The Druid Path
PHADRAIG, son of Nihil of the Ua Dinan, held silent his white hound on the hill of Cromm Cru, and looked down the far valley of blue mists where the sea of the west rolled in.
Back beyond the sweet-smelling reaches of the heather he could hear the bay of the hounds of his uncle Kieran, Tiern over North Tormond. He could no longer hear the clink of their silver bridles, nor the laughter of their ladies, nor the scream of hawk on dove.
But the hill of the ancient god was a sweet place in the silence, and he rested there, and made him a pillow of fern--and listened to the soft breath of the wind in the rowan tree. Its sigh of love for the green earth was a sweet song, and he slept there to that music, while the sun rushed beyond the wide seas of the west, and soft-footed dusk crept after, filling all the hollows with the gray web in which the night is held.
A curious dream of white birds came to him there; the dream had come to him before, yet not with clearness--and in the dream was a dusk path in an ancient wood, and a well there--a well rising and sinking with the tide, and a vision of a maid moving before him into the shadows--a vision swathed in a white cloud, with hidden face but a voice in which was held all the music of beauty of life in all the world. His soul was as a harp on which that music played, and his body was but as a shell left behind while the wings of harmony lifted him--lifted until he was borne as a cloud far from the touch of the earth--and he heard a word over and over in his ear, until he strove with might to echo it, and then, in the striving, the smell of the heather was again in his nostrils, and the forefeet of the white hound were on his breast, and above him a star shone in the soft rose of the sky.
He lay entranced, thrilled by the ecstasy of the perfect dream, and somewhere from the very earth came a song to his ear and an earth echo of the word he had striven for and missed. And this was the song he heard--
Make strong your charms against Danaan,
The voices were those of two boys, and with them was an old shepherd who bore fire in a strange bowl of thin carven stone, and in the arms of the boys were dry heather and branches of yew. And in fear they let fall the yew at sight of Phadraig, and at sight of his white hound beside him.
"Peace to you," spake Phadraig. "And who be you to sing here a song of charms? And who is Danaan?"
"A blessing of all saints on you from Jerusalem to Innis Gluair," spake the ancient who bore the fire. "We bear here boughs for the puring fires of Beltain, and the mothers of these boys bade them make a prayer and sing the song ere they crossed the three magic circles of the Tor of Cromm Cru."
"And is this that hill?" asked Phadraig. "As a childling they tell me I was nursed in sight of it, but never before have I stood on it, and who made the song of the charm?"
"One of the anointed of the saints who loved every plain and black crag and forest dell between us and the sea. It was no other than Nihil of the Deep Wood."
"Strange, that is," said Phadraig, the son of Nihil, "other songs of that singer I have been taught, but never this one until I hear it as in a dream in this strange place; and look, there are white sea birds against the stars--and they also were of the dream."
"On the night of Beltain strange power is abroad--and strange dreams! And what is the name of you who venture to sleep on the hill of the ancient gods in the dusk of this day?"
And when Phadraig told him, the old herdsman would have knelt, but Phadraig took his hand and spoke to him in kindness, yet could get from him no other word as to the song of Danaan.
"Go to Roiseen of the Glen, the wise woman down by the sea," he said. "She was nurse to you and knows all your father Nihil would have had you know of the names of the ancient gods of the land."
"But Danaan was the name of a people--the old, old people, soul brothers to the fairies!"
"Ay--it may be. And may not a people have a spirit, as has a person? Have we not our own this day in Erinn, our Mother of the Land? Ask me no more, O Lord of the Ua Dinan, but go you down to Roiseen of the Glen, and peace go with you."
And with his white hound at his heels and one of the shepherd boys as guide, Phadraig took trail to the sea glen and would have gone through a deep wood in the valley, but the boy drew back.
"Not there, my lord," said he.
"Yet it is the shorter way."
"No way is shorter if you never come out alive, O Lord of the Ua Dinan."
"What abides within the wood?"
"No living thing, my lord, but the water in the Druid's well, and it pulses there as if it might be the heartbeat of the ocean beyond, yet the water is not salt."
"This is a land of strange riddles I am coming back to this day," said Phadraig, "but do you not hear music in the wood--or is it the wind through the new buds?"
"The priest tells us it is the winds, or the waves, or the night birds in their shelter, and that is the thing we must say," said the boy, and neither of them spoke of the white birds above them against the sky.
To Phadraig it was as if he had walked into a new life from the hour he slept on the western hill of Cromm Cru. And all the path of it held music to make the heart glad of life--yet sad with inarticulate yearnings. The life of the halls of Kieran was left behind, and he trod the heath as an exile returned.
In the cot of Roiseen of the Glen there was a rabbit stewing on the hearth, and Roiseen herself spinning the silver flax at the open door in the starlight.
"Oh, is it yourself come back on your own feet to greet me this day?" she said, and wept with very gladness, and kissed the young hand of him. But he kissed her brown cheek instead, and they talked long after the shepherd boy was asleep in the forest leaves in the byre.
But it was not that night of Beltain that Phadraig asked of the unknown things, for he had noted the salt sprinkled on the threshold to bar out influences of the old gods; so that night they talked of Nihil, dead ere he had seen his son, and Kreda, his wife, dead at the birthing, and all the grandeurs of the house of the Ua Dinan where Phadraig had lived his life of training for the work of a chief. Yet out of it all he had come back with the heart of a boy, and sat on a three-legged stool at the door of Roiseen, and fashioned a flute of alder-wood, and piped on it in the sunshine of the morning.
Then, when the milk was put away, and Roiseen settled with the distaff and the whirling strands, he spoke the name singing in his heart.
