‘It struck me,’ Ailill said, ‘how much better off you are today than the day I married you.’
‘I was well enough off without you,’ Medb said.
‘Then your wealth was something I didn’t know or hear much about,’Ailill said. ‘Except for your own woman’s things and the neighbouring enemies making off with loot and plunder.’
‘Not at all,’ Medb said, ‘but with the high king of Ireland for my father — Eochaid Feidlech the steadfast, the son of Finn, the son of Finnoman, the son of Finnen, the son of Finngoll, the son of Roth, the son of Rigéon, the son of Blathacht, the son of Beothacht, the son of Enna Agnech, the son of Aengus Turbech. He had six daughters: Derbriu, Ethne, Ele, Clothru, Muguin, and myself Medb, the highest and haughtiest of them. I outdid them in grace and giving and battle and warlike combat. I had fifteen hundred soldier in my royal pay, all exiles’ sons, and the same number of freeborn native men, and for every paid soldier I had ten more men, and nine more, and eight, and seven, and sic, and five, and four, and three, and two, and one. And that was only our ordinary household.
‘My father gave me a whole province of Ireland, this province ruled from Cruachan, which is why I am called “Medb of Cruachan.” And they came from Finn the king of Leinster, Rus Ruad’s son, the woo me, and from Coirpre Niafer the king of Temair, another of Rus Ruad’s son’s. They came from Conchobar, king of Ulster, son of Fachtna, they came from Eochaid Bec, and I wouldn’t go. For I asked a harder wedding gift than any women ever asked before from a man in Ireland — the absence of meanness and jealousy and fear.
‘If I married a mean man our union would be wrong, because I am so full of grace and giving. It would be an insult if I were more generous than my husband, but not if the two of us were equal in this. If my husband was a timid man our union would be just as wrong because I thrive, myself, on all kinds of trouble. It is an insult for a wife to be more spirited than her husband, but not if the two are equally spirited. If I married a jealous man that would be wrong, too: I never had one man without another waiting in his shadow. So I got the kind of man I wanted: Rus Ruad’s other son — yourself, Ailill, from Leinster. You aren’t greedy or jealous or sluggish. When we were promised, I brought you the best wedding gift a bride can bring: apparel enough for a dozen men, a chariot worth thrice seven bondmaids, the width of your face of red gold and the weight of your left arm of light gold. So, if anyone causes you shame or upset or trouble, the right compensation is mine,’ said Medb, ‘for you’re a kept man.’
The Táin Bó Cuailnge is the only epic I’ve ever read, and though I did not enjoy having to write an exam on it, I think I like it. At the very least, I like Medb, and I like her confidence, her entitlement, her strength, and her introspection. I would like to be more like her.