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A Song and a Tale

By Nora Hopper

I—Lament of the Last Leprechaun

FOR the red shoon of the Shee,
    For the falling o’ the leaf,
For the wind among the reeds,
    My grief !

For the sorrow of the sea,
For the song’s unquickened seeds,
For the sleeping of the Shee,
    My grief !

For dishonoured whitethorn-tree,
For the runes that no man reads,
Where the grey stones face the sea,
    My grief !

Lissakeole, that used to be
Filled with music night and noon,
For their ancient revelry,
    My grief !


                        By Nora Hopper 159

For the empty fairy shoon,
Hollow rath and yellow leaf;
Hands unkissed to sun or moon :
    My grief—my grief !


AINAN-NA-RIGH they called him in Tir Ailella*—”Darling
of the King”—but it was in idle sport, for Cathal the Red
hated the son of his old age as men now have forgotten to hate ;
and once Aonan had sprung from his sleep with a sharp skene
thrust through his arm, that had meant to drink his life-blood ;
and once again he had found himself alone in the heart of the
battle, and he had scarcely won out of the press with his life—and
with the standard of the Danish enemy. Thus it was seen that
neither did the Danish spears love the “King’s Darling”; and
the sennachies made a song of this, and it was chanted before the
King for the first time when he sat robed and crowned for the
Beltane feast, and Aonan stood at his left hand, pouring out
honey-wine into his father’s cup. And before he drank, Cathal
the King stared hard at the cup-bearer, and the red light that
burned in his eyes was darkened because of the likeness in
Aonan’s face to his mother Acaill (dead and buried long since),
whom Cathal had loved better than his first wife Eiver, who was
a king’s daughter, and better than the Danish slave Astrild, who
bore him five sons, elder and better-loved than Aonan, for all the
base blood in their veins. And of these, two were dead in the
battle that had spared Aonan, and there were left to Cathal the

* Now Tirerrill, Co. Sligo.


                        160 A Song and a Tale

King only the Druid Coloman, and Toran the boaster, and
Guthbinn of the sweet voice, who as yet was too young to fight.

“Drink, Aonan-na-Righ,” shrilled Astrild from her seat at the
King’s left hand. “Drink : lest there be death in the cup.”

Aonan took up the golden cup, and gave her back smile for
smile. “I drink,” he said, “to my mother, Acaill of Orgiall.”

But the King snatched the cup from his fingers, and dashed it
down on the board, so that the yellow mead spilled and stained
Astrild’s cloak ; but she did not dare complain, for there was the
red light in Cathal’s eyes that was wont to make the boldest

“Bring me another cup,” he said to one that stood near.
“And now, will none of ye do honour to the toast of Aonan-na-
Righ ? Bring ye also a cup for the prince ; and, Guthbinn, put
your harp aside.”

So in silence they drank to the memory of Acaill of Orgiall,
and afterwards they sought to spin together the threads of their
broken mirth, but not easily, for Astrild, who was wont to be
gayest, sat pale, with her hand on the knife hidden in her breast ;
and the King sat dumb and frowning, thinking, as Astrild knew,
of dead Acaill : how he had loved and hated her, and, having slain
her father and brothers, and brought her to Dunna Scaith a Golden
Hostage wearing a golden chain, he had wedded her for her
beauty’s sake ; and how until her child was born she had never so
much as smiled or frowned for him ; and how, when her babe lay
in her arms, she sent for her husband, and said : “I thank thee,
Cathal, who hast set me free by means of this babe. I bless thee
for this last gift of thine, who for all thine other gifts have cursed
thee.” And Cathal remembered how he had held babe and
mother to his heart, and said : “Good to hear soft words from thy
mouth at last, O Acaill ! Speak again to me, and softly. But


                        By Nora Hopper 161

she had not answered, for her first soft words to him were her
last. And Astrild, watching him, saw his face grow black and
angry, and she smiled softly to herself, and aloud she said :

“Oh, Guthbinn, sing again, and sing of thy brothers who fell
to-day—sing of Oscar, the swift in battle, and Uaithne, of the
dark eyes. And will my lord give leave that I, their mother, go
to weep for them in my own poor house where they were born ?”

