The Death of Fergus mac Leide
A righteous king, a maintainer of truth and a giver of just judgments over the happy Clan Rudraige, or ‘Children of Rury,’ of Ulster, was Fergus son of Leide son of Rury; and these are they that were his heroes and men of war: Eirgenn, Amergin the Ravager, Conna Buie son of Iliach, and Dubtach son of Lugaid.
Esirt. With poet’s sharp-set words never be angered, Fergus; thy stern hard utterance restrain, nor against me take unjustifiable action.
This king gave a great feast in Emain Macha, the capital of Ulster, and it was ready, fit to be consumed, and all set in order at the very season and hour at which the king of the Lepra and Lepracan held a banquet: whose name was Iubdan son of Abdan.
These are the names of the men of war that were Iubdan’s: Conan son of Ruiched, Gerrcu son of Cairid, and Rigbeg son of Robeg; Luigin son of Luiged, Glunan son of Gabarn, Febal son of Feornin, and Cinnbeg son of Gnuman; together with Buan’s son Brigbeg, Liran son of Luan, and Mether son of Mintan. To them was brought the strong man of the region of the Lepra and Lepracan, whose prize feat that he used to perform was the hewing down of a thistle at a single stroke; whereas it was a twelve men’s effort of the rest of them to give him singly a wrestling-fall. To them was brought the king’s presumptive successor, Beg son of Beg (‘Little son of Little’). So also was brought the king’s poet and man of art likewise: Esirt son of Beg son of Buaidgen, and the other notables of the land of the Lepra and Lepracan.
The guests were placed according to their qualities and to precedence: at one side
Iubdan was placed, having next to him on either hand Bebo his wife, and his chief poet; at the other side of the hail and facing Iubdan sat Beg son of Beg, with the notables and chiefs; the king’s strong man too, Glomar son of Giomrad’s son Glas, stood beside the doorpost of the house. Now were the spigots drawn from the vats, the color of those vats being of a dusky red like the tint of red yew. The carvers stood up to carve and the cup-bearers to pour; and old ale, sleep-compelling, delicious, was served out to the throng
so that on one side as on the other of the hail they were elated and made huge noise of mirth.
At last Iubdan, who was their king and the head of all their counsel, having in his hand the corn breac or ‘variegated horn’ stood up, and on the other side, opposite to Iubdan and to do him honor, arose Beg son of Beg. Then the king, by this time affably inclining to converse inquired of them, ‘Have you ever seen a king that was better than myself?’
And they answered, ‘We have not.
‘Have you ever seen a strong man better than my strong man?’
‘We have not.'
‘Horses or men of battle have you ever seen better than they which to-night are in this house?’
‘By our word,’ they made answer, ‘we never have.’
‘I, too,’ Iubdan went on, ‘give my word that it would be a hard task forcibly to take out of this house to-night either captives or hostages: so surpassing are its heroes and men of battle, so many its lusty companions and men of might, so great the number of its fierce and haughty ones, that are stuff out of which kings might fittingly be made.’
All which when he had heard, the king’s chief poet Esirt burst out laughing; whereupon
Iubdan asked: ‘Esirt, what moved thee to that laugh?’ Said the poet: ‘I know of a province in Ireland, one man of which could take hostages and captives from all four battalions of the Lepracan.’
‘Lay the poet by the heels,’ cried the king, ‘that vengeance be taken of him for his bragging speech!’
So it was done; but Esirt said, ‘lubdan, this seizure of me will bear evil fruit; for in requital of the arrest thou shalt thyself be for five years captive in Emain Macha, whence thou shalt not escape without leaving behind thee the rarest thing of all thy wealth and treasures. By Erca son of this seizure Cobthach Cas also, son of Munster’s king, shall fall and the king of Leinster’s son Eochaid; whilst I myself must go to the house of Fergus son of Leide and in his goblet be set floating till I be all but drowned . .
‘An evil arrest is this thou hast made on me, O king,’ Esirt went on, ‘but grant me now a three-days’ and three-nights’ respite that I may travel to Emain Macha and to the house of Leide’s son Fergus, to the end that if there I find some evident token by which thou shalt recognize truth to be in me, I may bring the same hither; or if not, then do to me what thou wilt.’
Then Esirt, his bonds being loosed, rose and next to his white skin put on a smooth and glossy shirt of delicate silk. Over that he donned his gold-broidered tunic and his scarlet cloak, all fringed and
beautiful, flowing in soft folds, the scarlet being of the land of the Finn, and
the fringe of pale gold in varied pattern. Betwixt his feet and the earth he set his two dainty shoes of white bronze, overlaid with ornament of gold. Taking his white bronze poet’s wand and his silken hood, he set out, choosing the shortest way and the straightest course, nor are we told how he fared until he came to Emain Macha and at the gate of the place shook his poet’s rod.
