Prince Bran sat in his royal house. The ramparts were closed around and no more could anyone enter it. There was a gathering of the nobles and notables of the countryside, and Prince Bran feasted them in his hall.
A woman came and stood in the doorway of the hall. None knew how she had come there. She was fairer than any woman that Bran or any of the nobles or notables present had ever seen. Her garb was strange; no woman of that part of the country had ever worn a garb such as this woman had on. In her hand she held a branch; white blossoms were on it, and a fragrance came from them. She held the branch towards where Bran sat on his high seat, and as she did the woman chanted this lay to him:
They who that island near
Mark a stone standing:
From it a music comes,
They who that music hear
In clear tones answer--
Hosts sing in choruses
To its arising.
A folk that through ages long
Know no decaying,
No death nor sickness, nor
A voice raised in wailing.
Such games they play there--
Coracle on wave-ways
With chariot on land contends--
How swift the race is!
Only in Emne is
There such a marvel--
Treason and wounding gone
And sorrow of parting!
Who to that island comes,
And hears in the dawning
The birds, shall know all delight,
All through the ages!
To him, down from a height,
Will come bright-clad women,
Laughing and full of mirth--
Lovely their coming!
Freshness of blossom fills
All the isle's mazes;
Crystals and dragon-stones
Are dropped in its ranges!
But all my song is not
For all who have heard me; p. 154
Only for one it is:
Bran, now bestir you!
Heeding the message brought,
In this, my word,
Seeing the branch I show,
Leave you a crowd.
She finished her lay; she held up the branch that was in her hand so that Bran saw the blossoms upon it and felt the fragrance that came from the blossoms. Then she was seen no more. Nor Bran nor any of the company that were in the hall knew how she had gone from where she had been.
When Prince Bran went abroad the next day he heard music whether he stood still or whether he walked on. A wide space was before him, and in it he saw neither man nor woman. He went upon a mound; he stood there and looked towards the sea. Still he could see no one, neither man nor woman. And yet the music was around him; it quieted all stir within him; he sat down upon the mound, and there he slept.
And in his sleep he saw the woman who had appeared with the branch in her hand. "Arouse thee," she said to him in his dream. "Be no longer unheeding, no longer unready. Launch thy ship upon the sea and sail on until thou dost come to the island I sang to thee about."
So Bran made ready his ship. Thrice nine companions he took with him, and over each of the nine he set one of his foster-brothers. They launched the ship from an inlet in their own territory, and they sailed their ship into the outer sea. For two days and two nights they saw only the waves and the monsters of the deep around them. On the third day they saw a sight that was stranger than the sight of any of the monsters of the deep: they saw a chariot coming across the surface of the sea.
The chariot was driven by a man of resplendent appearance; the horses yoked to it came on as if they were galloping over the surface of a plain. When the chariot came near the ship the man who was in it reined his horses and spoke to those who were sailing across the sea.
And this is what that resplendent charioteer said to Bran and
his companions, "Manannan MacLer, the Lord of the Sea, am I who speak to thee. I go into your land to seek a queen who will bear a son to me; his teacher I will be, and he shall be beloved by the mortal and the immortal folk. He shall have wisdom and be able to disclose the mysteries without fear. He shall be a dragon before the hosts of battle, a wolf in the forest, an antlered stag upon the plain; he shall be a salmon of changing hues in the river, a seal in the sea, a white swan upon the shore; Mongan he shall be named." Then Manannan chanted a lay to Bran, bidding him sail on, and telling him that he would soon come to the islands where the immortal folk were.
Manannan went over the waves in his chariot, and Bran and his companions sailed on. They came to an island from which a marvellous fragrance was blowing. They saw blossoming trees that grew to the edge of the water. They saw women upon the island, and they saw one who was a queen amongst them. Bran knew the queen, for she was the one who had appeared to him in his royal house, she was the one who had borne the branch with the blossoms. The queen cried to him from the island, "Come, Prince Bran, and land, for thou art welcome!"
But Bran and his companions were fearful of making a landing; they would have sailed off. Then the queen threw a ball of thread towards the ship. Bran caught it, and the thread held to the palm of his hand. The queen kept the other end of the thread, and she began to wind it. As she wound it she drew Bran and his ship to the island. Then Bran and his companions landed.
