The Otherworld

Since the Otherworld doesn’t actually exist I have used general photos from around Wales.

Last week we left Pwyll standing on an unfamiliar hilltop, about to enter Arawn’s palace…

So began Pwyll’s adventures in the Otherworld. He rode down the hill towards the palace, marvelling at its beauty. It was made of white stone, light and airy, the turrets shining faintly gold in the setting sun, very unlike the homely thatched hall in Arberth.

With increasing nerves he dismounted at the gate, eyeing everyone to see how they behaved. But there was nothing strange in their manners and he went forward to the hall.

The welcome given him in the hall was great. His – or Arawn’s – vassals sent up loud cheers and servants surrounded him with fresh clothes and wine.

“Lord,” one servant bowed, “Shall I order the feast to be served?”

“Yes, do so.” Pwyll responded vaguely. He was too busy looking around him.

He went up and took his seat at the high table among the gentlemen. They gave him jovial greetings, and Pwyll, who knew each one of them by name, having been instructed by Arawn, laughed with them. The fire burned brightly in the hearth, the conversation rang loud and heartily about him, and an intriguing smell of roast meat drifted from the kitchen.

A door at the side of the room opened, and all the men stood. Pwyll hastily stood with them.

In the doorway stood a woman, the loveliest woman he had ever seen. She glowed in a green robe fastened with silver brooches. Pwyll hastily closed his mouth as she became aware of his stare and blushed. She glided forward.

“Welcome home, my lord,” she said, her voice low and musical.

“It is good to see you, my queen.” For so Pwyll supposed she was. He glanced awkwardly at her as they sat down. Her cheeks were still tinged with red but she looked shyly up into his eyes.

Pwyll hastily looked away. The food was brought in, and they ate. Pwyll was served with some strange meat that he had never tasted before. It had a sweet, strong flavour. A million times better than beef, he thought. He made up his mind to ask Arawn what it was when he returned to his world.

As the supper wore on, and the wine flowed ever more abundantly, Pwyll and the lady beside him lost their shyness and talked. And Pwyll marvelled at how much they agreed, and how intelligent and graceful she was. Arawn has a truly wonderful queen.

It came back to him with a sickening thud. Of course. In all this excitement, he had forgotten she was Arawn’s queen. Not his. And then, as swiftly again, But she thinks I am her husband. Arawn should be receiving her looks and conversation, not me.

He took one last look at the sweet face looking confidingly up into his own and made a firm resolve.

“I will treat her honourably.”

The year passed all too quickly, with feasting, hunting, and pleasant discourse. On the day appointed for the combat Pwyll went to the ford, accompanied by his nobles. It appeared it had been remembered even to the farthest parts of the kingdom, for a large crowd joined him.

The river ran grey and cold, for the sun was only just coming up. Pwyll looked out across the water and saw the host of Hafgan on the opposite side. And Hafgan himself. A mighty warrior he seemed, a giant of a man, in silver and gold armour, with a tail of peacock feathers from his helmet.

A knight from Pwyll’s retinue rode forward to the middle of the ford. “Knights,” he called, his voice ringing out across the water, “listen well. This meeting is between two kings, and only them. Therefore, let all others stand aside and leave the fight to be between them.” He withdrew to his position.

Pwyll and Hafgan took up their positions, spears under their arms. Pwyll looked up at Hafgan. Could he really beat him with just one blow? But he had given his word, and must try.

They charged. Pwyll urged his horse to a gallop, arm squeezing his spear. The surroundings became a blur as his whole vision focused on Hafgan, getting larger and larger…