Dominion of Dreams, by Fiona Macleod

II

THE GLORY OF THE KING

For the three years which followed the coming of Ulad to Bandore, there was peace in all the lands of the north.
The tributary kings laid aside their swords: the spear and the arrow, save in the fray of the hunt, quenched no longer their red thirst. Everywhere blue smoke ascended, from the great straths, from the shore-combes, from inland valleys, from the woodlands. The green corn grew to a yellow harvest: the aftermath was filled with peace, and without rumour of battles and dissensions. Winter, spring, summer; the white to the brown, the brown to the yellow, the yellow to the green, the green to the russet: each season came and went, orderly, glad, welcome.
In the forest townships and the great raths on the plain the people grew slowly to the likeness of Ulad. The ollavs preached a life of peace and fair deeds; the poets sang of the great past, and of heroes, and of beautiful women, and of the passion of life, and in the songs of one and all was the beauty of dream.
Long, long afterward, this time was sung of as the golden age. With longing eyes many a dreamer has turned upon it his backward gaze, fain of a day when men and women loved and had joy, in great peace, and to the charmed music of dream.
Yet even in that day the loneliness of Ulad became a proverb.
All men rejoiced save Ulad the King.
He dwelt solitary, the strange poet. In vain men praised him for great deeds: in vain the bards sang of his own sweet harping, exceeding that of BÍl himself; in vain women offered him white arms, the beating heart, soft eyes of flame.
Of his great deeds he held small account, and was weary of the idle rumour of such things; because all his heart yearned for the one great love he dreamed of. And little solace for him was soft playing of harps any singing of bards or and reed-flutes, who had by day and by night a lovelier, a more haunting music in the lonely glens and desolate shadowy straths of his mind.
Tall women, gracious, sweet, beautiful, with these he might have had joy; but ever since he had slain Fand with his will, he could seek no love of in the any woman. There was but one woman in the world for him; and of her he knew only silence and memory.
BÍl the Harper alone knew the story of the love of Ulad.
And this is that tale.
In the spring of the year that followed the passing of Fand, Ulad the Lonely reached a great fjord in the remote north of Alba. There he met AithnÍ, the woman of whom he had dreamed. She was the daughter of a lord of the north isles, Cormac of the Rocks, so called because he had his dŻn on the summit of the midmost of three great heights at the south end of a green and lovely island.
AithnÍ Ulad loved from the hour when he first saw her. She was tall, and fleet as a roe; her dusky hair waved over a face of so great a beauty that Ulad's heart ached because of it. Dark, curving eyebrows made a lovely twilight above her eyes, which were of a lustrous grey-green hazel, like the sunlit green hollow of a wave over sand, though often they darkened with a soft, dewy dusk, wonderful to see. Her flowerlike face was as that of DeirdrÍ or Grainne or Blanid, only more full of dream and ecstasy even than hers whose eyes lit the death of Naois, more fair and exceeding sweet than that of her for whom Diarmid gave up all, more sad with extreme of joy than that of her before whom a man's life passed in flame. Yes, Ulad thought, she had the surpassing beauty of that Eilidh, queen of women, with whom Isla the Singer swam forth, at the dawn following a disastrous day, swam forth, seaward, against the sunrise. And she was fair and wild and dreamlike as was Fand, whom he had wrought out of white and red flowers gathered at the base of a rainbow in Hy Brŗsil.
And AithnÍ? She loved Ulad. All of her life went out to him. He was her lord, her prince, her singer of songs, her dreamer of dreams, her hero, her king.
The hour came when at last he spoke. It was at dusk, by a glade, overagainst the running wave. Words swam into hearing, and drowned in passionate silence. Each came to each as two flames that become one.
Later he told her of Fand. Then he spoke of Eilidh, whom his kinsman Isla the Singer had loved and won, and made a deathless memory among men because of her queenlihood of beauty and the extreme mighty reach and wonder of their love.
