Pwyll, Prince of Dyfed
Pwyll Pendefig Dyfed or, Pwyll, Prince of Dyfed is the first of the four branches of the Mabinogi (in Welsh Pedair Cainc y Mabinogi) A legendary Welsh Folklore tale that was written down in the Middle Ages but hearkens back to stories out of oral tradition from much earlier times.
I was going to try and quickly summarize, but there is too much that happens and too much detail would be lost. If I were to try and put it into a couple lines, I could say that Pwyll makes friends with the Lord of the Otherworld, marries Rhiannon (losing the bulk of the story here lol) and punishes his wife mistakenly for seven years believing her to have killed his son, only to find out she was innocent.
This story is old — when it was finally written down in the Middle Ages, however, a certain ‘style’ of writing was popular and it was understood that the tale has been influenced by it. There is a large sum of magic in it and enchantment, which I find wonderful. There are many elements which you will find familiar from storytelling through the ages and they owe it to the Mabinogi, in this case, the first branch is offered below.
Also, just out of my sense of geekness, this is the first appearance of a Bag of Holding :p
Below sampled from: http://www.celtnet.org.uk/gods_p/pwyll.html
Pwyll, Pendefig Dyfed, was lord of the seven cantrefs of Dyfed and he dwelt in his chief court of Arberth and his regular practice was to go hunting in Glyn Cuch. One morning, as he set his dogs to the hunt he sounded his horn and began the hunt. Soon he had lost his companions, but he heard the barking of hounds other than his own. Coming to a glade he saw the hounds, beast with shining-white coats and blood-red ears, as they took down the stag. Chasing these dogs away he set his own hounds on the stag. But as he was doing this he saw a horseman approach upon a light-grey steed. The rider berates Pwyll for his discourtesy in setting his own hounds to a stag that had already been brought down. Pwyll offers to redeem himself of the stranger’s friendship. The man tells Pwyll that he is Arawn from the realm of Annwfn and that once he was a king in his own realm. But there is a man in Annwfn, Hafgan, himself a king of Annwfn though but his lands are opposed to Arawn’s and they are forever warring. Pwyll agrees to rid Arawn of his enemy. Arawn gives Pwyll his own semblance and sends him to Annwfn in his stead. Exactly a year hence Arawn and Hafgan were destined to do battle at the Ford. Arawn explains that with a single blow he could kill Hafgan. But were he to give him a second blow then Hafgan would revive and continue to fight on the second day as well as he did on the first. Thus Pwyll takes Arawn’s form and Arawn assumes Pwyll’s that they may enter each other’s kingdom. Pwyll lives with Arawn’s wife, in the guise of Arawn himself. And though they take meat together and engage in the usual pleasantries when it comes to sharing a bed they lie back to back.
A year from the day of their first meeting and Pwyll came to the ford that Arawn had described and engaged Hafgan in single combat. So mighty was Pwyll’s blow that it struck the boss of Hafgan’s shield, cleaving it in two. The sword drove through his armour and bore Hafgan to the ground a full spear’s length from his steed’s crupper. Hafgan is mortally wounded and implores Pwyll (who is in the guise of Arawn) to properly dispose of him, but Pwyll refuses. Hafgan has his nobles bear him away and declares Pwyll the sole lord of Annwfn. Thus he received the homage of Hafgan’s men and conquered his domains, uniting the two lands as one. Thus did Arawn recover his position as the lord of all Annwfn and because of this and the way that Pwyll had respected his wife, from that day forward was Pwyll Leader of Dyfed known as Pwyll Head of Annwfn. Arawn also gifts Pwyll with a herd of swine from Annwfn.
