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.”