“A giant’s face, even when buried sixty feet down, has diplomacy and mastery of international relations.”
From Lorna Smithers
‘Arthur disclosed the head ofBrân the Blessed from the White Hill, because it did not seem right to him that this Island should be defended by the strength of anyone, but his own.’
The Triads of the Island of Britain
‘The face is a living presence; it is expression… The face speaks.’
A giant does not find it easy to die. We are too big for the cauldron. Our flesh does not boil. Our bones and gristle do not grind. Our faces remain; stark, expressive, chiselled, and insurmountable as cliffs.
I took control of my fate the day the cauldron shattered and the Gatherer of Souls, bent-backed, leaning against the winds of a broken universe, gathered the dead and the undead back to Annwn.
As I died from a poisoned wound in my foot, loosening the tourniquet, I told the seven survivors of my army to cut off my head and carry it back to Prydain to be buried beneath White Hill.
A giant’s face, even when buried sixty feet down, has diplomacy and mastery of international relations. My expressive eyes are lakes, drinking the reflections of others, reflecting back to them an understanding. My smile and the wrinkles around my eyes are hospitality. The imposing ridge of my nose ensures I am taken seriously. A frown ripples waves and a scowl summons marooning winds.
Thus I maintained my kingdom, welcoming traders, craftsmen, refugees (even the monstrous fiery-headed giants who brought the cauldron) into the forests of my beard. Many languages rang from the markets. I witnessed a mingling of skins; tribes with the heads of dogs, lions, horses. Even under the Romans, many peoples commingled worshipping many gods.
The conflict with the Saxons was not insuperable. There is room in Prydain for all when it is not dominated by tables of power-hungry kings and the shadowy threat of the assassin’s knife.
When Arthur declared himself King of Prydain he could not bear this island being defended by anyone but him (defence being his prerogative: drawing lines on shifting sands, dictating which faces belonged). So he brought a workforce to White Hill. Spades dug down. Wheelbarrows carted mud. Finally they struck my skull.
I groaned. The workforce dropped their spades and stared at blood oozing from beneath raven-black hair. More gently they worked; easing the mud from the cliffs of my cheeks, dusting off my eyebrows and eyelashes, revealing my frown and my dry lips pressed together amidst my beard. Every worker trembled when he looked at my face. One bowed down. Arthur kicked him up.
The King of Prydain did not look at me. When I looked at him, I saw his fate. “Twelve battles will be fought.”
The workers dropped their trowels and rags. A wheelbarrow toppled. Two men took flight up the ramp and out of the hollow hill. Arthur turned and saw his reflection in the lakes of my eyes.
“Twelve battles between Briton and Saxon: one on the river Glen, four in the river Dubglas in the Region Linuis, one on the river Bassas, one in the Caledonian Forest, one in Guinnion Fort, one in the City of the Legion, one on the river Tribuit, one on the Hill called Agned, and one on Badon Hill.
“In the thirteenth battle, at Camlan, you will meet your death.” In my eyes Arthur saw himself lying helpless, blood pouring from a wound half a foot wide, surrounded by ravens.
“Take the cursed thing away!” he bawled. “Far from my kingdom.”
The workforce put a gigantic sack over my head so they did not have to look at my face. Many pairs of trembling hands lifted it onto a cart hauled by a pair of draught horses down bumpy roads. It was hoisted onto a ship, loaded into the deepest part of the hold, deposited on the continent.
Since then my head has passed through many hands. From an undisclosed place it speaks. Some see a new Prydain in the lakes of my eyes, the untamed forest of my beard, the welcoming cliffs of my cheeks.
Lorna Smithers is an awenydd, Brythonic polytheist, and devotee of Gwyn ap Nudd recovering lost stories from the land and myths of forgotten gods and dreaming new ones. She is the author of Enchanting the Shadowlands and The Broken Cauldron, and has edited and co-edited A Beautiful Resistance. She performs poetry and gives talks and workshops in her home county of Lancashire and occasionally further far afield. She blogs at Signposts in the Mist.