Click to enlarge
(Dervail of the Shadow)
"To me the doing of that work would be dearer than to wear robe and circlet of the king," he said.
"The cowl of a monk to you if cold stone contents your youth," said Cormac. "Hard and cold it is. The crown of a king means warm robes, and warm cherishing on snowy nights, and--and all the other comforts a king can command. Go you to your verse-making and folly. Your head is o'er soft if you would trade a king's crown for a mason's tool--and neither crown nor trowel yours for the trading!"
"But to dream beauty and then form it out of the stone--that is to be as one of the Daoine sidhe" (Gods of the earth).
"You will burn in hell if you believe in the pagan ancient gods; not even must their names be said. To make speech of them calls them near."
Then Cormac crossed himself, and muttered a bit of the lorica of Phadraig the Saint, and looked at the lad whose
face had a pale dark beauty, and whose gray eyes looked black under heavy lashes.
"Take clay and make your dreams," said Cormac at last. "If well mixed the mud will take all shapes. What are we all but the dust of the earth?"
"It is not in mud I see dreams," said Ardan, "but you give me a thought, O Cormac!"
"It will not be mud of which I build my dreams, good Cormac."
The monk watched him idly for a while, and then tossed to him a trowel from among the tools of the builders.
"It will take no harm from the snow," he said, "and will save your hands. But make your play quick, for the sun travels north to bring the end of the cold moons."
"You mean he comes to wake Cethair, spirit king of the forest, out of his winter's sleep," said Ardan. "Cethair but breathes over the fields, and all the snows melt, and all of leaf and bloom comes out for his carpet of green fragrance."
"There is no king but King of Heaven and Turlough, Ard-Ri of Erinn--our own kings of Leinster and Orielle, and such," said Cormac, but Ardan was deep in his new play and had no words of argument. Once Cormac looked and saw he had set upright a slender straight sapling of yew in the packed snow of the slab, and once he noted that
the hands of Ardan stripped from the sapling all but two branches reaching out east and west as the arms of a cross, and after that Cormac carved at stone traceries, well satisfied that the fosterling of King Donough was, after all, but making a holy thing.
That was a comforting thought to the good Cormac, who had love for the lad who was known only as Ardan of Ardbreccan, and whose stay near them had not been so long. He had been the ward of the holy and learned OCahsande of Ardbreccan, where his childhood had been lived between gray walls, and under the great oaks' shade. At death of that holy man, who was called "Dail Clairineach" and known of all scholars, his ward Ardan, with wealth and comfort, was left to King Donough with instruction that he was the son of a mother whose dying hope had been that sheltered holiness be his share in life; and no more was known of him than that.
But his breeding spoke of gentle blood, and Maureen the queen made choice of him for comradeship with her own children, and her own maidens in the garden games, and the gracious sweetness of him won its own way in king's palace or monastery walls.
sons of princes wore the robe of scholarship and holy sanctity.
The two kings went their way, and Cormac was called by Duighal the prior to another place, and the boy was forgot by all, and the snow image was not seen by any until the morning after, golden lances of the sun touching it when coming first over the edge of the green sea.
And then, at sight of it, Cormac the monk cried out in awe, and his cry called others from the chapel.
Duighal the prior was there, and the two kings were there and Ardan stood in the shadow of the wall in a queer trembling of joy--and mayhaps some hunger, for he had worked till the setting of the moon, as in a trance, fasting.
"Is it a miracle of Brighde, the Foster Mother of God, as the blessed mantle was given her?" muttered the prior, and others thought it Mary, Queen of the Elements. But Diarmod the king stood beside Donough and stroked his dark beard, and his eyes shot green fire.
"A miracle it may be, holy father," he said, "but the miracle is in the gift given the mortal hand placing it there. Where is the Ardbreccan fosterling who heaped up the snow on this slab but yesterday?"
Cormac the carver of stone pushed forward Ardan, whose teeth chattered as he knelt under the eyes of all the brethren and the two kings.
"This is the lad, your royalty; always he is making the coaxing word for my edged tools that are not for a child. It is true I tossed him a trowel yesterday, but this thing of whiteness with jeweled robe of dewdrops could not have been formed by mortal hand and mason's blade."
"Speak, if you did it," said Diarmod of Leinster.
"Of snow I did it with a tool cut from wood. In the light of the moon I worked on the mantle with clear water from the well. The freezing water there made the jeweled
fringes to the robe--it was no miracle, O King, and I will do penance that I made the thing on consecrated ground. The fever took me to work, and I asked no permit."
"You need ask none forever in Leinster," said Diarmod. "Rise up to walk where you will in our domain, and work when you will."
There was a buzzing as of bees among the monks who looked at the lad and at the white limbs of the snow creature, tip-toe with wide-spread arms like a bird lifting for flight. The mantle of it spread from wrist to wrist across head and shoulders and hung truly like jeweled wings in the early risen sun, but the white breasts and limbs and body were bare against the mantle save for the girdle of maidenhood.
The prior Duighal was the one with a frowning face at the words of Diarmod, and he looked from the king to the white wonder, and then to the faces of the monks, bent and shifty-eyed as they glanced sideways at each other, and then at the white snow of the round breasts.
"Penance for all whose eyes are smitten by the sight!" he thundered. "This is no holy thing--no white picture of saint: it is the work of the Evil Father forming temptation! What wench has bared herself for you that you know the way of that?"
His staff was lifted as in threat above Ardan, who gazed, round-eyed, at the faces of the monks, and the holy fury of their shepherd. Donough OCarroll stepped between the lifted crook and the builder of the mystery.
"Look again, holy father," he said. "The boy has not been tempted; that understanding is elsewhere."
"My word with Donough," said Diarmod. "The lad says he worked in a fever a day and a night--"
"And fasting, too, your royalty," said Cormac.
"And fasting, too," said Diarmod. "Look at him: it
might be words of foreign tribes we speak for all he understands. Look at him! It was only a game of chance that he formed a virgin maid instead of a white bull--or a white fawn of the forest."
"But the bulls roam the hills uncloaked," said Donough OCarroll with a laugh; "so also does the fawn and its dam. Speak, lad--we know it was no wench came to you here in the cold of the night--and to a wench no girdle would be given. How got you that mystery as you got it? This is sanctuary--you can speak?'
Ardan stared at the listeners like a trapped thing, and then knelt before Donough.
"I am under bonds as a son to you--and I meant no evil. I have the mind dark on your meanings. I crave your pardon, and the pardon of your queen for her fosterling. It was at the bathing pool in the summer time. Her maidens were in the water, and like that she stood tip-toe on the high stone at the pool's margin. Like a bird with wide wings she stood ere the mantle slid from her shoulder. Proud she stood, and I from the thick green of the other shore saw her thus--more of beauty in her than snow and ice can tell! I went deep into the forest that day--lest they see me and deem me a spy on their pleasure-place. That is all, O Donough! If I have done a wrong deed, I ask to atone to the priests and to the maid."
"Her name has not yet been spoke," said Donough, and Diarmod made a quick step forward and laid his hand on the head of Ardan.
"To your feet," he said. "Is there name to a living maid for the double of that? Is there a name?"
Ardan turned his gaze from the eager king to Donough, and then to the frowning prior.
"If it might be spoke in another place?" he plead, but the prior lifted the staff.
"Here in this place where the evil thing was wrought," he thundered, "here begins your penance with open confession before all!"
Ardan turned to Donough OCarroll.
"If first I could speak of the word to you alone?" he said. But Donough laughed at the pleading, and lived to know sorrow of the heart for that laughing.
"As you have shown her breasts and her body to us, give us the name."
"But--let me entreat--"
"The name, lad, the name! What is she called?"
"She is called--Dervail."
The voice of him went low as the breath-whisper. Yet it was too loud for Donough, whose face was thunder-black and threatening.
The prior heard and turned on the monks, with words of censure for hearkening, and his orders brought them to heel like a pack of hunting hounds on the wrong trail.
Diarmod heard, and his eyes, with the strange green fire, narrowed as he looked at King Donough.
"What sweet hidden thing have you put away for holidays, good friend?" he asked. "The lad only spoke in whisper, yet the sound of it echoes among you like a thunder-clap in the hills."
"It is not hidden by choice of mine, Diarmod," and the voice of Donough had the gloom on it. "We will to break fast and then--"
"The lad at our table for the food!" decided Diarmod. "Look not so down, lad, because you held beauty in your mind more close than most of us. The monks today dare not bury you alive as they once did to sinners. Their forbears would have left you pinned to the earth for a smaller thing than a naked virgin in their cloister--even the prior will have dreams tonight!"
Then he walked around the white figure to see the solid backing of the cloak to the slender body, and smiled at the craft of it. The mystery of it was going, yet he glanced from under his brows at the lad, and had wonder.
"Lucky for me that I abode the night with you, Donough OCarroll, else would I have missed this in life," he said, "and no man can hope to see it twice. This will be a melting day, and the wind has turned: it comes the sea-way since the dawn."
"The sea-way," said Ardan, "the eastern sea-way--the path of sorrows."
"Why do you give that word?" asked Donough OCarroll, staring at him.
"I have no knowing why I spoke it," said Ardan. "I thought I heard it somewhere. And look you! It is true: I fasted and half froze to build that while the joy of building was with me--and like a white jewel it was when the sun touched it this morn. But the sun ray is gone, and the wind of the east brings the melting with it, and the jewels of the mantle are dripping tears already--tears! I should have wrought with metal tools in stronger stuff."
Cormac had come back with a stout, long stave under orders of the prior, and stood waiting in courtesy the going of the two kings.
"Go you to your food, lad," he said kindly; "the tools you shall have at need. But go you, for your fasting gives you the sight of things you know nought of at all! The Hidden People of the Ancient Days are putting speech on you; go to food, and drink, and human thoughts."
"I would rather do that," said Ardan. "I had the Dream of things with me when I built this, and my heart would sorrow to watch the white of it melt gray in its own tears. She is still the white bird tip-toe for flight!"
Donough OCarroll looked at Ardan as if he was seeing
him for the first time in life, and Diarmod the king tore himself from the gazing, and strode beside Donough with the swing of the man who had found things easy in life.
"Diarmod MacMurrough, have you given heed to the words you have heard beside that white wonder image?" asked Donough.
"I have that. Some of the words are as full of wonder as the image itself," said Diarmod.
"Take them to your remembrance then, for no idle words were said there. That boy had the right knowing, and was right in his silence, but I made him speak. It is my grief."
"It is no grief of mine," said Diarmod, and laughed as one who holds his own thoughts.
Cormac was doing well his task: the white wings were shattered, and the slender white body broken. There was nothing left of the Dream but the dark cross of the young yew tree dripping drearily against the gray stone of the wall. The wind from the east carried the melting mist with it, and there was no longer any sight of the sun anywhere.
Donough OCarroll went into his house that day with a heavy gloom on his face--a strange gloom for one shown honor by his overlord.
The woman who loved him looked her amaze that he put aside the bread she offered, and called first for the wine at morningtide.
"Let be, Maureen," he said, and spoke to her lowly. "Take your heed of our friends if I limp lacking in courtesy this day. I feel 'fey' with some happenings of the morn, and would that you send best messenger and swiftest horse for Kieran Dail of the caves. The king must be told some truths and some sayings. And it must be a holy man, and a wise one for the telling."
"Why should the name of a strange maid so witch your thoughts from Mor na Tuathal and the daughters of princes?" asked Donough, and Diarmod laughed his happy laugh by which hearts had been won.
"Why should the lad who knows not love have made her his Dream? Answer me that, and you will have your own answer! What put silence on the monks when her name was spoke? There are mysteries in it, and riddles are sometimes witchery."
"Mine is not the telling of the riddle, but it will be told for you," said Donough.
When the supper was over, and only the two kings and the blind monk called Kieran Dail were in the great room which was for private and secret things, their talk began.
"It is for a curious thing I have sent for you, O Kieran,"
said Donough of Orielle. "With me is my friend, a hunter from the south. He is a MacMurrough, and I want him by my side when I hear the story of the maid called Dervail nan Ciar."
"That maid is of your fostering, since the death of Ethnea your sister, to God her soul! She is called the ward, or the daughter, of Murtagh of Meath--is Dervail of the Shadow. Beauty was hers by birth, and wealth is hers by a dower of fear. Of that you should know somewhat, ODonough, as you should know why the wife of Murtagh has fear of her and would give all wealth of the valley of the Boyne rather than have her under the roof of Meath. What new thing can a hermit of the caves have for your worldly knowing, ODonough, prince of Orielle?" said Kieran Dail.
"It is not of the new I would hear--it is of the ancient old. It is of the prophecy; it is of the reason why that blood is feared and must not repeat itself in Erinn. It is the year and the time when she was to go from my castle to the walls of holy sanctuary, and the dower of fear to go with her."
Diarmod, stretched on a pile of wolf skins in the glint of the firelight, looked up and gave Donough a smile at that. But the sightless eyes of Kieran could not see the look, or the mockery of it.
"True, it is the time," said Kieran, "and the reason of it goes back to the dim old days when men who walked the world took mates ofttimes from the Hidden Tribes. Aye, that was the way of it more oft than in the days in which we live. The dark mist of the earth-mind was not so thick between us in them times, and there were other matings not to be spoken. Women of the sea and wolves from the forest have helped man bring forbidden lives--lives without souls--on the earth. The saints know it,
and God knows it, and the tribes of that people have often strange evils in their blood."
