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Topic Subject: The Extraordinary Story of Manawyddan the Wise
posted 15 September 2013 04:40 EDT (US)   

The Extraordinary Story of Manawyddan the Wise

~ by Edorix ~

Image: "Manawyddan of the Sea", Delyth Jones.


Please note that this tale has been officially discontinued. There will be no further updates.


This story is a sequel to my Bardic Circle saga Branwen & Taliesin, which was based on a mediaeval Welsh legend known as the Second Branch of the Mabinogi, or Mabinogion. This tale is derived from the Third Branch of the Mabinogi, which follows Branwen chronologically and is found in company with it in the manuscripts.

The tale shall appear in serial format: one chapter per update for a total of between five and ten chapters. The individual chapters as well as the full tale shall also be shorter than my earlier tale, as there is not only less to tell in the first place but I also have less to add. The updates shall be irregular; I shall make them at my leisure. Sometimes I will be busy, sometimes I will prefer to do something else. I make no apology for vagrancies or complete changes of style, as long as the style remains good. Among other things this is an experiment in writing ad libidinem.



The last rays of the setting sun bathed the thatched rooftops of the little village of Segomira in a warm hue, casting long cool shadows over the damp ground. A cat basked in the orange glow on a little knoll in front of a roundhouse door, but there came no other sign of life from the pastoral hamlet.

A colourful songbird hesitantly ventured a few notes from a branch at the edge of the nearby overhanging coppice. The lounging cat rolled over and stared at it, impassively. The bird chirped nervously, twittered another couple of bars, and then flew off.

The day was waning, and the last rays of the sun could not dispel the nightly chill of the ground setting in. The feline stretched, yawned, and reluctantly got to its feet. Then it silently slunk off, around the side of the roundhouse, across a narrow alleyway, and round the whitewashed wall to another entrance. Without pausing to enquire within, he lowered his head and nosed his way under a corner of the ill-fitting door.

Within, all was dark, and with the door shut the smoke from the hearth left to burn out pricked his eyes irritatingly; but he refrained from mewing, because this was where the people were - the whole hamlet gathered together; and that meant warmth, and comfort - and unless he was much mistaken, a story.

With his sleek quiet arrogance, the cat wended his way through the cross-legged villagers, careful to affectionately brush every one of them which he passed, and slunk round the fire to the side of the one who held court over the expectant audience gathered here, the bearded man on his elevated stool - the storyteller.

Actually the cat wasn't that interested in him. Beside the storyteller, on the floor at his right knee sat a pretty redheaded girl who looked up at the teller of tales with stars in her eyes. Into her lap he jumped and settled down, purring as quietly as he could. He felt her body resonate with her voice as she spoke.

"Please tell us, Togodumnos master-bard! It is many months since you promised to tell us more of the fate of Manawyddan son of Llyr, last of the great men who survived the War of Branwen."

The bard chuckled, and his eyes twinkled as he declined for the third time.

"Nay, Cata Star-Eyes, I made no such promise. Besides, I am tired, and the tale is long and dull. Nay, too much did you delight in the tale of Branwen and Taliesin to find this one to your liking."

Cata rested her chin on his knee and blinked up at him with a sad, wide-eyed expression.

"Please tell us, master..."

Togodumnos sighed, and gently removed her from him.

"Oh, alright..."

A ripple of laughter ran through the assembled listeners, and then an expectant silence took hold. All eyes were on the storyteller.

Togodumnos was quiet for a moment, collecting his thoughts. Then he produced his harp, and began plucking a low cord, slowly, rhythmically, with a quiet, resonant chant. Then he spoke - but his voice rose gradually into a low, spellbinding incantation.

"This is the extraordinary story of Manawyddan son of Llyr, brother of Bran who made war on Ireland for the sake of his sister Branwen, both of whom died. Manawyddan however lived on. His bitter grief lasted for many months, but it fell to him to raise the next High King of Albion, who was also named Bran, and so he did his duty. As regent of the kingdom he reunited the Kingdom of Albion and governed the kingdom with a steady hand; and under his guidance the alliance with Ierne was renewed, Caledonia finally crushed the rebel Maeatae, and the southern lands were all brought into the fold of the Catuvellauni dynasty. The royal court was moved from Verlamion to Caerwent in the south, which is called Winchester in the local dialect, and trade with Gaul flourished.

It was an era of wealth and prosperity. Manawyddan dealt with every threat to the unity of the island and the sovereignty of the new king Bran - and there were many, but Manawyddan dealt with them all. The child-king grew tall and wise, and by the time four years had fallen and the boy had reached the age of seventeen, Manawyddan realised that there was nothing more he could teach him. The young King Bran the Second offered him every honour when he had made known his desire to leave, but Manawyddan desired none of it: only he wished to live in peace for the remainder of his days. But in his journeys across the kingdom as regent he had became well-acquainted with Pryderi, who was Prince of the Seven Cantrefs of Dyfed - or Demetia, as we know it; and he had fallen in love with the prince's mother, Rhiannon. So thither now he journeyed, to the prince's court, at the fair port-city of Carmarthen.

This tale has no great wars, no passionate youthful romance - you will only be disappointed if you seek those excitements here. It is a tale of an entirely different nature - of rogue druid-wizards, enchanted towers, ferocious sea-serpents, and the terrible slow-kindled wrath of the Undemanding Chieftain... this is the tale of Manawyddan ap Llyr."

/|||| ||||\

~ ancient briton ~

[This message has been edited by Edorix (edited 09-14-2020 @ 03:50 PM).]

posted 16 September 2013 05:10 EDT (US)     1 / 12  
Chapter I - Beginning to Mend

The bright column of horsemen trotted proudly down the main road of the ancient city of Carmarthen, capes and banners trailing and fluttering regally. There rode about a score of horsemen in bright coats of mail, tall helms and sky-blue capes and tunics; each bore a round blue shield, each decorated in a uniform fashion with the stationary white hart, ancient emblem of the ruling dynasty of the Kingdom of Albion, and was girded with a long sword at his side. But at the head of the column rode two men dressed unlike the rest, bearing no helm nor shield: one was a young man, dressed in deep forest greens, his face handsome, his hair yellow and braided and his crown rounded by a silver circlet; the other was a much older man, dressed in light browns and blues, his face stern, his hair dark and beard full and thick. The first carried himself upright and proud, nodding to those who paid any attention as they passed; the second sat bowed, as if constantly weighed down and troubled by more serious matters.

