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A Book of Myths

Page: 159

And when Lavarcam saw her whom she had loved as a little child, playing chess with her husband at the board of ivory and gold, she knew that love had made the beauty of Deirdrê blossom, and that she was now more beautiful than the words of any man or woman could tell. Nor was it possible for her to be a tool for Conor when she looked in the starry eyes of Deirdrê, and so she poured forth warning of the treachery of Conor, and the Sons of Usna knew that there was truth in the dreams of her who was the queen of their hearts. And even as Lavarcam ceased there came to the eyes of Deirdrê a vision such as that of Cathbad the Druid on the night of her birth.

“I see three torches quenched this night,” she said. “And these three torches are the Three Torches of Valour among the Gael, and their names are the names of the Sons of Usna. And more bitter still is this sorrow, because that the Red Branch shall ultimately perish through it, and Uladh itself be overthrown, and blood fall this way and that as the whirled rains of winter.”

Fiona Macleod.

Then Lavarcam went her way, and returned to the palace at Emain Macha and told Conor that the cruel winds and snows of Alba had robbed Deirdrê of all her loveliness, so that she was no more a thing to be desired. But Naoise had said to Deirdrê when she foretold his [Pg 328] doom: “Better to die for thee and for thy deathless beauty than to have lived without knowledge of thee and thy love,” and it may have been that some memory of the face of Deirdrê, when she heard these words, dwelt in the eyes of Lavarcam and put quick suspicion into the evil heart of the king. For when Lavarcam had gone forth, well pleased that she had saved her darling, Conor sent a spy—a man whose father and three brothers had fallen in battle under the sword of Naoise—that he might see Deirdrê and confirm or contradict the report of Lavarcam. And when this man reached the house of the Red Branch, he found that the Sons of Usna had been put on their guard, for all the doors and windows were barred. Thus he climbed to a narrow upper window and peered in. There, lying on the couches, the chess-board of ivory and gold between them, were Naoise and Deirdrê. So beautiful were they, that they were as the deathless gods, and as they played that last game of their lives, they spoke together in low voices of love that sounded like the melody of a harp in the hands of a master player. Deirdrê was the first to see the peering face with the eyes that gloated on her loveliness. No word said she, but silently made the gaze of Naoise follow her own, even as he held a golden chessman in his hand, pondering a move. Swift as a stone from a sling the chessman was hurled, and the man fell back to the ground with his eyeball smashed, and found his way to Emain Macha as best he could, shaking with agony and snarling with lust for revenge. Vividly he painted for the king the picture of the most beautiful [Pg 329] woman on earth as she played at the chess-board that he held so dear, and the rage of Conor that had smouldered ever since that day when he learned that Naoise had stolen Deirdrê from him, flamed up into madness. With a bellow like that of a wounded bull, he called upon the Ultonians to come with him to the House of the Red Branch, to burn it down, and to slay all those within it with the sword, save only Deirdrê, who was to be saved for a more cruel fate.


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