9. The Proposals

By Mythopedia Staff
Translated by Joseph Dunn1914

The four grand provinces of Erin proceeded till they pitched camp and took quarters in Druim En (‘Birds’ Ridge’) in the land of Conalle Murthemni, and they slept there that night, as we said before, and Cuchulain held himself at Ferta Illergaib (‘the Burial-mound on the Slopes’) hard by them that night, and he, Cuchulain, shook, brandished and flourished his weapons that night. Every night of the three nights they were there he made casts from his sling at them, from Ochaine nearby, so that one hundred warriors of the host perished of fright and fear and dread of Cuchulain. “Not long will our host endure in this way with Cuchulain,” quoth Ailill.

Medb called upon Fiachu son of Ferfebè of the Ulstermen to go parley with Cuchulain, to come to some terms with him. “What terms shall be given him?” asked Fiachu son of Ferfebè. “Not hard to answer,” Medb replied: “He shall be recompensed for the loss of his lands and estates, for whosoever has been slain of the Ulstermen, so that it be paid to him as the men of Erin adjudge according to the will of the Ulstermen and of Fergus and of the nobles of the men of Erin who are in this camp and encampment. Entertainment shall be his at all times in Cruachan; wine and mead shall be poured out for him. He shall have from the plain of Ai the equal of the plain of Murthemne and the best chariot that is in Ai and the equipment of twelve men. Offer, if it please him more, the plain wherein he was reared and thrice seven bondmaids. And he shall come into my service and Ailill’s, for that is more seemly for him than to be in the service of the lordling with whom he is, even of Conchobar son of Fachtna Fathatch.

Accordingly this was the greatest word of scorn and insult spoken on the Cow-Raid of Cualnge, to make a lordling of the best king of a province in Erin, even of Conchobar.

Then came Fiachu son of Ferfebè to converse with Cuchulain. Cuchulain bade him welcome. “Welcome thy coming and thine arrival, O Fiachu,” said Cuchulain. “I regard that welcome as truly meant,” said Fiachu. “It is truly meant for thee,” replied Cuchulain; and thou shalt have a night of hospitality this night.” “Victory and a blessing attend thee, O fosterling,” replied Fiachu. “Not for hospitality am I come, but to parley with thee am I come from Medb, and to bring thee terms.” “What hast thou brought with thee?”

“Thou shalt be recompensed for whatsoever was destroyed of Ulster which shall be paid thee as best the men of Erin adjudge. Entertainment shalt thou enjoy in Cruachan; wine and mead shall be poured out for thee and thou shalt enter the service of Ailill and Medb, for that is more seemly for thee than to be in the service of the lordling with whom thou art.” “Nay, of a truth,” answered Cuchulain, “I would not sell my mother’s brother for any other king!” “Further,” continued Fiachu, “that thou comest to-morrow to a tryst with Medb and Fergus in Glenn Fochaine.

Therewith Fiachu left behind a wish for long life and health with Cuchulain.

Accordingly, early on the morrow, Cuchulain set forth for Glenn Fochaine. Likewise Medb and Fergus went to meet him. And Medb looked narrowly at Cuchulain, and her spirit chafed her at him that day, for no bigger than the bulk of a stripling did he seem to her. “Is that yonder the renowned Cuchulain thou speakest of, O Fergus?” asked Medb, “of whom it is said amongst ye Ulstermen that there is not in Erin a warrior for whom he is not a match and mighty combat?” “Not in Erin alone, did we say,” Fergus made answer; “but there is not in the world a warrior for whom he is not a match and mighty combat.” And Medb began to address Fergus and she made this lay:—

Medb: “If that be the noble Hound,

Of whom ye of Ulster boast,
What man e’er stout foe hath faced
Will fend him from Erin’s men!”

Fergus: “Howe’er young the Hound thou seest

That Murthemne’s Plain cloth course,
That man hath not stood on earth
Whom he’d crush not with his might!”

Medb: “We will bring this warrior terms;

If he slight them, he is mad:
Half his cows, his women, half.
He shall change his way of fight!”

Fergus: “My wish, that ye’ll not o’ercome

This Hound from proud Murthemne!
Deeds he fears not—fierce and bright—
This I know, if it be he!”

“Accost Cuchulain, O Fergus,” said Medb. “Nay, then,” quoth Fergus, “but do thou accost him thyself, for ye are not asunder here in the valley, in Glenn Fochaine.” And Medb began to address Cuchulain and she made a lay, to which he responded:

Medb: “Culann’s Hound, whom quatrains praise,

Keep thy staff-sling far from us;
Thy fierce, famed fight hath us ruined,
Hath us broken and confused!”

Cuchulain: “Medb of Mur, he, Maga’s son,

No base arrant wight am I.
While I live I’ll never cease
Cualnge’s raid to harass sore!”

Medb: “If thou wilt take this from us,

Valiant chief, thou Cualnge’s Hound;
Half thy cows; thy women, half,
Thou shalt have through fear of thee!”

Cuchulain: “As by right of thrusts am I

Ulster’s champion and defence,
Naught I’ll yield till I retrieve
Cow and woman ta’en from Gael!”

