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(Richard King) Deirdre of the Sorrows
Image by Fergal of Claddagh
AVENGING AND BRIGHT
Avenging and bright fall the swift sword of Erin
On him who the brave sons of Usna betrayed!
For every fond eye he hath wakened a tear in
A drop from his heart-wounds shall weep o’er her blade.
By the red cloud that hung over Conor’s dark dwelling,
When Ulster’s three champions lay sleeping in gore
By the billows of war, which so often, high swelling,
Have wafted these heroes to victory’s shore.
We swear to avenge them! – no joy shall be tasted,
The harp shall be silent, the maiden unwed,
Our halls shall be mute, and our fields shall lie wasted,
Till vengeance is wreak’d on the murderer’s head.
Yes, monarch! though sweet are our home recollections,
Though sweet are the tears that from tenderness fall;
Though sweet are our friendships, our hopes, our affections,
Revenge on a tyrant is sweetest of all!
DEIRDRE OF SORROWS
YEARS passed away, and the memory of their old feuds died down between Fergus Mac Roy and Conor mac Nessa. Fergus in his old age wearied for his home and country, and for the comrades of his youth. The private wars of Meave had little interest for him, and the tidings that came from time to time from his own province stirred in him a longing to be back. So at length he bade farewell to Meave, and with the most part of his followers he returned to Ulster, and settled in his own fort again. In order to keep his allegiance, Conor gave him a position next himself, and in all outward things showed him honour, but all the while he watched him jealously, and Fergus knew well that Conor would be glad to find a good excuse to shut him up in bonds or to put him to death. Conor feared his power with the people, and their pride and affection for him who once had been their ruler, and in his mind Conor knew well that he sat in Fergus’ seat, and that many of the older chiefs would willingly have seen their rightful prince once more upon the throne. As old age came on him, Conor grew more wily and suspicious year by year, so that some men dreaded and some hated him, and few felt for him affection or true reverence. Yet among the youthful generation growing up, the reign of Fergus and his mighty deeds were but a tale told by their fathers of their own youthful days; and though they looked with awe upon his mighty stature ^and his massive form, Fergus seemed to them more like a giant of the ancient time, or like a hoary god, than like a being of human kind as they were, feeling the needs and passions of a man.
Ulster was now at peace, and quietly the days rolled by. Once more the sound of laughter rang out from the playing-fields. New boys, grown out of babyhood, played the old sports, lads brave and manly as those of other days; but older men, passing, would shake their heads and wipe away a tear, for still the shadow of the tragedy that met the young men at the ford hung over them. And many a mother wept at night remembering a bright boy, her pride and darling, swept away con tending for Cú Chulain and for Ulster against the warriors of Meave.
From time to time, in days of peace, the chiefs of Ulster, each in his turn, made a feast for Conor and the nobles in his company, the famous Champions of the Red Branch. In his turn, Phelim, son of Doll, the chief of Conor’s storytellers and his close friend, made such a feast for Conor.
For a whole year had Phelim been preparing for the coming of Conor. He built a noble banqueting hall close to his house, and sleeping rooms for Conor’s followers, and stables for their steeds. From all the country round the farmers brought butter and cream, fresh curds and cheeses, cakes and wheaten bread. Cattle and sheep and swine for the royal banquet were brought in, and fruits and onions, honey and strong ale were stored in plenty in Phelim’s vats and store houses.
He gathered together singing men and singing women, musicians who played upon the fiddle and the harp, and the best tellers of stories that were to be found in all the country-side.
On the day appointed, Conor set out in state from Armagh, with the Champions of the Red Branch in his train. Fair was the day and bright when Conor and his followers set out, each in his chariot drawn by two spirited steeds, each decked in his festal array, in mantles of rich crimson, blue or purple, fastened with massive brooches of pure gold, wondrously chased and set with stones of price brought out of distant lands. Upon their heads their helmets of bright bronze shone in the sun, and on their spear-points the sunlight danced so that they seemed to move along beneath a flashing line of gold. But as they neared the hall the sky grew overcast and black with clouds, and at the fall of night a wind arose and blew up clouds of heavy dust that dimmed their brilliancy, so that they reached the mansion of Phelim besmirched and blown about and very weary.
Hardly had the chariot of Conor drawn up within the court, than a roll of thunder, loud and terrible, resounded overhead, while floods of rain poured down, and a fierce tempest seemed to shake the building to its foundations.
