(Richard King) Laoch
Image by Fergal of Claddagh
Click here for the first part of the story of DEIRDRE OF THE SORROWS www.flickr.com/photos/feargal/5122512441/in/photostream/
BUT all this while the cunning, cruel heart of Conor was planning his revenge. For though he was an old man with grown-up sons of middle age, he had begun to feel affection for the child who had been sheltered by his care, and who looked to him as her protector and her friend. And after all the years that he had waited for the girl, to have her plucked away beneath his eyes just when she was of age to be his wife, aroused his bitter wrath and jealousy. Deep in his heart he plotted dark revenge, but it was hard to carry out his plan, for well he knew that of his chiefs not one would lift his hand against the sons of Usna. Of all the Red Branch Champions those three were loved the best; and difficult it was to know which of the three was bravest, or most noble to see. When in the autumn games they raced or leaped or drove the chariots round the racing-course, some said that Arden had the more majestic step and stately air; others, that Ainle was more graceful and more lithe in swing, but most agreed that Naoise was the most princely of the three, so dignified his gait, so swift his step in running, and so strong and firm his hand. But when they wrestled, ran or fought in combats side by side, men praised them all, and called them the "Three Lights of Valour of the Gael."
When his plans were ripe, Conor made a festival in Armagh, and all his chiefs were gathered to the feast. The aged Fergus sat at his right hand and Caffa next to him; close by sat Conall Cernach, a mighty warrior, still in his full prime, and by his side, as in old times, Cú Chulain sat. He seemed still young, but of an awesome aspect, as one who had a tragedy before him, and great deeds behind; and, for all that he was the pride of Ulster’s hosts, men stood in dread before him, as though he were a god. Around the board sat many a mighty man and good prime warrior seasoned by long wars. But in the hall three seats were empty, and it was known to be Conor’s command that in his presence none should dare to speak the names of Usna’s banished sons.
This night Conor was merry and in pleasant humour, as it seemed. He plied his guests with mead and ale out of his golden horns, and led the tale and passed the jest, and laughed, and all his chiefs laughed with him, till the hall was filled with cheerful sounds of song and merriment. And when the cheer was bravest and the feast was at its height, he rose and said: ‘ Right welcome all assembled here this night, High Chiefs of Ulster, Champions of the Branch. Of all royal households in the world, tell me, O you who travel much and see strange distant lands and courts of kings, have ye in Scotland or in Ireland’s realms, or in the countries of the great wide world, ever seen a court more princely than our own, or an assembly comely as the Red Branch Knights? “
“We know not," they all cried, "of any such. Your court, O Conor, is of all courts on earth the bravest and the best."
"If this be so," said wily Conor, “I suppose no sense of want lies on you; no lack of anything is in your minds? “
“We know not any want at all," they said aloud; but in their minds they thought, “save the Three Lights of Valour of the Gael."
“But I, O warriors, know one want that lies on us," Conor replied, “the want of the three sons of Usna fills my mind. Naoise and Ainle and Arden, good warriors were they all; but Naoise is a match for any mighty monarch in the world. By his own strength alone he carved for him and his own a princely realm in Scotland, and there he rules. Alas! That for the sake of any woman in the world, we lose his presence here."
“Had we but dared to utter that, O Great Warrior, long since we should have called them home again. These three alone would safely guard the province against any host. Three sons of a border-lord and used to fight are they; three heroes of warfare, three lions of fearless might."
“I knew not," said Conor craftily, "you wished them back. I thought you all were jealous of their might, or long ere this we should have sent for them. Let messengers now go, and heralds of Conor to bring them home, for welcome to us all will be the sight of The sons of Usna."
“Who is the herald who shall bear that peaceful message?” they all cried. “I have been told," said Conor, “that out of Ulster’s chiefs there were but three whose word of honour and protection they would trust, and at whose invitation Naoise would come again in peace. With Conall Cernach he will come, or with Cú Chulain, or with great Fergus of the mighty arms. These are the friends in whom he will confide; under the safe-guard of each one of these he knows all will be well."
