Primary Sources: the Mabinogion 14 (Saddlemaking?)
Weeks passed as Manawydan, his new wife Rhiannon, her son by a previous marriage Pryderi, and her daughter-in-law Kigva partied hearty. They eventually got around to visiting Casswallawn, Manawydan’s uncle/cousin/usurper, and pledged fealty to him and there was no conflict there. Then they went back to Dyved and partied some more, and you might think that this story isn’t going anywhere but you forgot about the magic hill!
You totally forgot about the magic hill! It’s how Pwyll and Rhiannon met, remember? One day Manawydan noticed that there was a magic hill in back of the castle, and suggested a picnic. So the foursome ascended the magic hill and set up a picnic, with plenty of servants and liquor, and just as they were tucking in, boom, magic happened.
Magic, in this case, took the form of a dense fog that swallowed up all the picnic supplies and the servants and left Manawydan & Co. entirely on their own. Confused, they climbed back down the magic hill and returned to their halls, where they found zero people, zero animals, cold firepits, empty lawns and silent bedchambers.
“Huh,” said Kigva, breaking the silence that had settled over them. “I guess we’re the only four people left alive after some kind of robot holocaust or something.”
“No way!” Manawydan didn’t want to believe that the magic hill had eaten the whole population of Dyved. They scoured the halls, and found piles and piles of food and liquor, but zero people. “What an implausible story hook!”
“I know, right? I guess we’re supposed to like, quest around and search for all the missing people,” mused Pryderi.
“Man, screw that,” said Manawydan. “What kind of rail-roady plot is that?”
So instead of searching for their vanished subjects, they just went back to partying. Eating stored food, drinking stored liquor, and when those ran low they started hunting and beekeeping. It was a little less fun, what with the lack of other people, and there weren’t any more acrobats or minstrels or strippers, but still, Manawydan and Rhiannon and Kigva and Pryderi mostly enjoyed one another’s company, so it wasn’t so bad.
After a couple of years, though, they started to get bored, so they relocated to Hereford and became saddlemakers, which is really the point where you start to wonder whether the Mabinogion was just made up by someone off the top of their head, or what.
Manawydan turned out to be an expert saddlemaker. He introduced a number of innovations to English saddles, like blue enamel, which we’re led to believe was really something else. Manawydan was so good at making saddles that all the other saddle makers in the area were threatened with bankruptcy; folks would rather get on Manawydan’s waiting list for a new saddle, than buy one from one of his competitors.
One day Manawydan came home from work to discover a death threat pinned to his front door. “‘Quit it with the blue enamel already,'” he read. “‘Stick to what you’re best at and leave saddle-making to the sons and grandsons and great-grandsons of generations of saddle-makers, for whom saddle-making is our birthright, I mean their birthright, this is an anonymous warning.'”
“Ominous!” said Rhiannon, reading over his shoulder.
“I know, right?”
“So, shall we dig in, declare war on the guild of saddle-makers, and make it clear they can’t boss us around?”
“I’m thinking not,” said Manawydan. “So far in this story I’ve displayed exactly two strategies for dealing with problems. Partying, and leaving. And this doesn’t seem like a problem heavy drinking will solve.”
“So what’s the plan?”
“We move somewhere else, we become…” Manawydan gestured vaguely. “Shieldmakers. Shield making is a thing, right?”
“Do you know the first thing about shield making?”
“I think context made it pretty clear I don’t. But how hard can it be?”
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