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17. The Great Rout on the Plain of Murthemne

By Anonymous
Translated by Joseph Dunn1914

That night he warriors of four of the five grand provinces of Erin pitched camp and made their station in the place called Breslech Mor (‘the Great Rout’) in the Plain of Murthemne. Their portion of cattle and spoils they sent on before them to the south to the cow-stalls of Ulster. Cuchulain took station at Ferta (‘the gravemound’) at Lerga (‘the Slopes’) hard by them. And his charioteer kindled him a fire on the evening of that night, namely Laeg son of Riangabair.

Cuchulain saw far away in the distance the fiery glitter of the bright-golden arms over the heads of four of the five grand provinces of Erin, in the setting of the sun in the clouds of evening. Great anger and rage possessed him at their sight, because of the multitude of his foes, because of the number of his enemies and opponents, and because of the few that were to avenge his sores and his wounds upon them.

Then Cuchulain arose and he grasped his two spears and his shield and his sword. He shook his shield and brandished his spears and wielded his sword and sent out the hero’s shout from his throat, so that the fiends and goblins and sprites of the glens and demons of the air gave answer for the fearfulness of the shout that he lifted on high, until Nemain, which is Badb, brought confusion on the host. The warriors of the four provinces of Erin made such a clangour of arms with the points of their spears and their weapons that an hundred strong, stout-sturd warriors of them fell dead that night of fright and of heartbreak in the middle of the camp and quarters of the men of Erin at the awfulness of the horror and the shout which Cuchulain lifted on high.

As Laeg stood there he descried something: A single man coming from the north-eastern quarter athwart the camp of the four grand provinces of Erin making directly for him. “A single man here cometh towards us now, Cucucan,” cried Laeg. “But what manner of man is he?” Cuchulain asked. “Not hard to say, Laeg made answer. A great, well-favoured man, then. Broad, close-shorn hair upon him, and yellow and curly his back hair. A green mantle wrapped around him. A brooch of white silver in the mantle over his breast. A kirtle of silk fit for a king, with red interweaving of ruddy gold he wears trussed up on his fair skin and reaching down to his knees. A great one-edged sword in his hand. A black shield with hard rim of silvered bronze thereon. A five-barbed spear in his hand. A pronged bye-spear beside it. Marvellous, in sooth, the feats and the sport and the play that he makes. But him no one heeds, nor gives he heed to any one. No one shows him courtesy nor does he show courtesy to any one, like as if none saw him in the camp of the four grand provinces of Erin.”

“In sooth, O fosterling,” answered Cuchulain, “it is one of my friends of fairy kin that comes to take pity upon me, because they know the great distress wherein I am now all alone against the four grand provinces of Erin on the Plunder of the Kine of Cualnge, killing a man on the ford each day and fifty each night, for the men of Erin grant me not fair fight nor the terms of single combat from noon of each day.”

Now in this, Cuchulain spoke truth. When the young warrior was come up to Cuchulain he bespoke him and condoled with him for the greatness of his toil and the length of time he had passed without sleep. “This is brave of thee, O Cuchulain,” quoth he. “It is not much, at all,” replied Cuchulain. “But I will bring thee help,” said the young warrior. “Who then art thou?” asked Cuchulain. “Thy father from Faery am I, even Lug son of Ethliu.”

“Yea, heavy are the bloody wounds upon me ; let thy healing be speedy.” “Sleep then awhile, O Cuchulain,” said the young warrior, “thy heavy fit of sleep by Ferta in Lerga (‘the Gravemound on the Slopes’) till the end of three days and three nights and I will oppose the hosts during that time.” He examined each wound so that it became clean. Then he sang him the ‘men’s low strain’ till Cuchulain fell asleep withal. It was then Lug recited the Spell-chant of Lug.

Accordingly Cuchulain slept his heavy fit of sleep at ‘the Gravemound on the Slopes’ till the end of three days and three nights. And well he might sleep. Yet as great as was his sleep, even so great was his weariness. For from the Monday before Samain (‘Summer-end’) even to the Wednesday after Spring-beginning, Cuchulain slept not for all that space, except for a brief snatch after midday, leaning against his spear, and his head on his fist, and his fist clasping his spear, and his spear on his knee, but hewing and cutting, slaying and destroying four of the five grand provinces of Erin during that time.

Then it was that the warrior from Faery laid plants from the fairy-rath and healing herbs and put a healing charm into the cuts and stabs, into the sores and gaping wounds of Cuchulain, so that Cuchulain recovered during his sleep without ever perceiving it.

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