Up the hill they rode, to the sturdy iron gates of the citadel. Nor did they stop there, as the gates opened at their approach. The castle guards stood to attention as they passed under the portcullis and rode into the inner courtyard. There the young leader dismounted, followed more slowly by his sombre companion, and passed his reins to a pageboy. As the rest of the company rode in and dismounted in turn, the young prince turned to his friend, and said grinning:

"Welcome, Manawyddan ap Llyr, to my court: Carmarthen Castle. I know it does not compare in scale to the great citadels of Arelicon, Verlamion or Caerwent - but I would have no other; nay, I would not swap the seven cantrefs of Dyfed for half the island."

With an effort, Manawyddan roused himself from the depths of his thoughts, breathed deeply, and smiled at his friend.

"Nay, Pryderi; your castle is not overly large, but in beauty I have not seen its equal; neither the White Tower of Londinion nor the Palace of Champions at Radde excel yours in beauty. Carmarthen has an incomparable charm I cannot describe."

Manawyddan was gratified to see Pryderi swell with pride at his praise. Pride is a curious thing; but on the whole Manawyddan was fond of it. A little parochial competition between nobles of different regions was healthy and manful.

At that moment, a side-door onto the courtyard opened and, turning, Manawyddan's thoughts were frozen and banished in their tracks by the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. Slender and long-legged was she, dressed all in green like her son; her cheekbones were high and proud, yet her eyes were brown and soft, her hair matchlessly silky and dark. She was not young - but then, nor was Manawyddan; it was difficult to tell precisely, but her full womanliness and faint lines of experience suggested around forty.

She strode towards them, face pleasant but impassive. She curtsied majestically before the guest, head politely lowered.

"My lord."

Pryderi stepped forward.

"My lord Manawyddan, this is my mother, the Lady Rhiannon."

Manawyddan took her hand and kissed it.

"Enchanted, my lady."

She smiled at him, and his compsure faltered. What was this? A full-grown man, heart fluttering like a rabbit at the smile of some woman - it was twenty years since he had been so. He had mastered such feelings long ago.

Pryderi was speaking, he realised, and quickly refocused.

"... tonight in the great hall, in your honour Manawyddan. I will not have it otherwise. For now however, let you come with me, and I will show you every nook and crevice in my castle."

Manawyddan felt a lewd smile tug at his lips but at the last minute managed to restrain it. What was wrong with him? He shook his head, afforded one last courteous bow to the Lady Rhiannon, and followed his young host into the castle.

* * * * * * * * * *

They had barely gone a dozen paces when Pryderi burst out laughing and had to stop. Manawyddan felt a little left out.

"What is it, lord?"

"Ay, Manawyddan, what indeed! No, this I did not foresee. Now tell me straight; have you or have you not fallen head over heels in love with my mother Rhiannon?"

Manawyddan was at first inclined to reprimand him, then to admit it, before he finally arrived at a measured response.

"I cannot fall in love before I know her. I was surprised by my feelings."

"Very well; you shall sit together at the feast."

Manawyddan was taken aback.

"You do not in the least mind?"

Pryderi smiled.

"My dear lord, my father died many years ago. My mother is lonely, and so are you; and your personalities are one of a kind. I would be delighted were you to find happiness together and could imagine no better step-father."

Manawyddan was greatly moved - and then at once felt angry at himself. What was wrong with him? He had control, he always did - now his emotions were running away with him. He had to brush away a tear, and then his voice would not obey him. At length he managed to croak out an expression of gratitude.

Pryderi put an arm round his shoulder, and led him on to tour the castle until the feast was ready.

* * * * * * * * * *

And so that evening in the great hall of the castle of Carmarthen they had a great feast of all the finest fare in Dyfed. There was spit-roasted wild boar and elegant slices of venison, sweet red wine and thick honey-mead and barrels of fine ale aplenty. What is more, there was Rhiannon...

If truth be told, had the feast been half as great and the fare half as fine Manawyddan would scarcely have noticed. He found Rhiannon to be the most clever and pleasant woman to whom he had ever spoken, her thinking much in line with his own; and it was not long before each had assured themself that the other was very much to their liking. This being achieved, then and only then did they each by tacit consent begin to drink.

Manawyddan felt like a virgin youth, darting shy glances at her, but was reassured when he noticed her own body-language was just as nervous. At length he voiced his thoughts on the matter and his suspicions were confirmed. Drink is a wonderful breaker of ice; and on this occasion it did better than that. Two clever individuals who become attracted to each other need only the ice to be broken before they turn to each other, knowing one another's desires, and shrug, as if to say - why not? Manawyddan rose, and Rhiannon with him; and according to the custom, Manawyddan asked for leave to go of Pryderi, who dismissed them with a bat of his fingers, before grinning at his own wife at his other hand - but according to the custom, nobody said a word on the matter yet.

Barely were they out of the door than Rhiannon flattened Manawyddan against the stone wall and kissed him. His hand found her waist, his other her hair, but he let her lead - there was an understanding between them. At length she tore herself away and, taking his hand, she led him away and up a spiral staircase, up and up, round and round, until they reached her empty bower. The great four-poster bed was clad in scarlet, and onto this she pushed him down and then sat astride him and kissed him again. And so they made love long and passionately; and after about an hour they dressed again and returned below.

As they re-entered the hall, and according to the custom, they were met by a clamour of cheers; and, obligingly, Manawyddan kissed Rhiannon formally and then raised their clasped hands above their heads before the clampur died down again and they returned to their places at the feast.

