Dominion of Dreams, by Fiona Macleod

THE HILLS OF RUEL

One night Eilidh and Isla and I were sitting before a fire of pine logs blazing upon peats, and listening to the snow as it whispered against the walls of the house. The wind crying in the glen, and the tumult of the hillstream in spate, were behind the white confused rumour of the snow.
Eilidh was singing low to herself, and Isla was watching her. I could not look long at him, because of the welling upward of the tears that were in my heart. I know not why they were there.
At last, after a pause wherein each sat intent listening to the disarray without, Eilidh's sweet thrilling voice slid through the silence:

"Over the hills and far away,"
That is the tune I heard one day.
Oh that I too might hear the cruel
Honey-sweet folk of the Hills of Ruel.

I saw a shadow go into Isla's eyes. So I stirred and spoke to my cousin.
"You, Isla, who were born on the Hills of Ruel, should sure have seen something of the honey-sweet folk, as they are called in Eilidh's song."
He did not answer straightway, and I saw Eilidh furtively glance at him.
"I will tell you a story," he said at last simply.

Long, long ago there was a beautiful woman, and her name was Etain, and she was loved by a man. I am not for remembering the name of that man, for it is a story of the far-off days: but he was a prince. I will call him Art, and mayhap he was a son of that Art the Solitary who was wont to hear the songs of the hidden people and to see the moonshine dancers.
This Art loved Etain, and she him. So one day he took her to his dn, and she was his wife. But, and this was an ill thing for one like Art, who was a poet and dreamer, he loved this woman overmuch. She held his life in the hollow of her hand. Nevertheless she loved him truly, after her kind: and for him, blind with the Dream against his eyes, all might have been well, but for one thing. For Art, who was no coward, feared one hazard, and that was death: not his own death, and not even the death of Etain, but death. He loved Etain beyond the narrow frontiers of life: and at that indrawing shadow he stood appalled.
One day, when his longing. was great upon him, he went out alone upon the Hills of Ruel. There a man met him, a stranger, comely beyond all men he had seen, with dark eyes of dream, and a shadowy smile.
"And so," he said, "and so, Art the Dreamer, thou art eager to know what way thou mayest meet Etain, in that hour when the shadow of the Shadow is upon thee?"
"Even so; though I know neither thee nor the way by which my name is known unto thee."
"Oh, for sure I am only a wandering singer. But, now that we are met, I will sing to you, Art my lord."
Art looked at him frowningly. This man who called him lord spake with heedless sovereignty.
Then, of a sudden, song eddied off the lips of the man, the air of it marvellous light and of a haunting strangeness: and the words were those that Eilidh there sang by the fire.
Through the dusk of silence which that song made in his brain, Art saw the stranger draw from the fawnskin, slung round his shoulders and held by a gold torque, a reed. The man played upon it.
While he played, there was a stirring on the Hills of Ruel. All the green folk were there. They sang.
Art listened to their honey-sweet song, and grew drowsy with the joy and peace of it. And one there was who sang of deathless life; and Art, murmuring the name of Etain, fell asleep.
He was an old, old man when he awoke, and the grey hair that lay down the side of his face was damp with unremembered tears. But, not knowing this, he rose and cried "Etain," "Etain!"
When he reached his dn there was no Etain there. He sat down by old ashes, where the wind blew through a chink, and pondered. An old man entered at dusk.
"Where is Etain?" Art asked.
"Etain, the wife of Midir?"
"No; Etain, the wife of Art."
The old man mumbled through his open jaws:
"All these years since I was young, Etain the wife of Art has been Etain the wife of Midir?'
"And who is Midir?"
"Midir is the King of the World; he, they say, who makes sand of women's hearts and dust of men's hopes."
"And I have dreamed but an idle dream?" Art cried, with his heart breaking in a sob within him.
"Ay, for if Art you be, you have been dreaming a long dream upon the Hills of Ruel."
But when Art, old now and weak, turned to go back to the honey-sweet folk upon the Hills of Ruel, so that he might dream his dream again, he heard Midir laughing, and he died.

"And that is all," ended Isla abruptly, looking neither at Eilidh nor at me, and staring into the flame of the peats.
But Eilidh smiled no more to herself that night, and no more sang below her breath.

CONTENTS