Thus, the Ulaid were assembled at Mag Muirthemni. Now the reason they met every Samuin was to give each warrior an opportunity to boast of his valour and exhibit his triumphs. The warriors put the tongues of those they had killed into their pouches - some threw in cattle tongues to augment the count - and then, at the assembly, each man spoke in turn and boasted of his triumphs. They spoke with their swords on their thighs, swords that turned against anyone who swore falsely.
Now there had come to this particular assembly every man but two: Conall Cernach and Fergus son of Roech. ‘Let the assembly be convened,’ said the Ulaid. Cú Chulaind, however protested, saying ‘Not until Conall and Fergus come’, for Conall was his foster-brother and Fergus his foster-father. So Senchae said ‘Let us play fidchell [similar to chess] and have the poets recite and the acrobats perform.’
While they were at these amusements, a flock of birds settled on the lake, and no flock in ériu was more beautiful. The women grew very excited over these birds and began to argue over who should have them. Mugain, Conchubar’s [the king’s] wife, said "I desire a bird for each shoulder", but the other women replied ‘We all want that too.’ ‘If anyone is to have them, I should,’ said Emer, the wife of Cú Chulaind. ‘What are we to do?’ asked the women. ‘Not difficult,’ said Lebarcham, the daughter of Oa and Adarc. ‘I will go and ask Cú Chulaind.’
She went to Cú Chulaind, then, and said ‘The women desire those birds from you.’ But he seized his sword to ply against her, saying ‘Have the sluts of Ulaid nothing better for us than to hunt their birds?’ ‘Indeed, you ought not to be angry with them,’ answered Lebarcham, ‘for you are the cause of their third blemish.’ The women of Ulaid suffered three blemishes: every woman who loved Conall had a crooked neck: every woman who loved Cúscraid Mend Machae son of Conchubar stammered; and every woman who loved Cú Chulaind blinded one eye in his likeness. It was Cú Chulaind’s gift, when he was angry, that he could withdraw one eye so far into his head that a heron could not reach it, whereas the other eye he could protrude until it was as large as a cauldron for a yearling calf.
‘Yoke the chariot for us, Lóeg,’ said Cú Chulaind. Lóeg did that, and Cú Chulaind sprang into the chariot, and he dwelt the birds such a stunning blow with his sword that claws and wings floated on the water. Then he returned with the birds and distributed them so that each woman had a pair - each woman save Emer. When he came to his wife, he said ‘Angry you are.’ ‘I am not,’ she replied, ‘for it is by me that the birds were distributed. You did right for every one of those women loves you or gives you a share of her love, but I share my love with you alone.’ ‘Then do not be angry,’ said Cú Chulaind. ‘When birds come to Mag Muirthemni or the Bóand, you will have the most beautiful pair.’
Not long afterwards, they saw flying over the lake two birds coupled by a red-gold chain; these birds sang a little, and fell asleep upon the host Cú Chulaind rose to go after them but Emer said ‘If you listen to me, you will not go for those birds possess some kind of power. Other birds can be caught for me.’ ‘Am I likely to be denied?’ answered Cú Chulaind. ‘Lóeg, put a stone in my sling.’ Lóeg did so and Cú Chulaind cast at the birds but he missed. ‘Alas!’ he said. He cast a second stone and missed with that also. ‘Now I am doomed,’ he said, ‘for since the day I first took up arms I have never missed my target.’ He threw his javelin, but it only pierced the wing of one bird. The creatures then flew along the water.
Cú Chulaind walked on until he sat down with his back against a stone; he was angry, but then sleep overcame him. While sleeping he saw two women approach: one wore a green cloak and the other a crimson cloak folded a five times, and the one in green smiled at him and began to beat him with a horsewhip. The other woman then came and smiled also and struck him in the same fashion, and they beat him foe such a long time that there was scarcely and life left in him. Then they left.
The Ulaid perceived the state he was in, and they attempted to rouse him. But Fergus said ‘No! Do not disturb him - it is a vision’. Then Cú Chulaind awoke. ‘Who did this to you?’ asked the Ulaid, but he was unable to speak. He was taken to his sickbed in An Téte Brecc, and he remained there a year without speaking to anyone.