"And lo," he whispered at the last, "Fand was indeed but a dream---the idle foam on the running wave of my dream. But thou---thou AithnÍ, art my dream itself."
She sighed, and pressed her heart against his. He heard her voice as one may hear drops trickling through the moss beside the surge and roar of a mountain-torrent.
"And thou, Ulad . . . thou art Ulad!"
In the beating heart of silence that followed they lived, in a shadow-fleeting moment, all life. Then, abruptly, the boughs of a low, spreading oak disported. A man stepped forth. It was Olg, son of the brother of Cormac of the Rocks.
He cast his dark, frowning eyes upon AithnÍ, but did not look at Ulad, though the words he spoke were for him.
"The yellow-haired men are upon us," he said simply.
Ulad withdrew his claspt hand from that of AithnÍ. Then, suddenly, he stooped his head, and put his lips upon the white flower he had held. Olg moved forward soundlessly.
With the point of his spear he drew blood from his arm and let it drop into the hollow of his right hand. This, still speaking no word, he spilled between AithnÍ and Ulad. With a bloody finger he touched the breast of Ulad.
AithnÍ drew back, pale. But her eyes flamed.
Ulad stood for a moment, pondering. Then he stooped, and took AithnÍ's hands in his, and kissed her on the lips.
"So be it, Olg, son of Olg," he said.
Thuswise Ulad and AithnÍ parted, knowing that Olg had put a feud to the death between himself and Ulad, and had spilled blood to be a widening gulf for ever betwixt him and AithnÍ. On the morrow the men would meet. Now it was night, and the yellow-haired men were come.
At the rising of the moon, swords and spears sang their fierce song. Deep thirst was theirs, and none went forth of that dreadful Battle of the Rising Moon unquenched.
A grey dawn, streaked with red, as though tattered banners, flaunted above invisible skyey armies met in war, brought an end to a strife which by moor and hillside and shore had endured till the stars swam pale and sank drowned in light.
The yellow-haired northmen were everywhere: but they were still now. On the heather, beside granite boulders, on the wave-splashed white rocks, their motionless bodies lay, no battle-song upon their lips, no fire in their blue eyes. The sunrise turned their locks into pale gold, and put a faint bloom against the whiteness of their faces. Neither thoughts nor desires were behind these silent brows, but only the iron of the spear-head or the adder tongue of the feathered arrow.
The tide of battle had already ebbed for Lochlin when, at the first greying of the dark, a fleet of thirty galleys had come from the north of the island and taken the Vikings by surprise. Their wave-riders were driven ashore, and only two escaped, and these only because of a slight mist that drifted here and there upon the sea.
An ebbing tide, for sure; but a tide that bore with it a mighty tribute to the valour of the men of Lochlin. Cormac of the Rocks, and his five sons, and most of his blood-kin with more than ten score of his clansmen, fell in that Battle of the Rising Moon. There was thrice a time when all would have been lost but for the might and voice of Ulad. It was on that field he won his name, the Brother of Death.
When all was over, Ulad sought AithnÍ. Nowhere in or near the great dŻn of Cormac, nor in the rath by the inland loch, was there any trace of the daughter of the king. For three days and three nights men searched like hounds every cave, every glen, every corrie, passing from tree to tree in the Woods, from boulder to boulder upon the hills: but vainly.
There were many island galleys lying deep in the green water besides those of the Vikings, but in none of these was the body of Olg found, nor was it traced elsewhere. For he, too, had disappeared. In all, among the slain and wounded and whole, among all who dwelt upon the island, there were nine missing---AithnÍ and Olg and seven men of his own following.
It was feared that, caught in a disastrous ebb of battle, Olg had tried to escape, and sought to save AithnÍ, but that one of the Viking galleys had run they down.
Only Ulad knew in his heart that AithnE was alive. Could death come to her, and he not know it? Would not every leaping nerve cry out with the knowledge?
Week after week passed. Not a trace of the missing ones was found, not the faintest rumour came from any of the isles or the mainland.
