Bran and Branwen

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    david poole

      The tale that follows is set within the Bedd Branwen period of the British Bronze Age. Britain or more specifically in this story Wales, was at that time known as the Island of the Mighty, while Ireland was known as the Island of the Fair. As we arrive we find Bendegeid Vran or Bran, King of Britain, a member of a race of giants, in Harlech sitting on a rock overlooking the sea, surrounded by courtiers and warriors. It was an important day. A peace treaty had been made between Britain and Ireland. To help to ensure that the alliance was maintained, it had been decided that Branwen, the daughter of LLyr and Penardun, would be married to Matholwch, the Irish king. There were some doubts about whether this would work as Branwen herself appeared to be somewhat uncertain, indeed she had absented herself from many of the talks. It was not a good sign.

      “My lord, ships are approaching us!”, said one of the men, pointing outwards towards the horizon. Bran turned towards the sea to see what was happening. He saw a fleet of vessels approaching over the water, their sails and banners brightly coloured and quite distinct. The men around him turned likewise, there was some talk and everyone began to move closer together.

      “This must be the Irish fleet which we were expecting”, said Bran. “Their markings certainly indicate as much. The Irish King must be among them. I believe that that ship is his.” Bran indicated one ship which seemed to be reflecting light towards them. It was somewhat far away, but it could just be seen that one of the figures upon it was clothed in red, brighter than the clothing of the surrounding men.

      Manawydan, Bran’s brother and advisor, had also seen this. He was standing slightly further up the hill where he had a better viewpoint, just within a circle of stones. As the Irish fleet slowly moved closer he ran downhill to meet the rest of the royal entourage.

      “Have you seen any sign of Branwen, Manawydan?”, asked Bran.

      “No Bran, not so far today. Isn’t she supposed to be here to meet the Irish King along with us?”, replied Manawydan.

      “I hope that she appears soon. She is becoming more and more distant. If this fails to work then the alliance may fall apart, and then we may face war.” Bran was starting to look worried. Too much was depending on this encounter, he did not want to upset Matholwch in any way at such a sensitive moment in time.

      While the group was waiting expectantly a man walked down the hill carefully, and Manawydan spied him.

      “Look, it’s Evnysien!”, exclaimed Manawydan. Bran turned around. He was somewhat less enthusiastic about the man’s appearance. There had been some disturbing rumours. Evnysien was reputed to be somewhat volatile, unstable, and apparently possessed a deep mistrust of the Irish. So far Bran had chosen to keep him at a distance and away from most discussions concerning the coming visit. It was a bit of a surprise to see him appearing and Bran was immediately more wary.

      “Welcome Evnysien”, said Bran. There was some reluctance in his voice. “You are welcome to join us but please, say nothing when we are with Matholwch which may prejudice our alliance.”

      Evnysien was somewhat stung by this. “I thought that I was just as much a part of this court as anyone. Do you really believe that I would say or do anything that might jeopardise the alliance?”

      “Of course not”, said Manawydan stepping in. “But we are all aware that your opinion of the Irish is not always, shall we say, very high. We just want to be careful at this moment.”

      “So you don’t trust me after all!” Evnysien snapped. “There is a hunt to be done. Perhaps you want me to disappear and go hunting instead!”

      Bran was somewhat reluctant as at other times Evnysien had been someone who he felt able to trust. This however was not the right moment to have someone so volatile present.

      “Perhaps that would be a better idea at the moment. You are of course welcome to join us at the feast later this evening”, he said.

      “Later this evening then. Seeing as you need me so little here at one of the most important moment’s in the history of our kingdom!”, snapped Evynisien, turning away and walking off rapidly.

      “Evynisien! It is not like that!”, cried Manawaydan, but it was too late as Evnysien was already out of earshot by that point. He turned back to the king.

      “He will fine after his temper has disippated. Leave him”, Bran said.

      “Perhaps”, replied Manwydan. “I only hope that he doesn’t decide to do anything foolish.”


      Later that night there was a grand feast at the royal hall of the Welsh. The whole of the Welsh and the Irish forces, rulers, noblemen and soldiers were present. Branwen had been found and had finally been persuaded to turn up. She had decided to seat herself somewhat apart from Matholwch, and was busy talking to various people as they moved around the hall. Bran noticed that his sister was somewhat reluctant to look in the direction of the Irish King. It was not a good sign.