When at the sound the gate-keeper came forth, he beheld there a man, comely and of a most gallant carriage, but so tiny that the close- cropped grass of the green reached to his knee, aye and to the thick of his thigh. At sight of him wonder fell upon the gate-keeper; and he entered into the house to report the arrival to Fergus and to the company. All inquired whether he [Esirt] were smaller than Aed, this Aed being the poet of Ulster, and a dwarf that could stand on full-sized men’s hands. And the gate-keeper said, ‘He would have room enough upon Aed’s palm, by my word.’ Hereupon the guests with pealing laughter desired to see him, each one deeming the time to be all too long till he should view Esirt and, after seeing him, speak with him. Then upon all sides both men and women had free access to him, but Esirt cried, ‘Huge men that you are, let not your infected breaths so closely play upon me! but let yon small man that is the least of you approach me; who, little though he be among you, would yet in the land where I dwell be accounted of great stature.’ Into the great house therefore, and he standing upon his palm, the poet Aed bore him.
Fergus, when he had sought of him tidings who he might be, was answered: ‘I am
Esirt son of Beg son of Buaidgen: chief poet, bard and rhymer, of the Lepra and Lepracan.’ The assembly were just then in actual enjoyment of the feast, and a cup-bearer came to Fergus. ‘Give to the little man that is come to me,’ said the king.
Esirt replied, ‘Neither of your meat will I eat, nor of your liquor will I drink.’
‘By our word,’ said Fergus, ‘seeing thou art a flippant and a mocking fellow, it were but right to drop thee into the beaker, where at all points round about thou shouldst then impartially quaff the liquor.’ The cup-bearer closed his hand on Esirt and popped him into the goblet, in which upon the surface of the liquor that it contained he floated round. ‘You poets of Ulster,’ he vociferated, ‘much desirable knowledge and instruction there is which upon my conscience, ye sorely need to have of me, yet ye allow me to be drowned!’
With fair satin napkins of great virtue and with special silken fabrics be was plucked out and was cleaned spick and span, and Fergus inquired, ‘Of what impediment spakest thou a while ago as hindering thee from sharing our meat?’
‘That will I tell thee,’ the little man replied: ‘but let me not incur thy displeasure.’
‘So be it,’ promised the king; ‘only explain to me the whole impediment’. Then Esirt spoke and Fergus answered him.
Fergus. O wee man of the seizure, I will not.
Esirt. Judgments lucid and truthful, if they be those to which thou dost provoke me: then I pronounce that thou triflest with thy steward’s wife, while thine own foster-son ogles thy queen. Women fair-haired and accomplished, rough kings of the ordinary kind [i.e., mere chieftains]: how excellent so ever be the form of these, ‘tis not on them the former let their humor dwell [i.e., when a genuine king comes in their way].
Fergus. Esirt, thou art in truth no child, but an approved man of veracity; 0 gentle one, devoid of reproach, no wrath of Fergus shalt thou know!
The king went on, ‘My share of the matter, by my word, is true; for the steward’s wife is indeed my pastime, and all the rest as well therefore I the more readily take to be true.’
Then said Esirt, ‘Now will I partake of thy meat, for thou hast confessed the evil; do it then no more.’ Here the poet, waxing cheerful and of good courage, went on, ‘Upon my own lord I have made a poem which, were it your pleasure, I would declaim to you.’ Eergus answered, ‘We would esteem it sweet to hear it,’ and Esirt began:
A king victorious, and renowned and pleasant, is Lubdan son of Abdan, king of Mag Life, king of Mag Faithlenn. His is a voice clear and sweet as copper’s resonance, like the blood-colored rowan-berry is his cheek; his eye is bland as it were a stream of mead, his color that of the swan or of the river’s foam. Strong he is in his yellow-haired host, in beauty and in cattle he is rich; and to brave men he brings death when he sets himself in motion. A man that loves the chase, active, a generous feast- giver; he is head of a bridle-wearing army, he is tall, proud and imperious. His is a solid squadron of grand headlong horses, of bridled horses rushing torrent-like; heads with smooth adornment of golden locks are on the warriors of the Lepra. All the men are comely, the women all light-haired; over that land’s noble multitude Iubdan of truthful utterance presides. There the fingers grasp silver horns, deep notes of the timpan are heard; and however great be the love that women are reputed to bear thee, Fergus, ‘tis surpassed by the desire that they feel for Iubdan.
