The Two Kings by

KING Eochaid came at sundown to a wood  
Westward of Tara. Hurrying to his queen  
He had out-ridden his war-wasted men  
That with empounded cattle trod the mire;  
And where beech trees had mixed a pale the green light
With the ground-ivy’s blue, he saw a stag  
Whiter than curds, its eyes the tint of the sea.  
Because it stood upon his path and seemed  
More hands in height than any stag in the world  
He sat with tightened rein and loosened mouth
Upon his trembling horse, then drove the spur;  
But the stag stooped and ran at him, and passed,  
Rending the horse’s flank. King Eochaid reeled  
Then drew his sword to hold its levelled point  
Against the stag. When horn and steel were met
The horn resounded as though it had been silver,  
A sweet, miraculous, terrifying sound.  
Horn locked in sword, they tugged and struggled there  
As though a stag and unicorn were met  
In Africa on Mountain of the Moon,
Until at last the double horns, drawn backward,  
Butted below the single and so pierced  
The entrails of the horse. Dropping his sword  
King Eochaid seized the horns in his strong hands  
And stared into the sea-green eye, and so
Hither and thither to and fro they trod  
Till all the place was beaten into mire.  
The strong thigh and the agile thigh were met,  
The hands that gathered up the might of the world,  
And hoof and horn that had sucked in their speed
Amid the elaborate wilderness of the air.  
Through bush they plunged and over ivied root,  
And where the stone struck fire, while in the leaves  
A squirrel whinnied and a bird screamed out;  
But when at last he forced those sinewy flanks
Against a beech bole, he threw down the beast  
And knelt above it with drawn knife. On the instant  
It vanished like a shadow, and a cry  
So mournful that it seemed the cry of one  
Who had lost some unimaginable treasure
Wandered between the blue and green leaf  
And climbed into the air, crumbling away,  
Till all had seemed a shadow or a vision  
But for the trodden mire, the pool of blood,  
The disembowelled horse.
                        King Eochaid ran,
Toward peopled Tara, nor stood to draw his breath  
Until he came before the painted wall,  
The posts of polished yew, circled with bronze,  
Of the great door; but though the hanging lamps  
Showed their faint light through the unshuttered windows,
Nor door, nor mouth, nor slipper made a noise,  
Nor on the ancient beaten paths, that wound  
From well-side or from plough-land, was there noise;  
And there had been no sound of living thing  
Before him or behind, but that far-off
On the horizon edge bellowed the herds.  
Knowing that silence brings no good to kings,  
And mocks returning victory, he passed  
Between the pillars with a beating heart  
And saw where in the midst of the great hall
Pale-faced, alone upon a bench, Edain  
Sat upright with a sword before her feet.  
Her hands on either side had gripped the bench,  
Her eyes were cold and steady, her lips tight.  
Some passion had made her stone. Hearing a foot
She started and then knew whose foot it was;  
But when he thought to take her in his arms  
She motioned him afar, and rose and spoke:  
‘I have sent among the fields or to the woods  
The fighting men and servants of this house,
For I would have your judgment upon one  
Who is self-accused. If she be innocent  
She would not look in any known man’s face  
Till judgment has been given, and if guilty,  
Will never look again on known man’s face.’
And at these words he paled, as she had paled,  
Knowing that he should find upon her lips  
The meaning of that monstrous day.