      “Do you think she is going to be like that all evening?” he said to Manawydan, who was sat beside him.

      “Give her a chance”, replied Manawydan. “She barely knows anything about him, but Matholwch is a steady man and a man of honour. She will come around.”

      Bran’s voice held some doubt.

      “I am worried about Evnysien. The men cannot find him, I am worried that he is hiding himself, plotting trouble.”

      “We can’t be sure of that, in any case he would be a fool to try anything. There are soldiers from both sides everywhere.”

      “I only hope that you are right about that. An incident is the last thing that we need right now”, said Bran. After this they settled down somewhat to enjoy the feasting and the talking.

      Evnysien was out hunting as he had said that he would do and as everyone else had believed that he would. It had been a long and tiring day and he was not in the best of moods. Bran’s decision to send him away still stung. He returned to the stables in order to leave his horse there for the night. Some of the stable hands were present, along with one or two people from the court who had come to tend to their steeds. Evnysien spoke to one of them.

      “What is happening within the feasting hall?”, he said, waiting expectantly. Hopefully nothing had happened in his absence.

      The nobleman was holding his horse’s rein, tending to his mount carefully. “Bran the King has successfully persuaded Matholwch, King of Ireland, to accept Branwen’s hand in marriage as a guarantee of the union between our two kingdoms.”

      Enynisien was enraged by this. “What?! I was supposed to be a part of this when it happened! What were they thinking? How could they do this without me?”

      “It was only a short while ago. I think the feast is still going on. If you go inside now, you may be able to talk with them.”

      Evnysien’s mind was spinning but he knew what to do. “Perhaps I will do just that”, he said. Of course he had no intention of doing any such thing. Later, he returned to the stables after everyone else had gone. Evnysien knew where the horses belonging to the Irish were, and he had brought a sharp knife. Horses were highly valued at that time but they also had to be in peak condition, and a horse without a face held no value to anyone.

      One of the stablehands had decided to return to see to the horses. He gasped in horror at the sight which beheld him.

      “Hey! You there! What are you doing? I am calling the soldiers!” He turned back in the direction of the court. “Soldiers! Help me! There is a man here who is attacking our horses! Come quickly!”

      Evynysien was startled by this and ran off swiftly leaving his handiwork behind. There was no way that these horses would be of use to anyone ever again, alive or not.

      Shocked by the sight of the ruined horses the stablehand ran back inside, where the feast was just ending. “Come quickly! Someone has destroyed the Irish horses!”

      The people who were inside quickly went out. A large gathering grew and there were cries of distress and anger.

      “Who can have committed a crime like this?” exclaimed Bran. “Soldiers, secure the court and send out men to search this area. Whoever did this must be found, and quickly.”

      Matholwch was present and exploded when he saw what had happened.

      “This is beyond belief, that this could have happened. The alliance between us is over. I will be leaving with my army first thing in the morning.” And before anyone could stop him he was gone. Bran was at a complete loss as to what to do next.

      Manawydan decided to intervene.

      “We still have something which which to bargain. The cauldron of rebirth, our greatest treasure. Matholwch knows what that is. I think it will persuade him to continue with the alliance. I shall talk to Branwen, maybe I can encourage her. With Branwen and the cauldron, we might be able to save the alliance.”

      “I don’t know about this”, said Bran. “We can’t really afford to lose either that cauldron or my sister.”

      “It’s either that or war, you know what our history has been so far.” Manawydan was trying to present his king with the reality of their situation. “Let me go to the Irish in the morning when everyone has become less inflamed. Maybe I can bring Matholwch around.”

      “Very well then. Go to Matholwch and the Irish first thing in the morning and present them with our offer”, Bran said. And so Manawydan held a meeting with Matholwch the following morning. Fortunately he was able to bring the Irish king to accept the offer which they had agreed upon. With some concerns still present in her mind Branwen also agreed to marry Matholwch, for the sake of peace. Bran and Manawydan were both somewhat relieved by this. At last it looked as if the long dispute between the two kingdoms might finally be over.


      Matholwch was quite happy with the compensation which they had been given and returned to Ireland with Branwen and the cauldron. His return did not go completely smoothly however, as he still had to relay the loss of the horses to the Irish noblemen. They did not take the news particularly well.