Medb: “What thou askest is too much,

After slaughtering our fair troops,
That we keep but steeds and gauds,
All because of one sole man!”

Cuchulain: “Eocho’s daughter, fair, of Fal,

I’m not good at wars of words;
Though a warrior—fair the cheer—
Counsel mine is little worth!”

Medb: “Shame thou hast none for what thou sayest

O Dechtire’s lordly son!
Famous are the terms for thee,
O thou battling Culann’s Hound!”

When this lay was finished, Cuchulain accepted none of the terms which she had offered. In such wise they parted in the valley and withdrew in equal anger on the one side and on the other.

The warriors of four of the five grand provinces of Erin pitched camp and took quarters for three days and three nights at Druim En (‘Birds’ Ridge’) in Conalle Murthemni, but neither huts nor tents did they set up, nor did they engage in feasts or repasts, nor sang they songs nor carols those three nights. And Cuchulain destroyed a hundred of their warriors every night ere the bright hour of sunrise on the morrow.

“Our hosts will not last long in this fashion,” said Medb, “if Cuchulain slays a hundred of our warriors every night. Wherefore is a proposal not made to him and do we not parley with him?” “What might the proposal be?” asked Ailill. “Let the cattle that have milk be given to him and the captive women from amongst our booty. And he on his side shall check his staff-sling from the men of Erin and give leave to the hosts to sleep, even though he slay them by day.”

“Who shall go with that proposal?” Ailill asked. “Who,” answered Medb, “but macRoth the chief runner!” “Nay, but I will not go,” said macRoth, “for I am in no way experienced and know not where Cuchulain may be, and even though I should meet him, I should not know him.” “Ask Fergus,” quoth Medb; “like enough he knows where he is.” “Nay, then, I know it not,” answered Fergus; “but I trow he is in the snow between Fochain and the sea, taking the wind and the sun after his sleeplessness last night, killing and slaughtering the host single handed.” And so it truly was.

Then on that errand to Delga macRoth set forth, the messenger of Ailill and Medb. He it is that circles Erin in one day. There it is that Fergus opined that Cuchulain would be, in Delga.

Heavy snow fell that night so that all the five provinces of Erin were a white plane with the snow. And Cuchulain doffed the seven-score waxed, boardlike tunics which were used to be held under cords and strings next his skin, in order that his sense might not be deranged when the fit of his fury came on him. And the snow melted for thirty feet all around him, because of the intensity of the warrior’s heat and the warmth of Cuchulain’s body. And the gilla remained a good distance from him for he could not endure to remain near him because of the might of his rage and the warrior’s fury and the heat of his body.

“A single warrior approacheth, O Cuchulain,” cried Laeg to Cuchulain. “What manner of warrior is he?” asked Cuchulain. “A brown, broad-faced, handsome fellow; a yellow head of hair and a linen ornament round it; a splendid, brown, hooded cloak, with red ornamentation, about him; a fine, bronze pin in his cloak; a leathern three-striped doublet next his skin; two gapped shoes between his two feet and the ground; a white-hazel dog-staff in one of his hands; a single-edged sword with ornaments of walrus-tooth on its hilt in the other. “Good, O gilla,” quoth Cuchulain, “these be the tokens of a herald. One of the heralds of Erin is he to bring me message and offer of parley.”

Now was macRoth arrived at the place where Laeg was. “How now! What is thy title as vassal, O gilla?” macRoth asked. “Vassal am I to the youth up yonder,” the gilla made answer. MacRoth came to the place where Cuchulain was. Cuchulain was sitting in the snow there up to his two hips with nothing about him . . . his mantle. “How now! What is thy name as vassal, O warrior?” asked macRoth. “Vassal am I to Conchobar son of Fachtna Fathach, son of the High King of this province.” “Hast not something, a name more special than that?” “’Tis enough for the nonce,” answered Cuchulain.

“Haply, thou knowest where I might find that famous Cuchulain of whom the men of Erin clamour now on this foray?” “What wouldst thou say to him that thou wouldst not to me?” asked Cuchulain. “To parley with him am I come on the part of Ailill and Medb, with terms and friendly intercourse for him.” “What terms hast thou brought with thee for him?” “The milch-kine and the bondwomen of the booty he shall have, and for him to hold back his staff-sling from the hosts, for not pleasant is the thunder-feat he works every evening upon them.”

“Even though the one thou seekest were really at hand, he would not accept the proposals thou askest.” “How so, then,” said macRoth; “for the Ulstermen, as amends for their honour and in reprisal for injuries and satires and hindrances and for bands of troops and marauders, will kill for meat in the winter the milch-cows ye have captured, should they happen to have no yeld cattle. And, what is more, they will bring their bondwomen to bed to them, and thus will grow up a base progeny on the side of the mothers in the land of Ulster, and loath I am to leave after me such a disgrace on the men of Ulster.

MacRoth went his way back to the camp of the men of Erin to where Ailill and Medb and Fergus were. “What! Didst thou not find him?” Medb asked. “Verily, I know not, but I found a surly, angry, hateful, wrathful gilla in the snow betwixt Fochain and the sea. Sooth to say, I know not if he were Cuchulain.” “Hath he accepted these proposals from thee?” “Nay then, he hath not.” And macRoth related unto them all his answer, the reason why he did not accept them. “It was he himself with whom thou spakest,” said Fergus.

