Her Early Life
Heroic & Dark Fantasy and Science Fiction Character created by Kevin L. O'Brien
his is a summary of the information found in Book A of Volume I of the Leabhar Mhéibhe. It describes the early years of the life of Medb hErenn in Bronze Age Ireland, from shortly before her birth to her exile. It is based on Irish mythology and Irish pseudohistory.
adapted by Caoimhín Ó Briain
artwork © by Jim Fitzpatrick
In 1516 B.C.E., Ireland was occupied by three races: the Fir Bholg, the Tuatha Dé Danann, and the Heidhbernigh. Nine years previously, the Danann had arrived in Ireland and claimed the northeast corner of the island for themselves. Though they ruled themselves, they had pledged fealty to the king of the Fir Bholgs in exchange for peace. Nonetheless, a kind of cold war state existed between them and tensions sometimes ran high. As of that time, the Danann are unaware that the Fir Bholg are simply proxies, acting on behalf of the true rulers of Ireland, the Fomóraigh. The Danann were ruled by their king, Nuada, whereas the king of the Fir Bholg was Sláinge Mac Dela. The Fomóraigh had a number of kings, but over them all was the High King, Balor of the Baleful Eye.
That same year, a minor Fir Bholg chieftain named Eochaidh Mac Eirc was conducting a raid against a Heidhbernigh village allied to the Danann, when he spied a Danann maiden bathing in a pool. He became enamored of her, seized her, and carried her back to his stronghold in Connacht, where he forced himself on her and got her with child. Only afterward did he discover that he had taken a cousin of Nuada, the Danann king, named Cruacha. Having been defiled with alien blood, Nuada refused to ransom her, so Eochaidh sent her to live in a nearby Heidhbernigh village as a bondwoman. The Heidhbernigh were frightened of her at first, partly because of the stories their Fir Bholg overseers told of Danann atrocities, partly because she was so alien looking, and partly because at first her attitude was one of haughty superiority. However, it soon became obvious that she was not used to the drudgery of working in the fields or tending animals, so they took pity on her and adopted her. Medb was born the following year.
Because of her mixed parentage, Medb looked enough like the Heidhbernigh children that she was accepted by them and their parents almost without question. Two things did, however, tend to set her apart. The first was that even as a child she was very charismatic. It was the Heidhbernigh who started calling her Medb, which in their language meant "she who intoxicates", and that was the name she tended to answer to, until even her mother called her that. The second was that she was brighter and cleverer than the Heidhbernigh children, as well as a quick learner, and she showed an innate talent for magic. The village druid noted it and asked his Fir Bholg superiors for permission to train her. He even began teaching her the basics, including the ability to talk to birds and small animals and to deduce the medicinal qualities of plants, when a Fir Bholg druid arrived to test her. He discovered that her talent ran deeper than his Heidhbernigh colleague suspected, so he decided to train her in Fir Bholg druidry. She was entitled, being half-Fir Bholg, and Eochaidh granted his permission (he often came to the village to visit Cruacha), so the druid took her back to his sacred grove to live with his other students. She learned quickly and in only a few years had exceeded the learning of students twice her age, but she also continued her training in Heidhbernigh druidry on her own.
Heidhbernigh druidry was based on nature-lore and woodcraft, but Fir Bholg druidry was based on earth magic and thus was more powerful. One thing she mastered that would benefit her all her life was the ability to draw energy from the ley-lines and nodes in the earth, to strengthen and revitalize her as needed. This made her nature-druidry more formidable, such that she was capable of feats only a master could normally perform. As such, at the age of eleven she was able to escape from the sacred grove, retrieved her mother, and together make for Danann lands. Though Eochaidh pursued them, he could never catch them, because Medb's druidic abilities allowed them to travel unseen through the roughest, most barren terrain, and to know where he was at all times and how best to avoid him.
They made it safely, but because of her Fir Bholg blood her cousin the king would not accept them back. So they found a Heidhbernigh village that was willing to take them in. Also in that village, Medb found an old druidess who agreed to teach her what of nature-druidry she still did not know. As before, it did not take her long, and once she had combined it with her earth-druidry, she became so powerful that she was even able to defeat her father's own magician in a contest of wills when he came to raid the village a year later. She was only twelve at the time.
