Dominion of Dreams, by Fiona Macleod


Three years after Bobarân the Druid poet, surnamed Bobarân Bàn, Bobarân the White, left Innis Manainn for the isles of the north, word came to him from the Sacred Isle that he was to beware of three things: the thought in the brain of the swallow, the arrow in the tongue of the fish, and the honey of the wild bees.
This word came to Bobarân in the island that was called Emhain Abhlach, Emhain of the Apple Trees,
¹ where he dwelled with his wards, the two children of Naois and Deirdrê: Gaer, a youth already tall, comely and gracious, and lordly as a king's son; and Aevgrain, the Sunlike. The loveliness of Aevgrain was so fair to look upon, that she was held worthy to be the daughter of that Deirdrê whose beauty had set all the ancient world aflame.


¹ Emhain Abhlach, Emhain of the Apple Trees, was an ancient name of Arran in the Firth of Clyde. Gaer (Gaiar, Gaith) was the son, and Aebgreiné (Aevgrain), the Sunlike, was the daughter of the famous Deirdrê (Deardhuil, Darthool) and of Naois, the eldest of the sons of Usnach. The Sacred Isle, Manainn, i.e. the Isle of Manannan, is the Isle of Man. The Manannan introduced here is the semidivine son (i.e. son in the sense of descent) of the great Manannan, god of the waters, son of Lir the ancient elemental God. The Innse Gall alluded to once or twice are the Hebrides (the Isles of the Strangers). The Gall and the Gael were the two Peoples of the north, the Gall being the Strangers or Scandinavians. The Ultonian King, Conchobar, referred to is, of course, that King of Ulster from whom Naois abducted Deirdrê; and whom, twenty Years or more later, Gaer (Gaiar), the son of Deirdrê, ousted from sovereigty, and banished to the remote lands of Orce and Catt (the Orkneys and Caithness), however, to recall hin to the sovereignty after only, space of a year, when Gaer returned to Emhain Abhlach (Arran), to live there "in a dream" till he died.


