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"The music of the forest
Would sing to me when with Kurithir,
Together with the voice of the purple sea."
The hawthorn was in bloom against the hills, and the cuckoo was calling as it flew in long billowy glides to its mate in the yew-tree nest.
As the bird to its mate, went the gray eyes and the heart of Liadan na Donal, when she looked on Kurithir, the poet and friend of kings, in Far Connaught. Fair and gracious was he among the friends of her host, and fair and gracious was Flann Siona, prince of the Sionan, beside him as they greeted her, and greeted Aevil, her sister, who was beautiful as a night of stars.
It was not the beauty of bronze-gold hair, or blue eyes of Kurithir, by which she was held, and it was not the beauty of raiment and the jeweled links of his garments, for the daughters of the Ui Maic of Far Kerry were not
without grandeur in the castle of Donal, their father. Out of all the guests and the greetings, she knew not if Kurithir, son of Doborchu_, bent head or knee more graciously than others. She knew only that his eyes looked deep, and looked steady, into her own, and that without words they bore to her a message.
The message was strange because her heart leaped in her bosom to meet it, and that was a new thing in her life.
And that message was this: "We have found the way to each other at last, and both of us knowing it!"
Other eyes saw that look, and the wild-rose flush on her white throat, and Aevil, her half-sister, spoke bitter words when they were safe within their chamber, and there was present only the dark nurse of Aevil, whose name was Moria, and whose lore was deep in herbs and curious knowledge of druidcraft.
"Know you not that as elder sister my day of marriage must pass before your day of courting?" raged Aevil. "For that reason I am making this circuit of visits to see the lands and the furnishings of our friends. It was in my charity that I brought you by me, and an ill day it was to me!"
But Moria talked much as she smoothed the black hair of Aevil, and vowed by the Elements that the beauty of Aevil exceeded by much all other beauty at the Dun of Dearg. And that the eyes of Flann, Ri Domna of Erinn, had not passed her by--nor had the other men.
There was truth in this, for black and red and rich cream was the beauty of Aevil, and her pride was great because of her beauty to which all men did honor. Liadan had heard all her life that there was no beauty in Connaught to compare with Aevil who should, for beauty alone, be a queen, and Liadan was well content that the crown go to her sister so long as she had her harp and her garden, and now--two blue eyes for mirrors!
But Aevil stormed and threw off the hand of Moria and would have no caressing of words.
"Well you know there is one man spoke of here for my meeting, and that man is Kurithir the poet," she said. "He is the man whose songs are sung by many, and my greeting was spoiled by a gray rat!"
"Only my eyes are gray, sister," said Liadan, "and if you like not my gray robe, it shall be put aside for our visit. What you choose shall be done; all is one to me."
For the song of joy was so strong in her heart that all the world was shining summer for her. Her slender gray-clad feet trod as on the clouds of heaven because of that look in his eyes. She donned a robe of green with a girdle of silver, and in the brown curls of her hair she fastened green jewels from oversea, and in the rush light of the great hall she slipped quiet as a moonbeam, but Flann and Kurithir, who were foster brothers and friends ever, left all others to bow before her.
"We look for Maighdenmara in the old sea waves where the white foam is," said Flann. "Men never hope to see her drive in a chariot from the forest."
Kurithir said nothing, but his eyes were on hers, and she liked that best, and dreamed of him sweetly that night on her maiden pillow.
"You speak your heart and that is best, comrade. My eyes will look the other way, and her sister is a fair queen for any castle."
"I am thinking no castles," said Kurithir, "I am thinking of a little house under the oaks where the thrushes sing, and where heart can hear heart away from sound of the steps of man. My harp I will take, and hers. The hands of her were like white lilies on the strings when she touched them last night. I could have knelt at her feet for joy that we have found each other."
"It is good to be you, Kurithir," said Flann, who was a king's son. "May you hear the thrushes sing."
her heart in her eyes she could and she did, and a white rose she let fall from her breast to his, and that was the first gift of Liadan and Kurithir.
That day was fair with beauty, and all went riding gaily to a neighbor castle of friends, and gaily home at the setting of sun; but Aevil put Aillain, the son of her host, to ride with Liadan, under strict word that their visit would end if he heeded not her order--for Liadan must either be guarded, or sent home at the dawn; so Aevil rode with Kurithir and talked much with Flann, and was a sweet and gracious lady to charm all. But Liadan sat quiet, smiling ever like sun touching mist of the morning. Her heart was full of joy only to hear his voice, even though the words were to another--which is Love itself.
And that night was a very poet's night of a young moon and the scent of dew on the hawthorn, and under the tower Kurithir sang, and touched the harp, and this was his song:
Gray bird of harmonies
Honey voice, morning star,
Wake to love's dreaming!
His voice and the strings of the harp were whispers soft on the night, yet in her heart every whisper was held, and the fury of Aevil was as a storm seen afar in the valley. For Liadan was as snow on the mountain shining in the sun.
When she left the locked door of her chamber, the dark woman, Moria, carried her shuttle and thread, or her tablet of white birch and the stylus, or the tiny harp of the six strings, but not apart the length of a spear did she walk, and she listening.
But the love of Kurithir forced him to the speech of a man to his mate, and he spoke.
"The song of the night was to you, Liadan, and all of me calls for you more strongly than song can be telling. Liadan, marriage is well for two singers who find the same song. It is by that choosing the bird of the forest seeks ever its own mate, for the song is the soul of the winged things. That is so of the birds and it is so of men, Liadan. Thus the nightingale holds his song pure in rapture, thus the children of us will sing our songs, and their own songs, in the future years, Liadan."
