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CHAPTER IV

It is part of the education of a prince to be a good chess player, and to continually exercise his mind in view of the judgements that he will be called upon to give and the knotty, tortuous, and perplexing matters which will obscure the issues which he must judge. Art, the son of Conn, was sitting at chess with Cromdes, his father's magician.

"Be very careful about the move you are going to make," said Cromdes.

"CAN I be careful?" Art inquired. "Is the move that you are thinking of in my power?"

"It is not," the other admitted.

"Then I need not be more careful than usual," Art replied, and he made his move.

"It is a move of banishment," said Cromdes.

"As I will not banish myself, I suppose my father will do it, but I do not know why he should."

"Your father will not banish you."

"Who then?" "Your mother."

"My mother is dead."

"You have a new one," said the magician.

"Here is news," said Art. "I think I shall not love my new mother."

"You will yet love her better than she loves you," said Cromdes, meaning thereby that they would hate each other.

While they spoke the king and Becuma entered the palace.

"I had better go to greet my father," said the young man.

"You had better wait until he sends for you," his companion advised, and they returned to their game.

In due time a messenger came from the king directing Art to leave Tara instantly, and to leave Ireland for one full year.

He left Tara that night, and for the space of a year he was not seen again in Ireland. But during that period things did not go well with the king nor with Ireland. Every year before that time three crops of corn used to be lifted off the land, but during Art's absence there was no corn in Ireland and there was no milk. The whole land went hungry.

Lean people were in every house, lean cattle in every field; the bushes did not swing out their timely berries or seasonable nuts; the bees went abroad as busily as ever, but each night they returned languidly, with empty pouches, and there was no honey in their hives when the honey season came. People began to look at each other questioningly, meaningly, and dark remarks passed between them, for they knew that a bad harvest means, somehow, a bad king, and, although this belief can be combated, it is too firmly rooted in wisdom to be dismissed.

The poets and magicians met to consider why this disaster should have befallen the country and by their arts they discovered the truth about the king's wife, and that she was Becuma of the White Skin, and they discovered also the cause of her banishment from the Many-Coloured Land that is beyond the sea, which is beyond even the grave.

They told the truth to the king, but he could not bear to be parted from that slender-handed, gold-haired, thin-lipped, blithe enchantress, and he required them to discover some means whereby he might retain his wife and his crown. There was a way and the magicians told him of it.

"If the son of a sinless couple can be found and if his blood be mixed with the soll of Tara the blight and ruin will depart from Ireland," said the magicians.

"If there is such a boy I will find him," cried the Hundred Fighter.

At the end of a year Art returned to Tara. His father delivered to him the sceptre of Ireland, and he set out on a journey to find the son of a sinless couple such as he had been told of.



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Map of Ireland