A Book of Myths

Page: 152

“I have never seen men so near before,” said Deirdrê. “Only from the outskirts of the forest have I seen them very far away. Who are these men, who bring no joy to my eyes?”

And Lavarcam made answer: “These are Naoise, Ardan, and Ainle—the three sons of Usna.”

But Deirdrê looked hard at Lavarcam, and scorn and laughter were in her merry eyes.

“Then shall I have speech with Naoise, Ardan, and [Pg 313] Ainle,” she said, and ere Lavarcam could stop her, she had flitted through the trees by a path amongst the fern, and stood suddenly before the three men.

And the rough hinds, seeing such perfect loveliness, made very sure that Deirdrê was one of the sidhe[15] and stared at her with the round eyes and gaping mouths of wondering terror.

For a moment Deirdrê gazed at them. Then: “Are ye the Sons of Usna?” she asked.

And when they stood like stocks, frightened and stupid, she lashed them with her mockery, until the swineherd could no more, and blurted out the whole truth to this most beautiful of all the world. Then, very gently, like pearls from a silver string, the words fell from the rowan-red lips of Deirdrê: “I blame thee not, poor swineherd,” she said, “and that thou mayst know that I deem thee a true man, I would fain ask thee to do one thing for me.”

And when the eyes of the herd met the eyes of Deirdrê, a soul was born in him, and he knew things of which he never before had dreamed.

“If I can do one thing to please thee, that will I do,” he said. “Aye, and gladly pay for it with my life. Thenceforth my life is thine.”

And Deirdrê said: “I would fain see Naoise, one of the Sons of Usna.”

And once more the swineherd said: “My life is thine.”

Then Deirdrê, seeing in his eyes a very beautiful [Pg 314] thing, stooped and kissed the swineherd on his weather-beaten, tanned forehead.

“Go, then,” she said, “to Naoise. Tell him that I, Deirdrê, dream of him all the night and think of him all the day, and that I bid him meet me here to-morrow an hour before the setting of the sun.”

The swineherd watched her flit into the shadows of the trees, and then went on his way, through the snowy woods, that he might pay with his life for the kiss that Deirdrê had given him.

Sorely puzzled was Lavarcam over the doings of Deirdrê that day, for Deirdrê told her not a word of what had passed between her and the swineherd. On the morrow, when she left her to go back to the court of King Conor, she saw, as she drew near Emain Macha, where he stayed, black wings that flapped over something that lay on the snow. At her approach there rose three ravens, three kites, and three hoodie-crows, and she saw that their prey was the body of the swineherd with gaping spear-wounds all over him. Yet even then he looked happy. He had died laughing, and there was still a smile on his lips. Faithfully had he delivered his message, and when he had spoken of the beauty of Deirdrê, rumour of his speech had reached the king, and the spears of Conor’s men had enabled him to make true the words he had said to Deirdrê: “I will pay for it with my life.” In this way was shed the first blood of that great sea of blood that was spilt for the love of Deirdrê, the Beauty of the World.