Presented here is a retelling of the story of the time Pwyll of Dyfed spent in Annwfn in the body of Arawn. It is the first part of the story of Pwyll, Prince of Dyfed or Pwyll Pendefig Dyfed, which is the First Branch of the Four Branches of the Mabinogi. It tells how he and Arawn became friends and of his sojourn in Annwfn.
Pwyll of Dyfed
One day as Pwyll, Prince of Dyfed was out hunting in the region of Glyn Cuch his hounds raised a stag. The stag took off at great speed with the hounds hard on its trail and Pwyll spurred his horse forward in pursuit sounding his hunting horn. The stag was moving fast but the hounds were keeping up and he was keeping up with the hounds. In the speed and excitement of the chase he lost the other members of his party who were left far behind.
Following the sound of his pack he became aware that he could also hear another pack of hounds which sounded very different to his own. Arriving in a glade in the woods he was surprised to see in the middle a large stag holding at bay a pack of strange hounds. As Pwyll looked on they brought the beast to the ground. Although an experienced and accomplished huntsman Pwyll had never seen dogs like these before. They had coats of pure, shining white and the tips of their white ears glowed red. Moving purposely forward he drove the pack of strange dogs off and set his own on the stag.
The Anger of Arawn
No sooner had he done this when he heard the blowing of a hunting horn and the approach of a fast riding horseman. The horseman cut an intimidating figure being tall and well built and dressed in grey hunting clothes. Around his neck hung a hunting horn which he blew notes on heralding his arrival. Reining in his horse he glared coldly upon Pwyll and spoke in a blunt and unfriendly manner, “Chieftain, I know who you are but I will not welcome you!”
“Indeed,” replied Pwyll taking offense at the tone of the address, “you appear lacking of such dignity and manners and it is best you do not do so!” “Indeed,” said the stranger, “it is not my dignity and manners that prevent me!”
“Chieftain, what then is it? Am I the one at fault, is it my courtesy and manners that are at fault? Tell me what is the fault that I have committed?” replied Pwyll in anger and bewilderment. Replied the huntsman, “Never have I seen anything so discourteous and bad-mannered! You have driven my dogs away from their kill and set your own upon it. Though I may not gain revenge for the value of the offense, I swear I will bring you more dishonor than the worth of a hundred stags!”
Realizing he was at fault Pwyll said, “Chieftain, I indeed have done wrong. How I can make it up to you and become your friend? You say you know who I am, therefore, tell me who you are?” The other replied, “I am Arawn, a King of Annwfn,” and Pwyll answered, “Then Arawn, a King of Annwfn, I ask how I may redeem myself and win your friendship?”
“I have a neighbor named Hafgan who forever makes trouble and seeks war and is also a King of Annwfn. Rid me of him and gain my undying friendship and amend the wrong you have done me,” replied Arawn. “I will do this, but how?” said Pwyll. Arawn replied,
“Change places with me and live as I have lived as a King of Annwfn. You will have the fairest lady ever seen as your Queen, who is my wife. We must exchange bodies. Your mind and soul will live in my body and my mind and soul will live in yours. I will make it so no one in the world will ever be able to know the difference, not your closest friend, not even my wife. I will know what you know, you will know what I know. We will live like this for a year and a day and in that time you will have accomplished the task. We shall meet on that anniversary in this place and I will return us to our true forms. Only we will know! ”
“I will do this, but how shall I know and find your enemy,” Pwyll asked. “The time and date are already set for us to meet in single combat to the death. One year from today you will find him waiting at the ford. Be there and with one stroke rid me of him and gain my never ending friendship. One word of warning I give! Should he ask you to strike again to bring his life to a quick end you must refuse. Last year I made this mistake after dealing him a fatal blow and he recovered. You must let him die slowly!” advised Arawn. “It is understood and this I will do,” replied Arawn, “but what will happen to my own kingdom while I am away?”
“Fear not for your kingdom. In your own semblance I will rule in your stead and none will ever know the difference,” answered Arawn. “Then, let us begin!” said Pwyl. “Nothing shall hinder you until you come into my lands and then I will guide you to my palace in my kingdom,” said Arawn,” and it shall begin.”
