The Story of Branwen, Daughter of Llyr

From: The Mabinigion

Bran the Blessed (Bendigeidfran), the son of Llyr and Penarddun, daughter of Beli son of Mynogan, was ruler of Britain. Bran was the brother of Manawyddan and Branwen (Bronwen), and the half-brother of Nissyen and Evnissyen.

Mallolwch (Matholwch), the king of Ireland came to Wales, seeking a wife. Bran offered his beautiful sister, Branwen, to Mallolwch. Bran's half-brother Evnissyen (Efnisien) was offended that they had not asked him for consent before Bran decided to marry their sister to a foreign king.

Evnissyen attacked and lamed the king's horses. When Mallolwch found out about the incident, the Irish king was offended by this outrage, decided to leave. Bran had to humiliate himself by appeasing the king by offering to replace Mallolwch with his own fine breed of horses as well as a magic cauldron that could bring a man back to life.

Mallolwch accepted Bran's apology and married Branwen. When Mallolwch left Wales, he took his new wife with him to his kingdom in Ireland.

At first, Mallolwch and Branwen were happy; she bore the king a healthy son, whom they named Gwern. Branwen was known as a generous queen, who always gave each female guest a small gift.

However, some of his nobles, including his foster-brothers, were not happy that Mallolwch did not receive more from Bran for the insult. Mallolwch agreed and decided to punish Branwen.

Branwen was forced to work in the kitchen like a common servant. They refused all ships from Britain to enter their shore so Bran did not know what Mallolwch had done to his sister.

However, Branwen was resourceful and taught a starling how to deliver a message to her brothers in Britain. It took Branwen three years, to teach the bird what to do.

When the bird arrived at the court of Caer Seint yn Arvon, Bran found his sister's message tied to the bird's leg. Now Bran was offended by the Irish king's treatment of his sister.

Bran mustered a large force from Wales and England and set out for Ireland. Among those in the army was his brother Manawyddan, and Pryderi, the chieftain of Dyved, the son of Pwyll and Rhiannon. Bran left his son Caradawg and six other chieftains behind, to look after his kingdom during his absence.

Bran, who was a giant, could not a ship large enough to carry him. Like Orion in the Greek mythology, Bran waded across the deep sea, with only his head sticking out of the water.

Mallolwch was alarmed by the news of a large fleet heading towards his kingdom, decided to retreat further west in Ireland. They crossed the river Liffey and destroyed the bridge, to prevent the Britons from crossing. Bran lay down across the river, so that the Britons could use him as a bridge to cross the Liffey.

More news arrived to Mallolwch that Bran was travelling through the forest. Only Bran could be seen, since he was taller than the tallest tree in Ireland.

Mallolwch decided to make peace with Bran, by sending a messenger to Bran. The messenger informed Bran of Mallolwch's proposal, to step down from the throne in favour of his and Branwen's son, Gwern, Bran's nephew. Mallolwch would also make up any wrong and injury to Branwen.

Mallolwch had ordered the erection a house or tent large enough to shelter Bran. However, this was a trap to kill Bran. Mallolwch had two hundred men hiding in the house, each of his men hiding in the bags that hang on every pillars of the house.

Evnissyen went into the house first and was told these bags contained flour. Evnissyen squeeze each bag, killing all 200 men.

In the house, Bran and Mallolwch met, to witness the investment of kingship upon Gwern, son of Branwen. All except Evnissyen were happy to see Gwern crowned king. When Gwern stood before his uncle, Evnissyen took the boy by his feet and thrust Gwern into a fire. Branwen tried to save her son, but Bran prevented her, and protected his sister with his shield, because fighting broke out between the Britons and the Irish.

Those Irish warriors, who were killed by Evnissyen in the leather bags, were thrown into magic cauldron of rebirth. The dead warriors were resurrected. As the Irish warriors were killed in the fighting, they were also brought back to life by the cauldron of rebirth.

Fierce battle was fought in and outside of the house. The battle began to turn in favour of Mallolwch's warriors, because those who died was brought back to life.

Evnissyen realised that his arrogance had brought destruction on his family and the men of Britain. It was he who had caused strife between the two islands. Evnissyen managed to reach the cauldron of rebirth. The Irishmen found him among the dead Irish warriors, so they threw Evnissyen into the cauldron. Evnissyen stretched himself in the cauldron, so that it broke in four pieces. However this also broke Evnissyen's heart.

With the cauldron of rebirth destroyed, the Briton managed to snatch victory from the Irishmen. Every single Irishmen were killed in the war, including Mallolwch and Gwern, Branwen's son. Most of the Irish women and children were all killed except five pregnant women, who escaped the massacre, by hiding in the cave.

The causalities among the Bran's army were also extremely high. Only seven men survived the war, including Manawyddan and Pryderi. Bran received a mortal wound on his foot from the poisoned spear.

Bran told his brother to cut off his head, since it would be impossible to gigantic-size body back to Britain for burial. His head would keep company with the seven survivors. Bran's head would be able to talk to them and entertain them in the hall of Gwales. Bran also foretold they would remain in Gwales until someone open the doors facing Cornwall, eighty years later. After this they must bury his head in White Hill in London. So they cut off Bran's head.

The seven survivors and Branwen returned to Britain, landing at Aber Alaw in Tal Ebolyon. Branwen's heart was heavy, because so many lives were lost in the war. Branwen died in sorrow. They buried her on the bank of Alaw.

The seven survivors included Manawyddan son of Llyr, Pryderi son of Pwyll, Taliesin the Bard, Ynawg, Glinyeu son of Taran, Gruddyeu son of Muryel, and Heilyn son of Gwynn the Old.

Manawyddan and the other survivors arrived at Harddlech. Here, they found news that Casswallawn, son of Beli, had seized power in Britain during Bran's absence. Casswallawn had murdered six of the chieftains. Casswallawn was invisible because he worn a magic cloak. Casswallawn didn't harm his nephew, but Caradawg, the son of Bran, had died in sorrow at the death of his six companions.

The seven survivors spent seven years in Harddlech, enjoying the food and entertainment from the singing of the Birds of Rhiannon. After this they left Harddlech for Gwales in Penvro.

The house of Gwales had a royal hall with three doors. Two doors were opened, while the third door, facing Cornwall, was kept closed. The head of Bran had told them that as long as the third door remained closed, the seven could remain in Gwales.

The seven men came to Gwales (possibly in Cornwall), which was something like an Otherworld, where they forgot about their grief and loss, as long as they didn't open the forbidden door in the great hall. They lived in Gwales with Bran's head, so that the hall became known as the Assembly of the Wondrous Head.

They lived there for eighty years, until one of the men (Heilyn son of Gwynn) decided to open the forbidden door. All the memories of sorrow and loss returned to them.

They left Gwales with Bran's head, and went to London, where they buried Bran's head at White Hill.

The Story of Branwen, is the original tale of the Holly King and the Oak King continued, with Bendigeidfran (Bran the Blessed) playing the Role of the Holly King and Mallolwch the role of the Oak King.

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