The Wooing of Becfola
We do not know where Becfola came from. Nor do we know for certain where she went to. We do not even know her real name, for the name Becfola, Dowerless or Small-dowered, was given to her as a nickname. This only is certain, that she disappeared from the world we know of, and that she went to a realm where even conjecture may not follow her.
It happened in the days when Dermod, son of the famous Áed Sláine, was monarch of all Ireland. He was unmarried, but he had many foster-sons, princes from the Four Provinces, who were sent by their fathers as tokens of loyalty and affection to the Ard Rí, and his duties as a foster-father were righteously acquitted. Among the young princes of his household there was one, Crimthann mac Áedo, King of Leinster, whom the High King preferred to the others over whom he held fatherly sway. Nor was this wonderful, for the lad loved him also, and was as eager and intelligent and modest as becomes a prince.
The High King and Crimthann would often set out from Tara to hunt and hawk, sometimes unaccompanied even by a servant; and on these excursions the king imparted to his foster-son his own wide knowledge of forest craft, and advised him generally as to the bearing and duties of a prince, the conduct of a court, and the care of a people.
Dermod mac Áed delighted in these solitary adventures, and when he could steal a day from policy and affairs he would send word privily to Crimthann. The boy, having donned his hunting gear, would join the king at a place arranged between them, and then they ranged abroad as chance might direct.
On one of these adventures, as they searched a flooded river to find the ford, they saw a solitary woman in a chariot driving from the west.
I wonder what that means? the king exclaimed thoughtfully.
Why should you wonder at a woman in a chariot? his companion inquired, for Crimthann loved and would have knowledge.
Good, my Treasure, Dermod answered, our minds are astonished when we see a woman able to drive a cow to pasture, for it has always seemed to us that they do not drive well.
Crimthann absorbed instruction like a sponge and digested it as rapidly.
I think that is justly said, he agreed.
But, Dermod continued, when we see a woman driving a chariot of two horses, then we are amazed indeed.
When the machinery of anything is explained to us we grow interested, and Crimthann became, by instruction, as astonished as the king was.
In good truth, said he, the woman is driving two horses.
Had you not observed it before? his master asked with kindly malice.
I had observed but not noticed, the young man admitted.