The soul of her moved to him that she trembled, but the dark woman, Moria, behind the arras, was ears for Aevil who walked the garden with Flann, and Liadan veiled her gray eyes lest he read them too well, and spoke in sweet courtesy.
"Fair friend, it must be in the rath of my father I give troth to a man and not in another place," she said. "That gate will be open to you on a day to come, and your singing will win you fair welcome when you are coming there."
"Your words are as snowfall at harvest time and the sheaves golden," spoke Kurithir. "Your eyes make them-selves shadows of gray and are veiling their sweetness. But I am servant of Liadan what day of days I may ride her way through the forests."
"The day may be long--the length of days rests in the heart itself," said Liadan. "A far circle of visiting is pledged to the friends of our father. That circle must be closed ere we welcome poets or princes at the portal of our own castle."
"Honey mouth, the sweet coldness of you would freeze the red rose, and all its flame could not save life to it," he said. "But within me is a deeper flame, and I
wait my day, and I wait some sign from you for speech again."
But the bodkin of the dark woman touched the arm of Liadan through the arras as a warning against other words, and she spoke no more but bent her head over the harp as if alone, and Kurithir looked at her, pondering, and then called for his stallion, and rode alone and apart from the rest that day.
But Liadan rode not at all lest the hand of another man touch her hand, or the hem of her garment, or offer her cup which another than Kurithir had kissed.
But the harp of his in the hall was the only one she touched that day, and she wished that forbidden druid power could be hers to charm the strings into speech for his ear alone. With bodkin she traced one word in ogham on the harp frame, but Moria watching! More she feared to do, and her tablets of writing had been broken in the rage of Aevil.
The dark woman told to Aevil all that discourse of the day, and Aevil laughed her victory.
"Tomorrow's sun takes us away from this place and this blind-eyed poet," she said. "I have a secret to tell, for Flann has desire of me, and a king's rath will yet be my abiding place. But I choose to be away from the roof of my father ere these poet songs again make night sleepless. My marriage comes before her betrothal. See you to that!"
The dark woman promised and praised the maid Aevil, and had joy of the thought of Flann who was king's son and of power to be.
At the supper time, Aevil held up her square cup of mead and asked a good wish on the road for the morrow. Her journey of joy was a circle, and their chariot must start with the sun on the round.
There were words of pleading from many, but Kurithir said no word, only stared at Liadan for a sign--and she there frozen with the grief on her!
It was the first word she was given of the journey, but he could not be knowing that, and his pride was a cloak as he stood before her.
"Sun-rise or sun-setting makes no change in me but to leave me in darkness," he said, "and the servant of Liadan is ever her servant."
But Aevil laughed at his shoulder, and bade him not practice poet's art for the sake of practice, for Liadan knew the light worth of a rhyme--and herself turned all things, from cock crow until moonrise, to such usage!
Then she sent Liadan to her chamber on an empty errand, and laughed again at Kurithir, and watched him, and his face white.
She knew that he felt hate for her, and would sing grief and disaster on her but for the bond of one father and sisterhood with Liadan. The dark woman plucked her by the sleeve and whispered warning lest he do that thing and shame her before Flann and the host. Aevil was green-jealous and was going far!
But the laughter of her scarce touched him, for the reason that he saw only the face of Liadan who had gone past him, dumb and without word of courtesy, and she hard struck at the fear of great forest and wilderness between them.
It was that fear made her bold to dare what she dared not do before the people. No tablet of writing could she send. No secret friend could she trust in the castle of the Dun of Dearg where Aevil bore casket of gifts for service rendered.
But more quickly than Moria could follow, she sped to the enclosed garden where the red May rose bloomed
against the south side of the wall, and close under her linen shift lay a blossom of it before the dark woman, with dark words, grasped her wrist, and drew her within the portal.
"The fury of Donal your father will not be a summer storm to you if he hears of lovers of yours before the Lady Aevil has her right as a wife ahead of you," she said. "The visits of honor are spoiled by the endless twanging of the fool's harp, and of yours, and the end of it is coming!"
Liadan knew there were dark words said of Moria in whispers by the people of the hills of Kerry. Her love for Aevil was a real love, but her hate was a thing to fear, and the soul of Liadan trembled, yet the thought of Kurithir brought back life to her, and she spoke.
"With your hands you will not touch me again," she said, "and this to your warning. As a child I mind me how, for curious reasons, you sang sleeps upon me at noontide. I saw strange things in the sleeps you sent me and some I remember. But I am not now a child and my life is a different thing to me. No will of yours shall be on me again, nor the will of any other mortal, save one only--and I loving that one. My duty to Donal, my father, and Aevil, my sister, will be paid in silence. But to the man who gives me heart-love there has been too much of silence, and the end of that is coming!"
The dark woman looked at her sideways and said no word lest the maid grow wild and run shrieking, or do some other ill thing to shame them. For the words of Liadan told her it was a woman deep in love who spoke, and that at once both her body and mind were sacred to her as love's offering on an altar.
And Moria went from the chamber in fear of the wrath of Aevil if the lovers met, and in fear of other things! The
key on the chain was forgot at her girdle, and it was the first time.
At the foot of the turret stairs she remembered the key and would have turned back, but Aevil was there and heard her story and smiled.
