The Mystery Of Branwen
How the dark child, Branwen, learned of love and brought a village back from the dead.
In the village of Ashton-Under-Edge, there lived a young woman, named Branwen. Her Hair was black as a raven’s feathers. The child had a brother and a father. She was of an age when she might be married but instead tended house for her father.
I The Preacher
The Clergyman of Ashton-Under-Edge took the coffer; “Thank you. Father.”
A sign was made by the cowled figure; “Have a care, of the Blood and the Body. Now have faith, my son and go with God. In the name of the father…”
After he had genuflected, the Clergyman retired carrying the coffer; as he left, he did those rites that worship demanded. On leaving, the Minster, he securely fastened the coffer, to his mount’s saddle; that done, he mounted his horse and rode off towards his flock. The cowled figure threw back the hood and shimmered for a second; thereafter his attire and visage had changed. A different voice came from the cowled figure in a whisper; “Thanks to you, Master, it is done.”
There boomed out from a chancel, the voice, that the cowled figure had used, “Go boy! Run! Fetch the Dean.” Shortly there after a terrified young priest ran out of the Minster, followed by the Bishop, who progressed with the slow steady gate, of one venerable with age.
Having amused himself, with the spectacle of the Bishop’s ire, the cowled figure merged with the shadows, as he left the mister. Despite his departure being without the ritual acts of faith, that the clergyman had performed, what he did, or more truly the lack of any rote, was a far stronger display of his faith, than that of the priest.
After he had mounted his horse, he rode it hard back towards his master. Once clear of the city and alone on the road he laughed, “Faith! Have Faith Preistling! We will see, who truly has faith. Monkshood wine and Ergot wafer for your Mass; true revelation awaits your flock.”
Ahead of him on the road the Clergyman made steady progress back to Ashton-Under-Edge. His heart was ecstatic for his little church to have a true relic, a bone of St Peter. When a short way further down the road, the cowled man rode quickly towards the priest, who made a sign and muttered a few words. Whilst the Priest prayed for protection, as the man passed, the Priest’s crucifix glowed brightly, in the spring sunshine.
A mile further down the road a leper rang his bell, as the horseman, who had passed himself off as the Bishop, approached. On passing the leper, the horseman threw an object at the leper and galloped on by laughing, what he threw landed in the road just short of the leper. That which had been thrown, still remained where it had landed, when The Priest urged his mount on, as he approached the leper, who was by then sat, by the road. Passing by, on the far side of the road, the priest avoided looking towards the leper; “Lord have mercy upon you, sinner.” Further down the road, a young woman cried out as the horseman galloped passed her. Some minutes later when the priest approached her, he slowed his mount, then greeted her and warned her to beware of the leper.
On being addressed by the priest, Branwen lowered her burden, to the ground; “Father, is the Minster as magnificent as they say it is?”
“Yes, my child. Why do you go to Bellhamcester, on the eve…”
Her reply was an excited, “The Fair!” Then, after a pause, she added, “To see my brother and a service in the Minster. Father.”
The Priest frowned, “Child! Do not stay long at the fair! No Christian child should.” After he had spoken, she blushed and looked down at the ground, until he rode on and Branwen continued on her way.
II The Leper
At its Zenith was the sun, when Branwen came upon the leper still seated by the road. Needing refreshment and rest, after her walk from Ashton-Under-Edge, Branwen decided to rest there, though she feared to be so near to the leper. After seating herself, at the side of the road a few paces clear, of the leper. Branwen unwrapped the paltry bundle of food, in which there was barely enough of it, to keep her feed until she returned to her village. Having sliced off a tranche of trencher and another of cheese, Branwen said a silent prayer of thanks, for her food. Almost the instant that she started to lift the food to her mouth, she paused and turned to the leper, who was staring at the road, “Are you hungry?”
Initially, the leper’s only reply was to uncertainly turn towards her, though after a pregnant pause, he told her that he was indeed hungry. When she, immediately thereafter, cautiously offered him some of her food, he made it easy for her to give it him, without her coming into any contact, with anything he had touched.