      “What happened to the horses is outrageous! What are you going to do about it?” was a common statement. Matholwch tried to placate them.

      “We have the lady Branwen and we have the wondrous Cauldron of Rebirth, with which our forces will be virtually impossible to defeat”, he said. But not everyone accepted this argument.

      “You have decided to marry a British woman in order to cement the alliance!”, someone said. There were mutters of agreement. “The horses were of good stock, how shall we replace them? It is a disgrace.”

      “I shall banish the lady Branwen to work in the kitchens, it shall keep her out of the way”, responded Matholwch. Branwen was very unhappy with this but had no choice except to agree. She was looked down upon while there and soon became very unhappy. She had expected to at least be treated like a queen, but it seemed that that was not to happen. In spite of this she still got along with Matholwch and they eventually conceived a child, which they named Gwern. In order to keep her out of the way of the noblemen Branwen still had to spend her days in the kitchen, and was far from happy with this arrangement. One day she spotted a starling nearby.

      “Come here little one. Don’t worry, I will not harm you.”

      The tiny bird seemed happy to be in her presence and moved in closer. This happened a number of times, with Branwen often spending time talking along to the bird, the only companion who she knew of in that place who really seemed to understand her, or at least not to judge her. While this was happening Branwen managed to write a note, one day she caught the startling and wrapped the note around the bird’s leg tightly, but not so tightly as to harm it. Branwen whispered to the starling then, making sure that they were not seen or overheard.

      “Remember the place which I keep telling you about?” she said. The bird appeared to understand. “Go there now, over the sea, and pass this message to my brother, Bendegeid Vran. He will know what to do when he sees it.” The bird nodded to her and took off into the skies, heading in the direction of Britain. After many days and some rough weather the starling finally arrived at the court of Bran.

      “Well fancy that, a starling has just landed within our court”, said Bran. The bird moved in closer, and Bran noticed that there appeared to be something wrapped around one of it’s legs. He reached out and removed the note and read it.

      “What is happening, Bran?” said Manawydan, who had just entered the room. Bran appeared shocked.

      “It is a note from my sister Branwen”, said Bran. “She is being abused within the kitchens and says that she is falling out with Matholwch and being abused by the Irish.” He put the note down. “We must take a force across the sea and make Matholwch give her back.”

      “Wasn’t she part of alliance? Surely we cannot break that, it will end in war”, pointed out Manawydan.

      “I cannot simply stand by knowing that Branwen is being treated in this way” Bran responded. “If we must go to war in order to save her, than we shall go to war.”


      It took some time but Bran’s forces were finally assembled, their ships became filled with soldiers and off they set, towards the Island of the Fair. Bran had taken on the largest form that he had in order to lead the fleet across the ocean, wading across waist deep in the crashing waves. When they came within range of Ireland they were seen by some swineherds, who ran off to inform Matholwch.

      “My brother Bendegeid Vran has come to free me!” exclaimed Branwen, who had overheard this news. She threw down the plates which she had been forced to carry. “He will set me free from this mistreatment.”

      “We shall not let that happen during my lifetime”, Matholwch said. “We shall retreat beyond the river and burn the bridges to prevent the British from following us.” And that was what they did. When they saw what had happened Bran’s army was at a loss. Their king had a solution to the problem of crossing the river however. As they watched he began to swell up to his tallest height.

      “A leader must be a bridge”, he said.

      Bran fell forward and hit the other side of the river. With his great height he was long enough for all of their forces to be able to cross from their side to the Irish side, which they did.

      “My brother has come to rescue me!”, Branwen exclaimed. She ran to meet her brother, and they embraced very happily. Matholwch was watching from some distance away, and saw this happen.

      “I am reluctant to go to war now, even with this invasion of our shores. Surely there is something we can do to prevent this, even now.”

      His advisor leaned over to him. “Why don’t we build a house for Bran, large enough to house him and all of his forces?”

      Matholwch agreed with this. “I think that is a very clever idea”, he said.

      “Why don’t we make it cleverer?”, continued his advisor. “We can build the house, then hide our forces nearby. When Bran least suspects it we can attack and overwhelm all of them.”

