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The Voyage of Bran
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The Voyage of Bran





A comb of silver was held in Etain's hand, and the comb was adorned with gold. Beside her was a basin of silver whereon four birds had been wrought, and there were little gems on the rim of the basin. A mantle of bright purple was about her, and beneath it was another mantle ornamented with silver fringes; the outer mantle was clasped over her bosom with a golden brooch. A tunic she wore with a long hood attached to it; it was stiff and glossy with green silk beneath red embroidery of gold, and it was clasped over her breasts with marvellously wrought clasps of silver and gold, so that men saw the bright gold and the green silk flashing against the sun. Her hair was in two tresses, and each golden tress had been plaited into four strands, and at the end of each strand was a little ball of gold. And the maiden was undoing her hair that she might wash it and her two arms were out through the armholes of her smock. Each of her arms was as white as the snow of a single night, and each of her cheeks was as rosy as the foxglove. Even and small were the teeth in her head, and they shone like pearls. Her eyes were as blue as a hyacinth, her lips delicate and crimson; very high, soft, and white were her shoulders. Tender, polished, and white were her wrists; her fingers long and of great whiteness; her nails were beautiful and pink. White as snow, or the foam of a wave, was her neck; long was it, slender, and as soft as silk. Smooth and white were her thighs; her knees were round and firm and white; her ankles were as straight As the rule of a carpenter. Her feet were slim and as white as the ocean's foam; evenly set were her eyes; her eyebrows were of bluish black, such as you see upon the shell of a beetle. With her fifty

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maidens she had gone to a woodland pool to wash her hair, and there the King of Ireland saw her, and so she appeared to him and his followers. As they looked upon her they knew that there was never a maid fairer than she, or more worthy of love. And it seemed to some who were with the king that Etain must be one of those who have come from the Fairy Mounds.

Eochaid, the King of Ireland, wooed Etain, the daughter of an Ulster prince, and married her, and brought her as his queen to Tara. Not long were they there when strange events began to befall. One morning early, Eochaid, as he went upon the high ground of Tara, saw a young warrior at his side. The tunic that the warrior wore was purple in colour, his hair was of golden yellow, and of such length that it reached to the edge of his shoulders. His eyes were lustrous and grey; in one hand he held a pointed spear, in the other a shield with a white central boss, and with gems of gold upon it. The stranger went from his sight; the king held his peace about what he had seen, for he knew that he would be told that no such warrior had been in Tara on the night before, and that the gate through which such a one might have entered had not yet been thrown open. Then Eochaid walked alone upon the high place and looked out upon the plain of Breg; beautiful was the colour of that plain, and there was upon it excellent blossom glowing with all the hues that are known.

And after that the king's brother, Ailill, fell into a sickness, and no leech could cure his sickness. The king had to go from Tara to make the circuit of Ireland. He begged his queen to care for his brother. He made her promise that she would do everything to bring about Ailill's cure, and that, if he died, she would give him a burial befitting a prince even to putting a stone inscribed in Ogham letters above his grave. Etain promised to do all this, and when the king left Tara she went to visit Ailill.

She asked the sick youth what might be done for him. He told her that he was pining away for love of her, and that if she did not yield to his desire he would assuredly die. Etain said to him at last, "You shall not die if my granting your desire will keep you in life." Then she promised Ailill that she would keep tryst with him in a house outside Tara the next day.

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Etain went to that house. He came to where she was; but he did not take her hand. He stood before her and spoke reproachfully to her. "You are one who has forgotten," he said. 'Then he went away. The, next day, too, Etain waited for him in the trysting-house. He came and he stood before her. "You are one who has forgotten," he said again, and without saying more to her he went away. The third time she waited for him. When he stood before her this time he chanted a lay. "O fair-haired woman, will you come with me?" he chanted.