Over their meagre meal, their conversation rapidly became one that required little effort. Initially, he told her that his name was Thomas, though occasionally thereafter he referred to himself as Didimus. Having progressed passed the mandatory pleasantries, he told her about his time in the Holy Land, and described places, that she had only heard of third-hand from priests. Due to their easy dialogue; her stop, for food and rest, was much longer than she had intended. It seemed to her, that he needed someone to talk to, more than he had had need of the food, that she had given to him. Post-haste, a good hour had passed, before she started to make her farewell, to Thomas, offering him half of her remaining food and telling him of a deserted building, where he could sleep that night. Accepting the food, Thomas thanked her for it, then as she packed away the rest of her food, he told her of a house where she would find a welcome, in Bellhamcester. Just after Branwen had started on her journey again, Thomas called after her and pointed; “Branwen, take that purse. None would accept its contents from me. Take the purse, I have not touched it, before you arrived a horseman threw it to me, as he passed.”
After a true display of reluctance, Branwen agreed to take it, and left the rest of her food with Thomas, whom she profusely thanked for the purse. As she walked away, she looked in the purse; there were more coins in it than she had ever seen in her life; most of them she had never seen, the like of, before. For the rest of her journey, to Bellhamcester; her mind was filled with images, of the people and places, that Thomas Juda had told her about.
III The Gate Keeper
An hour after leaving Thomas, far less by her perception of time and at least another half by the distance she had travelled, she arrived at the town gates. Having achieved ingress into Bellhamcester Branwen made her way to find her brother, who was at the Minster, for he was to be the Boy Bishop, for the next Christmas Mass. By the gates to the Minster’s cloisters, there was a coffer — that was officially there to receive alms, for aid the poor — so Branwen dropped the two most lustrous coins into it. At the gate, She spoke with a monk, who sent another to fetch her brother. Whilst Branwen waited at the gate for her brother, the monk and Branwen conversed. Despite their talk being just being to pass the time, the gatekeeper included references and comments that were confusing and unnerving to Branwen, especially the several times when the gatekeeper called her dark child or dark beauty. There were also a few times that he even made references to the principal apostle, as if that person had been a woman. Finally, when Edmund, her brother, came to the gate, in the company of an other monk, the gatekeeper had taken to asking her questions, to which she had no answers, or even understood. There was something about her talks with Thomas and the gate keeper, that somehow made the grand architecture, of the Minster, seem sinister and absurd. Smiling, the monk, who did never acknowledge the gate keeper’s presence, allowed Ed to escort her around the town, as long as he returned, in time for evening prayers. It was with a metrical delivery that the gatekeeper bespoke a farewell, to Branwen, “Mark well Raven Beauty, the words of our lady, of the cave, for her council will aid thee, when the thirst is upon thee, Thou must spread thy wings and strike like an eagle. His blessings be upon thee and may he go with thee. I shall speak with thee again after blood flows from the rock, that becomes dust at thy feet.”
IV The Noviciate
Edmund was no longer the boy, that she had known, and his behaviour seemed alien to her, for he was acquiring the attitudes, demeanour and bearing of a priest, and so he objected to their going to the fair. For a time, they wandered round the towns busy streets, with Edmund constantly preaching to her. As both Branwen and Edmund knew little of city ways, with all buildings looking much the same to them, it did not take long before Ed became lost and they found themselves at Earl’s Pasture, where the bawdiness, that was the Spring Fair, was laid out before them.
V The Fayre
There were freemen were offering themselves for employment and merchants selling their goods. There were also women of the town wandering the fair, of whom many had ribbons, of green and yellow, as part of their attire. At the sight of them Ed displayed obvious contempt for those women; some he even warned, that by such conduct they would endanger their futures, in heaven. With Edmund’s behaviour annoying Branwen, though she really wanted to do more, she only told him, to show more respect, for other people. Occasionally, Branwen caught sight of a bright, mysterious woman, in the crowds. After becoming sick of Edmund’s priestly ways, she bade him take her back to the Minster. On their way back to the Minster, Edmund told her about a task that he had to perform at the Minster, which was the removing a white growth from the stables, that he said a Saracen merchant paid the monastery for, no matter how much collected.
Having left her brother at the Minster, Branwen walked around the town, seeking accommodation at many Inns, but none had any room, as the fair had, at the very least, doubled the town’s population, if not tripled it. Whilst on this quest, a man in the rainment of a Templar spoke to her, but what he said, to her, was something that she could not understand. After a few attempts, she gathered that he sought the Minster, to which she directed him, more by gesticulation than by what she said. Her encounter, with the Templar, reminded her about the house, that Thomas had told her about.