      “Very well, but we must make sure that we have the element of surprise with us before we attack. If we are not sure to win, we hold back and continue with the pretence of an alliance until we can think of another plan, or until we obtain the compensation that we deserve.”

      The plan went ahead and the house was built, and a mighty and impressive house it was, large enough to house an entire family of giants. In the event it would hold one giant and an entire army. When he was invited to visit Bran was impressed. In order to buy enough time for this to actually happen, Matholwch offered to give over his kingdom to their son Gwern, who was also Branwen’s son of course, making him a child of both kingdoms. With this event the British and the Irish would be bonded by blood. Not all of the Irish lords were happy with this idea as the British would have a say on the running of Ireland as well as access to the country.

      “We cannot accept this. The British need to be kept at a greater distance. They have already attacked us once. What happens if there is another dispute?”

      Matholwch was ready with an answer to this, as the house which Bran lived in had been built with a very different purpose in mind.

      “Fear not, I have a plan for dealing with them. We shall hide armed men inside bags which will resemble bags of flour hung from the walls. When Bran and his people are all present these men will burst out and attack, and Bran’s forces will be slaughtered”, Matholwch told them. This immediately pleased the lords who had been arguing with him, and the plan was put into motion.

      Evnysien had travelled to Ireland with his half brother Bran and had been left to wander around on his own, though some of the court had expressed misgivings about this. He had decided to check out the new house for himself and one night entered the building alone, or so he thought. But he was not completely sure of that fact.

      “I think I hear sound coming from these bags. Maybe there is something inside, like vermin. That would not be good for the household.”

      He decided to inspect one of the bags, running his hands over it to feel what was inside.

      “There is a person inside this bag, I am sure of it! Maybe there are people inside more of them, or indeed all of them. We have been tricked!” This thought came to him silently. Evnysien made a decision. “I will destroy the men inside these bags so that they may not attack us!”

      So thinking, Evnysien grasped the head shape which he had felt inside the first bag and squeezed hard until there was a loud cracking sound and a crunch. The head of the man inside the bag had been crushed. He saw a red patch growing on the outside of the bag and knew that the man inside must be dead.

      “I must be sure, I must make certain that there are no more men left or we will face an attack”, Evnysien thought. So he went around the entire hall, crushing the head of every man inside every bag, killing all of the men and lords who Matholwch had had hidden away there.


      Not far away Matholwch and his men were gathered in the woods. They had brought the cauldron of rebirth with them, along with plenty of wood.

      “Prepare the cauldron for use, just in case we need it”, said Matholwch. “With its aid our army shall become invincible. There will be no way that the Welsh can defeat us with our soldiers coming back from the dead. Make sure that you do not light this until later on, or the smoke may give away that something is afoot.” The men agreed and preparations were soon under way.

      A little later on a feast was held to celebrate Gwern’s investiture as the new King of Ireland. Bran, Branwen, Manawydan and all of the Welsh forces were present, along with Matholwch and all of the lords and forces of Ireland. Soon everyone was very happy, Gwern was running around playing without a care in the world. He got up onto the thrown and sat there, smiling innocently.

      “Look, Ireland has a new king!”, Branwen said. Most of the people laughed at this, although Matholwch was a little more hesitant. He was hoping that the forces which had been hidden away were ready and that the threat of losing his kingship to a replacement would soon be over forever.

      Evynysien knew that they had been betrayed but had much more in mind, and was watching Gwern with a glare which had not been noticed. “This child will become the new king of Ireland. Perhaps he should be the first of the Irish to die instead!” His anger began to build, but no-one saw anything.

      Gwern had left the throne and was playing with Bran and Bran, who were quite delighted that everything was working out so well. Evnysien stepped forward.

      “What about me? Why can’t he come and play with me, he has played with everyone else?” he said.

      Bran was a little bit surprised by Evnysien’s statement, but readily agreed. “Gwern, why don’t you go and give your uncle Evnysien a hug?”, he said, letting the boy go. Gwern ran over and embraced his uncle with a hug, not suspecting that anything might be wrong.