"Mother Roiseen, it is to you I am coming with a thing to ask: who is Danaan of the birds of white?"
"That you should ask it, and you with the name of a saint on you! Get you to your hawking or hunting the deer! And see that you pluck primroses to scatter at your door this night that the Ancient People send you no call of Danaan--the men who follow the call wander far."
"To the land of the mystic west do they wander?"
"Ay, that they do; far over the green meadows of the waters where the horses of Lir have their pastures. From the cliff below you can see them running in races endlessly to the shore."
"I see the waves run in," said Phadraig, but she was not to be fooled.
"Ay, and more than the waves to you, as to your father! But you are idling in thought, Phadraig, son of Nihil."
"What other task when there is peace in Tormond? And the Ua Dinan, as you mayhaps have heard, cannot abide the sight of me near his ailing son, and Kethlen his wife, bitter as gall because she has borne a weakling."
"True that is. You stand in their eyes as a threat at the crowns they wear."
"To me a pipe on the hills instead, and the songs of my father to sing! Roiseen, why has the song of Danaan never been given me?"
"That name has been through the ages a hated word to the women of your house and in each generation they try to smother it out."
"And why is that?"
"It gave a youth the seeking eye and the wandering foot, and it was said to keep young the heart of a man when all his mates went tottering under the sod. No--the women could not abide the thought of that, and they smother it out. Ay, that is the way with the woman-heart."
"Mother Roiseen, there is a deer for you in the forest. Shall Snard and I bring it in tomorrow's morn?"
And the white hound, hearing his name spoken, flailed the floor with his tail and rose up and waited.
"To what would you bribe me, Phadraig, my heart?"
"To peace and content while I tell you I heard the song of Danaan on the hill of Cromm Cru in the dusk of Beltain--and I felt the music that all the songs of Nihil, my father, could not give voice to, and in my dream I looked in that Druid well of the wood, and saw the heart of the ocean beat there under the stars! All this came to me by chance in the place of fire to Beltain, so mine is the right to ask what I ask."
And Roiseen, the wise woman, looked on him and made the sign and plucked primroses for her door.
"Yours is the right," she said, "come you away from the house and out under the hawthorn tree and what I can say with no hurt to the saints and their faith, that I will. It is said that while many a family trace in pride their fathers to the ancient barbarians, few trace their descent from yon Wise Ones who took themselves into the air with their own enchantment sooner than be conquered. This I heard when I was a girl in the home of the king, your father's father. But Nihil of the songs learned much from a master of tricks, an aged man who said he had lived on the earth in other days when the sea covered all this valley, and that this was the last edge of the land where the Danaan lived on the earth as people, and ate the honey of bees, and drank the water of the Druid well in the wood beyond."
"Ay," said Phadraig, and he looked over the green velvet of the valley running down to meet the white foam of the sea, white as the hawthorn bloom above them, and from the dark hills he looked to the islands beyond, and it was all a sweet picture of summer under the blue sky. "Ay, Mother Roiseen, of all places in the whole world where would they find another spot so fair? In truth, I believe your word that it is the last corner of the land they could let go to the hard people of the iron pikes."
"So it was, the last place they let go of--and they lingered long after the stranger-people swept over the land to the east. And to your father, Nihil, came a 'sending' of sight through fasting, and enchantments of music, until he spoke aloud the word no other dared ever to speak for them."
"And what was that word, Mother of the Glen?"
"It was of a bond of birth and blood between the Ua Divan and the Tuathe de Danaan, but the legend of it is against all christian teachings--and we are christian now in Erinn."
Phadraig looked up to the mount of the Druid god where fires of propitiation had burned but a night agone.
"Ay, so we say," he agreed, "but tell me more of Nihil and his song of Danaan."
"He all but had the ban of the Bishop of Clare put on him--and it was backed by some of his own blood whose names I will not speak, for it is evil to speak against the dead! They were mortal shamed to be thought of the blood or the spirit of enchanters, the while Nihil was so proud of it that church itself was called to the question. That was a time of trial! For there was your mother, the Lady Kreda of Kilfernora, not yet either wife or mother, but loving him and holding him to church, and there was the bishop with his power to bless or ban, and there was Nihil stout in rebellion against all but the sweet Lady Kreda. For his word was this: that if all the mothers for a thousand years could not stamp out the call of Danaan in the heart of a man, was it not proof that it was a bond of the spirit, and was for good and not for evil?"
"He was banished to a forest cell for a year and a day for expiation, and that was the time the Lady Kreda chose to ride beside him and do penance beside him. And, at the last, to pleasure her, he made the song of warning against Danaan, and he went into the forest away from the sea, but he was never the same man after! A true singer sings only the songs in his heart, and that was the song made at the word of another, for he, Nihil, had walked the Druid Path to the well over back of beyond, and the white sea birds of Danaan had come to him there, and he heard music of sweetness in the closed hills where the Ancient People are waiting to this day and holding secret the sacred things shut in for the people of the future who will see as your father Nihil saw. That was his word of it many a day as he walked above yon cliff, or up to the hill of Cromm Cru. And the priests beyond could do naught with him, though your mother hated the thoughts he spoke, as did all the women of your race of the Ua Dinan."
"Mayhaps they were but jealous of a knowledge not for them."
"Mayhaps, for true it is the Lady Kreda loved well his songs when he was wooing under her window there in Kilfernora but turned away her head when the songs were of things not of her ken."
"I have had few years, yet I have lived to see that with other lives," said Phadraig. "What power may a man gain for the world if he only sing songs of love to a mistress who only smiles from a window?"
"You are older than your years, Phadraig, my heart, else it would not be myself sitting here under the hawthorn telling you the ancient things that the priests tell us are false things."