At the end of that year, just before Samuin, the Ulaid were gathered round Cú Chulaind in the house: Fergus by the wall, Conall Cernach by the bedrail, Lugaid Réoderg by the pillow and Emer at his feet; and , as they were thus, a man entered the house and sat at the foot of the bed. ‘What brings you here?’ asked Conall Cernach. ‘Not difficult that. If this man were healthy, he would guarantee my safety here; and , since he is weak and wounded, his guarantee is that much stronger, So I fear none of you, and it is to speak to him that I have come.’ ‘Have no fear,’ said the Ulaid.
Then the man rose and recited these verses;
Cú Chulaind, sick as you are, waiting will be no help. If they were yours, they would heal you, the daughters of Aed Abrat.
Standing to the right of Labraid Lúathlám, in Mag Crúaich, Lí Ban said ‘Fand has expressed her desire to lie down with Cú Chulaind:
‘"There at Mag Muirthemni in the south no misfortune will befall you this Samuin. I will send Lí Ban to you, Cú Chulaind, sick as you are."’
‘Who are you?’ the Ulaid asked. ‘I am Oengus son of Aed Abrat,’ said the man, and then he left, and the Ulaid knew neither whence he had come nor where he had gone. But Cú Chulaind sat up and spoke. ‘About time,’ the Ulaid said. ‘Tell us what happened to you.’ ‘I had a vision last year, at Samuin,’ Cú Chulaind replied, and he related what he had seen. ‘What now, Conchubar?’ he asked. ‘You must return to that same stone,’ answered Conchubar.
Cú Chulaind walked out then until he reached the stone, and there he saw the woman in the green cloak. ‘Good this, Cú Chulaind,’ she said. ‘Not good for me your journey here last year,’ he replied. ‘Not to harm you did we come, but to seek your friendship. Indeed, I have come to speak to you of Fand, the daughter of Aed Abrat: Manandán son of Ler has left her, and she has now given her love to you. My name is Lí Ban, and I bear a message from my husband, Labraid Lúathlám ar Cladeb: he will send Fand to you in exchange for one day’s fighting against Senach Síaborthe and Echu Iuil and Eogan Indber.’ ‘Indeed, I am not fit to fight the men today,’ answered Cú Chulaind.’ ‘That is soon remedied: you will be healed and your full strength will be restored.’ ‘Where is this place?’ ‘In Mag Mell. Now I must return,’ said Lí Ban. ‘Let Lóeg go with you to visit your land,’ said Cú Chulaind. ‘Let him come, then,’ said Lí Ban.
Lí Ban and Lóeg then went to see Fand. When they arrived, Lí Ban seized Lóeg by the shoulder and said ‘Do not leave this place today, Lóeg, save under a woman’s protection.’ ‘Being protected by women has not exactly been my custom,’ replied Lóeg. ‘A pity it is not Cú Chulaind who is here now,’ moaned Lí Ban. ‘I too would rather he were here.’ said Lóeg.
They went, then, to the side facing the island, where they saw a bronze boat crossing the lake and coming towards them. They entered the boat and crossed to the island; there, they found a doorway, and a man appeared. Lí Ban asked the man:
Where is Labraid Lúathlám ar Cladeb, head of the troops of victory, victory above a steady chariot, he who reddens spear points with blood?
The man answered her, saying:
Labraid is fierce and vigorous; he will not be slow, he will have many followers. An army is being mustered; if Mag Fidgai is crowded, there will be great slaughter.
They entered the house, then, and saw three fifties of couches and three fifties of women lying on them. These women all greeted Lóeg, saying ‘Welcome, Lóeg, for the sake of the woman with whom you have come, and for the sake of the man from whom you have come, and for your own sake.’ Lí Ban asked ‘Well, Lóeg? Will you go to speak with Fand?’ ‘I will, provided I know where we are.’ ‘Not difficult that - we are in a chamber apart.’ They went to speak with Fand, and she welcomed them in the same way. Fand was the daughter of Aed Abrat, that is, fire of eyelash, for the pupil is the fire of the eye. Fand is the tear that covers the eye, and she was so named for her purity and beauty, since there was not like her anywhere in the world.
