Diwrnach Is Dead
Diwrnarch is dead. The great blue slabs of his limbs lie spread-eagled across his table. His fists are heavy clenched stones. His corpse is headless. His head lies in a bloody pool on the floor. His scream is frozen above the rocky waves of his beard. I dare not look into his eyes: pale, opaque and rolled into his head.
“Diwrnarch is dead!” my cry resounds around the hall. There is no-one left to hear his death toll. His maids and servants were slaughtered in their beds, his courtiers drowned in blood at the table. The hearth fire is out. A circle of cinders and three deep holes mark where the cauldron stood. It’s gone again: the same old tale.
I try to unravel the mystery of his death from dusty manuscripts. I trace his name; Diwrnarch, Wrnarch, Awarnach, Diwrnarch Wyddel, Dyrnwch Gawr of the Old North. Piece together the fragments into a montage. Three constants emerge: Diwrnarch was the defender of a cauldron in a feasting hall and owned a sword destined to bring his end.
The cauldron was forged at the beginning of time in Annwn’s depths by a giant called Llasar Llaes Gyfnewid ‘Blue Smith who Reforges the Weak’. Painstakingly he enamelled its ridge and gilded it with pearls.
Its gilt iron plates told the stories of the primordial world. Its womb held the deepest reflections of Old Mother Universe: the mysteries of birth, life, death and rebirth. The King of Annwn drew upon its wisdom. Bringing life to the dead was a power he did not possess.
When Llasar and his wife, Cymidei Cymeinfoll, decided it was time to have children they realised they must head for this world. The cauldron was Llasar’s most prized possession. He carried it on his back through Annwn’s long and winding tunnels and the pair emerged from a lake in Ireland, blue as lake-water, tossing droplets from their yellow-red manes.
King Matholwch of Ireland took them in. After a month and a fortnight, Cymidei conceived, and a month and a fortnight later birthed a fully grown armed warrior. Two months and fortnights later, another one, and so on until the rolling green hills of Ireland were thronging with giants.
The Irish disliked Llasar and Cymidei’s offspring because they were large, coarse and ill-mannered. So they decided to build an iron house, like a forge or a cauldron, then lured the family in with the promise of a feast like no other. Whilst the giants feasted, they lit a fire around the house and fed the red flames until the plates burned white-hot.
The giants’ screams crashed impotently against iron as their flesh seared and melted. Summoning all his strength, Llasar barged his way out with the cauldron on his back, dragging Cymidei with him. When he returned for his children they were little but faceless sacks of blistering bones writhing in the relentless heat. Llasar’s screams of loss and anger split the skies. His tears were a primal flood.
Llasar and Cymidei fled over sea where they were taken in by Brân the Blessed. In gratitude they gifted Brân the cauldron and he allowed them to people the landscape of Prydain. They built castles in the mountains, etched their gargantuan forms into rock, made the highest summits their headlands, set out craggy chairs to watch the spiralling star-stories.
When constellations passed in the mountain lakes, Llasar missed his cauldron dearly for the images etched on its panels told the story of the night skies. The cauldron’s absence threw Llasar into a state of melancholy. Old Mother Universe ceased to wink from the black heavens. Words of the King of Annwn haunted him. He thought often of his dead children.
Llasar stopped making love to Cymidei. He longed to touch only cold iron. His eyes became fixed on the horizon and his ears on the winds as he listened for news of his creation. Thus he was distraught when he heard Brân had given the cauldron to Matholwch, devastated when he heard of its misuse bringing life to dead Irishmen in this world.
By the time Llasar reached Ireland it was too late. The cauldron was shattered. Slaughtered Britons and Irishmen lay piled around it. From the rift torn by the explosion, huge white hounds with red ears crept to take the fallen to Annwn. Wracked by sobs, blue tears flooding down the cliffs into the Irish Sea, Llasar gathered the fragments of the cauldron into a sack, hauled it onto his back, then followed the padding hounds.
