Then they considered what man among them would be fit to ward off Cú Chulainn. The four provinces of Ireland spoke, and confirmed, and discussed, whom it would be fitting to send to the ford against Cú Chulainn. All said that it was the Horn-skin from Irrus Domnand, the weight that is not supported, the battle-stone of doom, his own dear and ardent foster-brother. For Cú Chulainn had not a feat that he did not possess, except it were the Gae Bolga alone; and they thought he could avoid it, and defend himself against it, because of the horn about him, so that neither arms nor many edges pierced it.
Medb sent messengers to bring Fer Diad. Fer Diad did not come with those messengers. Medb sent poets and bards and satirists1 to him, that they might satirise him and mock him and put him to ridicule, that he might not find a place for his head in the world, until he should come to the tent of Medb and Ailill on the Foray. Fer Diad came with those messengers, for the fear of their bringing shame on him.
Findabair, the daughter of Medb and Ailill, was put on one side of him: it is Findabair who put her hand on every goblet and on every cup of Fer Diad; it is she who gave him three kisses at every cup of them; it is she who distributed apples right frequent over the bosom of his tunic. This is what she said: that he, Fer Diad, was her darling and her chosen wooer of the men of the world.
When Fer Diad was satisfied and happy and very joyful, Medb said:
‘Alé! O Fer Diad, do you know why you have been summoned into this tent?’
‘I do not know indeed,’ said Fer Diad; ‘except that the nobles of the men of Ireland are there. What is there less fitting for me to be there than for any other good warrior?’
‘It is not that indeed,’ said Medb; ‘but to give you a chariot worth three sevens of cumals,2 and the equipment of twelve men, and the equal of Mag Murthemne from the arable land of Mag Ai; and that you should be in Cruachan always, and wine to be poured for you there; and freedom of your descendants and of your race for ever without tribute or tax; my leaf-shaped brooch of gold to be given to you, in which there are ten score ounces and ten score half-ounces, and ten score crosach and ten score quarters; Findabair, my daughter and Ailill’s daughter, for your one wife, and you shall get my love if you need it over and above.’
‘He does not need it,’ said every one: ‘great are the rewards and gifts.’
‘That is true,’ said Fer Diad, ‘they are great; and though they are great, O Medb, it is with you yourself they will be left, rather than that I should go against my foster-brother to battle.’
‘O men,’ said she, said Medb (through the right way of division and setting by the ears), ‘true is the word that Cú Chulainn spoke,’ as if she had not heard Fer Diad at all.
‘What word is this, O Medb?’ said Fer Diad.
‘He said indeed,’ said she, ‘that he would not think it too much that you should fall by him as the first fruits of his prowess in the province to which he should come.’
‘To say that was not fitting for him. For it is not weariness or cowardice that he has ever known in me, day nor night. I swear, etc.,3 that I will be the first man who will come tomorrow morning to the ford of combat.’
‘May victory and blessing come to you,’ said Medb. ‘And I think it better that weariness or cowardice be found with you, because of friendship beyond my own men (?). Why is it more fitting for him to seek the good of Ulster because his mother was of them, than for you to seek the good of the province of Connacht, because you are the son of a king of Connacht?’
It is thus they were binding their covenants and their compact, and they made a song there:
‘Thou shalt have a reward,’ etc.
There was a wonderful warrior of Ulster who witnessed that bargaining, and that was Fergus Mac Roich. Fergus came to his tent.
‘Woe is me! the deed that is done tomorrow morning!’ said Fergus.
‘What deed is that?’ said the folk in the tent.
‘My good fosterling Cú Chulainn to be slain.’
‘Good lack! who makes that boast?’
‘An easy question: his own dear ardent foster-brother, Fer Diad Mac Damain. Why do ye not win my blessing?’ said Fergus; ‘and let one of you go with a warning and with compassion to Cú Chulainn, if perchance he would leave the ford tomorrow morning.’ On our conscience,’ said they, ‘though it were you yourself who were on the ford of combat, we would not come as far as [the ford] to seek you.’
‘Good, my lad,’ said Fergus; ‘get our horses for us and yoke the chariot.’
The lad arose and got the horses and yoked the chariot. They came forth to the ford of combat where Cú Chulainn was.
‘One chariot coming hither towards us, O Cú Chulainn!’ said Loeg. For it is thus the lad was, with his back towards his lord. He used to win every other game of brandub4 and of chess-playing from his master: the sentinel and watchman on the four quarters of Ireland over and above that.
‘What kind of chariot then?’ said Cú Chulainn.