"I do not think in my heart they are false," said Phadraig, son of Nihil. "Into the forest I am going now for your deer, Mother of the Glen, and then, till the next day of Samhain, I will live in the open to give proof to my own heart that Nihil, my father, saw true, and spoke true."
And thus did he, though his kinsmen raged and their women told the priests, and the Ua Dinan tore down the stone of Cromm Cru from the mount and broke it into pieces with iron chisels--for it is well known that spirits of the Tuathe de Danaan hate the touch of the iron brought into the land by the barbarians.
But Phadraig with his pipe of alder was somewhere in the deep wood with only the white hound and his dreams and his calls to the tamed sea birds on the cliffs, and never a sight could kindred get of him unless it was in a boat, dancing on the far waves toward Inis Mor--or high on the hill where the forest veiled him if any tried to follow.
And a wail went up from the shepherds that year, for the murrain got the sheep despite of all, and some wells went dry, and the herders gave sullen looks to the virtuous lords and ladies who had done that pious work in tearing down Cromm Cru of the Tor.
And one day there came to Roiseen of the Glen a lady riding on a white horse with golden trapping. Her eyes were dark with desire and her braided hair had the gold of the sun glinting its brown shadows. With her came a priest of the south whose looks were down and ill.
"I am Yva of Kilfernora," said the maid, with a blush sweeping her face. "Have you, O woman, speech with Phadraig of the Wilds?"
"That was the place his mother came from," said Roiseen of the Glen, "and I have seen no sign of him this seven days, barring the white sea birds hovering over the forest of the Druid well."
"Woman," said the priest, "what would drive sea birds to the forest on days like this?"
"Ay, it is a big question, your holiness, and a thousand years have not given us the answer."
"Do you mean the blasphemy of enchantment too strong for church to conquer?"
"I would not dare, your holiness; mayhaps it is that the church has not striven. Sea birds are a small thing to take note of after all."
"O woman," said Yva the brown-eyed, "will you tell him I have ridden the horse he loved to these wilds he loves, that he may know my message is a true message, and that I watch from my window ever to these hills of the north?"
"That he may find the way to that window, O Lady?"
"Ay, that he may find the way. The Ua Dinan and the head of my clan have clasped hands and emptied bowls of mead on the pact, and I bring my own message to his hills."
"How great is your patience, Yva of Kilfernora?" asked old Roiseen of the Glen, and the priest frowned at the forwardness of the peasant, but Yva of the dark tresses leaned forward in the saddle.
"What mean you?" she asked, her lips red and parted over white teeth.
"Would you take him as Nihil, his father, was taken, with his quest not finished, nor his heart content?"
"Nihil, the Singer, died," said Yva, her eyes staring.
"Ay, he died! With love beside him--earthly love keeping step, yet not understanding, he died! Would you fain have Phadraig, son of Nihil, dead by your side or alive and free to choose after he has made the circle that was broken for Nihil?"
"Woman--are you taking on yourself the weighing of a soul?" demanded the priest in anger. "What blasphemy is this of lives in circles and like enchantments? Is it evil craft of Druid witcheries by which the young lord of the Ua Dinan is held here in the wilds?"
"I have not dared to ask him that myself," said Roiseen of the Glen. "But I am an old woman, and I know the men of the Ua Dinan--and their women, too! By bell and book and candle their women have driven out or smothered a wild Something in the blood of the Ua Dinan of the west land, until the clan is weak this day because of it! They have not dared dream their own dreams lest they range beyond the church rules and the women they wive; and what man does any great thing without the Dream--or woman, either? O Lady of Kilfernora, you are beautiful as the wild rose on the heath, and there are many chiefs to break a lance at your nod; better to give your glove to any one of them, than enchain an Ua Dinan before he has followed the Dream till it makes the circle."
The priest was prone to chide such speech, as was his duty, but Yva of Kilfernora put out her ringed hand.
"She speaks truly, and I see it," she said. "No one has ever spoken thus to me before today. Think back, reverend father, over the years: Nihil dead with his songs half written; the king, his brother, a man of gloom with a crippled child; the old king, his father, tired of rule and in a monastery ere his time; yet, all these men were strong in youth and to the fore in wild beauty. Not until now has anyone dared read me that riddle of the Ua Dinan. Woman, you are wise and you have Yva of Kilfernora for your friend. I ride back and dream my own dream, and leave him all the freedom of his. Fare you well!"
"Now indeed may a great day come again to the children of the Ua Dinah," said Roiseen of the Glen. She went back to the spinning of her flax, with a great jewel hidden in her bosom, let fall there by Yva of the dark hair and the burning eyes.
And in the green-gray dusk of the twilight there was the flash of white wings against streaks of yellow sky, and the white hound came down the glen by the sheep path, and Phadraig the wanderer, with a hare of the hills ready for the twigs over the roasting fire.
"Art tired of the quest, Phadraig?"
"Nay, not that, Mother of the Glen. I am no longer alone, though I cannot tell you what walks beside me."
"None of us can, and for lack of faith few can feel them," agreed Roiseen.
"But Nihil, my father, spoke truth, we do belong," said Phadraig. "Once I saw the shadow of her in the Druid well in the moon's light, but the face was still veiled for me, but the music is piercing sweet, and I would I had my father's gift to catch and hold it."
He would eat not any of the hare, but drank fresh milk from the cow and stood at the door looking tired and white in the starlight.
"May I let stay Snard, the hound, with you?" he asked. "He is weary of my trail, and will not walk in my paths; only today did I learn I was cruel to him; and tomorrow is the feast of Samhain, and where I go I cannot say, but I think it is not for Snard to follow me."
