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Post-Roman Britain

The Mabinogion: Pwyll, Prince of Dyved

(Unknown modern translation)

The Mabinogion: Pwyll (Part 1)

Pwyll was lord of all Dyfed and ruled over the seven cantrevs of the land. One day while at Arbeth, his main court, Pwyll and his companions decided to go hunting at Glyn Cuch and so they set out that evening stopping at Penn Llwyn on Bwya to rest for the night. Dawn rose and the party headed for Glyn Coch where they turned their hounds loose in the forest. While chasing the pack, Pwyll became separated from his comrades and while listening to the bay of his hounds he could hear another, different pack heading toward him.

Through a clearing in the woods, Pwyll saw his pack pursuing a stag and as they reached the edge of the clearing he saw the other pack overtake the stag and bring it down. The hounds were like no other that Pwyll had ever seen, they had dazzling white coats and red ears. Quickly, Pwyll drove the strange hounds off the stag and baited his own upon it. As he was doing this a horseman arrived in hunting robes saying... 'Chieftain, I know who you are but I will not greet you'. Pwyll replied 'Well, perhaps your rank prevents your doing so,' to which the horseman responded 'God knows, it is not the degree of my rank which prevents me but your own rudeness and discourtesy. In no man have I seen greater discourtesy than driving away the pack which has killed a stag and baiting one's own pack upon it and though I will take no vengeance, between me and god I will dishonour you to the value of one hundred stags'. Pwyll, realising his error apologised and asked how he might win the strangers friendship.

The stranger introduced himself as Arawn, king of Annwvyn and told Pwyll 'there is a man - Havgan, king of Annwvyn, whose realm borders on mine and he is constantly waging war against me. By ridding me of his opposition, which you can do easily, you will earn my friendship'. Pwyll agreed to Arawn's request asking only how this might be achieved. 'We will make a strong bond of friendship,' said Arawn 'I will send you into Annwvyn in my place and give you the loveliest woman you have ever seen to sleep with every night; moreover I will endow you with my shape and appearance so that none will doubt that you are I and we will meet here again, one year and a day from now'. 'Fair enough,' replied Pwyll, 'but how am I to find the man of whom you speak?'. 'A year from tonight, he and I are to meet at the ford,' replied Arawn 'but you will be there in my place; strike him a single blow, which he will not survive but do not finish him off no matter how much he pleads'. Pwyll agreed and after Arawn agreed to take on Pwyll's appearance in order to take care of his land, he led Pwyll to the court where he was to spend the next year.

Pwyll rode on alone and entered the court. Never had Pwyll seen such fine buildings, halls and chambers. Arawn's men were the finest looking and best equipped that there had ever been and with them stood the queen, the most beautiful woman anyone had laid eyes upon. Nobody suspected that the man before them was any other than Arawn and so they passed the time eating, drinking and carousing as normal and of all the courts that he had ever seen, this was the best supplied with gold and jewels. When it was time to sleep he and his queen retired and as soon as they were in bed, he turned his back to the queen and they did not speak or make contact until morning. The next day was much like the previous one and although they spoke together affectionately and with tenderness every night thereafter was the same as the first.

That whole year was spent carousing, hunting and in fellowship and in pleasant talk with his companions until the night of the meeting with Havgan beckoned. The nobles of the realm accompanied Pwyll to the ford whereupon it was announced: 'Nobles, listen well. This encounter lies between the two kings, in single combat, for each claims the land and the domain of the other therefore let everyone else draw back'. With that the two kings drew near and met in the middle of the ford. On the first rush Pwyll struck Hagvan's shield in the centre of the boss so that it split in two; Havgan's armour shattered and he was thrown an arm and a spear's length over his horse's hindquarters to the ground where he lay, mortally wounded. Whether or not Havgan realised that the man before him was not really Arawn, is not known but he addressed his victor: 'What right did you have to kill me? I made no claim against you nor do I know of any reason why you should wish to kill me but since you have begun so, finish me off now'. 'Chieftain,' replied Pwyll, 'I may yet regret what I have done to you but I will not strike you again.'

Havgan addressed his men, 'Loyal followers, carry me away for my end is now certain and I can no longer maintain you'. Pwyll said to Havgan's men: 'talk among yourselves and decide which of you should join me,' to which they replied 'Lord all men ought to be for throughout Annwvyn there is no king but yourself'. Thus, Pwyll received the homage of his men and began to rule the land and by noon the following day both realms were in his power.

Having defeated Havgan, Pwyll set out for his meeting with Arawn at Glynn Cuch. When he arrived, Arawn was there to greet him and both men were glad to see each other. Pwyll told Arawn of his deeds after which each man returned to his original shape and appearance and set out for their respective homes.

