THE SICK-BED OF CUCHULAIN
TRANSCRIBED FROM THE LOST YELLOW BOOK OF SLANE.
By Maelmuiri mac Ceileachair into the
Leabhar na h-Uidhri in the Eleventh Century.
EVERY year the men of Ulster were accustomed to hold festival together; and the time when they held it was for three days before Samhain, the Summer-End, and for three days after that day, and upon Samhain itself. And the time that is spoken of is that when the men of Ulster were in the Plain of Murthemne, and there they used to keep that festival every year; nor was there an thing in the world that they would do at that time except sports, and marketings, and splendours, and pomps, and feasting and eating; and it is from that custom of theirs that the Festival of the Samhain has descended, that is now held throughout the whole of Ireland.
Now once upon a time the men of Ulster held festival upon the Murthemne Plain, and the reason that this festival was held was that every man of them should then give account of the combats he had made and of his valour every Summer-End. It was their custom to hold that festival in order to give account of these combats, and the manner in which they gave that account was this: Each man used to cut off the tip of the tongue of a foe whom he had killed, and he bore it with him in a pouch. Moreover, in order to make more great the numbers of their contests, some used to bring with them the tips of the tongues of beasts, and each man publicly declared the fights he had fought, one man of them after the other. And they did this also--they laid their swords over their thighs when they declared the strifes, and their own swords used to turn against them when the strife that they declared was false; nor was this to be wondered at, for at that time it was customary for demon beings to scream from the weapons of men, so that for this cause their weapons might be the more able to guard them.
To that festival then came all the men of Ulster except two alone, and these two were Fergus the son of Róg, and Conall the Victorious. "Let the festival be held!" cried the men of Ulster. "Nay," said Cuchulain, "it shall not be held until Conall and Fergus come," and this he said because Fergus was the foster-father of Cuchulain, and Conall was his comrade. Then said Sencha: "Let us for the present engage in games of chess; and let the Druids sing, and let the jugglers play their feats;" and it was done as he had said.
Now while they were thus employed a flock of birds came down and hovered over the lake; never was seen in Ireland more beautiful birds than these. And a longing that these birds should be given to them seized upon the women who were there; and each of them began to boast of the prowess of her husband at bird-catching. "How I wish," said Ethne Aitencaithrech, Conor's wife, "that I could have two of those birds, one of them upon each of my two shoulders." "It is what we all long for," said the women; and "If any should have this boon, I should be the first one to have it," said Ethne Inguba, the wife of Cuchulain.
"What are we to do now?" said the women. "'Tis easy to answer you," said Leborcham, the daughter of Oa and Adarc; "I will go now with a message from you, and will seek for Cuchulain." She then went to Cuchulain, and "The women of Ulster would be well pleased," she said, "if yonder birds were given to them by thy hand." And Cuchulain made for his sword to unsheathe it against her: "Cannot the lasses of Ulster find any other but us," he said, "to give them their bird-hunt to-day?" "'Tis not seemly for thee to rage thus against them," said Leborcham, "for it is on thy account that the women of Ulster have assumed one of their three blemishes, even the blemish of blindness." For there were three blemishes that the women of Ulster assumed, that of crookedness of gait, and that of a stammering in their speech, and that of blindness. Each of the women who loved Conall the Victorious had assumed a crookedness of gait; each woman who loved Cuscraid Mend, the Stammerer of Macha, Conor's son, stammered in her speech; each woman in like manner who loved Cuchulain had assumed a blindness of her eyes, in order to resemble Cuchulain; for he, when his mind was angry within him, was accustomed to draw in the one of his eyes so far that a crane could not reach it in his head, and would thrust out the other so that it was great as a cauldron in which a calf is cooked.
"Yoke for us the chariot, O Laeg!" said Cuchulain. And Laeg yoked the chariot at that, and Cuchulain went into the chariot, and he cast his sword at the birds with a cast like the cast of a boomerang, so that they with their claws and wings flapped against the water. And they seized upon all the birds, and they gave them and distributed them among the women; nor was there any one of the women, except Ethne alone, who had not a pair of those birds. Then Cuchulain returned to his wife; and "Thou art enraged," said he to her. "I am in no way enraged," answered Ethne, "for I deem it as being by me that the distribution was made. And thou hast done what was fitting," she said, "for there is not one of these woman but loves thee; none in whom thou hast no share; but for myself none hath any share in me except thou alone." "Be not angry," said Cuchulain, "if in the future any birds come to the Plain of Murthemne or to the Boyne, the two birds that are the most beautiful among those that come shall be thine."
A little while after this they saw two birds flying over the lake, linked together by a chain of red gold. They sang a gentle song, and a sleep fell upon all the men who were there; and Cuchulain rose up to pursue the birds. "If thou wilt hearken to me," said Laeg, and so also said Ethne, "thou shalt not go against them; behind those birds is some especial power. Other birds may be taken by thee at some future day." "Is it possible that such claim as this should be made upon me?" said Cuchulain. "Place a stone in my sling, O Laeg!" Laeg thereon took a stone, and he placed it in the sling, and Cuchulain launched the stone at the birds, but the cast missed. "Alas!" said he. He took another stone, and he launched this also at the birds, but the stone flew past them. "Wretched that I am," he cried, "since the very first day that I assumed arms, I have never missed a cast until this day!" And he cast his spear at them, and the spear went through the shield of the wing of one of the birds, and the birds flew away, and went beneath the lake.
