Táin Bó Cúailnge

26. The Decision of the Battle

About this Edition

  • Translated By
    Publishing Date
    • Joseph Dunn

It was on that night that the Morrigan, daughter of Ernmas, came, and she was engaged in fomenting strife and sowing dissension between the two camps on either side, and she spoke these words in the twilight between the two encampments:—

“Ravens shall pick
The necks of men!
Blood shall gush
In combat wild!
Skins shall be hacked
Crazed with spoils!
Men’s sides pierced
In battle brave,
Luibnech near!
Warriors’ storm;
Mien of braves;
Cruachan’s men!
Upon them comes
Ruin complete!
Lines shall be strewn
Under foot;
Their race die out!
Then Ulster hail:
To Erna woe!
To Ulster woe:
Then Erna hail!
(This she said in Erna’s ear.)
Naught inglorious shall they do
Who them await!”

Now Cuchulain was at Fedain Collna near by. Food was brought to him that night by the purveyors, and they were used to come to converse with him by day. He killed not any of the men of Erin to the left of Ferdiad’s Ford.

It was then that Cuchulain spake to Laeg son of Riangabair. “It would surely be unworthy of thee, O Laeg my master,” said Cuchulain, “if between the two battle-lines there should happen anything to-day whereof thou hadst no tidings for me.” “Whatsoever I shall learn, O Cucucuc,” answered Laeg, “will be told thee. But, see yonder a little flock coming forth on the plain from the western camp and station now. Behold a band of henchmen after them to check and to stay them. Behold also a company of henchmen emerging from the eastern camp and station to seize them.” “Surely, that is so!” exclaimed Cuchulain. “That bodes a mighty combat and is the occasion of a grand battle. The little flock will come over the plain and the bands of henchmen from the east and the band of henchmen from the west will encounter one another betimes about the little flock on the great field of battle.” There, indeed, Cuchulain spoke true. And the little flock came forth upon the plain, and the companies of henchmen met in fray.

“Who gives the battle now, O Laeg my master,” Cuchulain asked. “The folk of Ulster,” Laeg answered: “that is the same as the young warriors of Ulster.” “But how fight they?” Cuchulain asked. “Like men they fight,” Laeg answered. “There where are the heroes of valour from the east in battle, they force a breach through the ranks to the west. There where are the heroes from the west, they lay a breach through the ranks to the eastward.”

“It would be a vow for them to fall in rescuing their herds,” said Cuchulain; “and now?” “The beardless youths are fighting now,” said the charioteer. “Has a bright cloud come over the sun yet?” Cuchulain asked. “Nay, then,” the charioteer answered. “I grieve that I am not yet strong enough to be on my feet amongst them. For, were I able to be on my feet amongst them, my breach would be manifest there to-day like that of another!” “But, this avow, O Cucuc,” said Laeg: “it is no reproach to thy valour; it is no disgrace to thine honour. Thou hast done bravely in time before now and thou wilt do bravely hereafter.”

About the hour of sunrise: “It is a haughty folk that now fight the battle,” quoth the charioteer; “but there are no kings amongst them, for sleep is still upon them.” “Come, O my master Laeg!” cried Cuchulain; “rouse the men of Ulster to the battle now, for it is time that they come.”

Then, when the sun arose, Cuchulain saw the kings from the east putting their crowns on their heads and relieving their men-at-arms. Cuchulain told his charioteer to awaken the men of Ulster. Laeg came and roused the men of Ulster to battle, and he uttered these words there:—

“Arise, ye kings of Macha,
Valiant in your deeds!
Imbel’s kine the Badb doth covet:
Blood of hearts pours out!
Goodly heroes’ battle rushes in
With deeds of valour!
Hearts all red with gore:
Brows turned in flight.
Dismay of battle riseth.
For there was never found
One like unto Cuchulain,
Hound that Macha’s weal doth work!
If it is for Cualnge’s kine,
Let them now arise!”