Myths and Legends of the Celtic Race

Page: 95

The Carnage of Murthemney

This was done as Cuchulain lay in his trance, and when he awoke, refreshed and well, and heard what had been done, his frenzy came upon him and he leaped into his war-chariot and drove furiously round and round the host of Maev. And the chariot ploughed the earth till the ruts were like the ramparts of a [pg 215] fortress, and the scythes upon its wheels caught and mangled the bodies of the crowded host till they were piled like a wall around the camp, and as Cuchulain shouted in his wrath the demons and goblins and wild things in Erin yelled in answer, so that with the terror and the uproar the host of men heaved and surged hither and thither, and many perished from each other's weapons, and many from horror and fear. And this was the great carnage, called the Carnage of Murthemney, that Cuchulain did to avenge the boy-corps of Emania; six score and ten princes were then slain of the host of Maev, besides horses and women and wolf-dogs and common folk without number. It is said that Lugh mac Ethlinn fought there by his son.

The Clan Calatin

Next the men of Erin resolved to send against Cuchulain, in single combat, the Clan Calatin.152 Now Calatin was a wizard, and he and his seven-and-twenty sons formed, as it were, but one being, the sons being organs of their father, and what any one of them did they all did alike. They were all poisonous, so that any weapon which one of them used would kill in nine days the man who was but grazed by it. When this multiform creature met Cuchulain each hand of it hurled a spear at once, but Cuchulain caught the twenty-eight spears on his shield and not one of them drew blood. Then he drew his sword to lop off the spears that bristled from his shield, but as he did so the Clan Calatin rushed upon him and flung him down, thrusting his face into the gravel. At this Cuchulain gave a great cry of distress at the unequal combat, and one of [pg 216] the Ulster exiles, Fiacha son of Firaba, who was with the host of Maev, and was looking on at the fight, could not endure to see the plight of the champion, and he drew his sword and with one stroke he lopped off the eight-and-twenty hands that were grinding the face of Cuchulain into the gravel of the Ford. Then Cuchulain arose and hacked the Clan Calatin into fragments, so that none survived to tell Maev what Fiacha had done, else had he and his thirty hundred followers of Clan Rury been given by Maev to the edge of the sword.

Ferdia to the Fray

Cuchulain had now overcome all the mightiest of Maev's men, save only the mightiest of them all after Fergus, Ferdia son of Daman. And because Ferdia was the old friend and fellow pupil of Cuchulain he had never gone out against him; but now Maev begged him to go, and he would not. Then she offered him her daughter, Findabair of the Fair Eyebrows, to wife, if he would face Cuchulain at the Ford, but he would not. At last she bade him go, lest the poets and satirists of Erin should make verses on him and put him to open shame, and then in wrath and sorrow he consented to go, and bade his charioteer make ready for to-morrow's fray. Then was gloom among all his people when they heard of that, for they knew that if Cuchulain and their master met, one of them would return alive no more.

Very early in the morning Ferdia drove to the Ford, and lay down there on the cushions and skins of the chariot and slept till Cuchulain should come. Not till it was full daylight did Ferdia's charioteer hear the thunder of Cuchulain's war-car approaching, and then he woke his master, and the two friends faced each [pg 217] other across the Ford. And when they had greeted each other Cuchulain said: “It is not thou, O Ferdia, who shouldst have come to do battle with me. When we were with Skatha did we not go side by side in every battle, through every wood and wilderness? were we not heart-companions, comrades, in the feast and the assembly? did we not share one bed and one deep slumber?” But Ferdia replied: “O Cuchulain, thou of the wondrous feats, though we have studied poetry and science together, and though I have heard thee recite our deeds of friendship, yet it is my hand that shall wound thee. I bid thee remember not our comradeship, O Hound of Ulster; it shall not avail thee, it shall not avail thee.”

They then debated with what weapons they should begin the fight, and Ferdia reminded Cuchulain of the art of casting small javelins that they had learned from Skatha, and they agreed to begin with these. Backwards and forwards, then, across the Ford, hummed the light javelins like bees on a summer's day, but when noonday had come not one weapon had pierced the defence of either champion. Then they took to the heavy missile spears, and now at last blood began to flow, for each champion wounded the other time and again. At last the day came to its close. “Let us cease now,” said Ferdia, and Cuchulain agreed. Each then threw his arms to his charioteer, and the friends embraced and kissed each other three times, and went to their rest. Their horses were in the same paddock, their drivers warmed themselves over the same fire, and the heroes sent each other food and drink and healing herbs for their wounds.