“Bid Fergus go, or Conall or Cú Chulain," the warriors cried; "let not a single night pass by until the message goes to bring the sons of Usna to our board again. Most sorely do we need them; deeply do we mourn their loss. Bring back the Lights of Valour of the Gael."
" Now will I test," thought Conor to himself, “which of these three prime warriors loves me best." So supper being ended, Conor took Conall to his ante-room apart and set himself to question cunningly: “Suppose, loyal soldier of the world, you were to go and fetch the sons of Usna back from Scotland to their own land under your safeguard and your word of honour that they should not be harmed; but if, in spite of this, some ill should fall on them not by my hand, of course and they were slain, what then would happen, what would you do?"
“I swear, Great Conor," said Conall, "by my hand, that if the sons of Usna were brought here under my protection to their death, not he alone whose hand was stained by that foul deed, but every man of Ulster who had wrought them harm should feel my righteous vengeance and my wrath."
‘I thought as much," said Conor, “not great the love and service you dost give your lord. Dearer to you than are The sons of Usna."
Then sent he for Cú Chulain and to him he made the same demand. But bolder yet Cú Chulain made reply: “I pledge my word, Great Conor, if evil were to fall upon the sons of Usna, brought back to Ireland and their homes in confidence in my protection and my plighted word, not all the riches of the eastern world would bribe or hinder me from severing your own head from you in lieu of the dear heads of The sons of Usna, most foully slain when tempted home by their sure trust in me."
“I see it now, Cú Chulain," said Conor, “you profess a love for me you do not truly feel."
Then Fergus came, and to him also he proposed the same request. Now Fergus was perplexed what answer he should give. Sore did it trouble him to think that evil might befall brave The sons of Usna when under his protection. Yet it was but a little while since he and Conor had made friends, and he come back to Ulster, and set high in place and power by Conor, and well he knew that Conor doubted him; and such a deed as this, to bring the sons of Usna home again, would prove fidelity and win Conor’s affection. Moreover, Conor spoke so guardedly that Fergus was not sure whether Conor had ill intent or no towards the sons of Usna. For all he said was: "Supposing any harm or ill befall the sons of Usna by the hand of any here, what wouldst you do? “
So after long debate within himself, Fergus replied: "If any Ulsterman should harm the noble youths, undoubtedly I should avenge the deed; but you, Great Conor, and your own flesh and blood, I would not harm; for well I know, that if they came under protection of your sovereign word, they would be safe with you. Therefore, against you and your house, I would not raise my hand, whatever the conditions, but faithfully and with my life will serve you."
"It is well," the wily Conor replied, “I see, O loyal warrior, that you love me well, and I will prove your faithfulness and truth. The sons of Usna without doubt will come with you. Tomorrow set you forward; bear Conor’s message to brave The sons of Usna, say that he eagerly awaits their coming, that Ulster longs to welcome them. Urge them to hasten; bid them not to linger on the way, but with the utmost speed to press straight forward here to Armagh."
Then Fergus went out from Conor and told the nobles he had pledged his word to Conor to bring back the sons of Usna to their native land. And on the morrow’s morn Fergus set forth in his own boat, and with him his two sons, Ulan the Fair and Buinne the Ruthless Red, and together they sailed to Loch Etive in Scotland.
But hardly had they started than Conor set to work with cunning craft to lure the sons of Usna to their doom. He sent for Borrach, son of Annte, who had built a mighty fortress by the sea, and said to him, “Did I not hear, O Borrach, that you had prepared a feast for me? ‘ c It is even so, Great Conor, and I await your coming to partake of the banquet I have prepared." And Conor said, ‘; I may not come at this time to your feast; the duties of Land keep me here at Armagh. But I would not decline your hospitality. Fergus, the son of Roy, stands close to me in place and power; a feast bestowed on him I hold as though it were bestowed on me. In less than a week’s time comes Fergus back from Scotland, bringing the sons of Usna to their home. Bid Fergus to your feast, and I will hold the honour paid to him as paid to me."
