Last week the men returned to Wales, where even more death awaited them…
Manawyddan laid her gently down on a pile of straw and went back inside.
“Branwen is dead,” he announced shortly.
Gasps came from the circle of men.
“Gruddieu, this is your fault,” cried Pryderi.
“No blame,” whispered Manawyddan. “Death was a relief for her.”
The next day they buried Branwen by the river Alaw, resting for ever by the stream. Then they took the head, which had slept since Ireland, and continued for Harlech, to be greeted with the news that Manawyddan’s cousin had usurped the High Kingship of England and Wales while they were away. There was nothing but relief in Manawyddan’s heart at this news.
They feasted in the court at Harlech as they had been instructed, and Bran’s head woke up and talked to them all. Manawyddan was able to relieve some of his burden by telling his brother everything that had happened.
They continued their journey towards the South, and embarked for Grassholm. It grew bigger and bigger before their eyes, a green plain on the sea, sparkling with white seabirds. In the middle of the island stood a noble looking hall, and above it fluttered three noble birds, one green, one gold, and one white.
“My mother’s birds have come,” breathed Pryderi.
As soon as he stepped onto shore, relief flowed through Manawyddan’s chest. Here, in this little pocket outside of space and time, they could refresh themselves.
They entered the hall, finding one door on either side, and a table groaning with food. Manawyddan set up the head at one end of the table, and they began.
So, between magical birdsong, and hours of talking with Bran, a day passed, and another, and another…
One day, Heilyn, the curious one, was getting restless. He had eaten all of the chicken the day before and it hadn’t yet reappeared. He wandered round the hall as the others still munched away at the table.
Suddenly he stopped by a door. “Guys!” he cried. “I wonder what’s behind this?”
All the others stopped eating and watched. They had no more idea what was behind it either, but each one felt a cold rock settle on their insides.
Heilyn grasped the ornately carved handle, and pulled.
The grey sea was revealed and beyond that…the mainland, a dark heavy mass on the horizon. As the men stared, grief rushed in like a chill wind and settled on their hearts. A thunk sounded behind them, and Manawyddan turned to see Bran’s head lying sideways, eyes closed.
He rose. “Well, we know what we must do now, my companions.”
They set sail again, around the south of England and to the Thames. They walked up the hill – more of a little lump, really – and buried the head.
Manawyddan stamped the last mound of earth into place and looked at the other men, who were already talking excitedly about going home. Not him. He had no home to go to.
He felt a gentle stare on his back, and turned to see the young, golden-haired lord of Dyfed watching him.
“Lord, you seem sad. Can I help you at all?”
Manawyddan smiled at the young lad, even if it was but a shadow of what it used to be. “Thank you, lord, but I doubt it.”
It would be like refusing to play fetch with a puppy if he didn’t speak. “Well, lord, it is only because I have no home to go back to, unlike all you others.”
“Perhaps I can help with that, actually,” said Pryderi, his eyes lighting up. “My lord, attend to me.”