VII The Chapter House
Eventually, her search, for that house, took her into the oldest, darkest part of the town, where Ale staves were uncommon. Several hours after sunset, she found the house, only for the bright, mysterious woman to answer the door. Passing on Thomas’s greeting, Branwen saw, behind the woman, other people, many of whom had obviously been on the crusades. Smiling, the woman indicated for her to enter; “For your aid to the Didimus, you are welcome to the hospitality of my house. I am Mary.” From Branwen’s first sight of the woman, her features and then her voice made it clear that she was no native of Islands of The Mighty. Once Branwen had entered the house, she noticed that there was something strange about it, though, from the outside, it had looked unremarkable. Those inside spoke in strange tongues, yet Branwen found she understood what they talked about. After a while, Branwen knew what was so strange about the house, for the interior of the house fitted the description, that Thomas had given her, of the houses of the Holy Land. From the first moment of her entry into the house, Branwen was treated as she had imagined that great nobles were treated, after a time she noticed that all, of those who were there, were treated also as if they were nobles.
VIII The Disciple
Fourteen sat down to the meal that evening: Branwen, Mary and twelve men. That night, the meal that they had was like none Branwen had ever had before. Whilst the dined, Mary told a story, as she did so Branwen kept seeing a double image of the room. At times it seemed that the story was taking place before her, in the room. When that happened, Branwen kept thinking that she saw two Thomas’s in the room, also two other guests took on the image of a father and son, though the father had a malign look about him and the son seemed to be an innocent. At times Branwen felt that her own dress looked like that of a man. As the story progressed, the alternate image showed, a ‘Thomas’ pick up a bowl. At some point later in the story, Branwen had the sensation of a ‘Thomas’ kneeling before her and her feet being washed. Still later a ‘Thomas’ washed the feet of ‘the malign father’ and disputed with him. Then ‘the innocent son’ begged that he not have something asked of him, despite finally he agreeing, at which point the image seemed to leave the room.
IX The Garden
With supper over, Mary, to Branwen’s surprise, suggested that they go into the garden; which she expected by then to have taken on a chill air. When they did go out into the garden, it was improbably large and the April night seemed to be too hot to Branwen. With Mary starting to once more relate the story, one of the guests entered it later than the rest, with those who had served at table. These late arrivals, seemed, to Branwen, to be strangely dressed soldiers, accompanied by the ‘innocent son’. After their arrival, the story continued, with the “innocent” making a very familiar greeting to a “Thomas.” At which point ‘the malign father’ drew a sword, but the ‘Thomas’ who had been greeted contended with him and left with the ‘Soldiers’. Once they had left, the ‘Son’ gave a purse to the ‘Father’. Though the story finished, long before dawn, Branwen did not sleep that night, as she along with all the other guests there sought confirmation of their senses and answers to unanswerable questions for the rest of the night.
X The Service / Gift
Over the course of the night Branwen gathered that Thomas was the twin brother of Mary’s Lord. When in the morning, Branwen went to take her leave in morning; she felt as if she had had the best night’s sleep of her life. At Branwen’s leave taking, Mary gave her two gifts; “These you will need in the day’s to come. Go to the Saracen merchant, and have him prepare this flask for you.” With that said, Mary handed Branwen the flat bottomed flask as-well-as an object, that had been wrapped in cloth, to Branwen, “This you should wear, when you need protection. Tell no one of them and buy four yards of muslin.” The place and something about Mary made Branwen accept the gifts, though more out of politeness that acceptance of the need for them. On leaving there, just the thought of having dealings with a Moor was distasteful to Branwen and the act was something that Branwen had no intentions of doing.
XI The Saracen
When Branwen left the house, she found her self near the place that they had been the previous day, when her brother had lost his way. From there, she made her way to the Minster, as she was going to attend the mass that commemorated the crucifixion. Inside the Minster, a menace, of great and the powerful, was at the front of the congregation. Behind them, there was a dark, icy cloud, of Merchants. As for the rest, they stood bewildered, at the back. For the first time, in her life, Branwen found that she understood the strange utterances, of a priest. The Latin, that the priest, spoke she heard, but she also heard a voice translating it for her, in her mind. That day’s lesson was a different version of the story, that Mary had told the previous night. As the service progressed Branwen had a growing feeling that something or everything was wrong.