"Wait for the locking of the door," she said, and frowned and thought. "Since she is turned rebel on our hands, and a dagger is forbid, we will try other ways, and ways will be found. Her poet is sick with love and mooning alone, yet far enough from the turret. Keep you ward, and send to me Aillain, son of our host. He mutters poems of hers instead of grace."
Their laughter sat ill upon him, and he moved to a casement where he could see the window of the turret chamber, and perhaps a light there.
No light was showing, but the soft note of the little harp was heard, and its sweetness was dear to him, for it was his own song of the night she had caught.
"It is well Liadan is playing that," said Aevil. "All the day she was making practice of it because you, Aillain, gave it praise."
"I?" said the youth Aillain, and stared, and his mother heard and laughed.
"What does a manling do when music is made by fair lady to his liking?" she asked. "A gold-caged thrush would be fitting for a lady's gift, or flowers for fragrance."
They made jests of him as at a lover they were training for love, and the eyes of the youth laughed also, yet he was courteous.
"No less than my duty, and the gift, shall be offered," he said. "The less garden bloom for the other ladies on the morrow."
Straightway he started for the garden in the dusk, glad to show grace to so fair a guest. The sky had primrose tints in it afar, and the golden curve of the moon was above dark ocean. Only one star shone high, and shadows fell thick where the hedges were, and where a great vine threw wide arms at the foot of the tower.
A moment the boy paused to look up where the harp strings were softly touched, then there was silence, and a white hand reached far out, and a bit of fragrance touched his breast--it was a red rose, crushed where it had lain under the linen of her warm bosom.
The youth was mazed and stood waiting with staring eyes. Was it a mocking the gay group would make because of his lack of years, and his height of a man? This was the reasonable thought, for he had a sweetly gay temper of his own, and was used to their baiting.
But while he held the rose and listened for their laughter, something finer came to him: it was the hushed voice of Liadan singing. A very whisper of a song it was, and heard only by him, and by a man at the casement.
One star for both above the sea--
The trysting star! A grayling
Lets fall a rose and breathes her sigh:
Not joyous taking wing!
The voice ceased and the harp strings gave a wail as a heavy hand of discord crashed it. The boy could make nothing of that, and walked slowly into the dusk of the garden, intent as before on the gift of blossoms.
It was a sweet song as she sung it, and a pleading one. He wondered as to the meaning of the mystic rose. It was a new word to him and he had an ear for words of beauty.
Then there came swiftly the rush of a slender form into the garden's dusk. Like a low-flying bird before a hawk she ran, for the dark woman was at the portal.
"O rose of flame," said Liadan sobbing, "that I should have given snow for your fragrance!"
The tall youth, Aillain, had plucked a hand full of bloom, but stared at her strangeness, and drew back from her.
"The roses are for your gift, fair Liadan," he began courteously, but at his voice she moaned in terror and caught his shoulder.
"O rose of brief bloom for me," she said, and fell in whiteness at his feet. He bent to lift her, but the dark woman was first.
"Silence is best for this," she said to Aillain. "It is no new thing and I can bear her alone."
She was very strong, and Liadan lay in her arms like a broken flower, and thus she faced Kurithir at the portal; he was white as the maid, as he barred her way.
"Tell me of this meaning," he said, and Moria laughed as Aevil herself might have laughed.
"You are a man and should know," she said. "The boy is a new plaything and she broke the lock to keep tryst with him. You poets play over much at the love game, and oft choose your mates strangely."
"If you were a man my hand would send you to hell for that saying."
"Even that would not make her over, or change the heart of her," said Moria. "Give way that I may put her back under lock ere her sister learns this newest shame."
He gave way, and paced like a chained thing the length of his leash under the wall where he could see the light of her window. He listened for her voice, but no sound came.
Later he sought Aillain, but the youth had gone straight to Aevil in his amaze and fear, and she had cunningly bound him to silence, as if Liadan were some distraught creature ever to be guarded when the moon was new. To Flann, Kurithir could not speak.
so bold?" she asked. "The rose alone might have won a hearing, but men are fain to do their own wooing. Your song argued practice in love, so he walked away, O grayling, you!"
Liadan took up the harp and broke the strings.
"It will make songs for no other man," she said. "So much for love's practice on me!"
Cold and white she sat for the braiding of the gold disks in her brown hair, and cold and white for the girdling of the gray robe, and the lacings of the gray shoes. After the breaking of the harp Aevil mocked no more, for there were guests and a host to face in the farewells, and it might prove a hard hour.
But Liadan strangely bade farewells as a child is taught to do. There was a faint little smile on her lips, and she looked into faces as if scarce seeing, while the dark woman watched her curiously.
"Her boast was that no will but his should lead her," she said to Aevil. "Look you! Whose will leads her now?"
"What thing have you done?" asked Aevil, "for his is the one face she does not lift her eyes for. What druid's draught have you brewed for her?"
"No draught," said Moria. "She gave you fear when she broke the harp, and that was the time to give her the quiet. Look not fearful, a weakness is on her from these days, but weakness goes again in youth."
Liadan was seldom gay, and none but Kurithir and Flann noted her stillness. Neither spoke of it. And so she went away from them. And the music was stilled in Kurithir. His harp was laced in its cover of otter's skin, and the message she had writ on it was hidden--to their sorrow!
When word came from the friendly house that he was ever welcome there, but that the Lady Aevil, and her
sister, the poet Liadan, had not come their road, he bade farewell to his friend Flann and took a boat for the sea.
"The thrushes do not sing, even for poets, on the sea," said Flann, and that was the first time he mentioned the dream of love of Kurithir.