For wily Conor knew that if his royal command was laid on Fergus to accept the banquet in his stead, Fergus dare not refuse; and by this means he sought to separate the sons of Usna from their friend, and get them fast into his own power at Armagh, while Fergus waited yet at Borrach’s house, partaking of his hospitality.
"Thus,” thought Conor, "I have the sons of Usna in my grasp, and dire the vengeance I will wreak on them, the men who stole my wife."
AT the head of fair Loch Etive the sons of Usna had built for themselves three spacious hunting seats among the pine-trees at the foot of the cliffs that ran landward to deep Glen Etive. The wild deer could be shot from the window, and the salmon taken out of the stream from the door of their dwelling. There they passed the spring and summer months, The sons of Usna of the white steeds and the brown deer hounds, whose breasts were broader than the wooden leaves of the door. Above the hunting-lodge, on the grassy slope that is at the foot of the cascade, they built a sunny summer home for Deirdre, and they called it the Grianán, or sunny bower of Deirdre. It was thatched on the outside with the long-stalked fern of the dells and the red clay of the pools, and lined within with the pine of the mountains and the downy feathers of the wild birds; and round it was the apple-garden of Clan Usna, with the apple-tree of Deirdre in its midst and the apple-trees of Naoise and Ainle and Arden encircling it.
And Deirdre loved her life, for she was free as the brown partridge flying over the mountains or as the vessels with ruddy sails swinging upon the loch. But in the winter they moved down to the broad sheltered pasture-lands that lay on the western side of the loch near the island that was in olden days called Oileán Chlann Uisne or the Island of the Children of Usna, but is called Oileán nan Ron or the Isle of the Seals to-day; and there they built a mighty fortress for Deirdre and the sons of Usna which men still call the Caisteal Nighean Righ Eirinn or the Castle of the Daughter of Conor of Ireland, and thence they made wars and conquered a great part of Western Scotland and became powerful princes.
One sultry evening in the late autumn, Deirdre and Naoise were resting before the door of her sunny bower after a day spent by the brothers in the chase. Below, their followers were cutting up the deer, and as they brought in the bags of heavy game, and faggots for the hearth, the voice of Ainle singing an evening melody resounded through the wood. Like the sound of the wave the voice of Ainle, and the rich bass of Arden answered him, as together the two brothers came out from the shadow of the trees, gathering to the trysting-place of the evening meal.
Between Naoise and Deirdre a draught-board was set, but Deirdre was winning, for a mood of oppression lay upon Naoise and his thoughts were not in the game. For of late, at evening, his exile weighed upon him, and little good to him seemed his prosperity and his successes, since he did not see his own home in Ireland and his friends at the time of his rising in the morning or at the time of his lying down at night. For great as were his possessions in Scotland, stronger in him than the love of his kindred in Scotland was the love of his native land in Ireland. He thought it strange, moreover, that of those three who in the old time loved him most, Fergus and Conall Cernach and Cú Chulain, not one of them had all this time come to bring him to his own land again under his safeguard and protection.
So, as they played, Deirdre could see that the mind of Naoise was wandering from the game, and her heart smote her, as often it had smitten her before when she had seen him thus oppressed, that for her sake so much had gone from him of friends and home, and his allegiance to Conor, and honourable days among his clan. Wistfully she smiled across the board at Naoise, but mournful was the answering smile he sent her back.
“Play, play," she said, “I win the game from you."
“One game the more or less can matter little when all else is lost," he answered bitterly.
But hardly had the unkind words passed from him, the first unkindness Deirdre ever heard from Naoise’s lips, when far below, across the silent waters of the lake, he caught a distant call, his own name uttered in a ringing voice that seemed familiar, a voice that brought old days to memory.
“I hear the voice of a man from Ireland call below," he cried, and started up.
Now Deirdre too had heard the cry and well she knew that it was Fergus’ voice they heard, but deep foreboding passed across her mind that all their hours of happiness were past, and grief and rending of the heart in store. So quickly she replied: “How could that be? It is some man of Scotland coming from the chase, belated in returning. No voice was that from Ireland; it was a Scotchman’s cry. Let us play on."