‘A chariot like a huge royal fort, with its yokes strong golden, with its great panel (?) of copper, with its shafts of bronze, with its body thin-framed (?), dry-framed (?), feat-high, scythed, sword-fair (?), of a champion, on two horses, swift, stout(?), well-yoked (?), —(?). One royal warrior, wide-eyed, was the combatant of the chariot. A beard curly, forked, on him, so that it reached over the soft lower part of his soft shirt, so that it would shelter (?) fifty warriors to be under the heavy — of the warrior’s beard, on a day of storm and rain. A round shield, white, variegated, many-coloured on him, with three chains —, so that there would be room from front to back for four troops of ten men behind the leather of the shield which is upon the — of the warrior. A sword, long, hard-edged, red broad in the sheath, woven and twisted of white silver, over the skin of the bold-in-battle. A spear, strong, three-ridged, with a winding and with bands of white silver all white by him across the chariot.’
‘Not hard the recognition,’ said Cú Chulainn; ‘my friend Fergus comes there, with a warning and with compassion to me before all the four provinces.’
Fergus reached them and sprang from his chariot and Cú Chulainn greeted him.
‘Welcome your coming, O my friend, O Fergus,’ said Cú Chulainn.
‘I believe your welcome,’ said Fergus.
‘You may believe it,’ said Cú Chulainn; ‘if a flock of birds come to the plain, you shall have a duck with half of another; if fish come to the estuaries, you shall have a salmon with half of another; a sprig of watercress, and a sprig of marshwort, and a sprig of seaweed, and a drink of cold sandy water after it.’
‘That portion is that of an outlaw,’ said Fergus.
‘That is true, it is an outlaw’s portion that I have,’ said Cú Chulainn, ‘for I have been from the Monday after Samain to this time, and I have not gone for a night’s entertainment, through strongly obstructing the men of Ireland on the Cattle-Foray of Cualnge at this time.’
‘If it were for this we came,’ said Fergus, ‘we should have thought it the better to leave it; and it is not for this that we have come.’
‘Why else have you come to me?’ said Cú Chulainn.
‘To tell you the warrior who comes against you in battle and combat tomorrow morning,’ said he.
‘Let us find it out and let us hear it from you then,’ said Cú Chulainn.
‘Your own foster-brother, Fer Diad Mac Damain.’
‘On our word, we think it not best that it should be he we come to meet,’ said Cú Chulainn, ‘and it is not for fear of him but for the greatness of our love for him.’
‘It is fitting to fear him,’ said Fergus, ‘for he has a skin of horn in battle against a man, so that neither weapon nor edge will pierce it.’
‘Do not say that at all,’ said Cú Chulainn, ‘for I swear the oath that my people swear, that every joint and every limb of him will be as pliant as a pliant rush in the midst of a stream under the point of my sword, if he shows himself once to me on the ford.’
It is thus they were speaking, and they made a song:
‘O Cú Chulainn, a bright meeting,’ etc.
After that, ‘Why have you come, O my friend, O Fergus?’ said Cú Chulainn.
‘That is my purpose,’ said Fergus.
‘Good luck and profit,’ said Cú Chulainn, ‘that no other of the men of Ireland has come for this purpose, unless the four provinces of Ireland all met at one time. I think nothing of a warning before a single warrior.’
Then Fergus went to his tent.
As regards the charioteer and Cú Chulainn:
‘What shall you do tonight?’ said Loeg.
‘What indeed?’ said Cú Chulainn.
‘It is thus that Fer Diad will come to seek you, with new beauty of plaiting and haircutting, and washing and bathing, and the four provinces of Ireland with him to look at the fight. It would please me if you went to the place where you will get the same adorning for yourself, to the place where is Emer of the Beautiful Hair, to Cairthend of Cluan Da Dam in Sliab Fualt.’
So Cú Chulainn went thither that night, and spent the night with his own wife. His adventures from this time are not discussed here now. As to Fer Diad, he came to his tent; it was gloomy and weary that Fer Diad’s tent-servants were that night. They thought it certain that where the two pillars of the battle of the world should meet, that both would fall; or the issue of it would be, that it would be their own lord who would fall there. For it was not easy to fight with Cú Chulainn on the Foray.
There were great cares on Fer Diad’s mind that night, so that they did not let him sleep. One of his great anxieties was that he should let pass from him all the treasures that had been offered to him, and the maiden, by reason of combat with one man. If he did not fight with that one man, he must fight with the six warriors on the morrow. His care that was greater than this was that if he should show himself once on the ford to Cú Chulainn, he was certain that he himself would not have power of his head or life thereafter; and Fer Diad arose early on the morrow.
