Primary Sources: the Mabinogion 12 (the Birds of Rhiannon)
Now I mentioned Bran was dying. He got stabbed in the thigh, or maybe in the feet, or given the way this usually goes down, the genitals probably. Also maybe the spear he got stabbed with, if he got stabbed with a spear, was poisoned. Maybe it wasn’t, maybe Bran was a little whiny baby who was dying just from having razor sharp metal lodged in his insides and there was no poison at all. Point is, Bran was wounded on the lower half of his body.
“Well I’m sunk,” Bran told his seven surviving followers. “This wound’s a killer.”
“Say it ain’t so, sire,” said one of his followers, oh, let’s say Manawydan.
“No, it’s true. I’m on my way out. Let me lay on you a last request, though.” Bran indicated his neck. “You see my neck here? I want you to chop my head off and carry it around with you.”
“That’s your last request?”
“Yeah. It’s cool. I’m a magic giant, so my severed head will be just as much fun at parties as I am.” For serious, the Mabinogion specifically addresses the issue of the severed head at parties. “Take my head to London and bury it facing France, at the same cathedral were everything important in London happens. No rush.”
“Yeah. You can take, mmm…” Bran did some quick mental arithmetic. “Eighty-seven years to set out on the journey of bringing my head to London. My head won’t decay at all in that time, and it’ll talk and drink and stuff. Once you start going to London, though, after eighty-seven years have gone by? Then you’ll need to hurry before my head rots.”
So Manawydan shrugged, and hefted his sword, and chopped Bran’s head off.
“Great!” cried Bran’s severed head. “Now that I’m dead, you’re in charge. Everything’s cool, don’t worry! Now let’s blow this crappy corpse-strewn island!”
Branwen, Manawydan, Bran’s severed head, and all the rest journeyed back from Ireland to Wales. As soon as they arrived, Branwen started talking about how she didn’t want to face life any longer, and then she keeled over, dead of grief, Calaquendi style.
“Well, that happened,” said Manawydan. He and the other survivors buried her in a nice square grave with a cursory funeral, and then proceeded the rest of the way home.
On the way they met a band of refugees, heading the other way. “Bad news!” chanted the refugees. “You remember how Bran left a dozen of his men in Wales, to guard it from invasion, while he attacked Ireland?”
“Obviously,” said Manawydan. “I was there.”
“Well, they did not do a very good job, long story short, and there’s a new king. He’s got a magic invisibility cloak and who can stand against that kind of superior stealth technology?”
“Not us,” said Manawydan. He huddled up with his six followers, and they debated as to what to do.
The consensus: pizza party! First in one place, Harddlech, and then they relocated to Penvro and listened to some magical birdsong, the Birds of Rhiannon, for unclear reasons.
Eighty-seven years later – no, I’m not kidding, why would you think I would be kidding? Eighty-seven years of pizza party later, one of the survivors, Heilyn the Not-so-Old (who was eighty-seven years older than he’d been, so, might want to rethink that epithet) recalled that weren’t they supposed to do a thing?
“We were supposed to do a thing after eighty-seven years, weren’t we?” he asked the other pizza-party attendees, but they were too busy listening to magical birdsong to pay any attention to him. So he went to open the door that led to the road connecting the pizza parlor to London. And when he opened that door, there was a rush of air and regret, as the party died.
“All our comrades are dead!” wailed one of the survivors.
“Branwen killed herself!” sobbed another.
“A jerk with a magic cloak conquered Wales while we were away!”
“And we’ve spent all these years just having a pizza party and listening to magical birdsong!”
“This is all your fault!” Manawydan said to Bran’s severed head. “You said everything was cool! You said not to worry! Look where that got us!”
“I’d love to point fingers and argue,” said Bran’s severed head. “Or I would, if I had fingers. But I’m just now starting to rot, and I’ve got eighty-seven years of decay to catch up on, so…”
And so Manawydan and his band carried Bran’s head to London and buried it. The Mabinogion asserts that so long as Bran’s head was buried in London and no one knew about it, the whole island of Great Britain was magically protected from plague. But then as soon as the head’s location became common knowledge, boom, plague.
And that’s the end of the tale of Branwen. Have no fear, though, because the next tale in my copy of the Mabinogion (the third, if you’ve been paying attention) picks up right were this one left off.
Meanwhile, on Ireland, everyone was dead, remember?
Okay, no. Five pregnant women survived the carnage. They had sons, who grew up and married one another’s mothers, and then they had more kids, and repopulated Ireland, and that’s why the Irish are all kind of terrible, is because of the inbreeding in their ancestry, the end. Kind of racist against the Irish, Mabinogion! I’m half-Irish, I can joke about it, but c’mon.
NEXT: MANAWYDAN SON OF LIR!
Primary Sources: the Mabinogion 12 (the Birds of Rhiannon) — No Comments
HTML tags allowed in your comment: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>