Three times the voice of Fergus came sounding up the glen, and at the last, Naoise sprang up. “You are mistaken, damsel; of a certainty I know this is the voice of Fergus."
“I knew it all the time, whose voice it was," said Deirdre, when she saw he would not be put off.
"Why then did you not tell us?" Naoise asked. ‘
“A vision that I saw last night hath hindered me," replied the girl. "I saw three birds come to us out of Armagh from Conor, carrying three sips of honey in their bills; the sips of honey they left here with us, but took three sips of our red blood away with them."
“What is your read of this vision, O Damsel? “Naoise asked.
"Thus do I understand it," Deirdre said; "Fergus hath come from our own native land with peace, and sweet as honey will his message be; but the three sips of blood that he will take away with him, those three are ye, for ye will go with him, and be betrayed to death."
"Speak not such words, O Deirdre," cried they all; “never would Fergus thus betray his friends. Alas! That words like this should pass your lips. We stay too long; Fergus awaits us at the port. Go, Ainle, and go, Arden, down to meet him, and to give him loving welcome here."
So Arden went, and Ainle, and three loving kisses fervently they gave to Fergus and his sons. Gladly they welcomed the wayfarers to Naoise’s home, and led them up; and Naoise and Deirdre arose and stretched their hands in welcome; and they gave them blessing and three kisses lovingly, for old times’ sake, and eagerly they asked for tidings of Ireland, and of Ulster especially.
“I have no other tidings half so good as these," said Fergus, “that Conor waits for you to give you welcome back to Armagh, and to the Red Branch House. I am your surety and your safeguard, and full well ye know that under Fergus’ safeguard ye are sure of peace."
“Heed not that message, Naoise," Deirdre said; “greater and wider is your lordship here, than Conor’s rule in Ireland."
“Better than any lordship is one’s native land," said Naoise; “dearer to me than great possessions here, is one more sight of Ireland’s well-loved soil."
“My word and pledge are firm on your behalf," said Fergus; "with me no harm or hurt can come to you."
"Verily and indeed, your word is firm, and we will go with you."
But to their going Deirdre consented not, and every way she sought to hinder them, and wept and prayed them not to go to death.
"Now all my joy is past," she said; "I saw last night the three black ravens bearing three sad leaves of the yew-tree of death; and O Beloved, those three withered leaves I saw were the three sons of Usna, blown off their stem by the rough wind of Conor’s wrath and the damp dew of Fergus’ treachery."
And they were sorry that she had said that.
"These are but foolish women’s fears," said they; “the dropping of leaves in your dream, and the howling of dogs, the sight of birds with blood-drops in their bills, are but the restlessness of sleep, O Deirdre; and verily we put our trust in Fergus 5 word. Tonight we go with him to Ireland."
Gladsome and joyful were the three brothers then; they put all fears away from them, and set to prepare them for their journey back to Ireland’s shores. And early the next morning, about the parting of night from day, at the delay of the morning dawn, they passed down to their galley that rocked upon the loch, and hoisted sail, and calmly and peacefully they sailed out into the ocean. But Deirdre sat in the stern of the boat, and her face was not set forward looking towards Ireland, but it was set backward looking on the coasts of Scotland. And she cried aloud, “O Land of the East, My love to you, with your wondrous beauty! Woe is me that I leave your lochs and your bays, your flowering delightful plains, and your bright green-smooth hills! Dear to me the fort that Naoise built, dear the sunny bower up the glen; very dear to my heart the wooded slope holding the sunbeams where I have sat with Naoise." And as they sailed out of Glen Etive she sang this song, sadly and sorrowfully:
"Farewell, dear Scotland of the free,
Beloved land beside the sea,
No power could drag me from my home,
Did I not come, Naoise, with you.
Farewell, dear bowers within the Glen,
Farewell, strong fort hung over them,
Dear to the heart each shining isle,
That seems to smile beneath our ken.
Glen da Roe!
Where the white cherry and garlic blow,
On your blue wave we rocked to sleep,
As on the deep, by Glen da Roe.