      Evnysien realised that he had the boy in his arms and that no-one was close enough to stop him. He picked Gwern up and ran towards the hearth fire in the centre of the room. Everyone gasped in shock, some people began to move but it was too late for anyone to intervene. Evnysien reached the fire and lifted Gwern up high, then threw him straight down into the flames. There was a loud, hideous scream as Gwern’s body immediately went up in flames. There was smoke and the smell of burning flesh. Evnysien backed away and other people crowded in, trying to either reach into the fire or to brush it back with their clothing. Someone obtained a bucket of water and threw its contents over the fire, and finally it went out. Unfortunately it was far too late. Everyone stared at Gwern’s charred remains.

      Matholwch was as horrified as anyone else in that room but realised that the moment had come. “To arms men! It is time to attack our visitors!” he cried out, but there was no response. Matholwch stood in place for a moment, then ordered some of his men to check the bags. The Welsh court was already forming a group and preparing their weapons.

      One of the lords reached out to check the contents of a bag, hanging from the wall. As he loosened it a figure slowly slipped out. The eyes were wide open and staring upwards. The man’s body was covered in blood. The skull was split open, and brain matter was oozing out of a massive hole. The lord dropped the bag and the corpse fell to the floor, blood pooling around it. Around the hall other soldiers and lords were finding the same thing. Matholwch saw this and realised bitterly than his plan might fail after all.

      Bran had drawn out a massive shield and was using it to cover Branwen, his sister. “We have been betrayed!” he cried. “People, gather around me!”

      Fighting erupted all around them. Men were shot with arrows. Some were cut with swords. Some were chopped with axes. It was a bloodbath.

      Matholwch realised that the odds were now against them. He backed away, trying to secret himself in one of the darker corners. Evnysien was waiting there.

      “Evnysien!” gasped Matholwch. Evnysien drew out a dagger from beneath his cloak and stabbed Matholwch between the ribs. Matholwch grasped at his chest and collapsed to the ground.

      The fighting started to move outside of the house, which was now starting to burn as torches had been thrown around and the thatching of the roof, dry from the lack of any recent rain, had caught alight. Evnysien was wandering around and came to a tree, where he decided to take a breath. He saw a figure move rapidly towards him in the dark. With surprise he recognised that it was Matholwch. Matholwch continued to advance towards Evnysien, his sword drawn out, but said not a word. Evynisien continued to stare at him, almost frozen in place.

      “It cannot be! I have just killed you, I am sure of it!” The whole moment was beyond belief.

      He backed away rapidly but Matholwch continued to advance after him. One of the Welsh soldiers joined him, putting his spear against the ground, and Matholwch walked onto it, impaling himself before wrenching himself away again, snapping the spear. One of the Irish soldiers crept up and stabbed the Welsh soldier in the back, and he collapsed to the ground. Matholwch stepped up to Evnysien with his sword raised to strike. Desperate, Evynisien raised up his own sword and swung it, cutting Matholwch’s head clean off. he dropped to the ground, giving a gasp of relief. When he saw Matholwch’s severed head next to him on the ground staring at him in the face with its blind eyes, Evnysien screamed.

      “The cauldron of rebirth! We gave it to the Irish. As long as they have it, we will never win this battle!”

      Evnysien realised what had to be done. Spotting several bodies nearby he went to them, ripped a cloak off of one of the corpses then pulled it over himself and lay himself down on the ground, trying to be as quiet and still as possible. Soon enough he was picked up and taken away towards a clearing where the cauldron could clearly be seen standing. The fire underneath it was burning intensely. Some of the Irish soldiers were there, dropping bodies and parts of bodies onto the ground. Other men could be seen picking up these bodies and parts and ascending a ladder, where they dropped the parts into the cauldron. A green glow could be seen emanating from inside. This sight was terrible enough in itself but there was more. As he watched Evnysien could see the heads of figures appearing above the cauldron’s rim, theses figures then climbed out and dropped to the ground, then walked away towards the house. He realised that these figures were dead soldiers who had been brought back to life.

      The men carrying Evnysien reached the cauldron and started up the ladder. Reaching the top, he could now see what was inside. The cauldron was filled with a glowing green liquid, swirling malevolently. Bodies could be seen floating inside. As he watched, heads were joined to bodies and arms were joined back to shoulders. The magic was restoring everything that was placed inside it.

      Evnysien lashed out, and the men carrying him were taken by surprise and fell back, one was struck and the other kicked. He fell forwards, his hands stopping on the far side of the cauldron while his feet were on the other side. He pushed as hard as he could and kept pushing.