After this Cuchulain departed, and he rested his back against a stone pillar, and his soul was angry within him, and a sleep fell upon him. Then saw he two women come to him; the one of them had a green mantle upon her, and upon the other was a purple mantle folded in five folds. And the woman in the green mantle approached him, and she laughed a laugh at him, and she gave him a stroke with a horsewhip. And then the other approached him, and she also laughed at him, and she struck him in the like manner; and for a long time were they thus, each of them in turn coming to him and striking him until he was all but dead; and then they departed from him.
Now the men of Ulster perceived the state in which Cuchulain was in; and they cried out that he should be awakened; but "Nay," said Fergus, "ye shall not move him, for he seeth a vision;" and a little after that Cuchulain came from his sleep. "What hath happened to thee?" said the men of Ulster; but he had no power to bid greeting to them. "Let me be carried," he said, "to the sick-bed that is in Tete Brecc; neither to Dun Imrith, nor yet to Dun Delga." "Wilt thou not be carried to Dun Delga to seek for Emer?" said Laeg. "Nay," said he, "my word is for Tete Brecc;" and thereon they bore him from that place, and he was in Tete Brecc until the end of one year, and during all that time he had speech with no one.
Now upon a certain day before the next Summer-End, at the end of a year, when the men of Ulster were in the house where Cuchulain was, Fergus being at the side-wall, and Conall Cernach at his head, and Lugaid Red-Stripes at his pillow, and Ethne Inguba at his feet; when they were there in this manner, a man came to them, and he seated himself near the entrance of the chamber in which Cuchulain lay. "What hath brought thee here?" said Conall the Victorious. "No hard question to answer," said the man. "If the man who lies yonder were in health, he would be a good protection to all of Ulster; in the weakness and the sickness in which he now is, so much the more great is the protection that they have from him. I have no fear of any of you," he said, "for it is to give to this man a greeting that I come." "Welcome to thee, then, and fear nothing," said the men of Ulster; and the man rose to his feet, and he sang them these staves:
Ah! Cuchulain, who art under sickness still,
Not long thou its cure shouldst need;
Soon would Aed Abra's daughters, to heal thine ill,
To thee, at thy bidding, speed.
Liban, she at swift Labra's right hand who sits,
Stood up on Cruach's Plain, and cried:
"'Tis the wish of Fand's heart, she the tale permits,
To sleep at Cuchulain's side.
"'If Cuchulain would come to me,' Fand thus told,
'How goodly that day would shine!
Then on high would our silver be heaped, and gold,
Our revellers pour the wine.
"'And if now in my land, as my friend, had been
Cuchulain, of Sualtam son,
The things that in visions he late hath seen
In peace would he safe have won.
"'In the Plains of Murthemne, to south that spread,
Shall Liban my word fulfil:
She shall seek him on Samhain, he naught need dread,
By her shall be cured his ill.'"
"Who art thou, then, thyself?" said the men of Ulster. I am Angus, the son of Aed Abra," he answered; and the man then left them, nor did any of them know whence it was he had come, nor whither he went.
Then Cuchulain sat up, and he spoke to them. "Fortunate indeed is this!" said the men of Ulster; "tell us what it is that hath happened to thee." "Upon Samhain night last year," he said, "I indeed saw a vision;" and he told them of all he had seen. "What should now be done, Father Conor?" said Cuchulain. "This hast thou to do," answered Conor, "rise, and go until thou comest to the pillar where thou wert before."
Then Cuchulain went forth until he came to the pillar, and then saw he the woman in the green mantle come to him. "This is good, O Cuchulain!" said she. "'Tis no good thing in my thought," said Cuchulain. "Wherefore camest thou to me last year?" he said. "It was indeed to do no injury to thee that we came," said the woman, "but to seek for thy friendship. I have come to greet thee," she said, "from Fand, the daughter of Aed Abra; her husband, Manannan the Son of the Sea, hath released her, and she hath thereon set her love on thee. My own name is Liban, and I have brought to thee a message from my spouse, Labraid the Swift, the Sword-Wielder, that he will give thee the woman in exchange for one day's service to him in battle against Senach the Unearthly, and against Eochaid Juil,and against Yeogan the Stream." "I am in no fit state," he said, "to contend with men to-day." "That will last but a little while," she said; "thou shalt be whole, and all that thou hast lost of thy strength shall be increased to thee. Labraid shall bestow on thee that boon, for he is the best of all warriors that are in the world."
"Where is it that Labraid dwelleth?" asked Cuchulain.
"In Mag Mell, the Plain of Delight," said Liban; "and now I desire to go to another land," said she.
"Let Laeg go with thee," said Cuchulain, "that he may learn of the land from which thou hast come." "Let him come, then," said Liban.