The lay ended, the Ulstermen equipped the poet of the Lepracan with abundance of good things, until each heap of these as they lay there equalled their tall men’s stature. ‘This, on my conscience,’ said Esirt, ‘is indeed a response that is worthy of good men; nevertheless take away those treasures, for I have no need of them, since in my lord’s following is no man but possesses sufficient substance.’
The Ulstermen said, however, ‘We pledge our words that we never would take back anything, though we had given thee our very wives and our cows .
‘Then divide the gifts, bards and scholars of Ulster!’ Esirt cried; ‘two thirds take for yourselves, and the other bestow on Ulster’s horseboys and jesters.’
So to the end of three days and three nights Esirt was in Emain, and he took his leave of Fergus and of the nobles of Ulster. ‘I will go with thee,’ said the Ulster poet and man of science, Aed, that dwarf who used to lie in their good warriors’ bosoms, yet by Esirt’s side was a giant. Esirt said, ‘‘Tis not I that will bid thee come: for were I to invite thee, and kindness to be shown thee in consequence, thou wouldst say ‘twas but what by implication had been promised thee; whereas if such be not held out to thee and thou yet receive it thou wilt be grateful.’
Out of Emain the pair of poets now went their way and, Aed’s step being the longer, he said, ‘Esirt thou art a poor walker.’ Esirt then took such a fit of running that he was an arrow’s flight in front of Aed, who said again, ‘Between those two extremes lies the golden mean.
'On my word,' retored Esirt, 'that is the one category in which since I have been among you I have heard mention made of the golden mean!'
On they went till they gained Traig na Trenfer, or 'Strand of the Strong Men,' in Ulster. 'And what must we do now?' Aed asked here.
'Travel the sea over her depths,' said the other.
Aed objected, 'Never shall I come safe out of that trial.'
Esirt made answer: 'Seeing that I accomplished the task, it would be strange that thou shouldst fail.' Then Aed uttered a strain and Esirt answered him:
Aed. In the vast sea what shall I do? O generous Esirt, the wind will bear me down to hte merciless wave on which, though I mount upwards, yet none hte less shall I perish in the end.
Esirt. To fetch thee, fair Iubdan's horse will come. Get thee upon him and cross the stammering sea: an excellent hrose truely and of passing color, a king's valued treasure, good on sea as upon the land. A beautiful horse that will carry thee away. Sit on him and be not troubled; go, trust thyself to him.
They had been no long time there when they marked something which, swiftly careering, came towards them over the billows' crests. 'Upon itself be the evil that it brings,' Aed cried.
'What seest thou?' Esirt asked.
'A russet-clad hare I see,' answered Aed.
But Esirt said, 'Not so--rather it is Iubdan's horse that comes to fetch thee.' Of which horse the fashion was this: two fierce flashing eyes he had, an exquisite pure crimson mane, with four geen legs and a long tail that floated in wavy curls. His general color was that of prime artificers' gold-work, and a gold-encrusted bridle he bore withal. Esirt bestriding him said, 'Come up beside me, Aed.'
But again Aed objected, 'Nay, poet, to serve even thee alone as a conveyance is beyond his powers.'
'Aed, cease from fault-finding, for ponderous as may be the wisdom that is in thee, yet will he carry us both.'
They both being now mounted on the horse traversed the combing seas, the mighty main's expanse and ocean's great profound, until in the end they,undrowned and without mishap, reached Magh Faithlenn, and they the Leprecan were before them in assembly. 'Esirt approaches,' they cried, 'and a giant bears him company!'
Then Iubdan went to meet Esirt, and gave him a kiss. ‘But, poet,’ said he, ‘wherefore bringest thou this giant to destroy us?’
‘No giant is he, but Ulster’s poet and man of science, and the king’s dwarf. In the land whence he comes he is the least, so that in their peat men’s bosoms he lies down and, as it were an infant, stands on the flat of their hands. Yet he is such that before him you would do well to be careful of yourselves.’
‘What is his name?’ they asked.
‘Alack, man,’ they cried to Esirt, ‘thy giant is huge indeed!’
Next, Esirt addressing Iubdan said, ‘On thee, Iubdan, I lay taboos which true warriors may not break that in thine own person thou go to view the region out of which we come, and that of the “lord’s porridge” which for the king of Ulster is made to-night thou be the first man to make trial.’