      “For the Island of the Mighty!”, Evynsien screamed as the cauldron burst apart in four pieces. There was a massive explosion and flames shot out into the woods. The pieces of the cauldron fell to the ground, along with the dead bodies of the men which had been placed inside and the body parts which had also been placed there. Evynysien’s ribcage had exploded under the tremendous pressure and his entrails were hanging out as his body lay upon the ground. He was extremely dead.


      Like many of the soldiers themselves the fighting was rapidly dying out. Some of the Welsh side were still left standing. Among these were Bran and Branwen, Manawydan, and a few of their soldiers, including Pryderi.

      Matholwch sat himself down and looked somewhat grim. Manawydan spoke with him.

      “The battle is approaching its end, thank goodness, and not a moment too soon.”

      “Maybe it has come a moment too late”, said Bran. “I am wounded by an arrow shot. from the feel of it, I am guessing that the arrow has been poisoned. I am going to die.”

      “Surely not! Bran, there must be something we can do!” exclaimed Manawydan.

      “You must cut my head off and take it back home with you when you return there, which will be very soon now”, replied Bran. So that was what they did. Bran continued to speak to them in spite of being a disembodied head. He tried to offer the wisest advice that he could, but it was easy to see that there was not much left that could be done. Their survivors were so few.

      With the King of Wales currently experiencing problems of his own Branwen, Manawydan and Pryderi found that they were sometimes left to their own counsel. Branwen was showing signs of distress at events and the other two tried to console her as best as they could, but there were few signs of hope remaining. A decision had to be made about what to do with Bran. Manawydan eventually decided to bring up the issue.

      “You have no body left and cannot help yourself, and we cannot carry you around forever. Is there any place where you would like to be taken?” he said, putting the question directly to the king.

      “Bear my head to the White Hill in London, and bury me there, with my face towards France”, Bran replied.

      Pryedri had another thought to offer. “What about the Irish? I know that the cauldron was destroyed, they can’t come back at us again, but are there any surviving forces and might they try to retaliate? We need to make us much distance as we can between ourselves and Ireland.”

      “To the best of my knowledge most or ll of the Irish are killed, save for seven pregnant women”, stated Branwen. She looked saddened. “Almost everyone was killed in this battle, on both sides. There must be an end to any form of conflict from now on. Although peace has now come almost too late for us all.”

      The rest of them agreed with this sentiment. “We can only hope so”, Manawydan said.


      The ships which had carried them to Ireland still waited upon the shore. Most of them would remain in Ireland forever. They had enough crew to man one ship and one only, so they did what they could and slowly sailed back home to Wales. Eventually they landed back at Aber Alaw in Anglesey. The shore was vast and completely deserted, no-one had come to greet them. The wind whipped around the soldiers and the nobles alike, bitterly cold and indifferent to their plight. The raw emptiness and desolation became too much for Branwen, who collapsed to the ground, sobbing openly.

      “Oh woe to me that I was born! Two fair islands have been laid waste because of me!” she cried, and passed away of a broken heart. Witnessing this, Manawydan fell to the ground close to her, unable to control his own weeping. Bran watched all of this but remained silent, lost for words.

      For the next seven years following their return Bran’s men feasted in Harlech, where they found themselves accompanied by three singing birds. Bran’s head was set upon a pedestal where he continued to observe events and continued to talk to them. When this time was up, and everyone had recovered as much as they could from the traumatic and lasting memories of their experience they went to the island of Gwales in Penfro, where they remained for eighty years although time in that place held no meaning and none of them aged even by as much as a day. The castle where they lived was large and wondrous, the food the drink and the feasting were never ending. Eventually they were able to forget their sorrows. There was however one issue which they had recognised.

      “We must not open that door” said Manaydan, pointing to a large door at the far end of the hall. “It faces towards Cornwall. To open it at any time will break the spell which keeps us here outside of time and care. We have all lost so much. We do not want to go back to world where there is nothing but emptiness and loss.”

      Everyone agreed with this decision but unfortunately it was not to last. One day Manawydan’s companion Heilyn son of Gwyn grew overcurious about what might really lie behind the great door.