"Phadraig, my heart, do you ever think of someone there in the south, who--"
"Ay, Roiseen. I thought of them all today when a storm cloud swept in from the sea with a clammy cold in it. For it was not so cold as the welcome in my kinsman's home lest the day come when I claim rule there."
"Ay," said Roiseen of the Glen. "That is a picture we all see some days in life, but Time is a good story-teller, Phadraig aroon, and I'll wait the other day when the sun shines for you and the human call comes."
"You are the only human thing, Roiseen," he said, and touched her hair. "You understand."
"How did you tame the sea birds of Danaan, Phadraig, my heart?" she asked, but he shook his head.
"I only spoke to them as I would to Shard--some souls have the gift of taming--that is all."
"Ay, your father had it before you," she said. Then, as he turned into the darkness, she spoke again as she held back the white hound. "Do you look to come back to me here, Phadraig, son of Nihil?"
"I do, Mother of the Glen, though I cannot see clearly the path I may come--or when."
"I thought as much," she said, "but Phadraig, take this from me ere you go: for all ills of youth and life there grows somewhere an herb; find it, Phadraig aroon; search till you find!"
But he went across through the night to the hill of Cromm Cru, singing the song of his father--
O white Danaan of the sea birds,
She takes my hand at the sea marge,
"Ay," said Roiseen, twirling the spindle,
And leaves dear Life behind!
Then, as a muttering of thunder came on the wind from the sea and a flash of flame cut the gray of the sky, she took the hound within, closing the door on the night, and chanted the song of Nihil, as a prayer, in the dim light of the peat blaze.
Make strong your charms against Danaan,
The feast of Samhain in that year was a time of wonder, for the yew branches on the old altar place of Cromm Cru were struck afire by the lightning, or so it was said. All the people, fearful of the crashing thunder, yet clasped hands in a circle below the mount, while the man with fire made his way to the top and bent to place it when the stroke came. The blaze from the sky flashed down, and flamed upward again, and the stunned man fell downward among his mates and was borne in fear across the valley, and all knew that night that the vengeance of Cromm Cru of the Tor could be a thing to put the fear of death on any man. Let the churchmen say their say íneath every bell in Erinn, it would not change any man's mind. And all had known it as a sign of evil to come when the altar of the Ancient People had been defaced.
And there were those, fleeing under the lightning flashes, who vowed they passed Phadraig, son of Nihil, running before the wind with eager gladness in his face, and looking neither to right nor left, and chanting the song of his father as he went down to the sea.
O white Danaan of the sea birds,
[And the white birds were screaming and circling above him in the storm as he sang--
She takes my hand at the sea marge,
And then a great wave caught the currach he launched and tossed it out on the night, and the white foam made the curtain and hid him from all of life.
AGES on the bosom of the ocean seemed to pass over him after that storm. There was light, and then again there was darkness, but he knew it only through closed eyes in a trance-like dream. He was conscious ever of the whir of wings sweeping over his face and knew the sea birds were there, and then he heard voices, and the laughter of a woman, high and sweet and mocking.
The movement of the boat ceased as it grated on sand. There was a sudden silence, and the sound of running feet.
"But what use to try?" said a sweet, tired voice. "All white things go to Danaan, and look: every bird is white!"
"Danaan comes not out of the forest, and the youth is fair. He is treasure of the sea on our shore; if for her, the birds should have borne him into the lake of the pulsing heart. My hand shall give him to drink."
Then a cup was held to his lips, a drink of sweet-smelling fruits was offered him. He did not drink. He was no longer in a boat but in a lady's bower where bloom was on every bough, and the air heavy with the sweetness of orchards.
"Where am I?" he asked, and out from a shadowy doorway of stone a tall and wondrous woman smiled on him.
"You are in the Summer Land of the Long Day," she said. "The birds of the sea brought you, and what thing do you seek? For your wishing must be great to win your way here."
"I do not know the thing I seek," said Phadraig, whose mind was veiled from the things that had been lived. "I only feel that I shall know again when I find it."
"Then we will wander, a-seeking," said the woman of beauty, and took his hand.
Whereupon, without seeming to take a step, he passed through and was a part of a wonderful people. Their slightest cup was of gold, and many wore crowns at will, and held court and ordered games at which all played merrily, and then the crowns were tossed aside as a part of the game no longer amusing. He moved with his mistress, whose name was Una, along the seashore where pleasure boats were held without rope, and he found himself sitting there alone, wondering how the boats were held together, for there was no iron in them, and that word "iron" was the first word his mind had as a link with the old life and changing skies.
For the skies never changed in the Summer Land of the Long Day, and all the people laughed and played games as if to pass the time while waiting. No one told him for what, and when he asked, Una the beautiful would laugh her sweet mocking laugh and bid him to her bower.
"Other earth lovers have come our way, but none like you," she whispered. "Do you never know you are fairer than blossom on the bough--or golden fruit of living trees?"
"Whence came your orchards where no one labors?" he asked, and she laughed again.
"They are the fair memory of the sunken world to the south--as is this castle of stone by the water's edge, for what need is there here now for walls of stone?"
"Whose hands made it thus strong here by the sea marge?" he asked, and she took his hand and held it.
"Weary would you fare in this our land if I gave you all the words of that building, for it is ancient as the very earth of which you came. There was no sea at the walls in that day, and the Great White Land of the South was in the midst of waters, and ruled the world. Then the lands broke away and the waters covered it, and only little lands of it kept above the waters or kept the old gods. Your Inis Erinn to the sun side of the world was one, and another one far on the sun-path beyond the waters is one, but the links between have been forgot by the people of Earth. It all lives here because we are the People of Memory. We went out from your Earth Land proudly, letting the body and the soul go that we might hold memory alone, and in that memory we hold only Day and only Summer."
