Pwyll, Lord of Dyfed
The story of Pwyll is found in the Mabinogion, a collection of old Welsh stories translated by Lady Charlotte Guest, and published in 1849. It describes how Pwyll the Lord of Dyfed meets the underworld king Arawn and how the two become close allies.
One morning as the first rays of sunlight cut through the low lying mists, Pwyll, Lord of Dyfed set out with a company of his men, and his pack dogs to hunt. As the sun rose higher in the sky they reached the dark game-filled forests on the edge of Pwyll’s kingdom.
The hounds set off through the virgin forests, hot on the trail of some beast. As the group raced through the twisting woodland, Pwyll became separated from his men, but at last caught site of his hounds in the distance, in hot pursuit of something out of sight.
As he drew closer he realised they were chasing a magnificent white stag, which bounded gracefully through the trees, and out into a woodland clearing. Suddenly a pack of strange dogs appeared from the other direction, seemingly also in pursuit of the stag. The dogs were strange to look upon, they were snow white in colour, with bright red ears, and seemed to be of uncommon size and strength. In a flash they were on the stag and swiftly brought it to the ground.
Pwyll felt anger burn in his breast. This was his land and the stag was his game, quickly he spurred his horse forward and motioned his hounds to take the stag. They seemed wary at first but Pwyll shouted at the other dogs, and eventually they drew back allowing Pwyll’s dogs to take the prize.
Suddenly there was a sound of an approaching horse. Pwyll span round to see a grey dappled horse, on which rode a huge man in colourful garments. He shouted at Pwyll and accused him of taking his stag. Pwyll was more than a little angry at this usurper accusing him in his own lands, but something about the stranger made him hold his tongue. He had an air of the otherworld about him that made Pwyll wary. Pwyll said that he had not wanted to offend the stranger and asked his name. He replied that he was Arawn the Lord of Annwn (the Welsh underworld).
Pwyll felt glad that he had not been too swift to answer in anger, as Arawn was a man of formidable power. The two spoke more and Pwyll agreed to take his part in a bargain. Pwyll would take Arawns place in the underworld, and Arawn would take Pwylls. During that time Pwyll would have to fight an enemy of Arawns called Hafgan. He warned that magic protected Hafgan, and that he could only be killed with a single blow, any more strikes would only give Hafgan more power, so that he could rise again. Pwyll asked how he would know Hafgan at the time, Arawn replied that he was due to meet Hafgan in exactly one year from now at a river ford.
Arawn assured Pwyll that their transformation would be complete, and nobody would be able to tell the difference between them during the year. The change completed, they set off towards Arawn’s realm.
Arawn led the way into the earth and into the underworld kingdom of Annwn, they passed through the lush landscape, and on to the gates of Arawn’s castle, which from the outside looked magnificent. Arawn explained that the castle and everything in it was now Pwylls for the whole year, and everything would be fine if he treated everyone with respect. They said their goodbyes and Arawn left for Pwyll’s kingdom.
Pwyll was enamoured with Arawns castle, it had hundreds of rooms and halls of enormous size, grandly laid out in colours that seemed much brighter than in his own world. The people he met as he wandered all bowed before him, and before long he was attended to by knights and servants. He changed from his hunting garments into more luxurious clothes, and prepared for the evening feast.
During the feast he met Arawn’s wife for the first time, she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen, and she greeted him as her husband. Later, after they had retired to the bedroom, Pwyll turned his back on Arawn’s wife in their bed, as he did not want to transgress their marriage. So the year flew by and Pwyll tried as best he could to rule wisely in Arawn place. He treated every body with compassion and none of his subjects new that he was not the real Arawn.
Eventually the time of his appointed fight with Hafgan came and he set off to the ford to give battle with a group of his knights. They reached the ford, Hafgan was already there on the other side, standing with a body of his men. He looked powerful and capable sitting proudly on a jet-black stallion. A herald drew forward and gave the rules of engagement. They were to meet in single combat each armed with a shield and sword.
The herald withdrew and gave the signal, Pwyll spurred his horse forward at the same time as Hafgan and the two met mid stream. Pwyll was quicker and delivered a mighty blow with his sword on Hagan’s shield, the shield split in two and the blade bit deeply into Hafgan’s flesh. He pitched backward from his horse and landed in the river, the water quickly turning red with blood from his gaping wound.
Hafgan shouted at Pwyll that he was not Arawn, in some way he could see through his magical disguise, he pleaded with Pwyll to finish him off and release him from his pain. Pwyll held back, he remembered the warning that Arawn had given him, knowing that another blow would give Hafgan strength.
Hafgan let out a deep sigh and shouted to his men that he was not long for this world, and that Pwyll was now their lord and master. He gave a signal and a small group of his men carried him away to die. Thus Pwyll was victorious and gained all of Hafgans land for Arawn.
The year and a day vigil being completed, Pwyll set off for his own realm to meet Arawn. They met in the appointed place and greeted each other with warmth and friendship. Pwyll briefed Arawn on the years dealings, and his victory over Hafgan. Arawn was delighted and restored them both to their original shape. They said their farewells and Pwyll returned home.
He found that Arawn had ruled wisely and justly during the year with a great deal of generosity. Everything within his realm had improved over the year. They both found that they had not been unlawful with each other’s wives and became firm allies.
Gifts travelled between their two kingdoms for many years and they became the firmest of friends.