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CHAPTER VIII

There are good and evil people in this and in every other world, and the person who goes hence will go to the good or the evil that is native to him, while those who return come as surely to their due. The trouble which had fallen on Becuma did not leave her repentant, and the sweet lady began to do wrong as instantly and innocently as a flower begins to grow. It was she who was responsible for the ills which had come on Ireland, and we may wonder why she brought these plagues and droughts to what was now her own country.

Under all wrong-doing lies personal vanity or the feeling that we are endowed and privileged beyond our fellows. It is probable that, however courageously she had accepted fate, Becuma had been sharply stricken in her pride; in the sense of personal strength, aloofness, and identity, in which the mind likens itself to god and will resist every domination but its own. She had been punished, that is, she had submitted to control, and her sense of freedom, of privilege, of very being, was outraged. The mind flinches even from the control of natural law, and how much more from the despotism of its own separated likenesses, for if another can control me that other has usurped me, has become me, and how terribly I seem diminished by the seeming addition!

This sense of separateness is vanity, and is the bed of all wrong-doing. For we are not freedom, we are control, and we must submit to our own function ere we can exercise it. Even unconsciously we accept the rights of others to all that we have, and if we will not share our good with them, it is because we cannot, having none; but we will yet give what we have, although that be evil. To insist on other people sharing in our personal torment is the first step towards insisting that they shall share in our joy, as we shall insist when we get it.

Becuma considered that if she must suffer all else she met should suffer also. She raged, therefore, against Ireland, and in particular she raged against young Art, her husband's son, and she left undone nothing that could afflict Ireland or the prince. She may have felt that she could not make them suffer, and that is a maddening thought to any woman. Or perhaps she had really desired the son instead of the father, and her thwarted desire had perpetuated itself as hate. But it is true that Art regarded his mother's successor with intense dislike, and it is true that she actively returned it.

One day Becuma came on the lawn before the palace, and seeing that Art was at chess with Cromdes she walked to the table on which the match was being played and for some time regarded the game. But the young prince did not take any notice of her while she stood by the board, for he knew that this girl was the enemy of Ireland, and he could not bring himself even to look at her.

Becuma, looking down on his beautiful head, smiled as much in rage as in disdain.

"O son of a king," said she, "I demand a game with you for stakes."

Art then raised his head and stood up courteously, but he did not look at her.

"Whatever the queen demands I will do," said he.

"Am I not your mother also?" she replied mockingly, as she took the seat which the chief magician leaped from.

The game was set then, and her play was so skilful that Art was hard put to counter her moves. But at a point of the game Becuma grew thoughtful, and, as by a lapse of memory, she made a move which gave the victory to her opponent. But she had intended that. She sat then, biting on her lip with her white small teeth and staring angrily at Art.

"What do you demand from me?" she asked.

"I bind you to eat no food in Ireland until you find the wand of Curoi, son of Dare'."

Becuma then put a cloak about her and she went from Tara northward and eastward until she came to the dewy, sparkling Brugh of Angus mac an Og in Ulster, but she was not admitted there. She went thence to the Shi' ruled over by Eogabal, and although this lord would not admit her, his daughter Aine', who was her foster-sister, let her into Faery.

She made inquiries and was informed where the dun of Curoi mac Dare' was, and when she had received this intelligence she set out for Sliev Mis. By what arts she coaxed Curoi to give up his wand it matters not, enough that she was able to return in triumph to Tara. When she handed the wand to Art, she said:

"I claim my game of revenge."

"It is due to you," said Art, and they sat on the lawn before the palace and played.

A hard game that was, and at times each of the combatants sat for an hour staring on the board before the next move was made, and at times they looked from the board and for hours stared on the sky seeking as though in heaven for advice. But Becuma's foster-sister, Aine', came from the Shi', and, unseen by any, she interfered with Art's play, so that, suddenly, when he looked again on the board, his face went pale, for he saw that the game was lost.

"I didn't move that piece," said he sternly.

"Nor did I," Becuma replied, and she called on the onlookers to confirm that statement.

She was smiling to herself secretly, for she had seen what the mortal eyes around could not see.

"I think the game is mine," she insisted softly.

"I think that your friends in Faery have cheated," he replied, "but the game is yours if you are content to win it that way."

"I bind you," said Becuma, "to eat no food in Ireland until you have found Delvcaem, the daughter of Morgan."

"Where do I look for her?" said Art in despair.

"She is in one of the islands of the sea," Becuma replied, "that is all I will tell you," and she looked at him maliciously, joyously, contentedly, for she thought he would never return from that journey, and that Morgan would see to it.



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Map of Ireland