Will rather enjoyed the State Opening, in all its archaic glory of wigs and crowns and black rods and military men running about in silk stockings and buckled court-shoes.
It was the perfect study for an anthropologist, simply bursting with ritual and tradition. More than once during the King's Speech, he caught himself privately analysing some smaller aspect of the occasion –- the traditional rowdiness of the MPs approaching the Lords Chamber, or the long-standing practice of the Palace holding a Government whip 'hostage' during the ceremony to ensure the monarch's safe return. Remnants of a time when relations between the Crown and the Commons had not been quite so benign, as Will rightly knew. And though he would have been the last person to demand that Parliament should cling to tradition purely for tradition's sake, he nevertheless liked the sense of continuity that this particular collection of traditions provided.
It was comforting to think that things didn't always have to change.
He quietly pushed those thoughts aside before he could go too far down that particular path, and focused his attention on the ceremony that was happening in the here and now.
He was almost too successful in that. Having fallen headlong into a brown study over the socio-economic significance of the stuffing in the Woolsack, he was so deep in thought that he only belatedly realised that the Speech had ended, His Majesty had departed, and the Royal Gallery was beginning to empty out.
The peers who had been in the chamber were slipping away to find something to eat before the afternoon's debate on the Speech, and Will knew that if he didn't act now, he'd never have the chance. So he collected his overcoat and scarf and hurried out of the gallery, pushing through the crowd as quickly as he could with murmured 'pardon's and 'excuse me's, and managed to catch hold of his quarry just before the ermine-trimmed robe was swallowed up by the press of people on either side.
He'd meant to say 'congratulations' or 'well done' or something equally pleasant and banal, but instead what came out of his mouth was:
'After all the years of you teasing me about Convocation dress and sub fusc, I think I've earned the right to say that you look utterly ridiculous.'
And his quarry turned round, very slowly.
A pair of tawny-gold eyes blinked at him from behind thin-rimmed spectacles, and then one white eyebrow arched imperiously.
'You may have earned that right, Professor Stanton,' Bran replied sonorously, with a gravitas and dignity that put the marble statues lining the corridors to shame. 'For today, that is.'
'Oh, I may have earned that right? For today?' It was Will's turn to raise an eyebrow, and one corner of his mouth quirked in a near-smirk. 'Well, my most humble duty to your lordship, then, for permitting one such as I to speak so boldly.' He took a step backwards –- not an easy thing to do, with all the people around –- and swept into a mock-formal bow, complete with overly elaborate hand gesture.
Bran's grave expression cracked at that, and he reached over and thumped Will on the back with his cane. 'Ynyftyn. You're going to do that to me for weeks now, aren't you.'
'No,' Will said as he straightened up, grinning. 'Only for as long as you're wearing fancy dress.'
'Ah.' Bran glanced down at the scarlet robe bedecked with gold lace and ermine trim, and nonchalantly brushed at an invisible spot on the hat that he held tucked under his arm. 'It is a rather silly ceremony, I must say. But it did go like clockwork, once they finally got on with it.'
Will chuckled. 'I'm sure they've had enough time to practise. They've only been doing it for a couple of centuries or so.'
'I suppose,' Bran admitted, almost grudgingly. 'And I know how you English do love all your silly ceremonies. I never had to do half so much oath-taking and speech-making in the Cynulliad –- we sheep farmers and coal miners are a simple people, you see.'
Will rolled his eyes, and racked his brain to come up with an equally sardonic reply, but before he could say anything he noticed that Bran's gaze was no longer upon him –- he was looking over Will's shoulder at someone or something on the other side of the room, and after a moment a slight frown creased his forehead.
'Damn,' he muttered under his breath, and then looked up at Will, a faint flush creeping into his cheeks. 'I promised I'd give an interview to S4C –- a few words on camera, nothing really. Give me, say, ten minutes to get them off my back, and then I can change out of this fancy dress and we can get something decent to eat.'
