Gods and Fighting Men

His Call to Bran

   And there were some that went to Manannan's country beyond the sea, and that gave an account of it afterwards.
   One time Bran, son of Febal, was out by himself near his dun, and he heard music behind him. And it kept always after him, and at last he fell asleep with the sweetness of the sound. And when he awoke from his sleep be saw beside him a branch of silver, and it having white blossoms, and the whiteness of the silver was the same as the whiteness of the blossoms.
   And he brought the branch in his hand into the royal house, and when all his people were with him they saw a woman with strange clothing standing in the house.
   And she began to make a song for Bran, and all the people were looking at her and listening to her, and it is what she said:
   "I bring a branch of the apple-tree from Emhain, from the far island around which are the shining horses of the Son of Lir. A delight of the eyes is the plain where the hosts hold their games; curragh racing against chariot in the White Silver Plain to the south.
   "There are feet of white bronze under it, shining through life and time; a comely level land through the length of the world's age, and many blossoms falling on it.
   "There is an old tree there with blossoms, and birds calling from among them; every colour is shining there, delight is common, and music, in the Gentle-Voiced Plain, in the Silver Cloud Plain to the south.
   "Keening is not used, or treachery, in the tilled familiar land; there is nothing hard or rough, but sweet music striking on the ear. "To be without grief, without sorrow, without death, without any sickness, without weakness; that is the sign of Emhain; it is not common wonder that is.
   "There is nothing to liken its mists to, the sea washes the wave against the land, brightness falls from its hair.
   "There are riches, there are treasures of every colour in the Gentle Land, the Bountiful Land. Sweet music to be listening to; the best of wine to drink.
   "Golden chariots in the Plain of the Sea, rising up to the sun with the tide; silver chariots and bronze chariots on the Plain of Sports.
   "Gold-yellow horses on the strand, and crimson horses, and others with wool on their backs, blue like the colour of the sky.
   "It is a day of lasting weather, silver is dropping on the land; a pure white cliff on the edge of the sea, getting its warmth from the sun.
   "The host race over the Plain of Sports; it is beautiful and not weak their game is; death or the ebbing of the tide will not come to them in the Many-Coloured Land.
   "There will come at sunrise a fair man, lighting up the level lands; he rides upon the plain that is beaten by the waves, he stirs the sea till it is like blood.
   "An army will come over the clear sea, rowing to the stone that is in sight, that a hundred sounds of music come from.
   "It sings a song to the army; it is not sad through the length of time; it increases music with hundreds singing together; they do not look for death or the ebb-tide.
   "There are thee times fifty far islands in the ocean to the west of us, and every one of them twice or three times more than Ireland.
   "It is is not to all of you I am speaking, though I have made all these wonders known. Let Bran listen from the crowd of the world to all the wisdom that has been told him.
   "Do not fall upon a bed of sloth; do not be overcome by drunkenness; set out on your voyage over the clear sea, and you may chance to come to the Land of Women."
   With that the woman went from them, and they did not know where she went. And she brought away her branch with her, for it leaped into her hand from Bran's hand, and he had not the strength to hold it.
   Then on the morrow Bran set out upon the sea, and three companies of nine along with him; and one of his foster-brothers and comrades was set over each company of nine.
   And when they had been rowing for two days and two nights, they saw a man coming towards them in a chariot, over the sea. And the man made himself known to them, and he said that he was Manannan, son of Lir.
   And then Manannan spoke to him in a song, and it is what he said:
   "It is what Bran thinks, he is going in his curragh over the wonderful, beautiful clear sea; but tome, from far off in my chariot, it is a flowery plain he is riding on.
   "What is a clear sea to the good boat Bran is in, is a happy plain with many flowers to me in my two-wheeled chariot.
   "It is what Bran sees, many waves beating across the clear sea; it is what I myself see, red flowers without any fault.
   "The sea-horses are bright in summer-time, as far as Bran's eyes can reach; there is a wood of beautiful acorns under the head of your little boat.
   "A wood with blossom and with fruit, that has the smell of wine; a wood without fault, without withering, with leaves of the colour of gold.
   "Let Bran row on steadily, it is not far to the Land of Women; before the setting of the sun you will reach Emhain, of many-coloured hospitality."
   With that Bran went from him; and after a while he saw an island, and he rowed around it, and there was a crowd on it, wondering at them, and laughing; and they were all looking at Bran and at his people, but they would not stop to talk with them, but went on giving out gusts of laughter. Bran put one of his men on the island then, but be joined with the others, and began to stare the same way as the men of the island. And Bran went on rowing round about the island; and whenever they went past his own man, his comrades would speak to him, but he would not answer them, but would only stare and wonder at them. So they went away and left him on that island that is called the Island of Joy.
   It was not long after that they reached to the Land of Women. And they saw the chief one of the women at the landing-place, and it is what she said: "Come hither to land, Bran, son of Febal, it is welcome your coming to us." But Bran did not dare to go on shore. Then the woman threw a ball of thread straight to him, and he caught it in his hand, and it held fast to his palm, and the woman kept the thread in her own hand, and she pulled the curragh to the landing-place.
   On that they went into a grand house, where there was a bed for every couple, three times nine beds. And the food that was put on every dish never came to an end, and they had every sort of food and of drink they wished for.
   And it seemed to them they were only a year there when the desire of home took hold on one of them, Nechtan, son of Collbrain, and his kinsmen were begging and praying Bran to go back with him to Ireland. The woman said there would be repentance on them if they went; but in spite of that they set out in the end. And the woman said to them not to touch the land when they would come to Ireland, and she bade them to visit and to bring with them the man they left in the Island of Joy.
   So they went on towards Ireland till they came to a place called Srub Bruin. And there were people on the strand that asked them who they were that were coming over the sea. And Bran said: "I am Bran, son of Febal." But the people said: "We know of no such man, though the voyage of Bran is in our very old stories."
   Then Nechtan, son of Collbrain, made a leap out of the curragh, and no sooner did he touch the shore of Ireland than he was a heap of ashes, the same as if he had been in the earth through hundreds of years.
   And then Bran told the whole story of his wanderings to the people, from the beginning. And after that he bade them farewell, and his wanderings from that time are not known.


Deidre of the Sorrows, by John Duncan