When Bobaân the White received this message from Manannan mhic Manainn, Lord of the Sacred Isle and of the Isles of the Gall, he was troubled. That high king meant no juggling with words. Manannan knew that the Druid Poet had the old wisdom of the symbols; and fearing lest any others might interpret his message, had sent warning to him in this guise. That, he understood. Manannan Mac-Athgno was old, and had knowledge of desires and accomplished and of things unfulfilled: doubtless, then, he had foreseen some peril or other evil thing for Gaer or for Aevgrain, or for both the hapless children of Naois mhic Uisneach and Deirdrê.
Yet of the message Bobarân could make nothing. After long thought, he took his clarsach and went up through the ancient forest and out upon the desert of the great mountain which towers above all others in Emhain Abhlach.
He played gently upon his clàrsach as he went, so that no wild thing molested him. The brown wolves howled, and their fangs whitened under their red snouts; but all leaped aside, and slid snarling out of sight. The grey wolves stood silent, watching with fierce red eyes, but did not follow. When Bobarân came to the last tree of the forest, he looked behind him, and saw an old white wolf.
He stopped.
"Why do you follow me, O wolf?" he asked.
The wolf blinked at him, and sniffed idly the hillwind.
"Why do you follow me, O wolf?" Bobarân asked a second time. The old white wolf raised his head and howled.
ân took from the hollow at the top of his clàrsach nine shrunken red berries of the rowan. Three he threw at the white wolf, and cried, "I put speech upon thine old wisdom." Three he threw into the air above his head, and cried, "Tear the mist, O wind." And three he put into his mouth, muttering, "By him of the Hazel-Tree, and by the Salmon of Knowledge, let seeing be upon me."
With that he asked for the third time, "Why do you follow me, O wolf?"
When the wolf spoke, it was with the tongue of men:
"The spring is come: the red fish is in the river again, the red tassel is on the larch, and the secret thought is in the brain of the swallow."
"There is no swallow yet on Emhain Abhlach, old wolf that has wisdom."
"There is even now a swallow making three flights above your head, and it will fall at your feet."
Bobarân saw a shadow circle thrice before his eyes, and before he could stir a swallow fell dead at his feet.
While it was yet warm he looked into the brain of the bird. Because of the three sacred berries he had swallowed, he saw. Then he was troubled because in that seeing he saw a wild boar turning at bay, and that Gaer the beautiful youth had fallen, and in his fall had broken his spear, and that the boar blinked his red savage eyes and churned the foam between his great tusks, and made ready to rush upon him and slay Gaer the son of the Beautiful One, the king's son who should yet rule the Gaels of Eiré.
With that Bobarân struck three shrill cries from his clàrsach, and ran headlong westward through the forest. And where he lay upon the ground, Gaer looked and saw a dancing flame before him; and before the boar was a sudden rushing torrent, and midway was a whirling sword that made a continuous bewildering dazzle. And that dancing flame, and that rushing torrent, and that whirling sword, were the three shrill cries from the clarsach of Bobarân the White.
This happened then: that when the Druid ran into the glade where Gaer lay, he took his clàrsach and played a spell upon the boar, so that the son of Naois rose, and lifted his broken spear, and strongly bound the two fragments together, and then with a great shout rushed upon the foam-clotted tusks and drove his spear through the red throat, so that it came out beyond the bristling fell, and passed the length of a handsbreadth into the bole of an oak that was behind the boar.
That night, Bobarân and Gaer and Aevgrain had great joy over the fires. Gaer played upon his clàrsach, and sang the chant of the death of the boar; and BobarAn sang the long tale of Naois, the first of the three heroes of Alba, and of his great love of Deirdrê; and Aevgrain, when the stars were come, and none saw her face in the shadow, sang the lovesongs of Deirdrê, and the love-song that was in her own woman's heart.
The two men were troubled by the singing of Aevgrain; Bobarân the White because memory, Gaer because of desire. When she sang no more, both sighed. "I hear the sound of the sea," said Gaer--"I hear the song of a blind bird," said Bobarân.--"I hear silence," whispered Aevgrain to herself, the blood going to her face lest even in that silence the secret thought in her heart should take wing, as the quiet owlet in the dusk.
But Bobarân was well pleased that night when the Youth and the girl slept. For he had seen the thought in the brain of the swallow, that of which Manannan of Manainn had warned him. For now belike might the prophecy be fulfilled, that Gaer of the race of Usna and of the womb of Deirdrê should become the Ardrigh of the Gaels both of Eiré and of Alba. So he slept.
On the seventh day after that slaying of the boar, Bobarâ
n the White walked under the falling snow of the apple-bloom, in the shore-glades behind the great conical isle that was then called Inshroin, the Isle of the Seals.
He was looking idly seaward, when suddenly he stood as though arrow-fixed. In the bay was a long galley, shaped like a great fish, and with the bows disported as the mouth of a speared salmon. It was a birlinn of the InnseGall, and the coming of the sea-rovers might well be for evil.
He heard a strange music, but ear could not tell whence it came, for it was as a sweet perplexing swarm of delicate sounds; and was in the spires of the grass, and the blown drift of the thistle-down, and the bells of the foxglove, and in all the murmurous multitude of the little leaves.
So by that he knew it was a magic song. He took his clàrsach, and played an old rune of the sea, that Manannan of Manainn had taught him: Manannan, the son of Athgno, of the sons of Manannan of the Foam, son of Lir, the great god.
And when he had played, he took nine shrivelled berries of the rowan from the top of his clàrsach. Three he threw toward the waves, and cried:

"O Element that is older than the ancient earth!
O Element that was old when Age was young!
O second of the Sacred Three in whom the seed of Alldai,
In whom the seed of the Unnameable became the spawn of the world,
Whence the old god, and the fair Dedannans, and the sons of men---
O Element of the Elements, show me the fish of Manainn,
Show me the fish of Manannan with the arrow in the tongue!"

