A Book of Myths

Page: 158

[Pg 323] third shout, there was no doubt left in their minds, for they all knew the voice for that of Fergus, the son of Rossa the Red. And when Ardan hastened down to the harbour to greet him, Deirdrê confessed to Naoise why she had refused at first to own that it was a voice from Erin that she heard.

“I saw in a dream last night,” she said, “three birds that flew hither from Emain Macha, carrying three sips of honey in their beaks. The honey they left with us, but took away three sips of blood.”

And Naoise said: “What then, best beloved, dost thou read from this dream of thine?”

And Deirdrê said: “I read that Fergus comes from Conor with honeyed words of peace, but behind his treacherous words lies death.”

As they spake, Ardan and Fergus and his following climbed up the height where the bog-myrtle and the heather and sweet fern yielded their sweetest incense as they were wounded under their firm tread.

And when Fergus stood before Deirdrê and Naoise, the man of her heart, he told them of Conor’s message, and of the peace and the glory that awaited them in Erin if they would but listen to the words of welcome that he brought.

Then said Naoise: “I am ready.” But his eyes dared not meet the sea-blue eyes of Deirdrê, his queen.

“Knowest thou that my pledge is one of honour?” asked Fergus.

“I know it well,” said Naoise.

So in joyous feasting was that night spent, and only [Pg 324] over the heart of Deirdrê hung that black cloud of sorrow to come, of woe unspeakable.

When the golden dawn crept over the blue hills of Loch Etive, and the white-winged birds of the sea swooped and dived and cried in the silver waters, the galley of the Sons of Usna set out to sea.

And Deirdrê, over whom hung a doom she had not the courage to name, sang a song at parting:

The Lay of Deirdre
“Beloved land, that Eastern land,
Alba, with its wonders.
O that I might not depart from it,
But that I go with Naoise.
Beloved is Dunfidgha and Dun Fin;
Beloved the Dun above them;
Beloved is Innisdraighende;[18]
And beloved Dun Suibhne.[19]
Coillchuan! O Coillchuan!
Where Ainnle would, alas! resort;
Too short, I deem, was then my stay
With Ainnle in Oirir Alban.
Glenlaidhe![20] O Glenlaidhe!
I used to sleep by its soothing murmur;
Fish, and flesh of wild boar and badger,
Was my repast in Glenlaidhe.
Glenmasan! O Glenmasan![21]
High its herbs, fair its boughs.
Solitary was the place of our repose
On grassy Invermasan.
[Pg 325] Gleneitche![22] O Gleneitche!
There was raised my earliest home.
Beautiful its woods on rising,
When the sun struck on Gleneitche.
Glen Urchain![23] O Glen Urchain!
It was the straight glen of smooth ridges,
Not more joyful was a man of his age
Than Naoise in Glen Urchain.
Glendaruadh![24] O Glendaruadh!
My love each man of its inheritance.
Sweet the voice of the cuckoo, on bending bough,
On the hill above Glendaruadh.
Beloved is Draighen and its sounding shore;
Beloved is the water o’er the pure sand.
O that I might not depart from the east,
But that I go with my beloved!”

Translated by W. F. Skene, LL.D.

Thus they fared across the grey-green sea betwixt Alba and Erin, and when Ardan and Ainle and Naoise heard the words of the song of Deirdrê, on their hearts also descended the strange sorrow of an evil thing from which no courage could save them.

At Ballycastle, opposite Rathlin Island, where a rock on the shore (“Carraig Uisneach”) still bears the name of the Sons of Usna, Fergus and the returned exiles landed. And scarcely were they out of sight of the shore when a messenger came to Fergus, bidding him to a feast of ale at the dun of Borrach. Then Fergus, knowing well that in this was the hand of Conor and that treachery was meant, reddened all over with anger and with shame. But yet he dared not break his geasa, even although by holding to it the honour he [Pg 326] had pledged to the three brothers for their safe-conduct and that of Deirdrê was dragged through the mire. He therefore gave them his sons for escort and went to the feast at the dun of Borrach, full well knowing that Deirdrê spoke truth when she told him sadly that he had sold his honour. The gloomy forebodings that had assailed the heart of Deirdrê ere they had left Loch Etive grew ever the stronger as they went southwards. She begged Naoise to let them go to some place of safety and there wait until Fergus had fulfilled his geasa and could rejoin them and go with them to Emain Macha. But the Sons of Usna, strong in the knowledge of their own strength, and simply trustful of the pledged word of Conor and of Fergus, laughed at her fears, and continued on their way. Dreams of dread portent haunted her sleep, and by daytime her eyes in her white face looked like violets in the snow. She saw a cloud of blood always hanging over the beautiful Sons of Usna, and all of them she saw, and Illann the Fair, with their heads shorn off, gory and awful. Yet no pleading words could prevail upon Naoise. His fate drove him on.

“To Emain Macha we must go, my beloved,” he said. “To do other than this would be to show that we have fear, and fear we have none.”

Thus at last did they arrive at Emain Macha, and with courteous welcome Conor sent them word that the house of the heroes of the Red Branch was to be theirs that night. And although the place the king had chosen for their lodgment confirmed all the intuitions and forebodings of Deirdrê, the evening was spent by in [Pg 327] good cheer, and Deirdrê had the joy of a welcome there from her old friend Lavarcam. For to Lavarcam Conor had said: “I would have thee go to the House of the Red Branch and bring me back tidings if the beauty of Deirdrê has waned, or if she is still the most beautiful of all women.”