“No,” said Cathal. “I bought you and your tears, girl, with
gold rings, from Ocaill of Connaught. Sing to me now, and keep
thy tears for to-morrow.” So Astrild drove back her sorrow, and
began to sing, while her son Guthbinn plucked slow music from his

“Earrach, Samhradh, Foghmhar, and Geimhridh,
    Are over all and done :
And now the web forgets the weaver,
    And earth forgets the sun.
I sowed no seed, and pulled no blossom,
    Ate not of the green corn :
With empty hands and empty bosom,
    Behold, I stand forlorn.
Windflower I sang, and Flower o’ Sorrow,
    Half-Summer, World’s Delight :
I took no thought o’ the coming morrow,
    No care for the coming night.”

Guthbinn’s hand faltered on the harpstrings, and the singer stopped
swiftly : but King Cathal stayed the tears in her heart with an
angry word. “Have I had not always had my will ? And it is
not my will now for you to weep.” So Astrild sat still, and she
looked at her sons : but Toran was busy boasting of the white
neck and blue eyes of the new slave-girl he had won, and Coloman


                        162 A Song and a Tale

was dreaming, as he sat with his eyes on the stars that showed
through the open door : and only Guthbinn met her eyes and
answered them, though he seemed to be busy with his harp. And
presently Cathal rose up, bidding all keep their seats and finish
out the feast, but Astrild and Aonan he bade follow him. And
so they went into the farthest chamber of the House of Shields,
which looked upon a deep ditch. Now the end of the chamber
was a wall of wattles, and here there was cut a door that led out
on a high bank which overlooked the ditch. And the King went
out upon the bank, where there was a chair placed ready for him,
and Astrild sat at his knee, and Aonan-na-Righ stood a little
way off. And Cathal sat still for a time, holding Astrild’s hand
in his, and presently he said : “Who put the death in the cup
to-night, Astrild, thou or Guthbinn ?” And Astrild tried to
draw her hand away and to rise, but he held her in her place, and
asked again, “Guthbinn, or thou ?” until she answered him
sullenly as she knelt, “King, it was I.”

“Belike, Guthbinn’s hand did thy bidding,” he said, in laughing
fashion. “Was the death for me or for Aonan yonder, thou Red-
Hair ?”

And Astrild laughed as she answered, “For Aonan-na-Righ,
my lord.” And then she shrieked and sought to rise, for she saw
death in the king’s face as it bent over her.

“If thou hadst sought to slay thy master, Red-Hair, I might
have forgiven thee,” Cathal said ; “but what had my son to do
with thee, my light-o’-love ?”

“Give me a day,” Astrild said desperately, “and I will kill father
and son, and set the light-o’-love’s children on your throne, Cathal.”

“I doubt it not, my wild-cat, but I will not give ye the day :”
Cathal laughed. “Good courage, girl—and call thy Danish gods
to aid, for there is none other to help thee, now.”


                        By Nora Hopper 163

“What will my lord do?” Aonan said quickly, as the Dane
turned a white face and flaming eyes to him. “Wouldst kill
her ?”

“Ay,” said Cathal the King. “But first she shall leave her
beauty behind her, lest she meet thy mother in the Land of Youth,
and Acaill be jealous.”

“Leave her beauty and breath, lord,” Aonan said, drawing
nearer. “If my mother Acaill lived she would not have her slain.
My king, she pleased thee once ; put her from thee if she vexes
thee now ; but leave her life, since something thou owest

“She would have slain thee to-day, Aonan, and if I have dealt
ill by thee, I let no other deal thus. Yet if thou prayest me for
thy life, girl, for love of Acaill I will give it thee.”

And Cathal laughed, for he knew the Dane would not plead in
that name. Astrild laughed too. “Spare thy breath, son of
Acaill,” she said scornfully. “To-morrow the cord may be round
thy neck, and thou be in need of breath ; now lord, the cord for

Cathal smiled grimly.

“Blackheart,” he said, “thou hast no lack of courage. Now
up,” and he loosened her hands, “and fly if thou wilt—swim the
ditch, and get thee to Drumcoll-choille—and Guthbinn shall die
in thy stead. What ! Thou wouldst liefer die ? Back then to
yonder chamber, where my men will deal with thee as I have
ordered, and be as patient as in thee lies. A kiss first, Red-Hair ;
and hearken from yonder chamber if thou wilt, while Aonan sings
a dirge for thee.”

She went ; and presently there rang from within the chamber
the shrill scream of a woman’s agony, and Cathal laughed to see
Aonan’s face turn white. “She is not as patient as thou,” he


                        164 A Song and a Tale

said, “but she will learn. Keep thou my word to her, Aonan ;
sing a dirge for her beauty a-dying.”

