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- Heroic Romances of Ireland Volume 1 - 30/44 -


that my rage and my wrath may be kindled, and increase. And if it be I that shall prevail, then do thou give to me praise and approval; and speak good words tome, that my courage may be the greater." "This indeed will I do, O Cuchulain!" said Laeg.

Then did Cuchulain put on his battle armour that he used for the combat and fight. And that day he displayed noble, many-changing, wonderful, and many feats that he had learned from none: neither from Scathach, from Uathach, or from Aife. And Ferdia marked those feats, and he know that each in turn would be tried upon him.

"O Ferdia!" said Cuchulain, "tell me to what arms we shall resort?

"Thine is the choice of weapons until the night," said Ferdia. "Then," said Cuchulain, "let us try the Feat of the Ford."[FN#58] "Let us do so indeed," said Ferdia; but although he thus spoke, it was with sorrow that he consented, for he knew that Cuchulain had ever destroyed every hero and champion who had contended with him at the Feat of the Ford.

[FN#58] i.e. in which all weapons were allowed.

Mighty were the deeds that were done upon that day at the ford by those two heroes, the champions of the west of Europe; by those two hands which in the north-west of the world were those that best bestowed bounty, and pay, and reward; those twin loved pillars of valour of the Gael; those two keys of the bravery of the Gaels, brought to fight from afar, owing to the urging and the intermeddling of Ailill and Maev. From the dawn till the middle of the day, each began to shoot at the other with his massive weapons; and when midday had come, the wrath of the two men became more furious, and each drew nearer to the other. And then upon a time Cuchulain sprang from the shore of the ford, and he lit upon the boss of the shield of Ferdia the son of Daman, the son of Dare, to strike at his head from above, over the rim of his shield. And then it was that Ferdia gave the shield a blow of his left elbow, and he cast Cuchulain from him like a bird, till he came down again, upon the shore of the ford. And again Cuchulain sprang from the shore of the ford, till he lit upon the boss of the shield of Ferdia the son of Daman, the son of Dare, to strike his head from above, over the rim of the shield. And Ferdia, gave the shield a stroke of his left knee, and he cast Cuchulain from him like a little child, till he came down on the shore of the ford.

Laeg saw what had been done. "Ah!" said Laeg, "the warrior who is against thee, casts thee away as a loose woman casts her child; he flings thee as high as the river flings its foam; he grinds thee even as a mill would grind fresh malt; pierces thee as the axe would pierce the oak that it fells; binds thee as the woodbine binds the tree; darts upon thee even as the hawk darts upon little birds, so that never until time and life shall end, shalt thou have a call, or right, or claim for prowess or for valour: thou little fairy phantom!" said Laeg. Up sprang Cuchulain, swift as the wind; quick as the swallow; fiery as the dragon; powerful as the lion; and he bounded into the air for the third time into the troubled clouds of it, until he lit upon the boss of the shield of Ferdia, the son of Daman, striving to strike his head from above, over the rim of the shield. And the warrior shook his shield, and he threw Cuchulain from him, into the middle of the ford, just as if he had never been cast off at all.

And then for the first time the countenance of Cuchulain was changed, and he rose in his full might, as if the air had entered into him, till he towered as a terrible and wonderful giant, with the hero-light playing about his head; rising as a wild man of the sea; that great and valiant champion, till he overtopped Ferdia. And now so closely were they locked in the fight, that their heads met above them, and their feet below them; and in their middles met their arms over the rims and the bosses of their shields. So closely were they locked in the fight, that they turned and bent, and shivered their spears from the points to the hafts; and cleft and loosened their shields from the centres to the rims. So closely were they locked, that the Bocanachs, and the Bananachs, and the wild people of the glens, and the demons of the air screamed from the rims of their shields, and from the hilts of their swords, and from the hafts of their spears. And so closely did they fight, that they cast the river from its bed and its course, so that there might have been a couch fit for a king and a queen to he in, there in the midst of the ford, for there was no drop of water left in it, except such as fell therein from off those two heroes and champions, as they trampled and hewed at each other in the midst of the ford. And so fierce was their fight, that the horses of the Gaels, in fear and in terror, rushed away wildly and madly, bursting their chains, and their yokes, and their tethers, and their traces; and the women, and the common folk, and the followers of the camp, fled south-westwards out of the camp.

