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Bran

by Micha F. Lindemans
A legendary Breton hero of the tenth century. He lived at Kerlouan, near the coast of Léon, which was at the time frequently raided by the Norsemen. The Bretons, led by their chief Evan the Great, marched against them and succeeded in repelling them. During their retreat, the Norsemen carried off several prisoners, among which Bran who was wounded in the battle. When their ship reached the land of the Norsemen he was imprisoned in a tower.

Bran begged his jailers to allow him to send a letter to his mother. He was given permission to do so and a messenger was found. He gave the messenger his golden ring to authenticate the message. In his message Bran asked his mother is she was willing to ransom him; if she was, the returning ship should hoist a white sail, but if she refused, a black sail. The messenger arrived safely at the warrior's home and handed over the missive to Bran's mother. The lady, after perusing the letter, immediately ordered a ship to set forth, displaying a white sail.

One morning, Bran called down from his tower and asked the sentinel if he saw a ship approaching. The answer was no. Bran asked the same question in the afternoon and again the answer was no. When the shadows of the evening gathered he asked once more, but this time the perfidious sentinel replied with a lie. He said that a ship was indeed approaching. Bran asked if the ship's sail was black or white. The sentinel, in spirit of petty spite, answered that the ship showed a black sail, and upon hearing those words, Bran spoke no more.

Later that night, his mother's ship arrived at the town where he had been imprisoned and was greeted by the sounding of bells. When she asked the reason why she was told that a noble prisoner locked in the tower had died that very night. With bent head she went to the tower and told the guard that she came to see her son. When she was led into his room she threw herself upon the corpse of her son and breathed her last breath.

Legend has it that each night birds gather at an ancient oak near the battlefield of Kerlouan. Among these birds are an old grey rook and a young black crow. The crow is of course Bran in disguise, since his name means "crow" in the Breton language. The rook is his mother. In ancient Breton traditions, the dead return to earth in the form of birds.

The Breton village Kervran ("Bran's village") is named after him.

Several elements of his story parallel those of the Arthurian hero Tristram. The story of Bran was much expanded in the free rendererings of traditional Breton literature by Hersart de la Villemarqué (1839).


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