Of a time that Cormac, the son of Art, the son of Conn of the hundred battles, that is, the arch-king of Erin, was in Liathdruim, he saw a youth upon the green before his Dun, having in his hand a glittering fairy branch with nine apples of red gold upon it. And this was the manner of of that branch, that when any one shook it wounded men and women with child would be lulled to sleep by the sound of the very sweet fairy music which those apples uttered; and another property that branch had, that is to say, that no one upon earth would bear in mind any want, woe, or weariness of soul when that branch was shaken for him, and whatever evil might have befallen any one he would not remember it at the shaking of the branch.
Cormac said to the youth, "Is that branch thine own?"
"It is indeed mine," said the youth.
"Wouldst thou sell it?" asked Cormac.
"I would sell it," quoth the youth, "for I never had anything that I would not sell."
"What dost thou require for it ?" said Cormac.
"The award of my own mouth," said the youth.
"That shall thou receive from me," said Cormac, "and say on thy award."
"Thy wife, thy son, and thy daughter," answered the youth, "that is to say, Eithne, Cairbre, and Ailbhe."
"Thou shalt get them all," said Cormac.
After that the youth gives up the branch, and Cormac takes it to his own house, to Ailbhe, to Eithne, and to Cairbre.
"That is a fair treasure thou hast," said Ailbhe.
"No wonder," answered Cormac, "for I gave a good price for it."
"What didst thou give for it or in exchange for it?" asked Ailbhe.
"Cairbre, Eithne, and thyself, O Ailbhe."
"That is a pity," quoth Eithne, "[yet it is not true] for we think that there is not upon the face of the earth that treasure for which thou wouldst give us."
"I pledge my word," said Cormac, "that I have given you for this treasure."
Sorrow and heaviness of heart filled them when they knew that to be true, and Eithne said, " It is too hard a bargain [to give] us three for any branch in the world," When Cormac saw that grief and heaviness of heart came upon them, he shakes the branch amongst them; and when they heard the soft sweet music of the branch they thought no longer upon any evil or care that had ever befallen them, and they went forth to meet the youth.
"Here," said Cormac, "thou hast the price thou didst ask for this branch."
"Well hast thou fulfilled thy promise," said the youth, "and received [wishes for] victory and a blessing for the sake of thy truth;" and he left Cormac wishes for life and health, and he and his company went their ways.
Cormac came to his house, and when that news was heard throughout Erin loud cries of weeping and of mourning were made in every quarter of it, and in Liathdruim above all. When Cormac heard the loud cries in Teamhair he shook the branch among them, so that there was no longer any grief or heaviness of heart upon any one.
He continued thus for the space of that year, until Cormac said, "It is a year to-day since my wife, my son, and my daughter were taken from me, and I will follow them by the same path that they took."
Then Cormac went forth to look for the way by which he had seen the youth depart, and a dark magical mist rose about him, and he chanced to come upon a wonderful marvellous plain. That plain was thus: there was there a wondrous very great host of horsemen, and the work at which they were was the covering-in of a house with the feathers of foreign birds, and when they had put covering upon one half of the house they used to go off to seek birds' feathers for the other, and as for that half of the house upon which they had put covering, they used not to find a single feather on it when they returned.
After that Cormac had been a long time gazing at them in this plight he thus spoke: "I will no longer gaze at you, for I perceive that you will be toiling at that from the beginning to the end of the world."
Cormac goes his way, and he was wandering over the plain until he saw a strange foreign-looking youth walking the plain, and his employment was this: he used to drag a large tree out of the ground, and to break it between the bottom and the top, and he used to make a large fire of it, and to go himself to seek another tree, and when he came back again he would not find before him a scrap of the first tree that was not burned and used up.
Cormac was for a great space gazing upon him in that plight, and at last he said, "I indeed will go away from thee henceforth, for were I for ever gazing upon thee thou wouldst be so at the end of all."
Cormac after that begins to walk the plain until he saw three immense wells on the border of the plain, and those wells were thus: they had three heads in them [i.e; one in each]. Cormac drew near to the next well to him, and the head that was in that well was thus: a stream was flowing into its mouth, and two streams were flowing from or out of it. Cormac proceeds to the second well, and the head that was in that well was thus: a stream was flowing into it, and another stream flowing out of it. He proceeds to the third well, and the head that was in that one was thus: three streams were flowing into its mouth, and one stream only flowing out of it.
Great marvel seized Cormac hereupon, and he said, "I will be no longer gazing upon you, for I should never find any man to tell me your histories; and I think that I should, find good sense in your meanings if I understood them." And the time of day was then noon.
The king of Erin goes his ways, and he had not been long walking when he saw a very great field before him, and a house in the middle of the field; and Cormac draws near to the house and entered into it, and the king of Erin greeted [those that were within].
A very tall couple, with clothes of many colours, that were within, answered him, and they bade him stay, "Whoever thou art, O youth, for it is now no time for thee to be travelling on foot."
Cormac the son of Art sits down hereupon, and he was right glad to get hospitality for that night.
"Rise, O man of the house," said the woman, "for there is a fair and comely wanderer by us, and how knowest thou but that he is some honorable noble of the men of the world? and if thou hast one kind of food or meat better than another, let it be brought to me."
The youth upon this arose, and he came back to them in this fashion, that is, with a huge wild boar upon his back and a log in his hand, and he cast down the swine and the log upon the floor, and said: "There ye have meat, and cook it for yourselves."
"How should I do that?" asked Cormac.
"I will teach you that," said the youth; "that is to say, to split this great log which I have and to make four pieces of it, and to put down a quarter of the boar and a quarter of the log under it, and to tell a true story, and the quarter of the boar will be cooked."
"Tell the first story thyself," said Cormac, "for the two should fairly tell a story for the one."
