11. The Slaying Of Nathcrantail

Then arose a huge warrior of Medb's people, Nathcrantail by name, and he came to attack Cuchulain. He did not deign to bring along arms but thrice nine spits of holly after being sharpened, burnt and hardened in fire. And there before him on the pond was Cuchulain, and there was no shelter whatever.

[And there were nine darts, and none of them was to miss Cuchulain.] And he straightway cast [the first] dart at Cuchulain. Cuchulain sprang from the middle of the ground till he came on the tip of the dart. And again Nathcrantail threw a second dart. Nathcrantail threw a third dart and Cuchulain sprang on the point of the second dart and so on till he was on the point of the last dart.

It was then that the flock of birds which Cuchulain pursued on the plain flew away. Cuchulain chased them even as any bird of the air, pursuing the birds that they might not escape him but that they might leave behind a portion of food for the night. For this is what sustained and served Cuchulain, fish and fowl and game on the Cualnge Cow-spoil.

Something more remains to be told: Nathcrantail deemed full surely that Cuchulain went from him in rout of defeat and flight. And he went his way till he came to the door of the tent of Ailill and Medb and he lifted up his loud voice of a warrior: "That famous Cuchulain that ye so talk of ran and fled in defeat before me when he came to me in the morning." "We knew," spake Medb, "it would be even so when able warriors and goodly youths met him, that this beardless imp would not hold out; for when a mighty warrior, Nathcrantail to wit, came upon him, he withstood him not but before him he ran away!"

And Fergus heard that, and Fergus was sore angered that any one should boast that Cuchulain had fled. And Fergus addressed himself to Fiachu, Feraba's son, that he should go to rebuke Cuchulain. "And tell him it is an honour for him to oppose the hosts for as long or as short a space as he does deeds of valour upon them, but that it were fitter for him to hide himself than to fly before any one of their warriors."

Thereupon Fiachu went to address Cuchulain. Cuchulain bade him welcome. "I trow that welcome to be truly meant, but it is for counsel with thee I am come from thy fosterer Fergus. And he has said, 'It would be a glory for thee to oppose the hosts for as long or as short a space as thou doest valiantly with them; but it would be fitter for thee to hide thyself than to fly before any one of their warriors!"

"How now, who makes that boast among ye?" Cuchulain asked. "Nathcrantail, of a surety," Fiachu answered. "How may this be? Dost not know, thou and Fergus and the nobles of Ulster, that I slay no charioteers nor heralds nor unarmed people? And he bore no arms but a spit of wood. And I would not slay Nathcrantail until he had arms. And do thou tell him, let him come here early in the morning, and I will not fly before him!"

And it seemed long to Nathcrantail till day with its light came for him to attack Cuchulain. He set out early on the morrow to attack Cuchulain. Cuchulain arose early and came to his place of meeting and his wrath bided with him on that day. And he threw his cloak around him, so that it passed over the pillar-stone near by, and snapped the pillar-stone off from the ground between himself and his cloak. And he was aware of naught because of the measure of anger that had come on and rage in him.

Then, too, came Nathcrantail, and he spake, "Where is this Cuchulain?" shouted Nathcrantail. "Why, over yonder near the pillar-stone before thee," answered Cormac Conlongas son of Conchobar. "Not such was the shape wherein he appeared to me yesterday," said Nathcrantail. "Repel yon warrior," quoth Cormac, "and it will be the same for thee as if thou repellest Cuchulain!"

Soon came Nathcrantail to seek Cuchulain and he made a wide sweep with his sword at Cuchulain. The sword encountered the pillar of stone that was between Cuchulain and his cloak, and the sword broke atwain on the pillar-stone. Then Cuchulain sprang from the ground and alighted on the top of the boss of Nathcrantail's shield and dealt him a side stroke over the upper edge of the shield, so that he struck off his head from his trunk. He raised his hand quickly again and gave him another blow on the top of the trunk so that he cleft him in twain down to the ground. Thus fell Nathcrantail slain by Cuchulain. Whereupon Cuchulain spoke the verse:

"Now that Nathcrantail has fallen,
There will be increase of strife!'
Would that Medb had battle now
And the third part of the host!"