Then Iubdan, grieving and faint of spirit, proceeded to confer with Bebo his wife. He told her how that by Esirt he was laid under taboos, and bade her bear him company. ‘That will I,’ she said; ‘but by laying Esirt in bonds thou didst unjustly.’ So they mounted Iubdan’s golden horse and that same night made good their way to Emain, where they entered unperceived into the place. ‘Iubdan,’ said Bebo, ‘search the town for the porridge spoken of by Esirt, and let us depart again before the people of the place shall rise.’
They gained the inside of the palace and there found Emain’s great cauldron, having in it the remnant of the ‘people’s porridge.’
Iubdan drew near, but could by no means reach it from the ground. ‘Get upon thy horse,’ said Bebo, ‘and from the horse upon the cauldron’s rim. This he did, but, the porridge being too far down and his arm too short, he could not touch the shank of the silver ladle that was in the cauldron; whereupon, as he made a downward effort, his foot slipped, and up to his very navel he fell into the cauldron; in which as though all existing iron gyves had been upon him he now found himself fettered and tethered both hand and foot. ‘Long thou tarriest, dark man!’ Bebo cried to him (for Iubdan was thus: hair he had that was jet-black and curled, his skin being whiter than foam of wave and his cheeks redder than the forest’s scarlet berry: whereas - saving him only - all the Lepra people had hair that was ringleted indeed, but of a fair and yellow hue; hence then he was styled ‘dark man’). Bebo spoke now, Iubdan answering her:
She. O dark man, and O dark man! dire is the strait in which thou art: to-day it is that the white horse must be saddled, for the sea is angry and the tide at flood.
He. O fair-haired woman, and O woman with fair hair! gyves hold me captive in a viscous mass nor, until gold be given for my ransom, shall I ever be dismissed. O Bebo, and O Bebo! morn is at band; therefore flee away; fast in the doughy remnant sticks my leg, if here thou stay thou art but foolish, O Bebo!
She. Rash word it was, ‘twas a rash word, that in thy house thou utteredst: that but by thine own good pleasure none under the sun might hold thee fast, O man!
He. Rash was the word, the word was rash, that in my house I uttered: a year and a day I must be now, and neither man nor woman of my people see!
‘Bebo,’ cried Iubdan, ‘flee away now, and to the Lepraland take back that horse.’
‘Never say it,’ she answered; ‘I will surely not depart until I see what turn things shall take for thee.’
The dwellers in Emain, when they were now risen, found lubdan in the porridge cauldron, out of which he could not contrive to escape; in which plight when they saw him the people sent up a mighty roar of laughter, then picked Iubdan out of the cauldron and carried him off to Fergus. ‘My conscience,’ said the king, ‘this is not the tiny man that was here before: seeing that, whereas the former little fellow had fair hair, this one has a black thatch. What art thou at all, mannikin, and out of what region dost thou come?’
Iubdan made answer: ‘I am of the Lepra-folk, over whom I am king; this woman that you see by me is my wife, and queen over the Lepra: her name is Bebo, and I have never told a lie.’
‘Let him be taken out,’ cried Fergus, ‘and put with the common rabble of the household - guard him well!’ Iubdan was led out accordingly .
Said Iubdan, ‘But if it may please thee to show me some favor, suffer me no longer to be among yonder loons, for the great men’s breaths do all infect me; and my word I pledge that till by Ulster and by thee it be permitted, I will never leave you.
Fergus said, ‘Could I but believe that pledge, thou shouldst no more be with the common varlets.’
Iubdan s reply was, ‘Never have I overstepped, nor ever will trans
Eress, my plighted word.’
Then he was conducted into a fair and private chamber that Fergus bad, where a trusty servant of the king of Ulster was set apart to minister to him. ‘An excellent retreat indeed is this,’ he said, ‘yet is my own retreat more excellent than it’; and he made a lay:
In the land that lies away north I have a retreat, the ceiling of which is of the red gold, and the floor all of silver. Of the white bronze its lintel is, and its threshold of copper; of light-yellow bird-plumage is the thatch on it indeed. Golden are its candelabra, holding candles of rich light and gemmed over with rare stones, in the Fair midst of the house. Save myself only and my queen, none that belongs to it feels sorrow now; a retinue is there that ages not, that wears wavy yellow tresses. There every man is a chess-player, good company is there that knows no stint: against man or woman that seeks to enter it the retreat is never closed.
