Would Be King

Entry by: Paul McDermott

21st September 2022
Would Be King

“I would a tale Unfold …”
A simple sentence, softly spoken. Yet, everyone in the room heard each word as if it were murmured personally by a trusted voice breathing close into their ear, to them and to them alone. The wall lamps in their polished brass sconces flickered , then dimmed, trimmed by an unseen hand: the flames dancing in the log fire stretched taller for a moment, as if making compensation.
All conversation died. Each held his or her breath. An expectant silence rippled across the room as the Seanch’ai settled more comfortably in his chair.

“There was once a King” His hood was folded back, revealing his pure silver locks. His face was still in shadow: he leant heavily on his staff, the polished bole of a rowan tree.
“His name was Cormac Rú, wise and brave, with hair the flame-red colour of the sun in a spring dawn. He frequently wintered in his castle close by, on Trinity Isle, Lough Key.”
“He had a daughter as fair as the day is long, by name Una Bhàn, which means ‘the One with Pure White hair’. Many princes and noble suitors courted her, but Cormac deemed none of them worthy.”
“Of these, one was the son of a close neighbour, Tomás Laidír Costello. Of all her suitors, he was the only one for whom Una Bhàn had feelings, and his love for her was sincere. For a short, blesséd while they succeeded in finding a few stolen moments together, until Cormac discovered them and immediately banned Tomás from his demesne.”
“Before riding away, Tomás declared that unless Cormac sent word of a change of heart before he reached the boundary between their estates, he would never return. Una Bhàn was distraught, and begged her father to relent. On seeing her so upset, Cormac sent word: but Tomás had crossed the boundary, and determined that as a man of Honour he could not break his Word.”
“Cormac had Una Bhàn confined to a room high in the Castle on Trinity Isle. She wept continually, falling into a melancholy. When Tomás heard of this he rode each night to Lough Key, swimming to the Island to profess his love.”
“It is said, Una Bhàn died of a broken heart. Tomás Laidír caught a fever from his nightly swims. On his deathbed he begged Cormac Rú to allow his body to be buried alongside Una Bhàn, on Trinity Isle. Cormac consented, and to this day you may still see two roses grow, one from each side of the Castle door, entwining overhead.”

“Tomás Laidír: King of a Princess’ Heart”