"There are no longer thrushes singing for me in the shadows, and no dreamhouse of love in any forest," said Kurithir.
"Other men are not remembering like this," he said. "Back of the look in every woman I see the look of Liadan, O lost gray bird of mine--Liadan--Liadan!"
To say her name brought her before him strangely. He leaned forward in the dusk and brushed his hand over his eyes as if to clear vision.
For there in the prow he saw--something! It was the faint gray shadow of a girl with a broken harp. The harp he could see very clearly, for the broken strings were black against the green-white foam.
"Liadan," he whispered, and moved to her, but white spray dashed between them and no other thing was there. And that was the first time she came.
"She is dead," he said, and the world was more empty for the thought, yet strangely enough, when sleep came
she began to come very close to him, and very warm and very much alive.
In the dusk of starlight he saw her, shadowy, with his earthly eyes again and again, and at times he thought the fragrance of hawthorn and roses of May was on the sea.
"Is it the way of a madman I am going?" he asked himself, "for there can no more be fragrance of roses here than there can be songs of thrushes."
And that night in sleep he heard the thrushes! It was together they heard them--her hand in his, and she listening.
And the words he said to her there were words he had never said to any woman in life. Her eyes shone on him like warm stars, and it was as if they had both been waiting always for the words and the hearing of them. And in the dream he sang to her, and she within his arms warm there. In the morning he remembered that song--and he remembered whispers of hers between the lines of it.
You are the star
Old sea reflects forever,
You are the grianan within my heart.
The white-breast bird are you,
The whitest rose,
The ever-singing harp of silver string.
You are my secret,
Breast unto my breast,
Until the lark shall call the sun,
It was the first time song had come to him since he sang under her window at Dun Dearg of the sea cliff, and all the
call of his heart for her was wakened in new strength. He turned the boat and steered west and then north, and every twilight she sat in the prow faintly gray, and in every sleep his head rested on her warm bosom, and warm arms were holding him, and her face was bending over him with her eyes looking into the depths of his own.
"Even though it be madness on me I will follow the way it leads," he said. "I will go as bid to the rath of Donal, her father. I will put out of mind all else I saw or heard, for mystical things and deep things are sending fair winds to me at every turn of tide, and never a day but the seas are glittering fair like silver."
And it was so. Never a storm touched him after the night he saw her first.
I woke to the thrushes,
Their song was to nestlings,
And your arms about me!
Then he felt her stir as a bird might stir against a mother-bird's breast, and her kiss was on him, and in that
kiss he smiled, fearing to open his eyes, fearing to lose the dream of her. But he whispered in a dream song:
To dream true is--loving,
Gray eyes of enchantings,
Gray lark of sweet singing,--
Your music to me!
Into the deep harbor of the cliffs he sailed on a fair morning, and men with shields and spears watched him as he climbed the heights, and Flann was first with the greeting.
"The summer raiders of Lochlan came down the coast to wreck and plunder," he said. "No roof is left of Castle Dearg; we drove them off and sunk half their fleet, but much evil was done by them. Our host and his people are dead, and Donal of Dun Conchinn is dead, and many other good men have gone the Way."
"It was to the rath of Donal I was going."
"It is a late day to be going; death has been there, and veiled women are there."
The heart of Kurithir went cold with fear to ask a question, and he did not ask it, but walked silent beside his friend until they stood under the portal of the tower where all now was blackened ruin from fire and stress.
He looked up to the window and then mounted the stone steps to the chamber where once she had slept, and Flann in silence followed, for their hearts had been close-knit.
The furnishings were gone and it was a desolate place.
"Come away," said Flann. "There is no profit to a man in seeking empty cages when the singer has flown."
But under the carved stone seat by the window, where no fire could touch it, there was a little harp with the
strings broken. Kurithir knew that harp and every broken strand from the nights on the seas to the south.
Flann took it up and looked at the frame where "Liadan" was set in silver wires deep in the dark wood; with the haft of his skean he scratched it until it shone bright.
"It is true," he said, "I thought it was a woman's lie to mock me--but it is true."
"Who was the woman?" asked Kurithir.
"It was Aevil," said Flann, "and now with this before us, and Sun and Day, and Earth and Wind, to witness, I will speak you the truth. When you sailed south and gave no farewell to Liadan, who turned her eyes from you in parting, I rode to the rath of Donal and made offers for her as a wife. My promise to look another way was broke when you two parted and no pledge between broke."
"It was all no use," said Flann. "She would not say the word for all Donal's anger. I know not what his words were to her--God knows! He was regretful for the words when dying and said it to me. But before that day he offered me Aevil instead, and ordered Liadan to the veiled women, and Aevil was a star of beauty, and was willing, and I took her."
"And what was the lie of this?" asked Kurithir, holding close the harp with the sweet name of her on the frame.
"It was no lie. It was the truth. The harp was broke by Liadan that no love song should ever be made on it after her tryst song to you--and you walking away from it."
"There was no tryst song to me. The woman Moria carried Liadan from tryst with another--and mocked me that I was yet sick at heart for her love."
"There are dark things in this somewhere, and there are false things somewhere," said Flann. "Aillain, the boy, is dead, and dark Moria is dead--it is late for the sifting of the wheat from the chaff."
"When were the deaths?"
"He in the first raid, but she, sabbath a week since, together with Donal, before our bowmen reached his rath for succor."
Kurithir remembered that day, and when Flann would have gone on with speech of the fighting, and the retreat of the raiders to their ships, he held up his hand for silence.
