Llew Llaw Gyffes
This is my re-telling of the tale of Llew Llaw Gyffes. The tale in it's entirety can be found in the Mabinogion. The collection of Welsh legends translated by Lady Charlotte Guest. I first heard this story as a child. Then it was told to me in Welsh and that is how I remember it best. I have re-read the story from the English version to refresh my memory and to help me here.
The Triad mentioned is from other sources. The ancient Bards would use two forms of Triad. One type held a store of wisdom, others were used as mnemonics, to remind the bard of the tale he is to tell. The latter type is the one quoted.
Among the “Trioedd Ynys Prydain” (The Triads of the Island of Britain) is written this;
“Three disloyal households of the Island of Prydain;
The household of Gronw Pebyr of Penllyn who refused to stand in place of their lord to receive the poisoned darts from Llew Llaw Gyffes in Lech Goronwy in Blaen Cynfael; and the household of Gwrgi and Peredur, who deserted their lords at Caer Greu, when there was appointment for battle next morning against Eda Glinmaur, and they were both slain; and the third, the household of Alan Fyrgan, who returned back by stealth from their lord, on the road at night with his servants at Camlan, and there he was slain.”
Arianrhod The Silver Wheel
Arianrhod and the naming of Llew
Math, ap Mathonwy, brother of Don was lord in Gwynedd. At that time Math needed a maiden to be his companion in the place he dwelt which was Caer Dathyl. The wise Gwydion gave him counsel and said, “Seek Arianrhod. Your niece, your sister’s daughter to be your companion.”
Math sent word to Arianrhod in her castle of glass hidden within Snowdon. When she arrived he said to her;
“Are you maiden?”
She replied “I know not other than that I am.”
Math took out his magic wand, bent it, and said
“Step over this.”
As she stepped over the wand a small child came from her. At the crying of the child she made for the door. As she did so another form appeared but before anyone could see Gwydion picked it up and covered it with a scarf of velvet.
Math looked down at the yellow haired child before him and said,
“Dylan shall be his name.”
Later the child saw the sea and jumped in and took its nature. Beneath him no wave ever broke and the sea was his home from that day forth.
Gwydion had picked up an infant in his velvet scarf. He knew a woman who could nurse a child and he took the child to her to be nursed for the space of one year. At the end of the year Gwydion met again the child. A boy, now one year old he seemed as large as a two year old. He noticed Gwydion and took to him and from that time forth was a love between them as father and son. Then the boy was reared at court until he was four at which time he appeared as though he were eight.
Gwydion took the boy with him to the castle of Arianrhod. She bade him welcome then said,
“Who is this boy that follows you?”
“He is your son.” Replied Gwydion.
“Why do you seek to shame me this way” cried Arianrhod “Do you truly seek my dishonor?”
“There is no dishonor in raising such a boy” replied Gwydion.
“What is his name?” asked Arianrhod
“As yet he has no name” replied Gwydion.
“Then this is the destiny I lay upon him” said Arianrhod “He shall have no name until I give him one.”
Gwydion left the castle of Arianrhod in anger and returned to Caer Dathyl where they stayed the night.
The next day he took the boy to walk on the seashore by Aber Menai. There he saw some sedges and seaweed. With his skill he turned them into a boat. Then out of sticks and sedges he made a bountiful amount of leather and colored it so no one had ever seen leather more beautiful. Then he made a sail and sailed to the port of the castle of Arianrhod.
He put glamour on himself and the boy so that none may recognize them. Then he sat in the boat and began to stitch shoes out of the leather.
“What men are those in yonder boat?” Arianrhod asked of her ladies.
“They are cordwainers” was the reply.
“Ask the cordwainer to make shoes for me.” She commanded.
But when the ladies spoke to Gwydion he answered them “No. I will not make shoes for the lady until she allows me to measure her foot myself.”
So Arianrhod went down to the port and saw Gwydion but she did not recognize him..
“Good day to you.” She said “Are you now able to make shoes for me?”
