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The Medieval Welsh
Tales of the Mabinogi

Pwyll, Prince of Dyfed

Pwyll ruled over Dyed, a subkingdom in the southwest of Wales. Pwyll was a valiant warrior but not a decisive ruler. He managed as best he could and tried to get along with everyone. And perhaps he was not as bright as he needed to be.

One time Pwyll decided to go hunting with his pack of hounds. He traveled a couple of days from his court at Arberth. He and his hounds got separated from his companions in the woods. While he was listening to the baying of his hounds he heard the sounds of another pack of hounds. He and his hounds came to a clearing in the forest. On the other side of the clearing the other hounds had driven a stag into the middle of the clearing and there they took it down and killed it.

Those dogs were of an extraordinary coloration. They were a brilliant white except for their ears which were brilliant red. This coloration was a clue to Pwyll that he had wandered into the Otherworld. However he drove off the other dogs and let his hounds feed on the stag's carcass.

Pwyll then saw a man in grey clothing ride into the clearing on a dapple grey horse. The man announced that he was not going greet Pwyll in a proper manner as protocol required. Pwyll asked why and the man told him that he had committed the greatest discourtesy. When Pwyll asked what that discourtesy might be the man told him that it was his having driven off the dogs which had made the kill and allowed his own dogs to feed.

Pwyll then said that if he had committed a wrong he would do whatever was required to right it. The man announced that he was Arawn, the crowned king of Annwfn in the Otherworld. Pwyll asked if he could to gain peace with him. Arawn said, "There is a man named Hafgan whose realm borders on mine who makes continual war on me. Hafgan claims the kingship of all of Annwfn. Here is what you must do to rid me of Hagdan. I will give you my appearance and you will take my place in everything and one year from now you will meet Hagdan in combat. You must strike him only one blow even though he begs you to hit him again. One blow will do him in but many blows will enable him to survive and make war on me the next day." Then Arawn said he would give Pwyll the most beautiful woman to sleep with every night.

Pwyll then asked would happen to his own kingdom while he was taking Arawn's place. Arawn announced he would assume Pwyll's appearance and govern Dyfed in his stead.

Arawn then took Pwyll to Annwfn and left. All of the court treated Pwyll as if he were Arawn. At dinner he met Arawn's wife who was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. She was dressed in gold brocade clothing. Pwyll had a pleasant conversation with her during dinner. However, when it was bedtime Pwyll got into the bed with her but faced away from her and did not say one word to her during the night. He had decided that there was no way he could correct for the discourtesy he had shown Arawn concerning the hounds and then make love to Arawn's wife. So the Pwyll spent the whole year as he had spent the first day and night.

At the end of the year Pwyll met Hagdan in the middle of the ford over the stream separating the realms of Arawn and Hagdan. Pwyll struck a mighty blow against Hagdan at the boss of Hagdan's shield. It was such a powerful blow that Hagdan's shield broke and his armor shattered. Hagdan himself was thrown backward off the rump of his horse to the ground mortally wounded. Hagdan then said, "For God's sake since you have begun to kill me, finish it!" Pwyll, heeding the words of Arawn, declined to strike another blow. Hagdan then told his followers that his death was assured and he would no longer be able to lead them. Pwyll, as Arawn, called upon Hagdan's followers to join him and thus the two realms of Annwfn were united.

Pwyll then went to the clearing in the forest where he first met Arawn. They then reassumed their original appearances and returned to their separate kingdoms. Back in Annwfn Arawn went to bed with his wife and immediately made love to her. She asked why there was such a sudden change in his behavior compared to that of the past year. Arawn realized that Pwyll had no taken advantage of the opportunity to make love to his wife. He told her of whole adventure and she advised him that he had a true friend in Pwyll. Pwyll was not married so there was no temptation to be overcome by Arawn at Pwyll's court at Arberth.

At Arberth Pwyll found that everyone was pleased with Arawn's governance in his place. Pwyll revealed to his chamberlains that it had been Arawn governing over Dyfed the past year. They begged Pwyll not to change the innovations made during the past year.

Having proven their true friendship Pwyll and Arawn exchanged gifts of horses, hounds, hawks and treasures.

Near Arberth there is a small hill with a magical enchantment. Any noble who sits upon that hill will either suffer a wound or witness a marvel before he leaves. Pwyll allowed how he was not afraid of suffering a wound, but he would very much like to witness a marvel. He then sees a beautiful young woman dressed in gold brocade riding a white horse. She passes by the hill and Pwyll sends a young man of his court to run and catch up with her and invite her to visit. The young man returned revealed that although the horse seemed to be moving at a slow steady pace he could not catch up to the woman. The next day the woman comes riding by again. Pwyll sends out the young man again but riding on the fastest horse available. However again he finds he cannot catch her. The next day the woman again comes riding by and Pwyll himself rides out to catch her. He finds that cannot catch her either. The next day as the woman rides by he shouts at her to come for a visit. She stops for a visit and chides him for not calling out sooner. She is Rhiannon, the daughter of a neighboring king. She has been promised in marriage to a prince of a neighboring realm. She says she does not want to marry anyone except him, Pwyll. Pwyll allows how there is no woman in the world he would rather marry than her. She says that one year ahead he should come to her father's kingdom and a marriage feast would be prepared.

