Volume VII ~Poems & Dramas by Fiona Macleod

 

THE HOUSE OF USNA

A DRAMA

 

DRAMATIS PERSON∆

CONCOBAR MACNESSA. King of Ulster and High-King of Ireland.
DUACH. A Druid.
COEL. An Old Blind Harper.
CRAVETHEEN. A Harper, of the Kingship of CÚnairey MÚr.
MAIN…. A Boy.
and
ULTONIAN WARRIORS.

UNSEEN: Mourners passing through the forest
with the charred botlies of Corinac Conlingas and Eilidh the Fair.
Chorus of Harpers.

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SCENE I

Open glade in a forest of pines and oaks, with the silent fires of sunset on the boles. Confused cries are heard, but as though a long way off. A dishevelled savage figure, clad in deerskin and hide-bound leggings, slips forward furtively from tree to tree. His long dark locks fall about his misshapen shoulders; his left arm is in a sling: in his right hand he carries a spear. He stands at last listening intently.

Starting abruptly he lifts his spear, but slowly lowers it as an old man, blind, clad in a white robe, with flat gold cirque about his waist and an oak-fillet round his head, comes forward leaning on a staff.

COEL

Who is it who is near me? I hear the quick breath of one who . . . of one who hunts . . .or is hunted.

CRAVETHEEN

Druid, I am a stranger. Where am I? Tell me your name?

COEL

I am Coel the Druid. . . . Coel the old blind harper.

CRAVETHEEN

I, too, am a harper, though I am no druid. I am Cravetheen the Harper. I am warrior and chief harper to the great king CÚnairey MÚr. I crave sanctuary, Coel the Harper! I crave sanctuary . . . quick! quick!

COEL

From whom?

[The confused cries are louder and grow louder, then cease.

CRAVETHEEN

[Shaking his spear

From them.

COEL

You are safe here. Tell me this, you who are called Cravetheen: where is Cormac Conlingas, the son of the High-King Concobar? Does he hasten north to the side of his father whom he deserted, because Concobar the king slew the sons of Usna, and because DeirdrÍ died of that great sorrow, DeirdrÍ, the wife of Naysha, the pride of the house of Usna?

CRAVETHEEN

[With savage mocking

Ay, a great king truly, Concobar, the son of Nessa! From childhood he kept the beautiful DeirdrÍ to be his queen, but Naysha swooped like a hawk and carried her to the north, because each loved each and laughed at the king. And then did the great Concobar track him through Eirť to Alba? No! Did he force the sword upon him, DeirdrÍ's beloved? No! For three years he lay like a wolf on a hillside staring at a far-off fold. . . . and then with smooth words he won Naysha and his two hero-brothers, and the beautiful DeirdrÍ, and gave kingly warrant to them. . . . and then, ha! then was the noise of swords, then were red streams of blood, where the House of Usna fought the fight of three heroes against a multitude . . . and their shameful, glorious death . . . and then DeirdrÍ, wonder of the world, did Concobar win her at the last? No! No! She fell dead by the side of him whom she loved, by the body of Naysha, the son of Usna! A true queen, DeirdrÍ the Beautiful !

COEL

[Raising his staff

Who are you? Who are you ? No sanctuary here for the foe of Concobar the king!

CRAVETHEEN

[With a loud, wailing, chanting voice

I am the voice of the House of Usna. I am the voice in the wind crying for ever and ever "Kings shall lie in the dust: great princes shall be brought to shame: the champions of the mighty shall be as swordsman waving reeds, as spearmen spearing the grass, as men pursuing and wooing shadows!" (A moment's pause.) Ay, by the sun and wind, Coel the Blind, I am the broken spear to slay them that foully slew the sons of Usna . . . the spear to goad to madness Concobar the king !

COEL

[Angrily

Tell me, mad fool, do you fly from the wrath of Cormac Conlingas, the son of Concobar ?

CRAVETHEEN

[Laughing mockingly

Cormac, the son of Concobar! Cormac Conlingas, Cormac of the Yellow Locks! No, no, old man, I do not fly before the wrath of Cormac the Beautiful! Nor shall any man again fly before him, before Cormac the Beautiful, Cormac the Prince, Cormac the son of Concobar!

COEL

[Angrily

What! is the king's son dead . . . is he slain ?

CRAVETHEEN

[Coming close, and steaking low, in a
changed voice

Old man, there was a woman of my people as beautiful as DeirdrÍ. She loved an Ultonian, that had for name Cormac. . . . Cormac Conlingas. CÚnairey MÚr was fierce with anger at that, and sent him away, but against her will, and gave her to me who loved her, though she hated me. So I took her to my DŻn. But this Cormac came there and found her and I . . . oh, I, too, came back suddenly, and learned that he was there!

[A long wailing chant is heard

COEL

Hush! What is that?

CRAVETHEEN

[Still leading close, and speaking low

That? . . .That is the wailing of those who carry hither to Concobar the dead bodies of Cormac his son and Eilidh the Fair. [Suddenly springing back, and crying loudly.] For I set fire to the great DŻn, O, Coel the Blind, and I laughed when the red flames swept up to where the sleepers lay--and they died, Cormac and Eilidh, to the glad death-song of me, Cravetheen the Harper! Two charred logs these mourners carry now--Ah-h-h!

[As he cries a spear whirls across the stage from left to right, then another, then a third, which strikes the ground at Cravetheen's feet. Wild cries are heard--a rush--and six or eight Ultonian warriors leap forward, crying as they seize him

WARRIORS

Death to the Harper!--death to Cravetheen
the Harper, who has slain the king's son!

The House of Usna, Scene 2