As Llasar walked through the dark tunnels into Annwn’s growing light he was horrified to find its green hills, woodlands, villages and castles filled with sorrowful, wrathful spirits tearing branches from trees, breaking windows, wrecking the landscape with laments, throwing themselves at the feet of the King of Annwn begging for rebirth.
A single look from the King told Llasar what he must do. He walked to the depths of Annwn. In its coldest and loneliest cavern beside a whispering stream he pieced it together part by part. At first his fingers would not work. He could not remember the patterns. His mind was clumsy as his limbs. Then from the deep, from the spring, the Awen broke through.
The fragmentary images came together like constellations. He fired his forge. As he worked he felt the encircling presence of Nine Maidens whose inspiration had helped him create the cauldron many centuries ago. Their breath on his neck. Their song in his ears.
However, as he heated the plates he could not shut out memories of white-hot walls closing in. The death cries of his offspring, the stench of charred flesh, the heap of blistered bodies in the iron house.
He did not hear the whole song. Though he completed his forging, the images on the cauldron remained separate as constellations in spring, summer, autumn and winter skies reflected in a mountain lake.
When Llasar turned to look for the faces of the Nine Maidens, even their shadows were not there. He sank to his knees exhausted and sick with himself: the Blue Smith who Re-forges the Weak unable to complete his work because of his own weakness. Water from the spring poured into the cauldron bubbling white, echoing around the cavern with a cacophonous roar.
The King of Annwn entered with the host of furious spirits behind him. Though he carried a spear, Llasar could tell it was not weaponry but the promise in his eyes that held them back.
The King approached the cauldron and spoke his greetings to the Nine Maidens and Old Mother Universe. “Old Mother of the Stars, I bring to you the souls awaiting rebirth.” As he sang their names: not their worldly names but the soul-names they’d possessed since time’s beginning, each hair on Llasar’s neck rose in turn.
The spirits pressed to the edge of the cauldron, eager to catch a glimpse of their new lives, to take the plunge into the Old Mother’s womb and re-enter the world down the splashing rivers of her uterus. Many went but a small number were left with no hint of rebirth. Their screams were so horrible they turned Llasar’s blue blood cold. A crippling pain gripped his heart.
Unable to see an explanation, the King of Annwn ran his desperate hands over the cauldron, following the intricate grooves of its enamelled images felt the invisible fault-lines of the giant’s doubt and pain between each story. Saw the Blue Smith, the first of the Old Mother’s children, and his creation had been broken by the cruelty of the people of the world.
One taste of the broiling waters revealed to the King the broken cauldron mirrored the universe shattered by the Old Mother’s broken heart. Time and space fragmented. The veil between the worlds irreparably torn. All the spirits of Annwn could no longer be reborn.
A growing host would gather: those killed in battle, murdered, driven to take their lives. It would take all his strength to contain their fury and prevent their destruction of the world. War was coming to both worlds and the cauldron would be safe in neither.
Llasar Llaes Gyfnewid, the Blue Smith, the only being capable of mending the cauldron lay dead, his gargantuan heart broken, in the deepest reaches of Annwn.
The King called on the Nine Maidens for advice.
Nine shadows appeared on the cave walls. To the tune of a lyre:
“The Blue Smith must be reborn and named Diwrnarch.”
“Diwrnarch must be born in a hall in every fragment of the world.”
“In every fragment Diwrnarch must defend the cauldron.”
“Diwrnarch must defend the cauldron with a sword sharper than any sword in the world.”
“A sword destined to take his life.”
“Diwrnarch must die by his own sword.”
“Diwrnarch must die in every fragment of the world.”
“Diwrnarch must die for the world to be made whole.”
“But if Diwrnarch dies what will happen to the cauldron?” asked the King.
The sound of the lyre faded out. He found himself speaking to shadowless walls.