When she was thirteen, a Danann bard came to the village and discovered that Medb had a talent for singing. She took her as an apprentice and taught her the bardic arts, plus as much of Danann science as she knew, as well some armed and unarmed combat skills. Her druidic training gave Medb insight into the magic of music, such that, while she was not as talented a singer or musician as her master, she nonetheless could achieve more powerful effects, especially at bardic satire. She also learned on her own the secret magical songs that could bend minds to her will and warp reality. When Medb entered puberty, the bard also taught her the romantic arts, encouraging her to practice on her own, and thus her promiscuous proclivities emerged at this time as well.
At nineteen, she was spurned by a Danann warrior she tried to seduce, because her fighting skills were inferior to his. In a fit of pique, she tried to join the Danann military academy, but they refused to accept her because she was a woman. So she disguised herself as a man and was taken as one of the handful of Heidhbernigh accepted each year. She managed to complete the three-year program without being discovered, despite taking a number of lovers among the other students, and at graduation, after receiving her diploma, she surprised and shocked everyone present by disrobing. Still, the warrior who had spurned her accepted her into his warband and she became his consort. However, her promiscuous proclivities proved too much for her, and she had affairs with each member of the band.
Medb nursed a grudge against the Fir Bholg because of the way her mother had been treated. As such, she never missed an opportunity to go raiding into their territory, and the increasing tensions since her birth gave her ample opportunity. Things had gone from bad to worse the year after she was born, when the Fir Bholg king had declared himself High King over all Ireland. Now it was no longer sufficient for Nuada to swear fealty, but to actually submit to being a mere vassal. Fortunately, there had been six High Kings in the twenty-two years since then, all of whom were more consumed with intrigue to pay too much attention to the Danann and the free Heidhbernigh. The most recent, however, was more secure, and he had spent the last couple of years increasing the tribute and decreeing oppressive new laws, so the Danann were becoming increasingly restless.
Most often she went raiding with her consort's warband, but she sometimes went alone. It was on one such solitary venture, when she was in her twenty-third year, that she encountered a warband of Fir Bholg. She killed them all accept their leader, Sreng, who defeated her in fair combat and took her captive. His intention was to ransom her, but he made a stop at the court of the Fir Bholg High King, Rinnal Mac Genann, before returning to his stronghold. There Rinnal became enamored of Medb and sought to possess her. He reminded Sreng that he owed him a debt equal to the price of three bondmaids, then offered to cancel the debt if he would give him Medb instead. The exchange was made, but before Rinnal could enjoy his acquisition, a Fomóraigh king named Elatha, who was visiting the court, offered to buy her for the price of seven bondmaids. Rinnal agreed, and Elatha took her back to his glass tower on one of the numerous small offshore islands.
Elatha was a powerful sorcerer and he placed a spell on her that prevented her from escaping and forced her to obey him in all things. When he discovered that she knew druidry, he demanded that she teach it to him. She agreed on the condition that he would teach her sorcery. He agreed to her terms and they began studying together. She learned quickly (though she hid this from him by pretending to be rather dull-witted), and she studied on her own, when Elatha was asleep or away. In this way, she learned far more than he believed he was teaching her, and she became adept at such disciplines as divination, alchemy, necromancy, sciomancy, daemonology, and especially thaumaturgy, at which Elatha excelled. But it still took her four years to learn the secret of the spell that bound her to the tower, during which time she bore Elatha a male child.
Finally, however, one day when Elatha was away at the court of the Fomóraigh High King, she broke the spell, abandoned the child, and escaped, swimming across the sea to the mainland. The Fomóraigh and the Fir Bholg pursued her, and she sought sanctuary with the Daoine Sídhe in one of their mounds. Though they tried to hold her, she managed to escape them after what seemed to be only a week in the mound, but was actually seven years in the outside world. She did, however, learn some of their glamour, including the ability to fly, to become invisible, and to alter her form and appearance.