And when Bobaràn had cried this incantation, he took three more of the rowan berries and threw them on the ground, and they were swift red tongues of hounds that bayed against a shadowy deer. Then, when he had swallowed the three remainin rowan berries, he saw Gaer standing by a rock on the shore, now looking toward the galley---whence came, as a swarm of bees, the perplexing sweet murmurous noise---and now back to the woodland where he heard the glad baying of hounds lairing the deer.
But while Bobar
ân wondered, he saw a beautiful naked woman standing in the prow of the birlinn, and striking the strings of a small shell harp, and singing. And when he looked at Gaer, the son of Naois was in the sea, and swimming swiftly from wave to wave, crying the name of her who bore him---Deirdrê, flame of love.
But the druid saw that the beautiful woman was an evil Queen; and that in the hollow of the fish-mouth crouched a man of Lochlin, with a stretched bow in his hands, and in that bow a great arrow.
So once more he cried:

"O Element, in the name of Manannan, son of Lir!"

and then he lifted his clàrsach, and struck three shrill cries from the strings.
Thus it was that where Gaer swam against the sweet lust of his eyes three great waves arose. The first wave bore him down into the depths, so that the arrow that flew against his breast shot like a shadow through the water. The second wave whirled him this way and that, so that the arrow that flew against his back shot like a spent mackerel through the spray. The third wave hurled him on the shore, amid clouds of sand.
ân fled to the place where he fell, and stood before him, and played a wind against the arrows that now came from the birlinn like rain. Then he played magic upon the sea, so that the three tidal waves became one, and roared seaward in one high, terrible, crested, overpowering tumult, and lifted the birlinn, and hurled it upon the rocks of Inshroin, so that all there were swept into the sea and drowned.
Then Bobaràn was glad, because he remembered what he had heard in Inis-Manainn---that a fair queen of the Innse Gall would seek to lure Gaer the son of Deirdrê to his death because of what Naois and the sons of Usnach had done to her kinsfolk of the far isles.
That night, before the fires, he told of the hero-wars of Naois and the sons of Usna, and of how the queen of the Innse Gall came in her beauty to Naois, and of how Naois looked at Deirdrê, and bade depart the yellow-haired woman with the yellow crown. Then because he was a poet he sang of her beauty, and of the infinite bitter sweetness of desire, and of the long ache and continuous unsatisfied longing that is called love.
When he ceased, he saw that neither Gaer nor Aevgrain listened to his singing voice. But in the eyes of Gaer he saw the infinite bitter sweetness of desire, and in the eyes of Aevgrain the ache and longing of unawakened love.
On the morrow, Bobarân was walking, heavy with thought. Peradventure the day was near when another evil would come to the children of Naois and of Deirdrê. He feared, too, lest he had lit a fire in the mind of Gaer and in the heart of Aevgrain.
While he was yet pondering what thus perplexed him, he saw three drawing near. One was Aevgraill, sunlike indeed in her lovely beauty, but with strange, grave eyes; and one was Gaer coming as Naois when he was seen of Deirdrê in the woods of Conchobar, laughing with delight; and one was a young man, the fairest and comeliest Bobarân the White had ever seen. He was clad in green, with a fillet of gold, with belt-clasps of shining findruiney. His hair was long and yellow, yet he was not of the men of Lochlin.
He bowed courteously as he drew near. Bobarân saw that he threw three berries of the mistletoe on the ground, and asked him concerning these, and that doing.
"It is my geas, my vow," said the stranger. "It is one of my geasan that I throw three berries of the mistletoe on the ground before I speak to an honourable one of the druids."
Bobarân accepted that saying, for it was in the manner of his day.
And because that he himself was under geas not to ask a stranger more than two questions, he spoke at once, lest idly he should ask a vain thing.
"Are you of Emhain Abhlach, fair lord?" he asked.
"Yes, I am of the Isle of the Apple Trees," answered the stranger, with grave eyes.
"And your name and your father's name, are they known to me?"
"I am Rinn, the son of Eochaidh Iuil."
"Doubtless Eochaidh Iuil is a king in . . .in . . .
"What of your geas, O Bobarân-Bàn?"
At this the druid bowed ashamedly, for he had broken his geas. He stood amazed, too, that Rinn, the son of Eochaidh, should know what that geas was.
"I am come here," said Rinn slowly, "because I follow the shadow of my dream." The druid thought he had heard no voice so sweet since Deirdrê sang low as she played at chess with Naois.
"That was when Gaer was asleep within her womb," said Rinn.