Mid-service, the Templar, from the previous night, came over to her, bringing a brother knight with him, who greeted her then continued in a foreign accent, “…thank you for the aid you gave my Brother Knight.”
After this, the Templar spoke to his companion, only for Branwen to answered him for she had understood what he had said, “I am Branwen of Ashton-Under-Edge. It is my brother…”
In shock the Templar crossed himself and looked at her, as if she had two heads, for it was in Castilian that he spoken, “How is it that today we understand each other’s words? It is as if another voice tells me what you say.”
Branwen looked confused; “I… I do not know. I Stayed in an old house last night, it had many of your fellow crusaders there. Whilst I was there, I heard their strange words and understood them, as they did with mine. They all spoke differently, yet we all understood each other.”
“God has touch you, child.” As he spoke the companion crossed himself, “He has chosen you for something. May you fair well and have the protection of the lord in the trials that are ahead of you.”
As the last of the flock accepted Communion, from the Cleric of Ashton-Under-Edge, the woman returned to her place in the congregation. The priest gazed up into the eaves; his face looked ecstatic. Several of the congregation cried out and fled from the chapel. Some started to attack other members of the flock. One woman fell to her knees and started to prey. The children were terrified and screaming. The ecstatic expression remained on the priest’s face as he collapsed dead.
When she left the Minster, Branwen saw a Moorish merchant move away from the cloister gate, carrying buckets. Branwen headed for the town gate; the Moor spoke to her as she passed, “Branwen, of Ashton-Under-Edge, I believe we have business to do.” She nearly screamed.
The children cried and shook their parents; their parents did not move. A voice came from the entrance to the church; the children ran towards the voice, then fled from the figure, who was stood in the church’s doorway.
Eventually, Branwen gave into fate, and talked to the Moor, returning with him to the fair. On the way there, the merchant said, “You do not think we should enter holy places do you?” Before Branwen could answer he added, “Merchants I mean. You are right and I do not.”
“I had never known it was wrong until today. Why…”
The two of them talked easily, to each other, in their own tongues. On their achieving his tent, he filled the flask and sealed it, leaving a rope dangling from it. After he had passed the flask to her, Branwen also purchased a length of muslin. Upon leaving the Moor, Branwen went round the fair, once more, buying a meal for herself and also an ass, for her journey home. Late in the afternoon, she started to make her way home, but by then the once heavy purse was light, for but two coins remained there in the purse, with the rest having gone in giving alms to beggars.
XII The Village
The children were gathered, near the entrance to the church; men in the livery of D’Rom watched over them and kept them together. Others built a huge pyre. Some children tried to get away, whilst others screamed. They saw their parents limp cadavers carried towards the pyre.
Branwen’s journey home was quicker, than her walk to Bellhamcester; the road was empty. At Gretly, Branwen heard things that worried her; these were rumours about a plague, that had struck her village. After she had left there, she stopped at side of the road, to examine the gifts, that Mary had given to her. Branwen put on the necklace, in such a way that she would have the talisman under her clothes and against her skin.
XIII The Dragon
For an age, Branwen was confined to a room, that was high in the donjon, whilst there for several days she cried, over the loss of her mother and father. For many more, she was alone except for when the Steward delivered her food. Inactivity and solitude were terrible torments for Branwen, as she had rarely experienced them in the past, singularly, let alone both at the same time. Most of the time, Branwen paced round the room, as if she were a caged animal.
XV The Horizon
After a couple of weeks of confinement, Branwen was close to going mad, with her only solace being the magnificent vista, that there was from the high dungeon window.
XVI The Bird / Starling
One morning, Branwen was awoken by the song of a bird, through the window, that she did regularly gaze out through and perceive most of the Wensel Valley. The bird’s song was bitter sweet, in that it reminded her of the time when she lived in Ashton-Under-Edge, though it did cheer her it also reminded her of all she had lost.
XVII The Lovers
After nearly three weeks of imprisonment for Branwen, just after dusk as the moon rose, Simon D’Rom gave the order, that she should be brought before him. Branwen was striped, bathed and dressed in finery, by two female servants, who performed their duty in absolute silence. The man who had nearly rode Branwen down, escorted her down, from the room, to the great hall. Branwen spoke to him, but he would not speak, to her. She was scared, but relieved to be out of the room.