As they stood there, they heard the sound of Labraid’s chariot coming to the island, and Lí Ban said ‘Labraid is angry today. Let us go and talk to him.’ They went outside, and Lí Ban welcomed Labraid, saying:
Welcome Labraid Lúathlám ar Cladeb! Heir of troops, of swift spearmen, he smites shields, scatters spears, wounds bodies, slays free men, sees slaughter. More beautiful than women, he destroys hosts and scatters treasures. Assailant of a warrior band, welcome!
As Labraid still remained silent, Lí Ban recited another poem:
Welcome, Labraid Lúathlám ar Cladeb! More warlike than youths, prouder than chieftains, he destroys valiant adversaries, fights battalions, sieves young warriors, raises up the weak, lays low the strong. Welcome Labraid!
‘What you say is not good, woman,’ replied Labraid, and he recited this poem:
I am neither proud nor arrogant, woman, nor is my bearing over-haughty. We go to a battle with fierce spears everywhere, plying in our right hands red swords against the ardent multitudes of Echu Iuil. There is no pride in me. I am neither proud nor arrogant, woman.
Do not be angry, then,’ said Lí Ban, ‘for Cú Chulaind’s charioteer, Lóeg, is here with a message that Cú Chulaind will bring a host.’ Labraid greeted the charioteer, saying ‘Welcome, Lóeg, for the sake of the woman with whom you have come and for the sake of everyone from whom you have come. Go home, now, and Lí Ban will follow you.’
Lóeg returned to Emuin, then, and related his adventure to Cú Chulaind and everyone else. Cú Chulaind sat up in bed and passed his hand over his face; then he spoke clearly to Lóeg, for the news the charioteer had brought had strengthened his spirits.
Cú Chulaind told Lóeg ‘Go now to Emer and say to her that women of the Síde have come and destroyed me; tell her that I am mending and let her come and visit me.’ But Lóeg recited this poem to strengthen Cú Chulaind:
Great folly for a warrior to lie under the spell of a wasting sickness; it shows that the spirits, the folk of Tenmag Trogagi, have bound you, and tortured you, and destroyed you, through the power of a wanton woman. Awake! Then the woman’s mockery will shatter and your glorious valour will shine among champions and warriors; you will recover fully, and take to action and perform glorious deeds. When the call of Labraid sounds, O warlike man, rise that you might be great.
Lóeg went then to Emer and told her of Cú Chulaind’s condition. ‘Bad luck to you,’ she said, ‘for you visited the Síde and brought back no cure for your lord. Shame on the Ulaid for not trying to heal him. If Conchubar were consumed, or Fergus overcome by sleep, or Conall Cernach laid low with wounds, Cú Chulaind would aid them.’ And she recited this poem:
Alas, son of Ríangabur, that you visited the Síde and returned with no cure for the son of Deichtine’s spectre.
Shame on the Ulaid, with their generosity among foster-fathers and foster-brothers, not to be searching the dark world to help their friend Cú Chulaind.
If Fergus had sunk into sleep, and a single druid’s art could heal, the son of Deichtine would not rest until that druid had made his examination.
If Lóegure Búadach were faced with an overwhelming danger, Cú would search the meadows of Eriu to cure the son of Connad son of Iliu.
If it were Celtchair of the deceits to whom sleep and long wasting had come, Sétatae would be journeying night and day through the Síde.
Dead the hosts of Síd Truim, dispersed their great deeds; since the sleep of the Síde seized him, their Hound outstrips hounds no more.
Alas! Your sickness touches me, Hound of the smith of Conchubar; my heart and mind are troubled - I wonder if I might heal him.
Alas! Blood my heart, wasting for the horseman of the plain unless he should come here from the assembly of Mag Muirthemni.
He comes not from Emuin - a spectre has parted us. My voice is weak and mute because he is in an evil state.
A month and a season and a year without sleeping together, without hearing a man of pleasing speech, son of Ríangabur.
After that Emer went to Emuin to visit Cú Chulaind; she sat on his bed and said ‘Shame on you, lying there for love of a woman - long lying will make you sick.’ Then she recited this poem:
Rise, warrior of Ulaid! Awake healthy and happy from sleep! See the king of Emuin early in the morning - do not indulge in excessive sleep.
See his shoulder full with crystal, see his splendid drinking horns, see his chariots traversing the valley, see his ranks of fidchell pieces.
See his vigorous champions, see his tall and gentle women, see his kings - a course of danger - see his very great queens.
See the onset of brilliant winter, see each wonder in turn; see then that which you serve, its coldness and distance and dimness.