Only three stories about Diwrnarch’s defence of the cauldron have survived. The first is set in the Welsh mountains. Diwrnarch was born to a family of giants continuously plagued by the knights of a King called Arthur who was trying to assert his authority over the region.
It was a good job that Diwrnarch was born full-grown and fully armed. From the moment he emerged from the womb; bold, blue, fiery red and yellow-maned, he defended his people and quickly became their chiefest warrior and defender of their most prized possession: a magical cauldron enamelled with wondrous images that only brewed meat for the brave.
It was rumoured that Diwrnarch’s prowess stemmed from the sharp-edged sword he was born with. So long as he held it he was not injured and the only blood that flowed down the mountain walls was the blood of knights.
One evening, Diwrnarch was feasting in his chieftain’s seat, tearing meat off a whole pork loin boiled in the cauldron with his teeth and swallowing it whole, washing it down with bragget in a tankard the size of beer barrel when his porter announced a man was at the door.
And not just any man: a skilled man. His name was Cai and he claimed to be the best burnisher of swords in the world. Looking down at his trusty sword, Diwrnarch realised that in all his life he had not paid any attention to maintaining its legendary sharpness. “A burnisher of swords. Just the man I need. Send him in!”
Cai was the tallest man Diwrnarch had met who was not a giant, fair-haired, jovial. He handled the giant’s blade with ease. Taking a striped whetstone, whistling as he worked, he polished its dark-blue edge to a white sheen thin as the horizon.
Diwrnarch nodded his satisfaction. Before Cai agreed to polish the other side, he insisted Diwrnarch allow his friend, Bedwyr, to come in. As Bedwyr was skilled with a spear with a head that came off its shaft, drew blood from the wind, then landed back on the shaft again, Diwrnarch agreed.
Whilst Cai finished burnishing his sword, Bedwyr and Goreu (a companion he smuggled in) snuck off and set about the wings of the castle slaughtering Diwrnarch’s maids and servants.
Cai approached Diwrnarch with the sword, smiling widely, swinging it demonstratively “it’s so sharp it could draw blood from all four winds now. Bleed them dry.”
“Very good,” Diwrnarch stood, turned and stretched out his eager hands to take his weapon.
As Diwrnarch leaned close, with one swift swing, Cai sliced off his head and kicked his body back onto the table with a resounding crash that shook the hall. Diwrnarch’s last scream made no sound as his head hit the floor, rolled once, twice, lay still.
Uproar filled the hall. Cai and Bedwyr make short work of the rest of the giants with their enchanted weapons. When every courtier lay in pooling blood, they piled their swords, armour, jewellery and other riches into the cauldron and departed with it filled with Welsh treasure.
In Ireland, Diwrnarch awoke alone and was taken in by King Odgar as his steward. Odgar gave Diwrnarch a castle in the emerald hills and charge of his prized cauldron. Diwrnarch defended the cauldron from all the enemies of the Irish: the Britons, the Picts, the Sidhe, with his sharp-edged sword.
Alongside Diwrnarch fought an Irishman called Llenlleog who was nearly as skilled a swordsman and may have been better if he possessed Diwrnarch’s sword, from which he seldom removed his eyes.
One day, Diwrnarch received a message from Odgar: King Arthur of Prydain was coming to Ireland and he was to give him the cauldron. Diwrnarch recognised this as a trick and refused. However, the guest law of his country demanded that he must allow Arthur and his company into his hall to feast.
Although the cauldron sizzled and growled, it did not refuse meat to any of Arthur’s men. Whilst the mead horn passed, Diwrnarch supped bragget from his beer-barrel sized tankard and exchanged crude jokes about the Britons in Irish with Llenlleog, who sat at his right hand.
After his company had eaten and drunk their fill, Arthur asked Diwrnarch to give up the cauldron. Diwrnarch refused. Bedwyr seized the cauldron and put it on the back of Hygwydd, Arthur’s servant. As Diwrnarch rose from his seat and reached for his sword, Llenlleog snatched his sharp-edged blade and in one swift stroke cut off his head.