Simon D’Rom, ensured that he would look imposing, for her entrance. Branwen had to walk the entire length of the great hall, to the foot of the dais, on which D’Rom’s chair was mounted. His steward pushed her to her knees. The talisman Branwen wore was, once again, warm against her skin. D’Rom stared down at her. The steward stepped back and withdrew to the rear, of the hall. Branwen stared back at D’Rom, “What has happened to…”
He indicated for her to be silent; “They are being taken care of. You have no need to worry about them or anything ever again.”
For weeks D’Rom spoilt her with the finest of luxuries and the greatest of entertainments that his wealth and prestige enabled him to source. He composed tales and fine rhymes to woe her. Renowned minstrels came to his tower and played the finest of music to entertain Branwen. The wealth of worlds would not have, softened her heart towards him, for she saw him and knew him for all his evils and deceits.
Months passed without D’Rom achieving his desire. The night of All Hallows Eve arrived and D’Roms patience finally reached its end and he reverted to his nature. To see his passion sated, D’Rom resorted to the power he had used to allow one of his followers to sate his lust on D’Rom’s Daughter. D’Rom reached out to Branwen with his power and afflicted her with a palsy of Branwen’s entire body. With her unresisting, he took her and sated his desire. Satisfied, D’Rom drank her blood and forced his upon her.
For several days, Branwen layed dead in her chamber, rising on the night of the third day. She discovered her senses were far beyond what she had had before. She did though have a thirst thst could not be quenched by any amount of ale, mead or Wine. Something told her, that should she not eat for a whole moon, after rising, she would no longer be what she had become. When the moon arced high in the sky, the moon was her friend and her thirst eased.
XX The Sun
Sun and day though were her enemy. Just the sun being in the sky made her thirst worse. To lay in the dark eased somewhat the heightened thirst, but it only left her if she sought out the sleep of the grave. As each day began, the thirst was worse than the day before, but she refused to give in to the thirst for blood. D’Rom had her in his presence, whenever he fed and demonstrated how the pleasures and joy that came with feeding. Several times Branwen had, in D’Rom’s presence wine turn to blood. Once water turned froom water to fine wine then blood. Despair and uncertainty returned to Branwen.
XXI The Tree
Out one night, in the inner bailey of D’Rom’s castle, Branwen sought out peace and solitude. The only place that seemed to offer it was an ancient yew tree at its centre. At its base there were places on might sit, where boughs had been trimmed from it. Sitting in one such place, Branwen found peace for a time only for an owl and a bat to settle on branches near her. They regarded her and said in unison we are are to guided you. “Time is getting short for you.”
The Bat offered, “You are days from your end.”
“Peace but no solution to the problems will come soon, if you do not act.” Voiced the owl.
“It is time to choose.” Squeaked the bat.
“There is still hope, if you know where to look.” Hooted the owl.
“Hope?” Demanded Branwen.
“Take the blood and live for ever.” Advised the bat.
“You have the gifts and solution to the evils near at hand.” Counselled the owl.
“Seize what is offered and never turn back.” Squealed the bat.
“That which is not of man will sustain for a while.” Came in unison, “The trick is simple that is material is material no matter how you change it. With thought you can transform what rite and blessing are claimed to do.”
“A taste of what he gave will yield most and cost little.” They advised as they flew away.
For an age after they had left, Branwen sat contemplating. Eventually, with the night nearing it’s end D’Rom came to her. He offered her a child to drink from, which she declined. He offered her a glass of blood, again she declined him. After refusing a glass of wine, she accepted his wrist vein, at which he smiled triumphantly.
Tasting his blood, sealed his fate, for on the first taste she determined what she should do and knew that her judgement was sound. Having drunk deeply, Branwen stood, “Come to my chamber, an hour after sunset. I will be waiting for you.”
D’Rom was joyous, as she walked away.
XXIII The Star
That day Branwen did not rest, spending all her time in preparations. She sought out the treasures that she had come with, finding them disregarded at the bottom of the coffer that held her grand attire. First she extracted the talisman from its rapping of undistinguished cloth. The talisman, that was on a simple leather cord, was just a circle that had a cross in it that divided it into equal quarters. There was a similar marking on the base of the flask. Having hung the talisman round her neck, she made and lit a fire in the hearth of the chamber. With a fire roaring in the hearth, Branwen dressed in the finest of the robes she had. Having had servants style her hair and enhance her beauty, she had servants bring her: a large bowl of water, two goblets, a flask of the finest wine, a small bowl, a sharp knife, a little coffer and a vial of perfume. Using a fine cloth, she draped the coffer and laid out many of the items she had requested. Having hidden others and her bolt of cloth beneath the bed, Branwen awaited D’Rom, nursing the flask from Mary. The sun set and Branwen became impatient for the end of her ordeal.