"That was the night she came to me on the sea, Flann," he said, "and that is why I am here listening. Darkness is on my mind--a darkness and a fog, but this is true as the Sun: the way of these broken strings was never told to me, yet I knew that her harp was broken, for at the sabbath twilight a week since, Liadan sat at the prow of the boat with the broken harp in her hands, and the smell of the hawthorn was there following, ay, and the song of the thrush in the nights!"
Flann peered at Kurithir in awe, and a swift chill touched him. When he spoke again it was with the soft gentleness as to a child.
"And where was this happening, Kurithir?" he asked. "It was off the south coast, and I have been sailing straight to find her, night and day since that twilight,"
said Kurithir. "Never was there such a sailing, for the wind was ever with us, and I had but to close my eyes to feel her near and to smell hawthorn and May roses."
Flann looked down into the garden where ashes and a fallen wall covered the rose vines.
"The roses of May linger not for anyone through the harvest time," he said. "Come Kurithir, what I can I will do to bring you to her in time."
Kurithir followed after and carried the broken harp, and said over to himself words of her tryst song which he knew now was meant only for him.
"It will be in time," he said. "No human thing can part us now, for our coming together on the sea had no mortal touch to it, yet we were as one soul. Since she lives nothing can change that. She is the soul of me."
"She lives," said Flann.
More than that he had no heart to say, but while food, and horse, and servant were made ready for the journey through the wilderness, Flann spoke apart to Ronan, his cleric and confessor, who had been with the men through the battles, and shrived them as they went the last Way.
"Is it madness of the mind is on him, or is it some spell of magic that makes for him a vision far out at sea of that which is true on land?" asked Flann. "Is it evil, or is it good?"
"It has been both. The words of druids and the words of saints are witness. It comes between a man and a maid. It comes not of earthly marriage but rather of separation of the mortal body. It comes of great strength and of much weakness. Saints have known it to the glory of God's mysteries, but it is not for the telling to every asker of curious things. You have a kinsman in sanctuary who has the right to tell you more than I have right to know. The craft of idolatry, and the spells of druids, and power
of saints, have one likeness to the eyes of the unlearned. Yet is there a difference, and a great differing, too! The mother of Liadan was of the race of Dana, and she went the Way at the birthing. Her child came into life with the sign on her of secret knowings. It is a thing of grief that she was bred in the rath of that dark woman of Slieve Mis who could use arts of her own on a child of secret vision."
"You mean dark Moria, the nurse?"
"I mean Moria, the concubine of Donal, who went into death beside him. It is an old story and strange. The Dun of Donal is far enough in the wilderness to hide many secret things."
"You know that I have taken his daughter Aevil to wife," said Flann darkly.
"I do. You were swift about it, else I might have spoke caution. But the two are dead and God send that her evil died with her, and that your children live by God's grace. Judge you not Kurithir with harshness because of his own words. The darkness is on his mind concerning this matter. Few of us see as God means us all to see in His own good time."
"God be with us till the Day," said Flann.
"By the Elements, and the Father and Son," said Ronan.
neither in state nor in joy. He rode silent and with dark thoughts, and with few servants or comfort.
But he saw to it that none but himself held converse with his friend on the long south journey. And Kurithir went through the rivers and wilderness as he had sailed north over the sea, thrilled by the nearness of the sweet warm spirit of her.
She stared in dislike at his company.
"Have you fallen to meaner estate that you ride home with none of the chiefs you led away?" she asked. "A servant and a horseman is small retinue for Flann."
"Greet my friend and send for your cleric," said Flann. "I have questions to ask of this household."
"I give greeting to any friend of yours, O Flann," she said, "but your words and your looks coming back with him are not those of Flann, the prince, who went away with his many men of the shields."
"If it is your will I will walk apart until granted welcome," said Kurithir to Flann. "It is you who know best the desire of my heart and the way to it."
"We will find that way," said Flann, "but the first thing must come first! Send your maids to their duties.
[paragraph continues] I want only your cleric, and his tablets for writing. It is your own desires I make plans for. You will not be wanting the enviers of a princess around you this day of your days."
Kurithir was no less amazed than Aevil at the curious speech of Flann, or at his long curious stare at the cleric with his tablets and his scrivener.
"Send your assistant out of the hall," said Flann, and went on staring, first at the comfortable, round old man, and then at the queenly woman he had called a star of beauty.
"Nealis of Desmond," he said, "it is a long time you have been in the Dun of Donal, and it is much you have seen of the woman who died with Donal, and it may be much you had to know of her."
Nealis, the cleric, went the color of old wax, and looked at Aevil, and Aevil flamed red while her brows were a straight black line of rage.
"What should he know?" she asked. "What should he know of my nurse and my friend? Why ask a man of the household and pass me by?"
"I asked for an answer--and I am answered," said Flann. "Fear not that you will be the one passed by! I will ask another question. Nealis, it is not the husband of Aevil who asks you this, it is the man who is Ri Domna of Erinn. Donal talked with you here when I offered marriage to his child, Liadan?"
"That is true," said the cleric, but his small eyes looked right and left like a trapped rat, fearing what the question might lead to.
"And it was that time the word went out that Liadan was dying of a secret ailment?"
Kurithir sprang to his feet, but Flann put out his hand in kindness.
"She did not die," he said. "It was a crooked plan but of her death there was no need, and the plan was changed."
He looked at Aevil, and the flame was gone from her face; she was gulping as if to strangle back some fury of protest.
