Yochay was the High King of Ireland in the days long, long ago. He pleased his people in all things save one – he did not take a wife. This was not because he did not desire a queen, but because he longed for a maid more beautiful than any in the world. Yet soon he grew lonely and restless, no longer finding delight in council, Court, or chase. Nothing would please him but that he must go in quest of a queen.
While on his travels, the Spirit of Dreams came to him and warned Yochay that a mortal must pay a great price if he gained his heart’s desire. But Yochay would not be deterred. And so it was, one stormy night, while taking shelter in a peasant’s lonely hut on the shores of the great sea, Yochay saw Etain.
Her eyes were deep as a forest pool in moonlight, and wistful, for she did not understand how she’d come to be where she was. Her lips were red as the sunset; and in her dark braided hair were entwined the pale berries of the mystic mistletoe. This should have warned Yochay, for none save the high gods might wear the sacred berry, but he saw only the fear in her eyes and the promise of love on her lips. Here was his queen – for Etain was truly more beautiful than any other in the world.
She agreed to return with him to his kingdom, and they lived for the space of time that mortals call a year. In that year, Yochay’s happiness was complete, yet his queen seemed unable to shake the melancholy that followed her like a shadow.
Then, one day, a stranger appeared, asking if he might sing a song to Yochay’s fair queen. Hoping that that would gladden her heart and brighten her day, Yochay agreed.
Laying aside her courtly robes of gold, with the mystic mistletoe twined in her long dark hair, Etain came to hear the stranger’s song. It was haunting and beautiful, like nothing that had been heard before, and Yochay sat, hardly able to believe his eyes. As he’d hoped, the glad light awoke in Etain’s face. But his delight swiftly became shock; unable to move or speak, he could do nothing to stop his queen and the singer.
Etain moved with outstretched hands toward the kingly singer. As he sang, the stranger drew backward out of the great hall toward the setting sun, and Etain followed with parted lips and glad eyes. For this was no ordinary singer, this was Midir, King of the Land of Youth, the Land of Heart’s Desire, come to claim his queen, Etain. He had missed her but an hour.
Yochay sat on his lonely throne as the song died away. To him, it sounded as mocking laughter, for he had lost his heart’s desire. Although, in truth, not quite lost, for Etain had left him their daughter, also named Etain. Her eyes were deep as a forest pool. Her lips were red as the sunset. Her hair was long and dark. But never did she braid in it the pale berries of the mystic mistletoe.