When the night was finally old, the food was long gone and the ubiquitous yawns were becoming impossible to ignore, Pryderi rose and called an end to the revels, and bade everyone good night. Slowly, the hall began to empty; even Rhiannon retired to her chambers, and so too did Cigfa, Pryderi's young wife. As guest of honour, Manawyddan alone remained with his host; and presently they found that they were at last alone in the hall. Then Pryderi turned to his friend.

"Tomorrow, I will set the affairs of my realm in order. The next day you and I and Cigfa and Rhiannon and my retinue shall go on a hunting expedition. For you have been hard at work as far as I can tell ever since the death of your brother; and what you need, my father, is a good long break. You have only just begun to mend."

/|||| ||||\

~ ancient briton ~

[This message has been edited by Lord Eddie (edited 09-16-2013 @ 02:54 PM).]

posted 16 September 2013 06:13 EDT (US)     2 / 12  
Excellent! Another Edorix tale! Hurrah!

The tale so far is told with the expected skill and imagery, thus meeting and exceeding the high standards to which I hold thee. Well done.

One picky thing:
"The proud column of horsemen trotted proudly..."

Of course a proud column would trot proudly, otherwise they would not be proud now, would they?

The emotional and social interplay between your characters continues to impress me.

|||||||||||||||| A transplanted Viking, born a millennium too late. |||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Too many Awards to list in Signature, sorry lords...|||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Listed on my page for your convenience and envy.|||||||||||||||||
Somewhere over the EXCO Rainbow
Master Skald, Order of the Silver Quill, Guild of the Skalds
Champion of the Sepia Joust- Joust I, II, IV, VI, VII, VIII
posted 16 September 2013 13:59 EDT (US)     3 / 12  
An excellent story so far, Edorix. I haven't read any Welsh literature before, but I certainly will after reading your stories (this one and Branwen and Taliesin)...

Invincibility lies in defence, while the possibility of victory in the attack -Sun Tzu
Akouson me, pataxon de (hit me, but first listen to me)-Themistocles to Euribiadis prior to the battle of Salamis.
posted 29 September 2013 11:51 EDT (US)     4 / 12  
Chapter II - Occupations genteel

Long time they passed there hunting in the forests and chases of Dyfed, doing as they pleased, roaming where they willed, and coming to love one another's company beyond all reason, after the manner of humans who find nothing at all displeasing in their fellows.

Those were golden days for Manawyddan, Pryderi, Rhiannon and Cigfa. Toil was passed, and the world seemed bright. Over the months, under the brush of Rhiannon's tender understanding, the long-worn cares of government gradually lifted from Manawyddan's brow, and the weight of memory on his shoulders came to seem less heavy. Still he dreamed it seemed every other day of Bendigeidvran, Branwen and Taliesin; or if not them then of every youthful body broken on the green battlefields of Ierne, the countless families of Prydain and Eriu bereft of fathers and sons and brothers who should have lived long years yet, walking the woodland paths and tilling the golden corn of the homes of their forefathers. And every time he woke he wondered how things could have been different, had only he spoken up - one word to his brother, one word of caution, Vran would have listened - but he had said nothing. He had not thought. Why had he said nothing? Why had he not realised?

But all in vain - bitterly he rebuked himself for wasting his time worrying about what was said and done, washed and buried long years ago. Sometimes Rhiannon would wake at night, as often in a tent in some far-flung hunting ground as in a high-vaulted bedchamber in one of the fair caers of Dyfed, and find Manawyddan seated alone, staring into the dying embers of a fire or face uplifted to the starry sky, eyes closed, tears shining on his face.

Pryderi had seen all this. He too had witnessed King Bran's ill-fated invasion of Ireland, had fought under the banner of the stag against the treacherous necromancy of Matholwch; and he knew the burden of Manawyddan's breast, though for his part he felt it not nearly as strongly. The prince of Dyfed spared no expense in the pursuit of restoring his friend's happiness; every other night was a feast, every day spent hunting or doing exactly as Manawyddan pleased - whenever he could be persuaded to imagine what he himself might want, which was rare. And slowly, over time, the sickness-at-heart of the wise one began to fade; as the weeks passed, less and less was he roused at night by grief or a terrible gnawing guilt, and a visible transformation began in him: he stood taller, he laughed more jovially, and his smile lit up his eyes ever more often. After a couple of months had been passed in this hedonistic fashion, as far as Pryderi could tell his proscription of simple pleasures had reaped all the healing it was able.

Winter was by this time approaching, and at its head the festival of Calan Gaeaf, which the Irish knew as Samhain; but there was no rush to return to the administration of the principality. There was little sense in those days that a ruler had any real obligation to his subjects, beyond that of protection; and the Kingdom of Albion was unified and at peace under the selfless rule of the young king Bran II. Pryderi had other officials to deal out justice in his absence, and the preparations for the festival of Calan Gaeaf effectively ran themselves, under the oversight of the druids and with the assistance of the local populace who were more-than-willing volunteers. Everyone was more than happy to continue living in their epicurean twilight, quite detached from the cares of the real world; so the only restriction to their activities was that they had to have warmer furs sent for from the towns' craftsmen, so that they could continue as the days grew shorter and the nights colder.

One evening, close to the end of October, and a few nights before the festival of Calan Gaeaf would inevitably call a reluctant end to their long sojourn from reality, Pryderi raised the issue with his three companions as they sat by the fire. As he came upon them, it struck him briefly how lucky he was to have them all there - his beloved wife, his wise mother, and now a wonderful and wise father just as he had never known. The thought made him stop for a moment, just as he was about to speak, and a tear pricked his eye.

"What is it, Dei?" asked Cigfa. Her voice was unconcerned; she was distracted by a joke of Manawyddan's Pryderi had missed, she hadn't noticed. He smiled and brushed away the tear.

"My friends," he began - for so he had come to address them, even though they included his mother and his wife and only one other friend - "It is three days until Calan Gaeaf. We have hunted and pleased ourselves for long enough - before long we really ought to return to Caerfyrddin, to oversee the final preparations for the feast in the capital. I think that we can allow one more day, but tomorrow evening we really must head for home."