Ferdiad, or ‘man of smoke,’ Fergus’s fire-servant, as in Iubdan’s presence he kindled a fire, threw upon it a woodbine that twined round a tree, together with somewhat of all other kinds of timber, and this led Iubdan to say, ‘Burn not the king of trees, for he ought not to be burnt; and wouldst thou, Ferdiad, but act by my counsel, then neither by sea nor by land shouldst thou ever be in danger.’ Here he sang a lay:
O man that for Fergus of the feasts dost kindle fire, whether afloat or ashore never burn the king of woods. Monarch of
Inis Fail’s forests the woodbine is, whom none may hold captive; no feeble sovereign’s effort is it to hug all tough trees in his embrace. The pliant woodbine if thou burn, wailings for misfortune will abound; dire extremity at weapons’ points or drowning in great waves will come after. Burn not the precious appletree of spreading and low-sweeping bough: tree ever decked in bloom of white, against whose fair head all men put forth the hand. The surly blackthorn is a wanderer, and a wood that the artificer burns not; throughout his body, though it be scanty, birds in their flocks warble. The noble willow burn not, a tree sacred to poems; within his bloom bees are a-sucking, all love the little cage. The graceful tree with the berries, the wizards’ tree, the rowan, burn; but spare the limber tree: burn not the slender hazel. Dark is the color of the ash: timber that makes
the wheels to go; rods he furnishes for horsemen’s hands, and his form turns battle into flight. Tenterhook among woods the spiteful briar is, by all means burn him that is so keen and green; he cuts, he flays the foot, and him that would advance he forcibly drags backward. Fiercest heat-giver of all timber is green oak, from him none may escape unhurt; by partiality for him the head is set on aching and by his acrid embers the eye is made sore. Alder, very battle-witch of all woods, tree that is hottest in the fight
undoubtingly burn at thy discretion both the alder and the whitethorn. Holly, burn it green; holly, burn it dry; of all trees whatsoever the best is holly. Elder that hath tough bark, tree that in truth hurts sore: him that furnishes horses to the armies from the fairy-mound burn so that he be charred. The birch as well, if he be laid low, promises abiding fortune. Burn up most surely and certainly the stalks that bear the constant pods. Suffer, if it so please thee, the russet aspen to come headlong down; burn, be it late or early, the tree with the trembling branch. Patriarch of long-lasting woods is the yew, sacred to feasts as is well known: of him now build dark-red vats of goodly size. Ferdiad, thou faithful one, wouldst thou but do my behest, to thy soul as to thy body, O man, ‘twould work advantage!
After this manner then, and free of all supervision, Iubdan abode in the town; while to them of Ulster it was recreation of mind and body to look at him and to listen to his words.
One day Iubdan went to the house of a certain soldier of the king’s soldiers who chanced to fit on himself new brogues that he had: discoursing as he did so, and complaining, of their soles that were too thin.
Iubdan laughed. The king asked: ‘Iubdan, why laughest thou thus?’
‘Yon fellow it is that provokes my laughter, complaining of his brogues while for his own life he makes no moan. Yet, thin as be those brogues, he never will wear them out.’ Which was true for
Iubdan, seeing that before night that man and another one of the king’s people fought and killed each other . .
Yet another day the household disputed of all manner of things, how they would do this or that, but never said: ‘if it so please God.’ Then
Iubdan laughed and uttered a lay:
Man talks but God sheweth the outcome; to men all things are but confusion, they must leave them as God knoweth them to be. All that which Thou, Monarch of the elements, hast ordained must be right; He, the King of kings, knows all that I crave of thee, Fergus. No man’s life, however bold he be, is more than the twinkling of an eye; were he a king’s son he knoweth not whether it be truth that he utters of the future.
Iubdan now tarried in Emain until the Lepracan folk, being seven battalons strong, came to Emain in quest of him; and of these no single one did, whether in height or in bulk, exceed another. Then to Fergus and to Ulster’s nobles that came out to confer with them they said, ‘Bring us our king that we may redeem him, and we will pay for him a good ransom.
Fergus asked, ‘What ransom?’
‘Every year, and that without ploughing, without sowing, we will cover this vast plain with a mass of corn.’
‘I will not give up Iubdan,’ said the king.
‘To-night we will do thee a mischief.’
‘What mischief?’ asked the king.
‘All Ulster’s calves we will admit to their dams, so that by morning time there shall not in the whole province be found the measure of one babe’s allowance of milk.’
‘So much ye will have gained,’ said Fergus, ‘but not Iubdan.’
This damage accordingly they wrought that night; then at morn returned to the green of Emain Macha and, with promise of making good all that they had spoiled, again asked for Iubdan. Fergus refusing them, however, they said, ‘This night we will do another deed of vengeance: we will defile the wells, the rapids, and the river-mouths of the whole province.’
But the king answered, ‘That is but a puny mischief’ (whence the old saying ‘dirt in a well’), ‘and ye shall not have Iubdan.’
