Pwyll (pronounced, according to my inexpert interpretation of the pronunciation guide in my copy of the Mabinogion, midway between puhl and pewl) was a small-time local lord, local in this case being fairy-tale Wales. His particular little territory (comprising a hundred or so families) was called Dyved, and he was an okay guy. One day he was out hunting in Glynn Cuch, a forest maybe a day and a half’s ride from his home, when he and his pack of dogs stumbled across a totally different pack of dogs chasing a stag.
The stag was no great shakes, but these dogs were wacky! Shining snow white, except for their ears, which were a brilliant red color. Pwyll watched in stunned amazement as these supernatural dogs brought down the stag, but then he was like “hey, free stag!” He sicc’d his own dogs on the magic dogs and drove them off and claimed the stag for himself.
“Clearly there will be no negative consequences to this action!” he said to himself.
Then this mysterious figure appeared, on a supernaturally awesome horse. He immediately started bawling Pwyll out for kill-stealing and claiming Arawn’s dogs’ stag as his own.
“Okay, I’ll cop to that,” said Pwyll. “But to be fair, I’m a king.”
“Nuts to that,” retorted the other, “I’m a king too! I’m a better king, probably – I’m Arawn, King of Annwvyn.” Annwvyn, a footnote helpfully tells us in my edition, translates as not-world, so, fairyland.
“Okay, okay. Clearly I overstepped my bounds. I figured, since I’m kind of the king of right here I was entitled to claim any stag I wanted, regardless of whose dogs pulled it down. But if you want to make a thing of it, fine, it’s cool. I apologize for taking your stag. We’ve gotten off on the wrong foot, but is there any way we can be friends?”
Arawn accepted Pwyll’s apology on one condition. “There’s this jerk in the next kingdom over from mine, Havgan, King of Annwvyn? He’s all the time getting up in my grill. You take him out, we’ll be solemn buds.”
“Done!” Pwyll clapped his hands together. “I don’t know Havgan from Adam and I don’t know where he is and I don’t know what fighting him will consist of, but I’m totally up for it!”
Arawn liked Pwyll’s spunk, so made him an offer. “What we’ll do, see, is I’ll go to Dyved disguised as you, and you go to Annwyn disguised as me, with my magic that does that? And you live in Annwyn, as me, for a year and a day.”
“Sounds like fun,” said Pwyll. “Although kind of orthogonal to the whole defeat-Havgan thing.”
“Not at all! See, a year and a day minus one day, so, just a year from now, me and Havgan are scheduled to fight a duel. Kill him then, and boom, problem solved!”
“But when you kill him, take him out with one blow, boom!” Arawn mimicked a sword-blow with his hands. “Because I totally have tried to kill him like eighty billion times with multiple blows, and it doesn’t work. I think it’s got to be one and only one blow. Your mission is to test that theory!”
“Okay, if you say so.” Pwyll’s an easygoing sort.
So Arawn used magic to swap identities with Pwyll, and went off to Pwyll’s home to sleep with Pwyll’s wife and drink Pwyll’s liquor for a year and a day. But Pwyll got to go to Arawn’s home (which was super nice) and dress in Arawn’s clothes (which were super fancy) and drink Arawn’s liquor (which was super sweet, you get the idea) and so on, so, not a bad deal. Pwyll-as-Arawn also got to hang out with Arawn’s wife, who was much hotter than Pwyll’s own wife.
And by hang out I mean small talk and mealtimes only, because every time Mrs. Arawn started to get frisky, Pwyll-as-Arawn insisted he had a headache. By the end of a full year of this Mrs. Arawn was starting to get frustrated!
But just before she decided to finally voice her frustrations, Pwyll-as-Arawn had to participate in Arawn’s long-scheduled duel with Havgan. So that happened, the two kings jousting at each other, and Pwyll-as-Arawn smote Havgan a single massive blow that shattered his shield and broke his armor and sent Hagan flying!
“Jeez, guy who I don’t know who is disguised as Arawn for some reason!” cried Havgan, as he lay bleeding on the ground. “What did I ever do to you?”
Pwyll shrugged. “Oh, you know how it is.”
“Well, hit me again! Otherwise I’m just going to gradually bleed out and die painfully and slowly!”
Pwyll shook his head. “Nope! Arawn had this whole theory about how I had to only hit you the one time, and I’ve done that, so… we’re done here?”
“Jerk,” said Havgan, and died.
The next day all of Arawn’s people were pretty thrilled about Arawn having finally defeated Havgan, but Pwyll made excuses and snuck away back to Glynn Cuch, where he met Arawn-as-Pwyll.
“Did you do the thing?”
“I did the thing!”
“Cool!” Arawn magically restored Pwyll’s identity to him and reclaimed his own identity. “Well, that’s our business done. Stay cool!”
Arawn went home to Annwyn, where Mrs. Arawn finally vented her spleen about how Pwyll-as-Arawn hadn’t been giving her the sweet loving for a full year and also a day!
“It was because that wasn’t me! That was this guy I got to fight Havgan for me!” Arawn explained.
“Oh, you know, I kind of guessed that!”
“Seriously, he didn’t have sex with you at all?”
“Not even once.”
“Dang, now I feel bad about all the sex I had with his wife.”
Pwyll went home to Dyved and asked his wife how the last year of his rule had been, in her opinion.
“It was great!”
(I’m kidding, of course. Pwyll is unmarried during this tale, and nobody has sex with anybody. Pwyll’s friends all thought he’d really stepped up his kinging game, though, over the year Arawn-as-Pwyll ruled Dyved.)
NEXT: PWYLL MEETS RHIANNON AND DOES NOT HAVE SEX WITH HER EITHER!