Dominion of Dreams, by Fiona Macleod

BY THE YELLOW MOONROCK

Rory MacAlpine the piper had come down the Strath on St. Bride's Eve, for the great wedding at the farm of his kinsman Donald Macalister. Every man and woman, every boy and girl, who could by hook or by crook get to the big dance at the barns was to be seen there: but no one that danced till he or she could dance no more had a wearier joy than Rory with the pipes. Reels and strathspeys that everyone knew gave way at last to wilder strathspeys that no one had ever heard before . . . and why should they, since it was the hill-wind and the mountain-torrent and the roar of pines that bad got loose in Rory's mind, and he not knowing it any more than a leaf that sails on the yellow wind.
He played with magic and pleasure, and had never looked handsomer, in his new grandeur of clothes, and with his ruddy hair aflame in the torchlight, and his big blue eyes shining as with a lifting, shifting fire. But those who knew him best saw that he as strangely subdued for Rory MacAlpine, or at least, that he laughed and shouted (in the rare intervals when he was not playing, and there were two other pipers present to help the Master) more by custom than from the heart.
"What is't, Rory?" said Dalibrog to him, after a heavy reel wherein he had nearly killed a man by swinging upon and nigh flattening him against the wall.
"Nothing, foster-brother dear; it's just nothing at all. Fling away, Dalibrog; you're doing fine."
Later old Dionaid took him aside to bid him refresh himself from a brew of rum and lemons she had made, with spice and a flavour of old brandy---"Barra Punch" she called it ---and then asked him if he had any sorrow at the back of his heart.
"Just this," he said in a whisper, "that Rory MacAlpine's fy."
"Fy, my lad, an' for why that? For sure, m thinking it's fy with the good drink you have had all day, an' now here am I spoiling ye with more."
"Hush, woman; I'm not speaking of what comes wi' a drop to the bad. But I had a dream, I had; a powerful strange dream, for sure. I had it a month ago; I had it the night before I left Strathanndra; and I had it this very day of the days, as I lay sleepin' off the kindness I had since I came into Strathraonull."
"An' what will that dream be, now?"
"Sure, it's a strange dream, Dionaid Macalister. You know the great yellow stone that rises out of the heather on the big moor of Dalmonadh, a mile or more beyond Tom-na-shee?"
"Ay, the Moonrock they call it; it that fell out o' the skies, they say."
"The Yellow Moonrock. Ay, the Yellow Moonrock; that's its name, for sure. Well, the first time I dreamed of it I saw it standing fair yellow in the moonshine. There was a moorfowl sitting on it, and it flew away. When it flew away I saw it was a ptarmigan, but she was as clean brown as though it were summer and not midwinter, and I thought that, strange."
"How did you know it was a ptarmigan? It might have been a moorhen or a----"
"Hoots, woman, how do I know when it's wet or fine, when it's day or night? Well, as I was saying, I thought it strange; but I hadn't turned over that thought on its back before it was gone like the shadow o' a peewit, and I saw standing before me the beautifullest woman I ever saw in all my life. I've had sweethearts here and sweethearts there, Dionaid-nic-Tormod, and long ago I loved a lass who died, Sine MacNeil; but not one o' these, not sweet Sine herself, was like the woman I saw in my dream, who had more beauty upon her than them altogether, or than all the women in Strathraonull and Strathanndra."
"Have some more Barra punch, Rory," said Miss Macalister drily.
"Whist, ye old fule, begging your pardon for that same. She was as white as new milk, an' her eyes were as dark as the two black pools below Annora Linn, an' her hair was as long an' wavy as the shadows o' a willow in the wind; an' she sat an' she sang, an' if I could be remembering that song now it's my fortune I'd be making, an' that quick too."
"And where was she?"
"Why, on the Moonrock, for sure. An' if I hadn't been a good Christian I'd have bowed down before her, because o'----because----well, because o' that big stare out of her eyes she had, an' the beauty of her, an' all. An' what's more, by the Black Stone of Iona, if I hadn't been a God-fearin' man I'd have run to her, an' put my arms round her, an' kissed the honey lips fo her till she cried out, 'For the Lord's sake, Rory MacAlpine, leave off!"
"It's well seen you were only in a dream, Rory MacAlpine."
At another time Rory would have smiled at that, but now he just stared.
"She said no word," he added, "but lifted a bit of hollow wood or thick reed. An' then all at once she whispered, 'I'm bonnie St. Bride of the Mantle,' an' wi' that she began to play, an' it was the finest, sweet, gentle, little music in the world. But a big fear was on me, an' I just turned an' ran."