Now thirty-four chronologically (but because of her druidic skills and the time she spent in the sídh mound still physically only twenty-five), she returned to the Heidhbernigh village, but when she arrived she discovered that her mother had died waiting for her to return. With nothing to tie her to that location, she joined the warband of Eochaidh Ollathair, known as the Daghda, and journeyed with him to the Danann capital, where she married him. Again, however, her promiscuous proclivities proved too much for her and she had a string of lovers, both male and female. The Daghda tried to stop her, but found he could not either by physical force or magical means, because she was too powerful, so he let her have her way. She eventually became the consort of Nuada, despite the fact that he was her cousin. Meanwhile, she continued raiding the Fir Bholg, as well as the Fomóraigh when she could. For her battle prowess and ferocity, the Danann called her Macha, the Fir Bholg called her Badbh, the Fomóraigh called her Nemhain, and the Heidhbernigh called her Morrigán.
By this time, Medb's father had become High King of the Fir Bholg, and he made continual trouble for the Danann. Relations between the two races quickly deteriorated, until finally the Fir Bholg declared war. It quickly turned into a stalemate as Fir Bholg numbers countered Danann technology and tactics. Nuada appealed to Medb for help, and she used her knowledge of her father's weaknesses to goad him into recklessly challenging Nuada to a showdown on the plain of Magh Tuiredh. Even so, the same factors as before stalemated the battle, until Eochaidh cut off Nuada's sword arm. At that point the Danann called a truce and offered to negotiate, but Eochaidh refused and the fighting continued. What no one else knew was that Medb had carefully orchestrated the events, to punish Nuada for his treatment of her mother after her capture and escape.
With Nuada out of the way, Medb assumed command, then used her magic to cause Eochaidh to develop a terrible thirst. He went looking for water, but she had caused all water sources but one to be hidden, and she waited at that one in ambush. She confronted him, fought him, defeated and captured him, and finally killed him in cold blood. She then took his head and presented it to the Fir Bholg high command, who agreed to negotiate a permanent truce.
Medb had assumed she had hated all Fir Bholg, but with the death of her father, she found that it was just him she hated. As such, when the Daghda and the other Dananns called for harsh reparations against the Fir Bholg, she counseled mercy, and Nuada listened to her. The Fir Bholg were granted Connacht as their domain, to rule as they saw fit, while the rest of the island was ceded to the Danann. Additionally, as the only surviving child of Eochaidh, Medb claimed the kingship of the Fir Bholg and became their champion in the court of the Danann. She had by this time lived thirty-eight years, but still looked twenty-five.
Now, at this time there lived among the Danann a warrior named Eochaidh Bres. He had arrived in the Danann court the same year that Medb had returned from the Daoine Sídhe. When she saw him a year later, she knew immediately that he was her son by Elatha. Though chronologically only ten years old, he looked to be in his mid-twenties, and she soon discovered that only she knew who his father was. However, he assured her that he had inherited none of the powers of his father and that he had rejected the Fomóraigh way of life, and she believed him. He had fought alongside the Danann in the Battle of Magh Tuiredh and had shown great bravery. He was also extremely handsome, a gifted musician and singer, and a spellbinding storyteller. The Danann loved him and he was very popular among the Heidhbernigh as well.
As such, when Nuada was forced to step down as king of the Danann, being maimed and therefore unfit to hold that office (their king had to be unblemished), Eochaidh Bres was unanimously chosen to succeed him, and while Medb was entitled to claim the High Kingship of Ireland, she relinquished it in his favor. In gratitude, he made her his chief counselor, and she hoped that through him she could unite the three races of Ireland into a coherent society.
At first Bres seemed to rule wisely and justly. But as time went on, Medb began to see hints and hear rumors of oppressions, first against the Fir Bholg, then the Heidhbernigh, and finally the Danann themselves. Medb tried to steer him along a more humane and just course, but the events only seemed to get worse, often going in the complete opposite direction of what she intended. More alarmingly, Bres began bringing in at first Fomóraigh advisors who usurped his Danann, Heidhbernigh, and Fir Bholg counselors, then Fomóraigh troops to enforce his decrees and keep order. Finally, even she came to realize that Bres had become a despot: for her the last straw came when Bres made Elatha his chief counselor above her. Then one day in the fifth year of Bres's reign, she surprised Bres and Elatha when they were in their true forms and she realized that Bres had lied to her; he had been a true Fomórach all along.
