THE SORROWFUL DEATH OF USNA'S SONS
 AT the head of fair Loch Etive the sons of Usna had built
for themselves three spacious hunting-seats among the
pine-trees at the foot of the cliffs that ran landward
to deep Glen Etive. The wild deer could be shot from
the window, and the salmon taken out of the stream from
the door of their dwelling. There they passed the
spring and summer months, Usna's sons of the white
steeds and the brown deer-hounds, whose breasts were
broader than the wooden leaves of the door. Above the
hunting-lodge, on the grassy slope that is at the foot
of the cascade, they built a sunny summer home for
Deirdre, and they called it the 'Grianan,' or sunny
bower of Deirdre. It was thatched on the outside with
the long-stalked fern of the dells and the red clay of
the pools, and lined within with the pine of the
mountains and the downy feathers of the wild birds; and
round it was the apple-garden of Clan Usna, with the
apple-tree of Deirdre in its midst and the apple-trees
of Naisi and Ainle and Arden encircling it.
And Deirdre loved her life, for she was free as the
brown partridge flying over the mountains, or as the
vessels with ruddy sails swinging upon the loch.
But in the winter they moved down to the borad
sheltered pasture-lands that lay on the western side of
 the loch near the island that was in olden days called
Eilean Chlann Uisne or the Island of the
Children of Usna, but is called Eilean nan Ron
or the Isle of the Seals to-day; and there they built a
mighty fortress for Deirdre and the sons of Usna which
men still call the Caisteal Nighean Righ Eirinn
or the Castle of the Daughter of the King of Ireland,
and thence they made wars and conquered a great part of
Western Alba and became powerful princes.
One sultry evening in the late autumn, Deirdre and
Naisi were resting before the door of her sunny bower
after a day spent by the brothers in the chase. Below,
their followers were cutting up the deer, and as they
brought in the bags of heavy game, and faggots for the
hearth, the voice of Ainle singing an evening melody
resounded through the wood. Like the sound of the wave
the voice of Ainle, and the rich bass of Arden answered
him, as together the two brothers came out from the
shadow of the trees, gathering to the trysting-place of
the evening meal.
Between Naisi and Deirdre a draught-board was set, but
Deirdre was winning, for a mood of oppression lay upon
Naisi and his thoughts were not in the game. For of
late, at evening, his exile weighed upon him, and
little good to him seemed his prosperity and his
successes, since he did not see his own home in Ireland
and his friends at the time of his rising in the
morning or at the time of his lying down at night. For
great as were his possessions in Alba, stronger in him
than the love of his kindred in Alba was the love of
his native land in Erin. He thought it strange,
moreover, that of those three who in the old time loved
him most, Fergus and Conall Cernach and Cuchulain, not
one of them had all
 this time come to bring him to his own land again under
his safeguard and protection.
So, as they played, Deirdre could see that the mind of
Naisi was wandering from the game, and her heart smote
her, as often it had smitten her before when she had
seen him thus oppressed, that for her sake so much had
gone from him of friends and home, and his allegiance
to his king, and honourable days among his clan.
Wistfully she smiled across the board at Naisi, but
mournful was the answering smile he sent her back.
"Play, play," she said, "I win the game from you."
"One game the more or less can matter little when all
else is lost," he answered bitterly. But hardly had
the unkind words passed from him, the first unkindness
Deirdre ever heard from Naisi's lips, when far below,
across the silent waters of the lake, he caught a
distant call, his own name uttered in a ringing voice
that seemed familiar, a voice that brought old days to
"I hear the voice of a man from Erin call below," he
cried, and started up. Now Deirdre too had heard the
cry and well she knew that it was Fergus' voice they
heard, but deep foreboding passed across her mind that
all their hours of happiness were past, and grief and
rending of the heart in store. So quickly she replied:
"How could that be? It is some man of Alba coming from
the chase, belated in returning. No voice was that
from Erin; it was a Scotchman's cry. Let us play on."
Three times the voice of Fergus came sounding up the
glen, and at the last, Naisi sprang up. "You are
mistaken, damsel; of a certainty I know this is the
voice of Fergus." "I knew it all the time, whose voice
it was," said Deirdre, when she saw he would not be put
 off. "Why then didst thou not tell us?" Naisi asked.
