THE FIRST BRANCH

Pwyll Prince of Dyfed

'The Forest' by Amanda Reid

Pwyll is out hunting when he finds himself cut off from his companions in the woods. 

 

He sees a stag which is being pursued by a strange pack of white hounds with red ears. The hounds kill the stag, and upon seeing nobody with them, Pwyll drives off the strange hounds and puts his own pack of dogs to the stag.

 

Then a man appears on horseback and complains that Pwyll’s actions are an insult to him, as the white hounds are his.  He introduces himself as Arawn, King of Annwn (which is known to be the Lower-world).

 

Pwyll asks how he can make amends, and Arawn suggests they exchange appearance and live for a year in each other’s abode, so that Pwyll can fight Arawn’s oppressor, Hafgan, who he is due to meet in combat.

 

It is agreed, and Pwyll goes to Arawn’s court, magically disguised as Arawn, where he meets Arawn’s wife.  That night, when he goes to bed with her, he respectfully turns his back to her and spends every night for the next year in pleasant discourse by day, and at night, sleeping beside her but always turning his back.

 

At the end of the period, Pwyll meets Hafgan in combat and wins.

 

Pwyll returns to the place where he first met Arawn and they regain their own appearances and each go to their respective lands. 

 

Pwyll finds that Arawn has ruled his lands very well in his stead. 

 

Arawn’s wife finally asks her husband why he has not touched her intimately for the last year, and they both declare what a good friend Pwyll is that he has acted so gallantly, once Arawn explains what has happened.

 

 

One day, Pwyll hears that there is a mound near his court where it is said that when a noble man sits upon it, he will receive wounds or blows or see a wonder.  Pwyll decides to sit there with some companions.

 

They see a beautiful woman ride past on a white horse. Pwyll sends someone to intercept her, but even though her horse is walking slowly, he does not reach her and she disappears in the distance.

 

The next day, the woman appears again, and Pwyll is ready to send his fastest horse and rider, but once again, he cannot catch her even though her horse ambles slowly.

 

On the third day, Pwyll tries to catch her himself, and when he fails, he shouts out to ask her to stop, and she stops immediately.

 

He discovers she is due to be married to a man she does not want to marry, and would prefer to marry Pwyll.   Her name is Rhiannon, and they make a tryst to meet at her father’s court in a year’s time when she will be betrothed to Pwyll.

 

As they sit dining at the court of Rhiannon’s father at the appointed time, a man called Gwawl arrives and asks that Pwyll give him a gift, and Pwyll answers that he will give him anything within his power to give, even before he has heard what Gwawl wants.

 

Pwyll does not realise that this is the man who had previously been promised to Rhiannon. 

 

Gwawl asks for Rhiannon’s hand in marriage and for the feast that has been prepared for Pwyll.  Rhiannon advises Pwyll how to answer.

 

Pwyll tells the man to return in a year for his own wedding feast, as this feast is not his to give. This is agreed, and Rhiannon further instructs Pwyll as to his actions in a year’s time.

 

Rhiannon gives Pwyll a bag, and at the banquet for Gwawl and Rhiannon’s union, Pwyll arrives in disguise with a small party of companions.  He asks Gwawl for a favour, to fill his bag with food from the feast, and Gwawl gladly agrees.

 

However much food Pwyll puts into the bag, it never gets full, and eventually Gwawl asks what can be done to fill it.  Pwyll tells him that it will only be full when a man who owns much land gets into the bag and presses it down with his feet.

 

Gwawl agrees to do this, and when he gets in the bag, Pwyll and his men push him into it and tie him up.  They then hit the bag with sticks until Gwawl is sorely wounded.

 

Before releasing him, Gwawl is made to agree to release any claims on Rhiannon, and thus Pwyll and Rhiannon are married and she returns with Pwyll to his domain.

 

 

After some years, it seems that Rhiannon will not have a child, but then she does so, and a son is born to her.

 

On the night of his birth, women sit in her room to watch the mother and son, but in the night all fall asleep, and in the morning when the women awake, the baby has disappeared.

 

To save their lives, the women kill a puppy and smear it's blood upon Rhiannon and place some of its bones on the bed.  They inform Pwyll that Rhiannon ate the baby.

 

When Rhiannon awakes, she protests, but agrees to a penance rather than argue with the women.  Rhiannon must sit every day at the horse-block outside the gate of the court, and relate her story to whatever newcomer passes by, then she must offer to carry the person on her back into the court, and do this for seven years.

 

Meanwhile, in another place and on the same night Rhiannon's baby disappeared, a fine man called Teyrnon Twryf Liant, had decided to stay up all night to solve a mystery.

 

Every May-eve, his best mare has a foal, but in the night, every year, the foal disappears. 

 

As he watches, a great claw comes through the window of the stable and grabs the colt.  Teyrnon cuts off the claw with his sword, and the beast departs.

 

Teyrnon finds a baby with the claw and the colt, who he and his wife bring up as their son. As the boy grows up he is always a number of years ahead of his age.

 

One day, Teyrnon hears Rhiannon’s tale, and realises the boy looks like Pwyll in appearance, so he and the boy go to the court and tell the story of the colt and the baby.

 

All can see how alike Pwyll and the boy look, so he is declared to be the true son of Rhiannon and Pwyll.

 

The boy is named Pryderi and Rhiannon is restored to her rightful place and freed from her penance.