She fled the Danann capital and took refuge among the Fir Bholg in Connacht. There she developed a scheme to displace Bres as High King. She realized that the only person who could unite the Danann, Heidhbernigh, and Fir Bholg would be Nuada, but as long as he remained maimed he could not be a true leader. So she consulted with the Danann master physician, Dian Cécht, and the Danann master smith, Goibhnia, and together they devised and created a silver arm to replace the one Nuada lost. When it was attached to him and Medb activated it, it worked as well as his old one.
Now whole again, the oppressed races rallied to him, and he and Medb began to organize a resistance against Bres and the Fomóraigh. The alliance under Nuada overthrew Bres in the seventh year of his reign, and Medb declared Nuada High King. She also managed to capture Elatha. She was tempted to kill him, but found she could not, so she held him for ransom instead. Yet she treated him as a bondman so that he could know some of the humiliation he put her through.
Bres, however, managed to escape and he fled to the Fomóraigh to beg their assistance. Balor himself agreed to restore him to his rule and sent the entire Fomóraigh army to invade Ireland. Surprisingly, Nuada chose to surrender rather than fight, since his alliance was still too weak after deposing Bres to turn back the invasion. As a reward for his prudence, Balor left him as High King, but made Bres overlord, so that Nuada was little better than a puppet. Even so, that left Medb and the alliance free to conduct a resistance. Meanwhile, Medb learned through her powers of divination of a boy, half-Danann and half-Fomórach, who was destined to destroy the hegemony of the Fomóraigh forever. She sought him out and found him, a young man named Lugh, who was the son of a Danann warrior named Cian and a Fomóraigh princess named Ethlinn who was the daughter of the Balor. Lugh agreed to join the resistance after she seduced him.
In revenge for his deposition, Bres exacted a terrible tribute from the three races: two-thirds of their wheat, cattle, and children each year. He hoped to break them, but somehow they managed to persevere, in part because Medb used her magic to hide most of the crops, cattle, and children. It took them twenty-three years, but finally they managed to gather enough strength to revolt again. This time, Bres gathered the Fomóraigh army on the plan of Magh Tuiredh and the alliance went out to meet it. To their dismay, Balor himself had come to lead the battle. He was called Balor of the Baleful Eye because he had the ability to blast his opponents simply by looking at them. Fortunately, his eyelids were so heavy that he could only look at one opponent at a time. That allowed Medb, Nuada, and Lugh to devise a strategy. The three of them went to confront Balor, with Medb in the lead. Using the power she could draw from the earth, she erected an invisible shield before her, so that when Balor looked at her, the blast destroyed the shield but left her unharmed. She was, however, thrown off her feet and knocked unconscious. Nuada then attacked Balor with his sword, which no foe could resist. Unfortunately, though badly wounded, Balor was so strong that he was still alive when he opened his eyes and looked at Nuada, and Nuada was blasted to dust. By this time, Medb had recovered, and she advised Lugh on a change of strategy. They approached Balor with slings, and when the Fomórach opened his eyes to look at him, they hurled two stones, each of which hit Balor in the eyes. The stones were flung so strongly that they drove the eyes out the back of Balor's head, where they wrecked havoc among the Fomóraigh army. Thus weakened and demoralized, the Fomóraigh army broke, and Lugh and the alliance were able to defeat them and drive them into the sea. Medb captured Bres, but whereas Elatha offered a king's ransom for him, she killed him so he could not return one day to seek revenge.
Lugh was chosen to be High King, and he made Medb his consort; despite her being sixty-eight, she still looked to be in her mid-twenties. Yet she refused to curb her promiscuity and her numerous affairs alienated him. His jealousy steadily grew, until, when she seduced Cermait, a son of the Daghda, he became so enraged that he killed him. As a result she left him, and later helped the other sons of the Daghda kill Lugh in the fortieth year of his reign. She was by then 108, but still looked as a young woman.