“An awful night is this," said Phelim; “close to the doors and bid the singing men and women make bright cheerful music in the hall."
But all in vain they tried to cheer the guests. Louder the tempest roared, and peal on peal of thunder, such as none of them had ever heard before, made all hearts quail.
“No common storm is this," said Conor, “I have forebodings that some ill will fall upon the province from this night."
But Phelim busied himself to push on the feast, and when all were seated at the board, with servers carving the great joints and wine poured out, a lull came in the storm, and Phelim thought that all was well at last. But scarcely had Conor begun to eat, when a swift messenger came running in.
“Great Conor," he proclaimed, "a child is born to Phelim, a fine fair fashioned girl; let Phelim come and see his wife and child."
But Phelim said, “Be silent now, let not the feast be broken by your news. When once the feast is done and Conor served, I’ll come and see the child."
Beside Conor sat Caffa, the first Druid of the province, an aged man. He heard the message, and up rose.
“A child is born to our host, Great Conor, while we are present here. I will go forth and by the stars find out her destiny, whether to Phelim and his wife comes joy or woe with this girl’s birth."
“Go forth," Conor replied, “not less than this is due to our good host. Fair be the fate that will befall to him and his entire house because this child is born."
Then Caffa went far out beyond the house, and at the outer rath he stood awhile, trying behind the drifting clouds to read the stars. The quarter of the moon he calculated carefully, and in what constellations the wandering stars, the planets, lay. In his old books and tablets, carried within the folds of his wide flowing robes, was gathered all the ancient wizard’s lore, the wisdom of his craft. Closely he scanned the lines, and with unusual care he drew the horoscope. And now and then he started, as though things surprising to himself were found therein.
So long he lingered, that, when at length he closed his tablets made of soft wood and written o’er with runes, and turned him to the house, Conor and all his company had quite forgot the child, and loud uproarious laughter rang throughout the hall, and sallies of keen wit and merry song as the full horns of mead and ale passed round from hand to hand. So at the door a moment Caffa stood; and in his face was dreadful warning, and a look so strange, that all the laughter died away, and silence, sudden and complete, fell on the company.
" Well," said Conor, and laughed, though fear smote on his mind, “we hope the omens prophesy good luck; we drink a horn of mead to the maid’s good health; may she thrive, grow fair and marry well, and to her parents bring no harm or ill."
“Not to her parents will this child bring ill, but to the province, and to Ulster’s rulers and chiefs. Fair she will be, so fair that queens will soon grow jealous of her beauty and kings will wage red war to gain her hand. I see her, tall and stately as a swan or as the sapling of the mountain-side; her cheek the ruddy foxglove puts to shame, her skin is white as winter’s driven snow. Like the soft hyacinth is the deep, liquid blue of her sweet eyes, and teeth, like pearls, gleam between crimson lips. Like to a crown of gold her clustering hair, gathered in rolls about her shapely head. She walks apart, alone, like a fair flower hidden within a dell, yet all around her and wherever she comes are tumults and the sounds of rolling war, and broken friendships and black treachery. I see that she is destined for marriage to a great man, but something comes between her and her fate. Beware, Great Conor; this maid is born for ill to Ulster, and the downfall of the Red Branch and its noble Champions."
Up-sprang the Heroes of the Red Branch then, and one and all cried out that if upon the province ill must fall because of this one babe, it would be better by far to put the child to death while she was young, and rid the land of her. But Conor held them back. “Bring the babe hither," he said, "and let us see this harbinger of ill."
Then came the babe all swathed in white and lying, soft and fair, within her nurse’s arms. And when the infant saw the lights and heard the sounds of singing, she was pleased, and puckered up her baby face and looked up, at Conor and crowed and smiled. At this Conor was moved to gentleness; he rose up from his seat and took the babe out of her nurse’s arms and loudly he pro claimed before them all: “The prophecies and omens of the seers I do most strictly honour and believe. No man can fly from fate, nor can man set aside his destiny. The mandates of the gods of earth and air and fire, the Unchanging Elements, must be fulfilled. Yet will I not believe that any good can come of an ignoble act. No man or hero of a noble mind for his own good would slay a helpless babe, neither then for the good of Ulster shall this foul, cowardly deed be done. The child shall live, and if she prove as fair as Caffa says, one part at least of his grim prophecy shall be fulfilled, for I will take the girl as my own wife when she is come to marriageable age, and so she shall be wedded to great man. And here I do declare to one and all, I take this child under my special charge and make myself responsible for her. I bring her up in my own way, and he who lifts his hand against the child must after reckon with Conor himself."