                                  Then she:  
‘You brought me where your brother Ardan sat  
Always in his one seat, and bid me care him
Through that strange illness that had fixed him there,  
And should he die to heap his burial mound  
And carve his name in Ogham.’ Eochaid said,  
‘He lives?’ ‘He lives and is a healthy man.’  
‘While I have him and you it matters little
What man you have lost, what evil you have found.’  
‘I bid them make his bed under this roof  
And carried him his food with my own hands,  
And so the weeks passed by. But when I said  
“What is this trouble?” he would answer nothing,
Though always at my words his trouble grew;  
And I but asked the more, till he cried out,  
Weary of many questions: “There are things  
That make the heart akin to the dumb stone.”  
Then I replied: “Although you hide a secret,
Hopeless and dear, or terrible to think on,  
Speak it, that I may send through the wide world  
For medicine.” Thereon he cried aloud:  
“Day after day you question me, and I,  
Because there is such a storm amid my thoughts
I shall be carried in the gust, command,  
Forbid, beseech and waste my breath.” Then I,  
“Although the thing that you have hid were evil,  
The speaking of it could be no great wrong,  
And evil must it be, if done ’twere worse
Than mound and stone that keep all virtue in,  
And loosen on us dreams that waste our life,  
Shadows and shows that can but turn the brain.”  
But finding him still silent I stooped down  
And whispering that none but he should hear,
Said: “If a woman has put this on you,  
My men, whether it please her or displease,  
And though they have to cross the Loughlan waters  
And take her in the middle of armed men,  
Shall make her look upon her handiwork,
That she may quench the rick she has fired; and though  
She may have worn silk clothes, or worn a crown,  
She’ll not be proud, knowing within her heart  
That our sufficient portion of the world  
Is that we give, although it be brief giving,
Happiness to children and to men.”  
Then he, driven by his thought beyond his thought,  
And speaking what he would not though he would,  
Sighed: “You, even you yourself, could work the cure!”  
And at those words I rose and I went out
And for nine days he had food from other hands,  
And for nine days my mind went whirling round  
The one disastrous zodiac, muttering  
That the immedicable mound’s beyond  
Our questioning, beyond our pity even.
But when nine days had gone I stood again  
Before his chair and bending down my head  
Told him, that when Orion rose, and all  
The women of his household were asleep,  
To go—for hope would give his limbs the power—
To an old empty woodman’s house that’s hidden  
Close to a clump of beech trees in the wood  
Westward of Tara, there to await a friend  
That could, as he had told her, work his cure  
And would be no harsh friend.
                              When night had deepened,
I groped my way through boughs, and over roots,  
Till oak and hazel ceased and beech began,  
And found the house, a sputtering torch within,  
And stretched out sleeping on a pile of skins  
Ardan, and though I called to him and tried
To shake him out of sleep, I could not rouse him.  
I waited till the night was on the turn,  
Then fearing that some labourer, on his way  
To plough or pasture-land, might see me there,  
Went out.
          Among the ivy-covered rocks,
As on the blue light of a sword, a man  
Who had unnatural majesty, and eyes  
Like the eyes of some great kite scouring the woods,  
Stood on my path. Trembling from head to foot  
I gazed at him like grouse upon a kite;
But with a voice that had unnatural music,  
“A weary wooing and a long,” he said,  
“Speaking of love through other lips and looking  
Under the eyelids of another, for it was my craft  
That put a passion in the sleeper there,
And when I had got my will and drawn you here,  
Where I may speak to you alone, my craft  
Sucked up the passion out of him again  
And left mere sleep. He’ll wake when the sun wakes,  
Push out his vigorous limbs and rub his eyes,
And wonder what has ailed him these twelve months.”  
I cowered back upon the wall in terror,  
But that sweet-sounding voice ran on: “Woman,  
I was your husband when you rode the air,  
Danced in the whirling foam and in the dust,
In days you have not kept in memory,  
Being betrayed into a cradle, and I come  
That I may claim you as my wife again.”  
I was no longer terrified, his voice  
Had half awakened some old memory,
Yet answered him: “I am King Eochaid’s wife  
And with him have found every happiness  
Women can find.” With a most masterful voice,  
That made the body seem as it were a string  
Under a bow, he cried: “What happiness
Can lovers have that know their happiness  
Must end at the dumb stone? But where we build  
Our sudden palaces in the still air  
Pleasure itself can bring no weariness,  
Nor can time waste the cheek, nor is there foot
That has grown weary of the whirling dance,  
Nor an unlaughing mouth, but mine that mourns,  
Among those mouths that sing their sweathearts’ praise,  
Your empty bed.” “How should I love,” I answered,  
“Were it not that when the dawn has lit my bed
And shown my husband sleeping there, I have sighed,  
‘Your strength and nobleness will pass away.’  
Or how should love be worth its pains were it not  
That when he has fallen asleep within my arms,  
Being wearied out, I love in man the child?
What can they know of love that do not know  
She builds her nest upon a narrow ledge  
Above a windy precipice?” Then he:  
“Seeing that when you come to the death-bed  
You must return, whether you would or no,
This human life blotted from memory,  
Why must I live some thirty, forty years,  
Alone with all this useless happiness?”  
Thereon he seized me in his arms, but I  
Thrust him away with both my hands and cried,
“Never will I believe there is any change  
Can blot out of my memory this life  
Sweetened by death, but if I could believe  
That were a double hunger in my lips  
For what is doubly brief.”
                          And now the shape,
My hands were pressed to, vanished suddenly.  
I staggered, but a beech tree stayed my fall,  
And clinging to it I could hear the cocks  
Crow upon Tara.’
                King Eochaid bowed his head  
And thanked her for her kindness to his brother,
For that she promised, and for that refused.  
Thereon the bellowing of the empounded herds  
Rose round the walls, and through the bronze-ringed door  
Jostled and shouted those war-wasted men,  
And in the midst King Eochaid’s brother stood.
He’d heard that din on the horizon’s edge  
And ridden towards it, being ignorant.

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