UT THE LADY stared as royally on the High King as the High King did on her, and, whatever it was he saw in those lovely eyes, the king did not insist.
He drew Crimthann apart, for he withheld no instruction from that lad.
"My heart," he said, "we must always try to act wisely, and we should only insist on receiving answers to questions in which we are personally concerned."
Crimthann imbibed all the justice of that remark.
"Thus I do not really require to know this lady's name, nor do I care from what direction she comes."
"You do not?" Crimthann asked.
"No, but what I do wish to know is, Will she marry me?"
"By my hand that is a notable question," his companion stammered.
"It is a question that must be answered," the king cried triumphantly. "But," he continued, "to learn what woman she is, or where she comes from, might bring us torment as well as information. Who knows in what adventures the past has engaged her!"
And he stared for a profound moment on disturbing, sinister horizons, and Crimthann meditated there with him."
"The past is hers," he concluded, "but the future is ours, and we shall only demand that which is pertinent to the future."
He returned to the lady.
"We wish you to be our wife," he said. And he gazed on her benevolently and firmly and carefully when he said that, so that her regard could not stray otherwhere. Yet, even as he looked, a tear did well into those lovely eyes, and behind her brow a thought moved of the beautiful boy who was looking at her from the king's side.
But when the High King of Ireland asks us to marry him we do not refuse, for it is not a thing that we shall be asked to do every day in the week, and there is no woman in the world but would love to rule it in Tara.
No second tear crept on the lady's lashes, and, with her hand in the king's hand, they paced together towards the palace, while behind them, in melancholy mood, Crimthann mac Ae led the horses and the chariot.
They were married in a haste which equalled the king's desire; and as he did not again ask her name, and as she did not volunteer to give it, and as she brought no dowry to her husband and received none from him, she was called Becfola, the Dowerless.
Time passed, and the king's happiness was as great as his expectation of it had promised. But on the part of Becfola no similar tidings can be given.
There are those whose happiness lies in ambition and station, and to such a one the fact of being queen to the High King of Ireland is a satisfaction at which desire is sated. But the mind of Becfola was not of this temperate quality, and, lacking Crimthann, it seemed to her that she possessed nothing.
For to her mind he was the sunlight in the sun, the brightness in the moonbeam; he was the savour in fruit and the taste in honey; and when she looked from Crimthann to the king she could not but consider that the right man was in the wrong place. She thought that crowned only with his curls Crlmthann mac Ae was more nobly diademed than are the masters of the world, and she told him so.
His terror on hearing this unexpected news was so great that he meditated immediate flight from Tara; but when a thing has been uttered once it is easier said the second time and on the third repetition it is patiently listened to.
After no great delay Crimthann mac Ae agreed and arranged that he and Becfola should fly from Tara, and it was part of their understanding that they should live happily ever after.
One morning, when not even a bird was astir, the king felt that his dear companion was rising. He looked with one eye at the light that stole greyly through the window, and recognised that it could not in justice be called light.
"There is not even a bird up," he murmured.
And then to Becfola.
"What is the early rising for, dear heart?"
"An engagement I have," she replied.
"This is not a time for engagements," said the calm monarch.
"Let it be so," she replied, and she dressed rapidly.
"And what is the engagement?" he pursued.
"Raiment that I left at a certain place and must have. Eight silken smocks embroidered with gold, eight precious brooches of beaten gold, three diadems of pure gold."
"At this hour," said the patient king, "the bed is better than the road."
"Let it be so," said she.
"And moreover," he continued, "a Sunday journey brings bad luck."
"Let the luck come that will come," she answered.
"To keep a cat from cream or a woman from her gear is not work for a king," said the monarch severely.
The Ard-Ri' could look on all things with composure, and regard all beings with a tranquil eye; but it should be known that there was one deed entirely hateful to him, and he would punish its commission with the very last rigour--this was, a transgression of the Sunday. During six days of the week all that could happen might happen, so far as Dermod was concerned, but on the seventh day nothing should happen at all if the High King could restrain it. Had it been possible he would have tethered the birds to their own green branches on that day, and forbidden the clouds to pack the upper world with stir and colour. These the king permitted, with a tight lip, perhaps, but all else that came under his hand felt his control.
It was hls custom when he arose on the morn of Sunday to climb to the most elevated point of Tara, and gaze thence on every side, so that he might see if any fairies or people of the Shi' were disporting themselves in his lordship; for he absolutely prohibited the usage of the earth to these beings on the Sunday, and woe's worth was it for the sweet being he discovered breaking his law.
We do not know what ill he could do to the fairies, but during Dermod's reign the world said its prayers on Sunday and the Shi' folk stayed in their hills.
It may be imagined, therefore, with what wrath he saw his wife's preparations for her journey, but, although a king can do everything, what can a husband do . . .? He rearranged himself for slumber.
"I am no party to this untimely journey," he said angrily.
"Let it be so," said Becfola.