Then Fergus, Conall Cernach, and the rest arose and said:
“Conor’s protection is a circling wall through which no man may break. We, the Champions of the Red Branch and your own chiefs, do well observe and will fulfil your will. Even though trouble happen through her life, the child shall live."
So said they all. Then Caffa said: "Alas! Alas! Great Conor, you and your chiefs will live to rue this day. Great woes are bound up with the destiny before this little maid, and all the world will hear of them and weep. A child of sorrow is this child, and ‘Deirdre of Sorrows’ is her name."
"So be it," said Conor, "I like the name; when Deirdre is of age to foster with a nurse, bring her to me."
AS soon as she was weaned, Conor took the child away from her own parents, as was the custom in those olden days, and put her out to foster with a nurse, Leabharcham, a wise and skilful dame, who told Conor from day to day how Deirdre fared. And for the first seven years Deirdre grew up within the royal household, petted and loved by all, and she was richly fed and robed in silk, and nourished like a princess, for all in the palace knew that this young lovely child was destined to be mated with Conor. Often she spent her days upon the playing fields, and watched the young Men practising their sports, and joined their games and laughed with glee like any other child. Thus happily and gaily passed the years for Deirdre, till one day when she was playing ball among the little lads, Conor came down to watch their play. He saw how like a flower Deirdre grew, half like the opening daisy, pink and white, half like the slender harebell on its stem, graceful and delicate; and though he was an old man, and had been a widower for now many years, and the child but a babe of seven years, a sudden jealousy smote at his aged heart. He saw the girl surrounded by the lads, who tossed the ball into her little lap or into her small apron held out to catch it as it fell. And every time she caught it, her ringing childish laugh broke out, and all the boys cried, “Well, caught, O Deirdre; bravely caught, our little Queen!” For to them all, it was well-known that this small child was kept by Conor for himself, to share his throne and home; so oft in play they called her the “Little Queen."
Then Conor called his Druid Caffa to him, and he said, “Too long we leave this child at liberty among the chieftain’s sons. She must henceforth be kept apart and quite forget that there are younger men than you or me. If she grows up among these lads, most certainly the day will come when she will wish to wed some chief of her own age. See, even now, the lads bend to her will; she rules them like a queen indeed, and gladly they obey her. When she is grown to maidenhood, small chance for me, an aged man, when comes the time to woo."
“Conor woos not," said Caffa, "he commands, and none dare disobey."
"Still I would rather have a willing bride," Conor replied; "I want no girl to be my royal mate who craves and hankers for some other man among my subjects. She shall come to me of her own free will, because she knows no other man but me. She shall not even know what kind of thing a man may be, for I will shut her up apart from men, and, save yourself and me, she shall not ever see a manly face."
“Conor commands," said Caffa, slowly, "and it must be done as he desires. But yet I fear the maid will pine in her captivity. The bride you wed will be a lily pale as death, and not a maiden in her blooming loveliness."
“She shall have space and air and garden ground," Conor replied, "only she shall not ever see a human face, save yours and mine, and nurse Leabharcham’s."
So for the girl he built a place apart, far off from Armagh in a lonely dell, surrounded by a wood. A simple stately house was reared, surrounded by an orchard of rare fruits. Behind the house a garden and a piece of barren moor, and through the wood a gently-flowing stream that wandered amid carpets of bright flowers. And all seemed fair enough, but round the place he built a mighty wall, so high that none could climb it and a moat ran round within. Four savage man-hounds sent by Conor were on constant guard, watching on every side by night and day, so that no living thing could enter or pass out, save with the knowledge of Leabharcham.
And for a time the child was happy, for Leabharcham, the wise woman, taught her all she knew. She taught her how each bird sings to its mate, each different note of thrush or cuckoo or the soaring lark; she taught her of the plants that spring towards heaven, their roots deep hidden in the yielding soil, and of their names and uses, and the way they fructified and sent out shoots, and of the fruits they bore. And in the solemn night, they went abroad and watched the motion of the stars, and marked the wandering planets how they carved out their own path among the rest, and all the changes of the moon the maiden knew, and how to calculate the time of day by shadows on the grass. There was no bird upon the spray, nor herb among the plants, nor star in heaven, but Deirdre had a name for each and all.