"You were her confessor--also the confessor of Moria. You surely heard things curious between the two."
"What should he hear more curious than other priests hear?" demanded Aevil after one look at his pallid face.
"It is not your confession, Aevil, for which I ask," said Flann, "so rest you easy. But it may be easier for Nealis to tell the thing here where there are few ears than in open shame before the king and before his spiritual superiors. Nealis, was it drug of herbs Moria of the hills gave to Liadan, or was it the deeper craft of a mind chained until life and death was all one to her?"
"You are asking that which is not asked even by princes, and I would it were not asked," said Nealis. But his voice shook and Aevil glared at him frowning, striving to make him meet her eye, which he would not.
"The witch is dead," continued Flann. "I ask nothing concerning sins of the living, but this thing I mean to know. It is not best to depend on the grace of a Ri Domna's wife. There will be no queen of mine but by my will--and justice may come before my will, and before I come to a king's seat."
"Is that gray rat to come between you and me even with your marriage gifts on me?" shrilled Aevil. "The High King may say something if you take two sisters to wife at the same time."
"The sisterhood will come later," said Flann in great quietness, and at that Aevil choked, and the cleric looked at Flann.
"It is little use to speak, since knowledge has somehow come your way," he said. "I know of no drugs, but the Lady Liadan lived as in a trance when I was let see her.
[paragraph continues] I was told it was a love sickness and that life was hateful. To me she said nothing but that she was a shamed maid, and that the man had sailed on the seas, and away from her."
"She sees no man but you. Is she growing more weak as the days go?"
"No," said the cleric with the first straight look, "she has slept well, and smiles now--and her maids no longer fear for her."
"When did this begin?"
"It is strange to tell it, but the day of the battle with the Northmen was the day she changed. A swoon came on her, when the woman Moria died, but when she waked from it the trance look was gone. No fear of the battle touched her, so the women say. She is pale as a primrose, but she smiles again, and the maids now gossip that she sings in her sleep."
"You tell more than you know, and you tell it straight," said Flann. "She had lived under the black shadow of Moria of Slieve Mis until the life was smothered by that curse. When Moria died the shadow passed. Do you see, Kurithir?"
"I see and I know," said Kurithir. "She was seeking me that first day of freedom, and found me at the nightfall."
Aevil looked her scorn for the words she did not understand, and her look was black at Nealis of Desmond.
"There is one other thing," said Flann. "The mother of Liadan was known, and her race was known since Erinn had a name to it. But who was the first wife of Donal of Dun Conchinn?"
Aevil arose, trembling with rage, and her eyes glaring down at him.
"Keep to your seat," he said in the voice of a master. "I am to know these things and the reasons for them. A lady out of Spain was brought to these shores a bride in his youth, all are knowing that. But where is there some man or some woman to tell me when she died, and what of her children?"
There was silence and the breathing of Aevil could be heard as she leaned forward, her eyes on the cleric, and her hand slipping into the folds of her robe.
"I--I was not here at that time," he said, stammering.
"But you have seen records, you know?"
"It--is true. I--"
No more than that was said when Aevil leaped forward with a slender Spanish dagger crashing for his throat, but Flann was quick, and caught her arm. She struggled and fought, but he shook her as he would a rat and flung her to the floor, where she lay senseless.
"The dagger is a dainty toy and useful," he said. "It was perhaps for me she carried it." Then he turned to the wounded and trembling man, "Go on, tell it as you meant to."
"She knows," he said, looking down on Aevil in her rich robes and braided pearls. "The Spanish wife died, and died soon, without children. Maria was then what she always has been, full of one thought only, and that for her daughter here. Donal himself had fear of her, and made promises to her and kept them.
"But when men looked on Liadan they did not forget her. She came before Aevil, despite the beauty of Aevil, and of that the troubles began, and many of them. It was jealousy first, and after that there is no knowing what it was, but it has brought terror, and it has brought grief to this roof."
"Write this as you have told it," said Flann, "and call
the maids to look after the daughter of Moria. See that a guard is at her chamber door, and no more toys like this to play with."
Then he turned to his friend.
"There will be no shadow between you ever again," he said. "You have been shown all the reasons."
"There can be no more shadows," said Kurithir, and thought he spoke truly. He followed Flann through the hall, and to the grianan on the south wall; from there a troop of horsemen were seen lounging in the shadow, and four more with furnishings for women riders.
"It looks a holiday for gay gallants," said Kurithir, but Flann had no smile; he strode to the door and threw it open.
The grianan was no longer the lightsome ladies' chamber for broideries or games or music. An altar was there, and candles lit, and four nuns knelt where a priest recited a prayer, and their voices responded.
One voice out of the others pierced the heart of Kurithir, and he broke from his friend and called out in love, but the priest stepped between, and the eldest nun threw a gray veil over the primrose face he knew.
"Liadan!" he cried.
She drew the veil aside, and the two lovers looked long at each other. But even with love in her eyes she put out her hand.
"It is for life, Kurithir," she said.
"I have come for you!"
"Flann, my brother, tell him!" she said.
"I knew of this," said Flann, "but had hope to outride the ending of it. This is why Aevil met us in queenly circlet and royal robes at sunrise to flaunt before Liadan a final magnificence."
"We are here to guard a new sister on the way to sanctuary of Clonfert," said the priest. "From this day she has no life in the world. Men are her brothers, women her sisters. There are no other human bonds for her."
"But there are bonds not human, yet between two mortals," said Kurithir. "I have gone through hell to learn that truly, and have sailed far over deep seas to bring the word to her."