"No man'll ever call ye a fool again to my face, Rory MacAlpine. I never had the thought you had so much sense."
"She didna let me run so easy, for a grey bitch went yapping and yowling at my heels; an' just as I tripped an' felt the bad hot breath of the beast at my throat, I woke, an' was wet wi' sweat."
"An' you've had that dream three times?"
"I've had it three times, and this very day, to the Stones be it said. Now, you're a wise woman, Dionaid Macalister, but can you tell me what that dream means?"
"If you're really fy, I'm thinking I can, Rory MacAlpine."
"It's a true thing: Himself knows it."
"And what are you fy of?"
"I'm fy with the beauty o' that woman."
"There's good women wi' the fair looks on them in plenty, Rory; an' if you prefer them bad, you needna wear out new shoon before you'll find them."
"I'm fy wi' the beauty o' that woman. I'm fy wi' the beauty o' that woman that had the name o' Bride to her."
Dionaid Macalister looked at him with troubled eyes.
"When she took up the reed, did you see anything that frighted you?"
"Ay. I had a bit fright when I saw a big black adder slip about the Moonrock as the ptarmigan flew off; an' I had the other half o' that fright when I thought the woman lifted the adder, but it was only wood or a reed, for amn't I for telling you about the gentle, sweet music I heard?"
Old Dionaid hesitated; then, looking about her to see that no one was listening, she spoke in a whisper:
"An' you've been fy since that hour because o' the beauty o' that woman?"
"Because o' the sore beauty o' that woman."
"An' it's not the drink?"
"No, no, Dionaid Macalister. You women are always for hurting the feelin's o'the drink.
It is not the innycent drink I am telling you; for sure, no; no, no, it is not the drink."
"Then I'll tell you what it means, Rory MacAlpine. It wasn't Holy St. Bride----"
"I know that, ye old---, I mean, Miss Macalister."
"It was the face of the Bhean-Nimhir you saw, the face of Nighean-Imhir, an' this is St. Bride's Night, an' it is on this night of the nights she can be seen, an' beware o' that seeing, Rory MacAlpine."
"The Bean-Nimhir, the Nighean-Imhir . . . the Serpent Woman, the Daughter of Ivor---" muttered Rory; "where now have, I heard tell o' the Daughter of Ivor?" Then he remembered an old tale of the isles, and his heart sank, because the tale was of a woman of the underworld who could suck the soul out of a man through his lips, and send it to slavery among the people of ill-will, whom there is no call to speak of by name; and if she had any spite, or any hidden wish that is not for our knowing, she could put the littleness of a fly's bite on the hollow of his throat, and take his life out of his body, and nip it and sting it till it was no longer a life, and till that went away on the wind that she chased with screams and laughter.
Some say she's the wife of the Amadan-Dhu, the Dark Fool," murmured Dionaid, crossing herself furtively, for even at Dalibrog it was all Protestantry now.
But Rory was not listening. He sat intent, for he heard music---a strange music.
Dionaid shook him by the shoulder.
"Wake up, Rory, man; you'll be having sleep on you in another minute."
Just then a loud calling for the piper was heard, and Rory went back to the dancers. Soon his pipes were heard, and the reels swung to that good glad music, and his face lighted up as he strode to and fro, or stopped and tap-tapped away with his right foot, while drone and chanter all but burst with the throng of sound in them.
But suddenly he began to play a reel that nigh maddened him, and his own face was wrought so that Dalibrog came up and signed to stop, and then asked him what in the name o' Black Donald he was playing.
Rory laughed foolishly.
"Oh, for sure, it's just a new reel o' my own. I call it 'The Reel of Ivor's Daughter.' An' a good reel it is too, although it's Rory MacAlpine says it."
"Who is she, an' what Ivor will you be speaking of?
'Oh, ask the Amadan-Dhu; it's he will be knowing that. No, no, now, I will not be naming it that name; sure, I will call it instead the Serpent-Reel."
"Come, now, Rory, you've played enough, an' if your wrist's not tired wi' the chanter, sure, it must be wi' lifting the drink to your lips. An' it's time, too, these lads an' lasses were off."
"No, no, they're waiting to bring in the greying of the day---St. Bride's Day. They'll be singing the hymn for that greying, 'Bride bhoidheach muime Chriosda."'
"Not they, if Dalibrog has a say in it! Come, now, have a drink with me, your own foster-brother, an' then lie down an' sleep it off, an' God's good blessing be on you."

