2.1 The Insult of Matholwch

BENDIGEID VRAN (‘ben-de-GID VRAN’), the son of Llyr (‘HLIR’), was the crowned king of this island, and he was exalted from the crown of London. And one afternoon he was at Harlech in Ardudwy (‘ar-DOO-dwee’), at his Court, and he sat upon the rock of Harlech, looking over the sea. And with him were his brother Manawyddan (‘man-a—WEE-then’) the son of Llyr, and his brothers by the mother’s side, Nissyen (‘NIS-ee-an’) and Evnissyen (‘ev-NIS-ian’), and many nobles likewise, as was fitting to see around a king. His two brothers by the mother’s side were the sons of Eurosswydd (‘eye—ROSE-thoith’), by his mother, Penardun, the daughter of Beli son of Manogan. And one of these youths was a good youth and of gentle nature, and would make peace between his kindred, and cause his family to be friends when their wrath was at the highest; and this one was Nissyen; but the other would cause strife between his two brothers when they were most at peace.

And as they sat thus, they beheld thirteen ships coming from the south of Ireland, and making towards them, and they came with a swift motion, the wind being behind them, and they neared them rapidly.

“I see ships afar,” said the king, “coming swiftly towards the land. Command the men of the Court that they equip themselves, and go and learn their intent.”

So the men equipped themselves and went down towards them. And when they saw the ships near, certain were they that they had never seen ships better furnished. Beautiful flags of satin were upon them. And behold one of the ships outstripped the others, and they saw a shield lifted up above the side of the ship, and the point of the shield was upwards, in token of peace. And the men drew near that they might hold converse. Then they put out boats and came towards the land. And they saluted the king.

Now the king could hear them from the place where he was, upon the rock above their heads. “Heaven prosper you,” said he, “and be ye welcome. To whom do these ships belong, and who is the chief amongst you?”

“Lord,” said they, “Matholwch (‘MATH-ol-uch’), king of Ireland, is here, and these ships belong to him.”

“Wherefore comes he?’ asked the king, “and will he come to the land?”

“He is a suitor unto thee, lord,” said they, “and he will not land unless he have his boon.”

“And what may that be?” inquired the king. “He desires to ally himself with thee, lord,” said they, “and he comes to ask Branwen the daughter of Llyr, that, if it seem well to thee, the Island of the Mighty may be leagued with Ireland, and both become more powerful.”

“Verily,” said he, “let him come to land, and we will take counsel thereupon.”

And this answer was brought to Matholwch. “I will go willingly,” said he. So he landed, and they received him joyfully; and great was the throng in the palace that night, between his hosts and those of the Court; and next day they took counsel, and they resolved to bestow Branwen upon Matholwch. Now she was one of the three chief ladies of this island, and she was the fairest damsel in the world.

And they fixed upon Aberffraw (‘ab-ber-FROW’) as the place where she should become his bride. And they went thence, and towards Aberffraw the hosts proceeded; Matholwch and his host in their ships; Bendigeid Vran and his host by land, until they came to Aberffraw. And at Aberffraw they began the feast and sat down. And thus sat they. The King of the Island of the Mighty and Manawyddan the son of Llyr on one side, and Matholwch on the other side, and Branwen the daughter of Llyr beside him. And they were not within a house, but under tents. No house could ever contain Bendigeid Vran. And they began the banquet and caroused and discoursed. And when it was more pleasing to them to sleep than to carouse, they went to rest, and that night Branwen became Matholwch’s bride.

And next day they arose, and all they of the Court, and the officers began to equip and to range the horses and the attendants, and they ranged them in order as far as the sea.

And behold one day, Evnissyen, the quarrelsome man of whom it is spoken above, came by chance into the place, where the horses of Matholwch were, and asked whose horses they might be. “They are the horses of Matholwch king of Ireland, who is married to Branwen, thy sister; his horses are they.”

“And is it thus they have done with a maiden such as she, and moreover my sister, bestowing her without my consent? They could have offered no greater insult to me than this,” said he. And thereupon he rushed under the horses and cut off their lips at the teeth, and their ears close to their heads, and their tails close to their backs, and wherever he could clutch their eyelids, he cut them to the very bone, and he disfigured the horses and rendered them useless.

And they came with these tidings unto Matholwch, saying that the horses were disfigured, and injured so that not one of them could ever be of any use again. “Verily, lord,” said one, “it was an insult unto thee, and as such was it meant.”

“Of a truth, it is a marvel to me, that if they desire to insult me, they should have given me a maiden of such high rank and so much beloved of her kindred, as they have done.”

“Lord,” said another, “thou seest that thus it is, and there is nothing for thee to do but to go to thy ships.” And thereupon towards his ships he set out.

And tidings came to Bendigeid Vran that Matholwch was quitting the Court without asking leave, and messengers were sent to inquire of him wherefore he did so. And the messengers that went were Iddic (‘ITH-ink’)the son of Anarawd (‘ana-rouwd’), and Heveydd Hir (‘HEV-ith HEER’).

And these overtook him and asked of him what he designed to do, and wherefore he went forth. “Of a truth,” said he, “if I had known I had not come hither. I have been altogether insulted, no one had ever worse treatment than I have had here. But one thing surprises me above all.”

“What is that?” asked they.

“That Branwen the daughter of Llyr, one of the three chief ladies of this island, and the daughter of the King of the Island of the Mighty, should have been given me as my bride, and that after that I should have been insulted; and I marvel that the insult was not done me before they had bestowed upon me a maiden so exalted as she.”

“Truly, lord, it was not the will of any that are of the Court,” said they, “nor of any that are of the council, that thou shouldest have received this insult; and as thou hast been insulted, the dishonour is greater unto Bendigeid Vran than unto thee.”

“Verily,” said he, “I think so. Nevertheless he cannot recall the insult.”

These men returned with that answer to the place where Bendigeid Vran was, and they told him what reply Matholwch had given them. “Truly,” said he, “there are no means by which we may prevent his going away at enmity with us, that we will not take.”

“Well, lord,” said they, “send after him another embassy.”

“I will do so,” said he. “Arise, Manawyddan son of Llyr, and Heveydd Hir, and Unic Glew Ysgwyd (EE-nik GLOW esk-oid’), and go after him, and tell him that he shall have a sound horse for every one that has been injured. And beside that, as an atonement for the insult, he shall have a staff of silver, as large and as tall as himself, and a plate of gold of the breadth of his face. And show unto him who it was that did this, and that it was done against my will; but that he who did it is my brother, by the mother’s side, and therefore it would be hard for me to put him to death. And let him come and meet me,” said he, “and we will make peace in any way he may desire.”

The embassy went after Matholwch, and told him all these sayings in a friendly manner, and he listened thereunto. “Men,” said he, “I will take counsel.” So to the council he went. And in the council they considered that if they should refuse this, they were likely to have more shame rather than to obtain so great an atonement. They resolved therefore to accept it, and they returned to the Court in peace.