Eventually, D’Rom approached. Just as D’Rom began to open the door, Branwen placed the flask into the hearth with it’s cross to her, then retreated to bed, as D’Rom entered.
“Fair Child! You truly are magnificent.” D’Rom crossed afront of the fire, “A meal for us to share will arrive shortly.”
“The End is here, Peter!” Spat Branwen.
Just as D’Rom reacted to the name Peter, there was an explosion in the hearth and a five pointed star flew at D’Rom. The star hit his head and his head was affixed to one point of it. After that his body began to distort and his hands and feet were drawn to the other points of the star.
An anguished cry escaped Peter D’Rom’s lips as he was consumed by fire.
Those of his minions, outside the chamber, saw his fate and cried out fleeing. Telling others what they had seen. As their cries echoed round the castle, there was fighting at the gate house and people fleeing the entrance. In to the castle came a Templar and the leper Thomas.
D’Rom’s cries were eventually silenced as he was reduced to ash.
XXIV The Blood
Those who had served D’Rom eagerly fled quickly. Leaving the children of Ashton-Under-Edge, a few others and Branwen. Up in her chamber Branwen waited having placed the winding-sheet, coffer and knife on the bed. Whilst she waited, she used a besom to sweep up D’Rom’s ashes, which she stowed in the coffer. By the time, Thomas reached her room she had slit her wrist and had a small bowl of her own blood, which she filled the perfume vial that she had emptied. Just before Thomas entered, she placed the large bowl on the floor in readiness.
Kneeling, Branwen greeted the arrival of Thomas. Seating himself on the bed, Thomas enquired, “Is the Roman dead?”
“Ashes in the coffer.”
Seeing the blood in the bowl, Thomas demanded, “What have you done?”
XXV The Shroud
Branwen held the large bowl up so Thomas could wash his hands, then placed the bowl so Thomas could soak his feet. When Thomas withdrew his feet, Branwen offered him the winding-sheet to dry him self. After he had finished, Branwen soaked the cloth in the dirty water in the bowl. As it seeped, she poured goblets of wine for them both. Before drinking hers, Branwen focused on the wine and blessed it. When she drank it, it was good blood and nourished her and eased her thirst.
Seeing what she had achieved, Thomas let slip his façade and took on the look of one from many centuries earlier and from the lands of the crusades, “Many paths may be yours. Where would you step next?”
“For those who remain, I must taste the grave again.” Branwen lifted that which was to be her shroud out of the bowl and let it drip a while, “I now have two world at my feet. That which was and the one I will make.”
Taking the shroud from her, Thomas had her stand feet together in the middle of the floor and began winding her in the winding-sheet. When she was wrapped in the entirety of the cloth, Thomas secured it and lifted her onto the bed.
When the sun rose, Branwen lost the mundane world for a time and saw many things she did not even conceive of or understand.
For two days and nights she lay there returning to the world of men at dawn on the third day. Awaiting her wakening in her room was a knight in the guise of a Templar, but not one she had seen before. His name being the young knight Faeradal Tabler. He and his men had taken charge of the castle and those with it, whilst Branwen found her way back to mortality.
Once she had risen and nourished her body, Branwen made her way down to the cellars of D’Rom’s Tower. In its darkest depths, there were chained where D’Rom had left them to suffer, the children he had fed on and transformed. Choosing the one closest to death and most deranged, Branwen Calmed him and wrapped him in the shroud. Staying with him she guided him back form the darkness and to back to being a boy. Over the course of two weeks, Branwen led those who would come back from where D’Rom cast them.
The knights and men with Faeradal had prepared over that time to lead them away form D’Rom’s dark demense. Four carts of the children with Branwen at the reins of the first left the castle accompanied by others on foot and the company of Faeradal. When they left the castle its dungeon was sundered. The further they travelled from D’Rom’s castle the worse the castle decayed with its walls becoming loose piles of stone.