The Daghda was then chosen to be High King, and he reigned for seventy years until he voluntarily stepped down in favor of Delbáeth Mac Aengus. He only reigned for ten years when he died and was replaced by his son, Fiacha Mac Delbáeth, who also reigned for just ten years. Medb was consort to all three, though as before she had numerous affairs, with both men and women. Then three brothers were chosen to be High King together: Éthur Mac Cermait, called Mac Cuill; Téthur Mac Cermait, called Mac Cecht; and Céthur Mac Cermait, called Mac Gréine. Medb married Mac Gréine, but she acted as consort for the other two brothers as well.
In the thirtieth year of their reign, a Gael named Ith arrived from Spain with his brothers and their families. He had seen Ireland from the top of his tower and had thought it a good place to settle. Medb advised the High Kings to welcome them and give them land in the south of the island. They agreed, but then treacherously killed Ith and his brothers. The families were able to escape with Medb's help, and then she learned through her powers of divination that the Gaels would conquer Ireland, so she decided to throw her lot in with them. Sure enough, the next year, the sons of Ith's nephew Mileadh, who were called the Milesians, invaded. The Danann first tried to hide the island behind a fog bank, but the leader of the Milesians, Amhairghin, used his magic to pierce the cloud. Then the Dananns tried to drive the Milesians away with a raging storm, but Amhairghin quelled the storm with his singing. When the Milesians finally landed, the Danann attacked them to prevent them from establishing a beachhead, but they defeated them and drove them inland.
It was then that Medb approached the Milesian leader. She offered her help in defeating the Danann in exchange for becoming High Queen of all Ireland. Amhairghin agreed to her terms, and following her advice they surprised the Danann at Tailtiu, where they defeated them after a pitched battle. Medb herself killed each of the brothers. Amhairghin kept his word; he made Medb High Queen over Milesian, Danann, Fir Bholg, and Heidhbernigh alike, and she took him as her consort. She then appointed the brothers Eibhear Finn and Eremon to rule the Milesians and serve as High Kings under her sovereignty. Finally, she divided up Ireland between the four races. The Fir Bholg received Connacht, the Danann Ulaidh, and the Milesians Mamu. The Heidhbernigh received Laigin, but they were also allowed to live in any province where they had villages. Medb also made the Danann turn their capital over to the Milesians, who renamed it Tara. She claimed the capital as her own domain and created a new province around it, which she named Mide. She had by this time lived for 228 years.
The Danann tried to live in peace with the Milesians, but they chafed under what they considered to be unfair laws. So the last Danann kings made a pact with the Daoine Sdhe to depose Medb as High Queen and take the rule of Erin for themselves. They attacked when she was officiating at a ceremony in Tara. They seized Tara, but she was able to escape. She then put together a coalition of Heidhbernigh, Fir Bholg, and Milesians, but was unable to retake the capital. As such, she went to see Finn Bheara, the king of the Sídhe, inside his mound, and made a deal with him to withdraw his support. When he did so, the Danann were unable to stand against her coalition and she was able to defeat them and kill the Danann kings. The remaining Danann, led by the Daghda, then retreated into the Otherworld.
Meanwhile, the only Fomóraigh kings to survive the Second Battle of Magh Tuiredh were Cromcruac and Elatha. Cromcruac took for himself the high kingship of the Fomóraigh, and he appointed Elatha to be his chamberlain, to handle the day to day requirements of rule. However, he could think of nothing but getting revenge on Medb for the death of his son and the defeat of the Fomóraigh. He had in his possession an artifact he had found years earlier. Using it, he opened up a gate to permit the Archons to come to Earth. He made a pact with them and unleashed them on Ireland . To stop them, Medb formed an alliance of Heidhbernigh, Milesians, Fir Bholg, Danann, and Sídhe to defeat Elatha. While the Sídhe and Danann held off the Archons, Medb led the other races in an invasion of the Fomóraigh islands. The alliance crushed the Fomóraigh, Medb seized the artifact, then used it to drive the Archons off Earth and seal the gate. Cromcruac went into hiding, but Medb caught and killed Elatha.
However, the Milesians had grown tired of wars seemingly caused by or fought on behalf of their High Queen. They had lost Eibhear Finn, though Eremon survived, and even Amhairghin had grown tired of her imperious ways and her promiscuous activities. So they deposed her themselves and Amhairghin placed a geis on her that exiled her from the island, until such time as Ireland would again be threatened by external invasion.
Back to an Leabhar Mhéibhe.