Ferdiad Crosses the Ford
Irish and Celtic myths and legends, Irish folklore and Irish fairy tales from the Ulster Cycle
The fortunes of war when Ferdiad Crosses the Ford
Queen Medb had invaded Ulster and the lands of the north, thinking it would be an easy victory since the men of Ulster were crippled with birth pangs as a result of a curse place on them, but Cúchulainn had dogged her every step savagely.
Attacking her supply wagons, ambushing her men from the trees, burning tents at night, he fought single handedly with the might of an army by using his talents well. Finally having enough of it, Medb decided to call out to him when she knew he was lurking around, for his slingshot had taken another dozen heads that very morning.
She cried that she would send her champions to do battle with him, and her forces wouldn't move until he was defeated. Cúchulainn shouted back his agreement, since he was weary with running about like a rabbit from hounds, then becoming the hound himself.
And so the best men of Connacht stood against him, and each was struck down without delay. Day after day the duels continued, but Cúchulainn wasn't bothered since he knew all he had to do was delay Medb long enough for the warriors of the Red Branch to recover from their pregnancy pains.
Stumped, Medb took counsel with her wisest druids and they agreed on a plan – they'd call Ferdiad, who had trained with Cúchulainn, and ask him to do the deed. At first their messengers were sent back empty handed, as Ferdiad didn't much like the notion of killing his boyhood friend, but Medb threatened him with satire and blackening his name, so that his memory would be one of shame for all time, and he eventually agreed to meet her.
They plied him with fine strong rich mead, not that stuff you can get today but real honey ambrosia, and played sweet music for him, and Medb's daughter Finnabair toyed with him seductively. Medb asked if he was enjoying himself, and Ferdiad grinned a foolish grin, and said he was.
Well, said Medb, you can have all this, a chariot worth a herd of fine cattle, the best lands in Connacht without taxes for the next three generations, her golden ring showing her love, and her daughter's hand in marriage if he would but fight Cúchulainn.
The cheer draining from him in a moment, Ferdiad became solemn and said he would never fight Cúchulainn.
“Ah,” said Medb, who knew well the hearts of these warrior-men, “and so Cúchulainn spoke the truth!”
“What truth was that?” demanded Ferdiad.
“Well, he said you'd never fight him for you knew he'd kill you, as he was the best warrior in all of Ireland!”
At that Ferdiad stood in a rage, and swore he'd do battle with the braggart Cúchulainn the very next day, so who should Cúchulainn see coming across the ford the following morning but Ferdiad himself!
And his heart was struck low and through with sorrow, for to kill this man would be like piercing his own heart. He entreated Ferdiad not to fight, reminding them of all the happy times they'd had together, of all the skills they'd learned from one another, the adventures they'd had.
But Ferdiad, perhaps the worse for his previous night's drinking, still burning from his humiliation before Medb's daughter, threw the words back in his face and added a few of his own, choice insults fit to boil the blood of any man.
Well, Cúchulainn's feet became unstuck at that, and he stepped forward to give battle! Not only were himself and Ferdiad almost equally matched, but Ferdiad's skin became hard as a bull's horns when he did battle, so no weapon could pierce him. Cúchulainn had his Gae Bolg, the fearsome spear of fifty thorns made of a sea monster's bones, but he didn't want to use it and slay his friend.
For three long days they did battle, first with light swords, then with darts and long spears, then with javelins hurled hard enough to split a tree, but neither could gain the upper hand. And rach night they bound one another's wounds and slept back to back uneasily, neither quite sure how they'd gotten here.
Towards the end of the third day however the hero-light began to shine around Cúchulainn, and the warp spasm came upon him. One eye bulged out to the length of a horse, and the other sank deep into his gut. Blood and fumes spouted from the top of his head and his teeth splayed out like grotesque fingers, sharp and jagged. His muscles moved like water in a sack and his skin like the sack itself, and the heat from him set nearby trees on fire.
Alarmed, Ferdiad fell back as Cúchulainn jumped onto his shield with a mighty salmon-leap, all set to plunge his sword into Ferdiad's brain, but Ferdiad slipped him off it and dropped him in the icy water, cooling the fury he felt.
As Cúchulainn climbed back up, Ferdiad saw his chance and took it, stabbing Cúchulainn hard in the chest several times. Cúchulainn howled out for Laeg his charioteer to give him his spear. Laeg threw it into the river and floated it downstream, and Cúchulainn picked it up between his toes and stabbed Ferdiad in the only place he was vulnerable, in the nethers.
Into every part of him went the spear's barbs, piercing his joints and his internals until he lay stricken and dying on the ground, and Cúchulainn held him until he passed, the pair of them cursing Medb and her dark ways.
The ford where Cúchulainn and Ferdiad fought can be found on the map below.