After a feast, Pwyll decides to go to the Gorsedd or Arberth where a man cannot sit without ‘either receiving wounds of blows or seeing a wonder’. So they made their way to the Gorsedd mound and Pwyll sat upon it and as he sat he saw a lady clothed in a robe of shining gold and mounted on a pure-white steed of great size coming along the roadway that wound its way past the mound. Pwyll asks one of his men to go and meet her. This man walked towards her but she passed him by and he ran to catch-up but though the horse seemed to move at a steady pace, the faster he ran the further away the horse seemed to be. Pwyll commands another of his men to go to the palace and return with the fleetest horse in the stables. Soon enough the rider had passed the Gorsedd and reached a level plain. There he put spurs to his steed, but the faster he rode the further away the lady and her horse seemed to be. Eventually his steed tired and he had to return to Pwyll. Some illusion is suspected and Pwyll retires to his Llys. The following day he returns to the Gorsedd but this time with a fleet horse at the ready. Again he sends a youth after the lady, but he can not catch her. The following day, Pwyll returns to the mound but this time takes his own steed. As soon as the maiden appears he gives chase, but cannot catch her any more than his men. Eventually he calls out to her, imploring her to stay. This she does and eventually tells Pwyll that her true errand was to seek him. She then informs him that she isRhiannon daughter of Hefydd Hen and that she is to be given to another, but is actually in love with Pwyll. As a result Pwyll promises to meet her a year hence in the palace of Hefydd.
Pwyll, chieftain of Dyfed, meets Rhiannon, his intended, at the llys of Hefydd Hen, her father, for a feast. Here Pwyll is seated at the place of honour between Hefydd and Rhiannon. When the feast has concluded and the entertainments have begun a finely-attired stranger enters the hall. Pwyll, as the guest of honour greets him and asks him to sit, but he declines saying that he has come on an errand to ask of Pwyll a boon.
Pwyll responds with: ‘Whatever boon thou may ask of me, if it is in my power to give, then it is yours.’ Shocked, Rhiannon enquires of him: ‘why did you give that answer?’
‘Has he not given in the presence of all these assembled nobles?’ the stranger enquired of them.
Finally Pwyll enquires as to what precisely the stranger required as a boon.
‘The lady whom best I love is to be thy bride this night,’ responded the stranger, ‘I came to ask her of thee.’ Whereupon Pwyll fell silent as the full realization of what he had done struck him.
‘Be silent as long as you wish,’ Rhiannon admonished him, ‘never has a man made worse use of his wits than you.’
‘Lady,’ responded Pwyll, ‘I knew not who he was…’
‘Behold,’ replied Rhiannon, ‘this is the man to whom they wold have given me against my will. He is Gwawl mab Clud, a man of great power and wealth and because of thy words thou must bestow me upon him lest shame befall thee.’
‘Lady,’ replied Pwyll, ‘never can I do as thou suggest.’
‘Bestow me upon him,’ Rhiannon insists, ‘and I will ensure that I shall never be his.’
Pwyll enquires as to how this can be and Rhiannon tells him that she will give him a small bag which Pwyll must keep safe. Rhiannon will prepare the wedding feast and she will agree to become Gwawl’s bride one full year from the current day. On that day Pwyll must return to Hefydd’s llys with a hundred of his best men. But Pwyll himself must appear in the guise of a vagabond and at the feast he should ask for no more than a bagful of food. Rhiannon is to enchant the bag so that, no matter how much food is placed in it, it will never become full. Eventually Gwawl is sure to ask as to whether the bag will ever become full. Whereupon Pwyll is to respond that it never shall until a man of noble birth and great wealth presses the food into the bag with both his feet. At this point Pwyll is to entirely cover Gwawl in the bag and drawing out his hunting horn he is to summon his men to him.
At this point Gwawl enquires as to Pwyll’s response to his request. ‘As much as that thou has asked is in my power to give.’ replies Pwyll, ‘then thou shalt have it.’
Rhiannon then tells Gwawl that the feast prepared this night is for the men of Dyfed alone, but a year hence a new feast would be prepared and on that night she would become Gwawl’s bride. She gives Pwyll the promised bag and all parties depart, to return a year hence.
