Primary Sources: the Mabnogion 4 (Piggyback rides?)
Three years later, Pwyll and Guy were out fishing together, just shooting the breeze.
“Hey, Guy. How’s tricks?”
“Fine. Listen, there’s a reason I summoned you here, away from your wife and court, out to Presseleu.”
Pwyll’s face fell. “You mean we’re not just going to fish and drink beer?”
“No, no, we are. We definitely are. But, dude, there’s this other thing…”
“Out with it.”
Guy winced, because he didn’t want to just spring this on Pwyll. “Rhiannon’s barren.”
“What? No, she’s not, and also, what business is it of yours? Jeez, Guy!” Pwyll’s voice hit a higher register, he was so agitated.
“It’s been three years and y’all have not had a kid. No son, no daughter. You’ve got to think about the future.” Guy gestured grandly towards the sky. “What about Guy Junior and little Guyette? Who will be their king, when you and I are gone?”
Pwyll shook his head. “Guy…”
“Just take a second wife. That’s all I’m saying. There’s a bunch of wenches around. Knock one of them up!”
“No!” Pwyll would have none of it. “I love Rhiannon and I don’t want another woman!”
“C’mon, Pwyll. Get real.”
“No, you get real! You get more respectful!” Pwyll groused, but couldn’t deny Guy had kind of a point. “One year. That’s how long everything takes. Give me a year to get Rhiannon pregnant. Until then, we didn’t have this discussion.”
“All right, boss, if that’s how you want to play it.”
Less than a year later, Rhiannon and Pwyll had a son, whom they named Pryderi, so I don’t know what the point of that scene was, exactly. Pryderi was half-magic, since his mother was from a magic kingdom, and he was dreadfully adorable with a mop of blonde hair, like Sparkle Plenty or Bonnie Braids.
To keep him safe Rhiannon and Pwyll went to fairly ludicrous extremes. First, the kid was basically never out of Rhiannon’s sight. Secondly, when Rhiannon had to sleep, she had six of her handmaidens stand around Pyrderi’s crib, in a circle, watching him.
Despite this, somehow, shortly after his birth Pryderi disappeared! I know, it makes no sense, but go with me. Somehow the six handmaidens worked themselves into a tizzy, because the disappearance happened on their watch.
“What will we do? What will we do?” wailed one.
“Rhiannon will have us burned to death for losing her son!” sobbed another.
“We’re the worst handmaidens ever!” cried a third.
That gave the fourth an idea. “Worst handmaidens ever, eh?” she said. “What if it was Rhiannon who was the worst mother ever? What if she murdered her little boy?”
“She didn’t, though,” said the fifth.
The sixth, however, saw where the fourth was coming from. Working quickly, the handmaidens got some pig’s blood, and splashed it on Rhiannon’s face and hands, and took the bones of a puppy and scattered them around the room. Then they tore at one another, as though they’d been struggling, and then they woke Rhiannon up. Rhiannon was a very sound sleeper I guess.
“Where’s my son?” Rhiannon asked, as she always did, first thing, upon waking.
Rather than hand the baby to her, however, the handmaidens pointed and wailed. “We tried to stop you! In your sleepwalking state you were overcome with a kind of madness and supernatural strength! There was nothing we could do!”
“We tried! We tried so hard!”
“Are you… are you lying to me? Why are you lying to me? Just tell me the truth, it’s okay. Where’s Pyrderi?”
CUT TO an impromptu trial, where Pwyll, Guy, and all the assembled folk of Arbeth sat in judgement over Rhiannon. The evidence against her seemed damning: the testimony of the six handmaidens, plus the blood, plus the puppy bones. Rhiannon fervently denied having killed and eaten her own son, but could offer nothing exculpatory. Pwyll didn’t care; she said she hadn’t done it and that was good enough for him. However the folk of Arbeth refused to let Rhiannon’s supposed crime go unpunished.
Her nonsensical sentence, since Pwyll vetoed harsher punishments like execution or exile, was that she had to spend seven years sitting at the entrance to Arbeth. Whenever a stranger came to the town, she was obliged to explain that she’d murdered her own baby, and therefore as punishment she had to offer anyone who wanted one a piggyback ride. Hardly anyone ever wanted a piggyback ride because that was weird, though.
I don’t get it either.
Meanwhile Pyrderi of course hadn’t died, he’d been abducted by a monster. Said monster also abducted a colt every May Eve, from this one farm family. The year that the monster stole the baby just happened to be the same year that the farmer whose colts kept getting stolen had decided enough was enough.
So when the monster tried to steal a colt that year, Teirnon (that was the farmer’s name) was waiting, with a sword. How a farmer had a sword? Unexplained! But Teirnon sliced the monster’s arm off, driving him away, and also the monster dropped the wee baby Pyrderi.
“Hey, look, a baby,” said Teirnon. He showed his wife. “See? It’s wrapped up in silk brocade, so it’s probably a royal baby.”
“Free baby!” cried Teirnon’s wife, and so this lowly farm couple raised the secret prince. He was still half-magic, with shining hair, so they called him Gwri Golden Hair (pronounced Goo-rey, if I’m not mistaken).
Pyrderi grew up fast! That is, on his first birthday he turned six, and on his second birthday he turned nine, and on his third birthday he turned twelve.
“I’m a little concerned about Gwri,” Teirnon said. “Not because he’s aging so quickly, because as soon as he’s an adult he’ll pretty much stop aging entirely, I assume.”
“Then what is it?”
“Well, now that our three-year-old adoptive son is twelve, I can’t help but notice he’s the spitting image of our lord, Pwyll, whose infant son was supposedly slain three years ago.”
“You think we should tell him?”
“But what if we’re arrested and executed for rearing royal property?”
“That won’t happen,” Teirnon assured his wife. “Because we did nothing wrong! We raised Gwri the best we could, and he loves us as dearly as any boy ever loved his parents.”
So Teirnon and his wife and Gwri went to Arbeth, where Rhiannon had to offer to give them piggyback rides, which weirded them out, and then eventually Gwri’s identity as Pyrderi was established and Rhiannon’s sentence was thrown out. No word on what happened to the handmaidens.
And that’s the implausible story of Pwyll, Lord of Devydd!
NEXT: A FISHER KING!
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