Primary Sources: the Mabinogion 2 (Pwyll meets Rhiannon)
Pwyll benefited tremendously from his friendship with Arawn. None of the other kings in his neighborhood were buds with an actual fairy-king, plys Arawn was all the time sending Pwyll little presents like cattle and hawks and gold bars, just little presents like that. It was good times in Arbeth, tell you what.
One day Pwyll noticed the Mound of Arbeth, behind his house.
“Say, what is that?” he asked one of his men.
“That? That’s the magic hill.”
“Has it been there this whole time?”
Pwyll’s guy raised one eyebrow. “Yes? I mean, it’s a magic hill. They don’t just move around on their own.”
“Huh. I never noticed there was a magic hill behind my house! Let’s go sit on it!”
Pwyll’s guy, whom I’m naming Guy, made a sharp intake of breath. “Huh. Hm. Sit on the magic hill. Wow.”
“What? What’s the matter?”
“All due respect, boss, it’s got a magic thing happening on it.”
“I know! I want to find out what, so let’s…”
“I can tell you, though. Thing is, a royal person like yourself sits on that hill, he either gets the crap beaten out of him, or else he receives impetus to go on a strange adventure.”
“Nothing you are saying is making me want to sit on the hill any less! I love strange adventures! I totally profited from the last one!”
So Pwyll and Guy and a few dozen of his other guys go sit on the magic hill. The extra few dozen guys were there to protect Pwyll, in case an ogre showed up looking to beat the crap out of him, or something. But no! Instead, Pwyll got the second thing! The strange adventure one!
Down the lane, easily visible from the magic hill, Pwyll saw a woman with golden hair riding a walking-horse at a slow, easy amble. From this distance, all he could see was that she was probably really pretty.
“I wonder who that is,” he mused aloud. “Guy, go jog down to the bottom of the hill and meet her as she passes, and ask her what her deal is.”
“On it, boss!” Guy jogged down to the bottom of the hill, but somehow even though he was jogging and had a short way to go, and the woman’s horse was walking very slowly and had a longer way to go, somehow the horse had already gone by, by the time Guy was there.
Everyone agreed that was very impressive and probably a magic horse.
Pwyll would not be dissauded. The next day he tried again, but this time he had Guy wait at the bottom of the hill, so that when Pwyll saw the woman with the magic horse, he’d only have to signal, and Guy could meet her. Fortunately for Pwyll, this woman was happy to just ride her horse back and forth across Aberth, so he could try more than once to meet her. Anyway, second day, Pwyll signaled to Guy, but somehow that magic horse got the woman past Guy before Guy can react, even though it was just slowly ambling along and Guy was standing right there.
Third day, Pwyll put Guy on a horse, so that he could catch up if the woman got past him. As before, the magic horse somehow moved past Guy. Guy tried to ride them down, but his horse, even at a full gallop, couldn’t catch up to the slowly ambling magic horse.
“This is some serious magic.” Pwyll decided to try it himself. Fourth day, he went up the hill with his fastest horse, and as soon as he sat down and saw the woman approaching, he hopped onto his horse and tore down the hill towards her.
Pwyll didn’t have any more luck catching her than Guy did, though. As he watched her very gradually recede into the distance (she’s only slowly ambling away, after all), he swore in frustration and shouted at her. “Hey, lady! Please stop, for the love of God, because I can’t catch you!”
“Finally,” said the lady, who had been wondering just how much longer she was going to have to ride back and forth in front of Pwyll until he got the hint.
Turns out the lady was named Rhiannon, and she was a magic lady with a magic horse from fairyland. She’d heard of Pwyll and his awesome ruling-Annwyn-as-Arawn trick, and wanted to marry him. But her father, Heveydd the Old (pronounced HEV-eth the Old, if I’m interpreting this guide correctly) promised her to some other guy, so, there’s that to deal with.
“Even though we just now met for the first time, I can assure you I am deeply in love with you, just as you are with me, and in no way am I going to let your father marry you off to some other guy!” declared Pwyll.
“Wonderful! I too deeply love you!” Rhiannon proceded to invite Pwyll to her father’s house. “But hurry, before I’m married off to some other guy!”
“Specifically, come in exactly one year!”
“Check! Wait, what?”
But Rhiannon had already ridden off, so Pwyll was left guessing.
Back at Arbeth, Guy asked whether he’d met the mysterious girl.
“Well, don’t keep me in suspense, boss! What happened?”
But Pwyll just changed the subject. “Nice weather we’re having, huh?”
Flash forward a year! Pwyll and ninety-nine of his closest friends (presumably including Guy) arrived at the court of Heveydd the Old, located in “fairyland somewhere I guess?” Heveydd was deeply impressed by Pwyll, and threw a huge party in his honor. At the feast, Heveydd sat on one side of Pwyll and Rhiannon on the other, and it was a terrific time.
Pwyll was just working up to ask Heveydd for his daughter’s hand, when suddenly a stranger entered! He was tall and good-looking and strode into the party like he owned the place.
“Hi, if you want a plate you need to go to the end of the buffet line,” Pwyll told him, but the stranger was having none of it.
“I’m not here for the ribs or the chicken wings!” he declared. “I come seeking a favor!”
“Will granting it shut you up and get you to leave?”
“Then whatever it is, I’ll do it,” said Pwyll, who didn’t notice the throat-cutting motions Rhiannon was making, next to him.
Turns out that this bold stranger was not just a random party crasher! No, this was Gwawl son of Clud, who in addition to being probably Scottish instead of properly Welsh (boo! hiss!) was some other guy! The very same some other guy to whom Heveydd had agreed to marry Rhiannon!
And of course the favor he demanded, which Pwyll had agreed to without hearing it first (like you do), was that Pwyll step aside, renounce his claim for Rhiannon’s hand, and allow Gwawl to carry her off.
Rhiannon was not happy, and called for a time-out. On the sidelines, she berated Pwyll for his boneheaded move, and Pwyll had literally nothing to say in his own defense. Nor did he have a plan for how to get them out of their mess.
“I guess this is good-bye, then,” he said sorrowfully. “Farewell, Rhiannon my only love…”
Rhiannon smacked Pwyll with a rolled-up newspaper. “Hell no! Luckily we’ve got me on our team, and unlike some Welsh heroes I could mention, I’m not a damn fool! Here’s what we do…”
Rhiannon then lay out a whole elaborate scheme, which I’m going to reveal as it happens. Just trust me when I say everything from here on out proceeded according to Rhiannon’s plan.
NEXT: A RELAXING GAME OF “BADGER IN THE BAG!”
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