XXVI The Gore Stone
Before they wound their way down to the valley, Branwen had a vision. Following that vision, Branwen and Faeradal headed off to wards the edge of the level. Having gone about a mile, Branwen found what she had been looking for, that which she had seen. There amongst the trees, there was two huge stones between which there was an entrance into a little hillock. Insisting on going in alone Branwen took the coffer of D’Rom’s ashes inside and placed it at the heart of the hillock. On exiting the hillock, Branwen Had Faeradal close up the entrance with a huge stone which she help move. With the entrance closed up, Branwen remembered her vision once more and had Faeradal stab the stone with is sword. He slew the hillock and it collapsed becoming a pile of rocks topped off with a gargantuan granite slab.
XXVII The Wolf
With there train having progressed down to the valley floor, they came upon what had been the village of Ashton-Under-Edge. Most of the buildings had been burnt down or had their roofs collapse. The only two fully intact buildings in the village being the great barn and the church. As the train arrived in the village, Faeradal noticed a horse that had been savaged. The horse had the livery of D’Rom on it. Dismounting, Faeradal went to investigate, only for Branwen to climb down off her wagon and follow him. Initially, Faeradal notice nothing else, until he came close to the church. From inside the church, Faeradal heard the sound of a wolf growling. Inside, Faeradal saw a magnificent wolf being held at bay by the drawn sword of D’Rom’s knight banneret. Seeing him Branwen recognised him immediately, for he had tormented her whilst she was in D’Rom’s castle. Why he had returned was mystery to them. But that which Branwen noticed was that in his off hand he held a reliquary, which she somehow knew contained the last fragment of D’Rom. The banneret lunged at the wolf which was distracted by their arrival. This did cause the wolf to shy away and allow the knight a route to the entrance where Branwen was stood. Behind her unseen at the door where two of those who served Faeradal. The banneret made for the entrance only to see Branwen, which caused him to raise his sword and charge. In so doing he allowed the wolf a clear strike at him. The Wolf’s teeth sank into the banneret’s hand that held the reliquary, which the banneret dropped. After which the wolf retreated to the corner the church.
Pained, angry and eager for revenge the banneret once more charged at Branwen only for Faeradal to engage him. Faced with one of true skill, the banneret was always on the loosing side, but would not yield. With great skill Faeradal manoeuvred the banneret out of the church by force of blows before severing the head of the banneret.
Inside the wolf growled at any who approached him or the reliquary, only calming when Branwen went forward and picked up the reliquary. Once the wolf had calmed, Branwen would not have it harmed and had them drive it off into the woodland.
Having charge of D’Rom’s finger left Branwen with the problem of what to do with it. To be sure that the banneret would not trouble them again, Branwen had the banneret’s body and head burnt. The fate of D’rom’s finger was settled when Faeradal revealed he had the star that had put an end to D’Rom. Faeradal’s men and the others looked on when Branwen opened the reliquary and Faeradal touched the star to the finger. This caused a great flash of light but reduced the finger to dust.
XXVIII The Hermit
Little is known of Branwen after this other than she and Faeradal saw to the raising of the children Ashton-Under-Edge. Her brother Edmund the Bishop was said to have helped raise them after being the boy bishop. According to some Branwen lived out her days deep in the Blaec Oak Forest healing and guiding those worthy souls amongst those who sought her out for many an age after the children of Ashton-Under-Edge were long dead. Another tale is that after the children were grown, Branwen and Faeradal had children of their own.
XXIX The Custodian
Of her treasures, the vial and shroud, there are many stories. The winding cloth of Branwen has reputedly been held by at least five churches over the years, but disappeared when churches had little use for such things. There are those who say the true winding cloth is given into the guardianship of a worthy souls who keep it safe till needed. These custodians being many over the years but always keeping their charge secret. Of the vial though, there are few stories, save that it was once in the keeping of Bellham University.
XXX The Land
One tale of Branwen has it that she wed Faeradal and that they travelled the lands of heroes and legends were none grow old till the time came for them to once more venture into the lands of men. Others say that she passed from the world and became one with the land and should the need arise will return to the valley to put an end to great evil when it afflicts Bellhamshire.
Council of Bat and Owl, comfort from the horizon, wisdom of ages past, trials and ordeals all granted Branwen the Sophia to gain her victory. There are those who say that if you seek the knowledge Branwen gained then you should seek her out for she shares that knowledge freely.