"Ay," said Phadraig, and he sat a long time in the tower looking across the moat where the tides of the sea swirled in, "but in all your games and pleasuring, is it not that memory holds you instead, and makes you as endless slaves to the Great Past? Would it not be rest to forget?"
Upon which she drew away from him and screamed at him to begone, for his earth thoughts were cruel as is the iron of the stranger-people in the heart.
He wandered away from that place, and into a wood--and her cries came after him calling him back, but he could find no gate to the moat and he could not go back.
Gay companions danced about him, and made jeweled crowns for him in the games they played, but he looked at the white birds circling above him, and looked at the sea, and wondered whence they had led him, and at times he could close his eyes and see them circling above the black cliffs of Erinn though he had no memory of that place.
And the day was heavy in the Summer Land for the reason that a quest was in his heart, but the mind kept no record.
But white deer came to a lake in the wood to drink, and after them gay fays with shepherds' staves; and they danced and sang their songs of the woodland things, and that touched his heart more than the games of crowns and castles.
"Make me a shepherd, too," he said, "for you herd the white things, and the things of white are dear to me." "Why is that?" asked a maid of the wood.
But he did not know, and they laughed at him because he did not know, and as they laughed, all suddenly Una, gorgeous and jeweled, flashed in their midst and caught at his hand.
"Not yet have you seen her?" she asked. "Then come with me; I weary for your voice."
"I am a shepherd of the wood, and herd the deer."
"The deer need no shepherds; it is only a game to play. Come! I will sing my music and dance you a dance in the woods alone, see! Is the dance not a fair dance?"
"Ay, but I would you could give me the word of why I wander here where this lake wells with the tides of the sea."
"Come! We will hunt in a forest far away. This lake in the wood is a place we never seek."
"Yet the white birds come--and the white deer."
"It is a place where earth life is remembered, and the dread enchantment of night may fall."
"And the stars?" he asked, for all suddenly he thought of the night as a thing dearly beloved and to be desired more than the Ever Day of the changeless sun. The night stars had been dear to him.
"Ay, and the moon and their mistress. Come out of the dusk of the wood!"
"But I hear music of sweetness here!"
"Come, and I will sing beyond sweetness of woman!" "I listen."
"By this lake of Danaan, I may not sing."
"And that is best," said Phadraig, for out of the rock-wall by the lake, or up from the water, there came the music of dreams on the hill of Cromm Cru, and to an altar of stone by the lake-side came a figure of a maid, and before her and after her swept the white birds of the sea. Her face was veiled as by a cloud circling her to her white feet--and it was the white cloud maid he had visioned in the well where the heart of the sea throbbed as it throbbed here in the lake of the wood.
"Come with me now for pleasure," said Una of the gold crown and jewel eyes.
And he looked deep into her wondrous eyes and read there the shadow things of some forgotten past.
"Somewhere, in some life, your music of Life has held me, and I followed after. Was I lost in some forest through that following, O Woman of the Memory? And do the white birds of the sea lead me at last out from the shadows of that? This pulse of the lake beats more close to me than the pulse of your heart, O Una, most beautiful! And--I follow my dream!"
And at that the white cloud fell away from the maid, and he saw the white hands of her make new fire in the ancient way on the stone of the altar place, and maids and men in green clasped hands and circled her, and chanted a song he had sometime known of.
Samhain! Samhain! Samhain!
And as he heard them he saw again the hill of Cromm Cru and the circled bands there, but never on Cromm Cru or in all the world had he seen such a priest at an altar, for she was all of white and silver and in her hair of gold was a fillet of silver with a crescent moon. And he broke through the circle to kneel by her.
"O new moon of the world!" said Phadraig as he unclasped the strong hand of Una.
"I hear your voice but may not look on you until the prayer is worked. The Lords of Flame send thus the strength of altars to the sun! íTis Summer Days' fare-well!"
"The day is endless here--and no farewell!" came the whispered music-sweet voice of Una. "íTis witchery of Earth, her mother's earth! I beg you come with me!"
But he made no answer, so thrilled was he by the enchantment of the music of the white maid who gave fire to her men and maids, and bade them to the four ways.
Then she turned and smiled upon him, and in her smile was the glory of dawn.
"You have followed the quest, O King Phadraig, soul of Nihil?" she said.
"Not king, O Wonder Maid! You have given back the name I had lost, but no king am I. I am the son of Nihil, and am your shepherd of the white deer, or knight of yours if fighting men are called."
"Danaan calls no more battles these many thousand days."
And with the name came the strange witchery by which he had been held in thrall since the night of Beltain on the heights.
"Danaan--Danaan!" he whispered. "I have followed the quest. Your white birds led the way, O snowy-breasted maid! I am in bond to you these many days!"
"We all are bound by links forged by the gods. What quest was yours?"
"I never knew till now. I thought it but the music of the past--I sought to find it through your magic name--and now--"
"Ay! Wishful human hearts," she said, and rested her hand on his hair where he knelt beside her. "Come you, and tell me of your life on other shores."
"I have forgotten all," he said, and in truth he had; only flashes of vision came to him as she spoke, but they went again.
She laid her hand on his. "Now look again," she said.
And he looked. And there was the great cliff and the glen by the sea and the sheep on the far moors. And at the door of the cot sat Roiseen spinning the flax, and the white hound at her feet looking out to sea. It was as if he was looking into the eyes of Phadraig, and seeing him, yet taking no note, and Phadraig felt a longing for the shore. He had loved well Roiseen and the hound. And Danaan beside him laughed, and clapped her hands as a child would do.