"A vision that I saw last night hath hindered me,"
replied the girl. "I saw three birds come to us out of
Emain from the King, carrying three sips of honey in
their bills; the sips of honey they left here with us,
but took three sips of our red blood away with them."
"What is thy rede of this vision, O Damsel?" Naisi
asked. "Thus do I understand it," Deirdre said;
"Fergus hath come from our own native land with peace,
and sweet as honey will his message be; but the three
sips of blood that he will take away with him, those
three are ye, for ye will go with him, and be betrayed
to death." "Speak not such words, O Deirdre," cried
they all; "never would Fergus thus betray his friends.
Alas! that words like this should pass thy lips. We
stay too long; Fergus awaits us at the port. Go,
Ainle, and go, Arden, down to meet him, and to give him
loving welcome here." So Arden went, and Ainle, and
three loving kisses fervently they gave to Fergus and
his sons. Gladly they welcomed the wayfarers to
Naisi's home, and led them up; and Naisi and Deirdre
arose and stretched their hands in welcome; and they
gave them blessing and three kisses lovingly, for old
times' sake, and eagerly they asked for tidings of Erin
and of Ulster especially. "I have no other tidings
half so good as these," said Fergus, "that King Conor
waits for you to give you welcome back to Emain, and to
the Red Branch House. I am your surety and your
safeguard, and full well ye know that under Fergus'
safeguard ye are sure of peace." "Heed not that
message, Naisi," Deirdre said; "greater and wider is
your lordship here, than Conor's rule in Erin."
"Better than any lordship is one's native land,"
 said Naisi; "dearer to me than great possessions here,
is one more sight of Erin's well-loved soil."
"My word and pledge are firm on your behalf," said
Fergus; "with me no harm or hurt can come to you."
"Verily and indeed, thy word is firm, and we will go
But to their going Deirdre consented not, and every way
she sought to hinder them, and wept and prayed them not
to go to death. "Now all my joy is psat," she said; "I
saw last night the three ravens bearing three sad
leaves of the yew-tree of death; and O Beloved, those
three withered leaves I saw were the three sons of
Usna, blown off their stem by the rough wind of Conor's
wrath and the damp dew of Fergus' treachery." And they
were sorry that she had said that. "These are but
foolish women's fears," said they; "the dropping of
leaves in thy dream, and the howling of dogs, the sight
of birds with blood-drops in their bills, are but the
restlessness of sleep, O Deirdre; and verily we put our
trust in Fergus' word. To-night we go with him to
Gladsome and gay were the three brothers then; they put
all fears away from them, and set to prepare them for
their journey back to Erin's shores. And early the
next morning, about the parting of night from day, at
the delay of the morning dawn, they passed down to
their galley that rocked upon the loch, and hoisted
sail, and calmly and peacefully they sailed out into
the ocean. But Deirdre sat in the stern of the boat,
and her face was not set forward looking towards Erin,
but it was set backward looking on the coasts of
Scotland. And she cried aloud, "O Land of the East, My
love to thee, with thy wondrous beauty! Woe is me that
I leave thy lochs and thy bays, thy flowering
 plains, and thy bright green-smooth hills! Dear to me
the fort that Naisi built, dear the sunny bower up the
glen; very dear to my heart the wooded slope holding
the sunbeams where I have sat with Naisi." And as they
sailed out of Glen Etive she sang this song, sadly and
"Farewell, dear Alba of the free,
Beloved land beside the sea,
No power could drag me from my home,
Did I not come, Naisi, with thee.
Farewell, dear bowers within the Glen,
Farewell, strong fort hung over them,
Dear to the heart each shining isle,
That seems to smile beneath our ken.
Glen da Rose!
Where the white cherry and garlic blow,
On thy blue wave we rocked to sleep,
As on the deep, by Glen da Roe.
Whose sunny slopes these waters lave,
The rising sun we seemed to hold,
As in a fold, in Glen Etive.
Love to all those who here were born!
Across thy peak, at twilight's fall,
The cuckoos call, in Glen Masaun.
