdia marked those feats, and he know that each in turn would be tried upon him.
"O Ferdia!" said Cuchulain, "tell me to what arms we shall resort?
"Thine is the choice of weapons until the night," said Ferdia. "Then," said Cuchulain, "let us try the Feat of the Ford."[FN#58] "Let us do so indeed," said Ferdia; but although he thus spoke, it was with sorrow that he consented, for he knew that Cuchulain had ever destroyed every hero and champion who had contended with him at the Feat of the Ford.
Laeg saw what had been done. "Ah!" said Laeg, "the warrior who is against thee, casts thee away as a loose woman casts her child; he flings thee as high as the river flings its foam; he grinds thee even as a mill would grind fresh malt; pierces thee as the axe would pierce the oak that it fells; binds thee as the woodbine binds the tree; darts upon thee even as the hawk darts upon little birds, so that never until time and life shall end, shalt thou have a call, or right, or claim for prowess or for valour: thou little fairy phantom!" said Laeg. Up sprang Cuchulain, swift as the wind; quick as the swallow; fiery as the dragon; powerful as the lion; and he bounded into the air for the third time into the troubled clouds of it, until he lit upon the boss of the shield of Ferdia, the son of Daman, striving to strike his head from above, over the rim of the shield. And the warrior shook his shield, and he threw Cuchulain from him, into the middle of the ford, just as if he had never been cast off at all.
And then for the first time the countenance of Cuchulain was changed, and he rose in his full might, as if the air had entered into him, till he towered as a terrible and wonderful giant, with the hero-light playing about his head; rising as a wild man of the sea; that great and valiant champion, till he overtopped Ferdia. And now so closely were they locked in the fight, that their heads met above them, and their feet below them; and in their middles met their arms over the rims and the bosses of their shields. So closely were they locked in the fight, that they turned and bent, and shivered their spears from the points to the hafts; and cleft and loosened their shields from the centres to the rims. So closely were they locked, that the Bocanachs, and the Bananachs, and the wild people of the glens, and the demons of the air screamed from the rims of their shields, and from the hilts of their swords, and from the hafts of their spears. And so closely did they fight, that they cast the river from its bed and its course, so that there might have been a couch fit for a king and a queen to he in, there in the midst of the ford, for there was no drop of water left in it, except such as fell therein from off those two heroes and champions, as they trampled and hewed at each other in the midst of the ford. And so fierce was their fight, that the horses of the Gaels, in fear and in terror, rushed away wildly and madly, bursting their chains, and their yokes, and their tethers, and their traces; and the women, and the common folk, and the followers of the camp, fled south-westwards out of the camp.
All this time they fought with the edges of their swords. And then it was that Ferdia found Cuchulain for a moment off his guard, and he struck him with the straight edge of his sword, so that it sank into his body, till the blood streamed to his girdle, and the soil of the ford was crimson with the blood that fell from the body of that warrior so valiant in fight. And Cuchulain's endurance was at an end, for Ferdia continually struck at him, not attempting to guard, and his downright blows, and quick thrusts, and crushing strokes fell constantly upon him, till Cuchulain demanded of Laeg the son of Riangabra to deliver to him the Gae-Bulg. Now the manner of using the Gae-Bulg was this: it was set with its end pointing down a stream, and was cast from beneath the toes of the foot: it made the wound of one spear on entering a person's body; but it had thirty barbs to open behind, and it could not be drawn out from a man's body until he was cut open. And when Ferdia heard mention of the Gae-Bulg, he made a stroke of his shield downwards to guard the lower part of his body. And Cuchulain thrust his unerring thorny spear off the centre of his palm over the rim of the shield, and through his breast covered by horny defensive plates of armour, so that its further half was visible behind him after piercing the heart in his chest. Ferdia gave an upward stroke of his shield to guard the upper part of his body, though too late came that help, when the danger was past. And the servant set the Gae-Bulg down the stream, and Cuchulain caught it between the toes of his foot, and he threw it with an unerring cast against Ferdia, and it broke through the firm deep apron of wrought iron, and it burst the great stone that was as large as a millstone into three parts, and it passed through the protection of his body into him, so that every crevice and cavity in him was filled with its barbs. "'Tis enough now," said Ferdia. "I have my death of that; and I have but breath enough to say that thou hast done an ill deed against me. It was not right that thy hand should be that by which I should fall." And thus did he cry, as he gasped out these words:
Help no wretch hath found
Torn my ribs, and burst,
"How shall I be the better for arising, O my servant!" said he, "now that he who lieth here hath fallen by me?" And it was in this manner that his servant spoke to him, and he recited these words, and thus did Cuchulain reply:
Now arise, Battle-Hound of Emania!
What availeth me triumph or boasting?
