Corpus of Electronic Texts Edition
Táin Bó Cúalnge from the Book of Leinster (Author: [unknown])

section 9

Fergus's horses were harnessed and his chariot yoked, and his two horses were harnessed for Etarcumul son of Fid and of Lethrinn, a stripling of the household of Medb and Ailill. ‘Where are you going?’ asked Fergus. ‘We are going with you’ said Etarcumul, ‘to see the form and appearance of Cú Chulainn and to gaze upon him’. ‘If you were to follow my counsel’ said Fergus, ‘you would not come at all’. ‘Why so?’ ‘Because of your haughtiness and your arrogance, and also because of the fierceness and the valour and the savageness of the lad against whom you go, for I think that there will be strife between you before ye part’.


{line 1573-1604} ‘Will you not be able to make intervention between us?’ said Etarcumul. ‘I shall’ said Fergus, ‘if only you yourself will not seek contention and strife

"contention and strife", following ST

’. ‘I shall never seek that’.

Then they went forward to Cú Chulainn where he was between Fochaín and the sea, playing búanbach with his charioteer. And no one came into the plain unnoticed by Láeg and yet he used to win every second game of búanbach from Cú Chulainn. ‘A single warrior comes towards us, little Cú’ said Láeg. ‘What manner of warrior is he?’ asked Cú Chulainn. ‘It seems to me that the chariot of the warrior is as big as one of the greatest mountains on a vast plain. It seems to me that the curly, thick, fair- yellow, golden hair hanging loose around his head is as great as the foliage of one of the tall trees which stand on the green before a great fort. He wears a purple, fringed mantle wrapped around him with a golden, inlaid brooch in it. A broad, grey spear flashing in his hand. A bossed, scalloped shield over him with a boos of red gold. A long sword, as long as a ship's rudder

"A long ... rudder, following LU and ST

, firmly fixed and resting on the two thighs of the great, proud warrior who is within the chariot’. ‘Welcome is the arrival to us of this guest’ said Cú Chulainn. ‘We know that man. It is my master Fergus who comes’. ‘I see another chariot-warrior coming towards us also. With much skill and beauty and splendour do his horses advance’. ‘That is one of the youths of the men of Ireland, friend Láeg’ said Cú Chulainn. ‘To see my form and appearance that man comes, for I am renowned among them within their encampment’. Fergus arrived and sprang from the chariot, and Cú Chulainn bade him welcome. ‘I trust that welcome’ said Fergus. ‘You may well trust, it’ said Cú Chulainn, ‘for if a flock of birds pass over the plain, you shall have one wild goose and the half of another. If fish swim into the estuaries, you shall have a salmon with the half of another. You shall have a handful of watercress and a handful of sea-weed and a handful of water parsnip. If you must fight or do battle I shall go to the ford on your behalf and you shall be watched over and guarded while you sleep and rest’. ‘Well indeed, we know what provisions for hospitality you have now on the Foray of Cúailnge. But the condition that you asked of the men of Ireland, namely, single combat, you shall have it. I came to bind you to that, so undertake to fulfil it’. ‘I agree indeed, master Fergus’


{line 1605-1637} said Cú Chulainn. And he delayed no longer than that conversing lest the men of Ireland should say that Fergus was betraying them to his fosterling. His two horses were harnessed for Fergus and his chariot was yoked, and he went back.

Etarcumul remained behind him gazing at Cú Chulainn for a long while. ‘What are you staring at, lad?’ said Cú Chulainn. ‘I am staring at you’ said Etarcumul. ‘You have not far to look indeed’ said Cú Chulainn. ‘You redden your eye with that. But if only you knew it, the little creature you are looking at, namely, myself, is wrathful. And how do you find me as you look at me?’ ‘I think you are fine indeed. You are a comely, splendid, handsome youth with brilliant, numerous, various feats of arms. But as for reckoning you among goodly heroes or warriors or champions or sledge-hammers of smiting, we do not do so nor count you at all’. ‘You know that it is a guarantee for you that you came out of the camp under the protection of my master, Fergus. But I swear by the gods whom I worship that but for Fergus's protection, only your shattered bones and your cloven joints would return to the camp’. ‘Nay, do not threaten me any longer thus, for as for the condition you asked of the men of Ireland, namely, single combat, none other of the men of Ireland than I shall come to attack you tomorrow’. ‘Come on, then, and however early you come, you will find me here. I shall not flee from you’. Etarcumul went back and began to converse with his charioteer. ‘I must needs fight with Cú Chulainn tomorrow, driver’ said Etarcumul. ‘You have promised it indeed’ said the charioteer, ‘but I know not if you will fulfil your promise’. ‘Which is better, to do so tomorrow or at once tonight?’ ‘It is my conviction’ said the driver, ‘that though doing it tomorrow means no victory, yet still less is to be gained by doing it tonight, for the fight is nearer

"for destruction is nearer tonight", ST

’. ‘Turn the chariot back again for me, driver, for I swear by the gods whom I worship never to retreat until I carry off as a trophy the head of yon little deer, Cú Chulainn’.