We now have an amazing Patreon page as well, where you can listen to the many myths and legends on the Emerald Isle! Exclusive to our Patreon, you can now hear stories of ancient Ireland, folklore and fairy tales and more, all professionally narrated. It's at times like these that it's most important to support artists and creative people whose income might be reduced, so if you'd like to support the work that goes into Emerald Isle, the Patreon can be found here: https://www.patreon.com/emeraldisle
Further Tales from the Ulster Cycle
War and the arts of war much occupied the people of Ireland, who became renowned for their skill with weapons and in the ways of battle. They fought one another and the many invaders who came to this land, earning not only fame for their arms and the swords and spears they carried, but for their shields as well! Some of the most legended shields ... [more]
Irish legends have this peculiar property – so long and so often have they been repeated down through the millennia that oftentimes one tale might cross into another, over and back, and leave its track behind. Some stories are far older than they might seem, and some contain shadows and echoes stretching back to the very beginning. Such is ... [more]
Bláthíne, whose name means “little flower” in Irish, was one of the ladies of the Tuatha Dé Danann, that mystical race of warlocks whose hardened red-gold bronze had shimmered in the sunshine when they ruled Ireland. Her beauty was famed throughout this world and the otherworld, but her story is a warning to all who ... [more]
It was often the way in olden times in Ireland that women would fight alongside the men, fierce and unbowed, and accorded the honour of warriors too. So it was with the fearless Scáthach, the legendary Scottish warrior woman whose name meant "the Shadow"! She lived in a sinister castle called Dún Scáith, or the For ... [more]
Many and infamous were the weapons of the tribes of Ireland, and fierce the warriors who wielded them in battle, but few were as notorious as the spear of fire and poison, the Lúin Cheltchair, which thirsted for blood so much that it had to be kept in a cauldron of poison, held down with chains by four foreigners – for who would risk t ... [more]
Cúchulainn, although still a young man, had made many powerful enemies, but none more bitter and dark than Queen Medb of Connaught, whose armies he had routed and whose ambitions he'd thwarted. Long into the dark nights of winter, year after year she brooded on the humiliations visited upon her, for undying is the wrath of a Queen. Sh ... [more]
Queen Medb had invaded Ulster and the lands of the north, thinking it would be an easy victory since the men of Ulster were crippled with birth pangs as a result of a curse place on them, but Cúchulainn had dogged her every step savagely. Attacking her supply wagons, ambushing her men from the trees, burning tents at night, he fought sing ... [more]
Queen Nessa had been known as a gentle and sweet natured woman when she was a maid, but through the hardships of the world she became cold and ruthless. Still, for all that she was still a rare beauty and an indomitable warrior, which many men find to be an irresistible combination! And so it was with King Fergus Mac Ríoch, master of all ... [more]
They say the fury of a storm in a high tempest has nothing on the fury of a woman scorned, and few women have ever felt quite so scorned as Aoife the warrior-queen after she found out that her lover Cúchulainn had married another woman, Emer! She had borne a son for him, but in her wrath she decided to turn the child against him. She spok ... [more]
In the age of heroes, forgotten by all but the storytellers and the legend-weavers, when champions strode the land of Ireland, their halls and Duns now covered in moss, echoing to no songs but those of the blackbird and the red-breasted robin, the people of Ulster were gathered together for a great celebration at Emain Macha, the capital of Ulster. ... [more]
A quarrel arose between Queen Medb of Connacht and the King of Ulster regarding who had the most wealth, but all of his men were cursed with the pains of a pregnant woman giving birth so they couldn't ride out to meet her marching army. Only Cúchulainn who had the blood of the Sidhe running through his veins could even walk, let alone fi ... [more]
Cathbad the Druid was well known throughout the lands of Ireland for his subtle skill and cunning ways, he could make birds speak the language of men and the very stones themselves sing, it was said! But like all Druids, he could also tell the portents of the day, as the ripples may be seen from a rock cast into a still pool in the deepest forest. ... [more]
Cruinniuc was a farmer in the northern part of Ireland back in the days of legend, and often legends are told of heroes and their mighty deeds, but this tale is about humbler folk who change the path of history nonetheless. Cruinniuc wasn't a bad sort but his life had been struck with ill fortune for years – his wife had passed away an ... [more]
The chariot games in Ireland of old were a great event – the mightiest of kings, warriors, princes and champions from around the world would travel from afar to watch and join the fiercely contested races. Each man and his team of horses would thunder round the track, and the cheers of the onlookers would shake the hills. And so it was for ... [more]
It was the time of heroes in ancient Ireland, when giants walked the land, before Fionn MacCumhaill had sent the seven shadows of the Glen back to their dark and restless sleep with his flashing sword, and even before his son Oisín had slain the worm of the lakes, when Setanta was young. He it was who became one of the mightiest heroes of ... [more]
King Aillil, husband to Queen Medb whose famous cattle raid started a war with Cú Chulainn, was deep in his cups as the sun set on Samhain night, red and cloud-torn over the ancient fortress of Rathcroghan. Bothered by the whispering winds, he took a notion that it would be a good test of courage if one of his warriors would go out and put a ... [more]
Bricriu of the venomous tongue he was called, and well named indeed he was, for he loved nothing better than to cause trouble and spread rumours and half-truths to unsettle people. As such he decided to hold a great feast, although he knew that by his reputation few would be interested in attending, so he made a special effort to entice them. He ... [more]
One of the most famed legends of old is that of the war that was fought over the Brown Bull of Cualgne. Now while it might seem an odd thing for us today to think of a war fought over a bull, the matter is not so simple as it might seem, and the bull was no ordinary bull either! For it was in the time of Cú Chulainn, the hound of Chulainn, t ... [more]