O fair-haired woman, will you come with me to the marvellous land, full of music, where the hair is primrose-yellow and the body white as snow?
There none speak of "mine" or "thine"--white are the teeth and black the brows; eyes flash with many-coloured lights, and the hue of the foxglove is on every cheek.
Pleasant to the eye are the plains of Eirinn, but they are a desert to the Great Plain.
Heady is the ale of Eirinn, but the ale of the Great. Plain is headier.
Smooth and sweet are the streams that flow through it; mead and wine abound of every kind. It is one of the wonders of the land that youth does not change into age.
We see around us on every side, yet no man seeth us. O lady, if thou wilt come to my strong people, the purest of gold shall be on thy head--thy meat shall be swine's flesh unsalted, new milk and mead thou shalt drink with me there, O fair-haired woman.

Then he said, "I am not Ailill. Him I cast into a deep sleep; him I filled with a longing for you--a longing that will pass from him. But you, you know me not, you have forgotten. I am Midir the Proud, a king amongst the Immortals. In the land of the Immortals I loved you and you loved me. Then Fuamnach, my queen, jealous of you, caused her Druid to bespell you, changing you into a fly. She blew a tempest upon you and drove you through the world. At last you were driven into Oengus's palace--Oengus the God of Love, my foster. son. And Oengus made for you a bower of glass and set within it for your sustenance and delight a garden of honey-laden flowers. You were lost to me, for I did not know that Oengus guarded you. But Fuamnach found it out. And when you were outside the bower of glass she blew a tempest again upon you and you were driven through the air. Into the house of Etar, your mortal father, you went:

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his wife had a drinking-cup in her hand. You went into the cup, and you were swallowed with the draught that was in the cup. Thereafter you were born as the daughter of Etar. All that was before this mortal birth of yours you have forgotten. I have remembered, and I claim you as the bride who was mine in the land of the Immortals."

Etain said, "I am the wife of the King of Ireland; I know nought of your country, and to me you are a nameless man." "If Eochaid gives you to me, will you come with me?" "If he bids me go to you and let your arms be put around me, I will go with you." When Etain said this to him, he who had the appearance of Ailill went from her. She hastened to where Ailill lay; she found him awakening from a deep sleep, and when she told him of the strange things that had been made known to her, all longing that he had had for her left Ailill.

Eochaid returned. Now one morning early when he ascended the height of Tara to behold the plain of Breg, he saw the warrior whom he had seen there before. And the king knew that he had not been within Tara on the night before, and that the gate through which he might have entered had not yet been thrown open. The stranger spoke to the king and said that he had come to play a game of chess with him. That evening they played a difficult game. Eochaid won and claimed much treasure from the stranger. The treasure was brought to him. He played again, and won and demanded that a great work be accomplished for him. That work was accomplished. They played again; the stranger won, and when the king asked him what he desired in payment, the stranger said, "That I may hold Etain in my arms and obtain a kiss from her." Eochaid was silent for a while upon hearing this demand. He might not deny it, for he had taken from the stranger the forfeits that had become due to him. "In a month," he said, "come into this place and the forfeit shall be granted you." And when the king said this the stranger went from Tara.

Then Eochaid caused Tara to be surrounded by a great host of armed men. None who were not known to the king's household might enter the palace. When a month had gone by Eochaid and his nobles sat at a feast in the hall. Etain was there and she handed around the wine-cup. Suddenly the one whom all now knew for Midir the proud

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appeared amongst them, and glorious was his appearance and his raiment. "I claim the forfeit from you, King of Ireland," he said. Then Eochaid bowed his head, and bade Etain go to him and permit that he put his arms around her. She went to him; he put his right arm around her, and as he did this she remembered all that love that had been between them in the Land of the Immortals. They rose in the air; they went through the roof-window of the palace, and when Eochaid and the company who were with him hurried out of the hall they saw two swans flying towards Slievenamon, where was Midir the Proud's fairy palace.

Next: The Death of Conaire Mór, the King of Ireland, Part I