Whose sunny slopes these waters lave,
The rising sun we seemed to hold,
As in a fold, in Glen Etive.
Love to all those who here were born!
Across your peak, at twilight’s fall,
The cuckoos call, in Glen Masaun.
Farewell, dear Land,
From Scotland’s strand I ne’er had roved
Save at the call of my beloved,
Farewell, dear Land!
The next day they reached the shores of Ireland not fur from the fort of Borrach. And as they landed there, messengers from Borrach met Fergus, saying, "Borrach hath prepared a feast for Conor, and it is Conor’s command that the honour of this feast be given to you. Come therefore and spend this night with me; but Conor desires to hasten the sons of Usna that he may welcome them, and he bids them press onward to Armagh this very night."
When Fergus heard that, sudden fear and gloom over shadowed him, lest in very truth Conor had evil designs towards the sons of Usna.
“It was not well done, O Borrach, to offer me a feast in Conor’s stead this night, for I was pledged to bring the sons of Usna straight to Armagh without delay."
“It is Conor’s command, said Borrach; “needs must a true vassal obey Conor.”
Still was Fergus not keen to stay and he asked Naoise what he ought to do about this.
“Do what they desire of you, O Fergus," said Deirdre, “if to partake of a banquet seems better to you than to protect the sons of Usna. However to me it seems that the lives of your three friends is a good price to pay for a feast."
“I will not forsake them," said Fergus; “for my two sons, Illan the Fair and Buinne the Ruthless Red will be with them to protect them, and my word of honour, moreover, with them; if all the warriors of Ireland were assembled in one place, and all of one mind, they would not be able to break the pledge of Fergus."
"Much thanks we give you for that," said Naoise, for he saw that Fergus feared to fall foul of Conor more than he cared for their safety; “never have we depended on any protection but that of our own right hands alone; we will then go forward to Armagh, and see there if the word of Fergus will be sufficient to protect us."
But Deirdre said: "Go not forward to-night; but let us turn aside, and for t his on e night take shelter with Cú Chulain at Dundalk; then will Fergus have partaken of his feast, and he will be ready to go with you. So will his word be fulfilled and let your lives wil1 be prolonged."
“We think not well of that advice," said Buinne the Ruthless Red; “you have with you the might of your own good hands, and our might, and the plighted word of Fergus to protect you, it is impossible that ye should be betrayed."
“Ah! that plighted word of Fergus’; the man who forsook all for a feast! “ said Deirdre.
“Well may we rely on Fergus ‘ plighted word."
And she fell into grief and dejection, Alas! Alas!’ she cried. “Why left we Scotland of the red deer to come a gain to Ireland? Why put we trust in the light word of Fergus? Woe is come upon us since we listened to the promises of that man! The valiant sons of Usna are destroyed by him, the Lights of Valour of the Gael. Great is my heaviness of heart tonight. Great is the loss that is fallen upon us."
In spite of that the sons of Usna and their two friends went onward towards tne White Cairn of Watching on Sliabh Fuad; but Deirdre was very weary and she lingered behind in the glen and sat down to rest and fell asleep. They did not notice at first that she was not with them, but Naoise found it out and he turned back to seek Deirdre. He found her sitting in the wood on the trunk of a fallen tree, just waking from her sleep. When she saw Naoise she arose and clung to him.
“What happened to you, O fair one? “ said Naoise, “and where fore is your face so wild and fearful, and tears within your eyes? ‘
"I fell into a sleep, for I was weary," she replied; (t and O Naoise, I fear because of the vision and the dream I saw."
"You are too apt to dream, beloved," said Naoise tenderly, “what was your dream? ‘”
“Terrible was my dream," said Deirdre; “I saw you, Naoise, and Ainle and Arden, each of my three beloved ones, without a head, your headless bodies lying side by side near Armagh’s fort; and Ulan lay there too drenched all with blood, and headless like ye three. But on the other side among our enemies, fighting against us was the treacherous Buinne the Ruthless Red, who now is our protector and our guide; for he had saved his head by treachery to you."