They departed after that, and they went forward until they came to a place where Fand was. And Liban turned to seek for Laeg, and she set him upon her shoulder. "Thou wouldest never go hence, O Laeg!" said Liban, "wert thou not under a woman's protection." "'Tis not a thing that I have most been accustomed to up to this time," said Laeg, "to be under a woman's guard." "Shame, and everlasting shame," said Liban, "that Cuchulain is not where thou art." "It were well for me," answered Laeg, "if it were indeed he who is here."
They passed on then, and went forward until they came opposite to the shore of an island, and there they saw a skiff of bronze lying upon the lake before them. They entered into the skiff, and they crossed over to the island, and came to the palace door, and there they saw the man, and he came towards them. And thus spoke Liban to the man whom they saw there:
Say where He, the Hand-on-Sword,
And the man replied to her, and spoke thus:
Labra swift, abideth?
He who, of the triumphs lord,
In strong chariot rideth.
When victorious troops are led,
Labra hath the leading;
He it is, when spears are red,
Sets the points a-bleeding.
Labra, who of speed is son,
Comes, and comes not slowly;
Crowded hosts together run,
Bent on warfare wholly.
Soon upon the Forest Plain
Shall be set the killing;
For the hour when men are slain
Fidga's Fields are filling!
They entered then into the palace, and they saw there thrice fifty couches within the palace, and three times fifty women upon the couches, and the women all bade Laeg welcome, and it was in these words that they addressed him:
Hail! for the guide,
Laeg! of thy quest:
Laeg we beside
Hail, as our guest!
"What wilt thou do now?" said Liban; "wilt thou go on without a delay, and hold speech with Fand?"
"I will go," he answered, "if I may know the place where she is."
"That is no hard matter to tell thee," she answered; "she is in her chamber apart." They went therein, and they greeted Fand, and she welcomed Laeg in the same fashion as the others had done.
Fand is the daughter of Aed Abra; Aed means fire, and he is the fire of the eye: that is, of the eye's pupil: Fand moreover is the name of the tear that runs from the eye; it was on account of the clearness of her beauty that she was so named, for there is nothing else in the world except a tear to which her beauty could be likened.
Now, while they were thus in that place, they heard the rattle of Labraid's chariot as he approached the island. "The spirit of Labraid is gloomy to-day," said Liban, "I will go and greet him." And she went out, and she bade welcome to Labraid, and she spoke as follows:
Hail! the man who holdeth sword, the swift in fight!
Labraid made no reply to her, and the lady spoke again thus:
Heir of little armies, armed with javelins light;
Spears he drives in splinters; bucklers bursts in twain;
Limbs of men are wounded; nobles by him slain.
He for error searcheth, streweth gifts not small,
Hosts of men destroyeth; fairer he than all!
Heroes whom he findeth feel his fierce attack;
Labra! swiftest Sword-Hand! welcome to us back!
Welcome! swift Labra,
Labraid still made no answer, and she sang another lay thus:
Hand to sword set!
All win thy bounty,
Praise thou shalt get;
Warfare thou seekest,
Wounds seam thy side;
Wisely thou speakest,
Law canst decide;
Kindly thou rulest,
Wars fightest well;
Hosts shalt repel.
Labra! all hail!
Thou speakest not rightly, O lady," said Labraid; and he then spoke to her thus:
War can he wage,
Warriors can sift;
Valiant is he,
More than in sea
Pride in him swells;
Down in the dust
Strength doth he beat;
They who him trust
Rise to their feet
Weak ones he'll raise,
Humble the strong;
Labra! thy praise
Peals loud and long!
O my wife! naught of boasting or pride is in me;
No renown would I claim, and no falsehood shall be:
Lamentation alone stirs my mind, for hard spears
Rise in numbers against me: dread contest appears:
The right arms of their heroes red broadswords shall swing;
Many hosts Eochaid Juil holds to heart as their king:
Let no pride then be ours; no high words let there be;
Pride and arrogance far should be, lady, from me!
"Let now thy mind be appeased," said the lady Liban to him. "Laeg, the charioteer of Cuchulain, is here; and Cuchulain hath sent word to thee that he will come to join thy hosts."
Then Labraid bade welcome to Laeg, and he said to him: "Welcome, O Laeg! for the sake of the lady with whom thou comest, and for the sake of him from whom thou hast come. Do thou now go to thine own land, O Laeg!" said Labraid, "and Liban shall accompany thee."
Then Laeg returned to Emain, and he gave news of what he had seen to Cuchulain, and to all others beside; and Cuchulain rose up, and he passed his hand over his face, and he greeted Laeg brightly, and his mind was strengthened within him for the news that the lad had brought him.
[At this point occurs the break in the story indicated in the preface, and the description of the Bull-Feast at which Lugaid Red-Stripes is elected king over all Ireland; also the exhortation that Cuchulain, supposed to be lying on his sick-bed, gives to Lugaid as to the duties of a king. After this insertion, which has no real connection with the story, the story itself proceeds, but from another point, for the thread is taken up at the place where Cuchulain has indeed awaked from his trance, but is still on his sick-bed; the message of Angus appears to have been given, but Cuchulain does not seem to have met Liban for the second time, nor to have sent Laeg to inquire. Ethne has disappeared as an actor from the scene; her place is taken by Emer, Cuchulain's real wife; and the whole style of the romance so alters for the better that, even if it were not for the want of agreement of the two versions, we could see that we have here two tales founded upon the same legend but by two different hands, the end of the first and the beginning of the second alike missing, and the gap filled in by the story of the election of Lugaid.]