"I saw it, too!" she said. "And that is the shore my mother loved! Once she made me to see her honey-sweet hills. She died with the sickness of longing for them, but never could I see it alone. Oh, lend me your eyes, and look for the deep well in the wood in the valley below the altar--it was there he, my father, found her, and drew her from her people. And she trod with him the Druid Path and came from the pulsing well here to the pulsing lake. Did you know that each is a mirror for all that reflects in the other? It is the path of dreams--and the guide is the living sea. It has led you as it led my mother from the land of Inis Erinn."
"And when was this?" asked Phadraig, after he had looked with her into the pulsing well and over the cliffs, and in all the places she had been told of and longed to see.
"I only know it is so long ago that the sea is changed there. For the water ran in where you showed me the sheep in the valley. Ay, always I wanted to see that earth life again, and I wished it till you came to me."
"And I wished for the voice of Danaan out of all the world till my wish met yours somewhere between the shores, and only the sea birds knew!"
She looked at him long, and sighed.
"My mother came for such a wish--and for love, but she could not stay alive with us, and her spirit went out on the wings of the wind to find her way back to the prim-rose dawns and the purple dusks. How will you go out, O Phadraig the king, when the time comes?"
"Why am I here but to do your will?" he asked. "And since you name me king, then a king's way must I go out when the time comes; but bear you with me I will, Danaan, my soul."
"Ay, if that might be," she said, and played with the girdle of sea pearls about her. "My mother left with me the earth longings else I never had wished you here"--and then she put her hand on his once more and had him look back to the land, and softly she crooned over to herself the charms it held for her through the sick longings of the mother. And when he thought of the night there, and the stars circling above and shining in the still water of the well, she arose and paced the grove.
"Look you," she said, "the others who abide with me gave up Earth and Spirit in an ancient day that they might live ever in the strong memory of joys that were. My heritage is different--as my spirit is. They never weary for the dusks of the night; I do, because of the bond with earth in me. Thus I make my own world, and do the moon prayers my mother knew, and make the Festivals of the Age of Youth, and here for love of it I have my night all alone where it gives dread to Una lest I plunge them all in shadow--they are in fear of earth enchantings. You are stronger than I, O Phadraig, for you have the soul of the Danaan and the strong earth body. You have fared forth on the quest of Nihil, though you know it not! But Nihil was not a king and the gods decide, Phadraig, that you are to be that. Wearily one more life must you serve ere you win the right to rest."
"With you, O Danaan?"
"If you will it so, for you are stronger than I, Phadraig." "What pledge may I keep?"
She gave him the sharp flint spear from the altar.
"Cut there in the wall of the rock something sacred to you and to the land of my mother."
He did so, and cut the central star of the north, and the wheel of the wings of it at the four seasons.
"It is the most steadfast sign in our skies," he said, "and every circling dance of prayer to the gods, old or new, is built on it."
Then Danaan, holding his hand, stood beside him at the edge of the lake of the tide, and with her finger drew a circle around the symbol there.
"The forest will wither, and the heart of the lake will be still, ere the bond of that circle dies for you and for me," she said. "If ever you doubt, O Phadraig the king, fare you forth again from your own shores of Inis Erinn and look on the wall and my pledge here. But never look back to it but once in your lifetime, and now--come away!"
He followed where she led, and in a grotto by the sea they sat with clasped hands and she told him what she might of the People of Memory. Yet often she seemed to tell him without words. The music of a wondrous life swept over him in great floods of light unspeakable, and again he could hear an undercurrent of a lament ever dying away, and coming again, and he felt what that meant, too.
"We will not be parting," he said as he held her. "I say it!"
"That is as may be," she answered. "I am free of the wood and rule there, yet I belong to the Tuathe de Danaan, and there are bonds of this life."
"I broke them to find you," he said.
"So you did. But you have the wonderful earth body, and the doubled strength of Nihil and the others who have longed through the ages to prove the bond they felt. I will be alone. There will be no one to help me."
"I will help," he said.
"You have your will, and you see no content till you try," she said. "But this is the time of trial, and I will not see you linger till your soul goes out on the restless winds crying for the blue of the heather on the hill and the primrose dawns after the sweet nights! It may be a long farewell you are to give me here, Phadraig, O King!"
But he lifted her in his arms as if she had been but an armful of the fragrant blossoms above them, and he strode down to the shore with the white sea birds screaming.
She uttered no word as he placed her in the currach and set it on the waves, and from the castle walls no face looked out. It was as if all the land there, and her heart as well, had been made quiet by the strength of his will to bear her away.
But only the whispered lament of the music was heard, and the world was very still. The birds had ceased whirling above but swept steadily onward as if drifting on the wind, and it was a world of green water and green sky they went into.
But the cold came down, and the birds flew low. He touched the hand of Danaan; it was very cold, and his heart was sick with fear for her. He lifted her to his breast that his body might give her warmth. But it did not, and his very soul seemed frozen with unearthly cold as he lay beside her and held her close.
And then she smiled, the most wonderful smile in the world, into his eyes, and whispered, "I did not know how it would be coming, Phadraig, O King. But it is the farewell--and it is sweet as honey on the hills in your land of love."
But he could not speak; he could only look on her face until his own eyes closed, and the currach went steadily on through icy air. There was no longer any thought left in him as to where they were borne, for he felt the sleep of death was over them both.
AND on the day of Samhain, as the sun went into the western mists and left a path of glory behind, the white hound at the feet of old Roiseen of the Glen stood up looking out to the sea, and the whine of him was like a chained soul in travail. Roiseen looked the way he
looked, and in the path of the sun on the water a currach came in to the shore, and over it a white cloud hovered. Yet when it came nearer, the cloud was only white birds flying low on the sea.