“Sad were your dream indeed," said Naoise, “were it true; but fear it not, it was an empty vision grown out of weariness and pain."
But Deirdre clung yet to him, and she cried, “O Naoise, see, above your head, and o’er the heads of Ainle and of Arden, that sombre cloud of blood! Do you not mark it hanging in the air? All over Armagh lies the heavy pall; but on your head and theirs red blood-drops fall, big, dusky, drenching drops. Let us not go to Armagh." But Naoise thought that from her weariness the mind of Deirdre had become distraught, and all the more he pressed them onward, that she might have rest and shelter for the night.
As they drew near to Armagh, Deirdre said, “One test I give you whether Conor means you good or harm. If into his own house he welcomes you, all will be well, for in his own home would no monarch dare to harm a guest; but if he send you to some other house, while he himself stays on in Armagh’s court, then treachery and guile is meant towards you."
Now as they reached the Court of Armagh, messengers came out to meet them from Conor.
“Conor bids you welcome," said the men; “right glad is he that you are come again to Ireland, to your fatherland. But for this one night only is he not prepared to call you as his guests to his own court. To-morrow he will give you audience and bid you to his house. For this one night, then, he bids you turn aside into the Red Branch House, where all is ready for your entertainment."
“It is as I thought," said Deirdre, “Conor means no good to you, I fear."
But Naoise replied, “Where could the Red Branch champions so fitly rest as in the Red Branch House? Most gladly do we seek our hall, to rest and find refreshment for the morrow. We all are travel-stained, but we will bathe and take repose, and on the morrow we will meet Conor."
But when they came to the House of the Red Branch, so weary were they all, that though all kinds of viands were supplied, they ate but little, but lay down to rest. And Naoise said, “Do you remember, Deirdre, how in that last game of draughts we played together, you did win, because we were in Scotland, and my heart was here at home? Now are we back at last, and let us play again; this time I promise I will win from you."
So with the lightsome spirit of a boy, Naoise sat down to play; for now that once again he was at home among his people and in his native land, all thought or dread of evil passed from him. But with Deirdre it was not so, for heavy dread and terror of the morrow lay on her heart, and in her mind she felt that this was their last day of peace and love together.
But in his royal court, Conor grew impatient as he thought that Deirdre was so near at hand, and he not seeing her. “Go now, O foster-mother, to the Red Branch Hall and see if on the child that you did rear reached her early bloom and beauty, and if she still is lovely as when she went from me. If she is still the same, then, in spite of Naoise, I’ll have her for my own; but if her bloom is past, then let her be, Naoise may keep her for himself."
Right glad was Leabharcham to get leave to go to Deirdre and to The sons of Usna. Down to the Red Branch House straightway she went, and there were Naoise and her foster-child playing together with the board between them. Now, save Deirdre herself, Naoise was dearer to Leabharcham than any other in the world, and well she knew that her own face and form were upon Deirdre still, only grown riper and more womanly. For, without Conor’s knowledge, she oft had gone to seek them when they stayed in Scotland.
Lovingly she kissed them and strong showers of tears sprang from her eyes.
“No good will come to you, ye children of my love," she said with weeping, “that ye are come again with Deirdre here. To-night they practise treachery and ill intent against you all in Armagh. Conor would know if Deirdre is lovely still, and though I tell a lie to shelter her, he will find out, and wreak his vengeance on you for the loss of her. Great evils wait for Armagh and for you, O darling friends. Shut close the doors and guard them well; let no one pass within. Defend yourselves and this sweet damsel here, my foster-child. Trust no man; but repel the attack that surely comes, and victory and blessing be with you."
Then she returned to Armagh; but all along the way she wept quick-gushing showers of tears, and heaved great sighs, for well she knew that from this night the sons of Usna would be alive no more.
What are the tidings that you have for me?” Conor asked. “Good tidings have I, and tidings that are not good."
“Tell me them," said Conor.