Upon his arrival at Annwvyn, Arawn was pleased to see the companies and troops he had left behind. They knew nothing of his arrangement with Pwyll and therefore greeted him no differently than any other day. Arawn spent the day in carousing and great merriment until night fell and he and his wife retired to bed and Arawn began to hold and caress her lovingly. 'My God!' thought the queen, 'how different he is tonight from what he has been this past year'. Arawn spoke to his wife and yet she did not answer, he tried again and a third time but still the queen did not answer him. Arawn pleaded 'Why do you not answer me?' The queen replied 'for a year now I have not spoken at all in this place. Shame on me if, since a year for yesternight, this bed has seen conversation or pleasure between us or even your turning your face toward me, let alone anything more'. Arawn was amazed and marvelled at what a friend he had made in Pwyll who had resisted such temptation. He told her what had happened and that it was not he who slept alongside her but Pwyll.

Upon Pwyll's return to his own realm he asked his subjects who he had reigned this past year. 'Never have you been so kind and so free in the distribution of your goods' was their reply.

From that time hence, the relationship between Pwyll and Arawn grew. Each sent the other gifts of horses, hounds and other treasures. Because of Pwyll's year long reign over Annwvyn and because of the unity of the two realms he was known as Pwyll Head of Annwvyn ever after.

One day, while at his main court at Arberth, Pwyll assembled a great number of men for a feast. After the first sitting Pwyll took a walk to the hill above the court known as Gorsedd Arberth. Once of his companions told Pwyll that it was the property of the hill that whenever a man of royal blood sits on it, one of two things happens: either he receives a blow and is wounded or else he sees a wonder. Pwyll replied 'I do not expect to receive a blow while in the company of such a host and I would be pleased to see a wonder, I will go and sit on the hill'.

As Pwyll was sitting on the hill he saw a woman dressed in the finest gold brocade and riding a magnificent pale horse. The horse was approaching on the highway that ran past the hill and anyone who saw it would have said that it was moving at a slow and steady pace. 'Who is that horsewoman?' asked Pwyll but none of his company had ever laid eyes upon her before this time. Pwyll ordered a man to go and find out who the woman was but by the time the man had reached the highway, the woman had already past and the faster he ran after her, the further ahead she drew. The man returned and addressed Pwyll, 'Lord, it is no use following her on foot'. Pwyll instructed the man to return to the court, take the fastest horse and go after the mysterious rider. The man did as Pwyll commanded and soon caught sight of the woman but no matter how fast he rode his quarry still drew farther ahead until, at last, he gave in and returned to Pwyll. 'Lord it is useless,' he said, 'I know of no horse in the land faster than this and yet I could not overtake her'. 'Very well,' said Pwyll 'let us return to court but there is some hidden meaning in this vision'. Pwyll and his companions returned to court.

The next day, after the first lunch sitting Pwyll rose, 'let all those who went to Gorsedd Arberth yesterday accompany once more and bring the fastest horse we have'. The group returned to the hill and once again the lady appeared and as she drew past the hill a horseman mounted and gave chase. To all that viewed her she seemed to be going at the same slow and steady pace as before but still the horseman could not catch her. 'I have seen it is useless for anyone to pursue this lady' said Pwyll 'but I know she is on an errand of some sort and with a message fro someone on this hill, let us return to court'.

After lunch the next day, the party once again returned to the hill but his time they brought Pwyll's own horse with them. As soon as the lady appeared, Pwyll mounted his horse and gave chase and yet despite her apparent slow pace, he could not overtake her. Frustrated, Pwyll called out 'Lady, for the sake of the man you love best, stop for me'. 'I will' came the reply 'and it would have been better for you and your horse had you asked me that earlier'. The lady stopped, drew back the veil from her face and gazed upon Pwyll. 'Lady, where are you from and where are you going?'. 'I am doing my errands and I am glad to see you' was the reply. Pwyll was enchanted by the lady's appearance and it seemed to him that he had never before set eyes on such a beautiful woman. He asked what the nature of her errand was to which the lady replied 'my errand was to see you'. 'I am Rhiannon, daughter of Heveydd 'the Old'. I am being given to a man against my will: I have not sought any husband because of my love for you and will not accept this man unless you reject me now'. Pwyll replied 'between me and my god, had I the choice of any woman in the land I would choose you'.

Rhiannon told Pwyll to meet her a year from tonight in Heveydd's court where a feast would be prepared for his arrival.

Pwyll and Rhiannon parted company and he returned to his companions, but every time they enquired after the mysterious rider, Pwyll would turn to other topics.



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