"The strength of the saints to us--and Saint Brighde to the fore!" she prayed, for no mortal currach ever came in like that against the tide. And to shepherds bearing yew to the mount of Cromm Cru, she made a call.
"Come you who bear cheer to the ghosts who walk on the night of Samhain," she said, "come you down to the sea where the ghost of Phadraig, son of Nihil, is waiting on the waves!"
In fear they came, and, led by the white hound, they went down to the sea, and there was Phadraig in the white sleep. But the hound crept near to him and gave tongue in joy, and Roiseen of the Glen lifted his head to her.
"The luck is on him that he yet holds breath," she said. "Men, take him up. Fiann, make you the fire. Erard, go you for the priest in the cave of the hills, for he is a holy man. Ay! Achone! Phadraig, that you should come back to us with the ice in your blood like this!"
And only the bravest of the men would bear Phadraig, for the others stayed on their knees in fear of the white birds whirling wearily over.
And the night fires of Samhain were sending their flames to the sky when he spoke.
"Danaan, Danaan, it is again I have lost you?"
"He dreams," said the holy man of the cave where Saint Colman had lived his seven blessed years, and ever after that time the monks lived there in retreat.
"Nay, father, call it not a dream, for it is a part of the life of his people--and he has been bold to go forth to find."
And that was the time she told, under confession, the legend of the race of Ua Dinan.
He was very aged, and had seen many things on earth, and in hearts, and he did not chide.
"What is the blaze on the night sky?" asked Phadraig. "Do they burn today the yew wet by the rain last night of Samhain?"
The monk looked at the woman.
"Ay, Phadraig, my heart," she said. "It is the feast fire of Samhain." But she did not tell him he had gone out with the ghosts of Samhain a year agone, and came back with them!
Then there was sound of horses' feet, and voices of men of degree, and a chief of Tormond entered the cot and bent the knee to Phadraig, and beyond the door stood many chiefs.
"We have guarded your claim till you came, Phadraig, son of Nihil, son of Ua Dinan," he said, and the chiefs lifted their lances, and one by one entered the cot and spoke fealty and passed out.
And thus he learned that Danaan spoke true in Tir-nan-Ogue of the Long Day, for Kieran the king had fallen in a raid of the south, and his frail cousin had gone out like a rushlight in the wind.
"Come another day, and I will hearken to you," he said, "other cares await me this night."
They went away at that, and Phadraig asked again for Danaan, and was told that the currach was empty but for himself, and was so old that it fell to pieces as the men drew it ashore, and that not lately could it have ever borne the burden of two bodies.
This he knew was not true, and he said it, and the fever of him ran hot, and he talked of the trees of magic where white flower and fruit of gold grew on the same branch, and where music was achingly sweet, and spoke without words! Back there to Tir-nan-Ogue would he go for Danaan, despite all, and he bade them as their king that they bring him a boat for the journey!
And so prayerful were the eyes of Roiseen that the holy man of the cave bade him sleep in peace, for with the rising of the sun the boat would be ready.
"Achone! Ay, father! But what shall we do if he wakens alive and holds you to that?" asked Roiseen, making the sign.
"What is there to do with god or man but to keep the faith?" said the priest. "He is not to be bound or held to life for the cares of this land except he be rowed to some island in the sea, and have the dream blown away on the wind."
And it was so.
The chiefs waited on his word while he walked the hills with the priest and listened to the music unheard by all but him, and called on Danaan to come alive to him.
Strange tales went abroad that the king walked with angels, and the chiefs were patient, but to the holy man they said he must wear the crown or forfeit it, also that he must wed with a maid of degree, else no chief could bring wife or daughter to the halls of Ua Dinan, as was the custom in Tormond.
Phadraig, the king, listened and laughed with bitter thoughts.
"How may I wed a warm maid of the clans when my arms are yet chilled with the icy bosom of Danaan?" he asked. "The heart of me craves only a boat, and strength to fare forth to the shores where I held her."
"And if we find a shore and no waiting maids, will you then take up the work waiting here to your hand?"
"That, if I cannot find her," said Phadraig.
"And will you wed the lady who waits in the south, and hold court as of old for the good of your race?"
"Rather with her than another," said Phadraig. "She is a fair and honest lady, and sweetly kind."
And the holy man kept his word. He bore sacred symbols and a church bell, and sailed away with Phadraig to the west, and the chiefs on the shore were told it was a vow, and waited as they might and made prayers. The bells were rung from every tower that day to pray that Phadraig, the king, come again in health and safety.
NO one ever knew what island in the sea they came to, but come to an island they did, and it was far away. The wood grew down to the shore, and there were mighty trees cast down as by a great wind, and the desolation of it was so great that no living thing moved or fluttered a wing, and out beyond the shore rested the white birds of Phadraig, the king, and they rocked on the waves there, and by no effort could be made follow.
"This is the farthest unknown land," said the holy man. "By faith and prayer have we found it, and by the grace of God only shall we ever fare safely home or see again the faces of your clans. Look about you, Phadraig of the Dream, where are the ever-blossoming boughs and the castle of stone with the many towers?"
"Hear you not the music?"
"I hear only the sea wind moaning through the branches of dead trees."
"Smell you not the fragrance of orchards?"
"I smell only the twists of seaweed cast up on the shore," and the priest pushed aside a branch of wild thorns with green leaves reaching out from a gnarled and ancient bole.
But Phadraig caught the thorn branch, and under the scant green leaves was one tiny blossom, white and thick-petaled and with the fragrance of all sweetness of all the orchards in the world.
"See! Of this I told you, and it is alive here!"