There was silence while the blind eyes stared into the red ash as if seeing visions.
"How far back can you be going into the dim days of that time?" asked Donough.
"The mind can go far back on paths where speech must not follow," said Kieran. "To give words to things gives power to them as well. To give names calls up the shadow--white or gray--of the soul that answered to it on earth. That is a true saying. And there are them not to be called back--the names going out in shadows! Under a like shade the child Dyveke Og, called Dervail, was born into Erinn. Her birthing belonged in another land, and not here--not here at all.
"Among the druids of the dim days there were sacred things, sacred rules, and names, and priests who were kings. I am not naming the name of one, or the name of his tribe, but there was one who was Highest, who was given 'the sight,' yet the rules were broke by him, and broke for a woman who brought temptings. The name of that woman is not to be spoke, but she was a queen in her own tribe--and it was a tribe of the blood of the wolves of Alba. To Erinn she fled as for sanctuary--and brought her temptings. The madness of love she brought on that priest who was king, and he was netted by her as a fish is netted in a deep-sea net--and was borne by her kinsmen across the sea to their land. Her kinsmen were the barbarians of the east, and he was held by them as hostage while Erinn paid eric in skins of the deer and otter, and gold from the rivers of the west. That is how it was until a helot of Alba made way through their traps and their walls and brought the word to Erinn; and a sad word it was, for there was no truth in that people! The priest-king,
netted through love, had neither feet, nor hands, nor eyes left to him. Their women tortured him, yet kept him alive as mockery of a king, for a king of Erinn must be without blemish. Speech was left him, and nothing else of a human was left him. He made a rune, and word by word the helot learned the words of it and brought it to Erinn. A long rune it was, too. And first of it was that no further eric was to go out of Erinn for him to the red brutes of the eastern shores. He alone, by his death there, would pay the price of his fall--but it was worth the summer and winter of torturings if he alone could pay for the lesson to Erinn, and to the men of Erinn. He laid on his own clan a heavy rule that by Sun and Moon, Earth and Air, Fire and Water, and the lives of their children, no bond of faith be made with the men of Alba, and no marriage with a woman of Alba, for the blood was not the blood of clean people, and the eyes of that people had no vision of clean faith in bonds of fealty.
"In that rune he had the vision of the greatness of Erinn if tribe by tribe they made bonds only with each other for the glory of Inis Fohdla, which, even in far ancient days, was named that--the Isle of Destiny."
"Why is Erinn, in the ancient runes, called by that calling?" asked Donough.
Kieran Dail shook his head.
"I do not know. God knows! Men who named the stars called it by that name, and had 'the sight.' A land was given to the Hidden People, who were great people; they have not known death, yet have never left the land of Inis Fohdla. In the years ahead they will again have a birthing, and the hidden things of the wise are in their keeping until that day. For three centuries Erinn has been the school for the sons of Brythen and France, and other foreign people. The Dane invaders were driven
home by Brian of the Tributes, and Inis Fohdla pays tithing to no viking of the foreign in our day; it may happen that we are near to reading the riddle of Inis Fohdla and that naming; it may be so if the faith is kept in peace, and the rune of that king of the tortures be not lost again as it was lost by Cuan the Dark in the days I hold in memory."
"Who was Cuan the Dark?" asked Donough.
"He was of the blood of that priest-king of the rune; he was also of my blood, but his own name is not spoke. He was of the sacred line into which no blood of the enemy must flow lest it bring the curse of a thousand years' helotage on Inis Fohdla."
There was silence as the slow words of the blind hermit sunk to the minds of the two kings.
"A thousand years!" muttered Diarmod. "How could Erinn be held as tribute-payer for a thousand years to a king of the foreign? Thorgils and Ota the queen did hold the Sionan and many harbors, and the tax paid to the Danes was a heavy tax. But years more than one hundred are gone since there was taxing like that. How could it be coming again?"
"I have not the sight for that," said Kieran. "It was the prophecy, and the penalty spoken in the ancient rune if that line of the kings should take mates from the red-wolf women of Alba."
"But--it was of one line alone--one family--or one clan," said Diarmod.
"Aye--it was one alone, but that one was the sacred line of the priest-kings. Their rule was the rule for the men of the crown and the temple, and the people of lower rank would follow. It was before the time of christian men in Erinn. It would take more than the time of one winter night to tell you all the difference in minds and
lives between that day and this day. But through all the changes the line of Cuan the Dark kept to the law of that rune--eight times one hundred years was the time it was held to and the line was clean, and the record of that line was proud.
"Then the young had the teaching that no thing could be truth but the truths spoke by the saints of the New God, though truth was in the world before Mary came to the birth.
"Truth is truth for always, and even the pagans had many true things in their hearts. But the young are light of mind, and do not see these things. So it was with Cuan the Dark.
"To Spain he sailed for a matter of import, and I was beside him. To the land of France we went, and I walked the lines of mighty Carnac, and thought of kindred wonders at Knocknarea in our own land. There were women everywhere, and they were the days of his youth, and he gave them love, and good-will, and farewell! So it was with us, and home he sailed, glad and free of heart; and it was here in Erinn he met that trial he was to meet. He broke the geis laid on his line, and on his birth, when he looked on Dyveke the Dove, child of Gorm, son of Knud of the rath of Knud.
"The mother of Dyveke had been a woman out of Alba, blue of eyes and flaming of hair, and in her own land she had been to the front with her kinsmen in battle. But Gorm the Dane had his way with her and stole her to sail the seas with him, as was well-fitting, for each was of a tribe drinking from skulls at their joy-feasts, and fierce alike in their lovings.
"Sons they had, but they never kept life long; that fierce mother held her strength for her own passions. There
was a saying for that among the Danes. Then Dyveke came to birth, and the mother went out of life. It may be there were fairer things on earth than Dyveke; but I never saw them.
"Dyveke means 'dove' in the wording of her father, Gorm, and no breast of dove was whiter, and no flight of dove had more of grace--and no love-call of a dove had more of music than her voice.
"From her grianan she smiled down with look of longing on Cuan the Dark, who sat on his black racer below, and the madness came on him there for that look and for that woman--and the madness stayed.
"None of his elders was there--I alone who knew the geis was there--the geis every son of our line was bond-man to.
"But he was deaf to my words when she spoke!
"A noble of the Danes named Thorold had heard, in the far north, of the beauty of her, and came with gifts and with offers. She took his gifts and gave him love looks as she gave to Cuan the Dark. The boats of Thorold the Dane were anchored in the bay, and the word went out that it would be with Thorold she would sail as wife.
"That was the day Cuan the Dark changed to a wild thing showing his teeth--the girl Dyveke had looked love on him, and he had that madness.
"I made him listen to the record of the ancient horror when a woman of Alban birth had brought death in life to a prince of his line.
"I held him as I reasoned with him, speaking over the names of the men who for the hundreds of years had taken the vow and the bond for his own life, and the lives of his children. He fought me and growled back that the vows were pagan vows--not christian--and not binding on a christened man.
"I spoke the rune of the priest-prince who had warned his clan to make no bond forever with the fierce Albans of the jealous eyes:
Sleep with the sword between
Sons and a foreign queen!
To daughters the blue dirk's sheen
Sooner than blood unclean!
For Fohdla the Fair
Hold blood and the land,
Else victors of Erinn
Swarm red on her strand!
For eric is breaking;
For soft heart in taking
A mate out of Alba
A thousand years' snare!
A thousand years' yoke
On the bent neck of Erinn;
A thousand years' tribute of blood,
"That was the geis made binding by the priest-king in exile ere they cut out the tongue from him, and left him to rot when his clans heard of the maiming and sent no more gold of the ransom to the woman who had netted him. She was a queen; she had heard of his beauty and his sacred knowings, and had the jealous eye for that which was too fine for the vision of her people. Aye--she netted him and tricked his clan to pay eric against the day of his return. And in the end he fed with her wolfhounds, and was torn to death in their fightings. That is how it was; but he had the clear vision of the future years before his
going! That rune I told, and the vision I told, to Cuan the Dark that it make strong his geis to hold against the charm of Dyveke the Dove."
"Did it hold?" asked Diarmod.
"It did not hold. He broke from me and shouted that there were christian bonds between Erinn and the ancient enemies to the east. He would follow the christian bond, and make a forgetting of pagan geis laid upon princes of his line. That is how it was. I was the one who sent for the elders of our house, but it was too late. She was in his dun at Cualann ere their coming. There it was the men of his line put against him the ban of the unnaming, and the forgetting. That is where her lover, Thorold the Dane, stood him siege for her and made break in his walls. The curse of the geis came in quickness to Cuan, for it was the hand of Dyveke, of the whiteness of doves, by which a knife found his heart, and his head was tossed by her from the tower to the feet of her lover, Thorold!
"With Thorold she sailed out to sea, but the girl child she had borne to Cuan after that beheading was hid in the cell of a monk who was let near for some shrivings. Thorold was raging like a maddened bull for the death of the child not his. Two were born that night. One was dead; it was given into his hands, and the fierce soul of him was content with that, not knowing. But Dyveke, the white, knew somewhat. She had heard the unnaming and the ban of his clan against Cuan for her sake. She had heard the geis of the rune, and she had bitter hate for the banning of her, or of her blood, and it was a bitter curse she put against Erinn at her going away, and a bitter prayer she made that the seed of Cuan might raise up hosts of wolves to tear each at the throat of the other till the geis of the rune held true, and Erinn was broken, and her neck under the foot of the foreign men of enmity."
The two kings looked at each other across the light of the fire and Diarmod turned to the portal as if a cold wind had struck him. He moved more close to the hearthstone and drew over him a robe of otter skin.
"And that was the ending?" he said.
"God and Mary knows! Mayhaps it was the beginning! It was the year Adrian, Pope in Rome, signed the grant of Erinn to King Henry what time he could win warriors for its conquering. The conquerors have not yet sailed from Alba, but the eyes of Alba are jealous eyes, and the grant was given the year the child of Cuan, Dyveke Og, came, born living, into the land of Erinn."
"Young Dyveke?" repeated OCarroll. "That name for her was never told me."
"Your sister, the Lady Ethnea, had hatred of it,' and Dervail was the name she made choice of instead. The mother of Cuan had kindred in the Ua Machflain, and to King Murtagh went the Lady Ethnea with concern for the dower and station of the unwelcome woman-child. A dower was given for her life in sanctuary, and that dower was doubled by Ethnea who had love for the father of the child. The ward of King Murtagh she has been called, and it may be she is thought of his breed. But Duighal knows she is Dervail nan Ciar, who had no right to live; and King Murtagh has no longing to see the evil face of her--she is of the shadows, and to be forgotten in walls of sanctuary--and the walls built high."
"It is the first full hearing of the child I have asked for, though I had fear of the truth," said Donough. "From the monastery she was taken to the castle of Ethnea, my sister. At the dying of that sister, she was brought to Maureen, who thinks her a bud of the tree of Machflain of Meath, to end in the convent of sheltered women."
"Aye--that was hope of the prior when he gave penance
to the monk who carried that white wolf's whelp to his cell for safety! Aye--the years pass, and she has reached the age. No sons and no daughters should come to Erinn of that breed of Dyveke. I saw what I saw of the broken geis, and my hair went white in that seeing, and for that the fear is on me for that breed."
"Then it was not in the young years the sight dark came on you, Kieran of the cell?" said Diarmod the king.
"It was not in the young years. It was by the hand of the one love of my kinsman, Cuan the Dark. Her lover, Thorold, found me out where I was putting a cover of earth over his headless body. The brute men of Thorold held me, and her white hand drew the hot iron across my eyes. She was hard, jealous, and she forgot nothing. She was Alba! She had the name of Dyveke the Dove, and her looks were sweet looks, and her voice had the music of birds, but her heart was the heart of her foremothers who ran with the wolf pack."
Diarmod laughed low. "Your words are not the words of a priest of Mary," he said. "An army of men with your heart would be a good army for battles."
"Battles for Erinn were dreams in my life," said Kieran. Dyveke knew the dreams, and let me have my blinded life for the mourning of them! I wear the robe and do penance for my sins and for the sins of Cuan who died unshriven. But there is no sin in the strangle of a wolf, and no seas would be too wide for her following if I had but the sight. May she burn in hell all the years there is shadow on Erinn!"
"Be it so if she brings that shadow," said Donough, "for that is no sin to say."
"Truth for you! And the same to all who would walk in her thoughts! In the name of the Elements, and Mary, and the Father and Son!"
"In the holy names," said Diarmod the king, and rose and stood by the fire with the otter skin robe about him in a quick tremble of cold.
Donough OCarroll looked at him, and poured wine from the flagon into a jeweled cup.
"To your warmth," he said. "We have talked the fire low on the hearth. Empty the guest cup with me for comfort of the body."
Then he poured a cup for Kieran, thanked him and asked what gift he could give him for the story of the blood of Dervail non Ciar, whose true name was Danish dove.
"Give your gift to Erinn for me, and make your own choice of that gift," said Kieran, "but let it be a good ship to take the wolf's whelp as far out of the land as the shores of Egypt, and that is a far sail for a good ship; or failing that, build a wall of stone, doubled, around the convent where she is barred from the sight of men. If she has what her mother, Dyveke, had, say prayers to Phadraig and to Brighde that the curse of the eric be not laid on Erinn."
"That besides the doubled wall?" said Diarmod, who was warmed by the wine, and spoke lightly.