For, frantic with grief for my deed,
I am driven to mourn for that body
'Tis not thou shouldst lament for his dying, Rejoicing should spring to thy tongue; For in malice, sharp javelins, flying For thy wounding and bleeding he flung.
I would mourn, if my leg he had severed, Had he hewn through this arm that remains, That he mounts not his steeds; and for ever In life, immortality gains.
To the dames of Red Branch thou art giving More pleasure that thus he should fall: They will mourn for him dead, for thee living, Nor shall count of thy victims be small.
Great Queen Maev thou hast chased, and hast fought her Since the day when first Cualgne was left; She shall mourn for her folk, and their slaughter, By thy hand of her champions bereft.
Neither sleep nor repose hast thou taken, But thy herd, her great plunder, hast chased, Though by all but a remnant forsaken, Oft at dawn to the fight thou didst haste.
"O my friend Ferdia! unhappy was it for thee that thou didst make no inquiry from any of the heroes who knew of the valorous deeds I had done before thou camest to meet me in that battle that was too hard for thee! Unhappy was it for thee that thou didst not inquire from Laeg, the son of Riangabra[FN#60] about what was due from thee to a comrade. Unhappy was it for thee that thou didst not ask for the honest and sincere counsel of Fergus. Unhappy it was for thee that thou hast not sought counsel from the comely, the fresh-coloured, the cheery, the victorious Conall about what was due from thee to a comrade. Well do these men know, that never, till life and time come to an end, shall be born in the land of Connaught one who shall do deeds equal to those which have been done by thee. And if thou hadst made inquiry from these men concerning the habitations, the gatherings, the promises, and the broken faith of the fair-haired ladies of Connaught; hadst thou asked them concerning spear-play and sword-play; concerning skill in backgammon and chess; concerning feats with horses, and chariots of war; they would have said that never had been found the arm of a champion who could wound a hero's flesh like the arm of Ferdia; he whose colour matched the tints of the clouds: none who like thee could excite the croak of the bloody-mouthed vulture, as she calls her friends to the feast of the many-coloured flocks; none who shall fight for Croghan or be the equal of thee to the end of life and time, O thou ruddy-cheeked son of Daman!" said Cuchulain. And then Cuchulain stood over Ferdia. "Ah! Ferdia," said Cuchulain, "great was the treachery and desertion that the men of Ireland had wrought upon thee, when they brought thee to combat and fight with me. For it was no light matter to combat and fight with me on the occasion of the Tain bo Cuailnge." And thus it was that he spoke, and he then recited these words:
To Scathach, glorious mother,
Alas! I loved thee dearly,
In wrath for strife advances
Since he whom Aife[FN#61] bore me
He came to fight, thus trusting
Curling golden hair,
None of friend had deemed
Our friends in the East who have seen us, When with Uathach and Scathach[FN#63] we dwelled, Can bear witness, no quarrel between us Or with words or with weapons was held.
Scathach came; and to conflict inciting Were her accents that smote on mine ear; "Go ye all, where a swift battle fighting, German wields his green terrible spear!
To Ferdia, I flew with the story,
As beside me Ferdia contended
Four times fifty men, stubborn in battle,
By my hand in that gateway were slain;
To Ferdia, of grim mountain cattle
Then his hold to the plunderers giving, Over ocean waves spangled with foam, Did we German the wily, still living, To the broad-shielded Scathach bring home.
There an oath our great mistress devising,
Both our valours with friendship she bound;
That no anger betwixt us uprising
Much of woe with that Tuesday was dawning, When Ferdia's great might met its end; Though red blood-drink I served him that morning: Yet I loved, though I slew him, my friend.
If afar thou hadst perished when striving With the bravest of heroes of Greece, 'Tis not I would thy loss be surviving; With thy death should the life of me cease.
Ah! that deed which we wrought won us sorrow, Who, as pupils, by Scathach were trained: Thou wilt drive not thy chariot to-morrow; I am weak, with red blood from me drained.
Ah! that deed which we wrought won us anguish, Who, as pupils, by Scathach were taught: Rough with gore, and all wounded, I languish; Thou to death altogether art brought.
Ah! that deed that we wrought there was cruel For us pupils, from Scathach who learned: I am strong; thou art slain in the duel, In that conflict, with anger we burned.
Wars were gay, and but light was fray
Ere at the Ford his steeds made stay:
Pillar of gold, loved well,
Wars were gay, and but light was fray
Ere at the Ford his steeds made stay:
Lionlike, on he sped;
Wars were gay, and but light was fray
Ere at the Ford his steeds made stay:
Never, till hour of doom,
Three great armies went this Raid,[FN#66]
All the price of death have paid;
None the battle neared like thee,