“If I may measure you corrctly, I may indeed.” Replied Gwydion
Just then a small wren landed on the prow of the boat. Picking up a small stone the boy threw it and knocked the wren off it's perch. Observing the child’s long yellow hair and good aim Arianrhod declared “The little Lion has a steady hand."
Then Gwydion rose and the glamour went from him and the boy, the boat and leather returned to sticks and seaweed.
“You have named your son well” he declared
“From this time forth that shall be his name ‘Llew Llaw Gyffes’ the lion with a sure hand.”
“Again you try to dishonor me.” Cried Arianrhod.
There is no dishonor in naming your own son.” Replied Gwydion.
“Then this other destiny will I lay upon him.” Declared Arianrhod. “He shall never have arms nor armor unless he gets it from me.”
Gwydion and Llew departed and went to Dinas Dinllef. There Gwydion cared for Llew and raised him well. He grew rapidly and Gwydion taught him horse and weaponry. He taught him courtly behavior and also the secrets of the three magics.
Llew grew to be perfect in strength, features and stature.
The time came when Llew became discouraged, for he needed horse and arms to be welcome among the courts of men.
One day Gwydion called Llew and told him that they would go on a journey.
“But I need you to put on a cheerful face"
“I will.” replied Llew
They journeyed towards the Castle of Arianrhod. As they approached the gates they put glamour on themselves so they appeared as two youths. Though Gwydion appeared more serious than the other.
“Porter!” said he “Go in and say that here are two Bards from Morgannwg.”
They were welcomed in most heartily and sat down to a sumptuous feast. When the meal had ended Gwydion entertained the hall with news and stories. Gwydion was an excellent storyteller and a merry time was had by all.
A room was prepared for them and they went to take their ease. In the early dawn Gwydion called to him his magic and his power and by the time the day had fully dawned there was uproar through the land. Shouts and trumpet calls alarmed the castle and soon there came a knocking on the door. Arianrhod was there;
“Ah! Good men” she cried “Evil has come upon us.”
“yes” said Gwydion “We have heard the trumpets and the shouts. What do they mean?”
“We cannot see the ocean for the many ships that sail towards us with great speed” said Arianrhod “What are we to do?”
“Lady” said Gwydion There is nothing to do except close up the castle and we must defend it as best we may.”
“Will you aid in this defense?” she asked.
“We will” replied Gwydion “But we have no weapons or armour.”
“Arms I have in plenty.” Replied Arianrhod.
Soon she reappeared with her maids and suits of armor and weapons for two men.
“Lady” said Gwydion “Would you equip this young man while I, with the aid of your maidens, will dress myself.”
“I will do so gladly” she replied and soon all were ready for battle.
“I have finished.” She said.
“I too am finished.” Said Gwydion. “We may now take off our arms we do not need them.”
“Why not!” she cried “There is an army around my castle.”
Then Gwydion removed the glamour from himself and Llew and said;
“There is no army. The uproar was to get you to give arms to your son and now it is done.”
“You are a wicked man.” Said Arianrhod “Many a youth might have lost his life from your uproar. So this final destiny will I lay on the youth. He will never have a wife from the race that walks this earth.”
Gwydion and Llew left though Gwydion’s heart was filled with anger.
Blodeuwedd and Gronw
Blodeuwedd and Gronw ap Pebyr
They went to the court of Math ap Mathonwy where Gwydion complained of the behaviour of Arianrhod. He told Math all that had happened and of the final destiny.
Math and Gwydion made a plan. They went out to the forest and gathered blossoms of Oak, Broom and Meadowsweet. Then, with enchantments they called forth the spirit of the Earth and of the May to breathe life into what they had made until, there before them, was the most beautiful maid ever seen by man. They named her Blodeuwedd, meaning Flower Face.
She became the bride of Llew and at the wedding feast Math gave as his gift to the pair, the Cantref of Dinodig. (In this day it is known as Eifionydd and Ardudwy.) They built a palace called Mur-Y-Castell and both Llew and his wife were beloved of all.