"Aye--besides the double wall! The paying of that eric is beyond thought. It is the yoke of a slave and a thousand years of blood on the bent head of Erinn!"
Diarmod paced the room and quaffed another cup of the red wine of Gaul.
"Is it not enough that the priestly rules are ever near to ban anything of beauty coming a man's way?" he grumbled. "But a hermit must bring runes of a thousand years to strengthen that ban! The tale would witch a man to follow her if but to see if she had the wonder in her of Dyveke the Dove--and tame that wonder as a falcon is tamed for the wrist of the master."
"But that is a bird you will not take from its cage, Diarmod?" said Donough. "Take to memory the geis of your own line against the hunting of birds--it is more than a thousand years, yet the bards are telling the legend even in our day--and it was a white bird in the legend, Diarmod, a white bird coming to earth with love-words and warnings to your ancestress, who was queen--and this white bird of the cloister you will not be seeking cage for, Diarmod?"
There was silence but for the crackle of the new wood heaped on the fire, and Diarmod looked long into the red heart of the flame before he spoke.
"No, Donough--one veiled maid of the cloisters brought shadow enough and blame enough to me--that is long since, yet never forgot."
"It is Dhira you mean?"
"It is Dhira. Rest to her soul! She was robbed from me again by Dail Clairineach and hid in shadow to her death. No, I will not take another maid from convent walls--and no guest of yours from your castle; but if she is fair of body as that white mystery in the cloister, it is as well I have not crossed her path a-nutting in the forest."
"You put light in my heart at that saying, Diarmod, for I saw the thought of you. But there are women always for you; women a-plenty."
"Of a sort," said Diarmod, who had to wife Maelmor na Tuathal, sister of Laurance the saintly, and a queen-woman
in her own way, and a pious, of a sort, "but white birds with reaching wings do not wait on every road for a man."
Donough OCarroll went to his rest with content that night, and unburdened the cares of the day to Maureen, his wife.
"Get the maid, Dervail, on the road to sanctuary of Cluain-mac-noise in the dawn of tomorrow," he said. "Our shelter has not kept her name from the ear of the king. Strange happenings have been, and curious portents. She is not one to win friend for any king of Erinn."
"In truth she is the fairest thing in all your province, Donough, my heart," said Maureen, "but, like a bird, she is--untamed."
"Do not make that saying of her to me," said Donough, "or sleep could not come to my bed this night. Too much I have heard this day of bird-women, both doves and falcons, and I would that the maid was ugly as a mud-hen among the bogs. Woman, let me have sleep, and pray that Saint Brighde speeds her in safety on the road from us tomorrow. If she is in truth of the blood of Murtagh of Machflain, King of Meath, the time has come for his claim of her. The mystery of her is abroad on the winds, and the very name of her sounds temptation to Diarmod!"
Like forest pools were her eyes--gray with a glint of blue; her mouth was the rose for beauty, and her hair held the warm flame of red gold; heavy it fell either side of her face and reached below her girdle. A cloak of royal blue touched the stone floor, and a veil of silvery gray broidered with blue was held by the wire-spun circlet of gold about her head. The falling of that silvery veil gave her a strange mystical look to Ardan, and the dignity of the cloak hid every maidenly curve of her young body.
"Argatonel," spoke Ardan as he stood staring at the beauty of her, "'Silver Cloud' in truth you are, Dervail; and you look as if you had slept in a fairy's rath and woke changed and not young any more."
"Sleep I did not at all--for the doom of going away was put on me ere the turn of the night. That was the time I sent the maid Kauth to seek you. The castle of the holy women at Cluain-mac-noise is to be my prison. Some sudden thing has stung the prior, Duighal, and his monks are to be my guard to sanctuary. It will be my grave they take me to!"
"I am to blame--to blame!" said Ardan. "I, too, must go a road this day, but it is to the Culdees of Saint Hilary. For my fault I am to study in a new place and among strange scholars."
"Why are you to blame? You that were my comrade?"
"It is forbidden that I tell you all, or think of it--but I made an image of snow like a white bird that yet was a maiden. I thought of you and made it all of whiteness, but like you, too, in beauty. It was in the cloister. Duighal the prior says it is an evil thing to image any but sainted women, and a penance is put on me that I go."
"But you--you have no unhappy heart at that going," said Dervail, and sighed as she looked at him. "You will walk free to make other beautiful things in other places."
"I will remember you in the far places, and the beauty I make will be thoughts of you."
Dervail smiled on him with closed lips and eyes peering sideways through the silver veil. The veil made a new mystery of her face.
"Argatonel," he said again, and was thinking of a rhyme for it to make a poem as a farewell gift, "Argatonel!"
"You do not love me, Ardan," she said; "you only love beauty."
"But you are that beauty."
"You do not love me; you do not know I am alive! You look at me as on a saint, high on the church wall. I would rather dance free with the Ever Young People in the Hidden Hills!"
He did not know what to answer. Cormac had said hell waited for people of pagan thoughts, and Cormac had a soul of good intent.
"You are my best comrade, and as my sister," he said; "my grief is much that you go unwilling--I would that you went not out from here until a marriage feast gave you to some righteous king. You look like a queen with that cloak and the veil of the silver cloud."
She laughed a little bitterly.
"I said you did not love me, and I said true; you are almost of my age, yet you would pick a king out of the world for me! I steal ere the dawn to seek farewell of a poet, and his only seeking is a rhyme for my name--not to be found!"
"But I have found it!" he cried in triumph. "I will write it for you ere the troop leaves the portal. I will sing it in the lonely west where I go for scholarship. Dervail, what other thing could I do to show my thoughts and my heart to you?"
"I do not know. It is a boy you are, and my thoughts
are of a man's thoughts. Look: I am cloaked and shod for travel; there are swift steeds below, and there are boats at the sea's marge. Beyond where the low sky takes the silver of morning, there is another land. Had I the strength of a man beside me, it is there I would go."
"With the troops of two kings of power to claim you for the church? Who would dare give shelter to you in such flight?"
"Two kings?" she asked, puzzled and frowning.
"Diarmod of Leinster is guest of King Donough." She laughed again.
"So: that is why I have been kept to the grianan of the queen for three days! It has been so always when guests of might are housed here. What crooked stick of the forest am I that no prince or king must look my way?"
"The fairest things of earth are God's offerings, Dervail," he said. "I think of you as abbess of some white sisterhood of Mary. On some day of days I will surely see you so, and kneel for your blessing. You will be ever the white bird and the silver cloud to me."
"That makes the cold stone no softer a pillow," she said. "You live in dreams--sometimes you have made me see the dreams, but this no dream today. They take me for other prison and call it serving God!"
A clink of metal on stone sounded above them where the flying buttress carried a windowed room as a canopy above where they stood.
Dervail sped quickly back out of sight, but Ardan stepped further out to look above. What he saw there was Diarmod of Leinster with his finger on his lip. Horse-men clattered through the castle gate, and Ardan looked down at them from the edge of the wall.
"The castle is awake, and there is no other moment for speech," he said. "My heart goes with you on the road,
comrade maid of mine. May that road lead you to peace!" She stood looking at him moodily while he lifted the hem of her cloak to his lips.
"Almost I see you here a queen in the queen's grianan," he said. "You look it in that robe you wear. Have you no farewell to me, Dervail?"
"For that I came, Ardan, and may it be so to you! I would you could teach me the content of dreams--my dreams lack content. Farewell, comrade! In the gray days I will think often of the white bird by which we are exiled. Fare you well, Ardan! Go you the way of your white dreams!"
There was a weariness in the sweet voice. So few days before she had run races and tossed the ball in the games, but the Dervail in the silver veil at the dawn was a different maid.
The veil--the silver cloud--Argatonel!--in a moment more he had out the inkhorn and quill and was tracing on the smooth stone the first words of the rhyme singing in his ears--he had promised her a verse of farewell.
[paragraph continues] The rhythm of it sang itself, and he was glowing with eagerness when he became suddenly conscious of someone near, and turned to find Diarmod smiling at him in great good humor.
"I had joy of my eavesdropping, though I could get no glimpse of her face," he said. "Anyone seeing your tryst might have had his doubts, but I'll go your warrant to any
father alive who has sweet-voiced daughters in want of a playmate."
Ardan bent knee to him, and thus turned from the words, roughly noted in ink, still wet. Little escaped the eye of Leinster, and a step took him beside it.
"What's to do here? 'The sun has set at morningtide.' That is against nature. How could that be?"
"My King, I cannot make you see it when you did not see her face--and she goes at morningtide."
"So, that is it! My grief, to hearken to a tryst with a lad when it was the strength of a man she gave call for! And this--Argatonel?"
"It is the silver cloud of the veil she wore--the veil by which she was hidden from you above."
"Very good--it looked, indeed, a veil of silver over hair of gold. Go on--finish your lines. Here is a scrap of vellum of no import; write it across that. Your craft is curious, and has interest to me. You shall write love-poems for my daughters. Go on! 'But none so bright--'"
And Ardan, encouraged by the king's mood, plodded placidly on.
He finished writing and read it aloud, and the eyes of the king were on him curiously.
"That, and a maiden tryst at dawn, and you fasting!" he said. "What works then might you not do with good meat under your ribs? I've a mind to take you with me, if only to feed you, and watch your growth. Come! We'll talk of it and eat. Clean white vellum shall be yours for
your love-lines, though the maid read you true, my young cock-robin! You had no heart-love to give your Argatonel; your only seeking was some fair thing to sing about."
The rising sun touched her hair to a glory, where it fell in braids to the saddle cushion. The deep pools of her eyes held shadows, and the black lashes were wet against her rosebloom cheek, yet the head of the silver veil was not humbled, and her chin was lifted in pride as she looked about her on the household back of the spearmen, and her maid, and the page holding her restless steed as it pawed the earth, and grew restless under the tinkling sweetness of its bridle bells.
"Truly you said it, Ardan; she is the sun at morning-tide," said Diarmod the king; but when Ardan attempted speech in reply he was silenced lest a note of the music of her voice be lost.
"Think of me as Regina in that new life," she said to Queen Maureen at the farewell. "I wear the blue mantle that Mary the Mother may see I serve her in a royal way. The gray of life has no liking for me, and to the last I will wear colors of the deep sea, and the sky."
"What a queen can do will be done that no gray robe is yours until the day you make choice of it," said Maureen
in kindness. "A writing to that end goes with you to the holy women."
"All have spoke a farewell but yourself, King Donough of Orielle," said the girl Dervail, with proud coldness in her voice. "I give thanks to you for years of sanctuary. Am I to have no host's gift of the stirrup cup at my going?"
"A white road, and a white welcome to you," said Donough, whose tongue was stiff with fear that she go not quickly enough. The wind of the morning had caught the silver cloud of her veil, and swept it back over the golden circlet; she looked a girl queen beyond all queenly beauty, and too fair for the men of Leinster to view.
Donough waved forward the bearer of the cup and the wine, and lifted his hand to pour the draught, but Diarmod, who stood in the portal with Ardan, came forward, and the hand of Diarmod was before that of Donough.
"That the right may be my right," he said and filled the cup.
The servitor dropped to one knee, and the King and Queen of Orielle bowed low, and Dervail saw them, for the first time, stand aside for another man in their own castle keep.
The wonder of it filled her, and her lips opened for question, but Diarmod stood at her stirrup. He gave to her the verse of Ardan and lifted the cup, and when their eyes met she forgot that a king and his household bent low while only one man stood.
"Will you not kiss the cup?" he asked. "It is my grief that it is the farewell, and not the welcoming."
With both hands she reached for the cup, with both hands he held it up, but their eyes never parted. Their look was a long, strange look, and the smile was gone from her face.
"I speak thanks to you, O my lord," she said, "and the cup of parting will be remembered by me."
The prior rode through the portal with six stalwart monks at his heels.
"I go north for pilgrimage to the shrine of Phadraig," he said, "and we will add guard to the new nun for Cluain-mac-noise.
He did not look at her at all, and his speech was to Donough OCarroll.
Diarmod turned darkly on the cold-faced prior.
"Six of my own men will ride with you as far as the Shannon," he said. "They are the best of my horsemen, holy father, and will bear to the abbott a message. A gift will go to the abbess as a dower for the Lady Regina, for such is her new name in religion. This on the word of Leinster."
The prior stared at him, and bent head in brief courtesy. Never before had Leinster dowered maids, except they, in one way or another, were among his possessions.
But Diarmod, with full knowledge of the sharp ears and keen dark thoughts about him, followed his mood because of the red mouth of Dervail, and her trancelike gaze. He slipped a ring of gold from his hand and put it on hers.
"This my gauge of the promise," he said. "Let it go with the dower. In sanctuary pray for Diarmod of Leinster."
"Diarmod!" and her voice was a whisper of wonder, but her face held liking, and swift joy, and hope. It was plain to see that cold sanctuary was none of her choosing.
Diarmod, O some time Ard-Ri of Erinn!"
Fire of pride flamed in his eyes at her words. She had voiced his secret hope that the cloak of Leinster like the mantle of Brighde's legend might gain magic growth to cover all the land.
"The prayer of you for that day, O Regina," he said, and lifted the cup to drain the leavings of her draught. "By the Elements, I wish for you all you seek in life!" The emptied cup of silver he put in the hand of Kauth and stepped a pace aside as Duighal the prior spurred his steed forward, and spoke to Dervail without glance of the eye. He had known Dyveke, her mother, in her day of beauty, and had seen the christening of the wolf's whelp--also he knew the moods and loves of Diarmod of Leinster. Kindling for the pit of hell were both of them!