Whether it was Dalibrog's urgency, or the thought of the good drink he would have, and he with a terrible thirst on him after that lungbursting reel of his, Rory went quietly away with the host, and was on a mattress on the floor of a big, empty room, and snoring hard, long before the other pipers had ceased piping, or the last dancers flung their panting breaths against the frosty night.

III

An hour after midnight Rory woke with a start. He had "a spate of a headache on," he muttered, as he half rose and struck a match against the floor. When he saw that he was still in his brave gear, and had lain down "just as he was," and also remembered all that had happened and the place he was in, he wondered what had waked him.
Now that he thought of it, he had heard music: yes, for sure, music---for all that it was so late, and after every one had gone home. What was it? It was not any song of his own, nor any air he had. He must have dreamed that it came across great lonely moors, and had a laugh and a moan and a sudden cry in it.
He was cold. The window was open. That was a stupid, careless thing of Donald Macalister to do, and he sober, as he always was, though he could drink deep; on a night of frost like this Death could slip in on the back of a shadow and get his whisper in your ear before you could rise for the stranger.
He stumbled to his feet and closed the window. Then he lay down again, and was nearly asleep, and was confused between an old prayer that rose in his mind like a sunken spar above a wave; and whether to take Widow Sheen a packet of great thick Sabbath peppermints, or a good heavy twist of tobacco; and a strange delightsome memory of Dionaid Macalister's brew of rum and lemons with a touch of old brandy in it; when again he heard that little, wailing, fantastic air, and sat up with the sweat on his brow.
The sweat was not there only because of the little thin music he heard, and it the same, too, as he had heard before; but because the window was wide open again, though the room was so heavy with silence that the pulse of his heart made a noise like a jumping rat.
Rory sat, as still as though he were dead, staring at the window. He could not make out whether the music was faint because it was so far away, or because it was played feebly, like a child's playing, just under the sill.
He was a big, strong man, but he leaned and wavered like the flame of a guttering candle in that slow journey of his from the mattress to the window. He could hear the playing now quite well. It was like the beautiful, sweet song of "Bride bhoidheach muime Chriosda," but with the holy peace out of it, and with a little, evil, hidden laugh flapping like a wing against the blessed name of Christ's foster-mother. But when it sounded under the window, it suddenly was far; and when it was far, the last circling pee-wit-lilt would be at his ear like a skiffing bat.
When he looked out, and felt the cold night lie on his skin, he could not see because he saw too well. He saw the shores of the sky filled with dancing lights, and the great lighthouse of the moon sending a foam-white stream across the delicate hazes of frost which were too thin to be seen, and only took the sharp edges off the stars, or sometimes splintered them into sudden dazzle. He was like a man in a sailless, rudderless boat, looking at the skies because he lay face upward and dared not stoop and look into the dark, slipping water alongside.
He saw, too, the hornlike curve of Tom-na-shee black against the blueness, and the inky line of Dalmonadh Moor beyond the plumy mass of Dalibrog woods, and the near meadows where a leveret jumped squealing, and then the bare garden with ragged gooseberry-bushes like scraggy, hunched sheep, and at last the white gravel-walk bordered with the withered roots of pinks and southernwood.