One day Llew set out to Caer Dathyl to visit Math. While he was gone Blodeuwedd was walking about with her ladies when they heard the sound of a hunt and soon the huntsmen rode by.
“Send a page.” She said “To discover whose hunt this is.”
The page returned to say;
“This is the hunt of Gronw Pebyr, lord of Penllyn.
“Indeed,” said Blodeuwedd “This chieftain will speak ill of us if he departs and we have not invited him in.”
So messengers were sent to invite him and he accepted courteously.
When they had exchanged courtesies they all sat down to feast. Blodeuwedd looked on Gronw and in that moment she loved him. He looked upon her and the same thought filled him so that they could not hide it. That night he spoke to her of love and she to him. They slept together that night and on the morning, as he rose to depart, she begged him to stay one more night. That night they spoke again of their love and he said “There is nothing else we can do but you must find out in what manner your husband can be killed.”
On the third day she begged him again to stay.
“Because you insist I will not go.” He said.
The next day she did not hinder his departing. As he left he reminded her;
“Think of what I have told you. Speak to him under the disguise of love and concern and find out how he can be brought to death.”
The wounding of Llew
That night Llew returned and there was feasting and merriment. As they prepared for their bed Llew asked;
“What ails you my love? All night you have hardly said a word and you seem sad.”
“I have been thinking of late of the one thing we never speak of. How my life would be forever sorrowful if you were taken before me.”
“May the Gods reward you for your concern for me” he replied “But I am not so easily slain.”
“For the sake of my peace” she said “Tell me how you might be killed.”
“Gladly” said Llew; “My stepfather and King Math put wards around me to protect me and this is the only way I can be slain: It must be by a spear and the spear must be a year in the forming and nothing can be done to it except at the seasons of the year.”
“Is this certain?” asked Blodeuwedd.
“It is certain” he said “And I cannot be killed inside or outside a house. I cannot be skilled on horseback or on foot.”
“How then can you be killed?” she asked.
“Only one way is possible.” He said “By making a bath for me by the side of the river Cynfael. By putting a roof over the bath and thatching it tightly. Then bring a buck to the side of the bath. By placing one foot on the buck’s back and the other at the edge of the bath, then, and only in that place, can I be killed."
“Then it will be easy to avoid your death.” Said Blodeuwedd.
She sent word to Gronw Pebyr and he began work upon the spear. When a year had gone by he sent word back that it was done.
Blodeuwedd spoke to Llew'
“I have been wondering how what you told me, could possibly be true. Would you show me how it is possible to stand on the edge of a cauldron and on the back of a buck if I prepare it for you?”
“I will show you.” He replied.
Blodeuwedd sent word to Gronw and told him to wait in ambush behind the hill called Bryn Cyfergur at the bank of the river Cynfael.
The next day she said to Llew;
“I have prepared the roof and the bath. Will you now show me how this can be done?”
“Let us look.” Said Llew.
“Will you go into the bath?” she asked.
“Certainly.” He replied and he went and bathed.
“See my love,” she said “There are the animals you call bucks.”
“Well” he said “Cause one of them to be caught and brought here.”
This was done and Llew Llaw Gyffes rose out of the bath and placed one of his feet on the edge of the cauldron and the other on the back of the buck. Immediately Gronw Pebyr rose from behind the hill and threw the spear so it hit Llew in the side.
Llew gave a terrible scream and was transformed into the shape of an Eagle. He flew away and disappeared.
That night Gronw Pebyr and Blodeuwedd returned to Dinodig and ruled over it so that Dinodig and Penllyn were one.
The search for Llew and the song of Gwydion
When this news reached Math ap Mathonwy he was stricken with grief and Gwydion even more so.
“I will not rest.” Gwydion told Math “Until I know where my son is.”
“Go with my blessings.” Said Math.