And ever and anon, Conor came and sat with her and talked, and brought her gifts to while away the time; and because the days were long and passed one like the other without any change, she liked his coming, and would call him “Father," and make tales for him, and sing her songs and show the little garden she had made herself alone.
And Deirdre grew up tall and stately as the sapling of the forest, and lithe as the green moorland rush that bows before the wind. Of all the women of the world was Deirdre the gentlest and best, lovely of form and lovely in her mind; light as the hind that leaps upon the hill, and white and shapely as the snowy swan. But though they tended her, and fed her with the best, the maiden drooped and pined.
And one day Leabharcham said, "What ails you, girl? Why is your face so pale, your step so slow? Why dost you sigh and mope?”
And Deirdre said, "I know not, nurse, what ails me; but I think I should be well if once again I saw the boys upon the playing fields, and heard their shouts, and tossed the ball with them."
“Fie, fie," replied the nurse, "it is seven full years since on the green you played at ball. A child of but seven years were you at that time, and now full fourteen years have come and gone, and you are growing into maidenhood." “Seven bitter years," said Deirdre, “since I saw the joyous playing field, and saw the sports, and marked the manly face of Naoise, noblest and bravest of the corps of boys."
"Naoise, the son of Usna?” asked Leabharcham, much surprised.
"Naoise was his name, he told me so," said Deirdre; “but I did not ask whose son he was."
"He told you so?” Leabharcham asked again.
"He told me so," said Deirdre, “when he threw the ball, by a miscast, backward, across the heads of the group of maidens who were standing on the edge of the green, and I rose up among them all, picked up the ball, and gave it back to him. He pressed my hand and smiled, and promised he would see me oft again; but never since that day, that fatal day, when Conor brought me to this lonely place, have he or I saw each other more. Bring Naoise here, O nurse, that I may once again see his face, so bright and boyish, with its winning smile; then shall I live and laugh and love my life again."
"Speak not like this, O Maiden," exclaimed the nurse. "Today Conor comes for his visit. We are in winter now, but in the budding of the spring, he takes you hence to Armagh, there to claim you as his wife."
"Conor no doubt is kind," the girl replied, "and means me well, but he is old and grey, and in his face is something that I do not like. I think he could be cruel and that if any man stood in his way, he would not hesitate to lay a trap to catch him, as Caffa snared the little mouse that ran about my room and kept me company. Yet will I go with him to Armagh, for I think that somewhere among the people of the court, I shall find Naoise out."
"Hush, hush," the nurse replied, "Naoise is now a little boy no longer, but the foremost of all Ulster’s younger chiefs, the hero of the Red Branch, and the favourite of Conor. Speak not of Naoise to Conor, or may hap some harm will come to him."
" Then will I never speak his name, or tell of him," the girl replied, "though in my dreams I see him every night playing at ball with me; but when he flings the ball for me to catch, ’tis ever the same thing. Conor comes between and seizes it, and throws it back at Naoise. So can I never catch and hold it in my hands, and I am vexed and weep.
But last night, O good nurse, Conor flung the ball craftily at his head, and Naoise fell all red and stained with blood, like that poor calf that Caffa slew, thinking that I could eat it for my food. The little tender calf that played with me! Upon the winter’s frosty floor I saw its blood, all crimson-red upon the driven snow, and as I looked I saw a raven that stooped down to sip the blood; and, O dear nurse, I thought of Naoise then, for all his hair, as I remember it, was dark and glossy like the raven’s wing, and in his cheeks the ruddy glow of health and beauty, like the blood, and white his skin like snow. Dear nurse, dear nurse, let me see Naoise once again, and send Conor away."
“Alas! alas!” Leabharcham said; "most difficult indeed is your desire, for far away is Naoise, and he dare not come within this fort. High is the wall and deep the moat, and fierce the blood-hounds watching at the gates."
“At least," said Deirdre, "procure for me from Caffa that I may once in a while wander without the fort and breathe the open air upon the moor; this wall frowns on me like an enemy holding me in his grasp and stifling me, surely I die ever long within these heavy walls. But on the moor, where no man comes (if you must have it so), I’d see at least the grouse winging its flight, and hear the plover and the bittern call, and pluck the heather and the yellow gorse in summer time. O nurse, dear nurse, have pity on your child."