They, having done this, came again to Emain on the third day and demanded lubdan. Fergus said, ‘I will not give him.’
‘A further vengeance we will execute upon thee.’
‘What vengeance is that?’
‘To-night we will burn the millbeams and the kilns of the province.’
‘But you will not get Iubdan,’ said the king.
Away they went and did as they had threatened, then on the fourth day repaired to Emain and clamored for
Iubdan. Said Fergus, ‘I will not deliver him.’
‘We will execute vengeance on thee.’
‘We will snip the ears off all the corn that is in the province.’
‘Neither so shall you have Iubdan.’
This they did then returned to Emain Macha on the fifth day and asked for Iubdan. Fergus said, I will not give him up.’
‘Yet another vengeance we will take on thee.
‘Your women’s hair and your men’s we will shave so that they shall for ever be covered with reproach and shame.’
Then Fergus cried, ‘If you do that, by my word I will slay Iubdan!’ But here Iubdan said, ‘That is not the right thing at all; rather let me be freed, that in person I may speak with them and bid them first of all to repair such mischief as they have done, and then depart.’
At sight of Iubdan they then, taking for granted that the license accorded him must needs be in order to let him depart with them, sent up a mighty shout of triumph.
Iubdan said, however, ‘My trusty people, depart now, for I am not permitted to go with you; all that which you have spoiled make good also, neither spoil anything more for, if you do so, I must die.’ They thereupon, all gloomy and dejected, went away; a man of them making this lay:
A raid upon thee we proclaim this night, O Fergus, owner of many strong places! from thy standing corn we will snip the ears, whereby’ thy tables will not benefit. In this matter we have already burnt thy kilns, thy
millbeams too we have all consumed; thy calves we have most accurately and universally admitted to their dams. Thy men’s hair we will crop, and all locks of thy young women: to thy land it shall be a disfigurement, and such shall be our mischief’s consummation. White be thy horse till time of war, thou king of Ulster and of warriors stout! but crimsoned be his trappings when he is in the battle’s press. May no heat inordinate assail thee, nor inward flux e’er seize thee, nor eye-distemper reach thee during all thy life: but Fergus, not for love of thee! Were it not for Iubdan here, whom Fergus holds at his discretion, the manner of our effecting our depredations would have been such that the disgrace incurred by Fergus would have shown his refusal to be an evil one.
‘And now go,’ said Iubdan; ‘for Esirt has prophesied of me that before I shall have left here the choicest one of all my precious things I may not retain.’
So till a year’s end all but a little he dwelt in Emain, and then said Fergus: ‘Of all my treasures choose thee now a single one, for so thou mayest. My precious things are good too’; and in a lay he proceeded to enumerate them:
Take my spear, O take my spear, thou, Fergus, that hast enemies in number! in battle ‘tis a match for a hundred, and a king that holds it will have fortune among hostile spear-points. Take my shield, O take my shield, a good price it is for me, Fergus! be it stripling or be it grey-beard, behind his shelter none may wounded be. My sword, and O my sword! in respect of a battle-sword there is not in a prince’s hand throughout all
Inis Fail a more excellent thing of price. Take my cloak, O take my cloak, the which if thou take it will be ever new! my mantle is good, Fergus, and for thy son and grandson will endure. My shirt, and O my shirt! whoe’er he be that in time to come may be within its weft - my grandsire’s father’s wife, her hands they were that spun it. Take my belt, O take my belt! gold and silver appertain to a knowledge of it; sickness will not lay hold on him that is encircled by it, nor on skin encompassed by my girdle. My helmet, O my helmet, no prize there is more admirable! no man that on his scalp shall assume it will ever suffer from the reproach of baldness. Take my tunic, O my tunic take, well-fitting silken garment! the which though for an hundred years it were on one, yet were its crimson none the worse. My cauldron, O my cauldron, a special rare thing for its handy use! though they were stones that should go into my cauldron, yet would it turn them out meat befitting princes. My vat, and O my vat! as compared with other vats of the best, by any that shall bathe in it life’s stage is traversed thrice. Take my mace, O take my mace, no better treasure canst thou choose! in time of war, in sharp encounter, nine heads besides thine own it will protect. Take my horse-rod, O my horse-rod take - rod of the yellow horse so fair to see! let but the whole world’s women look at thee with that rod in thy hand, and in thee will center all their hottest love. My timpan, O my timpan endowed with string-sweetness, from the Red Sea’s borders! within its wires resides minstrelsy sufficing to delight all women of the universe. Whosoe’er should in the matter of tuning up my timpan be suddenly put to the test, if never hitherto he had been a man of art, yet would the instrument of itself perform the minstrel’s function. Ah, how melodious is its martial strain, and its low cadence, ah, how sweet! all of itself too how it plays, without a finger on a single string of all its strings. My shears, and O my shears, that Barran’s smith did make! of them that take it into their hands every man will secure a sweetheart. My needle, O my needle, that is made of the finest gold! . . . Of my swine two porkers take! they will last thee till thy dying day; every night they may be killed, yet within the watch will live again. My halter, O my halter! whoe’er should be on booty bent, though ‘twere a black cow he put into it, incontinently she would become a white one. Take my shoes, my shoes, O take, brogues of the white bronze, of virtue marvellous! alike they travel land and sea, happy the king whose choice shall fall on these!