Farewell, dear Land,
From Alba's strand I ne'er had roved
Save at the call of my beloved,
Farewell, dear Land!"
The next day they reached the shores of Ireland not far
from the fort of Borrach. And as they landed there,
 messengers from Borrach met Fergus, saying, "Borrach
hath prepared a feast for the King, and it is the
King's command that the honour of this feast be given
to thee. Come therefore and spend this night with me;
but the King desires to hasten the sons of Usna that he
may welcome them, and he bids them press onward to
Emain this very night."
When Fergus heard that, sudden fear and gloom
overshadowed him, lest in very truth Conor had evil
designs towards the sons of Usna. "It was not well
done, O Borrach, to offer me a feast in Conor's stead
this night, for I was pledged to bring the sons of Usna
straight to Emain without delay." "It is the King's
command," said Borrach; "needs must a true vassal obey
the King." Still was Fergus loth to stay and he asked
Naisi what he ought to do about this. "Do what they
desire of thee, O Fergus," said Deirdre, "if to partake
of a banquet seems better to thee than to protect the
sons of Usna. However to me it seems that the lives of
thy three friends is a good price to pay for a feast."
"I will not forsake them," said Fergus; "for my two
sons, Illan the Fair and Buinne the Ruthless Red will
be with them to protect them, and my word of honour,
moreover, with them; if all the warriors of Erin were
assembled in one place, and all of one mind, they would
not be able to break the pledge of Fergus."
"Much thanks we give thee for that," said Naisi, for he
saw that Fergus feared to fall foul of Conor more than
he cared for their safety; "never have we depended on
any protection but that of our own right hands alone;
we will then go forward to Emain Macha, and see there
if the word of Fergus will be sufficient to protect
But Deirdre said: "Go not forward to-night; but let
 us turn aside, and for this one night take shelter with
Cuchulain at Dundalk; then will Fergus have partaken of
his feast, and he will be ready to go with you. So
will his word be fulfilled and yet your lives will be
prolonged." "We think not well of that advice," said
Buinne the Ruthless Red; "you have with you the might
of your own good hands, and our might, and the plighted
word of Fergus to protect you; impossible is it that ye
should be betrayed." "Ah! that plighted word of
Fergus'; the man who forsook us for a feast!" said
Deirdre. "Well may we rely on Fergus' plighted word."
And she fell into grief and dejection. "Alas! Alas!"
she cried. "Why left we Alba of the red deer to come
again to Erin? Why put we trust in the light word of
Fergus? Woe is come upon us since we listened to the
promises of that man! The valiant sons of Usna are
destroyed by him, the Lights of Valour of the Gael.
Great is my heaviness of heart to-night! Great is the
loss that is fallen upon us."
In spite of that the sons of Usna and their two friends
went onward towards the White Cairn of Watching on
Sliab Fuad; but Deirdre was very weary and she lingered
behind in the glen, and sat down to rest and fell
asleep. They did not notice at first that she was not
with them, but Naisi found it out and he turned back to
seek Deirdre. He found her sitting in the wood on the
trunk of a fallen tree, just waking from her sleep.
When she saw Naisi she arose and clung to him. "What
happened to thee, O fair one?" said Naisi, "and
wherefore is thy face so wild and fearful, and tears
within thine eyes?"
"I fell into a sleep, for I was weary," she replied;
"and O Naisi, I fear because of the vision and the
 saw." "Thou art too apt to dream, beloved," said Naisi
tenderly, "what was thy dream?" "Terrible was my
dream," said Deirdre; "I saw thee, Naisi, and Ainle and
Arden, each of ye three beloved ones, without a head,
thy headless bodies lying side by side near Emain's
fort; and Illan lay there too drenched all with blood,
and headless like ye three. But on the other side
among our enemies, fighting against us, was the
treacherous Buinne the Ruthless Red, who now is our
protector and our guide; for he had saved his head by
treachery to thee." "Sad were thy dream indeed," said
Naisi, "were it true; but fear it not, it was an empty
vision grown out of weariness and pain." But Deirdre
clung yet to him, and she cried, "O Naisi, see, above
thy head, and o'er the heads of Ainle and of Arden,
that sombre cloud of blood! dost thou not mark it
hanging in the air? All over Emain lies the heavy
pall; but on thy head and theirs red blood-drops fall,
big, dusky, drenching drops. Let us not go to Emain."