‘Good, my lad,’ said he, ‘get our horses for us, and harness the chariot.’
‘On our word,’ said the servant, ‘we think it not greater praise to go this journey than not to go it.’
He was talking with his charioteer, and he made this little song, inciting his charioteer:
‘Let us go to this meeting,’ etc.
The servant got the horses and yoked the chariot, and they went forth from the camp.
‘My lad,’ said Fer Diad, ‘it is not fitting that we make our journey without farewell to the men of Ireland. Turn the horses and the chariot for us towards the men of Ireland.’
The servant turned the horses and the chariot thrice towards the men of Ireland …
‘Does Ailill sleep now?’ said Medb.
‘Not at all,’ said Ailill.
‘Do you hear your new son-in-law greeting you?’
‘Is that what he is doing?’ said Ailill.
‘It is indeed,’ said Medb, ‘and I swear by what my people swear, the man who makes the greeting yonder will not come back to you on the same feet.’
‘Nevertheless we have profited by (?) the good marriage connection with him,’ said Ailill; ‘provided Cú Chulainn fell by him, I should not care though they both fell. But we should think it better for Fer Diad to escape.’
Fer Diad came to the ford of combat.
‘Look, my lad,’ said Fer Diad; ‘is Cú Chulainn on the ford?’
‘He is not, indeed,’ said the servant.
‘Look well for us,’ said Fer Diad.
‘Cú Chulainn is not a little speck in hiding where he would be,’ said the lad.
‘It is true, O boy, until today Cú Chulainn has not heard of the coming of a good warrior5 against him on the Cattle Foray of Cualnge, and when he has heard of it he has left the ford.’
‘A great pity to slander Cú Chulainn in his absence! For do you remember how when you gave battle to German Garbglas above the edge-borders of the Tyrrhene Sea, you left your sword with the hosts, and it was Cú Chulainn who killed a hundred warriors in reaching it, and he brought it to you; and do you remember where we were that night?’ said the lad.
‘I do not know it,’ said Fer Diad.
‘At the house of Scathach’s steward,’ said the lad, and you went — and haughtily before us into the house first. The churl gave you a blow with the three-pointed fleshhook in the small of your back, so that it threw you out over the door like a shot. Cú Chulainn came into the house and gave the churl a blow with his sword, so that it made two pieces of him. It was I who was steward for you while you were in that place. If only for that day, you should not say that you are a better warrior than Cú Chulainn.’
‘What you have done is wrong,’ said Fer Diad, ‘for I would not have come to seek the combat if you had said it to me at first. Why do you not pull the cushions6 of the chariot under my side and my skin-cover under my head, so that I might sleep now?’
‘Alas!’ said the lad, ‘it is the sleep of a fey man before deer and hounds here.’
‘What, O lad, are you not fit to keep watch and ward for me?’
‘I am fit,’ said the lad; ‘unless men come in clouds or in mist to seek you, they will not come at all from east or west to seek you without warning and observation.’
The cushions of his chariot were pulled under his side and the skin under his head. And yet he could not sleep a little.
As to Cú Chulainn it is set forth:
‘Good, O my friend, O Loeg, take the horses and yoke the chariot; if Fer Diad is waiting for us, he is thinking it long.’
The boy rose and took the horses and yoked the chariot.
Cú Chulainn stepped into his chariot and they came on to the ford. As to Fer Diad’s servant, he had not long to watch till he heard the creaking of the chariot coming towards them. He took to waking his master, and made a song:
‘I hear a chariot,’ etc.
(This is the description of Cú Chulainn’s chariot: one of the three chief chariots of the narration on the Cattle Foray of Cualnge.)
‘How do you see Cú Chulainn?’ said he, said Fer Diad, to his charioteer.
‘I see,’ said he, ‘the chariot broad above, fine, of white crystal, with a yoke of gold with —(?), with great panels of copper, with shafts of bronze, with tyres of white metal, with its body thin-framed (?) dry-framed (?), feat-high, sword-fair (?), of a champion, on which there would be room for seven arms fit for a lord(?). A fair seat for its lord; so that this chariot, Cú Chulainn’s chariot, would reach with the speed of a swallow or of a wild deer, over the level land of Mag Slebe. That is the speed and — which they attain, for it is towards us they go. This chariot is at hand on two horses small-headed, small-round, small-end, pointed, —, red-breasted, —, easy to recognise, well-yoked … One of the two horses is supple(?), swift-leaping, great of strength, great of foot, great of length, —. The other horse is curly-maned, slender-footed, narrow-footed, heeled, —. Two wheels dark, black. A pole of metal adorned with red enamel, of a fair colour. Two bridles golden, inlaid. There is a man with fair curly hair, broad cut (?), in the front of this chariot. There is round him a blue mantle, red-purple. A spear with wings (?), and it red, furious, in his clenched fist, red-flaming. The appearance of three heads of hair on him, i.e. dark hair against the skin of his head, hair blood-red in the middle, a crown of gold covers the third hair.
