A tale from Mabinogion, a collection of Welsh myths, about the British Isles.
Maxen Wledig the emperor of Rome, was kind, wise, benevolent and handsome. He had a vast empire and all the kings were his vassals. He treated them with respect and often went on comradely hunting trips with them.
On one such expedition, he set out down the Tiber valley. As the day advanced, the emperor decided that they should take some rest. His retinue formed a canopy around him with their shields hung on their spears and he lay down to sleep with his own golden shield as his pillow. The day wore on but the emperor lay deep in slumber. His men began to fidget, the hounds and the horses too began to get restless. All those sounds forced the emperor to wake up and he sat up looking around him with a disappointed air. “Why did you wake me?” he asked his men, who at once replied that they were worried that he was going to miss his supper. He said nothing but looked very stricken as if some great melancholy had descended on him. The hunting party returned home with an unusually quiet emperor. From that day on, a great change came upon him. He did not attend court or discharge his royal duties; neither were there banquets or hunting trips. He withdrew into his chambers and slept most of the time. In his sleep he looked happy but when he awoke, it was as if someone had brought him to the land of the living against his will.
His valet of the chamber was a noble royal and he decided enough was enough and took up the matter with the emperor himself. “My lord, I’m afraid I bring you bad news. Your subjects are deeply vexed with your conduct. They feel that you’re neglecting the affairs of the state, that you have all but withdrawn from public life. Discontent is brewing, which is a dangerous thing. If they no longer believe that you’re the emperor, they’ll be disloyal to you.” The emperor sighed deeply. “Summon all my counsellors and wise men of Rome. I’ll explain to them the reason for my melancholy and perhaps they could find a solution.” So the wise men of Rome came to meet the emperor who sat on his throne looking like he was mourning somebody’s passing. He addressed them thus — “Wise men of Rome, all of Rome must revile me for my unbecoming conduct. But I’m helpless. It’s been over a week since I went out hunting. There I fell asleep and had a vision. Since then I’ve been under its spell and can think of nothing else. Now it’s only when I’m asleep I find comfort for reality seems unbearable to me.”
And the emperor went on to describe his dream. “I dreamt that I lost my companions and went out hunting all on my own. There was a tall mountain which I ascended and across it lay a great wide plain, where many rivers flowed. Following the course of the widest of them all, I reached the sea where I could see a fleet of ships. The grandest, largest of them had planks made of gold on one side and silver on the other. Its sails were made of silk. A bridge made of the bones of a whale stood between it and the shore. I made my way across that bridge and boarded the ship, which then set sail towards a large island. There were valleys, mountains and high cliffs and beyond those mountains lay a great plain where a great river flowed. At the mouth of that river, stood a castle which I entered. It was the grandest of castles I’ve ever set my eyes on, for not even in all of Rome have I seen one such. In the great hall, I came upon two auburn-haired, handsome youths playing a game of chess. Their board was silver and the chess pieces made of gold. The young men were clad in black satin embroidered with gold patterns and had golden circlets on their brows. And then I could see behind a pillar, an old man seated on a throne of ivory which had two golden eagles carved on them. He appeared to be some royal personage for he wore gold ornaments, rings and bracelets. Before him was a gold chess board and he was carving chess figurines with a golden rod and a silver file.
Beside him on another golden throne was the most beautiful maiden I’ve ever set my eyes on. Clad in golden garments and bejewelled, this exquisite, ethereal being at once captured my heart, even if it were in a dream. I knelt before her and greeted her thus, “Hail, Empress of Rome!” She seemed to bend forward from her seat towards me to return my greeting perhaps, but my dream was cut short at that point with the clanging of shields and the restless hounds. Since then, I know no joy except when I go to sleep when I hope to see her in my dreams once again.”
The wise men who heard him out said, “If this is what is troubling you my lord, then let’s send forth messengers throughout your domain to search for this maiden.” And thus the royal messengers, with wands in their hands and sleeves tied to their caps, indicating they were messengers of peace, were sent out to look for the emperor’s dream princess.
To be continued….