For six months, and till the very heart of winter, Ulad spared not one single day to rest. To each and every of the isles he sailed, and along the wild coasts of Alba, from the Cape of Storms to where the foam whitens along the Moyle. Then when the first breath of spring blew soft across the snow on the hills and the drifting ice on the lochs, he set sail by the unknown sea-ways to the north isles of the Northmen, and afterwards to Lochlin itself.
At the end of a year from the Battle of the Rising Moon he knew nothing further of AithnÍ. Nowhere had he found a trace of the fugitives: from no man in any land, neither from Gael nor Pict nor Northman, had he heard one word of the beautiful daughter of Cormac of the Rocks, nor yet of Olg the Swarthy. Nevertheless he knew that AithnÍ lived.
That summer no one of his people or following saw Ulad, no, nor for two years thereafter. But in all lands he journeyed, harping and singing, though there was only one song on his lips, that which lay below all songs he sang, the song of his desire: and only one music in his heart, that of the beauty of AithnE, of his deathless dream.
When the third spring came shining out of cloud-woven blue and along the wet green sprays of the larches, Ulad returned to Alba. His heart was weary, but still he failed not in his quest.
With the first heats of summer he grew faint and despairing. The beauty of the world whispered night and day of her whose beauty was to him his star, his joy, his strength, his dream, his life.
One gloaming, as he moved through the woods at the end of the great Loch of Fionn, abruptly he stood still, the blood leaping from his heart and striking swift, heavy blows against his brain. Before him on the shore was a man, crouching beside a fire, and singing to himself as he watched the deer-meat catch the flame. And the song that he sang was one Ulad himself had wrought, and sang to AithnÍ, and made it hers because she and no other was worthy of the name Heart o' Beauty.

"O where are thy white hands, Heart o' Beauty?
                                 Heart o' Beauty!
They are as white foam on the swept sands,
                                 Heart o' Beauty!
They are as white swans over dusky lands,
They are wands, magic wands, thy white hands,
                                 Heart o' Beauty!

From, the white dawn till the grey dusk,
                                 Heart o' Beauty!
I hear the unseen waves of unseen strands,
                                 Heart O' Beauty!
I see the sun rise and set over shadowy lands,
But never, never, never thy whit, hands, thy white hands,
                                 Heart o' Beauty!"

Trembling, moved with a great fear, a greater hope, Ulad soundlessly drew near.
The man sprang to his feet, startled. He had heard a dry twig crackle. When he saw Ulad he let his spear droop to his side.
"I will do you no harm," said Ulad slowly, "but I will know one thing of you."
"That I see well," the man answered; "and as for the thing you desire to know, speak."
"It is this. When and where and from whom heard you that song?"
"I heard it from the lips of Derg son of Teig son of Derg of the Three Fords. It was at a place not far from here, near the grianAn on the west shore of the sea-loch known as the Haven of the Foray. It is where, as BÍI the Harper sings, Ulad the Poet-King wooed the woman Fand that he wrought out of red and white flowers, and where she died as a pluckt flower dies."
"And what of Ulad?"
"He loved overmuch. And so he too died."
"Is he dead, in truth?"
"So men say. Nevertheless he died not by the grian‚n where Fand laughed at his pain, as some of the singers have it. For I have heard from Derg son of Teig, who gave me that song, that Ulad the Lonely came to his death among the far isles of the north after the Battle of the Rising Moon, wherein Cormac of the Rocks and most of his kinship were slain."
"And when was it that that Derg son of Teig gave this song to you?"
"On the night of the new moon: and the moon is now sickle-shaped again."
Ulad's heart beat, and he stared at the man strangely.
"Your name?" he said at last.
"Coran, who also am called Coran-Cý because of my fleetness."
At that Ulad drew from his belt a blade, hilted with amber.
Take this, Coran the Hound, and keep it in memory of me, who am Ulad the Lonely, for it is great news you have given me this day."
