The King

Last week we left Pwyll in Glyn Cych, South Wales.

…with a deep feeling of foreboding as the clearing darkened and the strange dogs waited expectantly…

There before him, patiently waiting at the side of the clearing, sat a man on horseback.  Shadow streamed from him in a great flood; from his horse, his garments, his face, and his hair, which were all as grey as the smoke that drifts from the hearth.

Pwyll lifted his eyes to the stranger’s, level and unafraid, yet internally a little unsure.

The stranger spoke, “I know who you are, and yet I will not greet you.”

Pwyll felt anger at that.  These were his lands, and he the lord, yet someone was refusing to greet him?  Perhaps this stranger was a lord of some other land?

“Well,” he said quietly, restraining his anger for the present, “perhaps your dignity is so great that you don’t have to.”

“I assure you,” said the grey stranger, getting off his horse, “it is not my dignity which prevents me.”

“What is it, then?”

“It is your rudeness.  Never have I seen a greater impoliteness than to drive off someone else’s dogs and claim another man’s kill for your own!”

Pwyll understood then, as a little bit of guilt began to creep in.  He had gotten too carried away by the excitement of the hunt that day.

Still dizzy with the strangeness of this whole encounter, he knew what he had to do.

“If I have done you wrong, I will recompense you to redeem your friendship,” Pwyll said, looking straight into the stranger’s eyes.

“And how will you do that?” the stranger inquired.

“According to your rank, of course, but I do not know what that is.”

“Well,” said the stranger, very calm for one who had just claimed to be insulted, “I am a king.  King of the land from which I come.”

Now Pwyll knew who should greet who, “Lord,” he bowed, “good day to you.  From where do you come?”

“From Annwn, or as you people call it, the Otherworld.  I am Arawn, King of Annwn.”

Pwyll swallowed, as all the events of the day rushed in upon him and made sense at last.  He should have known that this man was one of the Fair Folk and perhaps his path while hunting had been made for him, to lure him into this encounter.

He swallowed again, “Lord,” he said, “how may I win back your friendship?”

“Well,” said Arawn, “There is a man who rules lands next to mine, who constantly seeks to rule mine as well.  His name is Hafgan.  And by ridding me of this oppression, which you can do easily, you can win my friendship.”

Pwyll was cheered by the fact that it would be easy.  Not that he was afraid of wounds or battle, but magic…strange things happened in the Otherworld.

“Lord,” he said, “I will do this.  Tell me how.”

“Well,” Arawn replied, “Here is what you must do.  I will send you to Annwn in my place, looking like me, so no-one will suspect you are Pwyll.  In a year from today, I am appointed to meet Hafgan in battle at the ford.  With but the one stroke of your sword, you will fatally wound him.  Do not give him another, for that is his peculiarity: if you give him a second stroke he will rise up as well as ever, and fight with you again.  And after that we will meet back here.”

“Your warning is taken, my lord,” said Pwyll, “but what shall I do about my kingdom in that time?”

“Well, I will undertake to rule it in your stead.  No-one shall even suspect I am not you.”

Pwyll mounted his horse, “Very well, I will set out.”

“And I will guide you to my palace,” Arawn promised, and the two men, now with their bodies swapped over, set out for the Otherworld.  On the way there, much talk passed between them, and Arawn guided Pwyll in the ways of the Otherworld and of his palace, and they parted better friends than when they had met.

And Pwyll, a mortal, stood on the hill-top, alone in this strange land, about to do battle with a faery king.