1. The Pillow-talk
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- Joseph Dunn
Once of a time, that Ailill and Medb had spread their royal bed in Cruachan, the stronghold of Connacht, such was the pillow-talk that befell betwixt them:
Quoth Ailill: “True is the saying, lady, ‘She is a well-off woman that is a rich man’s wife.’” “Aye,that she is,” answered the wife; “but wherefore opin’st thou so?” “For this,” Ailill replied, “that thou art this day better off than the day that first I took thee.” Then answered Medb: “As well-off was I before I ever saw thee.” “It was a wealth, forsooth, we never heard nor knew of,” Ailill said; “but a woman’s wealth was all thou hadst, and foes from lands next thine were used to carry off the spoil and booty that they took from thee.”
“Not so was I,” quoth Medb; “the High King of Erin himself was my sire, Eocho Fedlech (‘the Enduring’) son of Finn, by name, who was son of Findoman, son of Finden, son of Findguin, son of Rogen Ruad (‘the Red’), son of Rigen, son of Blathacht, son of Beothacht, son of Enna Agnech, son of Oengus Turbech. Of daughters, had he six: Derbriu, Ethne and Ele, Clothru, Mugain and Medb, myself, that was the noblest and seemliest of them.
’Twas I was the goodliest of them in bounty and gift-giving, in riches and treasures. ’Twas I was best of them in battle and strife and combat. ’Twas I that had fifteen hundred royal mercenaries of the sons of aliens exiled from their own land, and as many more of the sons of freemen of the land. And there were ten men with every one of these hirelings, and nine men with every hireling, and eight men with every hireling, and seven men with every hireling, and six men with every hireling, and five men with every hireling, and four men with every hireling, and three men with every hireling, and two men with every hireling, and one hireling with every hireling. These were as a standing household-guard,” continued Medb; “hence hath my father bestowed one of the five provinces of Erin upon me, even the province of Cruachan; wherefore ‘Medb of Cruachan’ am I called.
Men came from Finn son of Ross Ruad (‘the Red’), king of Leinster, to seek me for a wife, and I refused him; and from Carbre Niafer (‘the Champion’) son of Ross Ruad (‘the Red’), king of Temair, to woo me, and I refused him; and they came from Conchobar son of Fachtna Fathach (‘the Mighty’), king of Ulster, and I refused him in like wise. They came from Eocho Bec (‘the Small’), and I went not; for ’tis I that exacted a singular bride-gift, such as no woman before me had ever required of a man of the men of Erin, namely, a husband without avarice, without jealousy, without fear.
For should he be mean, the man with whom I should live, we were ill-matched together, inasmuch as I am great in largess and gift-giving, and it would be a disgrace for my husband if I should be better at spending than he, and for it to be said that I was superior in wealth and treasures to trim, while no disgrace would it be were one as great as the other. Were my husband a coward, ’twere as unfit for us to be mated, for I by myself and alone break battles and fights and combats, and ’twould be a reproach for my husband should his wife be more full of life than himself, and no reproach our being equally bold. Should he be jealous, the husband with whom I should live, that too would not suit me, for there never was a time that I had not my paramour.
Howbeit, such a husband have I found, namely in thee thyself, Ailill son of Ross Ruad (‘the Red’) of Leinster. Thou wast not churlish; thou wast not jealous; thou wast not a sluggard. It was I plighted thee, and gave purchase-price to thee, which of right belongs to the bride—of clothing, namely, the raiment of twelve men, a chariot worth thrice seven bondmaids, the breadth of thy face of red gold, the weight of thy left forearm of silvered bronze. Whoso brings shame and sorrow and madness upon thee, no claim for compensation nor satisfaction hast thou therefor that I myself have not, but it is to me the compensation belongs,” said Medb, “for a man dependent upon a woman’s maintenance is what thou art.”
“Nay, not such was my state,” said Ailill; “but two brothers had I; one of them over Temair, the other over Leinster; namely, Finn, over Leinster, and Carbre, over Temair. I left the kingship to them because they were older but not superior to me in largess and bounty. Nor heard I of province in Erin under woman’s keeping but this province alone. And for this I came and assumed the kingship here as my mother’s successor; for Mata of Muresc, daughter of Magach of Connacht, was my mother. And who could there be for me to have as my queen better than thyself, being, as thou wert, daughter of the High King of Erin?” “Yet so it is,” pursued Medb, “my fortune is greater than thine.” “I marvel at that,” Ailill made answer, “for there is none that hath greater treasures and riches and wealth than I: yea, to my knowledge there is not.”