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14. The Slaying of Ferbaeth

By Anonymous
Translated by Joseph Dunn1914

Then again the men of Erin took counsel who would be fit to fight and do combat with Cuchulain and to ward him off from them on the ford at the morning-hour early on the morrow. What they each and all said was, that it would be his own friend and companion and the man who was his equal in arms and feats, even Ferbaeth son of Ferbend.

Then was Ferbaeth son of Ferbend summoned to them, to the tent of AiliU and Medb. “Wherefore do ye call me to you?” Ferbaeth asked. “In sooth, it would please us,” Medb answered, “for thee to do battle and contend with Cuchulain, and to ward him off from us on the ford at the morning hour early on the morrow.”

Great rewards they promised to him for making the battle and combat. Finnabair is given to him for this and the kingdom of his race, for he was their choice to combat Cuchulain. He was the man they thought worthy of him, for they both had learned the same service in arms with Scathach.

“I have no desire to act thus,” Ferbaeth protested. “Cuchulain is my foster-brother and of everlasting covenant with me. Yet will I go meet him to-morrow, so shall I strike off his head!” “It will be thou that canst do it,” Medb made answer.

Then it was that Cuchulain said to his charioteer, namely to Laeg: “Betake thee thither, O master Laeg,” said Cuchulain, “to the camp of the men of Erin, and bear a greeting from me to my comrades and foster-brothers and age-mates. Bear a greeting to Ferdiad son of Daman, and to Ferdet son of Daman, and to Brass son of Ferb, and to Lugaid son of Nos, and to Lugaid son of Solamach, to Ferbaeth son of Baetan, and to Ferbaeth son of Ferbend, and a particular greeting withal to mine own foster-brother, to Lugaid son of Nos, for that he is the one man that still has friendliness and friendship with me now on the hosting. And bear him a blessing. Let it be asked diligently of him that he may tell thee who of the men of Erin will come to attack me on the morrow.”

Then Laeg went his way to the camp of the men of Erin and brought the aforementioned greetings to the comrades and foster-brothers of Cuchulain. And he also went into the tent of Lugaid son of Nos. Lugaid bade him welcome. “I take that welcome to be truly meant,” said Laeg. “’Tis truly meant for thee,” replied Lugaid. “To converse with thee am I come from Cuchulain,” said Laeg, “and I bring these greetings truly and earnestly from him to the end that thou tell me who comes to fight with Cuchulain to-day.” “Truly not lucky is it for Cuchulain,” said Lugaid, “the strait wherein he is alone against the men of Erin.

“The curse of his fellowship and brotherhood and of his friendship and affection and of his arms be upon that man; even his own real foster-brother himself, even the companion of us both, Ferbaeth son of Ferbend. He it is that comes to meet him to-morrow. He was invited into the tent of Ailill and Medb a while since. The daughter Finnabair was set by his side. It is she who fills up the drinking-horns for him; it is she who gives him a kiss with every drink that he takes; it is she who serveth the food to him. Not for every one with Medb is the ale that is poured out for Ferbaeth till he is drunk. Only fifty wagon-loads of it have been brought to the camp.”

Then with heavy head, sorrowful, downcast, heaving sighs, Laeg retraced his steps to Cuchulain. “With heavy head, sorrowful, downcast and sighing, my master Laeg comes to meet me,” said Cuchulain. “It must be that one of my brothers-in-arms comes to attack me.” For he regarded as worse a man of the same training in arms as himself than aught other warrior. “Hail now, O Laeg my friend,” cried Cuchulain; “who comes to attack me to-day?”

“The curse of his fellowship and brotherhood, of his friendship and affection be upon him; even thine own real foster-brother himself, namely Ferbaeth son of Ferbend. A while ago he was summoned into the tent of Medb. The maiden was set by his side; it is she who fills up the drinking-horns for him; it is she who gives him a kiss with every drink; it is she who serveth his food. Not for every one with Medb is the ale that is poured out for Ferbaeth. Only fifty wagon-loads of it have been brought to the camp.”

Cuchulain bade Laeg go to Lugaid, that he come to talk with him. Lugaid came to Cuchulain. “So Ferbaeth comes to oppose me to-morrow,” said Cuchulain. “Aye, then,” answered Lugaid. “Evil is this day,” cried Cuchulain. “I shall not be alive thereafter. Two of the same age are we, two of equal deftness, two of equal weight, when we come together. O Lugaid, greet him for me. Tell him, also, it is not the part of true valour to come to oppose me. Tell him to come meet me to-night to speak with me.”

Lugaid brought back this word to Ferbaeth. Now inasmuch as Ferbaeth shunned not the parley, he by no means waited till morn but he went straightway to the glen that night to recant his friendship with Cuchulain, and Fiachu son of Ferfebè went with him. And Cuchulain called to mind the friendship and fellowship and brotherhood that had been between them; and Scathach, the nurse of them both; and Ferbaeth would not consent to forego the fight.

“I must fight,” said Ferbaeth. “I have promised it to Medb.” “Friendship with thee then is at an end,” cried Cuchulain, and in anger he left him and drove the sole of his foot against a holly-spit in the glen, so that it pierced through flesh and bone and skin and came out by his knee. Thereat Cuchulain became frantic, and he gave a strong tug and drew the spit out from its roots, from sinew and bone, from flesh and from skin. “Go not, Ferbaeth, till thou seest the find I have made.” “Throw it then,” cried Ferbaeth. And Cuchulain threw the holly-spit over his shoulder after Ferbaeth, and he would as lief that it reached him or that it reached him not. The spit struck Ferbaeth in the nape of the neck, so that it passed out through his mouth in front and fell to the ground, and thus Ferbaeth fell backward into the glen.

“Now that was a good throw, Cucuc!” cried Fiachu son of Ferfebè, who was on the mound between the two camps, for he considered it a good throw to kill that warrior with a spit of holly. Hence it is that Focherd Murthemni (‘the good Cast of Murthemne’) is the name of the place where they were.

Straightway Ferbaeth died in the glen. Hence cometh Glenn Ferbaeth. Something was heard. It was Fergus who sang: —

“Fool’s” emprise was thine, Ferbaeth,
That did bring thee to thy grave.
Ruin hath come on anger here;
Thy last end in Croen Corann!

Fithi was the hill’s old name,
In Croenech in Murthemne.
‘Ferbaeth’ now shall be the name
Of the plain where Ferbaeth fell!”

Táin Bó Cúailnge
By Anonymous
English translation by Joseph Dunn (1914)
Cover: Táin Bó Cúailnge trans. Joseph Dunn (1914)