"Then it is the sole live thing on the shore, for there is not even fish in this sea."
But Phadraig led him over stones of great size piled high. Broken stone was there covered by sands--and other stone not broken, but squared on the four sides and grown over with lichens and wild vines.
"This is like the place of the tower where the sea tide swept into the moat," he said.
And the holy man went over the stone, and stood on a broken wall. And beyond was a great place of sand piled high where the walls of a moat once stood.
"Come away," he said, and crossed himself in fear. "This is no place of living things. No life has been here for a thousand years."
But Phadraig held the blossom and heard the music of Danaan and would not.
"Come out first, as by your vow, to the forest," he said, "for it was there I found her. Once only in my lifetime I was to come back if I had doubt. I have no doubt, yet I am here with you. Come you in."
It was a wilderness beyond words, and the twisted thorn trees were gray and dead there, with neither green leaf nor white bloom.
"I am sorrowful to bring you through them," said Phadraig, the king, for the priest was old and the way hard. "But over beyond the hill is the great forest--and there by the blue lake the pulse of the sea is--"
But the forest was a jungle with no path, and the lake was not there; only a bog stretched from the gray wood to a cliff of gray rock, and Phadraig could say no word but sat there on a crumbling stone and covered his eyes with his hands.
"Now, O Phadraig, will you come back to the warm blood of your own clans?" asked the priest. "For here is the end of the dream."
But Phadraig, the lover, stood up and walked to the wall of gray rock at the edge of the bog.
"Not yet--O holy father," he said. "Once only I was to come for proof in one lifetime, and here am I! Come you and look."
He tore away from the rock wall the gray and green lichen and placed his fingers into the carving made there for the star of the north, and its circling seven, which makes both cross and wheel in the night sky.
"See! I drilled them deep as the flint knife would burrow the stone," he said, "and the storm has beaten away the face of the rock until only the traces are here. But Danaan took one finger of her white hand and drew a circle as her bond, and it has eaten deep into the rock as if carved with tools of iron this day. Father, what should that tell to me?"
And the holy man looked in the face of Phadraig, the king, and made a prayer against enchantments, and rang the sacred bell of church there in the gray wood before he would speak.
"Since written bond it is, O Phadraig, rest your soul with the thought that it was a bond with a forbear of yours a thousand summers agone! You have only dreamed the dream that was born in your blood of that bond.
You have kept the tryst for your ancestors, and risked your life and soul in the keeping. No more of duty for your race will be required of you in this life--naught but to wear the crown and rule in the ways of the clans."
So Phadraig knelt there by the written bond of union, to the harmony of the circling stars, and he touched the circle of Danaan while he made his prayer, and then they went out again from the wilderness to the sea, and the white birds flew silently ahead of them on the sun-path to the home land of Erinn.
"Look not behind you," said the priest, "but follow the birds and pray for all lost souls."
For well he knew what would come of the church bell, and the christian prayer in the gray wood. And come it did, for when he looked back the ancient island of enchantment was no more to be seen. And no living man has seen it to this day except its shadow every seven years far across the gold haze of the sunset path, and then the gray wood is glorified and young again--but there are those who can still hear the music of Danaan across the water in dusks and dawns.
AND Roiseen of the Glen went to the great hall of Phadraig, the Ua Dinan, and nursed his children there, and gave comfort to Yva of Kilfernora, who was wife to him, and counseled her never to hedge in a child of the Ua Dinan from the open life and the old faiths; for in strange and dangerous ways they would cross the barriers, and it was safest to let them range free till they made the circle and came back to bide at the hearthstone and under the bell of the church.
The holy man of the cave of Saint Colman was given merit by the bishop for saving the soul of Phadraig, the king, who was known to have won a strange power through some holy source.
His hair whitened but his eyes were ever young, and his strength and wisdom grew, and his children's children could not keep pace with him on the moors. He trained his eldest son to rule, and when the times were safe, he gave up the crown and wore the monk's robe of white, and crossed over to Dun Aengus of the Isles of Arran. The singers of three centuries sang the songs of Nihil, his father, and the poets wrote of Phadraig, the king, as of a holy man by whom the white birds were tamed. Also he loved the stars and learned wisdom of them in the night, and in the blessed Isle of Arran he was always out under the sky when the wind blew from the west--and the music he heard then made him walk in beauty with the glad eyes of a lover who is beloved.
And when the Time came, he laid him down in the white robe and bade all doors be open, and all windows, that the west wind come over him! And the white birds came on the wind and circled the room and hovered there. While the brother monks lit candles and chanted the words for the dying, he smiled in content and whispered the music of the song of Nihil
She takes my hand at the sea marge,
No pain was with him, and no sickness, but he went out on the wind as the birds went, and the monks who knelt by him, waiting some vision of his patron saint, heard him say at the last:
"Danaan, the star stands steady these thousand years and the circle closes. I come back on the breath of the gods!"
There was much learned discussion over this saying of his. Some thought he spoke of Daniel of the Hebrews, who was never a saint but was once a strong prophet. Others thought it was David, the king, of whom he spoke, for David was once a shepherd--and such were ever wise in the ways of the stars of night.
As to the "breath of the gods"--they could by no means make out the meaning of that, which would have been blasphemy had it been said by anyone, high or low, and in their charity the monks united to disbelieve their own ears and content their souls with the miracle of the white birds--which was a beautiful miracle indeed--and, of course, a holy one.
So Phadraig, the king, was buried in consecrated ground, and only two souls had lived in his day to read the riddle of his life. One was the Wise Woman of the Glen and the other a holy man of the cave of Saint Colman in the hills.
But each had passed on, long years before, and made their choice between heaven and Tir-nan-Ogue.