A year hence Gwawl returns to claim his bride. Pwyll also returns with a hundred of his best men who are concealed in the orchard without the llys. Then, when the feast is done and the sound of carousing can be heard Pwyll makes his way towards the llys. Pwyll asks for his boon of food and a great number of attendants attempt to fill his bag. But the bag never seems to fill and Gwawl asks Pwyll how it may be filled.
‘It may not,’ responds Pwyll, ‘until one possessed of lands, domains and treasure shall rise and tread down with both his feet the food that is in the bag.’ Rhiannon urges Gwawl to do what Pwyll has requested and as Gwawl puts his feet in the bag Pwyll lifts the bag’s sides until it reaches over Gwawl’s head. He shut the mouth of the bag, securing it with a knot before blowing his horn to call down his men. Immediately Gwawl’s host are imprisoned and as Pwyll’s men pass the bag they each strike it a blow and ask: ‘What is in there?’ To which the response was: ‘A badger.’ This way each knight struck the bag with his foot or a staff and by this means was the game of ‘badger in the bag’ first played.
Gwawl implores Pwyll that he should not suffer the indignity of being slain in a bag. Hefydd Hen takes Gwawl’s side in this and asks that Pwyll should listen to Gwawl. Rhiannon counsels Pwyll that as he is now in a position where it behoves him to satisfy suitors and minstrels (ie he is to wed Rhiannon) he should use Gwawl’s gifts to do this and then he should take pledge from Gwawl that he will not seek revenge for that which has been done to him. This would be punishment enough. Gwawl readily agrees and is released upon certain sureties. These were demanded and Gwawl acquiesced, though he pleads his injuries, saying that they needed anointing. Pwyll allows him to leave, as long as his liege-men stand surety for him.
The next day Pwyll and Rhiannon return to Dyfed where gifts are bestowed on the nobles and the couple rule harmoniously for two years. Upon the third year the nobles of the realm grow sad that Pwyll has no heir so they attempt to persuade him to take another wife. Pwyll urges them to grant him a year and if he is still childless he will take another wife. However, within the space of that year Rhiannon gives birth to a boy. Upon the night of his birth, women were brought in to look after mother and son, but they fall asleep and when they awoke the boy was gone. Fearing for their lives they fetch some cubs from a stag-hound bitch kill them and smear the blood on the bedclothes and on Rhiannon’s face and hands. When Rhiannon awakes they accuse her of killing and devouring her own sons and though she protests her innocence. The tale spread through the land and the nobles besought Pwyll to put her wife away. But he would not do this and instead says that if his wife had done wrong then she should do penance for her wrong. In the end Rhiannon preferred to do penance rather than contend with the women. And her penance was that for seven years she would remain in the llys of Arberth and each day she would sit near the horse-block at the llys’ gate and she would have to relate her tale to each passer by and offer to carry them upon her back into the llys.
Rhiannon’s child was captured by a creature who on the night of the first of May stole a foal from the stables of Teyrnon Twrf Gwliant. This year Teyrnon save his foal and at the same time he sees an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes. This child he takes as his own and has him baptized as Gwri Wallt Eurun. At this time Teyrnon heard tidings of what had befallen Rhiannon and feeling sorry for her he enquired more deeply into her story. Which is when Teyrnon looked closely at Gwri and for the first time saw the semblance between the child and Pwyll Pen Annwfn. Determined to right the wrong he had done Teyrnon takes the boy and journeys to Pwyll’s Llys. They both refuse Rhiannon’s offer of carrying them into the Llys and at the feast that night Teyrnon relates his tale and presents Rhiannon with her son. Pwyll enquires of the boy’s name and Rhiannon re-names him Pryderi for all the worry that he had caused her. And thus the child was returned to Pwyll Pen Annwfn. Pryderi was reared as was fit for a boy of his birthright and he became the fairest, the most comely and the best-skilled in all manly games of any youth. Thus did the years pass until the end of Pwyll’s life came and Pryderi became ruler in his stead.
Originally published at jensketch.com on August 13, 2012.