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- AE in the Irish Theosophist - 40/53 -
IV. The Maidens of the Sidhe
"Yes, I'll go with the maid in the green mantle," muttered Laeg to himself; "but I'll don the crimson mantle of five folds which it is my right to wear in the land of the Sidhe, even though my earthly occupation is only the driving of a war-chariot."
He began chanting softly; a golden gleam as of sunshine swept circling about him; then as the chant ceased a look of wild exultation came to his face, and he threw up his arms, so that for an instant he had the aspect he wore when guiding the great war-chariot of Cuchullain into the thick of battle. His swaying form fell softly upon the greensward, and above it floated a luminous figure clad in a crimson mantle, but whose face and bare arms were of the color of burnished bronze. So impassive and commanding was his face that even Liban faltered a little as she stole to his side. Cuchullain watched the two figures as they floated slowly over the dark expanse of the lake, till they suddenly disappeared, seemingly into its quiet surface. Then with his face buried in his hands he sat motionless, absorbed in deep thought, while he waited until the return of Laeg.
The recumbent form of Liban rose from the crouch where it had lain entranced. Before her stood the phantom figure of Laeg. All in the house save herself were asleep, but with the conscious sleep of the Sidhe, and their shades spoke welcome to Laeg, each saying to him in liquid tones such as come never from lips of clay:
"Welcome to you, Laeg; welcome because of her who brings you, of him who sent you, and of yourself."
He saw about him only women of the Sidhe, and knew that he was in one of the schools established by the wise men of Eri for maidens who would devote their lives to holiness and Druid learning; maidens who should know no earthly love but fix their eyes ever on the light of the Sun-god. But not seeing Fand among them, he turned with an impatient gesture to Liban. She read his gesture aright, and said:
"My sister dwells apart; she has more knowledge, and presides over all of us."
Leaving the room, she walked down a corridor, noiselessly save for the rustle of her long robe of green, which she drew closely about her, for the night was chill. An unaccustomed awe rested upon her, and to Laeg she whispered:
"The evil enchanters have power tonight, so that your life would be in danger if you had not the protection of a maiden of the Sun."
But a smile wreathed for an instant the bronze-hue face of the shadowy charioteer, as he murmured in tones of kindness near to pity, softening his rude words:
"Till now nor Cuchullain nor I have ever felt the need of a woman's protection, and I would much rather he were here now than I."
Drawing aside a heavy curtain, Liban entered her sister's room. They saw Fand seated at a little table. A scroll lay on it open before her, but her eyes were not fixed on it. With hands clasped under her chin she gazed into the vacancies with eyes of far-away reflection and longing. There was something pathetic in the intensity and wistfulness of the lonely figures. She turned and rose to meet them, a smile of rare tenderness lighting up her face as she saw Liban. The dim glow of a single lamp but half revealed the youthful figure, the pale, beautiful face, out of which the sun-colours had faded. Her hair of raven hue was gathered in massy coils over her head and fastened there by a spiral torque of gleaming gold. Her mantle, entirely black, which fell to her feet, made her features seem more strangely young, more startlingly in contrast with the monastic severity of the room. It was draped round with some dark unfigured hangings. A couch with a coverlet of furs, single chair of carved oak, the little table, and a bronze censer from which a faint aromatic odor escaping filled the air and stole on the sense, completed the furniture of the room, which might rather have been the cell of some aged Druid than the chamber of one of the young maidens of Eri, who were not overgiven to ascetic habits. She welcomed Laeg with the same terms of triple welcome as did the mystic children of the sun who had first gathered round him. Her brilliant eyes seemed to read deep the soul of the charioteer.
Then Liban came softly up to her, saying:
"Oh, Fand, my soul is sad this night. The dark powers are gathering their strength to assail us, and we shall need to be pure and strong. Yet you have said that you feel no longer the Presence with you; that Mannanan, the Self of the Sun, shines not in your heart!"
Fan placed her hand upon her sister's flaxen head, saying with a voice mingled joy and pathos:
"Peace, child; you, of us all, have least to fear, for though I, alas! am forsaken, yet He who is your Father and Yourself is even now here with you."
Liban fell on her knees, with her hands clasped and her eyes uplifted in a rapture of adoration, for above her floated one whom she well knew. Yet unheeding her and stern of glance, with his right arm outstretched, from which leaped long tongues of flame, swordlike, into space, Labraid towered above gazing upon foes unseen by them. Slowly the arm fell and the stern look departed from the face. Ancient with the youth of the Gods, it was such a face and form the toilers in the shadowy world, mindful of their starry dynasties, sought to carve in images of upright and immovable calm amid the sphinxes of the Nile or the sculptured Gods of Chaldaea. So upright and immovable in such sculptured repose appeared Labraid, his body like a bright ruby flame, sunlit from its golden heart. Beneath his brows his eyes looked full of secrecy. The air pulsing and heaving about him drove Laeg backward from the centre of the room. He appeared but a child before this potent spirit. Liban broke out into a wild chant of welcome:
"Oh see now how burning, How radiant in might, From battle returning The Dragon of Light! Where wert thou, unsleeping Exile from the throne, In watch o'er the weeping, The sad and the lone. The sun-fires of Eri Burned low on the steep; The watchers were weary Or sunken in sleep; And dread were the legions Of demons who rose From the uttermost regions Of ice and of snows; And on the red wind borne, Unspeakable things From wizard's dark mind borne On shadowy wings. The darkness was lighted With whirlwinds of flame; The demons affrighted Fled back whence they came. For thou wert unto them The vision that slays: Thy fires quivered through them In arrowy rays. Oh, light amethystine, Thy shadow inspire, And fill with the pristine Vigor of fire. Though thought like a fountain Pours dream upon dream, Unscaled is the mountain Where thou still dost gleam, And shinest afar like The dawning of day, Immortal and starlike In rainbow array."
But he, the shining one, answered, and his voice had that melody which only those know whom the Sun-breath has wafted into worlds divine:
"Vaunt not, poor mortal one, nor claim knowledge when the Gods know not. He who is greatest among all the sons of evil now waits for the hour to strike when he may assail us and have with him all the hosts of the foes of light. What may be the issue of the combat cannot be foreseen by us. Yet mortals, unwise, ever claim to know when even the Gods confess ignorance; for pride blinds all mortals, and arrogance is born of their feebleness."
Unabashed she cried out:
"Then rejoice, for we have awakened Cu, the warrior-magician of old times, and his messenger is her."
Then he answered gently, pityingly:
"We need the help of each strong soul, and you have done well to arouse that slumbering giant. If through his added strength we conquer, then will he be the saviour of Eri; beloved by the Gods, he will cease to be a wild warrior on earth, and become a leader of mortals, aiding them on the way to the immortals. Wisely have you awakened him, and yet--"
He smiled, and such was the pity in his smiling glance that Liban bowed her head in humiliation. When she raised it he was gone, and Laeg also had vanished. She arose, and with a half-sob threw herself into the arms of her sister. So they stood, silent, with tearless eyes; for they were too divine for tears, although, alas! too human.
Slowly the chariot rolled on its homeward way, for Laeg, seeing the weakness and weariness of Cuchullain, held the great steeds in check; their arched necks and snorting breath resenting the restraint, while the impatient stamping of their hoofs struck fire from the pebbly road.
"Well," said Cuchullain moodily, "tell me what happened after you went away with that woman of the Sidhe."
Briefly and without comment of his own Laeg stated what he had seen. Then long Cuchullain pondered; neither spoke, and the silence was
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