Then he looked from all these great things and these little things to the ground beneath the window. There was nothing there. There was no sound. Not even far away could he hear any faint, devilish music. At least---
Rory shut the window, and went back to his mattress and lay down.
"By the sun an' wind," he exclaimed, "a man gets fear on him nowadays, like a cold in the head when a thaw comes."
Then he lay and whistled a blithe catch. For sure, he thought, he would rise at dawn and drown that thirst of his in whatever came first to hand.
Suddenly he stopped whistling, and on the uplift of a lilting turn. In a moment the room was full of old silence again.
Rory turned his head slowly. The window was wide open.
A sob died in his throat. He put his hands to his dry mouth; the back of it was wet with the sweat on his face.
White and shaking, he rose and walked steadily to the window. He looked out and down: there was no one, nothing.
He pulled the ragged cane chair to the sill, and sat there, silent and hopeless.
Soon big tears fell one by one, slowly, down his face. He understood now. His heart filled with sad, bitter grief, and brimmed over, and that was why the tears fell.
It was his hour that had come and opened the window.
He was cold, and as faint with hunger and heavy with thirst as though he had not put a glass to his lips or a bit to his mouth for days instead of for hours; but for all that, he did not feet ill, and he wondered and wondered why he was to die so soon, and he so wellmade and handsome, and unmarried too, and now with girls as eager to have him as trouts for a May fly.
And after a time Rory began to dream of that great beauty that had troubled his dreams; and while he thought of it, and the beautiful, sweet wonder of the woman who had it, she whom he had seen sitting in the moonshine on the yellow rock, he heard again the laughing, crying, fall and lilt of that near and far song. But now it troubled him no more.
He stooped, and swung himself out of the window, and at the noise of his feet on the gravel a dog barked. He saw a white hound running swiftly across the pasture beyond him. It was gone in a moment, so swiftly did it run. He heard a second bark, and knew that it came from the old deerhound in the kennel. He wondered where that white hound he had seen came from, and where it was going, and it silent and white and swift as a moonbeam, with head low and in full sleuth.
He put his hand on the sill, and climbed into the room again; lifted the pipes which he or Donald Macalister had thrown down beside the mattress; and again, but stealthily, slipped out of the window.
Rory walked to the deerhound and spoke to it. The dog whimpered, but barked no more. When the piper walked on, and had gone about a score yards, the old hound threw back his head and gave howl upon howl, long and mournful. The cry went from stead to stead; miles and miles away the farm-dogs answered.
Perhaps it was to drown their noise that Rory began to finger his pipes, and at last let a long drone go out like a great humming cockchafer on the blue frosty stillness of the night. The crofters at Moor Edge heard his pibroch as he walked swiftly along the road that leads to Dalmonadh Moor. Some thought it was uncanny; some that one of the pipers had lost his way, or made an early start; one or two wondered if Rory MacAlpine were already on the move, like a hare that could not be long in one form.
The last house was the gamekeeper's, at Dalmonadh Toll, as it was still called. Duncan Grant related next day that he was wakened by the skreigh of the pipes, and knew them for Rory MacAlpine's by the noble, masterly fashion in which drone and chanter gave out their music, and also because that music was the strong, wild, fearsome reel that Rory had played last in the byres, that which he had called " The Reel of the Daughter of Ivor."
"At that," he added, each time he told the tale, "I rose and opened the window, and called to MacAlpine. 'Rory,' I cried, "is that you?"