‘A fair arrangement of the hair so that it makes three circles round about his shoulders down behind. I think it like gold thread, after its colour has been made over the edge of the anvil; or like the yellow of bees on which the sun shines in a summer day, is the shining of each single hair of his hair. Seven toes on each of his feet, and seven fingers on each of his hands, and the shining of a very great fire round his eye, — (?) and the hoofs of his horses; a hero’s — in his hands.
‘The charioteer of the chariot is worthy of him in his presence: curly hair very black has he, broad-cut along his head. A cowl-dress is on him open; two very fine golden leaf-shaped switches in his hand, and a light grey mantle round him, and a goad of white silver in his hand, plying the goad on the horses, whichever way the champion of great deeds goes who was at hand in the chariot.
‘He is veteran of his land (?): he and his servant think little of Ireland.’
‘Go, O fellow,’ said he, said Fer Diad; ‘you praise too much altogether; and prepare the arms in the ford against his coming.’
‘If I turned my face backwards, it seems to me the chariot would come through the back of my neck.’
‘O fellow,’ said he, ‘too greatly do you praise Cú Chulainn, for it is not a reward for praising he has given you’; and it is thus he was giving his description, and he said:
‘The help is timely,’ etc.
It is not long afterwards that they met in the middle of the ford, and Fer Diad said to Cú Chulainn:
‘Whence come you, O Cua?’ said he (for7 cua was the name of squinting in old Gaelic; and there were seven pupils in Cú Chulainn’s royal eye, and two of these pupils were squinting, and the ugliness of it is no greater than its beauty on him; and if there had been a greater blemish on Cú Chulainn, it is that with which he reproached him; and he was proclaiming it); and he made a song, and Cú Chulainn answered:
‘Whence art thou come, O Hound,’ etc.
Then Cú Chulainn said to his charioteer that he was to taunt him when he was overcome, and that he was to praise him when he was victorious, in the combat against Fer Diad. Then the charioteer said to him:
‘The man goes over thee as the tail over a cat; he washes thee as foam is washed in water, he squeezes (?) thee as a loving mother her son.’
Then they took to the ford-play. Scathach’s —(?) came to them both. Fer Diad and Cú Chulainn performed marvellous feats. Cú Chulainn went and leapt into Fer Diad’s shield; Fer Diad hurled him from him thrice into the ford; so that the charioteer taunted him again — and he swelled like breath in a bag.
His size increased till he was greater than Fer Diad.
‘Give heed to the Gae bolga,’ said the charioteer; he sent it to him along the stream.
Cú Chulainn seized it between his toes, and wielded it on Fer Diad, into his body’s armour. It advances like one spear, so that it became twenty-four points. Then Fer Diad turned the shield below. Cú Chulainn thrust at him with the spear over the shield, so that it broke the shaft of his ribs and went through Fer Diad’s heart.
[Fer Diad:] ‘Strong is the ash from thy right hand! The — rib breaks, my heart is blood. Well hast thou given battle! I fall, O Hound.’
[Cú Chulainn:] ‘Alas, O golden brooch, O Fer Diad! —, O fair strong striker! Thy hand was victorious; our dear foster-brotherhood, O delight of the eyes! Thy shield with the rim of gold, thy sword was dear. Thy ring of white silver round thy noble arm. Thy chess-playing was worthy of a great man. Thy cheek fair-purple; thy yellow curling hair was great, it was a fair treasure. Thy soft folded girdle which used to be about thy side. That thou shouldst fall at Cú Chulainn’s hands was sad, O Calf! Thy shield did not suffice which used to be for service. Our combat with thee is not fitting, our horses and our tumult. Fair was the great hero! every host used to be defeated and put under foot. Alas, O golden brooch, O Fer Diad.’
1 Ir. aes glamthe gruaidi, the folk who brought blotches on the cheeks (i.e. by their lampoons).
2 The cumal (bondmaid) was a standard of value.
3 The usual oath, ‘by the god by whom my people swear,’ understood.
4 Brandub, the name of a game; probably, like fidchill and buanfach, of the nature of chess or draughts.
5 Gloss incorporated in the text: ‘or a good man.’
6 LL fortchai. YBL has feirtsi, ‘shafts,’ both here and in the passage below.
7 An interpolation.