Last week we left Pwyll in despair, as he was tricked into giving up Rhiannon.
Another year passed, and it was a time of grieving, then bitter self-reflection on Pwyll’s part. He had been stupid. He had lost Rhiannon through his own thoughtlessness and naivety, because he sought to do the proper thing. There was no sight or sound of Rhiannon in Dyfed that year, and it was an exceptionally harsh winter.
But when the spring came, so did fresh hope, and it was a considerably older Pwyll who stood again on Gorsedd Arberth, at midsummer, with his nobles. As before, the birds appeared and led them to the Otherworld. This time, Pwyll was in disguise as a poor wandering peasant, but in his hand he carried the mysterious bag.
When they arrived at the house of Rhiannon, there were no loving arms to welcome him. Following her previous instructions, Pwyll’s men hid themselves in the orchard by the gate. Pwyll went up to the door alone, and gained admittance by wanting a favour from the lord.
Into the bright light he went. Gwawl sat in the high seat, with Rhiannon next to him, chatting and laughing. Pwyll died a little inside but went on bravely. He bent his knee humbly and greeted Gwawl in a rough countryman’s voice.
“May heaven make you prosperous,” Gwawl greeted him back.
At Gwawl’s words Pwyll rose. Keeping his face away from Rhiannon, he said, “May heaven reward you, I have an request.”
“Your request is welcome, and if your request is just, it shall be given to you.”
Gwawl was no fool then, Pwyll thought bitterly. He continued with the game.
“It is a just request, lord. I only ask because I am needy, and all I want is this small bag filled with meat.”
“That is within reason,” Gwawl nodded approvingly, “You shall have it gladly. Bring him food!”
So food was brought, and the bag started to be filled. Pwyll watched closely. If it worked right…yes, it did! More and more meat was brought, but the bag grew no fuller.
Puzzled murmurings grew round the hall. Finally Gwawl broke in, “Friend, will the bag ever be full?”
Pwyll pretended a laugh, “No, it will not, unless,” he swept his gaze along the line of nobles, finally glaring at Gwawl, “a true nobleman, one with lands and territory, will put his feet into the bag, tread down the food, and declare, ‘Enough is enough!’”
The assembled company roared with laughter. Pwyll did not let his gaze waver from Gwawl, until it had hit home to him that when Pwyll had made the challenge, “a true nobleman,” Pwyll had meant Gwawl himself. If Gwawl refused to do this, he declared to all present that he was not a true nobleman.
Gwawl was not laughing, and Pwyll saw that he had understood correctly. Gwawl wavered on the edge of his seat.
Rhiannon spoke, for the first time, “O hero, rise up quickly!”
That did it. Gwawl jumped up, “I will!” He jumped the table and into the bag. Pwyll quickly pulled the bag up over his head and tied the end closed. The bag was still for one moment, then with an almighty roar of rage it began to squirm like an eel.