Coran made an obeisance, and looked with wondering eyes at the face of him whose name was in so many songs of love and battle.
"Tell me, Coran, of this Derg son of Teig."
"He was one of those who escaped after the Battle of the Rising Moon. Some say every islander died in that great fight, save only the few who fled with Olg son of Olg the Blind, brother of Cormac of the Rocks. All were drowned off an unknown shore, save only Derg and Olg and AithnÍ, daughter of Cormac of the Rocks."
Ulad leaned forward as a sleuth-hound leans when the smell on the track grows keen.
"And---and----AithnÍ---Olg and AithnÍ are they---were they also at the Haven of the Foray?"
"No. Derg lay there, because of wound. AithnÍ came with him and seven other men from where she lived with Olg the Swarthy, a king of some land now, I know not where. She came there to die, because from the songs of the Poets she knew that was whom, she loved, blew into dead blossoms where Ulad, the flower that was Fand. Of a truth, she may have hoped to meet you again, O Ulad, for it is said you are not whose dust is in the earth."
"And then?"
"Then Olg pursued her, and came to the Haven of the Foray, and called upon her to come back to him, being his wife. But she answered that though her body come back to him had been made bondager to him, she was free, and loved Ulad only, and that, too, whether he was in life or in death. Moreover, she swore by the Sun and by the wind that if Olg sought her further, she would slay herself."
"'Mayst thou not love two men, AithnÍ?'"
Olg cried, for he was fain of her whom he had made his wife.
"'Rather should I know death,'" she answered. 'There is but one love, that which passeth all else, and that is as life itself. It is UIad I love, and I am no man's henceforth, nay, though Ulad my King were now but as wind-harried dust.'"
"'Ulad is dead, O AithnÍ,'" Olg cried again, taking the death-oath by the moon.
"But AithnÍ would not hearken to his plea. She said these words: "'If he be living still, I shall find my King. If he be dead, my King awaiteth me. There is but one love.'"
"It was then that Olg strove to land and take back AithnÍ, whom he had made his wife. But Derg and those with him fought for the fair daughter of Cormac---Heart o' Beauty, as you yourself have called her, O Ulad. And in that strife Olg was driven back, weak with open wounds, and stricken unto death. AithnÍ, with the three men who had not been slain, save Derg, who was left as one dead, sailed westward."
Here Coran stopped, as though he had no more to say. But Ulad bore hardly upon him and he told all. He had come upon Derg, and had comforted his wound. And Derg had told him how on the morrow he had seen a galley drifting by, bottom upward, and thus knew that AithnÍ and her company had seen death in the hollow of a wave. Thereafter he had waited with Derg a while, and it was from him he learned that song. Then a shadow had grown through Derg, and he died.
Ulad bowed his head. His hope was as a wounded bird that flutters on the ground.
Nevertheless he remembered what AithnÍ had said, and was glad. But all he said was this: "Truly, O Coran, there is but one love. All else is but a shadow." Only to himself he whispered:
"If she be living still, I shall find my Queen. If she be dead, my Queen awaiteth me. There is but one love."
From that day, dreaming his dream, Ulad the Lonely forgot war and the seat of wisdom and the commune of the homestead and rath and dŻn, and dwelled only with his thoughts and dreams by the grian‚n on the Haven of the Foray. And so until the day when BÍI the Harper came and led him forth to be High King of all the northlands of the Gael.

III

It was, indeed, a great and wonderful peace that was upon all northern Gaeldom during the three years when Ulad was High King. All things moved orderly and to fair and noble issues. But the King knew sorrow: deep sorrow brooded in his heart throughout every hour of every day, whether he hunted in the woods or on the hills, or trained the young men in the noble and chivalrous life of the sword and of peace, or sat in council, or listened to the bards or to the mysteries of those who were the servants of the gods, or moved or ate or rested, or himself played upon the harp, or wandered alone, or dwelled solitary in memories: and in sorrow each night he closed his eyes.
For there is but one love.