"Thou speakest rightly," quoth the youth, "and methinks that thou hast the eloquence of a prince, and I will tell thee a story to begin with. That swine that I brought," he went on, "I have but seven pigs of them, and I could feed the world with them; for the pig that is killed of them, you have but to put its bones into the sty again and it will be found alive upon the morrow."
That story was true, and the quarter of the pig was cooked.
"Tell thou a story now, O woman of the house," said the youth.
"I will," quoth she, "and do thou put down a quarter of the wild boar, and a quarter of the log under it." So it was done. "I have seven white cows," said she, "and they fill the seven kieves with milk every day, and I give my word that they would give as much milk as would satisfy them to the men of the whole world, were they upon the plain drinking it."
That story was true, and the quarter of the pig was therefore cooked.
"If your stories be true," said Cormac, "thou indeed art Mananan, and she is your wife ; for no one upon the face of the earth possesses those treasures but only Mananan, for it was to Tir Tairrngire he went to seek that woman, and he got those seven cows with her, and he coughed upon them until he learned [the wonderful powers of] their milking, that is to say, that they would fill the seven kieves at one time."
"Full wisely hast thou told us that, youth," said the man of the house, "and tell a story for thy own quarter now."
"I will," said Cormac, "and do thou lay a quarter of the log under the cauldron until I tell thee a true story." So it was done, and Cormac said, "I indeed am upon a search, for it is a year this day that my wife, my son, and my daughter were borne away from me."
"Who took them from thee?" asked the man of the house.
"A youth that came to me," said Cormac, "having in his hand a fairy branch, and I conceived a great wish for it, so that I granted him the award of his own mouth for it, and he exacted from me my word to fulfill that ; now the award that he pronounced against me was, my wife, my son, and my daughter, to wit, Eithne, Cairbre, and Ailbhe."
"If what thou sayest be true," said the man of the house, "thou indeed art Cormac, son of Art, son of Conn of the hundred battles."
"Truly I am," quoth Cormac, "and it is in search of those I am now." That story was true, and the quarter of the pig was cooked.
"Eat thy meal now," said the young man.
"I never ate food," said Cormac, "having only two people in my company."
"Wouldst thou eat it with three others, O Cormac ?" asked the young man.
"If they were dear to me I would," said Cormac.
The man of the house arose, and opened the nearest door of the dwelling, and [went and] brought in the three whom Cormac sought, and then the courage and exultation of Cormac rose.
After that Mananan came to him in his proper form, and said thus : "I it was who bore those three away from thee, and I it was who gave thee that branch, and it was in order to bring thee to this house that I took them from thee, and there is your meat now, and eat food." said Mananan.
"I would do so," said Cormac, "if I could learn the wonders that I have seen to-day."
"Thou shalt learn them," said Mananan, "and I it was that caused thee to go towards them that thou mightest see them. The host of horsemen that appeared to thee covering in the house with the birds' feathers, which, according as they had covered half of the house, used to disappear from it, and they seeking birds' feathers for the rest of it that is a comparison which is applied to poets and to people that seek a fortune, for when they go out all that they leave behind them in their houses is spent, and so they go on for ever.
"The young man whom thou sawest kindling the fire, and who used to break the tree between bottom and top, and who used to find it consumed whilst he was away seeking for another tree, what are represented by that are those who distribute food whilst every one else is being served, they themselves getting it ready, and every one else enjoying the profit thereof.
"The wells which thou sawest in which were the heads, that is a comparison which is applied to the three that are in the world. These are they: that is to say, that head which has one stream flowing into it and one stream flowing out of it is the man who gives [the goods of] the world as he gets [them]. That head which thou sawest with one stream flowing into it and two streams flowing out of it, the meaning of that is the man who gives more than he gets [of the goods] of the world. The head which thou sawest with three streams flowing into its mouth and one stream flowing out of it, that is the man who gets much and gives little, and he is the worst of the three. And now eat thy meal, O Cormac," said Mananan.
After that, Cormac, Cairbre, Ailbhe, and Eithne sat down, and a table-cloth was spread before them.
"That is a full precious thing before thee, Cormac," said Mananan, "for there is no food, however delicate, that shall be demanded of it, but it shall be had without doubt."
"That is well," quoth Cormac.
After that Mananan thrust his hand into his girdle and brought out a goblet, and set it upon his palm.
"It is of the virtues of this cup," said Mananan, "that when a false story is told before it it makes four pieces of it; and when a true story is related before it, it will be whole again."
"Let that be proved," said Cormac.
"It shall be done," said Mananan. "This woman that I took from thee, she has had another husband since I brought her with me."
Then there were four pieces made of the goblet.
"That is a falsehood," said the wife of Mananan, "I say that they have not seen a woman or a man since they left thee but their three selves." That story was true, and the goblet was joined together again.
"Those are very precious things that thou hast, O Mananan," said Cormac.
"They would be good for thee [to have]," answered Mananan, "therefore they shall all three be thine, to wit, the goblet, the branch, and the tablecloth, in consideration of thy walk and of thy journey this day; and eat thy meal now, for were there a host and a multitude by thee thou shouldst find no grudging in this place. And I greet you kindly as many as ye are, for it was I that worked magic upon you so that ye might be with me to-night in friendship."
He eats his meal after that; and that meal was good, for they thought not of any meat but they got it upon the table-cloth, nor of any drink but they got it in the cup, and they returned great thanks for all that to Mananan. Howbeit, when they hath eaten their meal, that is to say, Cormac, Eithne, Ailbhe, and Cairbre, a couch was prepared for them, and they went to slumber and sweet sleep, and where they rose upon the morrow was in the pleasant Liathdruim, with their table-cloth, their cup, and their branch.
Thus far then the wandering of Cormac and how he got his branch.