The charioteer turned the chariot again towards the ford. They turned the left board of the chariot towards the company as they made for the ford. Láeg noticed that. ‘The last chariot- fighter who was here a while ago, little Cú’ said Láeg. ‘What of him?’ said Cú Chulainn. ‘He turned his left board towards us as he made for the ford’. ‘That is Etarcumul, driver, seeking combat of me. And I did not welcome him because of the guarantee of


{line 1638-1671} my fosterfather under which he came out of the camp, and not because I wish to protect him. Bring my weapon to the ford for me, driver. I do not deem it honourable that he should reach the ford before me’. Then Cú Chulainn went to the ford and unsheathed his sword over his fair shoulder and was ready to meet Etarcumul at the for. Etarcumul arrived also. ‘What are you seeking, lad?’ asked Cú Chulainn. ‘I seek combat with you’ said Etarcumul. ‘If you would take my advice, you would not come at all’ said Cú Chulainn. ‘I say so because of the guarantee of Fergus under which you came out of the encampment and not at all because I wish to protect you’. Then Cú Chulainn gave a flow (fotalbeim) and cut away the sod from beneath the sole of his foot so that he was cast prostrate with the sod on his belly. If Cú Chulainn had so wished, he could have cut him in two. ‘Begone now for I have given you warning’. ‘I shall not go until we meet again’. said Etarcumul. Cú Chulainn gave him an edge-blow (fáebarbeim). He sheared his hair from him, from poll to forehead and from ear to ear as if it had been shaved with a keen, light razor. He drew not a drop of blood. ‘Begone now’. said Cú Chulainn, ‘for I have drawn ridicule on you’. ‘I shall not go until we meet again, until I carry off your head and spoils and triumph over you or until you carry off my head and spoils and triumph over me’. ‘The last thing you say is what will happen, and I shall carry off your head and spoils and I shall triumph over you’. Cú Chulainn dealt him a blow (múadalbeim) on the crown of his head which split him to his navel. He gave him a second blow crosswise so that the three sections into which his body was cut fell at one and the same time to the ground. Thus perished Etarcumul, son of Fid and Leithrinn.

Fergus did not know that this fight had taken place. That was but natural, for sitting and rising, journeying or marching, in battle or fight or combat, Fergus never looked behind him lest anyone should say that it was out of fearfulness he looked back, but he was wont to gaze at what was before him and on a level with him. Etarcumul's charioteer came abreast of Fergus. ‘Where is your master, driver?’ asked Fergus. ‘He fell on the ford just now by the hand of Cú Chulainn’ said the driver. ‘It was not right’ said Fergus, ‘for that distorted sprite Cúlainn to outrage me concerning him who came there under my protection. Turn the chariot for us, driver’ said Fergus, ‘that we may go and speak with Cú Chulainn’.


{line 1672-1707}

Then the charioteer turned the chariot. They went off towards the ford. ‘Why did you violate my pledge, you distorted sprite’ said Fergus, ‘concerning him who came under my safeguard and protection?’ ‘By the nurture and care you gave me, tell me which you would prefer, that he should triumph over me or that I should triumph over him. Moreover enquire of his driver which of us was at fault against each other’. ‘I prefer what you have done. A blessing on the hand that struck him!’

Then two withes were tied round Etarcumul's ankles and he was dragged along behind his horses and his chariot. At every rough rock he met, his lungs and liver were left behind on the stones and rocks (?). Wherever it was smooth for him, his scattered joints came together around the horses. Thus he was dragged across the camp to the door of the tent of Ailill and Medb. ‘Here is your youth for you’ said Fergus, ‘for every restoration has its fitting restitution’. Medb came out to the door of her tent and raised her voice aloud. ‘We thought indeed’ said Medb, ‘that great was the ardour and wrath of this young hound when he went forth from the camp in the morning. We thought that the guarantee under which he went, the guarantee of Fergus was not that of a coward’. ‘What has crazed the peasant-woman?’ said Fergus. ‘Is it right for the common cur to seek out the bloodhound whom the warriors of the four great provinces of Ireland dare not approach or withstand? Even I myself would be glad to escape whole from him’. Thus fell Etarcumul.

That is the story of the Encounter of Etarcumul and Cú Chulainn.