Cigfa made a sad noise and let herself fall into Rhiannon's lap, but Manawyddan nodded and stood up.

"That seems reasonable. I am glad you said we can afford another day, for unless I am very much mistaken there still remains one place in Dyfed to which we have not journeyed. It is remote, but it is roughly between here and Caerfyrddin. I think that if we set off early, we should make it there in time to have a good look around and still make it to the capital before sundown." He walked around the fire to a table with a map of the principality beside Pryderi, and pointed to a blank area surrounded by trees - terra incognita. Pryderi looked where he was pointing, and gave an exclamation of surprise.

"Ah! Cwm Celyd, the Hidden Vale - you must know the story?"

Manawyddan looked up, eyebrows raised. He had not.

"Cwm Celyd has always been a mystery - well, I should say, it always was, and now once again is. None has managed to venture inside for, what is it, some twenty years? Not since my father Pwyll..."

Neither Pryderi nor Rhiannon had mentioned his father before; so Manawyddan had not asked. Now he said nothing, but only watched intently. Pryderi looked at him, a strange narrow half-smile on his face.

"Ah, but of course you do not know. Perhaps you have not heard what happened - it is a long tale."

Manawyddan sat back.

"All I know of Pwyll, your father who was prince of Dyfed before you during the reign of Bendigeidfran and the latter part of the reign of my father Llyr, is that he was a keen hunter who died when you were still young. And... well."

"What?" prompted Cigfa.

"Well, and that he encouraged all sorts of fanciful tales about himself among the peasants. He earned himself a fantastic reputation through all of Deheubarth - tales of his undertakings were well-known at the old caer up at Arelicon, and I have heard mention of them as far afield as Caeresk in Dumnonia and Radde. Although I highly doubt those were the same tales."

Pryderi chuckled, and slowly came and sat down beside the fire. Manawyddan looked quizzically at Rhiannon - but she only smiled at him, her eyes glinting. He turned to Cigfa; but even she, normally girlish and insincere, looked withdrawn and mysterious, her blonde hair unnaturally white in the poor light.

"It seems there is much you do not know about the ruling family of Dyfed, Manawyddan kingsbrother," he said quietly, toying with a twig on the ground. "And I do not apologise for not telling you sooner. You are a man of reason; and this is a tale of nothing you have ever seen before."

Manawyddan was unsure how to respond. Tales of the otherworld were a common feature at all levels of society, but the nobility always treated them a little tongue-in-cheek - surely Pryderi was not really trying to claim some genuine connection? Admittedly Manawyddan had trouble explaining certain physical manifestations, not least the Cauldron of Rebirth which his brother had owned and was used so fatefully against the Island of the Mighty during the War of Branwen - but he always assumed there was some natural explanation, it simply was not within reach. It probably contained, or perhaps was fashioned out of, some powerful healing minerals, like the waters of the sacred spring of Sul beside Mount Badon.

Rhiannon broke in, saving him from response.

"The tale really begins with Cwm Celyd. Ever has it been surrounded with stories of otherworldliness - and long have I desired to pay a visit there over the years I have spent in this realm, particularly after the death of Pwyll - but that was also when Pryderi needed me most in asserting his rightful authority over the lords of the cantrefs; and then when the grief softened and the desire lessened, the reasons for not doing so prevailed.

But already I overstep myself. The tale really begins with the young Pwyll, not far from here, in that part of the valley of the Afon Cuch which is known as the Hidden Vale..."

* * * * * * * * * *

Here Chapter II: Occupations Genteel is broken to allow Rhiannon to briefly tell the tale of Pwyll, petty king of Dyfed, who is also known as Pwyll Pen Annwfyn - Pwyll Lord of the Otherworld.

* * * * * * * * * *

/|||| ||||\

~ ancient briton ~
posted 29 September 2013 12:50 EDT (US)     5 / 12  
The Tale of Pwyll Pen Annwfyn

"The young Pwyll was recently ascended to throne of Dyfed after the death of his father, and a certain faction of nobles had been causing him much grief. So, one day in irritation he rode out to the hunt alone with his horse and his dog. He did not set himself a course, but simply rode hard ahead, intending to put as much distance as possible between himself and the nobles of the court until he had quite forgotten his irritation; and, as chance would have it, his horse led him far across Dyfed, right unto Glyn Cuch, and deep into the Hidden Valley.

Perhaps in his anger he simply did not notice he had ridden right off the edge of the map, but before long he realised that he was utterly lost and a dense mist had set in; he could not see the sun, could not take his bearings. As he journeyed through the forest, he happened to stumble upon a clearing where at the centre lay a splendid white hart, with several white red-eared hounds feasting upon it; but they took no notice of Pwyll. At first Pwyll was puzzled; he called out, but no one showed himself; the hounds continued feasting unperturbed. Gradually he became irritated, and then still more so as he realised that, Dyfed being his realm, this was rightfully his game. With that he drove the dogs away, and his own hound took over, happily gorging on the fallen stag.

Then a tall dark figure entered the grove; and his head was crowned with antlers. Believe it or not, my stubborn Manawyddan, this was the god Carnyn, King of Annwfyn; and Pwyll had gravely offended him by driving his hounds from their feast. Carnyn threatened to curse his honour to the value of a hundred stags; but Pwyll pleaded with him, saying he had not known that he had strayed into Carnyn's realm of the Otherworld, and vowed that he would redeem Carnyn's friendship in any way he could.

As it happened, Lord Carnyn had a problem. His kingdom was under threat from a foe from the sunlit land of Avalon, far away to the south. The king of this realm was called Hafgan; and Lord Carnyn could not defeat him. Pwyll, however, could, for he was a mortal; and so the two agreed to switch places for a year, to allow Pwyll to defeat Hafgan on Lord Carnyn's behalf, and then they would call it even and be friends.

Well, the deal was done, and each took on the other's appearance and ruled the other's court. Every night, Pwyll slept beside Carnyn's wife; and every night he placed a sharp sword in the bed between them. At the end of the year Pwyll defeated Hafgan with one blow, and made him swear never again to venture into the realm of Annwfyn; and the next day he met with Lord Carnyn as arranged and the two became fast friends - even more so when Carnyn discovered from his wife that Pwyll had never so much as kissed her for the entire year.

