Myths and Legends of the Celtic Race
Page: 182“Their God they will praise,
The Story of Lludd and Llevelys
This tale is associated with the former one in the section entitled Romantic British History. It tells how Lludd son of Beli, and his brother Llevelys, ruled respectively over Britain and France, and how Lludd sought his brother's aid to stay the three plagues that were harassing the land. These three plagues were, first, the presence of a demoniac race called the Coranians; secondly, a fearful scream that was heard in every home in Britain on every May-eve, and [pg 386] scared the people out of their senses; thirdly, the unaccountable disappearance of all provisions in the king's court every night, so that nothing that was not consumed by the household could be found the next morning. Lludd and Llevelys talked over these matters through a brazen tube, for the Coranians could hear everything that was said if once the winds got hold of it—a property also attributed to Māth, son of Māthonwy. Llevelys destroyed the Coranians by giving to Lludd a quantity of poisonous insects which were to be bruised up and scattered over the people at an assembly. These insects would slay the Coranians, but the people of Britain would be immune to them. The scream Llevelys explained as proceeding from two dragons, which fought each other once a year. They were to be slain by being intoxicated with mead, which was to be placed in a pit dug in the very centre of Britain, which was found on measurement to be at Oxford. The provisions, said Llevelys, were taken away by a giant wizard, for whom Lludd watched as directed, and overcame him in combat, and made him his faithful vassal thenceforward. Thus Lludd and Llevelys freed the island from its three plagues.
Tales of Arthur
We next come to five Arthurian tales, one of which, the tale of Kilhwch and Olwen, is the only native Arthurian legend which has come down to us in Welsh literature. The rest, as we have seen, are more or less reflections from the Arthurian literature as developed by foreign hands on the Continent.
Kilhwch and Olwen
Kilhwch was son to Kilydd and his wife Goleuddydd, and is said to have been cousin to Arthur. His mother [pg 387] having died, Kilydd took another wife, and she, jealous of her stepson, laid on him a quest which promised to be long and dangerous. “I declare,” she said, “that it is thy destiny”—the Gael would have said geis—“not to be suited with a wife till thou obtain Olwen daughter of Yspaddaden Penkawr.” And Kilhwch reddened at the name, and “love of the maiden diffused itself through all his frame.” By his father's advice he set out to Arthur's Court to learn how and where he might find and woo her.
A brilliant passage then describes the youth in the flower of his beauty, on a noble steed caparisoned with gold, and accompanied by two brindled white-breasted greyhounds with collars of rubies, setting forth on his journey to King Arthur. “And the blade of grass bent not beneath him, so light was his courser's tread.”
Kilhwch at Arthur's Court
After some difficulties with the Porter and with Arthur's seneschal, Kai, who did not wish to admit the lad while the company were sitting at meat, Kilhwch was brought into the presence of the King, and declared his name and his desire. “I seek this boon,” he said, “from thee and likewise at the hands of thy warriors,” and he then enumerates an immense list full of mythological personages and details—Bedwyr, Gwyn ap Nudd, Kai, Manawyddan, Geraint, and many others, including “Morvran son of Tegid, whom no one struck at in the battle of Camlan by reason of his ugliness; all thought he was a devil,” and “Sandde Bryd Angel, whom no one touched with a spear in the battle of Camlan because of his beauty; all thought he was a ministering angel.” [pg 388] The list extends to many scores of names and includes many women, as, for instance, “Creiddylad the daughter of Lludd of the Silver Hand—she was the most splendid maiden in the three Islands of the Mighty, and for her Gwythyr the son of Greidawl and Gwyn the son of Nudd fight every first of May till doom,” and the two Iseults and Arthur's Queen, Gwenhwyvar. “All these did Kilydd's son Kilhwch adjure to obtain his boon.”
Arthur, however, had never heard of Olwen nor of her kindred. He promised to seek for her, but at the end of a year no tidings of her could be found, and Kilhwch declared that he would depart and leave Arthur shamed. Kai and Bedwyr, with the guide Kynddelig, are at last bidden to go forth on the quest.
Servitors of Arthur
These personages are very different from those who are called by the same names in Malory or Tennyson. Kai, it is said, could go nine days under water. He could render himself at will as tall as a forest tree. So hot was his physical constitution that nothing he bore in his hand could get wetted in the heaviest rain. “Very subtle was Kai.” As for Bedwyr—the later Sir Bedivere—we are told that none equalled him in swiftness, and that, though one-armed, he was a match for any three warriors on the field of battle; his lance made a wound equal to those of nine. Besides these three there went also on the quest Gwrhyr, who knew all tongues, and Gwalchmai son of Arthur's sister Gwyar, and Menw, who could make the party invisible by magic spells.
The party journeyed till at last they came to a great castle before which was a flock of sheep kept by a [pg 389] shepherd who had by him a mastiff big as a horse. The breath of this shepherd, we are told, could burn up a tree. “He let no occasion pass without doing some hurt or harm.” However, he received the party well, told them that he was Custennin, brother of Yspaddaden whose castle stood before them, and brought them home to his wife. The wife turned out to be a sister of Kilhwch's mother Goleuddydd, and she was rejoiced at seeing her nephew, but sorrowful at the thought that he had come in search of Olwen, “for none ever returned from that quest alive.” Custennin and his family, it appears, have suffered much at the hands of Yspaddaden—all their sons but one being slain, because Yspaddaden envied his brother his share of their patrimony. So they associated themselves with the heroes in their quest.
Olwen of the White Track