They went into the high house that was upon the island. There were couches there--couches enough for Bran and his companions. They were entertained there by the queen and her women. The mariners took the queen's women for their companions, and the queen was with Bran.
On the island were all the marvels of which the queen had chanted to Bran when she stood in the doorway of his hall. And this island was one of fifty islands, each one of them larger than Ireland. Silver-cloud Plain. Plain of Sports, Bountiful Land, Gentle Land, were some of the names that these islands bore. All who were on them lived without fear of death, without treachery, without pain of parting.
Again the queen chanted a lay of the marvels of that land. She
chanted it to Bran as she stood beside him outside of her own high house:
Look where the yellow-maned
Horses are speeding!
Look where the chariots
Are turning and wheeling!
Silver the chariots
On the plain yonder;
On the plain nigh us,
Chariots of bronze!
And from our grounds,
No sound arises
But is tuned for our ear.
Splendour of colour
Is where spread the hazes;
Drops hair of crystal
From the waves' manes!
And of the many-coloured
We dream when slumber
Takes us away.
'Tis like the cloud
That glistens above us,
A crown of splendour
On beauty's brow!
So it was on the island that was named Emne. But a day came when the first of his foster-brothers said to Bran, "In Ireland the blossoms go off the trees, and even the leaves are blown away. The ravens come with the storms. But I am fain to see again the land to which
such changes come. Thou, Bran, didst bring us here. And if one of us only should desire it, it is right that thou shouldst bring us back to look upon our land again."
Bran knew that it was right that he should do this--that he should let those who desired it look upon their own land again. He spoke to the queen; he told her that he would have to bring the mariners to within sight of the land of Ireland. Bitterly grieved was the queen when he told her this. But she gave him permission to go. "Let no one," she said, "neither you nor any of your companions set foot upon the ground of your own country. And when you have looked upon that changing land, return; come to me here in the Land of the Ever-living." Bran told her that he would sail only to within sight of the land, and that when he and his companions had looked upon it, they would turn their ship back.
The ship that had brought them to the island was still within a creek there. Nothing had changed on the ship; not a tear was in a sail, not a splinter was off an oar. The mariners went into the ship, and they sailed off. When they had sailed a little way an island appeared before them. They drew near to it, and they saw upon it a multitude of folk. All were playing games, all were merry, all were laughing. Bran sent one of his foster-brothers upon the island. They waited for him to return with tidings from the people.
But they waited for him in vain. For no sooner had this foster-brother of Bran's gone upon the shore than he joined in the sports of the multitude; when he turned his face towards his fellows on the ship they saw that he was laughing happily. Not for all the signals they made would he return to them. Then Bran ordered his companions to sail on, leaving this foster-brother of his on the Island of Merriment.
They sailed on; they sailed to where the seas became misty. They sailed on and they saw the mist around Ireland. Then they sailed to that part of the north where Prince Bran's territory was.
And when they were able to look upon that territory, they saw a throng of people near the shore. There was an assembly there of the people of the countryside. The mariners shouted to the people from the ship. "Bran, the prince of this territory, his foster-brothers, and the men who sailed with him are here," they cried.
"We know no one of that name," the spokesman of the people said,
"but in our old stories Prince Bran is spoken of as one who made a voyage overseas."
When Bran heard that said he bade the mariners turn the ship away from the shore. But the foster-brother who had desired so greatly to see the land of Ireland sprang from the ship and dashed through the water to the shore. The people went to where he landed and drew him amongst them. But even as they touched him he fell upon the shingle.
The people drew away from that man. Those who were upon the ship saw him lying there; as they looked upon him it seemed to them that he was like one who had been dead and buried for an age.
Then Bran spoke from the ship to the people upon the shore. He told them all that had befallen him and his companions since they had sailed from that place--a wondrous story it was to those who heard him tell it. And the learned who were amongst them wrote down in Ogham the chants that Bran had heard from the queen of the island. Then he bade the people farewell. He sailed back over the sea with his companions, and from that day to this there has been neither tale nor tidings of Prince Bran.