Whatever you choose to believe, my lord, it is since that day that the principality of Dyfed has prospered almost beyond belief; since Pwyll returned from Annwfyn, although the nobles never missed him, there has never been a shortage of food, no child has been born unhealthy, and Dyfed's pigs have been without equal in all the length and breadth of Prydain at every fayre to which they are brought."

Rhiannon paused, and looked at Manawyddan, who said nothing, but sat with his arms folded and a sceptical look on his face. She smiled at Pryderi, who nodded to her to continue, and then looked back at Manawyddan and remarked offhandedly:

"Time passes differently in the Otherworld. A long time after Pwyll had left, the queen of Annwfyn became pregnant, and she bore to Lord Carnyn a baby girl. The girl grew to womanhood in the court of her father, but only a year passed in Prydain in that time. And so it was that, a year after Pwyll had returned to Dyfed, Lord Carnyn sent me after him to him to be his wife."

It took Manawyddan a second to work out what she meant.

"... you claim to be the daughter of the Horned God?"

His disbelief was obvious. Rhiannon stood up abruptly, drawing herself up to her full height and suddenly the night fell silent and she was a beacon of darkness, alone in the pulsating heart of the wood.

"There is much you do not know, Manawyddan son of Llyr."

Then she sat down once more and the forest returned to normal. The wind breathed in the trees once more. The fire danced up again. Manawyddan blinked. Now that was strange. He looked hard at Rhiannon. Suddenly there were things about her he had not noticed before. With a start he realised she had pointed ears. How could he not have noticed she had pointed ears? And yet they had definitely always been there. He looked at Pryderi in shock. Pryderi shrugged and looked around innocently. With a start Manawyddan realised that his ears were pointed too.

He whipped round to look at Cigfa. He couldn't see her ears, they were covered by her hair. She grinned at him and waved coyly.

Manawyddan looked back at Rhiannon wild-eyed. She ignored him and went on with her tale.

"I came to Pwyll in the form of the most beautiful horse, and enticed him to chase me; but he could never catch me, not though he laid every trap and goaded the fastest chariot team in the land. At length he realised all he had to do was ask; and I came as bidden, and showed him who I was, and we agreed to be married that night.

But in the meantime, Hafgan, whom Pwyll had defeated on behalf of Carnyn, had grown jealous. He could not attack those who had dishonoured and humiliated him, but he could still seek to prevent their happiness. And so to the wedding feast he came, disguised as a redheaded lad and calling himself Gwawl, and pretending to have recently lost his home and family, with his sly tongue he asked for one favour from Pwyll. To this Pwyll replied, against my warnings and to my undying exasperation, egged on by drink and Hafgan's subtle powers, that he could have anything that was within his power to give. And of course, Hafgan named me.

Well, Pwyll had to agree; and it was arranged that a year from that day I would be married to this "Gwawl". But between us Pwyll and I hatched a plan: that on the night that we were to be married, Pwyll would come to the feast and ask for one favour - that he might have as much food as he could fit into one small bag. But for that bag, I returned to my father in the Otherworld to have woven specially; and no matter how much food were put into it, it would never be full.

So when a year had passed, and I was due to be wed to Hafgan, to the feast came Pwyll in disguise, with a retinue of a hundred warriors hidden nearby. He asked for his favour, and Hafgan laughed and said that would be quite alright. But as more and more food was placed into it, Hafgan became incredulous, and demanded to know if the bag would ever be full.

"Certainly, my lord," replied Pwyll. "All that is needed now is for a powerful nobleman to stand on the food, stamp it down with his feet, and declare that the bag is full."

This Hafgan did; whereupon Pwyll scooped him up in the bag, seized the feasting-hall with his warriors, and refused to let Hafgan out of the bag until he had renounced his claim on myself.

That was the last we heard of him; and that night Pwyll and I at last were married. Some years later I bore him a son - that one there," she smiled, gesturing to Pryderi. "He vanished on the night of his birth, and a waiting maid of mine denounced me for monstrous witchcraft, for which the nobility had me humiliated for years. But as it transpired it was a magical blessing of which my father had not told me; Pryderi appeared as a foal in the stable of Lord Teyrnon, whom you met at Carmarthen, to this day the Marquis of Cardigan under Pryderi. After five years Teyrnon realised that his likeness to Pwyll was unmistakable, and we were reunited.

It was only a few years after that, in a bitter twist of fate, that Pwyll was killed in a hunting accident. And that, my lord Manawyddan, is the story of the House of Pwyll."

/|||| ||||\

~ ancient briton ~

[This message has been edited by Lord Eddie (edited 09-30-2013 @ 02:21 AM).]

posted 29 September 2013 14:02 EDT (US)     6 / 12  
* * * * * * * * * *

Here resumes Chapter II: Occupations Genteel, as Rhiannon has finished recounting the tale of Pwyll Prince of Dyfed: how he gained the friendship of Carnyn Lord of Annwfyn; how he gained the hand of the Lady Rhiannon; and how there was born to him a son named Pryderi.

* * * * * * * * * *

Manawyddan was lost for words. This... this was new. He looked from one face to another. He suddenly felt like he barely knew them.

At length Rhiannon laughed.

"Come, I can see you do not believe my tale. In a way I suppose it doesn't matter. We are the same people you have come to know; all I have told you is where we came from."

Manawyddan needed time to think. His gaze roved as his mind whirred - and came to rest on Cigfa. She smiled at him, as if anticipating what he was about to say. He was about to ask how she fitted into all this when Pryderi spoke.

"You know mother, I think Manawyddan's idea is a good one. Suppose we do explore the Hidden Valley - just to see how things stand up there. Who knows, perhaps we will find something there that will convince father of the truthfulness of our tale."

Manawyddan suddenly wasn't sure that it was such a good idea, but Rhiannon spoke over him.

"Good idea, Dei. It's decided then."

