A Book of Myths

Page: 150

[Pg 308] daughter, with eyes like stars that are mirrored by night in the water, with lips red as the rowan berries and teeth more white than pearls; with a voice more sweet than the music of fairy harps. “A maiden fair, tall, long haired, for whom champions will contend ... and mighty kings be envious of her lovely, faultless form.” For her sweet sake, he said, more blood should be spilt in Erin than for generations and ages past, and many heroes and bright torches of the Gaels should lose their lives. For love of her, three heroes of eternal renown must give their lives away, the sea in which her starry eyes should mirror themselves would be a sea of blood, and woe unutterable should come on the sons of Erin. Then up spoke the lords of the Red Branch, and grimly they looked at Felim the Harper:

“If the babe that thy wife is about to bear is to bring such evil upon our land, better that thou shouldst shed her innocent blood ere she spills the blood of our nation.”

And Felim made answer:

“It is well spoken. Bitter it is for my wife and for me to lose a child so beautiful, yet shall I slay her that my land may be saved from such a doom.”

But Conor, the king, spoke then, and because the witchery of the perfect beauty and the magic charm of Deirdrê was felt by him even before she was born, he said: “She shall not die. Upon myself I take the doom. The child shall be kept apart from all men until she is of an age to wed. Then shall I take her for my wife, and none shall dare to contend for her.”

[Pg 309] His voice had barely ceased, when a messenger came to Felim to tell him that a daughter was born to him, and on his heels came a procession of chanting women, bearing the babe on a flower-decked cushion. And all who saw the tiny thing, with milk-white skin, and locks “more yellow than the western gold of the summer sun,” looked on her with the fear that even the bravest heart feels on facing the Unknown. And Cathbad spoke: “Let Deirdrê be her name, sweet menace that she is.” And the babe gazed up with starry eyes at the white-haired Druid as he chanted to her:

Many will be jealous of your face, O flame of beauty; for your sake heroes shall go to exile. For there is harm in your face; it will bring banishment and death on the sons of kings. In your fate, O beautiful child, are wounds and ill-doings, and shedding of blood.

You will have a little grave apart to yourself; you will be a tale of wonder for ever, Deirdrê.

Lady Gregory’s Translation.

As Conor commanded, Deirdrê, the little “babe of destiny,” was left with her mother for only a month and a day, and then was sent with a nurse and with Cathbad the Druid to a lonely island, thickly wooded, and only accessible by a sort of causeway at low tide. Here she grew into maidenhood, and each day became more fair. She had instruction from Cathbad in religion and in all manner of wisdom, and it would seem as though she also learned from him some of that mystical power that enabled her to see things hidden from human eyes.

“Tell me,” one day she asked her teacher, “who made the stars, the firmament above, the earth, the flowers, both thee and me?”

[Pg 310] And Cathbad answered: “God. But who God is, alas! no man can say.”

Then Deirdrê, an impetuous child, seized the druidical staff from the hand of Cathbad, broke it in two, and flung the pieces far out on the water. “Ah, Cathbad!” she cried, “there shall come One in the dim future for whom all your Druid spells and charms are naught.”

Then seeing Cathbad hang his head, and a tear trickle down his face, for he knew that the child spoke truth, the child, grieved at giving pain to the friend whom she loved, threw her arms about the old man’s neck, and by her kisses strove to comfort him.

As Deirdrê grew older, Conor sent one from his court to educate her in all that any queen should know. They called her the Lavarcam, which, in our tongue, really means the Gossip, and she was one of royal blood who belonged to a class that in those days had been trained to be chroniclers, or story-tellers. The Lavarcam was a clever woman, and she marvelled at the wondrous beauty of the child she came to teach, and at her equally marvellous mind.