Treachery

Last week Bran agreed to peace – as long as the Irish built a house for him…

So from all over the surrounding countryside people were brought in, men to saw and hammer, and women to gather reeds for thatch. Like an animal straining to get up from the ground, the house gradually rose above the heads of the Welshmen. Sunrise after sunrise saw it grow ever larger, with a fine stone chimney at one end and a hundred columns holding it up inside. Everyone not involved in building watched in awe. Surely this was the largest building in the world!

Finally everything was ready, and the house stood complete for one night before the peace was celebrated inside it.

If anyone was wandering the camp that night, they would have seen shadows flitting about the Irish tents. Figures crept towards the hall, one by one.

On the edge of the Welsh camp, Efnissiyen woke with a start. The grass was rustling by his head, and then died away. He lay perfectly still inside his tent, immediately awake.

Sure enough, there it was again. Footsteps going stealthily past.

He carefully opened his tent and peeped out. Shadow after shadow went into the house, a towering bulk blocking out the full moon.

Finally all was quiet, and no-one else stirred. Efnissiyen quietly crept over to the house and listened. Nothing.

The door was ajar, leaving a crack of even deeper blackness. He pushed open the door and went in.

The room was enveloped in quiet, each wooden pillar standing guard with its comrades. Nothing seemed amiss. So where did those men go?

But wait! Each column had an addition! A bulging bag of some sorts! Was this where the men went?

Red-hot fury rose in his throat. They had set a trap! They planned to kill all the Welshmen as soon as they got them ensnared inside the house. How dare they insult his country! War might be a good thing, but not through the shame of treachery.

Fortunately he had almost superhuman strength in his hands. He rubbed them together, a cold smile in his eyes.

The Irish and the Welsh filed into the house the next morning. From each pillar hung a limp bag.

Bran felt a woman’s dress lightly brushing against him. He turned his head and looked down. Branwen gazed intently up at him.

Tears started to Bran’s eyes to meet the ones that were already rolling down Branwen’s face. He could do nothing but clasp her with a huge hand, as she hid her face on him.

He bent to her, “Branwen, do you consent to this?”

She raised her head. “Of course I do. I advised them to build you this house. I will not have both countries laid to waste on my account.”

When everyone was seated, Gwern was brought in. Bran’s eyes filled with tears again as he gazed at his nephew. The pride of both countries! What a darling little boy he was, with a mop of golden hair and soulful brown eyes.

Before all the assembled nobles, Matholwch formally abdicated, and little Gwern was made king. Bran held out his huge arms and the little boy shyly approached for a great bear-hug. From Bran he was passed willingly to Manawyddan and Nissien.

A few seats down, by the great fire, Efnissiyen leaned forwards. “Why shouldn’t the boy come to me as well, brothers?” he smiled.

Bran smiled back. “Of course he can come to you, brother.” So the little boy toddled over to his last uncle, and held out his arms, smiling up at the red-headed warrior.

Efnissiyen took him up in his arms – and flung him headlong into the fire.