‘Fergus,’ said Iubdan, ‘from among them all choose thee now one precious thing, and let me go.
But this was now the season and the hour when from his adventure the Ulster poet Aed returned; and him the sages examined concerning Iubdan’s house, his household, and the region of the Lepra. Concerning all which Aed forthwith began to tell them, inditing a lay:
A wondrous enterprise it was that took me away from you, our poets, to a populous fairy palace with a great company of princes and with little men. Twelve doors there are to that house of roomy beds and window-lighted sides; ‘us of vast marble blocks, and in every doorway doors of gold. Of red, of yellow and green, of azure and of blue its bedclothes are; its authority is of ancient date: warriors’ cooking-places it includes, and baths. Smooth are its terraces of the egg-shells of Iruath; pillars there are of crystal, columns of silver and of copper too . . . Reciting of tales, of the fian-lore, was there every day; singing of poems, instrumental music, the mellow blast of horns, and concerted minstrelsy. A noble king he is: Iubdan son of Abdan, of the yellow horse; he is one whose form under-goes no change, and who needs not to strive after wisdom. Women are there, that in a pure clear lake disport themselves: satin their raiment is, and with each one of them a chain of gold. As for the king’s men- at-arms, that wear long tresses, hair ringleted and glossy: men of the mould ordinary with the Lepra can stand upon those soldiers’ palms. Bebo -
Iubdan’s blooming queen - an object of desire - never is the white-skinned beauty without three hundred women in her train. Bebo’s women - ‘tis little they chatter of evil or of arrogance; their bodies are pure white, and their locks reach to their ankles. The king’s chief poet, Esirt son of Beg son of Buaidgen: his eye is blue and gentle, and less than a doubled fist that man of poems is. The poet’s wife - to all things good she was inclined; a lovely woman and a wonderful: she could sleep in my rounded glove. The king’s cup-bearer - in the banquet-hall a trusty man and true: well I loved Feror that could be within my sleeve. The king’s strong man - Glomar son of Glomrad’s son Glas, stern doer of doughty deeds: he could fell a thistle at a blow. Of those the king’s confidentials, seventeen ‘swans’ [i.e., pretty girls] lay in my bosom; four men of them in my belt and, all unknown to me, among my beard would be another. They (both fighting men and scholars of that fairy- mound) would say to me, and the public acclamation ever was: ‘Enormous Aed, O very giant!’ Such, O Fergus mac Leide of forests vast, such is my adventure: of a verity there is a wondrous thing befallen me.
Of all Iubdan’s treasures then Fergus made choice, and his choice was lubdan’s shoes. This latter therefore, leaving them his blessing and taking theirs, bade Fergus and the nobles of Ulster farewell, Ulster grieving for his departure, and with him the story henceforth has no more to do.
As regards Fergus, however, this is why he picked out Lubdan’s shoes: he with a young man of his people walking one day hard by Loch Rudraige, they entered into the loch to bathe; and the monster that dwelt in the loch - the sinech (‘Stormy One’) of Loch Rudraige - was aware of them. Then she, shaking herself till the whole loch was in great and tempestuous commotion, reared herself on high as if it had been a solid arc hideous to behold, so that in extent she equalled a rainbow of the air. They both, marking her coming towards them, swam for the shore, she in pursuit with mighty strokes that in bursting deluge sent the water spouting from her sides. Fergus allowed his attendant to gain the land before himself, whereby the monster’s breath reaching the king turned him into a crooked and distorted squint-eyed being, with his mouth twisted round to the back of his head. But he knew not that he was so; neither dared any enquire of him what it might be that had wrought this change in him, nor venture to leave a mirror in the same house with him.