Now as to Cuchulain it has to be related thus: He called upon Laeg to come to him; and "Do thou go, O Laeg!" said Cuchulain, "to the place where Emer is; and say to her that women of the fairies have come upon me, and that they have destroyed my strength; and say also to her that it goeth better with me from hour to hour, and bid her to come and seek me;" and the young man Laeg then spoke these words in order to hearten the mind of Cuchulain:
It fits not heroes lying
On sick-bed in a sickly sleep to dream:
Witches before thee flying
Of Trogach's fiery Plain the dwellers seem:
They have beat down thy strength,
Made thee captive at length,
And in womanish folly away have they driven thee far.
Arise! no more be sickly!
Shake off the weakness by those fairies sent:
For from thee parteth quickly
Thy strength that for the chariot-chiefs was meant:
Thou crouchest, like a youth!
Art thou subdued, in truth?
Have they shaken thy prowess and deeds that were meet for the war?
Yet Labra's power hath sent his message plain:
Rise, thou that crouchest: and be great again.
And Laeg, after that heartening, departed; and he went on until he came to the place where Emer was; and he told her of the state of Cuchulain: "Ill hath it been what thou hast done, O youth!" she said; "for although thou art known as one who dost wander in the lands where the fairies dwell; yet no virtue of healing hast thou found there and brought for the cure of thy lord. Shame upon the men of Ulster!" she said, "for they have not sought to do a great deed, and to heal him. Yet, had Conor thus been fettered; had it been Fergus who had lost his sleep, had it been Conall the Victorious to whom wounds had been dealt, Cuchulain would have saved them." And she then sang a song, and in this fashion she sang it:
Laeg! who oft the fairy hill
Searchest, slack I find thee still;
Lovely Dechtire's son shouldst thou
By thy zeal have healed ere now.
Ulster, though for bounties famed,
Foster-sire and friends are shamed:
None hath deemed Cuchulain worth
One full journey through the earth.
Yet, if sleep on Fergus fell,
Such that magic arts dispel,
Dechtire's son had restless rode
Till a Druid raised that load.
Aye, had Conall come from wars,
Weak with wounds and recent scars;
All the world our Hound would scour
Till he found a healing power.
Were it Laegaire war had pressed,
Erin's meads would know no rest,
Till, made whole from wounds, he won
Mach's grandchild, Conna's son.
Had thus crafty Celthar slept,
Long, like him, by sickness kept;
Through the elf-mounds, night and day,
Would our Hound, to heal him, stray.
Furbaid, girt by heroes strong,
Were it he had lain thus long;
Ah! our Hound would rescue bear
Though through solid earth he fare.
All the elves of Troom seem dead;
All their mighty deeds have fled;
For their Hound, who hounds surpassed,
Elves have bound in slumber fast.
Ah! on me thy sickness swerves,
Hound of Smith who Conor serves!
Sore my heart, my flesh must be:
May thy cure be wrought by me.
Ah! 'tis blood my heart that stains,
Sick for him who rode the plains:
Though his land be decked for feast,
He to seek its plain hath ceased.
He in Emain still delays;
'Tis those Shapes the bar that raise:
Weak my voice is, dead its tone,
He in evil form is shown.
Month-long, year-long watch I keep;
Seasons pass, I know not sleep:
Men's sweet speech strikes not mine ear;
Naught, Riangabra's son, I hear.
And, after that she had sung that song, Emer went forward to Emain that she might seek for Cuchulain; and she seated herself in the chamber where Cuchulain was, and thus she addressed him: "Shame upon thee!" she said, "to lie thus prostrate for a woman's love! well may this long sickbed of thine cause thee to ail!" And it was in this fashion that she addressed him, and she chanted this lay:
Stand up, O thou hero of Ulster!
Wake from sleep! rise up, joyful and sound!
Look on Conor the king! on my beauty,
Will that loose not those slumbers profound?
See the Ulstermen's clear shining shoulders!
Hear their trumpets that call to the fight!
See their war-cars that sweep through the valleys,
As in hero-chess, leaping each knight.
See their chiefs, and the strength that adorns them,
Their tall maidens, so stately with grace;
The swift kings, springing on to the battle,
The great queens of the Ulstermen's race!
The clear winter but now is beginning;
Lo! the wonder of cold that hangs there!
'Tis a sight that should warn thee; how chilly!
Of what length! yet of colour how bare!
This long slumber is ill; it decays thee:
'Tis like "milk for the full" the saw saith
Hard is war with fatigue; deadly weakness
Is a Prince who stands second to Death.
Wake! 'tis joy for the sodden, this slumber;
Throw it off with a great glowing heat:
Sweet-voiced friends for thee wait in great number:
Ulster's champion! stand up on thy feet!
