Volume VII ~Poems & Dramas by Fiona Macleod

THE HOUSE OF USNA

SCENE III

SCENE THE SAME.--Ultonian Warriors have brought Cravetheen the Harper--a misshapen savage figure, held by two warriors--before the king, so that Concobar may decree what manner of death the man is to die, because of having murdered Cormac by setting fire to the Dûn, where he and Eilidh lay, and burning him and his love and all that were within the Dûn.

CONCOBAR

I have heard all. Let him go. What is death?

[Cravetheen is released

CRAVETHEEN

Have you no mercy, O king?

CONCOBAR

Harper, you have your life. Go!

CRAVETHEEN

Have you no mercy, O king?

CONCOBAR

What is your desire?

CRAVETHEEN

I have but one desire, Concobar, King of Ulla.

CONCOBAR

Speak.

CRAVETHEEN

It is that I may know death.

CONCOBAR

[Rising, and smiling strangely

Brother, I, too--I, too, have that one desire.

CRAVETHEEN

[Confusedly

You . . . the king . . .

MAINÉ

[Lying under an oak, makes a clear note on his reed-flute, and chants slowly with wailing rise and fall

Deirdrê is dead! Deirdrê the Beautiful is
dead, is dead!

CRAVETHEEN

[Muttering

Ah, now I know! Now I know! [Moving slowly towards the king.] That cry is the cry of the House of Usna! The gods do not sleep, O king. That cry is the cry of the House of Usna!

CONCOBAR

[With sudden fury, reaching out his arms as though cursing or abhorring the speaker

Take him away! To death! . . .to death!
Away with him!

CRAVETHEEN

[Eagerly and triumphantly

I am the voice of the House of Usna, O king!

CONCOBAR

[Furiously

Tie him to the saplings! Let him die the death of the oaks!

WARRIORS

[Shouting

To the Death-tree! To the Death-tree!

[They seize Cravetheen and drag him away into the wood

CONCOBAR

[Staring about him confusedly

Who spoke? [Lower, in a hoarse whisper.]
Who spoke?

DUACH

O king, there is no evil done upon the world that the wind does not bring back to the feet of him who wrought it.

CONCOBAR

The wind! . . . The wind!

DUACH

O king, the gods abhor most the evil that is wrought unworthily by the great.

CONCOBAR

Who are the great . . . I have lost love, and my kinglihood, and my son, and all, all my hopes. Who are the great?

DUACH

O king, you have slain youth, and love, and beauty.

CONCOBAR

[Wailingly

Life. . . . Life. . . . Life for ever slays youth, and love, and beauty.

DUACH

Take not the brute law to be the divine law. O king, are prophecies idle ways of an idle wind? Long, long ago it was foretold that evil would come upon you and your house because of your uncontrolled desire, but what avail? Your ears were deaf.

CONCOBAR

Why do the gods pursue me? I am old, I am old.

DUACH

At the kindling of the light they look into the silent earth, and they behold the slain bodies of Naysha and Ailnê and Ardan, and a shade stands at their grave calling night and day--I am the House of Usna!

CONCOBAR

Druid, is there no evil done upon the world, is there no slaying of young men, is there no falling of heroic names into the dust, save what I have done?

DUACH

Because of your desire you slew your kinglihood.

CONCOBAR

My kinglihood?

DUACH

More terrible than the fate of Usna is the fall of royal honour. More terrible than the death of Naysha is the shame put upon those who blindly did your will. More terrible than the death of Deirdrê is the undoing of the great wonder and mystery of beauty. The gods call . . ." Concobar, Concobar, thy thirst shall be for shadows, and the rose of thy desire shall be dust within thy mouth!"

CONCOBAR

[Hopelessly

It was because of love. . . . It was because of love.

DUACH

Yes, O king . . . love of thine own love.

[Silence

CONCOBAR

Evil can be undone.

DUACH

Where are the sons of Usna?

CONCOBAR

I tell you, Druid, evil can be undone. I repent me of my evil. . . . I repent me of my evil.

DUACH

Where are the sons of Usna? Where is the word of the king? Where is Deirdrê, the too great beauty of this evil time? Where is Emain Macha, the beautiful city? Where is the glory of the Red Branch? Where is Cormac, Cormac Conlingas, who was to be king! Where stands Eiré that was to be one nation?

CONCOBAR

[In a hoarse whisper

Have all these evils come upon me because I was a king and because I loved?

DUACH

Because you were a king and chose the unkingly way.

CONCOBAR

[Wailingly

Good blooms like a flower that has its day: evil like a weed that endures, and grows and grows and grows.

DUACH

But the evil that is done of kings shall cover the whole land.

CONCOBAR

[Starting, and furiously

Enough! Enough, Druid! I have heard enough. I am the king. [Raising his sword, and looking towards the Warriors, shouts.] Ultonians, awake! I am the king. I am the Red Branch. On the morrow we march. I shall lead you, with Conaill Carna and with Cuchulain. The armies of Queen Meave shall be scattered like dry leaves. Fear not the gods! The gods follow the victorious sword! Before the new moon all the gods of the Gael will be on our side! The Red Branch! The Red Branch!

WARRIORS

[Clashing swords and spears
The Red Branch! The Red Branch,

CONCOBAR

Up with the Sunburst! Up with the banner of the Sunburst!

WARRIORS

The Sunburst ! The Sunburst!

CONCOBAR

[Triumphantly

The gods are with us! (Lower, and turning to Duach, exultantly.) The gods are with us. Druid, it is the will of man that compels the gods, not the gods who compel man.

DUACH

[After a momentary pause, and laying his hand on the king's arm

The gods are the will of man. For good and for evil the gods are the will of man.

CONCOBAR

Stand back, Druid. I am weary of your subtleties. (Shouts.) Warriors, go! On the morrow I shall lead you--I, and Conaill the Victorious, and Cuchulain the greatest champion of Eiré!

WARRIORS

[Go shouting, and after they have gone their voices are heard repeating the acclaim

Concobar! Concobar! Conaill Carna! Cuchulain ! Cuchulain !

CONCOBAR

[Looking sombrely at Duach

Druid, go! I would be alone.

DUACH

I go. But truly, yea, truly, O king, you shall be alone from this hour.

CONCOBAR

[Scornfully

Enough. I am the king. I have great dreams. The gods are with me. They have forgotten, for they do not long remember the dead!

DUACH

[Meaningly, as he moves slowly away

The gods neither sleep nor do they forget.

[A long pause. Silence

CONCOBAR

[Alone, exultantly

I am the king. I have great dreams.

[A wailing voice from the wood. The
king starts, raising his sword.

CONCOBAR

Who is that? . . . what is that?

CRAVETHEEN

[Unseen, on the Death-tree

It is I, Cravetheen, in my hour of death.

[Silence. , The king stands listening.
Again a long wailing cry.

CRAVETHEEN

The gods do not sleep, O king! . . . Farewell.

[Slowly Concobar lowers his sword.
It falls with a crash to the ground.
He stands as though spellbound.

CONCOBAR

[In an awed whispering voice
It is the cry of the House of Usna!

[Silence. Slowly the king lifts his hand to his face, and bows his head.

From the wood the boy Mainé breathes three poignant notes on his reed-flute, and chants slowly with long rise and fall:

Deirdrê is dead. Deirdrê the Beautiful is dead, is dead!

 

THE END

 


Contents: Volume VII