The Otherworld Apple Branch
It was just a branch from an apple tree.
It lay there beside him on the ground, shining silver in the sea-washed sunlight.
Bran sat up, yawning. He stretched his arms, flexing his fingers.
What a dream that had been!
The music; sweet, unearthly. It had followed him as he walked alone on the sharp-grassed dunes. Yes, it was that strange and haunting music. It had always been behind him as he walked. He had been unable to see who was making those thrilling sounds, could not discover where it was coming from. It had entranced his senses, like an exotic perfume; made him dizzy, unsteady on his feet.
The air was bright, fresh; and he could hear the summer singing of birds above him. The dream was turning to mist in his head, yet fronds of its perfume still clung about his memory.
That music! It made the birdsong sound raucous and harsh.
Bran yawned again and stood up. What had he been doing lying down anyway? How had he come to fall asleep on the grass here? Hadn’t he been waiting for news? No time to sleep, surely?
A fresh wind blew and he shivered suddenly. His head cleared. It hadn’t been a dream. The music had been true, had been reality, sending him reeling into sleep.
Bran took a step forward and felt something move at his feet. There was an echo of music like distant bells, and a remembrance of subtle perfume. He looked down.
The apple branch from his dream was still there, lying on the ground. But it hadn’t been a dream.
Bran bent down and picked up the branch, turning it over in his hands. It had come from no tree in this world. The bark was silver, but so fine and finished that no smithcraft of his world could have honed it so. Bran gently probed the silver surface with his thumbnail. It yielded to his slow pressure, leaving the crescent of his nail marked on the curve of the twig. Curiously, he scratched at the dent. Flakes of silver bark fell to the ground. The wood was a soft dull silver beneath.
Carefully, he stroked one of the shining leaves. It flexed at his touch. He admired the veining patterning the spearhead shape, and allowed his finger to brush the edge serrations. Such making was beyond all craft of man.
And the blossoms! The branch had been taken from a tree in bloom. Gently, he pinched one of the blushing white flowers. It bruised beneath his fingers. Bran shook his head in disbelief. No crafter in silver, however talented, could have grafted living flowers onto metal.
Bran carefully shook the bright branch, wondering if the petals would fall. The haunting strains of the remembered music danced around him for a moment, and he felt the power of the perfume mazing his mind again, leaving him quiescent and wondering.
“It is a gift,” thought Bran to himself. “A great gift from the Otherworld.” He gently shook the branch again. This time, he thought he heard words sung to the rhythm of the silver leaf music…
“A branch of the apple-tree from Emain
I bring, like those one knows;
Twigs of white silver are on it,
Crystal brows with blossoms…”
Bran walked back to the fort, deep in thought. This gift from the Otherworld might be a two-edged sword. The Ever-Living Ones gave nothing without purpose. Such gifts heralded change, maybe even trouble.
Yet the silver branch he held in his hands was a wonder. It called to him, drew him towards its secrets. He knew that he could not cast it away.
Bran looked up and smiled, taking in the tang of the salt air on the breeze. There was a new spring to his stride. This was no dream.
He was ready, now, for the adventure that lay before him.