And Cuchulain at her word stood up; and he passed his hand over his face, and he cast all his heaviness and his weariness away from him, and then he arose, and went on his way before him until he came to the enclosure that he sought; and in that enclosure Liban appeared to him. And Liban spoke to him, and she strove to lead him into the fairy hill; but "What place is that in which Labraid dwelleth?" said Cuchulain. "It is easy for me to tell thee!" she said:
Labra's home's a pure lake, whither
Troops of women come and go;
Easy paths shall lead thee thither,
Where thou shalt swift Labra know.
Hundreds his skilled arm repelleth;
Wise be they his deeds who speak:
Look where rosy beauty dwelleth;
Like to that think Labra's cheek.
Head of wolf, for gore that thirsteth,
Near his thin red falchion shakes;
Shields that cloak the chiefs he bursteth,
Arms of foolish foes he breaks.
Trust of friend he aye requiteth,
Scarred his skin, like bloodshot eye;
First of fairy men he fighteth;
Thousands, by him smitten, die.
Chiefs at Echaid Juil's name tremble;
Yet his land-strange tale-he sought,
He whose locks gold threads resemble,
With whose breath wine-scents are brought.
More than all strife-seekers noted,
Fiercely to far lands he rides;
Steeds have trampled, skiffs have floated
Near the isle where he abides.
Labra, swift Sword-Wielder, gaineth
Fame for actions over sea;
Sleep for all his watch sustaineth!
Sure no coward hound is he.
The chains on the necks of the coursers he rides,
And their bridles are ruddy with gold:
He hath columns of crystal and silver besides,
The roof of his house to uphold.
"I will not go thither at a woman's call," said Cuchulain. "Let Laeg then go," said the lady, "and let him bring to thee tidings of all that is there." "Let him depart, then," said Cuchulain; and Laeg rose up and departed with Liban, and they came to the Plain of Speech, and to the Tree of Triumphs, and over the festal plain of Emain, and over the festal plain of Fidga, and in that place was Aed Abra, and with him his daughters.
Then Fand bade welcome to Laeg, and "How is it," said she, "that Cuchulain hath not come with thee?" "It pleased him not," said Laeg, "to come at a woman's call; moreover, he desired to know whether it was indeed from thee that had come the message, and to have full knowledge of everything." "It was indeed from me that the message was sent," she said; "and let now Cuchulain come swiftly to seek us, for it is for to-day that the strife is set." Then Laeg went back to the place where he had left Cuchulain, and Liban with him; and "How appeareth this quest to thee, O Laeg?" said Cuchulain. And Laeg answering said, "In a happy hour shalt thou go," said he, "for the battle is set for to-day;" and it was in this manner that he spake, and he recited thus:
I went gaily through regions,
Though strange, seen before:
By his cairn found I Labra,
A cairn for a score.
There sat yellow-haired Labra,
His spears round him rolled;
His long bright locks well gathered
Round apple of gold.
On my five-folded purple
His glance at length fell,
And he said, "Come and enter
Where Failbe doth dwell."
In one house dwells white Failbe,
With Labra, his friend;
And retainers thrice fifty
Each monarch attend.
On the right, couches fifty,
Where fifty men rest;
On the left, fifty couches
By men's weight oppressed.
For each couch copper frontings,
Posts golden, and white;
And a rich flashing jewel
As torch, gives them light.
Near that house, to the westward,
Where sunlight sinks down,
Stand grey steeds, with manes dappled
And steeds purple-brown.
On its east side are standing
Three bright purple trees
Whence the birds' songs, oft ringing
The king's children please.
From a tree in the fore-court
Sweet harmony streams;
It stands silver, yet sunlit
With gold's glitter gleams.
Sixty trees' swaying summits
Now meet, now swing wide;
Rindless food for thrice hundred
Each drops at its side.
Near a well by that palace
Gay cloaks spread out lie,
Each with splendid gold fastening
Well hooked through its eye.
They who dwell there, find flowing
A vat of glad ale:
'Tis ordained that for ever
That vat shall not fail.
From the hall steps a lady
Well gifted, and fair:
None is like her in Erin;
Like gold is her hair.
And so sweet, and so wondrous
Her words from her fall,
That with love and with longing
She breaks hearts of all.
"Who art thou?" said that lady,
"For strange thou art here;
But if Him of Murthemne
Thou servest, draw near."
Slowly, slowly I neared her;
I feared for my fame:
And she said, "Comes he hither,
Of Dechtire who came?"
Ah! long since, for thy healing,
Thou there shouldst have gone,
And have viewed that great palace
Before me that shone.
Though I ruled all of Erin
And yellow Breg's hill,
I'd give all, no small trial,
To know that land still.
"The quest then is a good one?" said Cuchulain. "It is goodly indeed," said Laeg, "and it is right that thou shouldest go to attain it, and all things in that land are good." And thus further also spoke Laeg, as he told of the loveliness of the fairy dwelling:
I saw a land of noble form and splendid,
Where dwells naught evil; none can speak a lie:
There stands the king, by all his hosts attended,
Brown Labra, swift to sword his hand can fly.
