Branwen Daughter of Llyr

'The Counsel' by Amanda Reid

Bran, son of Llyr and Penarddun, is crowned king of Britain.


He is approached by men from Ireland requesting the marriage of his sister, Branwen, to the king of Ireland, Matholwch.


This is agreed by Bran, but he does not consult with his half-brother, Efnisien, who is offended at this.


Because he is angry, Efnisien mutilates the horses belonging to the Irish king.  When Matholwch finds out, he decides to return to Ireland due to this insult.


Bran hears he is leaving, and sends men to offer gifts and ask Matholwch to return to the court so that he can make amends.  Matholwch returns, and a great feast takes place for him, but since Matholwch still seems quiet, Bran offers him a further gift, the cauldron of rebirth.


When a person is slain, if he is placed in the cauldron he will be brought back to life the next day, although he will no longer have the power of speech.


The next night, Matholwch asks Bran to tell him how he came by the cauldron.  He explains it was brought to him by a man and woman coming from Ireland.


Matholwch knows of this man and woman and tells Bran that one day he saw them in Ireland, coming from a place called the Lake of the Cauldron.  The couple tell Matholwch that in a month and a fortnight the woman will conceive a son, and that the son will be born in a month and a fortnight as a fighting man fully armed.


Matholwch takes them to his court, but after a year, the couple cause trouble amongst his people and he is forced to tell them to leave, but they refuse to go willingly and they are too strong and powerful to be forced.  So the people build a house of iron and when the couple are drunk inside it, they set alight to the chamber and make it white-hot with bellows.  But the man charges at the wall and escapes with the woman.  Then it was the couple went to Britain and to Bran with the cauldron.


Branwen and Matholwch leave for Ireland.  Branwen is well received by the people and after a year gives birth to a son, Gwern.


In the second year, the people of Ireland begin to talk of the great insult made on Matholwch when he was in Britain, when the horses were mutilated. 


Matholwch is forced by his people to take vengeance for this upon Branwen.  Branwen is driven from her husband’s sleeping chamber, she is put to cook in the kitchen and suffer the butcher to box her ears every day.


Because of this, Matholwch bans all ships between Britain and Ireland to avoid Bran hearing of his sister’s punishment.


This continues for three years, and during this time, Branwen rears a starling and teaches it words so that she can describe her brother to the bird.  She ties a letter to its wing, and it flies to Bran in Britain.


When Bran learns of Branwen’s fate, he summons a great army to go to Ireland across the sea.  In those days the waters were not as wide or deep, so Bran goes by wading.

One day, Matholwch hears of a strange sight, he is told a forest has been seen out at sea, and a moving mountain with the forest.  There is a ridge on the mountain and a lake on each side of it.


Branwen is consulted, and she explains that the forest is the masts of the British ships, and the mountain is Bran, the ridge his nose, and the lakes his two eyes.  So the Irish retreat across the river and break the bridge.


When Bran arrives, he makes a bridge of himself for his men to cross, laying over the river.  The Irish then send kind words, but Bran does not want to know.


The Irish offer to make a house for Bran, for no house has ever contained him within it before, and they offer to meet in the house and give Bran the Irish kingship.


Bran accepts this offer and the house is built.  But the Irish hide one hundred armed men in sacks on every pillar inside the building.


Efnisien arrives to look over the house, and seeing the bags, he is told they are full of flour.  He feels every bag with his hands until he finds the man’s skull, and he crushes each head until they are all dead.


Then all the parties come into the house, and Gwern, Branwen’s son is brought forth, but Efnisien catches the boy by the feet and throws him in the fire before any can protest.


Then war rages between the two nations, and the Irish put their dead into the cauldron of rebirth, so that their warriors are endlessly replenished.  Eventually, Efnisien lies down, disguised in the pile of dead bodies waiting to go in the cauldron, and when he is flung in, he stretches  until he breaks the cauldron into four pieces, and also bursts his own heart.


Bran is wounded in the foot with a poisoned spear, so he calls his comrades to cut off his head.


Only seven men, plus Branwen, escape Ireland for Britain with Bran’s head, and the head converses with them just as Bran did before.  Upon reaching Anglesey, Branwen dies of grief for all that has been lost, and she is buried there.


Bran's head instructs the party of seven to go to Harlech where they all spend seven years in song and feasting, with three birds visiting them to sing the most lovely of songs.  These are the birds of Rhiannon.


Then they leave and go to Gwales in Penfro.  They stay in a great hall there with three doors.  Manawydan, Bran’s brother instructs his companions never to open the third door. 


Despite all the sorrows they have seen, they are joyful there for eighty years, carousing with the wondrous head, and being with the head is no worse to them than having Bran with them alive.


Then, one day, one of the party opens the forbidden door, and as soon as he looks out onto the sea, they are all conscious of every loss they have ever suffered.


So they set out towards The White Mount in London with the head of Bran, to bury the head, for no plague will ever come across the sea to Britain as long as the head remains buried there.


It is said that in Ireland, only five pregnant women were left alive, living in a cave in the wilderness, and to them five sons were born, so that each son slept with the other’s mother, and then they divided the land into five provinces between them.