When Leabharcham saw the misery of the maid, she feared that Conor would upbraid her with neglect because her cheek grew pale, and her young joy seemed gone; and so that night she spoke to Caffa, and he said, "I think no harm could come if we should let the maiden walk out upon the wild hillside. No human creature, save a stray hunter following the deer, or a poor shepherd garnering his sheep, or some strange homeless wanderer, ever sets his foot upon this lonesome moor. Far off are we from any human habitation; and the maid droops, indeed. Let her go out, but keep her well in sight; to climb the hill top and to roam the heather moor as spring comes on, will bring fresh colour into her pale cheeks, and fit her for the wooing of Conor."
So from that time, Deirdre went out upon the upland moor, and soon she knew each nook and stream and bit of forest-land for miles around. She learned the zigzagged flight of the long-billed snipe, she knew the otter’s marshy lair, and where the grouse and wild duck made their nests. She fed the timid fawn, wild, trustful as herself, and made a dear companion of a fox that followed her as though it were a dog; and once, while Leabharcham stayed below, she climbed the dizzy height where golden eagles had built their nest upon the mountain’s crest, and smoothed the eaglets with her own soft hand. And so she grew in health, and all her spirit came to her again, and when Conor came to visit her, he thought that in his dreams and in the long life he had passed among the best of Ireland’s women, he had never seen or dreamed of a girl so lovely as this blood-drop of the moor. Eagerly he began to reckon up the days until, her fifteenth birthday being passed, he should bring her down to Armagh, and take her as his wife. But of her ways he knew not, only Caffa and Leabharcham knew.
ON a wild wintry night while things were so, there came into the neighbourhood a hunter of wandering game, who had lost his course and his companions. The man was tired with travelling among the hills all day, and in the dark cloudy night, with the mist rising round him from the hills, he laid him down outside the garden within which Deirdre dwelt, and fell asleep. Weak he was with hunger and fatigue, and numb with cold, and deep sleep fell upon the man. Sleep-wandering came upon him then, and he thought that he was close beside a warm hollowed-out fairy mound, and in his dreams he heard fairy music, soft and sweet. In his sleep he called aloud that if there were any one at all in the fairy mound, they would open the mound and let him in, for the sake of the Good Being.
Now Deirdre had not slept that night, and she had arisen and with her nurse had moved about the grounds to seek for warmth of exercise. Just as they turned to go back within the house out of the chill and heavy mist, Deirdre heard the faint feeble voice of the weary man outside the gate.
“Leabharcham, what is that?” she asked and stopped.
Leabharcham knew it was a human voice, but she replied, "Only a thing of little worth, the birds of the air have gone astray, and are seeking one another; let them hie away to the forest of branches" and she tried to draw Deirdre towards the house.
Again sleep-wandering came on the man, and he called out again and louder than before, that if there were any in the fairy mound, for the sake of the Being of the Elements they would arise and let him in.
“What is that, Leabharcham?” said the girl again.
"Only a thing of little sense, the birds of the woods are gone astray from each other, and are seeking to come together again. Let them hie them away to the forest of branches."
The third time came sleep-wandering upon the hunter, and he called aloud that if there were any within the mound, they would let him in for the sake of the God of the Elements, for he was benumbed with cold and parched with hunger.
“Oh! what is that, Leabharcham?” said Deirdre.
“Nought there is in that to bring gladness to you, maiden; it is but the birds of the air who have lost one another in the woods; let them hie away into the forest of branches. Neither shelter or home will they get from us this night."
"Oh! Leabharcham, it was in the name of the God of the Elements that the bird asked shelter of us; and oft have you told me that anything asked of us in His name should willingly be done. If you would not allow me to bring in the bird that is benumbed with cold and sore with hunger, I myself will doubt your teaching and your faith. But as I believe in your teaching and your faith, as you yourself did explain it to me, I myself will let in the bird." So Deirdre turned back to the gate and drew the bar from the door, and let in the hunter. She brought him into the house, and placed a seat in the place of sitting, food in the place of eating, and drink in the place of drinking, for the man who had come home.
“Go on and eat your food, for indeed you are in need of it," said Deirdre.
“Well, I was in truth needful of food and of drink and of warmth when I came to the door of this home," said the hunter, "but these are all gone from me now that I see you, maiden."
Then Leabharcham was angry with the man, and spoke sharply to him: “It is too ready on your tongue the talk is, O man, with your food and with your drink. It would be better for you to keep your mouth shut and your tongue dumb in return for the shelter we are giving you on a cold winter’s night."