“The good tidings that I have are these; that the sons of Usna, the three whose form and figure are best, the three bravest in fight and all deeds of prowess, are come again to Ireland; and, with the Lights of Valour at your side, your enemies will flee before you, as a flock of frightened birds is driven before the gale. The ill-tidings that I have are that through suffering and sorrow the love of my heart and treasure of my soul is changed since she went away, and little of her own bloom and beauty remain upon Deirdre."
“That will do for awhile," said Conor; and he felt his anger abating. But when they had drunk a round or two, he began to doubt the word of Leabharcham.
“O Trendorn," said he to one who sat beside him, “dost you recollect who it was who slew your father? “
"I know well; it was Naoise, son of Usna," he replied. 4 Go you therefore where Naoise is, and see if her own face and form remain upon Deirdre."
So Trendorn went down to the House of the Red Branch, but they had made fast the doors and he could find no way of entrance, for all the gates and windows were stoutly barred. He began to be afraid lest the sons of Usna might be ready to leap out upon him from within, but at last he found a small window which they had forgotten to close, and he put his eye to the window, and saw Naoise and Deirdre still playing at their game peace fully together. Deirdre saw the man looking in at the window, and Naoise, following her eye, caught sight of him also. And he picked up one of the pieces that was lying beside the board, and threw it at Trendorn, so that it struck his eye and tore it out, and in pain and misery the man returned to Armagh.
“You seem not so happy as when you set out, O Trendorn," said Conor; “what has happened to you, and have you seen Deirdre?”
“I have seen her, indeed; I have seen Deirdre, and but that Naoise drove out mine eye I should have been looking at her still, for of all the women of the world, Deirdre is the fairest and the best."
When Conor heard that, he rose up and called his followers together and without a moment’s delay they set forward for the house of the Red Branch. For he was filled with jealousy and envy, and he thought the time long until he should get back Deirdre for himself.
“ The pursuit is coming," said Deirdre; “I hear sounds without."
“I will go out and meet them," said Naoise.
“Nay," said Buinne the Ruthless Red, “it was in my hands that my father Fergus placed the sons of Usna to guard them, and it is I who will go forth and fight for them."
“It seems to me," said Deirdre, “that your father hath betrayed the sons of Usna, and it is likely that you would do as your father hath done, O Buinne."
“If my father has been treacherous to you," said Buinne, “it is not I who will do as he has done."
Then he went out and met the warriors of Conor, and put a host of them to the sword.
“Who is this man who is destroying my hosts?“ said Conor.
“Buinne the Ruthless Red, the son of Fergus," say they.
“We bought his father to our side and we must buy the son," said Conor.
He called Buinne and said to him, “I gave a free gift of land to your father Fergus, and I will give a free gift of land to you; come over to my side tonight."
“I will do that," said Buinne, and he went over to the side of Conor.
“Buinne hath deserted you, O sons of Usna, and the son is like the father," Deirdre said.
“He has gone," said Naoise, “but he performed warrior-like deeds before he went."
Then Conor sent fresh warriors down to attack the house.
“The pursuit is coming," said Deirdre.
“I will go out and meet them," said Naoise.
"It is not you who must go, it is I," said Ulan the Fair, son of Fergus, “for to me my father left the charge of you."
“I think the son will be like the father," said Deirdre.
“I am not like to forsake the sons of Usna so long as this hard sword is in my hand," said Ulan the Fair. And the fresh, noble, young hero went out in his battle-array, and valiantly he attacked the host of Conor and made a red rout of them round the house.
“Who is that young warrior who is smiting down my hosts?” said Conor.
“Ulan the Fair, son of Fergus," they reply.
“We will buy him to our side, as his brother was bought," said wily Conor.
So he called Ulan and said, “We gave a possession of land to your father, and another to your brother, and we will give an equal share to you; come over to our side."
But the princely young hero answered: “Your offer, O Conor, will I not accept; for better to me is it to return to my father and tell him that I have kept the charge he laid upon me, than to accept any offer from you, Great Conor."
Then Conor was enraged, and he commanded his own son to attack Ulan, and furiously the two fought together, until Ulan was sore wounded, and he flung his arms into the house, and called on Naoise to do valiantly, for he himself was slain by a son of Conor.