But Naisi thought that from her weariness the mind of
Deirdre had become distraught, and all the more he
pressed them onward, that she might have rest and
shelter for the night. As they drew near to Emain,
Deirdre said, "One test I give you whether Conor means
you good or harm. If into his own house he welcomes
you, all will be well, for in his own home would no
monarch dare to harm a guest; but if he send you to
some other house, while he himself stays on in Emain's
court, then treachery and guile is meant towards you."
Now as they reached the Court of Emain, messengers came
out to meet them from the King. "King Conor bids you
welcome," said the men; "right glad is he that you are
come again to Erin, to your fatherland. But
 for this one night only is he not prepared to call you
as his guests to his own court. To-morrow he will give
you audience and bid you to his house. For this one
night, then, he bids you turn aside into the Red Branch
House, where all is ready for your entertainment." "It
is as I thought," said Deirdre, "King Conor means no
good to you, I ween." But Naisi replied, "Where could
the Red Branch champions so fitly rest as in the Red
Branch House? Most gladly do we seek our hall, to rest
and find refreshment for the morrow. We all are
travel-stained, but we will bathe and take repose, and
on the morrow we will meet the King."
But when they came to the House of the Red Branch, so
weary were they all, that though all kinds of viands
were supplied, they ate but little, but lay down to
rest. And Naisi said, "Dost thou remember, Deirdre,
how in that last game of draughts we played together,
thou didst win, because we were in Alba, and my heart
was here at home? Now are we back at last, and let us
play again; this time I promise I will win from thee."
So the the lightsome spirit of a boy, Naisi sat down to
play; for now that once again he was at home among his
people and in his native land, all thought or dread of
evil passed from him. But with Deirdre it was not so,
for heavy dread and terror of the morrow lay on her
heart, and in her mind she felt that this was their
last day of peace and love together.
But in his royal court, King Conor grew impatient as he
thought that Deirdre was so near at hand, and he not
seeing her. "Go now, O foster-mother, to the Red
Branch Hall and see if on the child that thou didst
rear remains her early bloom and beauty, and if she
still is lovely as when she went from me. If she is
 same, then, in spite of Naisi, I'll have her for my
own; but if her bloom is past, then let her be, Naisi
may keep her for himself."
Right glad was Levarcam to get leave to go to Deirdre
and to Usna's sons. Down to the Red Branch House
straightway she went, and there were Naisi and her
foster-child playing together with the board between
them. Now, save Deirdre herself, Naisi was dearer to
Levarcam than any other in the world, and well she knew
that her own face and form were upon Deirdre still,
only grown riper and more womanly. For, without
Conor's knowledge, she oft had gone to seek them when
they stayed in Alba.
Lovingly she kissed them and strong showers of tears
sprang from her eyes. "No good will come to you, ye
children of my love," she said with weeping, "that ye
are come again with Deirdre here. To-night they
practise treachery and ill intent against you all in
Emain. The King would know if Deirdre is lovely still,
and though I tell a lie to shelter her, he will find
out, and wreak his vengeance on you for the loss of
her. Great evils wait for Emain and for you, O darling
friends. Shut close the doors and guard them well; let
no one pass within. Defend yourselves and this sweet
damsel here, my foster-child. Trust no man; but repel
the attack that surely comes, and victory and blessing
be with you."
Then she returned to Emain; but all along the way she
wept quick-gushing showers of tears, and heaved great
sighs, for well she knew that from this night the sons
of Usna would be alive no more.
"What are the tidings that you have for me?" King Conor
asked. "Good tidings have I, and tidings that
 are not good." "Tell me them," said the King. "The
good tidings that I have are these; that the sons of
Usna, the three whose form and figure are best, the
three bravest in fight and all deeds of prowess, are
come again to Erin; and, with the Lights of Valour at
thy side, thine enemies will flee before thee, as a
flock of frightened birds is driven before the gale.
