"The new king awaits you, Lady Eriu," said the goddess Brighid, as she walked through the sunlit meadow with her red wool gown trailing over the lush green grass and the bright yellow primroses. "I wonder if your anticipation is anywhere near as great as his."
Eriu looked up from her seat on the sun-warmed boulder and smiled faintly at her sister goddess. "He cannot be a king if I do not find him worthy. No doubt his apprehension is great indeed."
Brighid stood before her and took Eriu's hands in her own. "My dear sister, I do not mean simply whether he will become the next High King or no. I am thinking of the ritual itself. Does it truly mean no more to you than the mere appointment of yet another leader for the world of Men?"
Gently Eriu withdrew her hands and gazed out over the meadow to the tall deep forest of oak and holly that surrounded it. As it always was here in the Otherworld, that mystical plane of existence where the gods and goddesses made their home, the season was springtime and the weather sunlit and pleasant. She stood up and took a few slow steps across the soft thick grass, smoothing her green wool gown as she paced.
"I have performed the kingmaking ritual countless times," Eriu said. "From the very first days, when the gods and goddesses began to teach mortals to live as humans and not as animals, the task that fell to me as the Goddess of the Land was to confer Sovereignty on the king--to show his people in the clearest terms that this man was worthy to be their king."
Brighid nodded, taking a step towards her. "And since the king is no less than the husband and protector of the Land, it is only right that no other but the Goddess of the Land--the Goddess of Eire--should be the one to approve him."
"Indeed. I have never turned away from this duty. Each time a new king is chosen, I leave the Otherworld and step into the world of Men...there to test the man they have put forward and decide whether he is worthy of being a king."
"Yet you do this in the most intimate manner possible for any woman, Lady Eriu--for any woman, goddess or no. If the man passes your test, you take him as your husband for that night."
Eriu turned and smiled at Brighid, calmly meeting her gaze. "So I do. A goddess can show no greater approval for any mortal man than to take him as a mate, even if only for a night. No one can doubt that such a man is worthy to be king."
"But, Eriu--I have often wondered how difficult this is for you. As you say, you have done this since the beginning and that is a very long time. I know what a gentle and caring spirit you truly are. Is it enough for you to simply take a mate for one night and then coolly turn your back and walk away from him, never to see him again? Does this not affect your heart?"
Eriu started to answer then paused. She glanced up at the slanting rays of the sun as it began to approach the trees and mountains to the west.
"I cannot allow my heart to be a part of the kingmaking ritual," she said at last. "If I should allow myself to fall in love with any Man, how could I ever lie with another to make that one a king?" She shook her head. "I vowed as the Goddess of the Land to do this thing for the Land where Men live, and I will keep that vow."
"Yet it seems to me too much to ask of any woman to set aside her own need for love and companionship in order to serve the world of Men. Perhaps you have done this thing long enough. Perhaps it is time--"
"I do not perform the kingmaking ritual only to help the people of the natural world," Eriu said quickly, her eyes narrowing. "I do it for love of the Land itself, to make certain it always has a worthy guardian and protector.
"I am no warrior. A sword would cut me down as quickly as it would any Man. I cannot protect the Land itself. But I can find the Men who will--and so I do."
"So you do. And I understand why," Brighid said. "But even a goddess has need of a mate and a companion who will be there for more than just one night--of someone to whom she can give the love that is now saved only for the Land. And a broken heart can be as deadly as any sword."
Brighid took a step toward Eriu. "We have all spent time walking among the people of the natural world. We, too, may be drawn by the beauty of the Men. We may well choose to spend a night or a year or even a lifetime with a mortal mate, and then simply return to the Otherworld when that lifetime draws to a close as it must for each one of them. Even a goddess cannot prevent that."
"Indeed she cannot," Eriu said quietly. "And you are right, Lady Brighid, I do hear the calling of my heart, and I do wonder what it might be like to have the love and companionship of one of those fine kings for more than just one night. Yet to do so, I would have to turn my back on the Land that also has my love. How could I do such a thing, my sister? How could I ever do such a thing?"
Brighid had no answer for her. Eriu lifted the hem of her dark green gown, turned away from the setting sun and began to walk toward the east, toward the world of Men.