"It cannot be said here," said the priest. "You are doing sacrilege in your speech. You disturb the spirit of her on her path to Paradise. You to your confessor for penance, and abide by his ruling!"
"Penance will I welcome for her sake," said Kurithir, "and some brotherhood will I find to give right of con-verse with this, my friend. For that I will wear the robe and go into silence forever after."
Her eyes were on his as she passed out the portal between the two nuns, and the look in her eyes was the look of the nights on the sea. Yet there was question in that look, and a wistful question.
Flann bade them farewell in the stead of Aevil, and watched them cross the plain into the forest.
"The evil magic of Moria lives on, even though her body is dead," he said. "It was she put into the head of Donal this business of sanctuary--and Aevil helped as she might, until this is the end."
Kurithir was silent, thrilled by that look, and dazed with the temptings to follow after, to take her and reach the sea and some land of foreign men, even though all the bells of Erinn rang their curses on him.
"Did you mean that as to wearing the robe of a brotherhood?" asked Flann.
"I would do more for one day of converse out of life with her," said Kurithir.
That night he abode with Flann, and when the late stars were going into the west, she came as on the sea and crept between his arms, and lay silent there.
No songs were between them that night and no words. She rested like a tired bird after long wanderings, and in the morning he told Flann of how it was between them.
"She will walk free in a walled garden," he said. "Peace she has and no fear, and in the Dun of Conchinn she had many and strange fears, and of them she would speak to me, and not in dreams."
"I am believing your word," said Flann. "No other man could, but I saw the look. In all of life I will see nothing again like that. My feet are on the earth, and my cares are of earthly things."
"Daughter of Mona," he said, "the dower of a daughter of Donal shall be your portion. It goes with you for gifts to whichever holy home of cloistered women you may choose from out all Erinn."
She crested her head like a dark serpent, and her eyes were points of jet with jeweled disks on the band above them.
"My Spanish blade is not in my holding else there would be another man than you in line for the crown of Hugh," she said. "You would wall me from the world that the grayling rhymer come to you at last. Late it is
for that--and she under veil! All bells of church in Erinn would ring to damn you."
"Liadan is not in this, nor can be," he said. "You go to a cloister for a dagger stroke to a churchman, with thought to silence his speech in death. You could be killed like a wolf for that, and no one to make further question. But Liadan wears the veil to pray for sinners, and she would not have wish that you die in such sin as you have known. You go also into cloister lest you bring to birth a thing of poison such as your mother bred. You are of the women who know lusts, but not love, and such should not be breeding."
"What then of the love of that grayling?" she asked in mock. "What is the thing it breeds in men?"
"Its breeding will last while speech of Erinn lasts--and after! Liadan's is the mystical soul. Aengus of the white birds is the priest to hear her confessings. His is the key to unlock gates for Liadan where your feet and my feet may not walk."
Then while she brooded there Flann turned to Nealis the cleric.
"To you the records of this," he said, "and let me not hear even the name of cloister she is choosing. It is the daughter of Moria who enters that silence, and is not the wife of Flann. See you to that--and your life and her life to answer if there is mis-writing in this rule of mine!"
Aevil, glooming, took her last throw of the dice of fate.
"To the ears of Hugh the king this may go on a day to be," she said, "and he may make other ruling against an heir of his."
"The king of Erinn has no heir," said Flann, "and when the time comes, it is a, clean woman he will be choosing
for the mother of heirs. That is a riddle for your reading."
But she read it quickly and stood up, and cried aloud. "He is dead then--dead at last! And you are the king!"
"Since the sun of yesterday went down, I am king," said Flann. "I go now for the seat of the king, and the taking of the white rod."
But of Kurithir there were records, for there was grief on Erinn when he put aside the music of the world, and took a monk's robe for the cover of his youth.
And the day of days came to him when he earned indulgence of his confessor, Cummine, son of Fiancha, to talk apart in the walled garden, and the converse to be of things spiritual with a noble woman, and a youth between them as was custom with mortals in sanctuary.
And there Liadan came to him, and his hands touched hers after the long days.
"O Heart of me," she said, "twice have I made earthly tryst with Kurithir, and this time he is keeping it!" "And the May roses in bloom, and the thrush again
singing," he said. "Speak again, speak, Liadan! It is long we have whispered in the nights apart, and now you are in my touch, and I would hear your living voice, Liadan."
"Kurithir, Kurithir, Kurithir!" she said. "There has been no music like your name written in my heart."
"Your harp is with me. I mended the strings, and the wind plays on them in the nights in my window, Liadan."
"I know," she said, "and I wrote 'love' in ogham on the frame of your harp, and you only found it there when you came back from the sea."
"That is true," he said, "and you knowing it! You are in the likeness of a flower, Liadan, yet are you strong as mortals are not strong, and you found strong ways to come to me over ocean."
"I was dying that time, Kurithir, and the death shadow was on me for the shame that you thought my tryst song of evil boldness. The dark woman had sent me in sleeps to vision for her the unseen things, and when her bonds on me were loosed, your bonds drew me, and I found the way to you. You were the stronger then, Kurithir."
"Liadan! Liadan! We have only this day."
"Kurithir, we have all the days forever, Kurithir!"
The sun went behind the world, and the birds called to each their vesper song, and the moon of May grew warm through the dusk, and the youth walked in the shadows while Liadan lay in the arms of Kurithir. Their litanies of love were murmured there, and ever the wonder that their souls had found the way of meeting.