We crossed the Plain of Speech, our steps arrested
Near to that Tree, whose branches triumphs bear;
At length upon the hill-crowned plain we rested,
And saw the Double-Headed Serpent's lair.
Then Liban said, as we that mount sat under:
"Would I could see—'twould be a marvel strange—
Yet, if I saw it, dear would be that wonder,
If to Cuchulain's form thy form could change."
Great is the beauty of Aed Abra's daughters,
Unfettered men before them conquered fall;
Fand's beauty stuns, like sound of rushing waters,
Before her splendour kings and queens seem small.
Though I confess, as from the wise ones hearing,
That Adam's race was once unstained by sin;—
Yet did I swear, when Fand was there appearing,
None in past ages could such beauty win.
I saw the champions stand with arms for slaying,
Right splendid was the garb those heroes bore;
Gay coloured garments, meet for their arraying,
'Twas not the vesture of rude churls they wore.
Women of music at the feast were sitting,
A brilliant maiden bevy near them stood;
And forms of noble youths were upwards flitting
Through the recesses of the mountain wood.
I saw the folk of song; their strains rang sweetly,
As for the lady in that house they played;
Had I not I fled away from thence, and fleetly,
Hurt by that music, I had weak been made.
I know the hill where Ethne took her station,
And Ethne Inguba's a lovely maid;
But none can drive from sense a warlike nation
Save she alone, in beauty then displayed.
And Cuchulain, when he had heard that report, went on with Liban to that land, and he took his chariot with him. And they came to the Island of Labraid, and there Labraid and all the women that were there bade them welcome; and Fand gave an especial welcome to Cuchulain. "What is there now set for us to do?" said Cuchulain. "No hard matter to answer," said Labraid; "we must go forth and make a circuit about the army." They went out then, and they came to the army, and they let their eyes wander over it; and the host seemed to them to be innumerable. "Do thou arise, and go hence for the present," said Cuchulain to Labraid; and Labraid departed, and Cuchulain remained confronting the army. And there were two ravens there, who spake, and revealed Druid secrets, but the armies who heard them laughed. "It must surely be the madman from Ireland who is there," said the army; "it is he whom the ravens would make known to us;" and the armies chased them away so that they found no resting-place in that land.
Now at early morn Eochaid Juil went out in order to bathe his hands in the spring, and Cuchulain saw his shoulder through the hood of his tunic, and he hurled his spear at him, and he pierced him. And he by himself slew thirty-and-three of them, and then Senach the Unearthly assailed him, and a great fight was fought between them, and Cuchulain slew him; and after that Labraid approached, and he brake before him those armies.
Then Labraid entreated Cuchulain to stay his hand from the slaying; and "I fear now," said Laeg, "that the man will turn his wrath upon us; for he hath not found a war to suffice him. Go now," said Laeg, "and let there be brought three vats of cold water to cool his heat. The first vat into which he goeth shall boil over; after he hath gone into the second vat, none shall be able to bear the heat of it: after he hath gone into the third vat, its water shall have but a moderate heat."
And when the women saw Cuchulain's return, Fand sang thus:
Fidga's plain, where the feast assembles,
Liban moreover bade a welcome to Cuchulain, and she chanted as follows:
Shakes this eve, as his car he guides;
All the land at the trampling trembles;
Young and beardless, in state he rides.
Blood-red canopies o'er him swinging
Chant, but not as the fairies cry;
Deeper bass from the car is singing,
Deeply droning, its wheels reply.
Steeds are bounding beneath the traces,
None to match them my thought can find;
Wait a while! I would note their graces:
On they sweep, like the spring's swift wind.
High in air, in his breath suspended,
Float a fifty of golden balls;
Kings may grace in their sports have blended,
None his equal my mind recalls.
Dimples four on each cheek are glowing,
One seems green, one is tinged with blue,
One dyed red, as if blood were flowing,
One is purple, of lightest hue.
Sevenfold light from his eyeballs flashes,
None may speak him as blind, in scorn;
Proud his glances, and dark eyelashes
Black as beetle, his eyes adorn.
Well his excellence fame confesses,
All through Erin his praise is sung;
Three the hues of his high-piled tresses;
Beardless yet, and a stripling young.
Red his blade, it hath late been blooded;
Shines above it its silver hilt;
Golden bosses his shield have studded,
Round its rim the white bronze is spilt.
O'er the slain in each slaughter striding,
War he seeketh, at risk would snatch:
Heroes keen in your ranks are riding,
None of these is Cuchulain's match.
From Murthemne he comes, we greet him,
Young Cuchulain, the champion strong;
We, compelled from afar to meet him,
Daughters all of Aed Abra, throng.
Every tree, as a lordly token,
Stands all stained with the red blood rain
War that demons might wage is woken,
Wails peal high as he raves again.
Hail to Cuchulain!
Lord, who canst aid;
Heart great and still
Firm rock of skill;
Redly he rageth,
Foemen would face;
Battle he wageth
Meet for his race!
Brilliant his splendour, like maidens' eyes,
Praises we render: praise shall arise!