The servant, however, told all the matter to his wife and the woman showed it to Fergus’s wife, the queen. Later, therefore, when there was a falling-out between the king and queen over precedence in use of the bath-stone, the king gave her a blow with his fist which broke a tooth in her head; whereupon anger seized the queen, and she said, ‘To avenge thyself on the sinech of Loch Rudraige that dragged thy mouth round to thy poll would become thee better than to win bloodless victories over women.’ Then to Fergus she brought a
mirror, and he looking upon his image said, ‘The woman’s words are true, and to this appearance it is indeed the sinech of Loch Rudraige that hath brought me.’ And hence it was that before all Iubdan‘s other precious wares Fergus had taken his shoes.
In their ships and in their galleys the whole province of Ulster, accompanying Fergus, now gathered together to Loch Rudraige. They entering the loch gained its center; the monster rose and shook herself in such fashion that of all the vessels she made little bits and, as are the withered twigs beneath horses’ feet, so were they severally crushed, and all swamped before they could reach the strand.
Fergus said to the men of Ulster: ‘Bide here and sit you all down, that ye may witness how I and the monster shall deal together.’ Then he, being shod with
Iubdan’s shoes, leaped into the loch, erect and brilliant and brave, making for the monster. At sound of the hero’s approach she bared her teeth as does a wolf-dog threatened with a club; her eyes blazed like two great torches kindled, suddenly she put forth her sharp claws’ jagged array, bent her neck with the curve of an arch and clenched her glittering tusks, throwing back her ears hideously, till her whole semblance was one of gloomy cruel fury. Alas, for any in this world that should be fated to do battle with that monster: huge-headed long-fanged dragon that she was! The fearsome and colossal creature’s form was this: a crest and mane she had of coarse hair, a mouth that yawned, deep-sunken eyes; on either side thrice fifty flippers, each armed with as many claws recurved; a body impregnable. Thrice fifty feet her extended altitude; round as an apple she was in contraction, but in bulk equalled some great hill in its rough garb of furze.
When the king sighted her he charged, instant, impetuous, and as he went he made this rhapsody:
The evil is upon me that was presaged . .
Then both of them came to the loch’s middle part and so flogged it that the salmon of varied hue leaped and flung themselves out upon the shore because they found no resting-place in the water, for the white bottom-sand was churned up to the surface. Now was the loch whiter than new milk, at once all turned to crimson froth of blood. At last the beast, like some vast royal oak, rose on the loch and before Fergus fled. The hero-king, pressing her, plied her with blows so stalwart and so deadly that she died; and with the sword that was in his hand, with the
caladcolg, best blade that was then in Ireland, he hewed her all in pieces. To the loch’s port where the Ulstermen were he brought her heart; but though he did, his own wounds were as many as hers, and than his skin no sieve could be more full of holes. To such effect truly the beast had given him the tooth, that he brought up his very heart’s red blood and hardly might make utterance, but groaned aloud.
As for the Ulstermen, they took no pleasure in viewing the fight, but said that were it upon land the king and the beast had striven they would have helped him, and that right valiantly. Then Fergus made a lay:
My soul this night is full of sadness, my body mangled cruelly; red Loch Rudraige’s beast has pushed sore through my heart. Iubdan’s shoes have brought me through undrowned; with sheefly spear and with the famous sword I have fought a hardy light. Upon the monster I have avenged my deformity - a signal victory this. Man! I had rather death should snatch me than to live misshapen. Great Eoehaid ‘s daughter Ailinn it is that to mortal combat’s lists compelled me; and ‘tis I assuredly that have good cause to sorrow for the shape imposed on me by the beast.
He went on: ‘Ulstermen, I have gotten my death; but lay ye by and preserve this sword, until out of Ulster there come after me one that shall be a fitting lord; whose name also shall be Fergus; namely, Fergus mac Roig.’
Then lamentably and in tears the Ulstermen stood over Fergus. The poet Aed also, the king’s bard, came and standing over him mourned for Fergus with this quatrain:
By you now be dug Fergus’s grave, the great monarch’s, grave of Leide’s son; calamity most dire it is that by a foolish petty woman’s words he is done to death!
Answering whom Fergus said:
By you be laid up this sword wherewith ‘the iron-death’ is wrought; here after me shall arise one with the name of Fergus. By you be this sword treasured, that none other take it from you; my share of the matter for all time shall be this: that men shall rehearse the story of the sword.
So Fergus’s soul parted from his body: his grave was dug, his name written in the ogam, his lamentation-ceremony all performed; and from the monumental stones (ulad) piled by the men of Ulster this name of UIad (Ulster) had its origin.
Thus far the Death of Fergus and the Lepra-people’s doings.