All this time they fought with the edges of their swords. And then it was that Ferdia found Cuchulain for a moment off his guard, and he struck him with the straight edge of his sword, so that it sank into his body, till the blood streamed to his girdle, and the soil of the ford was crimson with the blood that fell from the body of that warrior so valiant in fight. And Cuchulain's endurance was at an end, for Ferdia continually struck at him, not attempting to guard, and his downright blows, and quick thrusts, and crushing strokes fell constantly upon him, till Cuchulain demanded of Laeg the son of Riangabra to deliver to him the Gae-Bulg. Now the manner of using the Gae-Bulg was this: it was set with its end pointing down a stream, and was cast from beneath the toes of the foot: it made the wound of one spear on entering a person's body; but it had thirty barbs to open behind, and it could not be drawn out from a man's body until he was cut open. And when Ferdia heard mention of the Gae-Bulg, he made a stroke of his shield downwards to guard the lower part of his body. And Cuchulain thrust his unerring thorny spear off the centre of his palm over the rim of the shield, and through his breast covered by horny defensive plates of armour, so that its further half was visible behind him after piercing the heart in his chest. Ferdia gave an upward stroke of his shield to guard the upper part of his body, though too late came that help, when the danger was past. And the servant set the Gae-Bulg down the stream, and Cuchulain caught it between the toes of his foot, and he threw it with an unerring cast against Ferdia, and it broke through the firm deep apron of wrought iron, and it burst the great stone that was as large as a millstone into three parts, and it passed through the protection of his body into him, so that every crevice and cavity in him was filled with its barbs. "'Tis enough now," said Ferdia. "I have my death of that; and I have but breath enough to say that thou hast done an ill deed against me. It was not right that thy hand should be that by which I should fall." And thus did he cry, as he gasped out these words:

Hound, of feats so fair![FN#59] Death from thee is ill: Thou the blame must bear, Thou my blood dost spill.

Help no wretch hath found Down this chasm of woe: Sick mine accents sound, As a ghost, I go.

Torn my ribs, and burst, Gore my heart hath filled: This of fights is worst, Hound! thou hast me killed.

[FN#59] The metre is that of the Irish.

And after those words, Cuchulain ran towards him, and with his arms and armour about him, carried him northwards across the ford, in order that the slain man might be on the north side of the ford, and not upon the western side together with the men of Erin. Then Cuchulain laid Ferdia down, and there it was that a trance and a faint and a weakness came upon Cuchulain when he saw the body of Ferdia, Laeg saw his weakness, and the men of Ireland all arose to come upon him. "Rise up now, O Cuchulain!" said Laeg, "for the men of Erin are coming towards us, and no single combat will they give to us, since Ferdia the son of Daman, the son of Dare, has fallen by thy hand."

"How shall I be the better for arising, O my servant!" said he, "now that he who lieth here hath fallen by me?" And it was in this manner that his servant spoke to him, and he recited these words, and thus did Cuchulain reply:

Laeg

Now arise, Battle-Hound of Emania! It is joy and not grief should be sought; For the leader of armies, Ferdia, Thou hast slain, and hard battle hast fought.

Cuchulain

What availeth me triumph or boasting? For, frantic with grief for my deed, I am driven to mourn for that body That my sword made so sorely to bleed.

Laeg

'Tis not thou shouldst lament for his dying, Rejoicing should spring to thy tongue; For in malice, sharp javelins, flying For thy wounding and bleeding he flung.

Cuchulain

I would mourn, if my leg he had severed, Had he hewn through this arm that remains, That he mounts not his steeds; and for ever In life, immortality gains.

Laeg

To the dames of Red Branch thou art giving More pleasure that thus he should fall: They will mourn for him dead, for thee living, Nor shall count of thy victims be small.

Great Queen Maev thou hast chased, and hast fought her Since the day when first Cualgne was left; She shall mourn for her folk, and their slaughter, By thy hand of her champions bereft.

Neither sleep nor repose hast thou taken,


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