22. Cethern’s Strait-fight

By Mythopedia Staff
Translated by Joseph Dunn1914

While now Cuchulain went to bathe in the waters, the hosts went by to the south till they pitched camp at Imorach Smiromrach (‘Edge of the Marrow-bath’). Then said the men of Erin to macRoth the chief runner, to go watch and keep guard for them at Sliab Fuait, to the end that the Ulstermen might not come upon them without warning and unobserved. Thereupon macRoth went from the host southwards as far as Sliab Fuait to spy out the men of Ulster, to learn if any one came after them. MacRoth was not long there when he saw something: a lone chariot on Sliab Fuait making from the north straight towards him. A fierce man, stark-naked, in that chariot coming towards him, without arms, without armour at all save an iron spit in his hand. In equal manner he goaded his driver and his horses at one and the same time. And it seemed to him that he would never in his life come up to the hosts.

And macRoth hastened to tell this news at the fort where Ailill and Medb and Fergus were and the nobles of the men of Erin. Ailill asked tidings of him on his arrival. “Aye, macRoth,” inquired Ailill; “hast thou seen any of the Ulstermen on the track of the host this day?” “That, truly, I know not,” answered macRoth; “but I saw something: a lone chariot coming over Sliab Fuait from the north straight towards us. A white, grey, wild, stark-naked man in the chariot, without arms or armour at all, except for an iron spit in his hand. In equal manner he prodded his driver and his steeds. It seemed to him he would never in his life come up to the host. A brindled greyhound before him.”

“Who, thinkest thou, might it be, O Fergus?” asked Ailill. “Is it Conchobar or Celtchar?” “Of a truth, that is not likely,” Fergus answered; “meseems it is Cethern son of generous, red-edged Fintan from Lin in the north that came there. And if so it be, ye shall be on your guard against him!” Fergus indeed spoke true, that it was Fintan’s son Cethern that was come there. And so Cethern son of Fintan came on them, and the camp and the garrison were confounded and he wounded all around him in every direction and on all sides and they wounded him in Like manner.

And then Cethern left them, and it was thus he went, and the front-guard of the chariot pressed up against his belly to keep his entrails and vitals within him, and his intestines were wound about his legs. He came to the place where was Cuchulain, to be healed and cured, and he demanded a leech of Cuchulain to heal and to cure him. Cuchulain had compassion on his wounds; a bed of fresh rushes was made for him and a pillow set to it. “Come, master Laeg!” cried Cuchulain. “Arise, away with thee to the garrison and camp of the men of Erin and summon the leeches to come out to cure Cethern macFintain. I give my word, e’en though it be under the ground or in a well-shut house they are, I myself will bring death and destruction and slaughter upon them before this hour to-morrow, if they come not to minister to Cethern.”

Laeg went his way to the quarters and camp of the men of Erin, and he called upon the leeches of the men of Erin to go forth to cure Cethern son of Fintan. Truth to tell, the leeches of the men of Erin were unwilling to go cure their adversary, their enemy and their stranger-foe. But they feared Cuchulain would work death and destruction and slaughter upon them if they went not. And so they went. As one man of them after the other came to him, Cethern son of Fintan showed him his stabs and his cuts, his sores and his bloody wounds. When the first leech that came looked at him, “thou wilt not live,” he declared. “Neither wilt thou for this,” replied Cethen. Each man of them that said he would not live and could not be healed, Cethern son of Fintan struck him a blow with his right fist in the front of his forehead, so that he drove the brains out through the windows of his ears and the seams of his skull. Howbeit Cethern son of Fintan killed them till there had come fifteen leeches of the leeches of the men of Erin, as the historian hath declared in proof thereof : —

“These the leeches of the Táin,
Who by Cethern—bane—did fall.
No light thing, in floods of tribes,
That their names are known to me:

“Littè, Luaidren, known o’er sea,
Lot and Luaimnech, ‘White-hand’ Lonn,
Latheirne skilful, also Lonn,
Laisrè, Slanoll ‘That cures all.’

“Dubthach, Fintan’s blameless son
Fintan, master Firfial, too,
Mainè, Boethan ‘Gives not pain,’
Eke his pupil, Boethan’s son.

“These the leeches, five and ten,
Struck to death by Cethern, true;
I recall them in my day;
They are in the leeches’ roll!”

Yea, even the fifteenth leech, it was but the tip of a blow that reached him. Yet he fell lifeless of the great stun between the bodies of the other physicians and lay there for a long space and time. Ithall, leech of Ailill and Medb, was his name.

Thereafter Cethern son of Fintan asked another leech of Cuchulain to heal and to cure him forasmuch as the leeches of the men of Erin had failed him. “Come, master Laeg,” quoth Cuchulain, “go for me to Fingin the seer-leech, at ‘Fingin’s Grave-mound’ at Leccan (‘the Brow’) of Sliab Fuait, him that is leech to Conchobar. Bid him come to heal Cethern son of Fintan.”

Laeg hastened to Fingin the seer-leech at ‘Fingin’s Grave-mound’ at Leccan of Sliab Fuait, to the leech of Conchobar. And he told him to go cure Cethern son of Fintan. Thereupon Fingin the prophet-leech came with him to where Cuchulain and Cethern were. As soon as he was come, Cethern son of Fintan showed him his stabs and his cuts, his sores and his bloody wounds.

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