“Ulan has fallen, and you are left alone, said Deirdre, “O sons of Usna."
“He is fallen indeed, said Naoise, “but gallant were the deeds that he per formed before he died."
Then the warriors and mercenaries of Conor drew closer round the house, and they took lighted torches and flung them into the house, and set it on fire. And Naoise lifted Deirdre on his shoulders and raised her on high, and with his brothers on either side, their swords drawn in their hands, they issued forth to fight their way through the press of their enemies. And so terrible were the deeds wrought by those heroes, that Conor feared they would destroy his host. He called his Druids, and said to them, “Work enchantment upon the sons of Usna and turn them back, for no longer do I intend evil against them, but I would bring them home in peace. Noble are the deeds that they have wrought, and I would have them as my servants forever."
The Druids believed the wily Conor and they set to work to weave spells to turn the sons of Usna back to Armagh.
They made a great thick wood before them, through which they thought no man could pass. But without ever stopping to consider their way, the sons of Usna went straight through the wood turning neither to the right hand or the left.
“Good is your enchantment, but it will not avail," said Conor; “the sons of Usna are passing through without the turning of a step, or the bending of a foot. Try some other spell."
Then the Druids made a grey stormy sea before the sons of Usna on the green plain. The three heroes tied their clothing behind their heads, and Naoise set Deirdre again upon his shoulder and went straight on without flinching, without turning back, through the grey shaggy sea, lifting Deirdre on high lest she should wet her feet.
“Your spell is good," said Conor, “yet it does not succeed. The sons of Usna escape my hands. Try another spell."
Then the Druids froze the grey uneven sea into jagged hard lumps of rugged ice, like the sharpness of swords on one side of them and like the stinging of serpents on the other side. Then Arden cried out that he was becoming exhausted and must fain give up.
“Come you, Arden, and rest against my shoulder," said Naoise, “and I will support you."
Arden did so, but it was not long before he died; but though he was dead, Naoise held him up still.
Then Ainle cried out that he could go no longer, for his strength had left him. When Naoise heard that, he heaved a heavy sigh as of one dying of fatigue, but he told Ainle to hold on to him, and he would bring him soon to land. But not long after, the weakness of death came upon Ainle, and his hold relaxed. Naoise looked on either hand and when he saw that his two brothers were dead, he cared not whether he himself should live or die. He heaved a sigh, sore as the sigh of the dying, and his heart broke and he fell dead.
"The sons of Usna are dead now," said the Druids; “but they turned not back."
"Lift up your enchantment," said Conor, “that I now may see the sons of Usna."
Then the Druids lifted the enchantment, and there were the three sons of Usna lying dead, and Deirdre fluttering hither and thither from one to another, weeping bitter heartrending tears. And Conor would have taken her away, but she would not be parted from the sons of Usna, and when their tomb was being dug, Deirdre sat on the edge of the grave, calling on the diggers to dig the pit very broad and smooth. They had dug the pit for three only, and they lowered the bodies of the three heroes into the grave, side by side.
But when Deirdre saw that, she called aloud to the sons of Usna, to make space for her between them, for she was following them. Then the body of Ainle, that was at Naoise’s right hand, moved a little apart, and a space was made for Deirdre close at Naoise’s side, where she was wont to be, and Deirdre leapt into the tomb, and placed her arm round the neck of Naoise, her own love, and she kissed him, and her heart broke within her and she died; and together in the one tomb the three sons of Usna and Deirdre were buried. And all the men of Ulster who stood by wept aloud.
But Conor was angry, and he ordered the bodies to be uncovered again and the body of Deirdre to be removed, so that even in death she might not be with Naoise. And he caused Deirdre to be buried on one side of the loch, and Naoise on the other side of the loch, and the graves were closed. Then a young pine-tree grew from the grave of Deirdre, and a young pine from the grave of Naoise, and their branches grew towards each other, until they entwined one with the other across the loch. And Conor would have cut them down, but the men of Ulster would not allow this, and they set a watch and protected the trees until Conor died.