Llenlleog’s blade made such quick work of the other Irishmen that Arthur and his men did not need to move from their seats. They departed with a new ally and the cauldron filled with Irish treasure.
In the Old North, Diwrnarch was born to a family of giants who kept their hall in the headlands of Pennant Gofid ‘the Valley of Grief’. They lived close to a cult of witches who had one by one been killed by a stream of knights coming to the valley in search of witch’s blood.
The last witch was called Orddu ‘The Very Black Witch’. She was not only adept in witchcraft but a fierce fighter. She and Diwrnarch became firm friends. When Orddu’s life was threatened, Diwrnarch came to her defence with his sharp-edged sword. When Diwrnarch’s hall was attacked by questers for the cauldron, Orddu defended it with spells, talons, her bare knuckles and wrestling skills.
One night, Diwrnarch and his court were feasting. Orddu had joined them at Diwrnarch’s right, drinking from a tankard bigger than Diwrnarch’s. They were well into their cups when Arthur and his company arrived and asked for access to the hall.
“Let them in,” said Orddu “we can deal with them. Get them drunker than us and then…” she nodded toward Diwrnarch’s magical weapon.
As the cauldron bubbled and spat and Arthur and his men shared meat and mead from a horn, Cai made eyes at Orddu. Orddu had a liking for tall, fair men. It was not long until Cai had ensconced himself between Orddu and Diwrnarch, his hand on Orddu’s thigh, then reaching for Diwrnarch’s sword.
In one fell swoop, Cai decapitated Diwrnarch. With a wild scream, Orddu launched herself on Cai, grasped his sword arm and the pair fell to wrestling on the floor. Whilst they struggled, Arthur and his men killed the rest of Diwrnarch’s court and escaped with the cauldron filled with northern treasure.
I imagine other stories existed and Diwrnach died in every one. All for the cauldron that boils meat for the brave and brings life to the dead. It’s long gone now. Three holes scar the ashen ground. Its mere absence is enough to bring to mind bubbling water, quicken my heart.
I turn back to the fallen giant. The cold slabs of his limbs across the table. His severed head on the floor. His courtiers drowned in blood. The cauldron’s deadly price.
“Diwrnarch is dead,” the King of Annwn’s voice is like a death knell. His cloak is darker than the shadows of the hall yet his eyes are bright as stars.
“Diwrnarch is dead: here in the mountains of Alt Clut as he is in Dal Riada, Gododdin, Rheged, Elmet, Gwynedd, Dyfed, Powys, Ceredigion, Bernicia, Deira, all the kingdoms of the Cymry, of Lloegres, of Eire, in every kingdom of the world.
In his death many fragments of the world have been gathered together again, although until the cauldron has been re-forged they will not be melded.”
“Was is this the only way?” I ask.
“There is no other way for the Nine Maidens but necessity.”
“Can we at least give them a proper funeral?” I ask. “Diwrnarch and his courtiers, all his maids and servants?”
“This mountain hall will be their grave,” says the King. “Here they will eat, drink and make merry again. And Diwrnach, what will your fate be? Blue Smith: the only soul with the knowledge of how to re-forge the cauldron, give strength to the weak, courage to the frightened, old, old son of Old Mother Universe?”
A terrible keening grates through my bones and fills the hall. An old woman appears: hooded, small, bent, narrow, through a chink of darkness. With a gnarled finger she points at Diwrnarch’s head.
The King of Annwn sets Diwrnarch’s head upright and turns it to face her. The Old Mother approaches and takes a bottle of ointment from her pouch. Crooning softly, she rubs it into her son’s skin, bringing back the blue hue. She combs his hair with a silver comb, untangles his beard and dresses it with oil.
Once she’s done, his stony eyes roll back with a staccato flash like lightning. His full colour floods back. The Blue Smith loosens his jaws…
By Lorna C. Smithers