"Veil your face from the eyes of man, girl, and ride forward with your maid," he said.
Dervail lifted her hand to the veil, but lifted proudly her head as well, and cast one slow look over the awed group. Between the church and the king none dared speak, and Maureen grasped the arm of Donough in fear.
The eyes of Dervail rested last on Leinster and her eyes spoke for her as she drew the veil and shrouded the beauty of her face.
Two by two the riders passed the outer portal, and yet Diarmod stood, stroking his beard, and staring after the blue cloak and the shrouding veil.
"What joy in the hunting of deer when Paradise opens portals a man may not enter?" he demanded. "You played well to get my promise before my eyes had looked on her! You played well, Donough!"
"But the promise was a good one, and you will live to give thanks for the making of it."
"It will not be this day you will hear such thanks," spoke Diarmod shortly. "The beauty of her is beyond belief, and it is not her beauty alone! There is something--something--"
"True, there is," said Donough, "there is the beauty of Dyveke, her mother, but she is stronger than Dyveke, for she has the charm of the man named The Dark, because he was made Nameless, and those that were loving him could never see charm in another man. My sister, Ethnea, was one. Her life wore itself out making prayers because he died unshriven, and there is Kieran Dail, devoted even to vengeance if need be!"
"Oh, you make it strong, and I have given my word," said Diarmod, "but it is well it was you and the church I promised. Had it been one man claiming her--Murtagh of Meath or any man--I would be gathering a troop now to bear her back, and the monks with their prophecies might carry their runes to hell."
Five years of books and songs and travel he had, but ever close was the craft of carving, and Diarmod's attempt to make him a bard, and a bard only, had not been a success.
"Let me work out my poems in stone if I can find them that way," he said. "Some need a pen, some need a brush and color for the telling, and surely the stone has its own hymns--and it endures."
"It is not a bad thought," agreed Diarmod. "If the ancient books had been carved of stone tablets the Dane raiders would not have carried away so many of the treasures. And in our own day ORuarc of Breffni is laying tribute on many an abbey of the north. The Culdees had best save their parchment and use the chisel."
"I saw him when I was a child at the ford, ORuarc," said Ardan, "and had bad dreams. He had only one eye, and an evil look. The monks told tales of him, but they say his castle at Lough Gilla has the riches of an emperor."
"Well may be! His men hold the fords of the north for heavy toll, and his robbings give him jewels enough to cover the many women he steals."
"As I mind him, he would get them no other way--none would go to Lough Gilla for love of him."
"Aye! But he has his ruler, strong as he is," said a monk of the north. "I heard of her in Armagh from a wandering bard who boasted that he traveled north in poverty, but by her grace he wanted for naught on his way back. Some message was his to bear for her, and he was fair delighted by the rare beauty of her. Songs he was making of her milk skin, and her gold of hair, until men fell in love to listen."
"Where found Breffni such pleasing treasure?" asked Diarmod.
"I know not--God knows! There are tales told. One is that a boat of the Danes was wrecked on the north coast, and she was of that wreckage. Another is that he
got her when he sacked the abbey of Clonard, and the new house of the nuns there. That may be. Her name is Regina, and that is no name of a Danish maid--it is christian name for a queen."
Diarmod whispered the name under his breath and stared at the guest of the north, but Ardan cried out in horror of the heart, and turned to Diarmod.
"My comrade maid, the white-winged one of sanctuary! Is there word from King Donough as to that?"
"There is no word," and the face of Diarmod had brooding blackness on it. "To me he would not be sending that word. He would go first to Murtagh of Meath, and abide by his word, and the word of Duighal the prior. There is no love in their hearts for Breffni. It may be they care not for her taking, if she is taken far enough north--and the mountains and the bogs between!"
"You have art enough to pass for a wandering singer, a cunning worker in gold, or a carver of stone," he said. "ORuarc adds to his craftsmen as he can, to change treasures of the abbeys into gauds for his women. Go you north into Breffni, and learn the truth of it. Here is gold for your faring. Guard your own life for me, but venture all else to bring me word."
"And if Donough is on their track?"
"No word to Donough of this matter! If she is safe again in his castle, or safe in the convent, come you back to me in silence. If the tale be true, find her and bring me word of her need."
"The dower given to the convent for her has gone
to Lough Gilla Castle with many other things. The ring of the south should not be among the plunder of the enemy, and for that reason it is sent back."
"Is that the only word?"
"All that was given me."
"Is she--in prison?"
"She is the wife of Tiernan ORuarc, King of Breffni; she rules all within the castle by his love of her."
"He has then taken a nun to wife against all rule of Rome? Has there been naught of protest from King Murtagh of Meath?"
"Nay, O Diarmod, no vows had been laid upon her. She was free to be sought in marriage to any man, and ORuarc was the man."
That rankling thought was not good company for the man who had let her ride out from OCarroll's castle into the new prison, and the man who got her was his enemy!
"As to Clonard Abbey, it is true, and we should stand against this, and send a spokesman to ORuarc; but as to women there was only one, and that one is his wife. There is no profit in going against that. She is Queen of Breffni and content enough. Since it is so, what call for speech of it among the people? It is well her own name is lost from her in those changes. To ride to her rescue would but bring her back for other princes to fight for. She is too fair for peace to be her dower in any land. Let that hawk of the north keep her safe at his own nest."
"She has brought him lucky fortune, since he sweeps all of church wealths into his chests and goes scatheless, and it was a different prophecy of her told by Kieran Doll."
"We are born, but not dead yet," said Donough, "and it is ill profit to think of her now--and her a strong king's wife."
"Yet I am thinking of her, OCarroll, and the promise
holds me no more. From your castle I would not take her, nor from the church, but she is with neither. She and the other stolen things are now free to who can take them."
"No man will fight for her when her name is known, and Turlough OConor will not be the man to let Breffni be robbed of a covenanted woman. Murtagh of Meath knows it, and cares not how soon she brings ruin to ORuarc--if bring it she does--he is not of the line forbidden to her blood."
Diarmod glowered darkly and showed contempt.
"The short sight was on me when I let her ride away, and foolish was the tale of Kieran Dall. Strong houses have ere this taken mates from the Lochlannach. Why should a ban, forgotten for a thousand years, be uncovered for her house or for mine? My own thought is that her dower was the dower of a king's daughter, and a gain for any holy group of the veil. Without doubt she was a chance child of Murtagh of Meath, and the tale of Kieran Dall was made to fit. I have had no other word concerning Cuan the Dark; it is some old world tale of druid power."
"If ban, or banishment and un-naming is pronounced in secret against a man, it is more than death against him, Diarmod. There is no record left that he was ever living. The father of Dyveke had youth with him--he was the firstling of a devout house, and was meant for holy life--there may be many who think he is living out his years in work and prayer among foreign pagans. As a man he has left no name and no record. Now that ORuarc has the maid, and caused question of the source of the dowry, there is but one thing to do in the house of Machflain. She is called ward of the King of Meath, and daughter as well. It is a rich cloak to cover her white shoulders and cover a buried and bitter scandal for the house of the man called 'The Dark.' It will never be safe to
lift that cloak, Diarmod; too many pious hands have helped weave it, and work over each rough seam with careful broiderings. Hidden forever now is father or mother of hers. She is no longer Dervail of the Shadow; she is daughter of Murtagh Machflain, King of Meath, and is wife to Tiernan, Prince of Breffni. The whole of Erinn is between your shore and hers, and no cause for your thoughts to cross over."
"Yet are they crossing over," said Diarmod, and looked at a ring of gold. "There is no joy for her there in Breffni, and her own thoughts are crossing the wide land."
"Hark to me, Diarmod," said OCarroll in all kindness. "Murtagh Machflain is well pleased that she is taken to the far end of Erinn by a man--any man--strong enough
to hold her there! You are not the only man she makes restless by a look, or a word, or it may be a pledge! If it is adventure you hunger for, forget her beauty and seek victories in the west where the men of O'Brian are ever snapping like wolves across borders of Connaught or Leinster; I am with you to join shields with Turlough OConor against them at any dawn you name to set forth. Make yourself strong with allies ere you venture a hosting into Breffni. With care you can be chief king of Leith Mogh."
"You have the King of Meath and all the bishops on your side," agreed Diarmod of Leinster, "yet if I was a wifeless man, I would make her a queen of more than Breffni, Tiernan of Breffni will yet pay with his life for having her before me!"
That was the hold she had over his dreams; she had voiced the secret thing much desired. And in his dreams she became a part of that which was desired--the beautiful part!
He took credit to himself for joining shields to Turlough the king at that time. His mind was to go north, but the counsel of Donough brought him thought and remembrance that Murtagh of Meath was no strong ally even if he should make choice of the road of spears into Breffni for the maid of beauty. Though reinstated in his holdings, no one was forgetting that, for the blow to Gelasius the bishop, Murtagh had suffered for a space the loss of all kingly rights, and the devout and the spiritual fathers held it against him. It was no good time for making bonds with him, even if he and Malachi, his son, had been eager--for Malachi held no great strength of his own. The time must be on another day.
But in all his thoughts of her there was the curious certainty that their own time would come. She was the music singing far in the forest of a fairy rath; she was the veiled maid beyond the lattice; she was ever Argatonel, the silver
cloud out beyond the nearer gray! His men of the spears and battle-axes would have had curious thoughts if they had known that the music to which the great Diarmod of dread kept pace on his warhorse was the song of the boy, Ardan, in boyish praise of her beauty.
He had forgotten that song, or thought he had, but in some far corner of his mind it lay sleeping, and the thought of her whiteness in the arms of that red terror of the north wakened it, and gave it music until he heard the feet of his men and the feet of his warhorse marching to it!
This lucky chance brought aid to Ardan and much comfort. He had only to say, "A letter from a grateful priest to a gracious prince." And over mountain or moor the message was given a pleasure path. Near his own domains the ORuarc did not plunder or lay waste, and the way to Lough Gilla was an open way when within the Breffni borders.
But the Prince of Breffni was not at home to receive the priest's letter of thanks. He was gone north to the shrine of Phadraig in Lough Dearg, as was his custom after great hostings. Even his enemies never could say the ORuarc shirked pious pilgrimage, or rich gifts of hospitality. The flat top of a great hill above Lough Gilla was seen afar as a landmark and named the "Table of Breffni." It fitted in well with the giant cromlechs of the ancients to which the Saxon slave made curious circles of respect, and told to Ardan the faith for which the ancient gods had left such monuments. It was different from the faith of the saints by which Ardan had been given instruction, and he chided the slave and made a prayer, and went on between hills touched golden by the carpet of gorse, and touched blue as peat smoke when seen afar along the fair waters of lake and river.
The letter from the cleric opened the portals of Breffni for Ardan, and his own youth and sunshine of face made him welcome alike to steward and warrior. The cleric of the castle was less friendlike, and had searching and priestly questions, and another man in scholar's robe gave long looks to him, but no question. He was called Duffagan, and had been of the captured at Clonard--a silent student to whom Tiernan gave care of the plundered books, because of his learning in such craft.
No word did Ardan send to Dervail, but with a bard of Breffni he made pact of friendliness, and told him of Erinn's music in monasteries, and the courts of princes in Gaul and beyond it to the east. An Irish air he had brought back from Rome set to words of Italy, and he sang it to the delight of all in the great hall. After the supper and the songs of olden days, the little harp was given to his hands, and he took his turn in making music, as was the custom and joy among those of the musicians and
poets. Young lovers would thus sing their thoughts to the one maid most longed for, and maids and women of the household of Breffni had their pleasure of the evening in that pastime. The castle took to itself neither silence nor added prayer for that Tiernan, the lord of it, had fared north for penitence at the shrine of Phadraig.
It was a gay and very beautiful hall where the music was made, for no stone of the wall but was covered with hangings of rich weavings from the lands foreign, and under foot were many skins of animals, and one of a great white bear was beneath the feet of Dervail where she sat on the throne seat.
At the far end of the hall she sat with her maidens, and the chiefs and ladies of Breffni's household. Wearily enough she sat there above the others, and brooding she sat in a robe of white, heavy with gold threads and girdled with green ropes of gold-set emeralds from the Kerry hills. Her veil was of white, and fell from a crown of gold and glimmering green jewels. Her chin rested on her hand, and she had a sidelong look for a chief who sat near her, reciting some late glory of her lord's victories.
Ardan noted it all afar off where he hid himself with the younger singers. The song that came to his mind was of a white bird weighted with golden chains. But in the old Irish tales of chained doves or swans there were ever two birds chained together with golden links--and she was alone. In his heart he was glad it was so. He could not think of her in another way. She was still to him the lone white bird, though a jeweled queen.
But it was not of that he dared sing when the tiny harp was put in his hand, for he was to the others only a chance bearer of a letter, and traveling in no great honor. And she was wife to Prince of Breffni and sat on a throne.
And the thing he sang was the farewell song he had
made for her in a far dawn when she had worn a silver-gray veil instead of a queen's crown. And he had named her silver cloud--Argatonel.
He marked the very heart-beat in which she knew the song and the singer, though she did not turn head or glance to where he was, and her attention was given entirely to converse with the chief of Mac Roigh and his lady wife who was an Irish princess out of Alba, where Irish tribes had gone in a far-off time.
