The warriors left the castle and began their adventures.
Now Culhwch was cousin to the king so he set off to enlist Arthur's help in finding the maid. He robed himself in purple and wore golden boots. In one hand he held two silver spears, and a sword of gold hung on his belt. His horse was silver-grey, and two greyhounds played around him.
At court Arthur welcomed his cousin and the request, but he had not heard of Olwen nor of her father. Willingly, he sent messengers to scour the land. At the year's end, however, they returned without any news.
Pwyll rode towards a grassy clearing and came apon a dead stag surrounded by small but fiery hounds: their coats were a blinding white, and their ears like glowing red coals. Bravely, the Prince urged his horse into the glade, charged wildly at the dogs and scattered them away.
As his own pack returned and grouped around the deer, a huntsman rode out from the trees and hailed him: "Lord, I will not greet you because you have driven off my hounds from their prey".
At these words the Prince promised to make up for his discourtesy. "Well" said the stranger "This is how to win my friendship. I am Arawn, King of Annwn (the Other World), and I have a neighbour called King Hafgan who is forever causing trouble. Yet whenever I hit him more than one stroke, the next day he is as well as he was before."
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by Fred Corser
Storyteller - Cybi the Monk
Before The Lord of the Rings there was THE MABINOGION. Widely recognized as the finest arc of Celtic mythology, the eleven stories were preserved in two Welsh collections, The White Book of Rhydderch (1300-1325) and The Red Book of Hergest (1375-1425), though the stories themselves hail from an oral tradition dating back a thousand years. At its core are tales of heroes and men, birth and death, gods and beasts, penance and vindication, kinship and kingship, battles and quests. THE MABINOGION embraces much of ancient and early British culture, combining the numinous world of Celtic mythology, Arthurian legend and feudal Europe’s Age of Chivalry. Indeed, scholars have identified that it was out of THE MABINOGION that the Arthurian legends were born.
During the reign of King Arthur there was a young noble man named Culhwch who had a spiteful stepmother. She cast a spell on him so that he desired Olwen, daughter of Ysbaddaden, chief of the giants, even though they had never met.
Nine days and nights could he breathe under water, and nine days and nights could he strive without sleeping. A wound from his sword would never heal, and he would feel warm and dry when others were cold and wet. In addition, he could grow at will to touch the treetops.
Bedwyr the Handsome always accompanied Cei, and he was the next to stand forward. In battle his sword was lightning-quick, flashing faster than you could ever see.
Then came Cynddylig the Guide, who was able to find his way around a foreign land as well as the hills and valleys of his own country.
With him was Gwrhyr the Translator, who could converse in any language of man or beast.
Menw joined the party, and his talent was to cast a spell so that none could see them yet they could see all.
Also, Gwalchmei arose, and he never returned home without achieving his object.
Culhwch and the knights set out, and their path led them to a great castle apon a wide moor. On the grassland a shepherd was herding his flock, guarded by a fire-breathing dog.
Cei pushed Gwrhyr the Translator forward to speak to the man but Gwrhyr held back: "Wait a minute, my friend, I did not agree to go anywhere without the rest of you". Menw spoke up: "I will cast a spell over the dog, and we shall all go forward together".
The fort, they were told, belonged to Ysbaddaden, chief of the giants, and no lad who went there to court his daughter ever returned. However, Olwen often visited the shepherd and his wife, and they agreed to invite her to their cottage.
Culhwch, of course, fell even more in love with her than before. But she warned him: "My father will not let me go easily since it will mean his death, so you must promise to obtain whatever he asks. Do not falter in word or deed, and you will win me".
Whatever Culhwch had imagined a giant's daughter to look like, well, it wasn't like Olwen: she had the rosiest cheeks in the fairest face, framed by the yellowest hair; around her neck was a golden torque, and a robe of flaming silk flowed to her feet.
In the castle Ysbaddaden made thirty nine demands. To each request Culhwch spoke out clearly: "I will easily do that although you think I will not". At last the giant said: "Through it all, you will have nights without sleeping, but you will not marry my daughter." Culhwch replied: "I will have the help of the knights of King Arthur. I will win your daughter, and you will lose your life".
The ousel took them to the Stag of Rhedynfre. He had lived long enough to see a sapling grow into a mighty oak then decay and die. But the stag, though a very noble beast, knew nothing of Mabon.
The stag led them to the Owl of Cwm Cawlwyd. Years ago he had seen men fell the trees in his valley. The trees sprouted again, were chopped down, and regrew a third time. But the owl, though a very wise bird, knew nothing of Mabon.
The owl directed the searchers to the Eagle of Gwernabwy. When young, he had perched on a rock high up among the stars. By now it had weathered to the size of a fist. Luckily, the eagle knew something of Mabon!
The eagle introduced them to the Salmon of Llyn Llyw, who told them his story. Then Cei and Gwrhyr rode on the fish up the Severn River to the castle of Caer Loyw. From behind its walls Mabon the Prisoner was heard bemoaning his fate.
The men fetched King Arthur and his knights to help throw down the fort. In the midst of the fighting, Cei broke into the dungeon and carried Mabon away on his back. In this way, one of the giant's tasks was accomplished.
Another quest was to seek out the wild boar, Twrch Trwyth, and obtain from him a razor, shears and comb which were caught up between his ears. In truth, he was a king who been changed into an animal because of his sins.
Twrch Trwyth was discovered with seven young pigs in Ireland, and Gwrhyr flew down to him as a bird. Politely, and from a safe distance, he asked the boar to speak with King Arthur. But one of the pigs, covered in silver bristles, answered for him: "Twrch Trwyth will not do that nor anything else for your king. And what’s more we will now cause havoc in his country".
Then the pigs swam over the sea to Dyfed. Men, horses and hounds pursued the swine through the Preseli Mountains and into the forests between the Teifi and Tywi rivers. Many knights were slain by the tusks of the boar, and many were wounded. Eventually, all the pigs were killed except for Twrch Trwyth, and he headed towards the Severn Estuary.
Arthur called on the men of Cornwall and Devon to rise up against the boar, and all together they forced him into the river. Mabon the Prisoner grabbed the razor from his curls as he went down, and Cyledyr the Wild snatched up the shears. Twrch Trwyth scrambled to land and fled to Cornwall, but finally he was cornered and the comb was seized. He retreated into the sea, never to be seen again.
The last trial was to obtain the blood of the Black Witch who lived on the borders of Hell. Two proud warriors went into her cave, and two battered wretches were thrown outside. Two more knights strode in, and two more came flying out. Then Arthur gave the witch a swipe with his dagger that sliced her in two.
With all the prizes gained, Culhwch returned to the giant. Ysbaddaden said: "My daughter is yours, and my life is over, but do not thank me because it is King Arthur who has won her for you". Then Culhwch wed Olwen, and took the castle and land of Ysbaddaden, chief of the giants, as his own.
Then Cei promised to help, and he was a good man to have on any expedition.
One task was to find Mabon, who had been snatched from his mother when three nights old many moons ago. First, Gwrhyr questioned the Ousel of Cilgwri. But the ousel, though a very old bird, knew nothing of Mabon.