"Tell us now of the deeds thou hast done, O Cuchulain! cried Liban, and Cuchulain in this manner replied to her:
From my hand flew a dart, as I made my cast,
Through the host of Stream-Yeogan the javelin passed;
Not at all did I know, though great fame was won,
Who my victim had been, or what deed was done.
Whether greater or less was his might than mine
I have found not at all, nor can right divine;
In a mist was he hid whom my spear would slay,
Yet I know that he went not with life away.
A great host on me closed, and on every side
Rose around me in hordes the red steeds they ride;
From Manannan, the Son of the Sea, came foes,
From Stream-Yeogan to call them a roar arose.
And I went to the battle with all at length,
When my weakness had passed, and I gat full strength;
And alone with three thousands the fight I fought,
Till death to the foes whom I faced was brought.
I heard Echaid Juil's groan, as he neared his end,
The sound came to mine ears as from lips of friend;
Yet, if truth must be told, 'twas no valiant deed,
That cast that I threw, if 'twas thrown indeed.
Now, after all these things had passed, Cuchulain slept with the lady, and he abode for a month in her company, and at the end of the month he came to bid her farewell. "Tell me," she said, "to what place I may go for our tryst, and I will be there;" and they made tryst at the strand that is known as the Strand of the Yew-Tree's Head.
Now word was brought to Emer of that tryst, and knives were whetted by Emer to slay the lady; and she came to the place of the tryst, and fifty women were with her. And there she found, Cuchulain and Laeg, and they were engaged in the chess-play, so that they perceived not the women's approach. But Fand marked it, and she cried out to Laeg: "Look now, O Laeg!" she said, "and mark that sight that I see." "What sight is that of which thou speakest?" said Laeg, and he looked and saw it, and thus it was that the lady, even Fand, addressed him:
Laeg! look behind thee!
Close to thine ear
Wise, well-ranked women
Press on us near;
Bright on each bosom
Shines the gold clasp;
Knives, with green edges
Whetted, they grasp:
As for the slaughter chariot chiefs race,
Comes Forgall's daughter; changed is her face.
"Have no fear," said Cuchulain, "no foe shalt thou meet;
Enter thou my strong car, with its sunny bright seat:
I will set thee before me, will guard thee from harm
Against women, from Ulster's four quarters that swarm:
Though the daughter of Forgall the war with thee vows,
Though her dear foster-sisters against thee she rouse,
No deed of destruction bold Emer will dare,
Though she rageth against thee, for I will be there."
Moreover to Emer he said:
I avoid thee, O lady, as heroes
Avoid to meet friends in a strife;
The hard spear thy hand shakes cannot injure,
Nor the blade of thy thin gleaming knife;
For the wrath pent within thee that rageth
Is but weak, nor can cause mine affright:
It were hard if the war my might wageth
Must be quenched by a weak woman's might!
"Speak! and tell me, Cuchulain," cried Emer,
"Why this shame on my head thou wouldst lay?
Before women of Ulster dishonoured I stand,
And all women who dwell in the wide Irish land,
And all folk who love honour beside:
Though I came on thee, secretly creeping,
Though oppressed by thy might I remain,
And though great is thy pride in the battle,
If thou leavest me, naught is thy gain:
Why, dear youth, such attempt dost thou make?
"Speak thou, Emer, and say," said Cuchulain,
"Should I not with this lady delay?
For this lady is fair, pare and bright, and well skilled,
A fit mate for a monarch, in beauty fulfilled,
And the billows of ocean can ride:
She is lovely in countenance, lofty in race,
And with handicraft skilled can fine needlework trace,
Hath a mind that with firmness can guide:
And in steeds hath she wealth, and much cattle
Doth she own; there is naught under sky
A dear wife for a spouse should be keeping
But that gift with this lady have I:
Though the vow that I made thee I break,
Thou shalt ne'er find champion
Rich, like me, in scars;
Ne'er such worth, such brilliance,
None who wins my wars."
"In good sooth," answered Emer, "the lady to whom thou dost cling is in no way better than am I myself! Yet fair seems all that's red; seems white what's new alone; and bright what's set o'erhead; and sour are things well known! Men worship what they lack; and what they have seems weak; in truth thou hast all the wisdom of the time! O youth!" she said, "once we dwelled in honour together, and we would so dwell again, if only I could find favour in thy sight!" and her grief weighed heavily upon her. "By my word," said Cuchulain, "thou dost find favour, and thou shalt find it so long as I am in life."
"Desert me, then!" cried Fand. "Nay," said Emer, "it is more fitting that I should be the deserted one." "Not so, indeed," said Fand. "It is I who must go, and danger rusheth upon me from afar." And an eagerness for lamentation seized upon Fand, and her soul was great within her, for it was shame to her to be deserted and straightway to return to her home; moreover the mighty love that she bare to Cuchulain was tumultuous in her, and in this fashion she lamented, and lamenting sang this song:
Mighty need compels me,
I must go my way;
Fame for others waiteth,
Would I here could stay!
Sweeter were it resting
Guarded by thy power,
Than to find the marvels
In Aed Abra's bower.