But when the song was ended, Dervail turned as if for mere courtesy, and spoke.
"It is a fair, mellow voice, and a new song for us," she said. "Bid the singer come for speech."
The steward of the castle brought forward Ardan, and told his name and errand, and showed the letter and spoke.
"I bade him wait the return of our Lord of Breffni, and while he waits we seek to give him fair courtesies, and the usage of a chief's son."
"You serve your lord well," said the queen. "He shall be of our household. Whence come you, strange singer?"
"Late from Rome and other far lands," said Ardan, his eyes on the golden hem of her robe, and not lifted to her
face, for the eyes of the others were looking, and had nought else to do but look.
"Do pilgrims to Rome come back with songs of gallantry to bright eyes?" she asked, and smiled, and the younger maids pressed close to listen.
"A pilgrim sometimes carries the songs, and the memory of eyes, on all the wide circle from the white strand of Erinn to the harbor of return," said Ardan, and she laughed at that, and bade him to a seat near, and told him he should sing for her again, and he might teach one of the maidens the song of "Argatonel," for the air was a sweet air, and a plaintive.
Then, having shown him this much of courtesy, her mind in appearance strayed from him to matters of more import, but the youths and maids circled him, and had their pleasure in questions of far lands, and Roderick, son of Turlough, the King of Erinn, was there, and spoke of Rome and the scriptures of the Irish sent eastward to carry both religion and book craft to the Germanic peoples, and their neighbors, the Gauls.
"For that purpose was Erinn the savior of learning for all Europe," said the Mac Roigh. "In the wars of the Huns and the Northmen the great eastern land was swept bare of scholars, and Greek was lost to the Gallic tribes until our books and our men carried it back again."
"Strange to hear--that is," mused Roderick. "As strange as to think that the Gaelic and the Latin we speak and read could be lost to our children in another day."
"It may be that the waters on every side of Erinn will be the wall to keep that loss far from us forever," said Mac Roigh, "but in the great foreign land there is neither wall nor waters of separation. The tribes overrun and melt into each other, or they fight and harvest the enemy as grain in a field. It is all and always change there;
thus were their settlements of religious men reaching out for the Irish scriptures made here in sanctuary. Gelasius the bishop was telling us of that at Clonfert."
"I had thought," ventured Roderick, "that between the Danes and raiders of Norway and their Saxon mates, Erinn had work in plenty to save even life, without the strife to save learning enough to civilize her invaders. It's a good gift they got from us when our saints taught them religion. And it was an evil payment they made to us with their ships full of raiders."
"Our well-beloved Dail Clairineach told me Erinn was set apart like a jewel in a lost casket," said Ardan. "The old south sea-way to us was lost to the traders of Europe through the time of the great wars; our land was out of the path of battle and was forgot. When they found us again, it was in a different way--an island beyond an island in the sea! While they had fought and made destruction of all things, our men of many crafts and many books had worked to garner and build. All the learning was here to start anew the broken, foreign tribes."
"More than some godly souls made welcome!" said Roderick. "I ever had wonder on me to know what penance was given Forgal the saint when the Pope at Rome reproved his heresy in writing that the world was round instead of flat as we all are knowing it."
"Forgal had lived on the coast here at home," said Cineath the cleric, "and took note that the masts of a vessel at sea are seen before the body of the vessel is seen. Yes, he was given strong reproof for saying it, but his writing was not changed because of that--he left it as the words were written. In all else it is known he was a true scholar, and a holy man--the blessing of God on his soul, and on us!"
The talk went on thus, and the queen and her ladies
listened. Ardan could feel her eyes on him, though never once did he meet her gaze with directness. He did not obtrude his speech, except as one of the men of rank asked of his journey afar, but he knew that he did not seem out of place near her throne, and had a pride in that.
"You speak of the wise and holy abbot of Ardbreccan," said Mac Roigh as the time for rest came, and the prayer of the cleric was ended. "Was he well known by you?"
"He was as my father while he lived, and left me to his close friend when he died," said Ardan. "His fancy was to make me as a scribe and genealogist--but why should I, a son of no family, turn genealogist?"
"No family?" said Mac Roigh, and looked at him. "If you were not of blood and race, think you so renowned a man would have found in you the stuff for his science? And you wear the colors of a noble."
"Youth thinks not so much of these matters, and I was but a youth when I turned from that work," said Ardan, "Instead of a devout priest with quill and ink pot I am a priest's message bearer to royal houses."
"We will see you again tomorrow," said the queen graciously. "If you ride, you could attend on the ladies who fancy sport with the falcons on the moor."
"I ride," said Ardan.
there her dreams of strange greatness, and knew that Breffni's crown was as a golden rung in a ladder she meant to climb.
"And you, Ardan, will climb with me, for it is true what the chief of Mac Roigh has said: no youth below the noble rank of aire-desa wears the colors, and is taught music and chess, shooting and the riding of horses--swift riding beautiful! You are fitting in all ways, and have the trust of Diarmod, and that is a thing lucky. When the day comes I will have you near the throne and my eyes are made glad that you have visage and speech of a prince. It will be well for you."
"Your talk is in circles," he said. "You are queen--yet you talk of the day when you win the throne! I come through all the wilderness for the reason that you were a soul in prison--and it is a different thing I find. You have freedom for the first time, and are using it on men."
"I do the things of my girl dreams," she said. "I never was told how women had power and here I am learning. When I go to Diarmod--"
"No," he said, "it is not good to dream that. There is Prince of Breffni and Mor na Tuathal between you two! Her people are of greatness in power, and even a strong king might not stand out against them. She is his wife, and her brothers are his watchers."
Dervail lifted a feather, and tossed it upward.
"She, and her brother abbots, and sainted priests will weigh not so much as that against my wish, when I wish it," she said. "I am out of the convent walls forever and am learning the power of women--and the strength of it is sweet."
"And what answer to Diarmod who would save you again for sanctuary if your prayer was for that? for without your word he may not take this road."
"The time will come when I send him signal. It will be--it will be a white pearl of royal size. There are creels of jewels here! I will be sending one to him more beautiful than the one given by Gillebart of Limerick to Anselm the archbishop oversea--and that one was called a royal gift to the prince of the English church. Yes, it will be a pearl I will send when I send the call for him. It is a fine thing for me that I am able to bind my friends with a queen's gifts."
"It--is not a queen to whom he was sending me, Dervail. It was a veiled maid of the cloisters, and she calling for champion."
She laughed low, and looked at him in pride.
"Every man in this keep would be champion of mine if I called--and if I gave him my smiles," she said, "hut not one is strong to control all the others. I have given much thought to that matter and secret knowings have been spoken to me by a man of the Old Wisdom! Diarmod is, of all Erinn, the one of strength; and he will be stronger in days to come, for his gathering of spears will be a great gathering. The spears he gathers will make a new ruling for all Erinn. And I was knowing that thing before the day I laid sight on Tiernan the ravager."
"You are talking of dark, hidden things, Dervail, and they are forbidden."
"They are true things, and the stars tell them! A secret man, who has the name of Duffagan, told me that thing in Clonard. He was a scholar but no monk, and Kauth gives him fellowship. When ORuarc would in willingness bring any retainer of mine, I brought him as husband to Kauth, and that was saving his life. He has a fever on him for old books, and his was the task to carry north the annals most rare. He has the trust of ORuarc who thinks him a book fool; but he knows the stars and the tides,
does Duffagan Mac Knea, and he knows the tides of men's lives as he does the tides of the sea! When he tells me it is time to send call to Diarmod of the Spears, it will be gladness for me to be sending it. And until that day comes I am waiting and learning and dreaming my dreams."
"Mac Knea," said Ardan, "that means 'Son of the Night'--it is a curious name to put on a man."
"Yet it is fitting," said Dervail, "else he would not be having it. Words have power, and the wrong word he would not have on him. He has a wisdom not to talk of to every bird crossing over, and none of these people are knowing it. They laugh at him, and call him the little dark spider sitting ever alone in a corner with watching eyes; but a spider spins webs beyond craft of mortal,"
"It may be evil craft you praise in him! How then if you find it so?"
"It is true craft," she insisted. "Already it has proven itself on me. Of Tiernan's hosting I was warned by him. I was ready on that day, and it was no weeping novice he found in me, but a king's ward, with the rights of a noble. He was my key to the world, and I used him. I came not out of the walls a captive: it was the wife of the Prince of Breffni who rode beside him."
"A mystery are you to me, Dervail," said Ardan, "and not the caged bird I crossed the kingdoms to find."
"The caged bird!" she said. "Ardan, have you memory of the snow bird you made of me in the cloisters?"
"I have the memory--and the guilt," he said. "When I listen to you I think I was 'fey' that night I worked on it. I had cold and hunger and my soul afire. Had I made likeness of the Holy Ones with such perfectness, the monks would have made a saint of me; instead of which they banished us both far as was in their power. And--
they did not break down its white wings of ice quick enough to save it from the eyes of Diarmod!"
She gave a little cry at that, but it was a sound of joyous triumph.
"Again has Mac Knea proven true," she said. "He told me it was by some work of another that Diarmod's heart turned to thought of me. That I did not believe, and so I have said; but it was true! You, Ardan, made one image of me poised for flight--you must make for me another--when I have reached the end of the flight and picked my throne."
He thought she made a jest of him, but her beauty was so great that he was content to look in silence, as he thought that no queen ever told of in song or annal had such beauty as hers. Not fair Dierdre of the sorrows, or the wondrous Brighde who was goddess of beauty and art, or that Grania whose beauty and courage were as one when her beauty won a crown, and her courage dared toss it aside as a ball in her great game--and her game was Love.
He sat thinking these things, and knowing that all the beauty of all of them could not equal the beauty of Dervail. It was seemly enough that her fame might indeed grow great as she hoped, and her name be widely known among the rulers of Erinn.
So deep was his dreaming of it that he kept no count of his silence, or her curious looks.
"Of what are your thoughts when you stare past me as if there was naught between yourself and the skins on the wall?" she asked, and he roused and looked at her.
"I am thinking there was never your equal for beauty in all the wide world, Dervail," he said simply, "neither them that are living, nor them who are gone the Way."
"You are the same Ardan," and her smile was strange.
"You think I fail to make note of beauty because I do not play the sighing champion for your favor," he said, "but you read me wrong. As ward of Murtagh of Meath, and foster child of Donough of Orielle it is a pretty puzzle to me why each king was not striving to make best marriage for you with ally of his own. They shut you in high walls for life without choice of yours--and would have forgot you were living if--"
"If the Son of the Night had not made the key to come to my cell!"
"What would you say?"
"Three new moons was his work to help it to come that way," she whispered. "He made secret prayers for that thing--to the four ways he was sending that call for the man--and Tiernan was the man to hear it, and to come there, and Tiernan was the key!"
"More like it was that Tiernan sent your master of druid lore to spy out the wealth of Clonard! You were part of that wealth, Dervail."
"I have wonder if that be true," she mused, and her eyes were looking sideways in thought, but the red-rose lips curved over the white little teeth of her, and the blue eyes had laughing pride.
"Even if it be so, the rule of Tiernan is over with that man, and mine is the rule," she said. "He pins his life to my service. Tiernan is now but a man on our chessboard. And you are wrong in one thing: Tiernan knows nothing of Duffagan's hidden wisdom; no, Tiernan has dread of such learning, for he was born at Whitsuntide, and it was foretold that by a man and a woman of druid craft would his downfall be if he followed their steps. That is why, after every hosting, or every great killing he makes faithful pilgrimage to the shrine of Phadraig. Great and rich gifts he will be leaving there to prove he is christian
surely. No--Ardan, Tiernan of Breffni has fear, and has horror of all 'Old Wisdom,' and the life of Mac Knea would go out like a rushlight in the wind if Tiernan knew."
"And you! Is there no fear on you?"
"At first there was fear--and great fear--but not now. The strength of the stars is with us, and that lifts and bears me above the fear. The 'Old Wisdom' has made me Queen of Breffni and that, Ardan, is my first move in the game, and it is a great game."
"If someone should be telling Tiernan ORuarc?"
"I would kill that one, Ardan, and you alone have my secret."
"Suppose I tell it to Diarmod?"
She looked at him, and thought a bit and laughed in silence.
"That would be favor to me," she decided. "He has no love for me--yet; though he has much thought of me. That telling would give him more thought, for I will spend one secret night on Tara with the man whose name will go down the centuries with mine! Take that saying to Diarmod for me, Ardan; it will tell him that no pale-blooded nun has come north to rule in Breffni. Let him give dreams to a night in Tara!"
"Tara has been desolate these many generations."
"Yet his fathers did rule there, Ardan, and it may be my own did! It is the place for Ard-Ri of Erinn, and it may be a great rule will yet be built on its ruins."
"It is a dream, Dervail."
"Duffagan is saying all great things of life have been grown from dreams, and that the moon and the stars govern our dreams."
"I would see this priest of the forbidden ere I journey south, and tomorrow is the latest I may linger. It is no
wish of mine to see Tiernan of Breffni, whose plunder is sacred things of altars."
"Yet are you loyal to Diarmod."
"What then? Diarmod gives endless wealth to holy houses. His own gold has built monasteries and churches for the glory of saints."