The ill-tidings that I have, are that through suffering
and sorrow the love of my heart and treasure of my soul
is changed since she went away, and little of her own
bloom and beauty remains upon Deirdre." "That will do
for awhile," said the King; and he felt his anger
abating. But when they had drunk a round or two, he
began to doubt the word of Levarcam. "O Trendorn,"
said he to one who sat beside him, "dost thou recollect
who it was who slew thy father?"
"I know well; it was Naisi, son of Usna," he replied.
"Go thou therefore where Naisi is, and see if her own
face and form remain upon Deirdre."
So Trendorn went down to the House of the Red Branch,
but they had made fast the doors and he could find no
way of entrance, for all the gates and windows were
stoutly barred. He began to be afraid lest the sons of
Usna might be ready to leap out upon him from within,
but at last he found a small window which they had
forgotten to close, and he put his eye to the window,
and saw Naisi and Deirdre still playing at their game
peacefully together. Deirdre saw the man looking in at
the window, and Naisi, following her eye, caught sight
of him also. And he picked up one of the pieces that
was lying beside the board, and threw it at Trendorn,
so that it struck his eye and tore it out, and in pain
and misery the man returned to Emain.
 "You seem not so gay as when you set out, O Trendorn,"
said the King; "what has happened to thee, and hast
thou seen Deirdre?" "I have seen her, indeed; I have
seen Deirdre, and but that Naisi drove out mine eye I
should have been looking at her still, for of all the
women of the world, Deirdre is the fairest and the
best." When Conor heard that, he rose up and called
his followers together and without a moment's delay
they set forward for the house of the Red Branch. For
he was filled with jealousy and envy, and he thought
the time long until he should get back Deirdre for
"The pursuit is coming," said Deirdre; "I hear sounds
without." "I will go out and meet them," said Naisi.
"Nay," said Buinne the Ruthless Red, "it was in my
hands that my father Fergus placed the sons of Usna to
guard them, and it is I who will go forth and fight for
them." "It seems to me," said Deirdre, "that thy
father hath betrayed the sons of Usna, and it is likely
that thou wilt do as thy father hath done, O Buinne."
"If my father has been treacherous to you," said
Buinne, "it is not I who will do as he has done." Then
he went out and met the warriors of Conor, and put a
host of them to the sword. "Who is this man who is
destroying my hosts?" said Conor. "Buinne the Ruthless
Red, the son of Fergus," say they. "We bought his
father to our side and we must buy the son," said
Conor. He called Buinne and said to him, "I gave a
free gift of land to thy father Fergus, and I will give
a free gift of land to thee; come over to my side
to-night." "I will do that," said Buinne, and he went
over to the side of the King. "Buinne hath deserted
you, O sons of Usna, and the son is like the father,"
Deirdre said. "He
 has gone," said Naisi, "but he performed warrior-like
deeds before he went."
Then Conor sent fresh warriors down to attack the
house. "The pursuit is coming," said Deirdre. "I will
go out and meet them," said Naisi. "It is not thou who
must go, it is I," said Illan the Fair, son of Fergus,
"for to me my father left the charge of you." "I think
the son will be like the father," said Deirdre. "I am
not like to forsake the sons of Usna so long as this
hard sword is in my hand," said Illan the Fair. And
the fresh, noble, young hero went out in his
battle-array, and valiantly he attacked the host of
Conor and made a red rout of them round the house.
"Who is that young warrior who is smiting down my
hosts?" said Conor. "Illan the Fair, son of Fergus,"
they reply. We will buy him to our side, as his
brother was bought," said wily Conor. So he called
Illan and said, "We gave a possession of land to thy
father, and another to thy brother, and we will give an
equal share to thee; come over to our side." But the
princely young hero answered: "Thy offer, O Conor,
will I not accept; for better to me is it to return to
my father and tell him that I have kept the charge he
laid upon me, than to accept any offer from thee, O
King." Then Conor was wroth, and he commanded his own
son to attack Illan, and furiously the two fought
together, until Illan was sore wounded, and he flung
his arms into the house, and called on Naisi to do
valiantly, for he himself was slain by a son of Conor.