Manawyddan protested, but she put a finger to his lips.

"Hush now, my handsome prince. Perhaps there is more to yourself than you know as well. All will be revealed in the morning. Come now - it is time for sleep, and we rise early tomorrow."

Manawyddan dumbly followed Rhiannon to their tent. They undressed, and she lay down first. He gently lowered himself on top of her - his eye was drawn again to one of her ears and, marvelling, he smiled and caressed it.

"You know... whether your tale is true or not, you do have the most remarkable ears."

"Shh, Mana," laughed Rhiannon. "It is time for sleep..."

As she spoke, there was a sudden twittering of birdsong in Manawyddan's ears; and strangely, do what he could, he felt himself inexorably drawn down into sleep. In just a few heartbeats, his body relaxed; his head fell on Rhiannon's breast. She gently lay him down beside her, drew the furs over their bodies, and, smiling, gently stroked his hair until sleep came to claim her too.

/|||| ||||\

~ ancient briton ~
posted 30 September 2013 02:10 EDT (US)     7 / 12  
And Edorix completes the Triple Post once again!

Well done, lad. I love the ears bit- subtle, yet in plain view (mostly). The story was filled with clever magic and divine powers, yet human character flaws as well. I enjoyed the way you wove them together.

One part confused me:

A long time after Pwyll had left, the wife of Lord Carnyn became pregnant, and she bore to Pwyll a baby girl.

Should that not be born to Carnyn? Pwyll had nver asd much kissed the wife of Carnyn, and she became pregnant a long time after Pwyll had left. Or was he equipped with supersperm?

|||||||||||||||| A transplanted Viking, born a millennium too late. |||||||||||||||||
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Somewhere over the EXCO Rainbow
Master Skald, Order of the Silver Quill, Guild of the Skalds
Champion of the Sepia Joust- Joust I, II, IV, VI, VII, VIII
posted 30 September 2013 02:30 EDT (US)     8 / 12  
Yes, of course you're quite right - it's because I was thinking of Pwyll at the time because there is a slightly awkward hint of lying with first the mother then the daughter... but yes, the whole point is he never lay with the mother.

Fixed. Thanks for your continued feedback on this light-hearted tale of weird and randomness... I'm actually just typing it straight into the forum postbox with the rough plan sketched in my head. It's a nice change, and there aren't many places you can get away with it - one of the beauties of early Welsh literature is how hopelessly lacking it is in structure and proportion, and this will certainly help replicate that!
Edorix completes the Triple Post once again!
An unusual choice of format, I admit. I'm not sure it really works very well. Regardless it seemed better to separate out Rhiannon's tale - and it certainly had to be told, it will be important later. Actually it is in fact a hasty summary (with minor tweaks, of course) of the First Branch of the Mabinogion - Branwen was the second, and this is the third - because I have no intention of retelling that one. I might do the fourth however, it sort of wraps up a cycle, and besides that will give me a neat trilogy.
Well done, lad. I love the ears bit- subtle, yet in plain view (mostly). The story was filled with clever magic and divine powers, yet human character flaws as well. I enjoyed the way you wove them together.
The ears are just an underhanded reference to elves, which I thought a useful but not-too-intrusive visible characteristic of the otherworldliness of the House of Pwyll - Pryderi is basically a demigod, and Rhiannon is even more otherworldly... the Sνdhe were mentioned briefly in Branwen in a brief youthful loregasm of mine in chapter 3 or so (something I haven't grown out of, as you can see); but this is where you actually meet them. The third branch is very much focused on the Otherworld. Elves are not of course in fact a purely Germanic tradition: the Welsh and Irish have their Tylwyth Teg and Sνdhe, but there are also the Sanskrit Rbhus, or "Skilful Ones". The ancient word could have been *Albioi, meaning both "White, Fair" and "Skilful", and was a kenning or surname for the bright-eyed clever-fingered House of Danu.

Edit on Nov 17th - still hoping to find time to get back to this. Termtime at Cambridge is not conducive to creative writing!

/|||| ||||\

~ ancient briton ~

[This message has been edited by Lord Eddie (edited 12-31-2013 @ 11:15 AM).]

posted 31 December 2013 13:27 EDT (US)     9 / 12  
Chapter III - Journey to the Secret Vale

The next day the four of them rode on to visit the secret valley of Cwm Celyd on the River Cuch. For much of the morning they chatted merrily and laughed with good humour about the matter of the night before, Manawyddan openly disbelieving but all still in excellent spirits. However as the day wore on and they began to ride along the valley of the river, the wooded became thicker and darker, almost watchful, the atmosphere more oppressive, and their conversation died. The change was a gradual one: at first they rode beneath the bared branches under a bright blue sky upon a soft canopy of golden and crimson leaves, with the river dancing cheerfully beside their horses' hooves; but by mid-morning the tree-trunks had turned to black, their branches stacked with dead but unfalling leaves, the air was heavy and stifling, and the leaves strewn over the path crunched painfully with every hoof-fall. Branches hung lower and had to be dodged more frequently, seeming deliberately to try to unseat them, to wish them away. It grew bitingly cold, but somehow the thickness of the air made them sweat anyway - the sweat clung to their skin and they froze. The light, where it shone through, was pale and waif-like, so thoroughly shut out by the mustard-grey canopy. Whisps of mist swirled around the horses' ankles.; they plodded on reluctantly. The four of them rode in irritable silence with their heads bowed.

After riding on like this for some time Manawyddan shook himself and spoke loudly.

"Why are we doing this anyway. This is stupid."

The others rode on, paying him little heed. The silence was unpleasant and humid, but breaking it sounded loud and unnatural. Pryderi winced at the harsh echo.

Manawyddan tried again.

"Everyone... come on. The forest doesn't want us here. Let's turn around."

Rhiannon uttered a reply, but the thick air consumed it and Manawyddan heard only a confused mumble of vowels.

"Sorry, I didn't catch that...?"

Irritated beyond measure Rhiannon called sharply over her shoulder.

"Will you just be quiet, we're almost there. We're only doing this because you don't believe our words."