"Ardan," said Dervail, gently smiling, "all this is truth, yet there are other truths of him; when a lord of the south refused his daughter to Diarmod in the days of Diarmod's youth, he gathered spears and took her with the veil and the vows of a nun on her! In amorous fellowship she was held in his castle and wedded there to a lord of his choosing. That is the custom of a king who has power, Ardan! He takes what he wants! I hear much of the power of Diarmod of Leinster. He has their hate, but their tales are tales of praise to me, for they tell of his strength."
"Their hate may build untruths against him. When was this ravaging?"
"In Kildare, and her name was Dhira. Her house was the house of Cahsadhe, and one hundred and seventy lives were sent back to God in her capture. She lived a hidden woman after that time, but the story could not be hidden. That was before your birth, or mine, Ardan."
"Dail Clairineach surely had knowing of that if it was a true thing, Dervail, yet yours is the first word of it I am hearing."
"It is not for nothing Diarmod founds monasteries and religious houses! You have been bred in them, Ardan, and it is a place for holding secret things."
Kauth slipped through the arras to tell them the cocks were crowing and the old day was gone. She looked strangely at Ardan, and to Dervail, when alone, she said the youth had much of beauty, too much for such distance of converse as was his custom.
"True enough," said Dervail, unbraiding the pearls in her hair. "But there are other men for other uses, and this one has such honestness he would be useless to me except in his own spirit. Because I tell him much, he thinks I tell him all; and in his prayers my name will not be forgotten."
Thus she rode obedient with the glad riders of the springtime in the forest, and with adroitness found way to lose herself with the queen and Ardan, and all three rode in the edge of the great wood, and looked out on the moor where women with their young were gathering gorse bloom and marsh marigold to keep luck in the house when hung over the door on May Eve. Others were plucking primrose for the doorstep, and youths were seen bearing holly and rowan and a young tree of the yew for the circle dance of the many stars around the Still Star of the north.
"It would seem a strange nightfall to be out in the wilderness," said Ardan. "All christians are together elsewhere on the eve of Beltain."
"Duffagan Mac Knea gives me word that the prayers are the same, and only the difference is that saints' worship is given instead of druid. The dance does not change, and the harp music does not change, and the faith does
not change. I have spoken at every chance with these people concerning all things, and not yet has Duffagan told me anything not of easy proof."
"But the castle cleric, Cineath, has he no reproof?"
"He knows Duffagan only as student and scribe, who has gone into the foreign world to the shores of the Nile, and tells no cleric of the deeper things learned there."
They had reached a hill of three circles, and Kauth, who rode apart, came close and slipt from her horse.
"No animal must press foot up above," she said. "So said Duffagan to me. Since the end of yesterday has he been here, and fasting. It is new moon, and Beltain."
Dervail sat on her white horse and looked up at the steep sides of the hill, and looked beside her at a huge square stone, pierced, and once rudely carven, but now covered with lichen gray and green and russet. It was high as her own head and she on the back of the horse. Other stones of the same bigness were seen as if standing guard around the circle of a great earth temple.
"There were great men in the world when that thing was done," she said. "It was not two or three people who were coming here then to take note of the sky and the clouds over the new moon."
Ardan said no word. He saw Kauth take from under her cloak a white pigeon wound about with white and saffron bands. She placed it in the hands of Dervail and pointed upward.
Not empty-handed must you go there," she said. "Pluck a rowan or a holly branch for the hand of your friend. I have my happiness in lack of knowledge, and will be your guard of the horse below."
A dim path went up through the wood clothing the steep, and at the first terrace they saw other tall stones like sentinels circling the hill. Ardan felt as if he had passed
some strange dread portal into an ancient life; far above he saw that which he had heard of in Gaul but never dreamed to see in Erinn.
It was a temple in the open with the sky for roof. Great squared pillars arose in a circle, and to the east a sanctuary was made by a huge slab overhead and two uprights on either side. An altar was there on a raised floor of stone, and Duffagan the silent, in white robe and saffron bands, stood there watching the sinking sun, and striking flint on flint craftily where the silken strands of the wild flax made tinder.
A tiny spiral of smoke curled and drifted along the atone slab above him, and the two at the edge of the circle stood still and spoke no word,
A curious hoop of hazel wands was beside the altar, and two balls suspended at either side--one of yellow, one white; twigs of rowan were there, and twigs of yew.
The priest lifted the hoop and whirled it sunwise through the smoke, and Ardan knew it was symbol of sun and moon circling thus through the smoke of the earth altar.
As the last fire of the sun went beyond the great sea of mystery, the blaze of the temple leaped up--it was as if stolen out of the western sky!
Dervail thrust spray of holly into the hand of Ardan, and went forward with her offering.
Ardan could hear the low murmur of a prayer or incantation as water from a shallow cup in the stone was sprinkled in a circle about the slender blaze.
As the priest lifted his eyes, Dervail went forward with her strange offering. Without fear she walked, yet with
a look of question. And Ardan knew it was for the first time.
"As Life I make my offer," said Dervail.
"As Life I give it again to the elements by which life endures."
The voice of the man had a sweet singing note in it by which Ardan was won in surprise. He had expected roughness or harshness in an un-christian priest, yet Duffagan, who was also "Son of the Night," was gentle beyond belief.
So amazed was he at this that he scarce noted the firm, quick stroke of the flint knife until the wings fluttered once, and then were held close and steady while the blood trickled from the slit throat to the altar where the fire was.
Dervail stood, serene, yet pale of face, for it was a place of curious imaginings. Ardan saw her cast quick look over her shoulder, and knew that, like him, she felt the movement, or the very breathing of a multitude circling that high place of ancient mysteries. Once he thought he heard the sound of shrill singing far off, to the tramp of thousands of feet, but in another moment he knew it was a distant shepherd's pipe, and the wind hurtling through the forest below.
Wind caught the flame and blew it against the hazel hoop of the symbols. Dervail led Ardan forward.
"Once I was to come to this place where you read the stars, Duffagan," she said. "I am here to keep faith, and I bring my one friend who makes offer beside me."
Ardan's hand held out the branch of holly, and Duffagan stripped the leaves, and let them fall one by one on the blaze. His watching of each new flame was curious. He did not speak until there were left only red embers of the twigs.
"Good it is that your soul is strong in faith, O Queen,"
spoke the strange, gentle, even voice. "The trial times of life will call for much strength of yours, and it is well to prove faiths. I have fasted and prayed here, and have read the sky at this new time of the moon, but this is not a moon in which change will come to you. It is a moon for patience. Your friend who has come as a new star in your sky is safest if his going is soon. There are watchful eyes in the head of the cleric of Breffni. Take you leave as if careless of time, but ride for life when you have turned a hill!"
"Cineath the cleric?" mused Dervail. "He is a ferret for Tiernan. I will provide for you extra horse on the way, Ardan."
Ardan gave curious glances to the man whose words she heeded, and made promise to act on. Dark he was, as his name denoted--dark, and small, and gentle--and his dark eyes had a strange, withdrawn look as if looking at the two mortals, yet listening to unseen things!
"The Great Bear of the stars points again to the east at fall of night," he said. "It is the mid-sign between heat and cold, and is the time for searching. The old learning has been lost for the reason that no royal protector dare stand against the craft of the saints and their followers. But many, Dervail, will have your name in their speech, and you will cause much wonder in the minds of many. That is a thing I read in all castings for you, and it may come to pass that you will be the royal one who dares openly sanction that ancient hidden wisdom to which each simple heart makes secret prayer."
"With aid from you, and guided by the powers unseen, I have brought here in secret my vow offering," said Dervail. "That is my pledge--a fair white pledge--not to go backward on the road we are walking. In one year--two years--a thousand men and women will face sunwise
about the circle where we alone stand now. You will be the honored priest of divinings, the thousands will give you their strength when their fear is lifted--and lifted it will be if you show me the time and the road for Tara."
"That will come--and strife will come--and terrors. Great hostings will come, and kings will fall; but you will live through all, and your name--your name--it is a name whispered secretly now, but in days to come there will be shouting of that name--Dervail--Dervail--Dervail!"
His speech was half whispered, and he said her name as if repeating echoes of it afar off. A faint smile was on his lips and his face serene.
For the first time Ardan spoke.
"For what reason is Tara the key to any greatness when Tara itself was cursed by Ruadan the saint, and is deserted ground, and crumbling walls in our day?"
Duffagan did not at once make reply. It was as if he had drawn out of hearing. Then he came back and spoke.
"Tara even in desolation is a word of power. Images of greatness belong in that place--and some mortals see them! Tara is the mid-court of dominion, and the Ard-Ri should face the sunrise from that center. Tara is a symbol, as are these things before me symbols of the heavens and the earthly life. By symbols spirit is caught in the silence and held, breathless, for the union with knowledge. Tara holds a message for the woman or man who would rule Erinn--and the message cannot be carried to another. Each finds there that which his own soul can circled Dervail has made record that it is the rule desired by her. My task is to study stars, and phases of the moon, and find the safe time for such journey."
"Will he, my friend, be beside me?" asked Dervail, and Duffagan peered at her in the falling twilight.
"He will not be there. His road touches yours strangely, and a veil between! Is he of your kindred?
"I have no kindred," said Ardan.
"I think that is not true," said Duffagan, "for I see you bear shadows or burdens of kindred."
"Where do you see these things?"
"I read it in the leaves of your holly when the flame curled them into shapes before burning; if not kindred to Dervail, it is to some mortal close to Dervail."
"We are going, Duffagan," she said. "The dark will be coming, and the spies of Tiernan on the road. I come to the sunset of Beltain because of your prayers here, and in other days many will follow me."
"They will," he said. "I hear the voices of many calling your name."
He held his hands out over her head in blessing, and made gesture of the way they should circle the altar and the path of descent. He did not look at them again, and as they passed without the great circle they looked back. He was holding at arms' length the hoop of the hazel, and looking through it at the faint silver line of the new moon against the dark purple of the western sky.
Dervail drew near to Ardan, and laid her hand on his as if to know a mortal beside her, for red light from the sun long gone reflected itself on a cloud in midheaven and fell on Duffagan. It turned his robe and the stones about him into soft light of flame--and left a strange image.
"It is as if a furnace of fire had opened at his feet, lighting him only, and leaving all the other pillars in cold gray," said Ardan, as he watched the light fade again.
"Strange signs follow Duffagan, or, does his thought compel them? He has fasted since set of last night's sun, and will have no feast until tomorrow. All this he does for the craft he follows."
"His belief is strong as though his birth had been in Phadraig's day, and not in this," said Ardan. "It is a strange end to my last day with you, Dervail."
She pressed his arm and walked beside him into the shadows of the wood.
"Make me a song of this place, Ardan. A song of the old, old days when sharp edges were yet on these great stones, and this hill was saffron and white with the robes of Ancient Faith people."
"That is far to go for a song, Dervail. I have made you songs most of my years, but this is not the place I would seek for songs of you, lest they be sad songs."
The wife of Tiernan peered at him from under her golden mane.
"Is it fear on you, Ardan?"
"I think it is not fear, but this mystic hill is not a place to seek lightly on the eve of Beltain."
"What could come to us?" she asked and clung to his arm. "Ardan--many times you have come close in my thoughts of old in my dreams. But the words of Duffagan of the veil between--what meant he by that? Look, Ardan, what other man would not turn warm when my warm hand touched him? Yet you are cold; what is it, Ardan? Did some veil indeed fall between at that altar? See, my hand did not touch you as we went up; yet were we more close than now, Ardan."
"Duffagan has given you dreams and fears, and it is best not to speak of them now in this place," he said. "What could come to us?" she repeated.
"What could not? Is that altar jewel you wear so holy that it is strong enough to guard you in all places?"
She drew away and stared at him, and drew her robe more closely over her breast.
"Have you 'the sight,' Ardan? Times are when I think
it. You know that great jewel of white diamond and red ruby?"
"I heard of it at Armagh. It was the wondrous star of Clonard, and strange wealth to wear riding the forest." She laughed at that, and shook forward the gold of her hair over her breast. They were again near to Kauth, who stood with the horses.
"Tiernan forbade that the altar jewels see the light of day in his absence," she confessed. "But what use has a pilgrim of penitence with gems of richness?"
He did not answer, but helped her on the horse. The question of the jewel had changed the momentary love-light in her eyes, or the claim of warmth for warmth. He knew she had been touched by fear in the druid circle, and it had driven her to his arms if he would have her there.
Kauth looked at them as they came down, but had no question. Though drawn to Duffagan as a mate for his comfort, she had no wish to know the secret things of his dark delvings.
They rode hard and fast until in sight of the castle, and then Ardan spoke.
"I will carry your message south, Dervail, and I will go tonight instead of on the morrow. I have seen your hopes and your dark road to them."
"And your thoughts are baleful and apart from me!"
"No. Call on me for that which I dare to serve you. But you have taken yourself out of the world we know together. It may be I cannot follow. Your strange Duffagan says there is a veil between our roads of life--and neither of us can prove that this day. But take deep thought to what you do, Dervail. Duffagan spoke of symbols, and I saw one when you offered the white-feathered thing there for the altar knife."
"Ardan, what did you see?" and he knew she was
thinking of that strange crowded feeling within the circle. The unlaid ghosts of the centuries swept to the altar at the call of blood.
"I saw the white bird of a boy's dream of beauty in a cloister. I saw the caged bird I rode north to seek sight of, and to lead spears of aid to--and I saw a queen who offered that bird as token for ambitions of earth power. It was only a symbol, Dervail, but you placed all in one under the knife there! Your white bird was a symbol instead of the children other women, in other ages, have borne up to that druid rath for sacrifice."