Of what avail the glory of the King unto the King himself ? Had he not but one glory: AithnÍ? Had he not but one desire: AithnÍ? Had he not but one joy, one hope, one peace?
There came a day when a rumour reached him that far in the Southland of Eri a most fair and wonderful queen lived with a great prince Art‚n, and that she was the daughter of a dead king of the isles. The man who brought the rumour said that she was called AithnÍ.
Ulad pondered a while. Then he knew that AithnÍ could not be that queen, for she would have come to him. There is but one love.
Nevertheless, he sent BÍl the Harper into the southlands, and bade him bring word of this queen.
At the third rising of the moon after he left, BÍl's harp once more made music in Bandore. It was true that the wife of Art@n was called AithnÍ, and that she was fair and comely and gracious. But her beauty beside that of AithnÍ whom Ulad loved was as the wan face of February beside the glory of June.
And so it went till the third year of Ulad's overlordship was gone. On the morrow of the fourth year, the elders among the men of rank, and the priests, and the bards, came to him with a prayer. And that prayer was that he would take unto himself a queen. Every fair woman that was unwed would gladly be wife to Ulad; and there were in that day seven women so beautiful beyond all others that they were sung of by the bards as the Seven Roses of Gaeldom.
Ulad listened to what they had to say. When they ceased, he spoke---
"There is no woman in all the lands of the Gael whose eyes can dim for me the beauty of the eyes of AithnÍ, daughter of Cormac of the Rocks, and for whom year after year I have waited, famished. My dream stayeth me."
"Nevertheless, O Ulad," they urged, "the AithnÍ of your love is surely dead long since. Out of a thousand beautiful women, surely there is one you would have to wife. Pluck whomso you will of the Seven Roses of the Gael. Nay, if your heart is set upon it, lead us to war against this Art‚n, King in the Southland, and take unto yourself his queen Aithn‚, who may yet prove to be her whom you have lost."
"There is but one love," answered Ulad, and turned wearily from those who spoke. Straightway thereafter he went into the forest behind the great dŻn of Bandore, and dwelled there with his secret sorrow and his bitter unquenched desire till the dews lay cool upon his brows and the stars filled the night with solemn signals of unrelinquished dreams. At the last, the dawn came rose-red and grey. Then he returned to his own, place, and to the weary glory of the King, and to his secret sorrow and his bitter inappeasable desire.
One eve the aged Colla came to him.
"Ulad," he said after a long silence, " I too have known the dark crown of sorrow. I too have been a king. And I am old now with the exceeding heavy burden of the years. it is thus, mayhap, that I can see into your heart. see dark lonely sorrow there. But this I see also, that you are a king, and will do wearily, but yet will do, what you have to do."
"Listen, Colla of the White Hair. When I was young I sojourned a while with the greatest prince among the princes of men. It was overseas in the land of the Kymry. And when I bade him farewell, I asked him to put his hands upon me and wish me the one thing I should need. He wished me neither happiness, nor great fortune, nor fame, nor victory in war, nor love of women, nor great wisdom, nor song, nor the dream of the dreamer; but what he said unto me was this---'O Dreamer of dreams, this wish shall I wish thee: Strength to endure until the end.' And so, Colla of the White Hair, I bethink me often of the saying of that prince among men."
At that, Colla went away comforted somewhat. Yet in his heart he knew that Ulad's hour was moving swift across some far-off hill or through deep forests.
He turned to speak to the King once more. But Ulad was staring against the west, his eyes filled with the glory of his dream.
From that day, nevertheless, a growing weakness came upon the High King. Yet was it no weakness of the body; for when Balba, the lord of Tyr-Connla, the tallest and strongest of all the princes in Gaeldom, openly in anger struck his wife Malv, Ulad seized him by the waist and whirled him above his head and dashed him upon the ground. "Eat dust, thou dog who strikest a woman," he cried; but to deaf ears, for Balba had already fared to a shadowy land whence none could hear the thin falling echo of his perishing cry of wrath.