      “I think I shall just take a brief look for myself. After all, what harm can come to us here in a place like this, freed from all care?” Heilyn moved forward to open the door.

      “No!” cried Manawydan, spying him, but he was too far away to stop him. Heilyn lifted up the bolt keeping the door closed and pulled the doors open. There was a great rushing sound and a blasting gale of wind and darkness and everyone was pushed backwards. Suddenly they remembered everything that had happened all those long eighty years ago and despair fell upon them. The castle and the feasting hall disappeared around them and they found themselves standing high upon a lonely, desolate hill, surrounded by dark rocks with grom clouds passing overhead cutting out all signs of daylight. Bran’s head, still perched upon the pedestal where they had first set it, gave out one groan and slumped, and the king finally passed away. His men buried their faces in their hands in despair and grief at their loss.


      Manawydan and Pryderi eventually came around enough to gather their senses and hold a discussion of sorts, although it was quite hard and neither of them felt like doing much.

      “We should bear Bran’s head to his final resting place, the White Mount. Those were the king’s last wishes, and it the least that we can do for him”, Pryderi said.

      “I will agree to that. The magic contained within the king’s head must be powerful indeed, if he could still continue to talk after death. Maybe some good will come from it”, agreed Manawydan.

      So that was what they did. Manawydan, Pryderi and the few remaining soldiers went to London and buried Bran’s head at the White Mount. In later times this location would become the site for the Tower of London. No-one has been able to find it so far, but there it serves as a talisman . Legend says that as long as Bran’s head remains at the mount no invading force would ever successfully cross the sea to reach Britain and its people would forever remain safe.

      Branwen was eventually buried beside the Afon Alaw, with the site marked by a cairn called Bedd Branwen. Now in ruins, Bedd Branwen still possesses one standing stone. If you should visit the place you will find several urns containing human ashes.

      The seven pregnant Irish women who survived the great battle eventually proved to be enough to repopulate the Island of the Fair, although it took much effort and many long years before Ireland was finally restored to something approaching its former grandeur and beauty.

      If you are interested, this is the list of key plot points and events which I worked from. As you can see if you look back at the story, the events flow in the same sequence but use a very different phrasing. There is a lot more to the craft of storytelling than simply keeping everything together. In order for a story to make sense it must cover all of the key events in the right order with the right characters doing the right things at the right moments, kind of like a play or a film. I guess that bears certain similarities to the idea of the script, although the list is extremely bare and not really a script. It also helps to know who knows who and who is related to who. Without those facts, the story might become rather muddled and disorganised.

      Branwen – story list

      This story is set in the Bedd Branwen period of the British Bronze Age.

      Branwen is the daughter of Llyr and Penardun.

      Branwen is married to Matholwch, King of Ireland, but the marriage does not bring peace.

      Britain is known as the Island of the Mighty. Ireland is known as the Island of the Fair.

      Branwen’s brother Bran the Blessed is a giant. He sits on a rock by the sea at Harlech. He sees the vessels of Matholwch approaching.

      Manawydan is an advisor to his brother Bran.

      Manawydan runs down the hill and hits a rock, which he hides behind.

      Evnysien wants to go hunting without the king’s permission, Manwydan wants to stay with the king and Evnysien becomes frustrated.

      Matholwch has come to ask for Branwen’s hand in marriage. Bran agrees and a feast is held. Manawydan sits beside Bran.

      During the feast Evynisien, half brother of Bran and Branwen, arrives at the stables and asks about the celebration. Furious that his half sister has been given away without his consent, he flies into a rage, mutilating the horses belonging to the Irish. Bran sends Manwydan to Matholwch to offer recompense.

      Matholwch is deeply offended by this but consoled by Bran, who gives him a magical cauldron which can bring the dead back to life. He does not know that the resurrected become mute and deaf.

      Matholwch returns to Ireland with Branwen. He consults with his nobles. They are outraged and believe that Matholwch was not compensated enough for the mutilation of the horses. Matholwch banishes Branwen to work in the kitchens.

      Branwen is treated cruelly by Matholwch as punishment for the mutilation of his horses. She gives birth to a heir, Gwern.

      Branwen tames a starling and sends it across the Irish sea with a message to Bran. Bran brings a force across the sea to rescue her.

      Manawydan joins Bran’s rescue effort.

