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Bran and the Magic Cauldron

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Way, way back in the mists of time, there lived a giant known as Bran Fendigaid or 'Bran the Blessed'. Bran was the son of the Sea God, Llyr and his grandfather was the Sun God Belenos. He was taller than the tallest tree, and could wade through the sea, with his head above the water's surface.

Bran was also the king of Britain. His name meant Raven and this became his symbol. He lived at Castell Dinas in what is now Powys. He was so large that no hall was big enough to hold him and a massive tent was put up for his shelter. In the tent he kept his wondrous magic cauldron.

King Bran was a good and just leader. He had a son Caradawg, a sister Branwen, a brother Manawyddan, and two half brothers. These half brothers were as different as night and day. Nissyen was a gentle soul but Evnissyen was hot tempered and, like Bran, he was immensely strong.

One day the Irish King Matholwch crossed the sea and asked Bran for the hand of his sister in marriage. Branwen was happy to become Queen of Ireland, so Bran agreed. He saw the marriage as an act of good-will between the two countries. The only person not consulted was Evnissyen who was away on a journey.

The royal wedding took place at Aberffraw on Anglesey. Just as the merrymaking was at its height, Evnissyen returned. He was puzzled and asked: "The beautiful horses tethered by the sea, to whom do they belong?"

He was told they belonged to the Irish King who had just married Branwen. Enraged, Evnisyen ran to the line of horses and cruelly slashed them with his sword.

Seething with anger, the Irish King and his party returned to their ships. Bran sent his herald to offer the King horses and gold but the king was not satisfied. Knowing this could mean war, Bran felt obliged to give Matholwch the most precious thing he owned - his wondrous magic cauldron. This final gift calmed Matholwch and he returned to the marriage feast. Later he sailed away with his bride, new horses and, of course, the magic cauldron.

In Ireland the story spread of how the royal horses had been slashed by one of Bran's family. Forgetting that Bran had made amends, the people turned against Branwen. Although she had born the King a son named Gwern, Matholwch's courtiers poisoned him against her. He sent her from the court and forced her to work as a servant in the kitchen and yard

So badly was she treated, that they let no British man leave Ireland, in case he took news of Branwen's fate back home. One day, while out in the yard, the Queen made friends with a Starling. Gradually she taught it to understand her words and then how to reach her brother with a message, telling him her problems.

King Bran was amazed to hear how badly his beloved sister was being treated. He acted immediately. Some days later, when King Matholwch's swineherds were resting on the beach they saw an amazing sight. It looked like there was a forest out to sea with a hill behind it. The forest seemed to be moving towards the coast of Ireland. The men hurried to tell the king.

Believing that Branwen would know the answer, the King sent to ask her the meaning of the floating forest. "Those trees are the masts of ships close together," she answered, "for my brothers are coming to Ireland in war." The king immediately made plans to take his people to safety, along with the magic cauldron.

He led them across the Linon River and then his soldiers destroyed the bridge. The king thought he was safe because there was a magic loadstone (magnet) in the river that pulled down any ships that tried to cross.

When Bran's mighty army reached the river and saw the ruined bridge, Bran just stretched himself from bank to bank and the troops marched over. Straightening up on the opposite bank, he found Matholwch's heralds waiting for him. They said that, to prevent bloodshed, the King would let Branwen's little son Gwern have the kingdom whilst Matholwch would surrender to Bran.

Bran was so angry he sent the messengers away. They returned with an extra offer. They would build a hall so big that Bran could enter and they would sign a new friendship treaty with the British. To this Bran agreed; for once in his life he would have a roof over his head.

He stayed with his army while the Irish worked hard to build the hall which had a door at each end and was so huge it needed 100 pillars to support it. When the building was finished, the meeting of peace would be held. But, urged by his courtiers, Matholwch planned to destroy Bran. On every pillar he hung two leather bags, each one holding an armed warrior ready to jump out on a signal and murder Bran and his companions.

Just before the meeting, Evnissyen came to see the magnificent hall. "What's in this bag?", he said as he stopped at the first column. "Flour" said the guide, "we use the bags for storing flour."

Evnissyen ran his hand across the bag, felt the warrior inside and crushed him between his giant fingers. He did this at all 100 pillars as his guide looked on in silent horror.

As he finished, the Irish entered at one door and Bran's party at the other. The meeting went well and everyone was delighted with Gwern, the little boy who was to have his father's crown. But, still angry about the plot, Evnissyen suddenly picked up the child and threw him on the fire.

A bloody battle broke out. Weapons flashed all night. With the light of dawn Evnissyen saw an amazing sight. The corpses of Matholwch's men were being thrown in the magic cauldron. Soon they climbed out and started fighting again. But none of Bran's followers were given new life.

Suddenly guilt hit Evnissyen. He realised how many Britons had died because of him. To punish himself and help his brother, he threw himself into the cauldron, smashing it from the inside. So great was the effort, even for one of his strength, that his heart failed moments later.

Eventually the battle ended without either side winning. During the battle a poisoned arrow had struck Bran's foot and he knew that death was close. Out of that mighty army only six men survived along with Manawyddan and Branwen. Bran told them that as soon as he was dead, they must cut off his head and bury it in Gwynfryn (the 'White Mount') in Caer-Lundein (London). There its magic would protect Britain as long as it remained undisturbed.

They did as they were bid and returned to Britain with the head. Once there, Branwen died of sorrow. Upon Bran's death, the harvests had failed and the land become barren and unworkable. Manawyddan's cousin, Casswallawn had taken over power in Britain and had caused the death of Caradawg, the son of Bran.

For seven years the men stayed in Harlech, entertained by the head which continued to speak. Whilst it spoke they knew only joy and laughter. Then they moved on to Gwales where they lived for another eighty years forgetting all about their sorrow and the passing of time. Then, one of the men opened a door of the hall and everything came back to them.

They knew they must journey on to White Hill, where they buried Bran's head on the mound, facing the Continent, to protect against invasion. Here it remained until King Arthur of the Britons said he needed no magic to protect his country. He dug up Bran's head to prove that he could protect the country himself. Sadly, he did not succeed. The Saxons carried on invading Briton and were followed years later by Norman invaders.

They built a stronghold on the place the head was once buried - The Tower of London. However, the legend lives on. For Bran in Welsh is Crow and a number of Crows (Ravens) are kept within the grounds of the Tower of London. It is said, if they ever to leave, Britain would fall to invaders. Very wisely their wings are kept clipped.

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