The Swan Maiden
Every civilization has its Helen of Troy legend, and for Ireland during the Iron Age, that would be the story of Deirdre: a woman of pure beauty and light, but whose very existence is prophesied to be the ruin of the kingdom. Conor, the king of the Ulaid, defies the prophecy: instead of banishing Deirdre at birth, he plots that she will become his priestess-wife, and thus sends her to be raised in the forest by a druid teacher. Conor is not a warrior king; rather, he has ruled for thirty years by his shrewd wits. His downfall is his lust for Deirdre, who, when we first encounter her at eighteen, wants nothing to do with him, preferring her life among the animals, plants, and spirits of the forest.
To gain her freedom, Deirdre enlists the assistance of the three sons of Usnech — Naisi, Ardan, and Ainnle — brave, proud warriors who have antagonized the king by hunting on his land. All four of them are now relentlessly hunted by Conor and his spies, and they flee Erin for Alba (Scotland). Naisi and Deirdre’s attraction builds into a deep love, which causes a rift between the brothers. Life in Alba isn’t easy, and the brothers are drawn into battles between warring factions with Deirdre unwittingly becoming an object of desire of another unscrupulous king.
The journey through the forests, mountains, and seas is both poetic and heartrending. Watson weaves the story of Deirdre’s deepening understanding of her druid side and her powers to bridge the human and spirit worlds together with history and a powerful love story in this page-turning retelling of one of the Ulster Cycle tales.