"That's not what you said yesterday!"

Rhiannon did not reply. They plodded on. It was only several minutes later that Manawyddan realised he had been sinking into semi-consciousness just as before. He shook himself hard and slapped his cheeks. The trees were ever blacker - no, wait: they were actually black, their trunks and branches covered in a thick black substance that could have been a strange kind of bark but looked a lot like tar.

It's a trap. You're riding into a trap.

Manawyddan reined in his horse sharply. It neighed loudly and reared, panicking, startled out of the same plodding daze as its rider.

"Rhiannon! Pryderi! Cigfa! Stop!"

Almost in unison, the three horses stopped. Their riders remained still - one of them stirred a little. The middle one, Cigfa, shook herself.

"What is it..."

"We've lost the river! The forest is trying to lead us astray. It's a trap! We need to get out of here now."

Cigfa moved her head slowly from side to side.

"What do you mean..."

"Look around you! Look at the trees - they're sick! And can you see the path through this mist? We could be headed straight into a bog!"

Rhiannon and Pryderi were beginning to stir. Cigfa looked around panicking.

"We need to get out of here!"

Pryderi turned his horse about.

"But which way do we go?" he cried.

Rhiannon followed suit. She seemed calmer.

"If the spell was trying to lead us astray, our best bet is to head in the opposite direction. I could be mis-led, but I do not think we have turned any corners - we should retrace our steps as best we can by riding back the way we came."

Cigfa looked very white.

"Then what are we waiting for? Let's go!"

Pryderi spurred his horse with a cry and raced past Manawyddan, back the way they came; Rhiannon surged after him. Cigfa took a moment longer to start. Manawyddan turned and shouted after his wife and step-son.

"Rhiannon! Pryderi! Wait! We should stick together!"

There came no reply. He spared a glance over his shoulder for Cigfa.

"You at least... stay close. Let's go!"

He spurred his horse and charged after Rhiannon and Pryderi. Cigfa followed close on his heels. The mist was swirling thickly - before long Pryderi was nothing but a distant dark silhouette, and then Manawyddan lost sight of him entirely. The mist grew thicker and thicker. Soon Rhiannon too was fading from view. Manawyddan urged his horse ever faster.

"Manawyddan! Wait!"

A voice from behind him - it was Cigfa. He was about to shout back to her to hurry up, he was losing sight of their friends ahead - but hours of long reflection reminded him to stop.

You are not yet out of the enchantment. You could chase those shadows forever and never catch up - forgetting of course that there is none who can overtake the Lady Rhiannon on horseback.

If I slow for Cigfa I will lose her for sure.

There is something evil at work here. You can stay with Cigfa for certain, or you can ride after your wife and become totally separated.

"Manawyddan! Please!"

Manawyddan screwed his eyes shut and reined in his horse abruptly. They stopped. He opened them to see the faint silhouette of Rhiannon swallowed up by the mist. He felt a lump in his throat and swallowed the urge to cry. But a few moments later Cigfa caught up with him; and he knew he had made the right decision.

"So what now?"

He looked at her.

"I don't know. I fear we are hopelessly lost. We could ride the horses into the ground and never make it out."

"Then we should proceed slowly and with caution."

Manawyddan was surprised. He nearly slapped himself. She had answered her own question in exactly the way he should have done.

"... yes. You're right of course."

They both looked around, but Manawyddan had to admit he was stumped.

"... any ideas?"

Cigfa looked thoughtful for a moment.

"I do not know what kind of spell lies over this place. I should like to know what the ground looks like underneath this fog."

Manawyddan made to swing his leg over the saddle immediately in order to jump down, but she grabbed him.

"Don't! We should do it together - we don't want to be separated. Remember we have no idea what the spell may be."

Manawyddan shook his head.

"You're right. I'm... not thinking clearly."

Holding hands, they gingerly stepped down from their horses - Manawyddan felt her slender youthful body briefly press against his as they dropped awkwardly together, but then they were apart and he pushed it firmly from his mind. They stood knee-deep in thick mist; but there was certainly ground beneath their feet. Manawyddan moved one leg around a little, and heard the crackle of dead leaves - which he found somewhat reassuring. Cigfa stooped and reached into the thick mist, bringing up a handful of the brittle golden detritus of Autumns long past. When she stood up again to show him Manawyddan realised the air between them was slightly obscured.

"The fog is getting thicker," he observed calmly. "We must be doubly careful."

"Do you think we can rely on our minds to lead us in a straight line?"

"I don't think we have much choice."

They rode now side-by-side to avoid being separated - so close to one another that their calves constantly bumped and rubbed uncomfortably, but both were glad of the constant reminder that they had not been separated. In this manner they rode on for some time.

* * * * * * * * * *

Pryderi burst out of the fog and the trees all of a sudden into a wide open clearing and reined in his mount in shock. The mist was gone; the forest was behind him, looking for all the world like any other forest. He could not see the others - he supposed as his heart calmed that perhaps he should have waited for them; although it was strange that his mother had not overtaken him, patron of horses that Rhiannon was.

Before him the ground sloped away into a round coombe. Across it there ran the bright blue thread of a river; and just on the other side of the river was a squat stone tower. Pryderi had heard of these - he recognised it at once as a broch, a kind of high-status house that was popular among the chiefs in Caledonia. Still, he was surprised to find it here - surely they had not been transported so far? And what would be the point?

He surveyed the little tower from the edge of the wood for some time. At length he decided there was nothing for it but to at least go in and ask where he was; and so he spurred his horse and cantered down the slope.

Just as he reached the door and dismounted, Rhiannon emerged from the woods at precisely the same point as her son just a few minutes before. She was as surprised as he was to be confronted with the strange coombe; and she saw Pryderi knock at the door. She called out to him - but it was some distance; he did not seem to hear her. After a few moments, Pryderi knocked again; then he pushed open the door and went inside.

She did not know why, but Rhiannon did not at once ride down the slope after him. Something bade her wait; and so she did for several minutes. Presently she dismounted her horse and sat in the grass, watching the wind rustle its long stems in pretty waves across the valley bottom. When Pryderi did not come back out however, at length she stirred herself and began to lead her horse down the valley-side towards the broch.

