Some time ago I told the story of Taliesin the twice born. I always intended to tell some more Welsh Legends, so here’s another one. I understand that in some circles the hero’s name is Bran. I heard the story as Bendigeidfran, it means “Bran the blessed”
Llyr Llediaeth was chief of the tribes of the Island of Britain. His companion was Penardim the beautiful. They had two sons Bendigeidfran and Manawyddan. When Llyr was captured by Eroswydd the ransom demanded was that Penardim would spend one night in the bed of Eroswydd. For the love of Bendigeidfran she agreed. Later Bendigeidfran and Eroswydd met in fair fight and Eroswydd was sent to be judged by Arawn, Lord of the dead. In due time Penardim bore twin sons from her forced union. They were Nisien and Yfnisien. When three summers had passed Penardim again bore a child. A daughter named Branwen who would become the fairest maid in the land.
But Efnisien had his fathers heart.
Bendigeidfran became King of the Island of Britain. Though he kept no companion for long he had one son, Caradoc. He was a wise and just king and a giant. So big that it was said that no ship could carry him and no house could give him shelter.
One day the ships of the Irish visited the shore. On board was Matholwch, King of Ireland. He came asking for Branwen to be his companion. Bendigeidfran and his chiefs considered this and determined that here was a way to put an end to the feuding between the two islands and it was agreed. But Efnisien was not in the council being away on an errand and knew nothing of this.
During the three days of celebration that accompanied the hand fasting, a lone Irish herdsman was watching over the horses when Efnisien came upon him. He asked whose were these fine animals and when he heard the Irishman speak he was filled with rage. Believing that his land was under attack he killed the herdsman then cruelly mutilated the horses.
When word of this came to Matholwch he and his companions knew a terrible rage and prepared to leave. Bendigeidfran tried to make peace but there was only one honor-price that would satisfy Matholwch and Bendigeidfran would not deliver up the head of his brother. So another gift was given Bendigeidfran possessed the Cauldron of re-birth. When any die if they be put into this cauldron they would return to life. This gift was accepted though Amergin, the oldest and wisest of the Druids of Ireland counseled that none in Ireland should know of the shame put on them or of the cauldron. So a Gesa was put on all that none should speak of these things. So did Branwen enter Ireland and peace and prosperity reigned for three years. A son was born to her, Gwern was his name and this gave Matholwch and his counselors much to think on. Under the laws of the Old Tribes there was neither marriage nor father’s right. Children were the gift of the mothers and so the King was always the son of the old king’s sister. By the laws of the Ancient Harmonies, Gwern was now heir to the Island of Britain, not Caradoc. When news of this was sent to Bendigeidfran he Manawyddan and Nisien saw only mutual peace and prosperity coming from such a thing. But Efnisien, whose heart was always filled with anger and bitterness was chief among those who opposed the son of Irish soil ruling over them.
Then Amergin died and the Gesa was broken. Then was the shame of the Irish and the knowledge of the cauldron spoken of. The chiefs turned the heart of Matholwch against Branwen until he sent her from his presence. She was locked in a room all night and sent to work as a drudge in the kitchen by day where she was savagely beaten. One day she found a small Wren, fallen from it’s nest and took it secretly to her room. There she fed and nursed the wren and taught it speech. When it was strong enough she sent it with a message to her brother.
Great was the anger of Bendigeidfran and his brothers when they heard the message of the Wren. He amassed a great army and the masts of their ships were like a forest upon the sea. They sailed to Ireland with Bendigeidfran the giant wading through the water before them like a moving mountain. They landed at the Mouth of the Boyne, that great river that flows past Tara where sat Matholwch.
When Matholwch saw this his cowards heart failed him and he sent for Branwen. He promised her he would restore her to her child and she would reign with him in Tara if she would turn aside the anger of her brothers. She spurned him then and told him that she would rather spend an eternity in the kitchens than one night in the bed of a mouse-heart.
But Branwen was a peacemaker and she did not want blood spilled so she told Matholwch how the anger of her brother may be turned. She said that she and Gwern should be escorted to her brother’s camp and there was one thing that Bendigeidfran had always secretly yearned. Never had he dwelt in a house and he would not use the wealth of his chiefs for his own ends but if Matholwch would have a house built large enough to house Bendigeidfran this would be an honor-price.
So it came to be that there was peace while Branwen and Gwern were reunited with her brothers and the great house was built. Joy was in the hearts of the peacemakers, but some were angry that they had been so easily bought. Chief among these was Efnisien who knew no joy unless he was spilling the blood of enemies, real or imagined.
When it was completed, Matholwch and his host came and bade Bendigeidfran welcome into his home on Irish soil. All left their weapons outside and entered the great hall of this house where Bendigeidfran sat at the head of a feasting table before a great fire that burned mightily in a massive fireplace. As the revelries wore on Branwen brought forth the young Gwern. His uncles held him fondly and passed the infant to each other but when he came to Efnisien, Efnisien threw the child into the fireplace breaking his skull. Manawyddan lept into the flames but neither his strength or his magic were soon enough to save the child. So Efnisien added Kin-Slayer to his crimes.
The Irish rose up in anger and horror. None having weapons they fought with bare hands until they fled through the night vowing vengeance. So did Efnisien bring about the war he lusted for.
The next day the Irish army returned and a great battle was fought all day. Many died on both sides and none could claim a victory. But that night a great red glow could be seen on Tara. It was the cauldron of rebirth giving life to the fallen Irish. The next day the Irish un-dead were the first into battle and now the tide turned against Bendigeidfran. The next day saw them again facing the un-dead and Nisien was killed. Efnisien saw what he had done and so that evening he covered himself in mud and blood and rolled in amongst the Irish dead and lay still. When they came to take his body, thinking him one of their own, they put him into the cauldron. The cauldron was not to take the living and tried to throw him out but he forced himself to remain until the cauldron burst and so did his heart.
All heard the great crash and red fragments flew into the sky and fell back to the Earth. The Cauldron of the Gods went back to Arawn who rightly owned it.
Heartsick, Bendigeidfran led what was left of his people away. Matchlock would have let them go but he was always turned by bad counsel and so he pursued them until they came to a great ravine. There was no way across so Bendigeidfran lay down his body across the ravine and his army used his body to cross to safety. Ever since then it has been said;
“Tra bod ben bid bont” If you would be a leader be a bridge.
There they rested, unwilling to flee further until the Irish came around and fell upon them.
Then came the last great battle between the the two armies. Manawyddan met Matholwch on the field and long was their duel until Manawyddan prevailed at last. Of the host of Bendigeidfran all that remained were the King and seven who will be remembered until the ancient tongue is spoken no more. They were Manawyddan the King’s brother, Taliesin famed for his many births, Pryderi Prince of Dyfed, Heilyn son of Gwyn the ancient, Ynawc, Grudien, and Glynau. The Irish died to the last man.
This is how I heard the story and this is how I tell it. There is still more to be told but at another time.
Keep it clean, the kids are invited to sit around the campfire.
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- Crazy Healer Lady
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