The year passes and Pwyll and his retinue show up at Rhiannon's father's castle. During the feast a nobleman stranger arrives. This nobleman says he has come to see Pwyll because Pwyll has something he wants. Pwyll always trying to be agreeable to everyone tells the stranger that he will give him anything he wants from him. In this society a great store was placed on keeping ones word. Rhiannon exclaims "Why did you say that!?" She then chides Pwyll for being dimwitted because the stranger is Gwawl, the man she was promised to and he will ask Pwyll to give her to him. Pwyll says he will not give her up. Rhiannon reminds that he will be disgraced and dishonored for going back on his word. Rhiannon then says he should comply with his word and let the marriage date be set one year from that time and she will figure out a way to avoid being married to Gwawl.

The year passes. Rhiannon tells Pwyll that he is to come to the wedding feast wearing old clothes. She gives him a bag and tells him he is to ask Gwawl, the prospective groom, to have the bag filled completely up with food. The wedding day arrives and Pwyll shows up in disguise. The prospective groom is in a generous mood and asked the disguised Pwyll what he can do for him. Pwyll's request seems to be a small reasonable one and the prospective groom orders the servants to start filling the bag. But no matter how much they put in the bag it is not filled. Pwyll then tells him that the bag will not fill until some nobleman stamps the food down in the bag and says, "Enough has been put in here." The prospective groom announces that he will do so. When he stands in the bag and makes the statement he falls head over heels into it. Pwyll, at Rhiannon instructions, pulls the bag string tight and hangs the bag up. They then give the bag whacks with a stick. Other members of the party want to join in and ask the name of the game being played. Pwyll and Rhiannon tell them that it is Badger-in-the-Bag and those people also join in with kicks and whacks. After the party grows tired of the game, Pwyll asks the prospective groom in the bag if he wants to get out of the bag. The prospective groom says he will do anything to get out. Pwyll tells him that if he is let out of the bag he must go away immediately, never come back and never seek vengeance. Gwawl, no longer the prospective groom, agrees to these conditions. When he is released from the bag he disappears and is never heard from again in that realm. Pwyll and Rhiannon announce their marriage and spend the night together. The next day Rhiannon goes with Pwyll as he returns to his kingdom of Dyed.

Pwyll and Rhiannon are happy together. Years pass. Pwyll's subjects form a delegation to talk with him. They point out that he has no heir after more than two years of marriage and that the kingdom will be in peril if he dies without a male heir. They suggest to him that he should divorce Rhiannon and take another wife. Pwyll declines to do this and tells the delegation there is still plenty of time to produce an heir.

After about a year Rhiannon does give birth to a son. Six maids were given responsibility for caring for the infant royal heir. Then one morning the six maids wake up and find the baby has disappeared. They had all fallen asleep together. One maid cries out, "They will surely kill us all! Woe is us!" Another says, "We must say that in the night Rhiannon got up in her sleep and killed her baby for all the pain his birth had causes her." We will get some blood from where a dog just had puppies and smear it on Rhiannon's hands and face.

When Rhiannon awoke she asked for her baby. The maids told her that they fought with her in the night to keep her from killing her baby but she was too strong for them and she threw his carcass over the castle wall where wild animals took it away. Rhiannon vehemently denied that she had done any such thing. Pwyll's subjects said he should divorce Rhiannon and find a new wife. Pwyll refused to divorce Rhiannon and said that if she had committed a crime she should be subject to punishment but their marriage would continue. The subjects set the following punishment for Rhiannon. She should stand outside the castle during the day at the mounting block where people mounted or dismounted from their horses. There she should tell anyone who would listen about her crime and furthermore that she would give anyone who wanted one a ride into the castle on on her back. At night Rhiannon could spend with her husband. Two years or so passed with Rhiannon carrying out her punishment.

Far away from the Pwyll's court there was a couple who owned a beautiful mare. Each year she bore a foal on the first of May. But they could never find the foals. One year the man decided that he was going make sure they got their mare's foal. He brought the mare into the houses the night she was due to bear her foal. He put on his armor and armed himself with a sword. He was prepared to stay awake all night.

During the night he hears his mare giving birth to her foal. He goes into the room and finds a beautiful foal which is immediately steady on its legs. Then a giant hairy arm with a clawed hand comes through the window. It grabs the foal's mane and starts pulling it towards the window. The man takes his sword in hand and with a mighty blow nearly cuts off the arm at the elbow. There was a loud horrible scream from outside of the house. The man rushes outside to confront the baby stealer but finds the creature has disappeared into the darkness. But when he returns to the house door he finds a small boy there. He and his wife have always wanted a child. They decided to raise the boy as their own if no one claims him. He had blond hair and they gave him the name Gwri Golden- Hair.

A year or so passes. The boy is healthy and strong. He learns to ride the foal that was born the night he was found. Then the couple happened to see Pwyll and see that their boy strongly resembles Pwyll. They heard the story of the loss of Rhiannon's baby and they realize her baby had been stolen by the same unnamed monster that had been stealing their mare's foals. The monster had been taking care of the baby boy and he was with the monster the night it tried to steal the new foal. They took their adopted boy to Pwyll and Rhiannon. When she saw him she exclaimed "My anxiety has been relieved" which in her language is Pryderi. That became his new name. Pwyll and Rhiannon's son became a favorite of the court and Pwyll's subjects knew the realm would be safe in the hands of his son. In the course of time Pryderi did inherit the kingdom of Dyed and he ruled over it successfully.


There are three more tales in the Mabinogi

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