"Well," said the hunter, "I may keep my mouth shut and my tongue dumb if it suits you, but by your father’s two hands and your own, there are some others of the world’s men who, if they but saw this blood-drop you are hiding here, it is not long that they would leave her here with you."
"What people are those and where are they? ‘ said Deirdre, eagerly.
"I will tell you that, maiden," said the hunter. “There are three heroes of the Red Branch, Naoise, Ainle, and Arden, sons of Usna, brothers, who, if they saw you, would bear you hence to some other place than this."
"What like are these three brothers of whom you speak? ‘ cried Deirdre, and all her face blushed to a rosy red.
"Like the colour of a raven their dusky hair, tossed back from each high, shining brow; their skin white as the plumage of a swan, their cheeks like to a red-deer’s coat, or like your own cheeks, maiden. They swim and leap and run as strong and stately as the salmon of the stream, or as the stag upon the dappled hill, ‘twixt sun and shade; but Naoise, when he stands upright, towers a head and shoulders above all the men around him. Such are the sons of Usna, noble maid."
But Leabharcham interfered: "However be those men of whom you speak, off with you now and take another road that comes not past this way. Small is my gratitude for all your small talk, and well for her who let you in had you died of your cold and hunger at the door, and never come within for food and drink."
The hunter went his way; but he bethought himself that if he told the sons of Usna of the lovely blood-drop he had seen, they might free the maiden out of Leabharcham’s hands, and do a good deed to him also for telling them that there was such a damsel as Deirdre on the surface of the living dewy world. So he told his tale to Naoise and said to him that there dwelt, far away on the distant moor, shut in between high walls, the loveliest maiden that ever was born in Ireland, and that none lived beside her but an aged nurse and an old Druid, so that Deirdre was like a tender flower over-shadowed by two ancient branchy trees, that hid her from the air and sun.
When Naoise heard that, he said, "Who is the maid and where is she, whom no man hath seen but you, if, indeed, seen her you have?"
"Truly I have seen her," said the hunter, "but no one else could find her save I myself should guide him."
Then Naoise said that he would go; but Arden and Ainle tried to dissuade him, for they said, "What if the girl should be the maid Conor hath destined to himself?”
But from far-off to the mind of Naoise there came a memory of a young child, scarce seven years old, whom on the playing-fields he once had seen and promised to see again, but who had disappeared that very day, and never from that day to this had he set eyes upon the girl. So all his brothers could devise served not to turn him from his purpose; and at dawn of the next day, amid the early carolling of birds, in the mild morning dawn of fragrant May, when all the bush was white with hawthorn-bloom, and dew-drops glistened from every point of sapling, bush, and plant, they four set out, going in search of the retired place where Deirdre dwelt.
"Yonder it is, down on the floor of the glen," the hunter said, when at the fall of eve they stood upon the mountain-brow above the house, so well concealed in trees that many times they might have passed it by and never known that any house was near.
"I care not for myself to see again the woman who lives therein; sharp is her tongue, unwelcoming her words. I leave you then, good luck go with you, but if you will be advised, go not near the house. At every gate are blood-hounds, and Leabharcham bite is nigh as fierce as theirs."
From day to day the sons of Usna stayed among the hills that circled Deirdre’s home. But for awhile Leabharcham feared to let her charge go out, for soon would Conor come to claim her, and Leabharcham thought, “If aught should happen or the girl should slip between my hands, small pity would Conor have for me." But as time passed, and Deirdre pined again for open air and sunshine, and the walks she loved, and fretted for the fox that looked for her, and for her woodland company of beasts and birds, Leabharcham once again took the girl abroad, and oft they sat upon the open hill and watched the sun go down, or brought their work and passed the long spring mornings on the heather, happy because the sunshine was so warm, the air so sweet, and all the world so fresh with herbs and flowers. One day they long had sat thus drinking in the sun, and while Leabharcham dozed and nodded with the heat and the fatigue of climbing up the hill, Deirdre from time to time would leave her side to seek some plant or follow a butterfly that passed across her path. Reaching the summit of the hill she saw three men whose like she never in her life before had set her eyes upon. They were not bent, like Caffa, or wrinkled, like Conor when he came; nor were they dark and roughly clad, with shaggy beards, like the one hunter who had made his way to her abode. These men were young and lithe, straight as the pine and shapely as the stag. But one above the rest towered head and shoulders high, his raven locks thrown back, his blue eye scanning the entire mountain for trace of fawn or deer. Beside them, in the leash, three noble hounds; and as they paced along the up land track, Deirdre sat mute in wonder, for in all her life never had she seen such goodly men as these. But suddenly, as they drew near, a flash of inspiration came upon her mind; she knew that these were The sons of Usna, that he who overtopped the rest was Naoise, the boy who long ago had thrown the ball with her. The brothers passed her by, not seeing her seated above them on the hill. But all at once, without a moment’s thought, Deirdre sprang up, and gathering up her dress, she sped as swiftly as a roe along the mountain side, calling out, "Naoise, Naoise, would you leave me here?”