It was at that precise moment that Manawyddan and Cigfa emerged from the trees into the bright clearing.

Cigfa gasped with delight - Rhiannon jumped in surprise and turned around. More than anything Manawyddan was surprised to see her.



"You're alive!"

"So are you!"

"Yes, I am!"

Cigfa interrupted.

"Where's Pryderi?"

Rhiannon gestured down the hill towards the broch.

"I arrived just as he reached that little Pictish tower. I called, but he didn't hear me; he knocked a couple of times, and then went in."

Cigfa looked relieved - but something nagged at the back of Manawyddan's mind.

"It is strange, is it not, that no one answered to his knock, and yet he has not come back out?"

Rhiannon opened her mouth - then shut it. Why had she not thought of that?

Cigfa turned to Manawyddan in concern.

"You think something has happened to him?"

"I do not know..."

Rhiannon spread her hands, palms upwards.

"We should at least go and find out what has happened to him."

She turned to head down the slope again. Manawyddan spoke evenly.

"I would not do that if I were you."

Rhiannon paused, and turned to him. His face was stern; he was looking over her shoulder; he would not meet her eyes.

"Mana, my love. I do not know what happened in the woods back there - it would seem my father has redecorated in an attempt to deter vagrants from straying into his realm unawares. Nonetheless, Annwfyn is well protected. Either we are in my father's realm, or we are still in Prydain. And in either case, we can expect the warmest welcome from those in charge. Therefore, I have no fear of entering that lonely house where my son has no doubt found food and good company."

"My dear... I am afraid that your premises may be flawed."

Rhiannon laughed shortly, then turned away and headed down the slope, leading her horse. She called over her shoulder.

"If I do not return, come and join us at your leisure. If there is anything amiss I will come straight back out."

Manawyddan watched her back. His face worked.

"And what, my love, if something should prevent you from doing so? What then?"

Cigfa touched his elbow. He looked down at her.

"We should go with her. For better or for worse we should be together."

Manawyddan shook his head hard.

"No. We have no idea where we are. If I have learned one thing from all the experience of my life, then it is this: there could be anything behind that door."

They watched as Rhiannon descended the hill, crossed the valley-bottom, stepped through the bright stream, and led her horse up to the door. When she reached it, she turned and waved at them. Then she opened it and went inside.

It swung to behind her.

They waited several minutes.

She did not come out again.

Cigfa turned to Manawyddan. Manawyddan turned to her. His eyes were shining with tears.


He shooked his head, and looked at her again. His face was very earnest. After a moment he whispered hoarsely:

"And now we wait."

* * * * * * * * * *

The two of them tethered their horses and sat down at the top of the bank. Cigfa sat cross-legged, now playing with the grass, now closing her eyes to listen to the wind. Manawyddan at first lay on his front, staring at the broch; then sat on his haunches; then knelt with his hands on his knees and rocked backwards and forwards impatiently. They did not speak to one another, nor move from their positions as the sun drifted across the southwestern sky towards its dusk.

The afternoon wore by; then the evening came. With it the chill returned. Still they did not move. No sight or sound came from the little Pictish stone house. The great disc of the sun touched the horizon, and turned the sky to all shades of crimson and lilac. Slowly, but quicker than you'd think, it slipped beneath the distant trees, and twilight fell. Gradually, it turned to dark. The stars came out; the moon rose.

At long last Manawyddan murmured.

"They would have come out by now."

Cigfa lay on her side in the grass. She nodded.

"I think the balance of probability is very much in favour of your view. Pryderi would not leave me to die from anxiety like this."

Manawyddan nodded. After another moment he spoke.

"You realise that it would be pure folly to go inside to try and find out what has happened to them."

Cigfa screwed her eyes shut. At length she replied in a tiny voice:


Manawyddan crawled over to her and laid a hand on her shoulder.

"... we could do it anyway."

Cigfa curled up into a tight ball and squeezed her eyes shut, fighting off tears, strangling sobs. Eventually, she uncurled abruptly and sat up.


She sniffed, and wiped her eyes; then stood up, and turned to Manawyddan.

"No. That would be unwise."

He smiled at her sorrowfully, seeking comfort. She tried to smile back, but failed. It was not the moment to smile; no matter how sadly. Angrily she brushed away tears.

"We should make camp for the night. And tomorrow try to find our way out of this terrible land."

Manawyddan nodded.

"I shall keep watch. There is no sleep in me tonight."

Cigfa shrugged.

"It is all the same to me. Wake me if you cannot watch any longer."

In the event, after many hours, Cigfa racked her body to sleep with silent sobs. Manawyddan sat beside their miserable fire on watch, and was asleep before her.

/|||| ||||\

~ ancient briton ~
posted 01 January 2014 07:35 EDT (US)     10 / 12  
This remains a magnificent tale.

Please do continue it!

|||||||||||||||| A transplanted Viking, born a millennium too late. |||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Too many Awards to list in Signature, sorry lords...|||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Listed on my page for your convenience and envy.|||||||||||||||||
Somewhere over the EXCO Rainbow
Master Skald, Order of the Silver Quill, Guild of the Skalds
Champion of the Sepia Joust- Joust I, II, IV, VI, VII, VIII
posted 03 April 2014 09:39 EDT (US)     11 / 12  
Totally forgotten whatever interesting thing I was going to do with this...
posted 03 April 2014 09:54 EDT (US)     12 / 12  
You were going to write more wonderful stuff for it.

|||||||||||||||| A transplanted Viking, born a millennium too late. |||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Too many Awards to list in Signature, sorry lords...|||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Listed on my page for your convenience and envy.|||||||||||||||||
Somewhere over the EXCO Rainbow
Master Skald, Order of the Silver Quill, Guild of the Skalds
Champion of the Sepia Joust- Joust I, II, IV, VI, VII, VIII

[This message has been edited by Terikel Grayhair (edited 04-03-2014 @ 09:55 AM).]

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