Myths and Legends of the Celtic Race

Page: 173

“either a clasp or a ring or a royal jewel to keep, such as it was honourable to be seen departing with.” And when the year was out Branwen bore a son to Matholwch, whose name was called Gwern.

The Punishment of Branwen

There occurs now an unintelligible place in the story. In the second year, it appears, and not till then, [pg 369] the men of Ireland grew indignant over the insult to their king committed by Evnissyen, and took revenge for it by having Branwen degraded to the position of a cook, and they caused the butcher every day to give her a blow on the ears. They also forbade all ships and ferry-boats to cross to Cambria, and any who came thence into Ireland were imprisoned so that news of Branwen's ill-treatment might not come to the ears of Bran. But Branwen reared up a young starling in a corner of her kneading-trough, and one day she tied a letter under its wing and taught it what to do. It flew away towards Britain, and finding Bran at Caer Seiont in Arvon, it lit on his shoulder, ruffling its feathers, and the letter was found and read. Bran immediately prepared a great hosting for Ireland, and sailed thither with a fleet of ships, leaving his land of Britain under his son Caradawc and six other chiefs.

The Invasion of Bran

Soon there came messengers to Matholwch telling him of a wondrous sight they had seen; a wood was growing on the sea, and beside the wood a mountain with a high ridge in the middle of it, and two lakes, one at each side. And wood and mountain moved towards the shore of Ireland. Branwen is called up to explain, if she could, what this meant. She tells them the wood is the masts and yards of the fleet of Britain, and the mountain is Bran, her brother, coming into shoal water, “for no ship can contain him”; the ridge is his nose, the lakes his two eyes.

The King of Ireland and his lords at once took counsel together how they might meet this danger; and the plan they agreed upon was as follows: A huge [pg 370] hall should be built, big enough to hold Bran—this, it was hoped, would placate him—there should be a great feast made there for himself and his men, and Matholwch should give over the kingdom of Ireland to him and do homage. All this was done by Branwen's advice. But the Irish added a crafty device of their own. From two brackets on each of the hundred pillars in the hall should be hung two leather bags, with an armed warrior in each of them ready to fall upon the guests when the moment should arrive.

The Meal-bags

Evnissyen, however, wandered into the hall before the rest of the host, and scanning the arrangements “with fierce and savage looks,” he saw the bags which hung from the pillars. “What is in this bag?” said he to one of the Irish. “Meal, good soul,” said the Irishman. Evnissyen laid his hand on the bag, and felt about with his fingers till he came to the head of the man within it. Then “he squeezed the head till he felt his fingers meet together in the brain through the bone.” He went to the next bag, and asked the same question. “Meal,” said the Irish attendant, but Evnissyen crushed this warrior's head also, and thus he did with all the two hundred bags, even in the case of one warrior whose head was covered with an iron helm.

Then the feasting began, and peace and concord reigned, and Matholwch laid down the sovranty of Ireland, which was conferred on the boy Gwern. And they all fondled and caressed the fair child till he came to Evnissyen, who suddenly seized him and flung him into the blazing fire on the hearth. Branwen would have leaped after him, but Bran held her back. Then there was arming apace, and tumult and shouting, [pg 371] and the Irish and British hosts closed in battle and fought until the fall of night.

Death of Evnissyen

But at night the Irish heated the magic cauldron and threw into it the bodies of their dead, who came out next day as good as ever, but dumb. When Evnissyen saw this he was smitten with remorse for having brought the men of Britain into such a strait: “Evil betide me if I find not a deliverance therefrom.” So he hid himself among the Irish dead, and was flung into the cauldron with the rest at the end of the second day, when he stretched himself out so that he rent the cauldron into four pieces, and his own heart burst with the effort, and he died.

The Wonderful Head

In the end, all the Irishmen were slain, and all but seven of the British besides Bran, who was wounded in the foot with a poisoned arrow. Among the seven were Pryderi and Manawyddan. Bran then commanded them to cut off his head. “And take it with you,” he said, “to London, and there bury it in the White Mount looking towards France, and no foreigner shall invade the land while it is there. On the way the Head will talk to you, and be as pleasant company as ever in life. In Harlech ye will be feasting seven years and the birds of Rhiannon will sing to you. And at Gwales in Penvro ye will be feasting fourscore years, and the Head will talk to you and be uncorrupted till ye open the door looking towards Cornwall. After that ye may no longer tarry, but set forth to London and bury the Head.”

Then the seven cut off the head of Bran and went [pg 372] forth, and Branwen with them, to do his bidding. But when Branwen came to land at Aber Alaw she cried, “Woe is me that I was ever born; two islands have been destroyed because of me.” And she uttered a loud groan, and her heart broke. They made her a four-sided grave on the banks of the Alaw, and the place was called Ynys Branwen to this day.