Myths and Legends of the Celtic Race

Page: 177

“Ill doth it become a man of thy rank to touch such a reptile as this.” “I will not let it go, by Heaven,” said Manawyddan, and by that he abode, although the scholar offered him a pound of money to let it go free. “I care not,” said the scholar, “except that I would not see a man of rank touching such a reptile,” and with that he went his way.

As Manawyddan was placing the cross-beam on the two forks of his gallows, a priest came towards him riding on a horse with trappings, and the same conversation ensued. The priest offered three pounds for the mouse's life, but Manawyddan refused to take any price for it. “Willingly, lord, do thy good pleasure,” said the priest, and he, too, went his way.

Then Manawyddan put a noose about the mouse's neck and was about to draw it up when he saw coming towards him a bishop with a great retinue of sumpter-horses and attendants. And he stayed his work and asked the bishop's blessing. “Heaven's blessing be unto thee,” said the bishop; “what work art thou [pg 377] upon?” “Hanging a thief,” replied Manawyddan. The bishop offered seven pounds “rather than see a man of thy rank destroying so vile a reptile.” Manawyddan refused. Four-and-twenty pounds was then offered, and then as much again, then all the bishop's horses and baggage—all in vain. “Since for this thou wilt not,” said the bishop, “do it at whatever price thou wilt.” “I will do so,” said Manawyddan; “I will that Rhiannon and Pryderi be free.” “That thou shalt have,” said the (pretended) bishop. Then Manawyddan demands that the enchantment and illusion be taken off for ever from the seven Cantrevs of Dyfed, and finally insists that the bishop shall tell him who the mouse is and why the enchantment was laid on the country. “I am Llwyd son of Kilcoed,” replies the enchanter, “and the mouse is my wife; but that she is pregnant thou hadst never overtaken her.” He goes on with an explanation which takes us back to the first Mabinogi of the Wedding of Rhiannon. The charm was cast on the land to avenge the ill that was done Llwyd's friend, Gwawl son of Clud, with whom Pryderi's father and his knights had played “Badger in the Bag” at the court of Hevydd Hēn. The mice were the lords and ladies of Llwyd's court.

The enchanter is then made to promise that no further vengeance shall be taken on Pryderi, Rhiannon, or Manawyddan, and the two spell-bound captives having been restored, the mouse is released. “Then Llwyd struck her with a magic wand, and she was changed into a young woman, the fairest ever seen.” And on looking round Manawyddan saw all the land tilled and peopled as in its best state, and full of herds and dwellings. “What bondage,” he asks, “has there been upon Pryderi and Rhiannon?” “Pryderi has had the knockers of the gate of my palace about his neck, [pg 378] and Rhiannon has had the collars of the asses after they have been carrying hay about her neck.” And such had been their bondage.

The Tale of Māth Son of Māthonwy

The previous tale was one of magic and illusion in which the mythological element is but faint. In that which we have now to consider we are, however, in a distinctly mythological region. The central motive of the tale shows us the Powers of Light contending with those of the Under-world for the prized possessions of the latter, in this case a herd of magic swine. We are introduced in the beginning of the story to the deity, Māth, of whom the bard tells us that he was unable to exist unless his feet lay in the lap of a maiden, except when the land was disturbed by war. Māth is represented as lord of Gwynedd, while Pryderi rules over the one-and-twenty cantrevs of the south. With Māth were his nephews Gwydion and Gilvaethwy sons of Dōn, who went the circuit of the land in his stead, while Māth lay with his feet in the lap of the fairest maiden of the land and time, Goewin daughter of Pebin of Dōl Pebin in Arvon.

Gwydion and the Swine of Pryderi

Gilvaethwy fell sick of love for Goewin, and confided the secret to his brother Gwydion, who undertook to help him to his desire. So he went to Māth one day, and asked his leave to go to Pryderi and beg from him the gift, for Māth, of a herd of swine which had been bestowed on him by Arawn King of Annwn. “They are beasts,” he said, “such as never were known in [pg 379] this island before ... their flesh is better than the flesh of oxen.” Māth bade him go, and he and Gilvaethwy started with ten companions for Dyfed. They came to Pryderi's palace in the guise of bards, and Gwydion, after being entertained at a feast, was asked to tell a tale to the court. After delighting every one with his discourse he begged for a gift of the swine. But Pryderi was under a compact with his people neither to sell nor give them until they had produced double their number in the land. “Thou mayest exchange them, though,” said Gwydion, and thereupon he made by magic arts an illusion of twelve horses magnificently caparisoned, and twelve hounds, and gave them to Pryderi and made off with the swine as fast as possible, “for,” said he to his companions, “the illusion will not last but from one hour to the same to-morrow.”

The intended result came to pass—Pryderi invaded the land to recover his swine, Māth went to meet him in arms, and Gilvaethwy seized his opportunity and made Goewin his wife, although she was unwilling.

Death of Pryderi

The war was decided by a single combat between Gwydion and Pryderi. “And by force of strength and fierceness, and by the magic and charms of Gwydion, Pryderi was slain. And at Maen Tyriawc, above Melenryd, was he buried, and there is his grave.”

The Penance of Gwydion and Gilvaethwy