Heavy sleep wastes, is not good; weariness follows oppression. Long sleep is a draught added to satiety; weakness is next to death.
Throw off sleep, the peace that follows drink, throw it off with great energy. Many gentle words have loved you. Rise, warrior of Ulaid!
Cú Chulaind rose, then, and passed his hand over his face and threw off all weariness and sluggishness; he rose and went to Airbe Rofir. There he saw Lí Ban approaching; she spoke to him and invited him to the síd. ‘Where does Labraid dwell?’ he asked. ‘Not difficult that,’ she answered:
Labraid dwells on a clear lake frequented by troops of women. If you decide to meet him, you will not regret your visit.
His bold right hand cuts down hundreds - she who tells you knows. Like the beautiful colour of a violet his cheek.
Greater his fame than that of young warriors: he has invaded the land of Echu Iuil. Like threads if gold his hair, and his breath reeks of wine.
Most wonderful of men, he initiates battles; fierce he is at distant borders. Boats and horses race past the island where Labraid dwells.
A man of many deeds across the sea: Labraid Lúathlám ar Cladeb. No fighting disturbs his domain - the sleep of a multitude prevails.
Bridles of red gold for his horses, and nothing but this: pillars of silver and crystal. That is the house where he dwells.
But Cú Chulaind replied ‘I will not go upon the invitation of a woman.’ ‘Then let Lóeg come and see everything,’ said Lí Ban. Lóeg accompanied Lí Ban, then. They went to Mag Lúada and An Bile Búada, over Oenach nEmna and into Oenach Fidgai, and there they found Aed Abrat and his daughters. Fand greeted Lóeg, asking ‘Why has Cú Chulaind himself not come?’ ‘He would not come upon a woman’s invitation, nor until he learned if it was from you that the invitation came.’ ‘It was from me,’ said Fand. ‘Now return to him at once, for the battle is today.’
Lóeg returned to Cú Chulaind, then, and Cú Chulaind asked him ‘How does it look, Lóeg?’ Lóeg answered ‘Time it is to go, for the battle will be today.’ Then he recited this poem:
I arrived to find splendid sport, a wonderful place, though all was customary. I came to a mound, to scores of companies, among which I found long-haired Labraid.
I found him sitting in the mound, with thousands of weapons; beautiful yellow hair he had, tied back with a gold apple.
He recognised me, then, by my five-folded crimson cloak. He said to me ‘Will you come with me to the house of Failbe Find?’
Two kings there are in the house; Failbe Find and Labraid; a great throng in the one house; three fifties of men for each king.
At the doorway to the west, where the sun sets, a herd of grey horses, bright their manes, and a herd if chestnut horses.
At the doorway to the east, three trees of brilliant crystal, whence a gentle flock of birds calls to the children of he royal fort.
A tree at the doorway to the court, fair its harmony; a tree of silver before the setting sun, its brightness like that of gold.
Three score trees there whose crowns are meetings that do not meet. Each tree bears ripe fruit. For three hundred men.
There is in the síd a well with three fifties of brightly coloured mantles, a in of radiant gold in the corner of each mantle.
A vat of intoxicating mead was being distributed to the household. It is there yet, its state unchanging - it is always full.
There is too in the house a woman who would be distinguished among the women of Eriu: she appears with yellow hair and great beauty and charm.
Fair and wondrous her conversation with everyone, and the hearts of all men break with love and affection for her.
‘This woman said, then, ‘Who is that lad I do not recognise? Come here a while if it is you, servant of the man of Muirthemne.’
I went very slowly, fearing for my honour. She said to me ‘Will he come to us, the excellent only son of Deichtine?’
If I possessed all of Eriu and the kingship of yellow Brega, I would give it all, no bad bargain, to live in the place I visited.
‘Good that,’ said Cú Chulaind. ‘Good, indeed, and good that you should go, for everything in that land is good,’ said Lóeg. And he spoke about the delights of the síd:
I saw a bright and noble land where neither lie nor falsehood is spoken. There lives a king who reddens troops: Labraid Lúathlám at Cladeb.
Passing across Mag Lúada, I was shown An Bile Búada; At Mag Denda I seized a pair of two-headed snakes.
As we were together, Lí Ban said to me ‘A dear miracle it would be if you were Cú Chulaind and not you.’