"Ardan!" and her white hands were flung out toward him. "That will be the veil between, and I will be a lone woman--terribly lone."
"You will be queen of beauty and power, Dervail. But put your all of white dreams and of heart-love on that altar, and you will then indeed be alone in life and in death!"
She drooped there, her hair a veil about her in the gloaming, and her hands clasped over her knee.
Two kerns ran out the castle gate and stood with lights at either side to light her entrance. She straightened and tossed back her hair, and rode forward in pride.
"Yet the dream of Tara is a great dream for a life," she said.
It found him flushed with the victory of Moanmore against Turlough O'Brian, and strong with the thought
that OConor of Connaught owed him and owed Meath too much of grace to lift sword or spear if the sacking of Clonard Abbey by ORuarc was avenged at last by the lords of Leinster.
In every secret way Diarmod and Malachi, Prince of Meath, had gathered strength and made bonds in friend-ship for that hosting when the time came, and the messenger of Dervail told the day ORuarc was going north on a hosting of his own against a rebellious sub-chief who had taken sides with OLochlainn of Ulster in his claims to the rule of Ard-Ri of Erinn as against Turlough OConor, whose word was the most weighty in all but the northlands.
The days of going and the days of return had been reckoned with care by Duffagan, and there were plenty for the task.
As to a joyous fair rode the men of the spears of Diarmod, and he, kingly in pride, in the midst of them. Years sat light on him, for the message of Dervail had brought back his youth. It had come at a time when the music of life was dulled by the discords of rule, and the watchful eyes of Conor, the heir-apparent. But the dream of the forbidden maid brought deep longings, and her secret call to him brought again the fairy songs of youth to his soul.
Fierce was the assault on Breffni, and lightning quick the conquest of the castle where Kauth had seen to it that every lock was loosed.
No woman was touched but the wife of ORuarc, who was bidden forth with her chosen woman, as hostage to Diarmod of Leinster.
In garb royal, clad in the cloak of seven colors, walked Dervail out from under the roof of the prince who had been her Key!
The men of Leinster and Meath gave long looks to her as she walked between the rows of them to the champing racer straining on his bit, and their eyes turned to each other, dazzled by the brilliant beauty of her. No such hostage had ever been given from prince to king in Erinn.
It was the hand of Diarmod touched her foot in the mounting, and they two were speechless as their hands met. It was the wild dream coming true, and the stars read by Duffagan had all her faith in that moment!
Kauth mounted her horse, and among her goods fastened to the saddle was the gift-cup given by hand of Diarmod in the castle of Donough. The sight of it helped Dervail to her voice.
It has not been drunk from under that roof," she said, "but now we will be drinking from it again--and at the well of Nemnach in Tara we will drink."
"Your word is the word--and will be," said Diarmod the king.
But Malachi, Prince of Meath, rode back the richer for the plundering of Breffni, and spoke his content at the sisterhood claimed for Dervail.
"No queen so queenly in Erinn," he made boast, "and it is a foolish thing to hide, as you have hid--her daughterhood!
[paragraph continues] Take pride that she is of our line, even though a shadow is on her dam--whom no one is knowing! She will yet be queen for Diarmod--and our house remembered because of her name."
"That has been a long, dark, fear of mine!" said Murtagh the king.
But Malachi had no knowledge of the secret held by the older man, and thought it a foolish saying.
"Meath has been made strong for us by this act," he boasted. "The troubles of yours with the clerics will be at an end, for Diarmod has made pledges for Meath. From Clonard to the Shannon you are to be protected by hostage; from Clonard eastward to the sea I am to divide the rule. This makes stronger the border; thus much of gain already for your tie--whatever it be--with the wife of Breffni."
Murtagh frowned at the words and walked apart, deep in thought ere he spoke.
"I wish death in peace," he said, "and I can have that best by forgetting the tie. Pray God she makes choice of a cloister!"
But she made choice of a different thing; from the rath of Malachi, whom she now called "brother," she went for some secret thing to the ancient rath of the Kings at Tara on Midsummer's Eve. There went Diarmod to keep tryst with her, and drink from the well of Nemnach.
Until the morning star shone over the plain to the east they were alone on the height where his forefathers had been high kings through the centuries, and the look on his face was a look of entrancement when he came down from that place, and Dervail beside him.
"She is my mate, and no woman before has been that to me," he said to Malachi. "The clerics must find a way for it, for she is queen to me."
Yet, because of fear for her at the hands of Conor, the son of Mor, who was moving toward death, he took her not among his own children at Ferns, but in gorgeousness and much comfort placed her in the castle of OFaelain in Kildare with a loyal guard, and the hostages of a princess claimed for her safety from Rhudri, lord of the castle.
Thus came the daughter of Dyveke south into the region where the Danes had their holdings under Leinster, and where her mother had cursed the land, and all kings and all clans of Erinn!
Like fire in the forest after falling of the leaves ran the story of that hosting, and of the vengeance on Breffni for the sacking of Clonard. Murtagh of Meath, and Donough of Orielle, and Duighal the prior went into prayer and deep converse over it. All things within human power had been done by them for the hiding of Dervail--yet had she ridden free and set their world afire!
But prayers of piety could do naught to stem the flood of rage unloosed by her ambitions and the pillaging of Breffni. Turlough OConor, the high king, took sides with ORuarc. Erinn was divided in the struggle. The enemies made by Diarmod in his proud domination turned p their spears against him, and annihilation threatened on every side. Turlough, the High King, sent a priest to deliver the doom of Leinster unless Dervail and her dower
were returned to ORuarc of Breffni. And troops of Breffni followed the messenger.
Diarmod raged like a wounded bull.
"My men will die for her, though they may not save her," he said. "I cannot be the one to make choice; that is hers to make. But the army of Turlough and Breffni have crossed the Shannon."
"Harm to Dervail?" thundered Diarmod, and the speaker quailed--"the lives of your household will answer!"
"No harm has come to her beyond the baleful deed done under her eyes. Her dark friend, Duffagan, gave his blood instead of hers, and wounded the monkish murderer to the death. But the dying monk said some things of horror for her ears, and all who lavished courtesies on that fair lady now flee from her! It is a mystery--like rats seeking holes, they scatter as I turn my back. To save her there in life and dignity is beyond the power of man without guards--without servants."
"What is their fear?"
"They will not voice it. May happen it is the death of the monk, or his words not heard by me. It may be the death of Duffagan of whom they had great awe. At her feet it is he died, and her own robe red with the blood of them both, yet there was no shrinking of her and no scream."
"She is a fitting queen, and royal her daring," muttered Leinster, "and it is a baleful task to speak any going backward on the road for her! There is none to bear that word but one friend, and he would be loth, though constant. You, Donall, send to Glendalough for Ardan, the fosterling of Donough."
The lord of OFaelain put out his hand to stay the son of Diarmod.
"That message has gone on swift feet," he said. "It was the first request of Queen Dervail."
"Gone? And for what purpose?"
Donall the Illegitimate looked at him and gave quiet but scornful laughter.
"Ardan has a good shape and good looks," he said. The great hand of Diarmod smote him on the mouth, and the dirk of Diarmod was out.
Conor, the heir-apparent, caught his arm and was flung aside, and Rhudri of OFaelain stepped between.
"Take time with you in counsel, Diarmod, ere you slay a son for sake of a hostage you will be forced to return."
"Hostage?" said Diarmod, glowering.
"Is not that word the right word?" asked Rhudri. "It is the only one used for our queen guest in our keep. Connaught and Breffni are moving their troops to win her return, for the loss of Dervail is a greater blow to the pride of ORuarc than the loss of Longford and Leitrim. Is not hostage the wise word? Hostages are ever to be given back again, and in safety."
"She was hostage of Destiny to me, and not to be given back ever in life," said Diarmod.
Conor got Donall, with his bleeding mouth, out of the hall, and Diarmod sat steeped in gloom, turning over in his mind the attack on the life of Dervail. The word "hostage" as applied to her to cover her flight was a bitter word and--heavier than all--the thought of her going again out of his life, and she the glory of his dream of kingship over Erinn!
He arose, frowning, and with set jaws.
"No other must tell her since it must be told. I ride with you."
Herdsmen and kern, ploughman and smith, raged like a sea of storm about the walls of Faelain, and the name of Dervail was shouted in hate heard even at a distance. At times it would die away to a murmur, and then some wild voice would shrill aloud and the wave of sound would again roll upward--"Dervail the Shadow! Dervail of dark crafts! Dervail, the curse of Leinster!"
At sight of the scholar's robe of Ardan and the foam-wet steed, the mob made way, and held parley.
"Be our spokesman to the white slut who is harlot of two kingdoms," they said, "and we will let you pass safely. You are of the cells--they will let you speak. Tell the woman, and tell the governor, that none of
our men will fight to hold her for Diarmod. The High King of Erinn is against him, and much of Leinster is against him. A free road to her if she takes the Breffni way; and death on her if she makes a stand in Kildare! A holy man is done to death in there by her dark comrade, and the curse of all saints is against her forever for that! .Dervail! Dervail, the malediction of men!"
They let him pass, and inside the gates white, stricken faces turned to him. The guard held spear and battle-axe against a rush of the crazed household. They pointed dumbly within when he spoke the name of Dervail. Only one man of the guard led the way, and he halted at the portal of her chamber.
A horrid weeping was heard within, quivering sobbing and choking. It was the woman Kauth, who had seen Duffagan dragged into the court below, and there hung in ghastly manner against the castle wall for the killing of Kieran Dail.
But the more ghastly thing was that Kieran had not yet died. He was coming out of a swoon of pain, and was prodded by Dervail, who sat beside him, dagger in hand, and steadily, in a dull, weary tone, making question.
"You lie, monk, but I would have you damn your soul with other lie at the last breath! What reason to ban my race more than the race of another? What reason to ban my mother? Speak ere I rack your wounds! What reason--blind monk?"
"The reason--the reason--Dyveke--is--proving--itself--in you! Your hand gave death--to him--to the father of your child, ere you went to your lover Thorold, fierce Dyveke!"
"Again you lie yourself to hell! The name Dyveke is a
name I never heard; I am a queen--Dervail the queen!
Speak again the name of the race of the father of Dervail--speak!"
The woman Kauth never ceased the dreary, smothered keione of despairing, but neither Dervail nor the man with the black wounds gave heed. He had again sunk half out of life, and the breath of him was a hollow rattle.
"Speak, monk!" And again the prick of the knife was in his flesh. "You said it; say it again! The race of ancient kings? The branch sanctified in secret ways? It exalts me, that blood--and you shall speak! I am Dervail--I would know of that race. Speak! Speak again!"
There was a struggle, a twitching of the body, and a whisper.
"The race--dies out! Hark you! I hear wild waves on the shore; they are shouting curses--hark you! Dervail--Dervail! Dervail! The world rocks with that name of evil--
[paragraph continues] Then there was only the rattle--and after that no whisper, and his head lolled sideways and was pricked by the dagger to no good. And Ardan made the sign of the cross at sight of the thing she did, and caught her hand in horror.
"Dervail! He has gone to God--and was a holy man!"
"He has gone to hell--and was a liar! Also he was a cheat! He died too soon, not telling all--only fragments of his hate for me. He brought death to Duffagan, and
he brought that pack of wolves howling below--and without Duffagan the road I crave is a dark way for me! Is Diarmod dead that these things are?"
It had been a long night and a morning she had sat there with her blind victim, and she viewed his dead face with disdain. And from weariness she was as in a daze. She looked at the blackened dagger, and again at Kieran Dall.
"Who was he that a place was made for him at the table of a noble?" she asked. "Who was he that he was filled with hate against me in the lands of Leinster?"
"He was a prince whose name was hidden under the robe, Dervail."
"Learn all for me and tell me! He made speech of things to madden my soul! I want Diarmod, and I want you to go to him! Hearken to the cries down there! It has been since sunrise--and ever more coming. Hearken to my name! Dervail! Dervail!"
"That is the thing prophesied by Duffagan, whom they call your 'Dark Comrade.' He told you in Breffni he heard the echoes of your name in countless voices on the winds."
"That is true," and she crouched there looking over her shoulder at him in a strange and fearful way; "but--but Ardan--this calling is in hate! They are not human beings down there--they are a hunting pack, howling for victim!"
"They are mortals, indeed, Dervail, but they are made mad by fear. An army of men are bearing shields against Leinster for the sake of you, and there is only one road of life and safety open for your feet."
"And that road, Ardan?"
"That road is north into Breffni."
"No! Not with Diarmod for my safety; not with his words of bondage still sounding in my ear!"
She rose to her feet as if the very words gave strength
to her, and her eyes looked proud even while her face went pale at the louder screams of fierceness down below.
"Dervail, that dream has died with your Dark Comrade; such is my thought. Diarmod is no longer safety for you. His own life he may not be saving. Between you two, all Leinster and Meath can be made desolate."
"What then? When he is triumphant, more than Leinster may be his. His vows to me were made in Tara, and who more fit than he to rule again in the ancient place of the great kings? No! The dreams did not end with Duffagan--they endure! Beside Diarmod I will ride to find them!"
Ardan turned to Kauth.
"Bring cover for the dead," he said, "and robe your queen for a dreary journey--and a speedy one."
Kauth covered the dead face of Kieran and then backed, sullen and defiant, against the wall.
