A Book of Myths
Page: 142It was then that Eva struck them, as a snake strikes its prey. One touch for each, with a magical wand of the Druids, then the low chanting of an old old rune, and the beautiful children had vanished, and where their tiny feet had pressed the sand and their yellow hair had shown above the water like four daffodil heads that dance in the wind, there floated four white swans. But although to Eva belonged the power of bewitching their bodies, their hearts and souls and speech still belonged to the children of Lîr. And when Finola spoke, it was not as a little timid child, but as a woman who could look with sad eyes into the future and could there see the terrible punishment of a shameful act.
“Very evil is the deed that thou hast done,” she said. “We only gave thee love, and we are very young, and all our days were happiness. By cruelty and treachery thou hast brought our childhood to an end, yet is our doom less piteous than thine. Woe, woe unto thee, O Eva, for a fearful doom lies before thee!”
Then she asked—a child still, longing to know when the dreary days of its banishment from other children should be over—“Tell us how long a time must pass until we can take our own forms again.”
And, relentlessly, Eva made answer: “Better had it been for thy peace hadst thou left unsought that knowledge. Yet will I tell thee thy doom. Three hundred years shall ye live in the smooth waters of Lake [Pg 295] Darvra; three hundred years on the Sea of Moyle, which is between Erin and Alba; three hundred years more at Ivros Domnann and at Inis Glora, on the Western Sea. Until a prince from the north shall marry a princess from the south; until the Tailleken (St. Patrick) shall come to Erin, and until ye shall hear the sound of the Christian bell, neither my power nor thy power, nor the power of any Druid’s runes can set ye free until that weird is dreed.”
As she spoke, a strange softening came into the evil woman’s heart. They were so still, those white creatures who gazed up at her with eager, beseeching eyes, through which looked the souls of the little children that once she had loved. They were so silent and piteous, the little Ficra and Conn, whose dimpled baby faces she often used to kiss. And she said, that her burden of guilt might be the lighter:
“This relief shall ye have in your troubles. Though ye keep your human reason and your human speech, yet shall ye suffer no grief because your form is the form of swans, and you shall sing songs more sweet than any music that the earth has ever known.”