A Book of Myths

Page: 151

One winter day, when the snow lay deep, it came to pass that Deirdrê saw lying on the snow a calf that had been slain for her food. The red blood that ran from its neck had brought a black raven swooping down upon the snow. And to Lavarcam Deirdrê said: “If there were a man who had hair of the blackness of that raven, skin of the whiteness of the snow, and cheeks as red as the blood that stains its whiteness, to him should I give my heart.”

[Pg 311] And Lavarcam, without thought, made answer:

“One I know whose skin is whiter than the snow, whose cheeks are ruddy as the blood that stained the snow, and whose hair is black and glossy as the raven’s wing. He has eyes of the darkest blue of the sky, and head and shoulders is he above all the men of Erin.”

“And what will be the name of that man, Lavarcam?” asked Deirdrê. “And whence is he, and what his degree?”

And Lavarcam made answer that he of whom she spoke was Naoise, one of the three sons of Usna, a great lord of Alba, and that these three sons were mighty champions who had been trained at the famed military school at Sgathaig[14] in the Isle of Skye.

Then said Deirdrê: “My love shall be given to none but Naoise, son of Usna. To him shall it belong forever.”

From that day forward, Naoise held kingship over the thoughts and dreams of Deirdrê.

And when Lavarcam saw how deep her careless words had sunk into the heart of the maiden, she grew afraid, and tried to think of a means by which to undo the harm which, in her thoughtlessness, she had wrought.

Now Conor had made a law that none but Cathbad, Lavarcam, and the nurse of Deirdrê should pass through the forest that led to her hiding-place, and that none but they should look upon her until his own eyes beheld her and he took her for his wife. But as Lavarcam [Pg 312] one day came from seeing Deirdrê, and from listening to her many eager questions about Naoise, she met a swineherd, rough in looks and speech, and clad in the pelt of a deer, and with him two rough fellows, bondmen of the Ultonians, and to her quick mind there came a plan. Thus she bade them follow her into the forbidden forest and there to remain, by the side of a well, until they should hear the bark of a fox and the cry of a jay. Then they were to walk slowly on through the woods, speaking to none whom they might meet, and still keeping silence when they were again out of the shadow of the trees.

Then Lavarcam sped back to Deirdrê and begged her to come with her to enjoy the beauty of the woods. In a little, Lavarcam strayed away from her charge, and soon the cry of a jay and the bark of a fox were heard, and while Deirdrê still marvelled at the sounds that came so close together, Lavarcam returned. Nor had she been back a minute before three men came through the trees and slowly walked past, close to where Lavarcam and Deirdrê were hidden.