Now Naoise had rounded the bend of the hill, and he could not see the maiden, but Ainle and Arden saw her bounding after them, and no thought had they but to get Naoise away, for they knew well that this was Deirdre, and that if Naoise once set eyes on her, nothing in life would prevent him from carrying her off, the more especially, since Conor was not yet married to the girl. So when Naoise asked, “What is that cry that came to my ear that it is not easy for me to answer and yet not easy for me to refuse?”
The brothers replied, "What but the quacking of the wild ducks upon the lake? Let us hasten our steps and hurry our feet, for long is the distance we have to traverse, and the dark hour of night is coming on."
They went forward quickly, but when Deirdre saw that they were lengthening the space between themselves and her, she called again piteously, "Naoise, you son of Usna, is it leaving me alone you are?”
“What cry is that which strikes into my very heart?” said Naoise. "Not easy is it for me to answer, but harder yet is it to refuse."
"It is but the cry of the grey geese in the air, winging their flight to the nearest tarn," said the brothers again; "let us hasten now and walk well, for long is our path tonight and the darkness of night is coming on."
They set out to walk faster than before, and farther yet was the distance between themselves and Deirdre. Then Deirdre flew with the swiftness of the winds of March across the bend of the mountain, and reached a place above them on the cliff, and called again the third time, “Naoise, Naoise, Naoise, you son of Usna, would you leave me here alone?”
"The cry I hear strikes sweetly on mine ear, but of all cries I ever heard, this cry makes deepest wound within mine heart," said Naoise, and he stopped short.
“Heed not the cry," his brothers said, "it is the wail of the lake-swans, disturbed in their nesting-place; let us push on now, and win our way tonight to Armagh."
“Three times came that cry of distress to me," said Naoise, "and the vow of a champion is upon me, that no cry of distress shall be passed by unheeded. I will go back now and see whence comes that cry."
Then Naoise turned to go back, and on the hill above him he saw Deirdre, standing on a rock with her arms outstretched, and all her hair blown backward by the wind, and her fair face flushed all with red, part with her running, part with a lovely shame, and changing as the aspen shimmering in the summer’s breeze. And Naoise knew that never in his life had he seen anything one-half so fair, or any blood-drop like the living blood drop here, and he gave love to Deirdre such as he never gave to any other, or to a dream or vision, or to a person on the whole world’s face, but only to Deirdre alone.
And Deirdre came close, and to him she gave three loving kisses, and to his brothers each a kiss; and Naoise lifted her and placed her on his shoulder, and he said, "Hitherto it is you, my brothers, who have bidden me to walk well, but now it is I who bid the same to you."
That night they carried Deirdre to their own home, and sheltered her there for many days. But the news reached Conor that Deirdre was flown, and that it was the sons of Usna with whom she went, and in his fury he sent out armies, and hunted them from place to place, so that they traversed all Ireland, fleeing before Conor. And when they found there was no rest for them in Ireland, Naoise determined to forsake his native land and to flee to Scotland, for there he had made wars and had carved out for himself a kingdom as great as Land of Conor in Ulster. So he and Deirdre, with his brothers and a great band of followers fled to Scotland, which is to-day called Scotland, and they made their home on Glen Etive in Scotland, and thence Naoise ruled over the territories he had taken in Scotland, and he made wars, and became a powerful prince. And joyous and gladsome were he and Deirdre in each other’s company, and great was the love and affection they gave one to the other.
The rest of the story is here: www.flickr.com/photos/feargal/5122513103/in/photostream/
Before the Web…I kicked it ol’ skool
Image by tsand
This is an oil painting I did long before I met Photoshop. Haven’t picked up a paintbrush (well at least the fine art variety) in 10+ years. Hopefully things are about to change as I introduce my offspring to the joy of painting (turn cup of turpentine to side, drip, drip… for my dead art homie – big ups Bob Ross).