So, knowing that the stranger could read what was in his mind, Bobarân feared the magic of spells. But when he put his hand to his side, he found that his clàrsach was gone; and when he looked, he saw that Rinn had lifted it from the ground; and when he strove to speak, he understood that by the third berry of the mistletoe the stranger had put silence against his lips.
So, with a heavy heart, he turned and followed the three to the pleasant lios which at that season was their home.
At dusk, before the fires, Rinn sang and told fair wonderful tales. And when he had told one tale, Gaer knew that it was of him he spoke: and of how on the morrow he would cross the sea to Eiré and contest with Conchobar, who had been the deathmaker for his love Deirdrê and for Naois and the sons of Usnach, for the sovereignty of the Ultonians: and of how he would banish Conchobar to the far surf-swept Isles of Orcc: and of how, after a year of sovereignty, and because of the longing of love and the dream of all dreams, he would return to Emhain Abhlach, and recall Conchobar to be Ardrigh: and of how he would live there till he died, and of how he would know love great as the love of Naois, and beauty great as the beauty of Deirdrê.
And in that dream sleep came upon him, and when Gaer slept, Rinn took the clarsach again, and again played. He sang the song of love. Bobaran saw a forest glade filled with moonshine, and in that moonshine was a woman, white and beautiful, and the face was the face of Alveen whom he had loved. His heart rose like a wave: his life swung on the crest of that wave: and as a wave he broke in a flood of longing and desire at the feet of Alveen whom he had loved long, long ago.
And in that dream sleep came upon him, and he knew no more.
When Bobarân slept, Rinn looked at Aevgrain, whose eyes were shining upon him as two stars.
"Play me no sweet songs, O Rinn," she murmured, "for already I love you, O heart's desire, my delight!"
Rinn smiled, but he touched the strings of his harp.
"O heart's desire, my delight!" he whispered.
"O heart's desire!" she murmured, as sleep came upon her. Then her white hands moved like swans through the shadowy flood that was her hair, and she put sleep from her, and leaned forward, looking into the eyes of Rinn.
"Tell me who you are, whence you are," she whispered.
"Will you love me if I tell this thing?"
"You are my heart's desire."
"Will you follow me if I tell this thing?"
Aevgrain rose. The firelight waved a rose of flame into her face.
Rinn laughed low, and he put his arms about her and led her deeper into the shadow of the lios.
At sunrise Manannan stood on the shore, and when he looked along the sun-track he saw Gaer sailing into the west.
Then he went to the lios. There was no one there: there was no single thing to be seen there save two pale blue shadows lying in the sunway.
Then he awoke Bobarâ
"Put that youth-dream from you," he said, "and answer me. Where is Gaer? Where is Aevgrain?"
ân bowed his head.
"What of the wild-boar that was the peril of Gaer, that was the thought in the brain of the swallow?"
"It is slain, O Manannan of Manainn."
"What of the white woman and the deathshaft that was the arrow in the tongue of the fish?"
"They are in the silence of the sea."
"What of the witching voice of Rinn, the Lord of Shadow, Rinn the son of Eochaidh luil, of the Land of Heart's Desire? What of his witching song, that is called Honey of the Wild Bees?"
ân the Druid bowed his head.
"He put his spells upon me and upon Gaer. I know no more."
"Gaer you shall see once more, for he will come again to Emhain Abhlach, but he will not know you, for you shall be a grey wolf howling in the waste. But Aevgrain we shall not see again. Farewell, O daughter of Deirdrê, desire of my desire!"
And with that Manannan turned, and was hidden in a sea-mist, and was in Manainn again, the Sacred Isle.
But already Bobarâ
n had not waited for that going. His fell bristled as he leaped past the lios, and his long howl rose and sank till lost in the silence of the woods.
At sundown on the third day the two shadows in the lios stirred. Sweet clay of the world was upon them again.
"Tell me what you are, whence you are," murmured Aevgrain, her eyes shadowy with love.
"Will you love me if I tell this thing?"
"You are my heart's desire."
"Will you follow?"
Aevgrain strove to rise. The, sunflood warmed a rose of flame in her pale face.
"I love you, Aevgrain, because you are beautiful, and because in you I see the shadow of beauty. Await here. It is my will."
"I have no love but you. You are my heart's desire."
Rinn sighed.
"So be it," he said. "I will take with me your love. Overlong have I dreamed this dream. Hark to that great sighing!"
"I hear."
"It is the sighing of the world. It is for me."
"For you---?"
"I am called Rinn, Honey of the Wild Bees. I am the Lord of Shadow. But here, O Aevgrain, my name is Death."