The Adventures of Nera
translated by Kuno Meyer
One Halloween Ailill and Medb were in Rath Cruachan with their whole household. They set about cooking food. Two captives had been banged by them the day before that. Then Ailill said: ‘He who would now put a withe round the foot of either of the two captives that are on the gallows, shall have a prize for it from me, as he may choose.’
Great was the darkness of that night and its horror, and demons would appear on that night always. Each man of them went out in turn to try that night, and quickly would he come back into the house. ‘I will have the prize from thee’, said Nera, ‘and I shall go out. Truly thou shalt have this my gold-hilted sword here’, said Ailill.
Then this Nera went out towards the captives, and put good armour on him. He put a withe round the foot of one of the two captives. Thrice it sprang off again. Then the captive said to him, unless he put a proper peg on it, though he be at it till the morrow, he would not fix his own peg on it. Then Nera put a proper peg on it.
Said the captive from the gallows to Nera: ‘That is manly, O Nera!’ ‘Manly indeed!’ said Nera. ‘By the truth of thy valour, take me on thy neck, that I may get a drink with thee. I was very thirsty when I was hanged.’ ‘Come on my neck then!’ said Nera. So he went on his neck. ‘Whither shall I carry thee?’ said Nera. ‘To the house which is nearest to us , said the captive.
So they went to that house. Then they saw something. A lake of fire round that house. ‘There is no drink for us in this house’, said the captive. ‘There is no fire without sparing in it ever. Let us therefore go to the other house, which is nearest to us’, said the captive. They went to it then and saw a lake of water around it. ‘Do not go to that house!’ said the captive. There is never a washing- nor a bathing-tub, nor a slop-pail in it at night after sleeping. ‘Let us still go to the other house’, said the captive. ‘Now there is my drink in this house’, said the captive. He let him down on the floor. He went into the house. There were tubs for washing and bathing in it, and a drink in either of them. Also a slop-pail on the floor of the house. He then drinks a draught of either of them and scatters the last sip from his lips at the faces of the people that were in the house, so that they all died. Henceforth it is not good to have either a tub for washing or bathing, or a fire without sparing, or a slop-pail in a house after sleeping.
Thereupon he carried him back to his torture, and Nera returned to Cruachan. Then be saw something. The dun was burnt before him, and he beheld a heap of heads of their people [cut off] by the warriors from the dun. He went after the host then into the cave of Cruachan. ‘A man on the track here!’ said the last man to Nera. ‘The heavier is the track’, said his comrade to him, and each man said that word to his mate from the last man to the first man. Thereupon they reached the sid of Cruachan and went into it. Then the heads were displayed to the king in the sid. ‘What shall be done to the man that came with you?’ said one of them. ‘Let him come hither, that I may speak with him’, said the king. Then Nera came to them and the king said to him: ‘What brought thee with the warriors into the sid?’ said the king to him. ‘I came in the company of thy host’, said Nera. ‘Go now to yonder house’, said the king. ‘There is a single woman there, who will make thee welcome. Tell her it is from me thou art sent to her, and come every day to this house with a burden of firewood’.
Then he did as he was told. The woman bade him welcome and said: ‘Welcome to thee, if it is the king that sent thee hither’. ‘It is he, truly’, said Nera. Every day Nera used to go with a burden of firewood to the dun. He saw every day a blind man and a lame man on his neck coming out of the dun before him. They would go until they were at the brink of a well before the dun. ‘Is it there?’ said the blind man. ‘It is indeed’, said the lame one. ‘Let us go away’, said the lame man.
Nera then asked the woman about this. ‘Why do the blind and the lame man visit the well?’ ‘They visit the crown, which is in the well’, said the woman, ‘viz, a diadem of gold, which the king wears on his head, It is there it is kept’. ‘Why do those two go?’ said Nera. ‘Not hard to tell’, said she, ‘because it is they that are trusted by the king to visit the crown.’ ‘One of them was blinded, the other lamed’. ‘Come hither a little’, said Nera to his wife, ‘that thou mayst tell me of my adventures now’. ‘What has appeared to thee?’ said the woman. ‘Not hard to tell’, said Nera. ‘When I was going into the sid, methought the rath of Cruachan was destroyed and Ailill and Medb with their whole household had fallen in it’. ‘That is not true indeed’, said the woman, ‘but an elfin host came to thee. That will come true’, said she, unless he would reveal it to his friends. ‘How shall I give warning to my people?’ said Nera. ‘Rise and go to them’, said she. ‘They are still round the same cauldron and the charge has not yet been removed from the fire.’ Yet it had seemed to him three days and three nights since he had been in the sid. ‘Tell them to be on their guard at Halloween coming, unless they come to destroy the sid. For I will promise them this: the sid to be destroyed by Ailill and Medb, and the crown of Briun to be carried off by them’.
[These are the three things, which were found in it, viz: the mantle of Loegaire in Armagh, and the crown of Briun in Connaught, and the shirt of Dunlaing in Leinster in Kildare.]
‘How will it be believed of me, that I have gone into the sid?’ said Nera. ‘Take fruits of summer with thee’, said the woman. ‘Then he took wild garlic with him and primrose and golden fern. And I shall be pregnant by thee’, said she ‘and shall bear thee a son. And send a message from thee to the sid, when thy people will come to destroy the sid, that thou mayest take thy family and thy cattle from the sid’.