Will nodded, and wrapped his scarf around his neck. 'I'll see about getting a taxi or something. With all these people around, I’m sure that'll take about ten minutes at least.'
'Diolch.' Bran sighed, shifting his cane to his other hand, and resettled his spectacles on the bridge of his nose. Even that simple gesture made him look older, far more tired than before, and Will realised that the length of the ceremony had taken more of a toll than Bran cared to admit.
'I'll come back for you when I figure out what's what.' He paused. He didn't quite like to leave so abruptly, and so he made one last-ditch attempt to bring a smile back to his old friend's face. 'I suppose the press is going to miss calling you "Devolution Davies" every chance they get, hm?'
Bran did smile at that, a bit. 'Seeing as how they've called me that for the last forty-odd years, I've no doubt they’ll keep calling me that for the next forty or so. My title's something of a mouthful, after all.'
Will kept his own smile firmly in place, ignoring the fact that it suddenly felt oddly tight to him. 'I almost couldn't believe it when I first saw what you'd picked. "The Lord Davies of Carn March Arthur" -– calling it a mouthful is an understatement.' It wasn't quite so easy to keep his tone light, but he made what he thought was an admirable effort. 'Any particular reason for choosing that particular styling?'
'Well, there's this whole rigmarole you have to go through, with a life peerage.' Bran tugged at the collar of the robe, adjusting it to sit more comfortably on his shoulders. 'Since there've been quite a few lords named Davies in the past, the College of Arms says you have to distinguish yourself with a specific place name. And they want you to pick something that sounds suitably dignified, so you can't name yourself after a road or a bypass or anything like that. Not that I was going to, of course, but I think "Lord Davies of Carn March Arthur" sounds dignified enough.' He tilted his head slightly to one side, chin uplifted in the coolly arrogant pose that had been honed and perfected by countless televised press conferences. 'Wouldn't you agree?'
Will nodded, with his best scholarly expression. 'Very dignified.'
'And besides,' Bran continued, with an airy wave of his free hand, 'I could only think of one other possible place name, and I knew they wouldn't let me choose that one.'
'Oh? And why is that?'
Bran met his eyes, calmly and flatly. 'Because you have to choose a place that actually exists. And I wasn't about to explain to the College of Arms why I wanted to be known as Lord Davies of Cantre'r Gwaelod.'
And Will froze, somehow still with a smile on his face.
At that moment, the bells of Westminster began to toll the three-quarters of an hour. The sound was distinct but muffled, reverberating thickly against the old stone walls.
Most of those who were still in the hall paid no attention to the chimes, for the noise was part and parcel of everyday life in the Westminster village, regular and unchanging like the clockwork it came from. But Will wasn't hearing the same set of bells that they were. His head was filled with echoes from another set of bells, faint and ghostly, ringing out across the sea. The bells of the land lost beneath the waves – the Lowland Hundred.
As the echo of the bells faded away, the silence stretched out between them – long and thin and tangible, surrounded by the garbled din of other voices. The silence only lasted for a second or two, a heartbeat or two, but that was all the time it took for Will’s entire world to narrow into Bran's unblinking gaze.
'N-no,' he said at last, rasping out the word. 'No...it wouldn't have been easy to explain that.'
There was a long pause before Bran said, quietly, 'You see my point, then.'
Will nodded, dumbly. His mouth had gone dry, too dry to form words -- and even if he had been able to speak, he wouldn't have had anything to say.
Bran regarded him for a moment longer, and then thumped his cane on the carpeted floor -- making Will start nervously -– as he leaned forward to steady himself.
'Right, time to feed the journos,' he said, using what Will had once referred to as 'the voice that makes the Welsh Office tremble'. 'They start to eat each other if you don't feed them regularly, and we can't have that, can we? See you in ten, boyo.'
He gave Will a wry little grin, half-amused and half-exasperated, and strode off without another word, scarlet robe fluttering behind him.
Will did not -– could not -– watch him walk away. But he was very, very careful to wait until Bran was well out of hearing before he finally spoke out loud.
'...yes, my lord.'