The Legend of Dinas Emrys
"A tale of old, in which many things that took place shall pass into legend."
The Saxon Scourge
Many years ago, in what is now called the Middle Ages, Rome deserted its occupation of England, which was called Brittania. Hordes of invading barbarians would soon overrun the once glorious Roman Empire. The British territories were left vulnerable to the Saxons, Germanic tribes that had begun infiltrating Britain as hired mercenaries. The Saxons began a ruthless campaign to occupy large areas of Britain.
King Vortigern had once appealed to Hengist, a Saxon from Germany, to aid him in fighting off the Picts in the North. In return, Vortigern deeded Hengist and his people large portions of the land. Hengist built a fortress in Briton, so named Thong Castle because they used all the land that could be enclosed by a leather thong cut from a single bull's hide. As part of their alliance, King Vortigern was married to Rowen, the daughter of Hengist.
Vortigern's appeasement of the pagan Saxons was opposed by the Christian Britons, and they deposed Vortigern in favor of his son, Vortimer. King Vortimer fought valiantly to drive the Saxons out of Briton, but his life was cut short. After the death of King Vortimer, his father Vortigern was restored to kingship.
Treachery at Stonehenge
King Vortigern, upon being reinstated, invited Hengist and his men at the urging of his wife Rowen. He wanted Hengist to come with a small force to keep the peace between the barbarians and his subjects. Instead, Hengist arrived with a massive army, his intent seemingly on conquest. Angry and dismayed, Vortigern braced for battle with his former ally and started mustering his forces.
But Hengist got wind of these plans via secret messages from his daughter, and he was a clever man. He decided to send an offer of peace; they would set the terms in a meeting at the site of Amesbury, or Stonehenge. Hengist ordered his men to hide long daggers in their pant legs. When he gave the order, they were to stab and murder the nearest Briton. Many brave warriors were killed that day, and Vortigern was captured by the enemy in the one-sided battle. This event has been recorded in historical manuscripts as "The Night of the Long Knives."
A Boy without a Human Father
To save his own life, Vortigern had to bargain away more lands - he held nothing back from the Saxons. The Saxons were left unchecked to wreak devastation through London and all the countryside. Vortigern went into exile at Cambria.
Not knowing what to do, Vortigern turned to his counselors, magicians who advised him to build a strong fortress tower for safety. He scouted out the land and came upon the favorable site of Mount Erir. Masons and workmen were assembled to lay the foundation, but whatever they built one day would be gone the next, mysteriously swallowed up by the earth.
Again the magicians were consulted, and they told Vortigern that he must find a boy without a father, and that the boy must be sacrificed, and his blood sprinkled over the stones and cement so that the foundation would remain.
Scouts were sent out to find such a boy. Some scouts happened upon two youths having an argument. One youth was shouting at the other, "Who are you to argue with me? You have no father!" This fatherless boy, named Emrys, was sent with his mother to Vortigern.
What Lies Beneath
The boy asked Vortigern, "For what reason am I and my mother introduced into your presence?"
Vortigern explained what his magicians had told him. But the boy demanded, "Order your magicians to come before me, and I will convict them of a lie!" And when the magicians where brought in, he asked them, "Do you know what lies beneath the foundation? For there is something there that does not allow it to stand." And the magicians were afraid, for they did not know.
The boy told the king to dig into the ground. "There you will find a pond, which causes the foundation to sink." The men did as instructed, and they found the pond of water deep in the ground, just as the boy had said. Once more, he questioned the king's magicians. "What lies beneath the pond?" When the magicians could not answer, he instructed the king to drain the pond. "At the bottom you will see two hollow stones, and in them two dragons sleep."
As the people watched, the two dragons, one white, the other red, arose and began to fight. Smoke and fire issued forth from their mouths. But the white dragon was the stronger of them, and threw down the red dragon and drove it to the edge. But the red dragon fought back. This was repeated three times. At last the red dragon, the weaker of the two, recovered his strength and finally expelled the white one from the tent. He pursued the white one through the pool until it disappeared.
Then the boy asked the magicians what the meaning of this omen was, and they could not tell. So the boy said to the king, "I will unfold to you the meaning of the mystery. For the pool is the world and the tent is your kingdom. The red dragon is the dragon of your people; the white is the dragon of the people who live in several places in Britain, even almost from sea to sea. But our people shall rise and drive away the Saxon race from beyond the sea, whence they originally came."
The boy Emrys also said, "You must depart from this place, for you are not permitted to build a citadel here." But the boy's life was spared, and he stayed on in that place which would become known as Dinas Emrys, or the fortress of Ambrosius.
The boy, Myrddin Emrys, was none other than Merlin, the greatest wizard in all of history, who would later on become the adviser and mentor to the legendary King Arthur.
The mighty Red Dragon, Y Ddraig Goch, became a symbol of Wales and has been proudly displayed as a battle standard for hundreds of years. The modern Welsh flag, adopted in 1959, bears the symbol of the Red Dragon.
- History of the Kings of Britain
Translated text of History of the Kings of Britain by Geoffrey of Monmouth
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