Last week Deirdre entertained an unexpected visitor with an audacious request…
“W-what?” I stammered.
The steward leaned forward, smiling. “Yes, Deirdre, the king is in love with you. Will you come back with me?”
“But I don’t understand.” I stuttered, “How can he be in love with me? How does he know who I am?”
“Your beauty alone makes you famous, dear lady,” said the steward gallantly. “I don’t know how he knows who you are, but he does. So he sent me to you on his behalf.”
I was recovering my wits by this time. I suppose he thinks that because it’s the king I should be flattered. But of course I’m not going!
I opened my mouth to give him a polite but firm denial – and then froze. It’s the king. The most powerful man in Scotland, and the man who employs my husband and brothers-in-law.
Besides, I was alone here. How long would I have a choice for?
I gave a gracious smile, “Tell your master I am honoured. But there are things to consider. My children, for example. How long would I be away from them?”
So I sent the steward away and waited in agony for Naoise to come home.
He arrived just before sunset, with a brace of hares slung over his shoulder. He took one look at my face and knew something was up.
“What’s happened, Deirdre?” he cried. “The children! Are they OK?”
“They are.” I nodded miserably. “Its my dream.”
Naoise dumped his hares in a corner and came to sit beside me, pulling me into his arms. I told him the whole story, and his face darkened in anger. “Some king! Who is he to think he can steal someone else’s wife!” he yelled to the darkness.
“Yes, but we mustn’t think about that.” I urged him, “Let’s look at it the realistic way. If I continue to refuse him, you could very easily find yourselves killed because of me. And any time you leave me alone here, you could come back and find me kidnapped.”
Naoise’s face was still.
“We have to leave, Naoise.”
So we left, as unobtrusively as we had come, early one morning at the beginning of spring. We were fugitives again, running from a greedy king.
We made our way to Loch Etive, on the west coast of Scotland, which was in the territory of the King of the Isles. It was a good place, sheltered from storms with good, fertile land, and only a few days sailing away from Skye, where Naoise had close friends. We planned a visit to them that summer; Naoise had great fun recounting all the exploits of his youth to me, while Ainlle and Ardan caught up with their old comrades and sweethearts.
So the year turned once again. The storms came, and the leaves drifted to the ground. Snow fell, and we huddled around the fire in our hut, but the children thrived, bringing joy to us each day.
Then the wind blew from the south, from the direction of Ireland, signalling the beginning of spring and the start of the sailing season.