"Illan has fallen, and you are left alone," said
Deirdre, "O sons of Usna." "He is fallen indeed," said
Naisi, "but gallant were the deeds that he performed
before he died."
Then the warriors and mercenaries of Conor drew
 closer round the house, and they took lighted torches
and flung them into the house, and set it on fire. And
Naisi lifted Deirdre on his shoulders and raised her on
high, and with his brothers on either side, their
swords drawn in their hands, they issued forth to fight
their way through the press of their enemies. And so
terrible were the deeds wrought by those heroes, that
Conor feared they would destroy his host. He called
his Druids, and said to them, "Work enchantment upon
the sons of Usna and turn them back, for no longer do I
intend evil against them, but I would bring them home
in peace. Noble are the deeds that they have wrought,
and I would have them as my servants for ever." The
Druids believed the wily King and they set to work to
weave spells to turn the sons of Usna back to Emain
They made a great thick wood before them, through which
they thought no man could pass. But without ever
stopping to consider their way, the sons of Usna went
straight through the wood turning neither to the right
hand or the left. "Good is your enchantment, but it
will not avail," said Conor; "the sons of Usna are
passing through without the turning of a step, or the
bending of a foot. Try some other spell." Then the
Druids made a grey stormy sea before the sons of Usna
on the green plain. The three heroes tied their
clothing behind their heads, and Naisi set Deirdre
again upon his shoulder and went straight on without
flinching, without turning back, through the grey
shaggy sea, lifting Deirdre on high lest she should wet
"Thy spell is good," said Conor, "yet it sufficeth not.
The sons of Usna escape my hands. Try another spell."
Then the Druids froze the grey uneven sea into
 jagged hard lumps of rugged ice, like the sharpness of
swords on one side of them and like the stinging of
serpents on the other side. Then Arden cried out that
he was becoming exhausted and must fain give up. "Come
thou, Arden, and rest against my shoulder," said Naisi,
"and I will support you." Arden did so, but it was not
long before he died; but though he was dead, Naisi held
him up still. Then Ainle cried out that he could go no
longer, for his strength had left him. When Naisi
heard that, he heaved a heavy sigh as of one dying of
fatigue, but he told Ainle to hold on to him, and he
would bring him soon to land. But not long after, the
weakness of death came upon Ainle, and his hold
relaxed. Naisi looked on either hand and when he saw
that his two brothers were dead, he cared not whether
he himself should live or die. He heaved a sigh, sore
as the sigh of the dying, and his heart broke and he
"The sons of Usna are dead now," said the Druids; "but
they turned not back."
"Lift up thy enchantment," said Conor, "that I now may
see the sons of Usna." Then the Druids lifted the
enchantment, and there were the three sons of Usna
lying dead, and Deirdre fluttering hither and thither
from one to another, weeping bitter heartrending tears.
And Conor would have taken her away, but she would not
be parted from the sons of Usna, and when their tomb
was being dug, Deirdre sat on the edge of the grave,
calling on the diggers to dig the pit very broad and
smooth. They had dug the pit for three only, and they
lowered the bodies of the three heroes into the grave,
side by side. But when Deirdre saw that, she called
aloud to the sons of Usna, to make space for her
between them, for she was following them. Then the
 of Ainle, that was at Naisi's right hand, moved a
little apart, and a space was made for Deirdre close at
Naisi's side, where she was wont to be, and Deirdre
leapt into the tomb, and placed her arm round the neck
of Naisi, her own love, and she kissed him, and her
heart broke within her and she died; and together in
one tomb the three sons of Usna and Deirdre were
buried. And all the men of Ulster who stood by wept
But Conor was angry, and he ordered the bodies to be
uncovered again and the body of Deirdre to be removed,
so that even in death she might not be with Naisi. And
he caused Deirdre to be buried on one side of the loch,
and Naisi on the other side of the loch, and the graves
were closed. Then a young pine-tree grew from the
grave of Deirdre, and a young pine from the grave of
Naisi, and their branches grew towards each other,
until they entwined one with the other across the loch.
And Conor would have cut them down, but the men of
Ulster would not allow this, and they set a watch and
protected the trees until King Conor died.
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