“I cannot sing,” Aonan-na-Righ said, shivering as there rose
another shriek. “Let them slay her, my lord, and have done.”

“My will runs otherwise,” said Cathal, smiling. “Sing, if
thou lovest thy life.”

“My lord knows that I do not,” Aonan answered ; and Cathal
smiled again.

“Belike not ; but sing and lessen the Dane’s punishment.
When the song is finished she shall be released, and even tended

So Aonan sang the song of the Dane-land over the water, and
the Danes that died in the Valley of Keening—which is now called
Waterford ; of the white skin and red hair of Astrild ; of her
grace and daring ; of the sons that lay dead on the battle-place ;
of Coloman the dreamer that read the stars ; and of the beautiful
boy whose breast was a nest of nightingales. And then he sang—
more softly—of the Isle of the Noble where Acaill dwelt, and how
she would have shadowed Astrild with her pity if she had lived ;
and then he stopped singing and knelt before the King, dumb for
a moment with the passion of his pity, for from the open door
they could hear a woman moaning still.

“Lord,” he said, “make an end. My life for hers—if a life
the King must have ; or my pain for hers—if the King must needs
feed his ears with cries.”

“Graciously spoken, and like Acaill’s son,” King Cathal said.
“And Astrild shall be set free. You within the chamber take
the Dane to her son the lord Coloman’s keeping ; and thou, my
son Aonan, tarry here till I return. I may have a fancy to send
thee with a message to thy mother before dawn. Nay, but come
with me, and we will go see Coloman, and ask how his mother


                        By Nora Hopper 165

does. Give me thine arm to lean on ; I am tired, Aonan, I am old,
and an end has come to my pleasure in slaying …. Coloman !”

They were in Coloman’s chamber now, and the Druid turned
from star-gazing to greet the King, with a new dark look in his
gentle face. “Coloman, how does thy mother do now ? She had
grown too bold in her pride, but we did not slay her because of
Aonan here. How works our medicine that we designed to
temper her beauty ?”

“Well, lord. No man will kiss my mother’s beauty more.”

“Good : now she will turn her feet into ways of gentleness,
perhaps. Thou boldest me a grudge for this medicine o’ mine,
my son Coloman ?”

“Lord, she is my mother,” the Druid said, looking down.

“The scars will heal,” Cathal said ; “but—Aonan here has only
seen her beautiful. Coloman, wouldst thou have him see her
scarred and foul to see ?”

“No, lord,” the Druid said fiercely. Cathal laughed.

“Have a gift of me, then, O Coloman,” he said. “Spare him
from sight of a marred beauty, in what way thou canst. I give
thee his eyes for thy mother’s scars.”

The two young men looked at each other steadily : then
Aonan spoke. “Take the payment that the King offers thee,
Coloman, without fear : a debt is a debt.”

“And the debt is heavy.”

Coloman said hoarsely : “Lord, wilt thou go and leave Aonan-
na-Righ to me ? And wilt thou send to me thy cunning men,
Flathartach and Fadhar ? I must have help.”

“Aonan-na-Righ will not hinder thee, Coloman,” said the
King, mockingly. “He desires greatly to meet with his mother :
and do thou commend me also to the Lady Eivir, whom I wedded
first, and who loved me well.”

The Yellow Book—Vol. III. K


                        166 A Song and a Tale

“Call me also to thy mother’s memory,” Toran the boaster
cried presently, when all was made ready, and Coloman bade draw
the irons from the brazier—”if thou goest so far, Darling of the

“I will remember,” Aonan said : and then fire and flesh met.

* * * * *

At the next Beltane feast Cathal the Red slept beside Acaill in
the burial-place of the kings at Brugh, and Guthbinn sat in the
high seat, Toran the boaster at his right hand. But Coloman the
Druid stood on the tower-top, reading the faces of the stars ; and
along the road that wound its dusty way to the country of the
Golden Hostages there toiled two dark figures : a woman and a
man. Now the woman was hooded and masked, but under the
grey hood the moonlight found a gleam of ruddy hair ; and the
man she led by the hand and watched over as a mother watches
her son. Yet the woman was Danish Astrild, and the blind man
was Aonan-na-Righ.

MLA citation:

Hopper, Nora. “A Song and a Tale.” The Yellow Book, vol. 3, October 1894, pp. 158-66. Yellow Book Digital Edition, edited by Dennis Denisoff and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2010-2014. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2019.