I saw gentle women feasting; I saw their daughters. I saw noble youths traversing the wooded ridge.
I have seen the hill where stood the beautiful Eithne Ingubai [Emer] but the woman I speak of now would deprive troops of their senses.
Cú Chulaind went to this land, then; he took his chariot, and they reached the island. Labraid welcomed him, and all the women welcomed him, and Fand gave him a special welcome. ‘What now?’ asked Cú Chulaind. Labraid answered ‘Not difficult that - we will take a turn round the assembled host.’ They went out and found the host and looked it over and the enemy seemed innumerable. ‘Go now,’ Cú Chulaind said to Labraid, so Labraid left, but Cú Chulaind remained with the host. Two druidic ravens announced Cú Chulain’s presence; the host perceived this and said ‘No doubt the ravens are announcing the frenzied one of Eriu.’ And the host hunted them down until there was for the birds no place in the land.
Early one morning, Echu Iuil went to wash his hands in a spring; Cú Chulaind spied the man’s shoulder through an opening in his mantle and cast a spear through it. Thirty three of the host were killed by Cú Chulaind. Finally, Senach Siaborthe attacked, and they fought a great battle before Cú Chulaind killed him. Labraid came, then, and routed the entire host; he asked Cú Chulaind to desist from the slaughter, but Lóeg said ‘I fear that the man will turn his anger against us, for he has not yet had his fill of fighting. Have three vats of cold water brought, that his rage might be extinguished.’ The first vat that Cú Chulaind entered boiled over, and the second became so hot that no one could endure it, but the third grew only moderately warm.
Lí Ban greeted him, then, with this poem:
Welcome, Cú Chulaind, advancing boar, great chieftain of Mag Muirthemni. Great his spirit, honour of battle-victorious champions, heart of heroes, strong stone of wisdom, red in anger, ready for the fair play of enemies, one of the valorous warriors of Ulaid. Beautiful his brilliance, bright of eye to women. Welcome, Cú Chulaind!
Cú Chulaind slept with Fand, then, and he stayed with her for a month. When he bade her farewell, she said to him ‘Where will we meet?’ They decided upon Ibor Cind Tráchta. This was told to Emer, and she prepared knives with which to kill Fand. Fifty women accompanied Emer to the place of the meeting. Cú Chulaind and Lóeg were playing fidchell and did not notice the advancing women, but Fand noticed, and she said to Lóeg ‘Look over at what I am seeing.’ ‘What is it?’ asked Lóeg, and he looked.
Fand then said ‘Lóeg, look behind you. Listening to you is a troop of clever, capable women, glittering sharp knives in their right hands and gold on their breasts. When warriors go to their battle chariots, a fair form will be seen: Emer daughter of Forgall in a new guise.’
‘Have no fear,’ replied Cú Chulaind, ‘for she will not come at all. Step up into my powerful chariot, with its sunny seat, and I will protect you from every woman in the four quarters of Eriu, for though the daughter of Forgall may boast to her companions about her mighty deeds, she is not likely to challenge me.’ He said to Emer, then, ‘I avoid you, woman, as every man avoids the one he loves. I will not strike your hard spear, held with trembling hand; neither do you threaten me with your thin, feeble knife and weak, restrained anger, for the strength of women is insufficient to demand my full power.’
‘Why, then, Cú Chulaind, have you dishonoured me before the women of the province and the women of Eriu and all people of rank?’ asked Emer. ‘It is under your protection I have come, under the great power of your guarantee; and though the pride of mighty conflicts makes you boastful, perhaps your attempt to leave me will fail, lad, however much you try.’
‘Emer, why will you not permit me to meet this woman?’ replied Cú Chulaind. ‘She is pure and modest, fair and clever and worthy of a king. A handsome sight she is on the waves of the great-tided sea, with her shapeliness and beauty and noble family, her embroidery and handiwork, her good sense and prudence and steadfastness, her abundance of horses and herds of cattle. Whatever you may promise, there is nothing under heaven her husband could desire that she would not do. Neither will you find a handsome, combat-scarred, battle-victorious champion to equal me.’
‘Perhaps this woman you have chosen is no better than I,’ answered Emer. ‘But what’s red is beautiful, what’s new is bright, what’s tall is fair, what’s familiar is stale. The unknown is honoured, the known is neglected - until all is known. Lad, we lived together in harmony once, and we could do so again if only I still pleased you.’
