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8. The Slaying of Orlam

By Anonymous
Translated by Joseph Dunn1914

The four grand provinces of Erin set forth on the morrow eastwards over Cronn (‘the Round’), which is a mountain. Cuchulain had gone out before them, till he came upon the charioteer of Orlam son of Aililla and of Medb. This was at Tamlacht Orlaim (‘Orlam’s Gravestone’) a little to the north of Disert Lochaid (‘Lochat’s Hermitage’). The charioteer was engaged in cutting chariot-poles from a holly-tree in the wood. But according to another version it is the hind pole of Cuchulain’s chariot that was broken and it was to cut a pole he had gone when Orlam’s charioteer came up. According to this version, it was the charioteer who was cutting the pole.

Not long was the battle-victorious Hound there when he heard a sound and an uproar. “Behold, O Laeg,” cried Cuchulain; “who of the host of the foe have come into this land to carry off a share of cattle and booty from the pre-vince wherein they came? How bold are the ways of the Ulstermen, if it be they that cut down the woods in this fashion in the face of the men of Erin. But, check the horses and hold the chariot. Tarry thou here a little, till I know who cuts down the woods in this manner.” Then Cuchulain went on till he came up to Orlam’s charioteer, to stop him; he thought he was one of the men of Ulster. “What dost thou here, gilla?” asked Cuchulain; “Indeed, then,” answered the gilla, “I cut chariot poles from this holm, because our chariots were broken yesterday in pursuit of that famous wildling, namely Cuchulain. And for thy manhood’s sake, young warrior, pray come to my aid, so that that famous Cuchulain come not upon me.” “Take thy choice, gilla,” said Cuchulain, “to gather or to trim them, either.” “I will see to gathering them, for it is easier,” the gilla answered.

Cuchulain started to cut the poles and he drew them between the forks of his feet and his hands against their bends and their knots, so that he made them smooth and straight and slippery and trimmed; he polished them so that not even a midge could find footing thereon when he had passed them away from him. Then full sure the gilla gazed upon him. “Far then, meseems, from fitting is the task I put on thee. And for love of thy valour, who art thou, say, O warrior?” the gilla asked, for he was sore affrighted. “That same renowned Cuchulain am I of whom thou spakest a while ago in the morning.” “Woe is me then, by reason of this,” cried the gilla, “for this am I lost forever.”

“Whence comest thou and who art thou?” Cuchulain asked. “Charioteer am I of Orlam, Ailill’s son and Medb’s,” said he. “Fear nothing; I will not slay thee at all, boy,” said Cuchulain; “for I slay nor charioteers nor horseboys nor persons unarmed. But, prithee, where is thy master, gilla?” “Over yonder by the trench, with his back to the pillar-stone,” answered the gilla. “Off with thee thither to him and bear him a warning that he be on his guard. For if we meet he shall fall by my hand.” Thereupon the charioteer repaired by one way to his master, and Cuchulain went by another, and fast as the gilla sped to Orlam, faster still Cuchulain did reach him and offered him combat and he struck off his head, and raising it aloft displayed it to the men of Erin, and he flourished it in the presence of the host. Then he put the head on the charioteer’s back and said, “Take this with thee, and so go to the camp. Unless thou goest so, a stone out of my sling will reach thee.”

When the charioteer came nigh to the camp he took the head from his back and told his adventures to Ailill and Medb. “It is not the same, this exploit and the catching of birds,” quoth she. “And he told me” (said the boy), “unless I brought it on my back to the camp, he would break my head with a stone.” Hence Leaca Orlaim (‘Orlam’s Flagstones’) to the north of Disert Lochaid is the name of the place where he fell. Tamlachta (‘Gravestones’) is another name for it, and it is for this reason it is so called because of the little gravestones and the violent deaths which Cuchulain worked on it.”

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