"You were the mystic rose, O Kurithir. The fragrance led me through the deep to you."
"Oh, sweetest bloom! There was no fragrance on the sea till you were bringing it."
"You heard the music, too, O Kurithir?"
"With my lips on your rose-leaf body I was hearing it all the nights. You brought it there."
"It was like this--the clasp thrill of your hand."
"It was like this--the yearning of my mouth."
"Sweet dream--O Kurithir!"
"It was like this--O Liadan!"
He spoke, and the lovers wakened and smiled at the waking, and at the dear closeness of the other, but Liadan cowered in the arms of Kurithir at glimpse of the mocking eyes of the watching woman.
"Is it even to a cloistered garden that Aengus, god of Youth Dreams, brings you the key for soul mysteries, O Liadan of Kurithir?" she asked.
"The Liadan of Kurithir is a new name to me and a proud one, sister. Shadow there may be on it, but no shame."
"By the Elements, you dare it well, grayling, and well your lover! It may be the prior and the abbess can give vouchings for you."
Cummine came to them there at the bidding of Aevil, and shouted holy wrath at sight of the veil of Liadan.
"It was not told me that a veiled woman was the friend
he would converse with in this sanctuary," he said. "This is a shame beyond words to both our houses--and beyond penance."
"I could kill you here, Liadan, before their hands touch your sweet body, Liadan," whispered her lover. But she shook her head and took her veil from the youth.
"In that way we might lose each other in some dread darkness, Kurithir," she said. "But now we will never lose each other. Give me sweet farewell, O Kurithir."
They bound him there and took him away for slow torturings and penance in a stone cell of the "Solitary Ones" on whom silence is put forever.
They stripped her in shame that she might walk in only her winding-sheet of the grave, and that walk was nightly, and her slender bare feet on the rough stones to the place of tombs. Before all the line of cloistered women she walked thus until the stones of the way were red from her bleeding feet.
After that they took her to a stone cell at the edge of the forest where holy women might not soil their eyes on her. Only her confessor and a poor lay sister came to her window there. She was under penance of silence, and writing-tablets were hers for speech.
She wrote prayers on the tablets, and she wrote confessions. There were times when she wrote poems.
The years left no trace of age on her--she was ever the primrose face of May. Marvels grew up around her because of that--and because of other mysteries.
At a time when the Danish raiders were stealing up the Sionan to the heart of the land, Kurithir wrote the number of their vessels and the number of their shields ere they had fared as far as Killaloe from the sea. When questioned,
and told to speak, he asked that Flann, king of Erinn, be sent a warning and gather shields, for Liadan, of the cell in the forest, had seen them coming, and asked him in the night to send word to Flann the king.
When the men of Flann took the battle path and proved the truth of it by a battle with the foreigners, and brought back slaves and many spears, Flann himself rode to Clonfert and talked with the abbot there, and silence was lifted from Liadan and from Kurithir.
The son of a dead prince of Tormond was being disciplined at that time for the reason that he wished to revoke the gift of his life to the cloisters. The gift had been made by his kindred when he was a child, and was not binding on his soul. He had been with the spearmen for the defense against the Danes, and there was a wound in his shoulder, and he talked as prince to prince with King Flann.
"Since my days of a child I have lived this life, and the schools of it delight me," he said. "I have joy in the work of the annals and their making. I may come back in gladness to cloisters when the snow is on my hair, but they call me 'God's Dastard' for the reason that I would walk free into the world in my youth to win what youth may win."
"It was not always so with him," said his confessor darkly. "There was a time indeed when he was quite content."
"Yes, when I was a child," said the soldier-monk, but his face went white and he looked elsewhere.
"Come, tell me of it," said Flann, and walked away with him.
"You are a man and not a monk, Flann, and I can speak. I was a child here--it is not so long ago. I saw the love-night of Liadan and Kurithir."
Flann looked at him and the tears were thick in his eyes for the penance done for that one night of a May moon.
"Then you saw that which was holy, for there was no evil ever in the soul of Liadan," he said. "You will come to my castle and make books as you will, or range free where you will. I heard of the hard penance given to that lad to force his speech of that night."
"The scourgings were given, and were heavy," said the youth, "but the speech they did not get."
Flann took the youth away with him and later placed him back at the head of the province where his jealous kindred were dividing his goods and his lands.
So, by this and by that, Flann left trace of the heart-faith he gave to Liadan, and to his friend who had the love of her.
He lived as a king lives, and took to wife Maelmara, the queen of Hugh Finnlaith, who had no knowings of druid power or of jealous loves, and children grew around them to strengthen their bond.
But when the Night of nights was come to Liadan and Kurithir, and their souls met at last tryst, and did not come again to either body, it was Flann the king who did them honor. It was by his will that the building of their tomb was at the cell of Liadan in the edge of the forest where the thrushes sang.
It was also Flann the king who had their poems of love writ on fine vellum, and set in a golden, gem-crested casket, that the memory of Liadan might live.
But in the wreckage made by wars and plunderings of the men of Lochland the treasure books and annals of beauty were wrested from many a castle and monastery, and stripped of their cases of silver, and pale gold, and copper into which jewels were craftily set. Among such
plunder of priceless worth fell the royal gifts of Flann the king, whose memorial slab at Cluain-mac-noise is a wonder of beauty after the passing of a thousand years.
And of the veiled poet-maid whose soul he saw rightly, there has come down through the centuries only fragments of her love lines, and among them her wistful unashamed confession: