The Horse

Last week Rhiannon took a penance for supposedly killing her son.  This week we are introduced to new characters, in a different area of Wales…

Teirnyon, lord of Lower Gwent, carefully pushed open the stable door.  The interior was dark and homey, filled with the crunching of hay and the soft snorting of the horses as they greeted him.

He smiled as he passed through his old friends, giving a pat to one and a soft word to another, until he came to one particular mare in the corner.  Her sides bulged as she sluggishly chomped hay.

Teirnyon quickly examined her.  All was well.  It was the twenty-ninth of April, and she was due to foal on May-eve.

He slowly closed the stable door and made his way back to the house.  She was a strange horse.  For the past two years, she had always given birth on May-eve, with no trouble, and yet, when Teirnyon had gone to check on her, the foal was nowhere to be found!

The smell of warm baked bread greeted him as he re-entered the house through the kitchen.  A beautiful woman in her late twenties stood up from before the fire as the door shut, and turned. “Just in time for dinner, husband.”

Teirnyon smiled as he kissed his wife, “You know, we have servants enough to do this work for you.”

“I like the work,” she beamed back at him.

They took their food to a small table in their bedchamber, disliking the noise and bustle of the hall.

“Well,” said Teirnyon, breaking off a piece of bread and dipping it in his soup, “I have just been thinking.  Tomorrow night is May-eve.”

“And that mare will give birth?” his wife questioned.

“Indeed,” he nodded.  “And it is very stupid of us not to get any of her foals!  I’m going to lie in wait tomorrow night, if that is alright with you, to see what happens and get the foal back if I can.”

His wife nodded slowly, “Yes, I see it’s the only thing which can be done.  But please take care!  You have no idea of what is at work.”

“I most certainly will,” he agreed seriously.  “As you say, it could be anything.”

The Punishment

Last week, Pwyll was stunned to discover his son was missing, and his wife stood accused of killing him…

Pwyll returned from his wife’s room to the hall, deeply troubled.  He and Rhiannon had decided – in the few moments they had spent together – that he would make discreet enquiries for an unexpected baby and, as soon as she was well enough, Rhiannon would go home and see if she could discover anything there.

He pushed his hands through his hair.  Bewilderment was gradually being replaced by grief and an overwhelming sense of helplessness.  Usually, as the ruler of Dyfed, there was something he could do to make a situation right.  But now…

Yes.  There was something he should do.  The people.  He must pacify the people.

He re-entered the hall, and sat down once more at the table to make a show of presiding over breakfast, although his appetite was completely gone.  The people stopped chattering, when he entered, and bowed.  Pwyll cast a scornful look at them.  Everyone was already talking, and the lords planning, no doubt.

It was only the next day when they came to him, all together.

One bowed, “Lord,” he said, “We would ask you to divorce your wife, for the great crime she has committed.”

Pwyll looked at them, his blue eyes cold and expressionless, “Lords,” he answered, “You have no reason to ask this of me, for there is nothing in law about such a situation.  The only legitimate reason for divorcing her was because of her lack of children.  But she has proved that she can have children, so I will not divorce her.”

The lords withdrew and conferred with each other, “Then,” the same one countered, matching Pwyll’s stare, “We would ask that she takes a penance, for those who have done wrong must be punished for it.”

“Take a penance,” Rhiannon considered, when Pwyll revealed what had happened in the hall.  “Of what nature?”

“That will be down to the lawyers and wise men, my love,” said Pwyll.

“Well, I will consult with them about my position,” Rhiannon replied, “And I would like a chance to face my accusers in front of them, and for us all to be questioned, so that we might get to the bottom of this.”

So Rhiannon sat in the hall, opposite from the women, while the lawyers interrogated them all.  But for all their skill, the women’s story held, and so did Rhiannon’s.

Well, Rhiannon thought, they clearly won’t give up, and what is the point of my fighting them when everyone else believes them.  How am I to convince the whole kingdom? The penance won’t be too bad, surely, because of my status.  And the lords are demanding something be done about it.  I wouldn’t want to cause harm to Pwyll by fighting this.

She lowered her head, a flush stealing over her cheeks.  Am I ready for the whole kingdom to look on me askance?

She looked the chief lawyer straight in the eye.  Her voice rang clear and direct through the hall, “My lord, I will take a penance.”

The lawyer bowed, “Very well, my lady.  We will now decide what this shall be.” They all went into a huddle, whispering together.

Finally they turned, “My lady,” the chief lawyer said, “The penance we lay on you is this: that for seven years you must remain here, and you must sit by the horseblock that is outside the gate.  To every visitor that comes to this palace, you will tell the story of your crime, and you will then offer to carry him on your back to the palace doors.  This you will do for half of each year.”

The Lie

Last week Rhiannon woke up to find her baby gone…

When Pwyll got to the hall, to breakfast, he found a crowd of men and women, chattering like a swarm of bees.  As he entered the noise suddenly quietened, then continued in hushed tones.

The table was ready and he sat down in the high seat, on the dais, frowning at the court as they sat down.  Most of them went straight to their seats, but his most senior lords, and the six women who had been watching Rhiannon the previous night, rounded the end of the table and approached him.  Pwyll looked at them in alarm.  Was Rhiannon alright?  The baby?

“Ladies,” he asked, “How is my wife this morning?  My son?”

They all looked at each other.  A lord pushed one of the women to the front.

“My lord, I have grave news to report,” she said, head slightly bowed.

Pwyll jumped up, “What has happened?  Tell me, quick!”

“My lord, last night was May-eve, a time of great magic.”  The room was utterly still.  “The Lady Rhiannon seemed to succumb to this influence.  She killed your son before our eyes, and all six of us could not stop her.”  She hung her head, “I’m sorry, Lord.”

What?  Rhiannon had killed their son?  That was not possible.

“No,” he replied, though his voice shook, “Rhiannon would never do such a thing.”

But one by one the ladies came forward to confirm her story.  In despair, Pwyll looked round at the faces of his people.  On every one he could read scorn, disgust, and determination.

Panic set in.  Where was his son?  He forced himself to walk, as he went in the direction of Rhiannon’s rooms.   The lords followed him down the corridor, hemming him tightly.  He stopped at Rhiannon’s door, “My lords,” he said, returning glare for glare, “I will speak with my wife alone.”

Rhiannon sat bolt upright as he entered, and her eyes sought his.  They stared at each other in confusion and terror.

“What has happened to our son?” Pwyll managed.

“I don’t know,” Rhiannon cried, “I was asleep, then the next moment I woke up, reaching for him, and he was not there.  Then the women told me what you have obviously heard.  I did not do it!  You believe me?”

“Then what could have happened?”

“I don’t know.  Unless there was some other magic abroad, which is very possible, Pwyll.  I think our son has been taken, and the women are covering it up.” She broke down into sobs, startling Pwyll out of his stupor.  He gathered her into his arms.  “I do believe you, Rhiannon.  But the people are another matter.”

The Accusation

Last week, Rhiannon triumphantly gave birth to a boy.  Women were brought to watch over the health of mother and baby, but they all fell asleep…

As one, the women’s eyes flew open.  They stared at each other, rubbing their eyes.  What had happened?

The first woman gasped, her breath guttering in her throat.  “Where is the boy?!”

All they could see was an empty nest of bedclothes beside the sleeping Rhiannon.  But the shutters were wide open, the curtain torn.

“The – boy – is – gone!” another one breathed.

“Yes,” said a third, a thin, older woman with a sharp nose, “And if we are killed for this neglect, the vengeance will be small!”

They all let out cries of fear and turned frightened faces towards her, “What are we to do?”

“Well.” The woman smiled, glad to be the one to solve the problem, “The Lady Rhiannon is from the Otherworld.  Everyone knows this.  And tonight is May-eve, a night when magic is particularly strong.  Let us say that Rhiannon killed her own child, in a fit of madness.  And that we burned the body so as to not distress Pwyll any further.”

The other women all nodded.

As the sun crept above the horizon Rhiannon woke up, feeling love burst in her heart for the tiny body she had held in her arms the previous night.  Her son!  She reached for him – but found only cold bedclothes.

A sliver of fear needled its way into her mind.  She sat up to meet the gazes of the six women, wide awake and watching her.

“Women, where is my child?”

They all looked at each other, confused.  The eldest one finally spoke.  “Lady, do not ask us about the child.  Did you not kill him yourself?  We could not stop you, for we have never seen anyone as violent as you!”  They all nodded emphatically.

Rhiannon frowned as she looked at the women.  What were they saying?  What had happened?  Panic began to set in, but she controlled her voice.

“The gods know all things.  Don’t slander me.  If you tell me this from fear, I swear I will protect you.”

“Truly,” another woman said, “We would not bring punishment on ourselves for anything in the world.”

Rhiannon looked from one to the other, bewildered.  The woman was right.  They would have been very careful, because the law stated they could be killed for any neglect.  But she had not gone mad!  She was asleep the whole time!  Where was her son!?

“For pity’s sake,” she cried, “You will not be punished for telling the truth!”

“We are telling the truth, lady,” a third chimed in, “And we will keep on saying it until we are believed.”

Rhiannon sat stunned.

The Bargain

Last week Pwyll’s lords challenged him about his lack of an heir…

Pwyll panicked.  What could he say?!  The threat was obvious.  Now he could see why they had dragged him all the way out here!  In case they wanted to take serious measures.  If he died, what would happen to Rhiannon? He needed to make sure of his lords loyalty, and he must be more firm with them.  But that would take some time.  He had to quiet them now.

And on the other hand, it would be wrong to divorce Rhiannon.  They had been bound together for life.  She had done nothing wrong.  It was not her fault if she couldn’t have a child.  And they had only been married two years!

He decided on a compromise, “Lords,” he said, trying to keep his nerves from entering his voice, “We have not been married long, and many things might still happen.  Give us a year.”

The lords looked at each other, muttering.  Finally one spoke.  “Lord, that will satisfy us.”

“They asked you to divorce me?!” Rhiannon cried, as they sat in their chamber at Narberth.

“Yes,” Pwyll nodded.

“And what answer did you give them?”

“Well, I weighed up all the facts – including what would happen to you if I was dead – and asked them to give us a year, to which they agreed.”

Rhiannon listened tightly, then nodded.   “Well, I suppose that was a good idea.  I would not wish to be the cause of your death, or the loss of your kingdom.  So I guess life continues as normal.”


And life did continue, only much more warily, and much more desperately.  Pwyll watched his back and pacified his nobles, and he and Rhiannon tried desperately for a child.

And it worked, for Rhiannon became pregnant.  Pwyll’s whole face lit up when Rhiannon told him.

“That is wonderful!  But you must take the greatest care of yourself.  This is a very important baby.”

“Don’t I know it,” Rhiannon retorted. “But I will be careful.” She beamed back at her husband.

So the baby was born, on the eve of May, a fine big boy with a mop of golden hair.  Pwyll joyously held his son and left an exhausted but triumphant Rhiannon to sleep.  As was the custom, several women were brought into the chamber to watch over the health of mother and baby.

The darkness enfolded them like a shadow, a warm, soothing darkness, relieved only by the quiet fire in the hearth.  Not a sound disturbed the silence except the soft breathing of Rhiannon.  One by one they yawned.  It would be so easy to take a few minutes rest…