Cú Chulaind grew melancholy at this, and he said ‘By my word, you do please me, and you will as long as you live.’ ‘Leave me, then,’ said Fand. ‘Better to leave me,’ said Emer. ‘No, I should be left,’ said Fand, ‘for it is I who was threatened just now.’ And she began to cry and grieve, for being abandoned was shameful to her; she went to her house, and the great love she bore Cú Chulaind troubled her, and she recited this poem:
I will continue my journey though I prefer my great adventure here; whoever might come, great his fame, I would prefer to remain with Cú Chulaind.
I would prefer to remain here - that I grant willingly - than to go, it may surprise you to learn, to the sun-house of Aed Abrat.
Emer, the man is yours, and may you enjoy him, good woman. What my hand cannot obtain I must still desire.
Many a man has sought me, both openly and in secret; yet I never went to meet them, for I was upright.
Wretched she who gives her love if he takes no notice of her; better to put such thoughts aside unless she is loved as she loves.
Fifty women came here, Emer of the yellow hair, to fall upon Fand - a bad idea - and kill her in her misery.
When Manandán learned that Fand was in danger from the women of Ulaid and ththat she was being forsaken by Cú Chulaind, he came west after her and stood before her, and no one but Fand could see him. When she perceived him, Fand felt deep regret and sadness, and she recited this poem:
See the warlike son of Ler on the plains of Eogan Indber: Manandán, lord of the world - once I held him dear.
Then, I would have wept, but my proud spirit does not love now - love is a vain thing that goes about heedlessly and foolishly.
When Manandán and I lived in the sun-house at Dún Indber, we both thought it likely we would never separate.
When fair Manandán married me, I was a proper wife: he never won from me the odd game of fidchell.
When fair Manandán married me, I was a proper wife: a bracelet of gold he gave me, the price of making me blush.
Outside on the heath I had fifty beautiful women; I gave him fifty men in addition to the fifty women.
Two hundred, and no mistake, the people of our house: one hundred strong, healthy men, one hundred fair, thriving women.
Across the ocean I see (and he who does not is no fool) the horseman of the foaming sea, he who does not follow the long ships.
Your going past us now none but the Síde might perceive; your keen sight magnifies the tiniest host, though it be far distant.
That keen sight would be useful to me, for the sense of women are foolish: the one whom I loved so completely has put me in danger here.
Farewell to you, dear Cú! I leave you with head held high. I wish that I were not going - every rule is good until broken.
Time for me to set out, now - there is someone who finds that difficult. My distress is great, O Lóeg, O son of Ríangabur.
I will go with my own husband, now, for he will not deny me. Lest you say I left in secret, look now, if you wish.
Fand set out after Manandán, then, and he greeted her and said ‘Well, woman, are you waiting for Cú Chulaind or will you go with me?’ ‘By my word, there is a man I would prefer as husband. But it is with you I will go; I will not wait for Cú Chulaind, for he has betrayed me. Another thing, good person, you have no other worthy queen, but Cú Chulaind does.’
When Cú Chulaind perceived that Fand was leaving with Manandán, he asked Lóeg ‘What is this?’ ‘Not difficult that - Fand is going away with Manandán son of Ler, for she did not please you.’ At that, Cú Chulaind made three high leaps and three southerly leaps, towards Lúachair; he was a long time in the mountains without food or water, sleeping each night on Slige Midlúachra.
Emer went to Conchubur in Emuin and told him of Cú Chulaind’s state, and Conchubur ordered the poets and artisans and druids of Ulaid to find Cú Chulaind and secure him and bring him back. Cú Chulaind tried to kill the artisans, but the druids sang spells over him until his hands and feet were bound and he came to his senses. He asked for a drink; the druids brought him a drink of forgetfulness, and, when he drank that, he forgot Fand and everything he had done. Since Emer was no better off, they brought her a drink that she might forget her jealousy. Moreover, Manandán shook his cloak between Cú Chulaind and Fand, that they might never meet again.
Note Manandán son of Ler was a god of the sea, Fand his estranged wife: the Síde, or Sidhe, were spirits. A síd is a burial mound.
Some verses have been omitted to produce a more condensed text.