"I have no queen in this place," she said. "Because of her, Duffagan is beheaded, and his head on a pike below. I saw what I saw done on that holy man who is dead, an I hear what you hear below in the shoutings. I think it s truth they tell down there in their cries--she is a malediction! Death to all is her one thought, so that she walk safe--that is her thought. In thrall to her was held', Tiernan and Duffagan--they were a bridge for her feet. But I am no longer in thrall to her! I have seen unholy and unlucky things, and the words of dead Kieran are a curse against Dervail for always. If you, Lord Ardan, are brave to walk beside her now--you are the only man brave enough for it."
"Madness has fallen on her," said Dervail. "The death of her man took her little wit."
"Not all of it," said Kauth, who had a most evil look with her red eyes and swollen face, and her grin of malice.
"This is the one man who never took the gift of you at your offer--and he is the only one of all your lovers to brave your enemies to reach you this day of your days."
"Go!" screamed Dervail in white fury. "Scullion, whom I lifted and strove to make human! Join your mates below ere I have you thrown to them from the battlements!"
The woman slunk to the far end of the room of shadows, but cowered there, fearful of going down to the screaming mob. Dervail turned away and covered her ears with white, jeweled hands to shut out the clamor.
"Ardan," she whispered, "it is not all a lie she tells. They have scurried away from me like rats after a singeing! Rhudri of the Faelain has gone, and every woman of them is out of sight."
"I know the truth of that," he said, "for the men of the woodland are bearing brush and straw and great timbers. They will smoke you out unless you take the Breffni road with me, and the choice must be now."
"The choice?" she muttered, and walked wildly from window to window looking down on the horrid, waiting, upturned faces. "The choice? Ardan--soul of me always! Yours was the choice for me, and mine the rebellious heart! Yours was the true vision, for the vision of Duffagan has led me here to this trap! Yours was the hand I should have held to; yours was the white way for me, Ardan, the white way of the sun; and I am at last saying it!"
She flung herself on his shoulder, and her tears of self-pity touched his hand as he took her in gentleness toward the seat by the window.
But the seat was not reached, for the reason that Diarmod and OFaelain came into the room at that minute,
and Diarmod, in a rush of rage, caught the shoulder of Dervail and flung her until she stumbled and fell across the dead body of Kieran.
"The shouts below are the shouts of the prophets," he said, "O royal harlot, who, in making choice, passes no man by!"
Ardan turned toward the king with lifted hand of protest, and Diarmod whipped out his dirk at that moment and thrust downward a mighty blow.
"You to the white way of your choice!" he said. "You to your white road--the two of you!"
Ardan fell under the weight of the blow, and blood stained his white garment, but a strange thing chanced at his falling, for the dagger was caught and wrested from the king's hand.
"A deep stroke, Diarmod, and an unlucky one. The youth is under misjudgment; my faith on that!" said OFaelain, lifting Ardan and tearing open the white undergarment.
He crossed himself at what he saw there--and it was strange enough.
The slender blade of the king did not go deep for the reason that the point was bedded in a golden ring, and the ring on a golden flat chain fastened around the neck of Ardan.
OFaelain undid the chain and handed it to Diarmod with the dagger pendant.
"God and Mary have no wish that you do murder or vengeance for this woman--and the sign of it is here," he said.
Ardan struggled to his feet--bloodstained and pale, his hand staunching the wound.
"You have robbed me of a thing precious," he said. "To a king and a lord of Erinn it can have little worth,
but as for me, if it is my time to die, I would wish to go into death with that token."
Diarmod looked from the gold ring on which there was graven a circled star and words in ogham and as his eyes met Ardan's eyes, he was more blanched than Ardan, and his voice was husky and strange.
"How is this precious to you--this thing more ancient than you can know?" he asked.
"It was on the breast of my mother at her death, and more than that I do not know. Dall Clairineach bade me use it as a token to any king of Leith Mogh if danger threatened me. For myself I would not use it--but if it has virtue I will use it that Dervail the queen rides safe."
"She will ride free," said Diarmod in a dull, strange way. "Look, Rhudri--see my punishment."
OFaelain looked, and crossed himself, and lifted the hand of Ardan to his lips.
"O perfect prince--and the first born," he said, "you are a grace, and no punishment."
Dervail leaned forward, breathless at the words and at the look of Diarmod: she was forgotten by him and by OFaelain. Their eyes saw only Ardan.
"You knew your mother?" asked Diarmod.
"I did not know her. Death took her. Dall Clairineach alone knew my blood, and he gave me no word. I am of his clan--so I am thinking."
"You are of the race of Conaire Mor, and your mother was Dhira of the Dark Hair whom they forced from me and hid away--a veiled woman! None told me there was a son, but her son could be only mine. You are the heir of my youth."
"Dhira!" said Dervail, her head thrust forward like a golden-headed serpent with its stroke of poison. "That, Ardan, was the nun he took from sanctuary--that was
the thing of which I told--and the thing you would not give your faith to--and you the living witness!"
Ardan looked at Diarmod in frowning question, and it was the eyes of Diarmod that wavered and fell.
"This is between these walls," said Ardan, and reached his hand for ring and chain. "Beyond the portal it is never to be spoke. If the token brings me fealty of a guard I will make use of it to lead this queen back in safety to her kingdom."
"See to it, Rhudri," said Diarmod. "All that he asks of Leinster is his. You had my love, boy, and today I am knowing that her eyes were ever looking out on me from your own."
Ardan made no reply. He was staunching the blood with linen torn in strips by OFaelain.
"Diarmod," spoke Dervail, "has an old love weakened you to pleading for crumbs? Is it true that Turlough OConor and Tiernan of Breffni have cast the shadow of their spears against you and weakened your courage? You hear Ardan say he will guard me out of your kingdom, and you speak no word of protest? Did I then ride south beside you for only a holiday or a fair?"
"You came, a stolen queen as hostage," said Diarmod, "that is the tale to tell. The hours are past for words of that: you must go with the prince if you would keep life in you; the spears of two armies are already across our border to force your return to Breffni. I will have vengeance for the loss of you but that will be on another day--on this one there is only flight in all haste for you."
Thus he spoke, but his eyes were on Ardan and she saw it.
"You are not Diarmod the king this day," she said. "You are only a man in a trance who has the looks of Diarmod. This dead monk had devil's words of you, and
of me. He called me 'Dyveke the Dove' and said you were under geis to hold no white birds under snare. He had lies of old magic, and a curse for me in all of them. Are you knowing that baleful rune he mouthed? Know you that he met his death striving to do murder on me?"
"It is known, and it is a sorrow," said Diarmod, "and his is the first death of the many ere the end comes; thus has his life paid for his prophecy. Ulster will join me to war against Turlough and ORuarc; in another year Leinster will have allies and strength, and you will again ride south to rule."
"Your lips speak," said Dervail coldly. "You are not the king of the night on Tara."
Rhudri returned with a frightened maid and the cloak of Dervail.
"I pledge myself to send your goods on a morrow," he said; "it cannot be now. While the humor of the mob gives sanction to your going, is the time to go."
The smile of Dervail was bitter and dreary as she looked at the three men. She was no longer the first thought in any mind there. Ardan the prince, and the first-born of Diarmod, was suddenly most wonderful and pleasing in the eyes of the two men. Even the disdain of Ardan gave them pride in him.
"You to have royal rule when it means naught to you!" she said, looking at him, "and I to be robbed of it when it is breath of life to me!"
"I claim no rule--nor will I," said Ardan. "My mother died in sanctuary, and thus will I. Enough sons are in Leinster to divide the spoils. Cover well your head in the veil, for rain is falling. Give extra cloak to the maid, and I ask grace for her, and comfort if her courage lasts through the trials of the way."
"She shall have honor that she heeds your word, and the children of her shall have honor after her, O prince," said Rhudri OFaelain.
It was an awkward moment and strange, as Dervail stood, veiled and gray, beside the body of Kieran, waiting to go.
"The curse came when he came," she said, looking down on him. "It seems a thousand years past--and it was but yesternight."
Smoke drifted up on the heavy air, and curled blue-white through the windows. Some of the mob, impatient of delays, had fired brush, and the falling rain drowned it, yet it bore its warning!
There was a lull in the shouting as the guard of the king formed without--and then the great gate of the castle opened and a horse was seen with woman's furnishings, and a roar went up.
"Dervail! Dervail! Dervail, the accursed of Leinster!" Dervail stooped and picked up the dagger let fall when she ceased the torture of Kieran,
"Dervail, there will be another day for us," said Diarmod the king.
"Your lips speak, O king!" said Dervail.
She felt sullenly that the dark-eyed nun--long dead had thrust herself between them at the end--and in a strange way she felt that the monk who had saved his last breath for curses had some way brought all this evil to be when he sunk his knife in Duffagan: that, and his words of mystic things, had changed the world for her.
He had caught her imagination and enthralled her soul by the mystic things he left in shadow, and the shadow and fear remained on her like a heavy cloak of gray.
Suddenly she turned to Ardan.
"Use your new strength--do not let the king show
himself beside me. I do not choose he should hear the wild beasts and their hate of me."
"It is their fear of you, Dervail."
"To the blind monk the thanks for that; but do not let him come."
So, in the gray rain, drearily falling, she rode out beside Ardan in the center of twice sixty of the king's guard. Her name was echoed by them a thousand times with all the terms of evil they could invent or remember, and more than once a bowman sent an arrow hurtling overhead as a warning to haste.
Once she looked back, thinking to see Diarmod on the wall, but she saw only Kauth staring down over the gateway on which the head of Duffagan was spiked.
It was the first day of the deaths of the prophecy, the "thousand years' tribute of blood," for Dervail of the Shadow!
So great was the rage against her that even the castle of ORuarc was no safety. Widows and the children of slaughtered soldiery cried out against the curse of her beauty for which men died, and she became a secret woman in the sanctuary of Cluain-mac-noise from which great wealth went out through her hands for holy walls and holy vessels, and endless prayer.
And ever, for the rest of her life, on the sweet spring
nights of Beltain, she knelt on the cold stone of the chapel floor to undo the false magic of Duffagan on the hill of the druids. He had seen truly there, yet his reading of what he saw was not true; and the proof of it was the bridge she had built for evil to cross on.
It was not that she doubted the magic of druidcraft, but it is an ill and unlucky thing to go to the old gods after the saints have rung bells against them. Even the true things are twisted after that.
Her beauty was still on her, and the dreams of Tara were not dead.
But the fear of the words of Kieran remained as the shadow of a gray ghost, sending her to frightened prayer.
The curse of the blind monk was too heavy to be cast aside even by penance, and she walked veiled and dreamed of a day when Diarmod would again be chief of victories and change the gray cloak of dread to the royal robe of seven colors.
When the word came of his solemn banishing out of Erinn by vote of the Irish nobles, she brooded, and reckoned the wealth still hers, and waited message.
When he came again, with his English allies and the curst name "Diarmod of the Foreigners" on him, her step was light with hope, for the soldiers out of England would make him king indeed over all the proud nobles who had banished him away! The dream of Tara was still a sweet, yet fearful dream.
But when the death of Diarmod was come to him in horror, and the head of Tiernan ORuarc was sent to England, while his body was hung by the feet on the north wall of Dublin, then again did wild rage of the Irish burn high against the name of Dervail of the Shadow.
It was sung in songs linking her ever with the hated
invaders. Even through convent walls that hatred came--hatred against her and against the arch-traitor who had brought the English enemy to help win the throne of Erinn, because of her beauty and her daring dream.
In secret and in darkness, she was guarded to Mellifont and a new name given her for safety, and among the nuns she was never known to have worn the royal colors of a queen. And the dream of Tara was a gray horror--yet it had been told by Duffagan that kings who battled for her would sink in death, while she alone survived--and it was so.
He held out to her a pearl and a ring she knew.
"These were to go back to you, and I made promise," he said. "I was with him at the last, when no one else was with him."
"Did his blessing come with them?" she asked. "It is said he died as Kieran died--cursing Dervail."
"They should not have told you that."
"Nay, none are telling me; it is on the air wherever the invading enemy are known and hated--Diarmod and Dervail, Dervail and Diarmod of the Foreigners! In my dreams I am hearing the curses on the two names!"
"Duffagan made such prophecy of your name and its echoes in the druid circle."
"He did. Give the pearl to some altar and wear you
the ring of your father. They are tokens of fear to me--fear of what I dared in my days of daring."
"There are other sons to wear the ring. Mine is now the monk's robe. I am a builder and a carver of stone. If the churches rise against the invading English, I will be a soldier to help undo the curse of Diarmod."
"And the curse of Dervail," she said, and wept. He made no answer.
"Ardan," she said, "Kieran the monk said, a thousand years' bondage on Erinn for me, a thousand years of the yoke--the yoke on the bent neck of Erinn! You have had the true vision all our lives; you were the only true thing, Ardan. Can you read the days to come, and tell me the end of that curse? For the yoke is on Erinn, Ardan."
"I dare not read, or make prophecy, Dervail."
"A white road to you! The bell of vesper sounds, and it is Beltain--and a time of fear to me! Ardan, I have long had a thought unspoken. A tomb will be mine some restful night. I would that your hand had the carving off that bed. Your hand, comrade, will carve the tomb? It will be the end of the flight of the bird, Ardan."
"I will do that: I saw the form of it when we rode out through the smoke and the furious pack there at the castle in Kildare."
"And it will be--?"
"The circled cross--and a gray falcon there with broken, trailing wings, Dervail."