Thereupon Nera went to his people, and found them around the same caldron; and he related his adventures to them. And then his sword was given to him, and he staid with his people to the end of a year. That was the very year, in which Fergus mac Roich came as an exile from the land of Ulster to Ailill and Medb to Cruachan. ‘Thy appointment has come, oh Nera’, said Ailill to Nera. ‘Arise and bring thy people and thy cattle from the sid, that we may go to destroy the sid’.
Then Nera went to his wife in the sid, and she bade him welcome. ‘Arise out to the dun now’, said the woman to Nera, ‘and take a burden of firewood with thee. I have gone to it for a whole year with a burden of firewood on my neck every day in thy stead, and I said thou wert in sickness. And there is also thy son yonder’. Then he went out to the dun and carried a burden of firewood with him on his neck. ‘Welcome alive from the sickness in which thou wast!’ said the king. ‘I am displeased that the woman should sleep with thee without asking’. ‘Thy will shall be done about this’, said Nera. ‘It will not be hard for thee’, said the king. He went back to his house. ‘Now tend thy kine today!’ said the woman. ‘I gave a cow of them to thy son at once after his birth’. So Nera went with his cattle that day.
Then while he was asleep the Morrigan took the cow of his son, and the Donn of Cualgne bulled her in the east in Cualgne. She [the Morrigan] then went again westward with her cow. Cuchulaind overtook them in the plain of Murthemne as they passed across it. For it was one of Cuchulaind’s gessa that even a woman should leave his land without his knowledge. [It was one of his gessa that birds should feed on his land, unless they left something with him. It was one of his gessa that fish should be in the bays, unless they fell by him. It was one of his gessa that warriors of another tribe should be in his land without his challenging them, before morning, if they came at night, or before night, if they came in the day. Every maiden and every single woman that was in Ulster, they were in his ward till they were ordained for husbands. These are the gessa of Cuchulaindl. Cuchulaind overtook the Morrigan with her cow, and he said: ‘This cow must not be taken’.
Nera went back then to his house with his kine in the evening. ‘The cow of my son is missing’, said he. ‘I did not deserve that thou shouldst go and tend kine in that way’, said his wife to him, On that came the cow. ‘A wonder now! Whence does this cow come?’ ‘Truly, she comes from Cualgne, after being bulled by the Donn of Cualgne’, said the woman. ‘Rise out now, lest thy warriors come’, she said. ‘This host cannot go for a year till Halloween next. They will come on Halloween next: for the fairy-mounds of Erinn are always opened about Halloween’.
Nera went to his people. ‘Whence comest thou?’ said Ailill and Medb to Nera, ‘and where hast thou been since thou didst go from us?’ ‘I was in fair lands’, said Nera, ‘with great treasures and precious things, with plenty of garments and food, and of wonderful treasures.’ ‘They will come to slay you on Halloween coming, unless it had been revealed to you’. ‘We shall certainly go against them’, said Ailill. So they remain there till the end of the year. ‘Now if thou hast anything in the sid’, said Ailill to Nera, ‘bring it away’. So Nera went on the third day before Halloween and brought her drove out of the sid. Now as the bull calf went out of the sid, viz, the calf of the cow of Aingene (Aingene was the name of his son), it bellowed thrice. At that same hour Ailill and Fergus were playing drafts, when they heard something, the bellowing of the bull calf in the plain. Then said Fergus:
I like not the calf
bellowing in the plain of Cruachan,
the son of the black bull of Cualgne, which approaches,
the young son of the bull from Loch Laig.
There will be calves without cows
on Bairche in Cualgne,
the king will go a . . . march
through this calf of Aingene.
[Aingene was the name of the man and Be Aingeni the name of the woman, and the appearance which this Nera saw on them was the same as that which Cuchulaind saw in the Tain Bo Regamna.]
Then the bull calf and the Whitehorn meet in the plain of Cruachan. A night and a day they were there fighting, until at last the bull calf was beaten. Then the bull calf bellowed when it was beaten. ‘What did the calf bellow?’ Medb asked of her neat-herd, whose name was Buaigle. ‘I know that, my good father Fergus’, said Bricriu, ‘it is the strain which thou sangest in the morning’. On that Fergus glanced aside and struck with his fist at Bricriu’s head, so that the five men of the draft-board that were in his hand, went into Bricriu’s head, and it was a lasting hurt to him. ‘Tell me, O Buaigle, what did the bull say?’ said Medb. ‘Truly, it said’, answered Buaigle, ‘if its father came to tight with it, viz, the Donn of Cualgne, it would not be seen in Ai, and it would be beaten throughout the whole plain of Ai on every side’. Then said Medb in the manner of an oath: ‘I swear by the gods that my people swear by, that I shall not lie down, nor sleep on down or flockbed, nor shall I drink butter-milk nor nurse my side, nor drink red ale nor white, nor shall I taste food, until I see those two kine fighting before my face.
Thereafter the men of Connaught and the black host of exile went into the sid, and destroyed the sid, and took out what there was in it. And then they brought away the crown of Briun. That is the third wonderful gift in Erinn, and the mantle of Loegaire in Armagh, and the shirt of Dunlaing in Leinster in Kildare. Nera was left with his people in the sid, and has not come out until now, nor will he come till Doom.