Arawn led Pwyll through the forest to a place close to his palace and said, “Behold, my palace. Here I must leave you to enter alone as I. Have no fear, no one will see anything different and all will accept you as being myself. Furthermore, you will find you have knowledge of all the ways of the court. “
Sojourn in Annwfn
Therefore, Pwyll entered court and it was as Arawn had told him. He was welcomed as their king by the servants and his wife who noticed nothing amiss. Two knights helped to dress him in the finest silks of gold and scarlet and the hall was prepared for feasting and they noticed nothing. He saw that those who joined him were of the most comely and handsome of looks and ways. They all appeared to know him paying him great obeisance. Arawn’s wife entered and sat next to him talking as she had always known him. Just as Arawn had said, she was the fairest woman he had ever seen. She was dressed in scarlet and gold and talked and conversed with him most agreeably throughout the meal. After the feasting there were wonderful stories and songs and Pwyll thought that this must be the most entertaining and courteous of courts on Earth.
The Fight at the Ford
He spent the next year hunting and feasting, enjoying the entertainments of the court and his conversations with the Queen and the courtiers. Eventually the year passed and the time came around when he must meet Hafgan, the enemy of Arawn, at the ford in single combat. The nobles and everyone in the kingdom had been waiting for this time to come and a great throng of warriors assembled to accompany him to the fight at the ford. As he arrived a knight spoke up to address the throng saying, “Lords, this conflict is between two kings who claim ownership of each other’s realm. It is not your battle therefore stand aside and let the kings do battle alone.”
Turning he said the same to those on his side of the Ford and all but the two kings fell back to watch the fight. The two kings approached each other and met in the middle of the ford and without ceremony the fight began. With his first blow Pwyll struck the shield of Hafgan such a mighty blow that it was split in two and Hafgan was knocked to the ground mortally wounded. “Chieftain,” said Hafgan, “I am dying but what right have you to cause my death as I have done you no harm in any of this. As You have dealt me a killing blow I ask of you to strike again and strike fast to end my life quickly.”
“Chieftain,” replied Pwyll, “it may well be that I come to regret the blow I dealt you and the one that I will not deal, but I will give no more blows.” Calling out to his knights Hafgan said, ” I say to my subjects, I shall no longer be able to support you, therefore follow who you will, for I die now.”
Pwyll said, “Let those who have followed Hafgan come over to me without fear and in peace. There can only be one victor and that will be Arawn.” Those nobles on the opposite side of the ford went over to join with him. Next he rode through Hafgan’s kingdom subduing those who would not follow and subjecting the land to Arawn as the undisputed king of all of Annwfn. By noon the next day the two kingdoms were united and Pwyll made his way to keep his tryst with Arawn.
When he arrived Arawn was waiting and the two rejoiced to meet again. Arawn said, “I know the news you bring and I am thankful for your fulfilling the promise. You have my undying friendship and when you return to your own realm you shall see what I did for you in your absence.”
” Whatever that may be,” said Pwyll, “may Heaven reward you.” With that, Arawn reinstated each to their own natural bodies and set off for his home in Annwfn. When he arrived home none of his court or his queen realized he had been away or noticed any difference in him. When the time came for him to go to bed he took his wife with him who seemed both surprised and delighted. She told him she had been grieved that he had not shown any interest in sleeping with her the last long year. Arawn realized the extent of Pwyll’s mastery over himself and was glad but made sure he was fully reconciled with his wife.
Pwyll also went home and none of his nobles or servants appeared to notice any difference. Therefore he asked them their opinions of how his judgements and rule had been over the past year. They told him that he had appeared to have ruled with great justice, wisdom and perception and his kingdom had benefited greatly from this. Pwyll told them about the exchange of places with Arawn and said they should be grateful to him for how he had treated them.
To strengthen the friendship between Annwfn and Dyfed, Arawn sent greyhounds, horses, hawks and such presents he thought would please Pwyll. In turn Pwyll reciprocated in kind. The friendship between Arawn and Pwyll blossomed and grew bringing great prosperity and benefit to both kingdoms. From that time on he also became known as “Pwyll, Pen Annwfn” or “Pwyll, Head of Annwfn“.
© 24/06/2020 zteve t evans
References, Attributions and Further Reading
Copyright June 24th, 2020 zteve t evans