      Some swineherd see Bran wading across the sea and inform Matholwch. Matholwch retreats beyond the river and burns the bridges. Bran responds by laying himself down across the river.

      Matholwch fears war and tries to reconcile with Bran. He builds a house big enough to house Bran himself. Matholwch agrees to gibe his kingdom to Gwern in order to pacify Bran. The Irish lords dislike this idea and some of them hide themselves in flour bags tied to the pillars of the huge, newly built house to attack the Welsh.

      Evnysien inspects the house prior to the arrival of Bran and his men. He uncovers the men hidden in the bags and kills them all by crushing their heads one by one.

      At the subsequent feast to celebrate Gwern’s investiture as King of Ireland, Evnysien, in an unprovoked moment of rage, throws Gwern into the fire. Chaos ensues and the two sides fight each other.

      At first the Irish appear to be losing but use the cauldron to bring their men back. They begin to win.

      Evnysien sees what he has done and regrets it. Disguised as a dead Irish soldier he is thrown into the cauldron. He pushes against the walls of the cauldron until it breaks into four pieces. He dies as a result.

      The war is extremely bloody and leaves no survivors except for Bran, Branwen and seven Welsh soldiers. These men include Manawydan and Pryderi.

      they realise that Bran has been shot by a poison arrow to his leg. Bran dies.

      Bran commands his men to cut his head off. The head continues to speak with the men.

      Bran’s last instruction is “bear it even unto the White Mount, in London, and bury it there, with the face towards France.”

      All of the Irish are killed save for seven pregnant women.

      Branwen and the seven soldiers sail home to Wales with Bran’s severed head.

      They land at Aber Alaw in Anglesey. Overwhelmed by grief Branwen dies of a broken heart because so much destruction has been caused on her account.

      Before dying she calls out “Oh Son of God, woe to me that I was born! Two fair islands have been laid waste because of me!”

      Branwen is buried beside the Afon Alaw, marked by a cairn called Bedd Branwen.

      For seven years Bran’s men feast in Harlech, accompanied by three singing birds and Bran’s head.

      After seven years the men go to the island of Gwales in Penfro, where they remain for eighty years.

      They encounter a wondrous castle where they enjoy a great feast and forget their sorrows.

      Manawydan recognizes opening the door of the castle “facing Cornwall” will break the spell, but one day his companion Heilyn son of Gwyn grows overcurious and opens it, and all their sorrows return.

      Following this they go to London and bury the head of Bran in the White Mount or Hill, location of the tower of london. there it serves as a talisman to prevent invasion.

      Legend said that as long as the head was there, no invasion would come over the sea to Britain.

      The seven pregnant Irish women repopulate Ireland.

      Now in ruins, Bedd Branwen still possesses one standing stone. There are several urns with human ashes.


        Hello David.

        Fantastic work. You really are putting a lot of effort into your storytelling.


        david poole

          Thank you Dowrgi, I am constantly working on my skills and constantly trying to improve them.


            You’re welcome.

            I’ve been dedicating myself to the poetry, I’ve set myself a challenge of trying to compose a poem in every meter outlined in the Earthsongs Booklet. I’m using the examples given therein to help me because it’s actually quite difficult to stick to the number of syllables, respect the rhyme schemes and the natural beat or rhythm of the words and come up with something meaningful that isn’t just a word salad! I’ve granted myself a little bit of poetic licence with the alliteration. So far, I’ve managed to compose eight (one for each of the first eight meters). I think these meters may be harder in English than in the original Welsh for which they were intended! I wish I could write some in Cornish, but my Cornish is, sadly, nowhere near good enough. I thought about mixing a few Cornish words and phrases I know into the verses, but I’m in two minds about that – it kind of feels like cheating. What do you reckon?

            I’ve also been working on the retelling of a Cornish folklore story in verse form, but not according to strict meter. It’s a work in progress, so there’s a long way to go yet. Every time I think it’s okay, I leave it for a day, go back and then think: “Well, that’s rubbish,” so I have to change bits! :-D Nevertheless, it’s a great exercise in broadening your vocabulary and I tell you what, I keep finding myself thinking up little rhymes lately too.

            Anyway, keep up your great work and it’s good to see you your in good spirits.

            Wish me well with mine!


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