" 'Ay,' he said, stopping short an' giving the pipes a lilt. 'Ay, it's me a'n' no other, Duncan Grant.'
" 'I thought ye would be sleeping sound at Dalibrog?'
"But Rory made no answer to that, and walked on. I called to him in the English: 'Dinna go out on the moor, Rory! Come in, man, an' have a sup o' hot porridge an' a mouthful with them.' But he never turned his head; an' as it was cold an' dark, I said to myself that doited fools must gang their ain gait, an' so turned an' went to my bed again, though I hadn't a wink so long as I could hear Rory playing."
But Duncan Grant was not the last man who heard "The Reel of the Daughter of Ivor."
A mile or more across Dalmonadh Moor the heather-set road forks. One way is the cartway to Balnaree; the other is the drover's way to Tom-na-shee and the hill countries beyond.
It is up this, a mile from the fork, that the Yellow Moonrock rises like a great fang out of purple lips. Some say it is of granite, and some marble, and that it is an old cromlech of the forgotten days; others that it is an unknown substance, a meteoric stone believed to have fallen from the moon.
Not near the Moonrock itself, but five score yards or more away, and perhaps more ancient still, there is a group of three lesser fang-shaped boulders of trap, one with illegible runic writing or signs. These are familiar to some as the Stannin' Stanes; to others, who have the Gaelic, as the Stone Men, or simply as the Stones, or the Stones of Dalmonadh. None knows anything certain of this ancient cromlech, though it is held by scholars to be of Pictish times.
Here a man known as Peter Lamont, though commonly as Peter the Tinker, an idle, homeless vagrant, had taken shelter from the hillwind which had blown earlier in the night, and had heaped a bed of dry bracken. He was asleep when he heard the wail and hum of the pipes.
He sat up in the shadow of one of the Stones. By the stars he saw that it was still the black of the night, and that dawn would not be astir for three hours or more. Who could be playing the pipes in that lonely place at that hour?
The man was superstitious, and his fears were heightened by his ignorance of what the unseen piper played (and Peter the Tinker prided himself on his knowledge of pipe music) and by the strangeness of it. He remembered, too, where he was. There was not one in a hundred who would lie by night among the Stannin' Stanes, and he had himself been driven to it only by heavy weariness and fear of death from the unsheltered cold. But not even that would have made him lie near the Moonrock. He shivered as memories of wild stories rose ghastly one after the other.
The music came nearer. The tinker crawled forward, and hid behind the Stone next the path, and cautiously, under a tuft of bracken, stared in the direction whence the sound came.
He saw a tall man striding along in full Highland gear, with his face death-white in the moonshine, and his eyes glazed like those of a leistered salmon. It was not till the piper was close that Lamont recognised him as Rory MacAlpine.
He would have spoken---and gladly, in that lonely place, to say nothing of the curiosity that was on him---had it not been for those glazed eyes and that set, death-white face.
The man was fy. He could see that. It was all he could do not to leap away like a rabbit.
Rory MacAlpine passed him, and played till he was close on the Moonrock. Then he stopped, and listened, leaning forward as though straining his eyes to see into the shadow.
He heard nothing, saw nothing, apparently. Slowly he waved a hand across the heather.
Then suddenly the piper began a rapid talking. Peter the Tinker could not hear what he said, perhaps because his own teeth chattered with the fear that was on him. Once or twice Rory stretched his arms, as though he were asking something, as though he were pleading.
Suddenly he took a step or two forward, and in a loud, shrill voice cried:

"By Holy St. Bride, let there be peace between us, white woman!
"I do not fear you, white woman, because I too am of the race of Ivor:
"My father's father was the son of Ivor mhic Alpein, the son of Ivor the Dark, the son of Ivor Honeymouth, the son of Ruaridh, the son of Ruaridh the Red, of the straight, unbroken line of Ivor the King:
"I will do you no harm, and you will do me no harm, white woman:
"This is the Day of Bride, the day for the daughter of Ivor. It is Rory MacAlpine who is here, of the race of Ivor. I will do you no harm, and you will do me no harm:
"Sure, now, it was you who sang. It was you who sang. It was you who played. It was you who opened my window:
"It was you who came to me in a dream, daughter of Ivor. It was you who put your beauty upon me. Sure, it is that beauty that is my death, and I am hungering and thirsting for it."

Having cried thus, Rory stood, listening, like a crow on a furrow when it sees the wind coming.
The tinker, trembling, crept a little nearer. There was nothing, no one.
Suddenly Rory began singing in a loud, chanting, monotonous voice:

"An diugh La' Bride
Thig nighean Imhir as a chnoc,
Cha bhean mise do nighean Imhir,
'S cha bhean Imhir dhomh."

(To-day the day of Bride,
The daughter of Ivor shall come from the knoll;
I will not touch the daughter of Ivor,
Nor shall the daughter of Ivor touch me.)

Then, bowing low, with fantastic gestures, and with the sweep of his plaid making a shadow like a flying cloud, he sang again:

"La' Bride nam brig ban
Thig an rigen ran a tom
Cha bhoin mise ris an rigen ran,
'S cha bhoin an rigen ran ruim."

(On the day of Bride of the fair locks,
The noble queen will come from the hill;
I will not molest the noble queen,
Nor will the noble queen molest me.)

"An' I, too, Nighean Imhir," he cried in a voice more loud, more shrill, more plaintive yet, "will be doing now what our own great forbear did, when he made tabhartas agus tuis to you, so that neither he nor his seed for ever should die of you; an' I, too, Ruaridh MacDhonuill mhic Alpein, will make offering and incense." And with that Rory stepped back, and lifted the pipes, and flung them at the base of the Yellow Moonrock, where they caught on a jagged spar and burst with a great wailing screech that made the hair rise on the head of Peter the Tinker, where he crouched sick with the white fear.
"That for my tabhartas," Rory cried again, as though he were calling to a multitude; " an' as I've no tuis, an' the only incense I have is the smoke out of my pipe, take the pipe an' the tobacco too, an' it's all the smoke I have or am ever like to have now, an' as good incense too as any other, daughter of Ivor."
Suddenly Peter Lamont heard a thin, strange, curling, twisting bit of music, so sweet for all its wildness that cold and hunger went below his heart. It grew louder, and he shook with fear. But when he looked at Rory MacAlpine, and saw him springing to and fro in a dreadful reel, and snapping his fingers and flinging his arms up and down like flails, he could stand no more, but with a screech rose and turned across the heather, and fluttered and fell and fell and fluttered like a wounded snipe.
He lay still once, after a bad fall, for his breath was like a thistledown blown this way and that above his head. It was on a heathery knoll, and he could see the Moonrock yellowwhite in the moonshine. The savage lilt of that jigging wild air still rang in his ears, with never a sweetness in it now, though when he listened it grew fair and lightsome, and put a spell of joy and longing in him. But he could see nothing of Rory.
He stumbled to his knees and stared. There was something on the road.
He heard a noise as of men struggling. But all he saw was Rory MacAlpine swaying and swinging, now up and now down; and then at last the piper was on his back in the road and tossing like a man in a fit, and screeching with a dreadful voice, "Let me go! let me go! Take your lips off my mouth! take your lips off my mouth!"
Then, abruptly, there was no sound, but only a dreadful silence; till he heard a rush of feet, and heard the heather-sprigs break and crack, and something went past him like a flash of light.
With a scream he flung himself down the heather knoll, and ran like a driven hare till he came to the white road beyond the moor; and just as dawn was breaking, he fell in a heap at the byre-edge at Dalmonadh Toll, and there Duncan Grant found him an hour later, white and senseless still.
Neither Duncan Grant nor any one else believed Peter Lamont's tale, but at noon the tinker led a reluctant few to the Yellow Moonrock.
The broken pipes still hung on the jagged spar at the base. Half on the path and half on the heather was the body of Rory MacAlpine. He was all but naked to the waist, and his plaid and jacket were as torn and ragged as Lamont's own, and the bits were scattered far and wide. His lips were blue and swelled. In the hollow of his hairy, twisted throat was a single drop of black blood.
"It's an adder's bite," said Duncan Grant.

None spoke.

CONTENTS