“Another offer shall be made him,” said Medb. “What is the offer?” asked Ailill. “There shall be given to him the yeld cattle and the noblest of the captive women of the booty, and his sling shall be checked from the hosts, for not pleasant is the thunder-feat he works on them every evening.” “Who should go make this covenant?” said they. “Who but macRoth the king’s envoy,” said every one. “Yea, I will go,” said macRoth, “because this time I know him.”

Thereupon macRoth arose and came to parley with Cuchulain. “To parley with thee am I come this time with other terms, for I wis it is thou art the renowned Cuchulain.” “What hast thou brought with thee now?” Cuchulain asked. “What is dry of the kine and what is noblest of the captives shalt thou get, and hold thy staff-sling from the men of Erin and suffer the men of Erin to go to sleep, for not pleasant is the thunder-feat thou workest upon them every evening.”

“I accept not that offer, because, as amends for their honour, the Ulstermen will kill the dry cattle. For the men of Ulster are honourable men and they would remain wholly without dry kine and milch-kine. They would bring their free women ye have captured to the querns and to the kneading-troughs and into bondage and other serfdom besides. This would be a disgrace. Loath I should be to leave after me this shame in Ulster, that slave-girls and handmaids should be made of the daughters of kings and princes of Ulster.”

“Is there any offer at all thou wilt accept this time?” said macRoth “Aye, but there is,” answered Cuchulain. “Then wilt thou tell me the offer?” asked macRoth. “By my word,” Cuchulain made answer, “’tis not I that will tell you.” “It is a question, then,” said macRoth. “If there be among you in the camp,” said Cuchulain, “one that knows the terms I demand, let him inform you, and I will abide thereby.” “And if there be not?” said macRoth. “If there be not,” said Cuchulain, “let no one come near me any more with offers or with friendly intercourse or concerning aught other injunction, for, whosoever may come, it will be the term of his life!”

MacRoth came back to the camp and station of the men of Erin, to where Aihll, Medb, and Fergus were, and Medb asked his tidings. “Didst thou find him?” Medb asked. “In truth, I found him,” macRoth replied. “Hath he accepted the terms?” “He hath not accepted,” replied macRoth. “How so;” said Ailill, “Is there an offer he will accept?” “There is one, he said,” answered macRoth. “Hath he made known to thee this offer?” “This is his word,” said macRoth, “that he himself would not disclose it to ye.” “’Tis a question, then,” said Medb.

“But” (macRoth continued), “should there be one in our midst that knows his terms, that one would tell it to me.” “And if there be not,” said Ailill. “And if there be not,” (answered macRoth), “let no one go seek him any more. But, there is one thing I promise thee,” said macRoth; “even though the kingdom of Erin were given me for it, I for one would not go on these same legs to that place to parley with him again.”

“Belike, Fergus knows,” quoth Ailill. Therewith Medb looked at Fergus. “What are the terms yonder man demands, O Fergus?” Medb asked. “I know what the man meant to disclose. I see no advantage at all for ye in the terms he demands,” Fergus replied. “But what are those terms?” asked Medb. “Not difficult to say,” replied Fergus. “That a single champion of the men of Erin be sent to fight and contend with him every day. The while he slayeth that man, the army will be permitted to continue its march. Then, when he will have slain that man, another warrior shall be sent to meet him on the ford. Either that, or the men of Erin shall halt and camp there till sunrise’s bright hour in the morning. And, by the ford whereon his single-handed battle and fight takes place, the cattle shall not be taken by day or by night, to see if there come to him help from the men of Ulster. And I wonder,” continued Fergus, “how long it will be till they come out of their ‘Pains.’

Whatever Ulstermen are injured or wounded nearby him, your leeches shall heal them and ye shall not be paid for the price of their healing. Whatever daughter of kings or of princes of the men of Erin shall love him, ye shall bring her to him together with her purchase and bride-price. And further, Cuchulain’s food and clothing shall be provided by you, so long as he will be on this expedition.” “Good, O Fergus,” asked Ailill, “will he abate aught of these terms?” “In sooth, will he,” replied Fergus; “namely, he will not exact to be fed and clothed by you, but of himself will provide food and clothing.”

“By our conscience,” said Ailill, “this is a grievous proposal.” “What he asks is good,” replied Medb; “and he shall obtain those terms, for we deem it easier to bear that he should have one of our warriors every day than a hundred every night.” “Who will go and make known those terms to Cuchulain?” “Who, then, but Fergus?” replied Medb. “Come now, O Fergus,” said Medb; “take upon thee to fulfil and make good those terms to him.”

“Nevermore!” said Fergus. “Why not?” asked Ailill. “I fear ye will not make true and fulfil them for me.” “They will truly be fulfilled,” said Medb. (Then said Fergus:) “Bonds and covenants, pledges and bail shall be given for abiding by those terms and for their fulfillment towards Cuchulain.” “I abide by it,” said Medb, and she fast bound Fergus to them in like manner.

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