Gwydion searched all the lands of Gwynedd. One night he was staying at the house of a man of the Cantref called Maenor Penardd. The swineherd returned to the house at end of day and the lord of the house asked;
“Did the sow return home tonight?”
“Yes.” Replied the swineherd "and she has returned to the pigs.”
“Where does she go?” asked Gwydion.
“We do not know.” Was the reply “Every morning she leaves the sty. We do not know where she goes and we have no sight of her till evening.”
The next morning Gwydion was waiting for the swineherd to open the sty. When he did so the sow ran at great speed. He followed her until she came to a great Oak tree at the side of a river. There she halted and began feeding from the ground. When Gwydion looked to see what she was eating he saw that it was putrid flesh and vermin.
Gwydion looked up into the tree and saw, on the topmost branch, a great Eagle. The Eagle was wasting away. Every time it moved feathers and flesh fell from it and the sow devoured the flesh.
Gwydion sang to the tree and this was the song of Gwydion;
“Derwen a dyf rhwng dau lyn yn cysgodi'n dawel awyr a glyn oni ddywedaf i gelwydd o flodau Llew y mae hyn.
Derwen a dyf mewn maes uchel nis gwlych glaw, nis tawdd gwres cynhaliodd ugain dawn ar ei brig Llew Llaw Gyffes.
Derwen a dyf dan lechwedd noddfa tywysog hardd oni ddywedaf i gelwydd fe ddaw Llew i'm harffed.”
'Oak that grows between two lakes; Darkening gently sky and glen Unless I tell a lie, From the flowers of Llew are these
Oak that grows in upland ground, Rain wets it not, heat burns it not It contained twenty gifts It bears in its branches Llew of the Skillful Hand.
Oak that grows beneath the slope Shelter of a fair prince Unless I tell a lie Llew will come to my lap.
After the first verse, the Eagle went down to the middle of the tree. After the second verse the Eagle fell to the lowest branch. After the third verse the Eagle dropped into the arms of Gwydion. Then Gwydion spoke words of power and the Eagle was transformed back into Llew Llaw Gyffes.
Gwydion took him back to Caer Dathyl where, with the aid of Math and the finest Physicians in the land, he was restored to health.
Emerald Rose and Gwydion's song to Llew
The vengeance of Llew Llaw Gyffes
When Llew was fully restored he gathered all of Gwynedd to accompany him as he returned to his Cantref and his home of Mur y Castell. When Blodeuwedd heard he was coming she took her handmaidens and fled into the mountains. So fearful was their haste that they paid poor attention to where they were going. Unawares, they fell into the lake and all were drowned except Blodeuwedd.
Gwydion caught up to her and said “I will not slay you but I will do worse. I will turn you into a bird but from this day on you will never show your face in the light of day. To the night you are confined and it shall be in the nature of other birds to attack you and drive you out from wherever they may find you. You will not lose your name, you will always be known as Blodeuwedd.” Blodeuwedd was transformed into an owl. Her name means “Owl” in the old tongue and some Welsh people still refer to an owl as Blodeuwedd even today.
Then Gronw Pebyr fled to Penllyn and he sent messengers to Llew asking him if he would take silver or land. Llew answered no. He would only take this, that Gronw must stand in the place where he stood on the banks of the river Cynfael and Llew would throw a spear at Gronw.
Gronw called his household and said “My faithful warriors, my household, my foster-brothers. Is there one among you who would take the blow in my place?”
There was not. Because of this refusal they were written in the Triads as one of the three disloyal households of Britain.
Gronw went to the river bank and said to Llew “Because it was the wiles of a woman that caused me to do what I did to you, let me put a stone between me and the blow.”
“I will not refuse this.” Said Llew.
So Gronw placed a stone and stood behind it. Llew of the sure hand threw the spear and it went through the stone and pierced Gronw to the heart. So died Gronw Pebyr.
Then for the second time Llew Llaw Gyffes took possession of the land and the land prospered.
After the death of Math ap Mathonwy, Llew Llaw Gyffes became Lord over all Gwynedd.