The Festival of Peace was nigh, and all men made ready to rejoice. On the lips of every bard throughout the realms of the north was the glory of the King. All dreamed of a mighty kingdom yet to be. But Ulad dreamed only of a kingdom beyond the Rainbow.
One yellow wane of day, in the fall of the leafy Ulad sat in a great carved chair outside the dŻn. Not one of those who were about him spoke. All saw that the King dreamed his dream. BÍl the Harper had begun playing upon the harp. In the dim land of sound all there had followed lovely desires. Ulad longed with ancient sorrow, with bitter unquenched thirst of the aching heart.
BÍl slowly struck the strings once more. Abruptly he ceased. All looked at him. The eyes of the bard were fixed upon one, clad in greeny who came slowly out of the wood.
When he drew near, he played low upon the small harp that he carried. None stirred, because of the sweetness of what he played. Only BÍl sighed, and Ulad's eyes darkened.
It was but the song of a bird in the moonshine: sweet as that, brief as that. But when the green harper had ceased playing, BÍl rose, and threw his own harp from him, and bowed his head. Then, raising it, he looked at Ulad.
"The Hour waits, O King," he said.
But Ulad made no answer. His shadow haunted eyes wavered not in their intent gaze upon him who had come out of the forest, and was known of no man, and had a strange light upon his face that came from within, and whose faint smile brought to him dim memories of splashing waves and the salt weedy smell of island shores.
"The Hour is come, O King," said BÍl the Harper once more. But even while he spoke, the green harper played.
At that playing, all who heard passed into the shadowy land of dream. Some beheld joy, and dallied with it; some peace, and wooed it; some love, some honour, some fortune. Strong men sat brooding, heedless of the sword, idle to the hunter's horn, reeking only to the song of deep delight, of deeper peace, of a dream within a dream. In the heart of women tears and longings subsided in a spray of mist, and out of that mist came white doves and lovely rainbow-hued phantoms of desire. There was silence upon every bush, upon every tree. Not a bird moved. Each little brown breast quivered. The wild deer in the forest stood, with one hoof lifted; the fawns trembled like aspens, for all their life had ebbed into their liquid wondering eyes. The fox blinked drowsily among the oak-roots. There was dream upon every living thing.
BÍl the Harper died in that hour. He beheld again his youth, and he died. He only of all men save Ulad might know, might understand, the secret song that the green harper played. And in sooth he knew. The smile was on his lips still, when, unseen of all there, who saw but his body prone on the grass, he was moving swift through a flowery glade in Tir-na'n-Og, radiant again in the exceeding sweet beauty of youth, and calling, calling, calling a woman's name with a sobbing joy.
And Ulad . . . he, too, heard, understood. In that playing he saw the sweet phantom of the face of AithnÍ, heard the far echo of her calling voice.
None saw him go. That which was in the golden chair did not stir; nevertheless, Ulad rose and passed before all there. The green harper smiled, and moved before him into the forest. They fared onward, and left the forest glooms and went over the shoulder of the smooth green hill facing the west.
Beyond, the whole land and distant sea lay in a haze of golden vapour. A rainbow builded itself gloriously aflame against the vast precipitous cloud-cliffs behind.
Under the rainbow Ulad walked, with glad eager eyes. "Behold thy kingdom, Ulad," said a voice beside him, a voice so passing sweet that his spirit moved unto the depth of life. He looked, thinking to behold the shining eyes of the harper. It was the face of AithnÍ, the voice of AithnÍ, the hand of AithnÍ.
"AithnÍ!" he cried.
She put her arms about him, and kissed him on the lips.
"If he be living still, I shall find my King," she whispered. "There is but one love."
It was then that Colla the White, leaning above the cold face of Ulad where he sat white and still in the great chair of the Ardrigh, and looking into the deep quiet of the now untroubled eyes, raised his withered shaking hands, and in a great voice called through the death-foam on his lips, " Behold! the Glory of the King!"

CONTENTS