Brendan’s Final Voyage (A Short Story)

photo of Irish sailboat at sea

A weary sun was sinking westward when I first caught sight of the derelict craft. Its lone sail, a tattered square adorned with a red cross, was flapping haphazardly in the wind, while its lone passenger, a tattered man adorned with a long white beard, was gazing respectfully at Lugh’s work: vibrant pools of red and fuchsia spreading across the sky like lava, anointing the sea and endless dunes with fire.

I knew at once that this must be Brendan, so I scampered down to the shore to welcome him. He regarded me with caution at first, which I could not fault him for given my appearance. But upon greeting him in Latin, a tongue familiar to us both on account of our shared vocation, the straight line of his mouth arced into a smile and his air turned friendly.

Together, we marched through the surf and dragged his currach up onto the beach. Given the craft’s lightweight design—cowhide, tanned in oak bark, stretched over a wicker framework—this wasn’t as arduous of a task as one might expect. (In Brendan’s homeland, I knew, there were men and women who would carry their currachs on their backs.)

As we walked across the warm sand, up toward the banks of waving green beachgrass, Brendan regaled me with the tale of his most recent voyage, which had been, in his words, a revisitation of all of the most beautiful moments in his life.

“It began in Tralee Bay, as all great voyages do. Three thousand of my brothers from Clonfert came to stand on the shores and bid me farewell. Soon after my departure, Lir provided a favorable wind that swept me up to the land of the breathing mountains, where I was once again able to witness the towering crystals that grow from the sea, and to glimpse, from a safe distance, the rats that are as big as cats and the sheep that are as tall as trees. I spent yet another Easter on the back of a leviathan, preparing a meal of roasted fish amidst the talking white birds, which wheeled overhead, and the benevolent mermaids, which swam below. When the days grew longer, I sailed west, eventually landing on a familiar, vine-covered shore, where I spent weeks gorging myself on sweet summer grapes and drinking a wine that is unrivaled both in its taste and in its potency.”

With this, Brendan pulled a goatskin from beneath his spray-soaked robes and handed it to me. I muttered a quick prayer before taking a large, satisfying gulp. Around us, the sand was giving way to dirt, and the seagrass giving way to scrub pines and beach plums. We left the currach next to the trunk of a long-dead oak that had been stripped and smoothed and rendered horizontal by the sea. Brendan’s craft now securely beached, we continued our trek.

Meanwhile, Brendan continued his tale.

“After leaving the vine-covered land, the nature of my journey abruptly changed. Whereas in the spring I had control of the destinations to which I traveled, by midsummer that control had evaporated—or perhaps it had been an illusion all along. By night, Brigid would curse the sky, covering the stars in a coal-black blanket of cloud. By day, Lir would whip up wicked winds that made it impossible for me to hold a steady course. Storms would appear suddenly from blue skies. Whirlpools would send me spinning. Once, in a fit of desperation, I jumped overboard intent on swimming back to my homeland, but a wave promptly swept me right back into my currach. I spent the rest of the summer searching for a harbor, any harbor, that would receive me, and finally, today—today of all days—I have found you, perched here on this thin crescent of land surrounded by peaceful seas.”

His story having reached its natural conclusion, I gestured with my hand for Brendan to turn his gaze upward. Ahead of us, a rectangular standing stone was coming into focus. The stone, which was easily three times the size of Brendan’s currach, loomed over the hillside, its cold, gray surfaces contrasting with the surrounding greenery. Swamp azaleas, with their violet-streaked white blossoms, and highbush blueberries, their branches heavy with fruit, lurked in the monolith’s fading shadow, as was their custom. The gulls and sandpipers kept their distance.

While contemplating the standing stone’s awesome dimensions, Brendan mopped an oily sheen of sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand, and I suddenly felt the urge to do the same. Only I knew that, for me, such an action would be an action taken in vain, as there wasn’t a single rivulet of sweat presently upon my brow. Indeed, despite my recent ascent from seaside to hillside, and despite the end-of-summer heat, I wasn’t the least bit tired or exasperated. I was perfectly calm. Poised. Ready for what was to come next. 

“Who are you?” Brendan finally worked up the courage to ask. 

“Why, I am Patrick, of course,” I replied. 

“Patrick,” he echoed, his voice sounding as if it were coming from a thousand leagues away. “You are Father Patrick? The Father we now call Saint? One of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland?”

I felt his eyes scrutinizing my corporeal figure, which, apart from some caked dirt and streaks of blue woad, was entirely naked.

“I was once,” I said flatly. “Just as you were once Brendan the Bold. The Navigator. The Anchorite. The Voyager. But in this place, such titles no longer apply.”

He nodded slowly, before mumbling, “And where exactly are we?”

“My dear Brendan,” I replied, stifling a chuckle, “I believe you already know the answer to that question.” 

And as the realization washed over him, specks of emerald light began swirling and crackling within the dark blue pools of his irises. The standing stone began to vibrate and hum, while the ground beneath and immediately surrounding it began to swell, as if the hillside were a gargantuan lung taking a long, deep breath.

“I made my journey here some ten years before you were born,” I called out as Brendan’s body writhed and convulsed, tendrils of energy escaping from every orifice. “And I’ve been waiting for you for a very, very long time.”

. . .

After the hillside had exhaled and the green embers in Brendan’s eyes had cooled, the former man of the cloth cast aside his robes and surrendered his body to the turf, collapsing among the grass and the dirt and the spiders and the garter snakes. For the next several minutes, he introduced himself to the land and its creatures, smearing clay and guano into his long white beard and inviting mosquitos and greenheads and no-see-ums to feast upon his flesh. His alabaster skin soon turned to variegated marble, with pinks and reds and other violent colors latching onto his exterior. 

When the transformation was complete, Brendan stood up and took his place beside me beneath the standing stone, which was now noticeably larger than it had been just a few minutes prior.

“So, what do we do now?” he asked.

I steered my gaze away from the monolith and out toward the tumbling sea. The final spark of the sunset, the last glimmer of summer, was dipping below the horizon.

“Now, we wait for the others.”

photo of a stone monolith in a field

Thanks for reading!

If you enjoyed the story above, I have a hunch you’ll also enjoy Neon Druid, an anthology of Celtic myth-inspired short stories I compiled and edited (under my pseudonym I. E. Kneverday).

Irish Myths is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn a small affiliate commission.

Neon Druid: An Anthology of Urban Celtic Fantasy

by multiple authors

A collection of 17 short stories, NEON DRUID mixes urban fantasy and Celtic mythology, creating a universe where lecherous leprechauns and debaucherous druids inhabit the local pubs, and where shapeshifting water spirits from Scotland and sword-wielding warriors from Ireland lurk in the alleyways. Stories range from tales of supernatural horror, to street-level fantasy adventures, to farcical, whiskey-drenched fairytales. Learn more…

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