Emer! noble lady!
Take thy man to thee:
Though my arms resign him,
Longing lives in me.
Oft in shelters hidden
Men to seek me came;
None could win my trysting,
I myself was flame.
Ah! no maid her longing
On a man should set
Till a love full equal
To her own she get.
Fifty women hither,
Emer! thou hast brought
Thou wouldst Fand make captive,
Hast on murder thought.
Till the day I need them
Waits, my home within;
Thrice thy host! fair virgins,
These my war shall win.
Now upon this it was discerned by Manannan that Fand the daughter of Aed Abra was engaged in unequal warfare with the women of Ulster, and that she was like to be left by Cuchulain. And thereon Manannan came from the east to seek for the lady, and he was perceived by her, nor was there any other conscious of his presence saving Fand alone. And, when she saw Manannan, the lady was seized by great bitterness of mind and by grief, and being thus, she made this song:
Lo! the Son of the Sea-Folk from plains draws near
Whence Yeogan, the Stream, is poured;
'Tis Manannan, of old he to me was dear,
And above the fair world we soared.
Yet to-day, although excellent sounds his cry,
No love fills my noble heart,
For the pathways of love may be bent awry,
Its knowledge in vain depart.
When I dwelt in the bower of the Yeogan Stream,
At the Son of the Ocean's side,
Of a life there unending was then our dream,
Naught seemed could our love divide.
When the comely Manannan to wed me came,
To me, as a spouse, full meet;
Not in shame was I sold, in no chessmen's game
The price of a foe's defeat.
When the comely Manannan my lord was made,
When I was his equal spouse,
This armlet of gold that I bear he paid
As price for my marriage vows.
Through the heather came bride-maids, in garments brave
Of all colours, two score and ten;
And beside all the maidens my bounty gave
To my husband a fifty men.
Four times fifty our host; for no frenzied strife
In our palace was pent that throng,
Where a hundred strong men led a gladsome life,
One hundred fair dames and strong.
Manannan draws near: over ocean he speeds,
From all notice of fools is he free;
As a horseman he comes, for no vessel he needs
Who rides the maned waves of the sea.
He hath passed near us now, though his visage to view
Is to all, save to fairies, forbid;
Every troop of mankind his keen sight searcheth through,
Though small, and in secret though hid.
But for me, this resolve in my spirit shall dwell,
Since weak, being woman's, my mind;
Since from him whom so dearly I loved, and so well,
Only danger and insult I find.
I will go! in mine honour unsullied depart,
Fair Cuchulain! I bid thee good-bye;
I have gained not the wish that was dear to my heart,
High justice compels me to fly.
It is flight, this alone that befitteth my state,
Though to some shall this parting be hard:
O thou son of Riangabra! the insult was great:
Not by Laeg shall my going be barred.
I depart to my spouse; ne'er to strife with a foe
Shall Manannan his consort expose;
And, that none may complain that in secret I go,
Behold him! his form I disclose!
Then that lady rose behind Manannan as he passed, and Manannan greeted her: "O lady!" he said, "which wilt thou do? wilt thou depart with me, or abide here until Cuchulain comes to thee?" "By my troth," answered Fand, "either of the two of ye were a fitting spouse to adhere to; and neither of you two is better than the other; yet, Manannan, it is with thee that I go, nor will I wait for Cuchulain, for he hath betrayed me; and there is another matter, moreover, that weigheth with me, O thou noble prince!" said she, "and that is that thou hast no consort who is of worth equal to thine, but such a one hath Cuchulain already."
And Cuchulain saw the lady as she went from him to Manannan, and he cried out to Laeg: "What meaneth this that I see?" "'Tis no hard matter to answer thee," said Laeg. "Fand goeth away with Manannan the Son of the Sea, since she hath not been pleasing in thy sight!"
Then Cuchulain bounded three times high into the air, and he made three great leaps towards the south, and thus he came to Tara Luachra, and there he abode for a long time, having no meat and no drink, dwelling upon the mountains, and sleeping upon the high-road that runneth through the midst of Luachra.
Then Emer went on to Emain, and there she sought out king Conor, and she told Conor of Cuchulain's state, and Conor sent out his learned men and the people of skill, and the Druids of Ulster, that they might seek for Cuchulain, and might bind him fast, and bring him with them to Emain. And Cuchulain strove to slay the people of skill, but they chanted wizard and fairy songs against him, and they bound fast his feet and his hands until he came a little to his senses. Then he begged for a drink at their hands, and the Druids gave him a drink of forgetfulness, so that afterwards he had no more remembrance of Fand nor of anything else that he had then done; and they also gave a drink of forgetfulness to Emer that she might forget her jealousy, for her state was in no way better than the state of Cuchulain. And Manannan shook his cloak between Cuchulain and Fand, so that they might never meet together again throughout eternity.
Heroic Romances of Ireland. Vol I. A. H. Leahy, ed.
London: David Nutt, 1905. 57-85.
Woodcut 1 — detail of a page from Horae, Paris (Pigouchet for Vostre) 1496/97.
From Gode Cookery.