Thomas Bulfinch (17961867). Age of Fable: Vol. III: The Age of Chivalry. 1913.
XI. Kilwich and Olwen
KILYDD, a son of Prince Kelyddon, desired a wife as a helpmate, and the wife that he chose was Goleudid, the daughter of Prince Anlawd. And after their union the people put up prayers that they might have an heir. And they had a son through the prayers of the people; and called his name Kilwich.
After this the boys mother, Goleudid, the daughter of Prince Anlawd, fell sick. Then she called her husband to her, and said to him, Of this sickness I shall die, and thou wilt take another wife. Now wives are the gift of the Lord, but it would be wrong for thee to harm thy son. Therefore I charge thee that thou take not a wife until thou see a briar with two blossoms upon my grave. And this he promised her. Then she besought him to dress her grave every year, that no weeds might grow thereon. So the queen died. Now the king sent an attendant every morning to see if anything were growing upon the grave. And at the end of the seventh year they neglected that which they had promised to the queen.
One day the king went to hunt; and he rode to the place of burial, to see the grave, and to know if it were time that he should take a wife: and the king saw the briar. And when he saw it, the king took counsel where he should find a wife. Said one of his counsellors, I know a wife that will suit thee well; and she is the wife of King Doged. And they resolved to go to seek her; and they slew the king, and brought away his wife. And they conquered the kings lands. And he married the widow of King Doged, the sister of Yspadaden Penkawr.
And one day his stepmother said to Kilwich, It were well for thee to have a wife. I am not yet of an age to wed, answered the youth. Then said she unto him, I declare to thee that it is thy destiny not to be suited with a wife until thou obtain Olwen, the daughter of Yspadaden Penkawr. And the youth blushed, and the love of the maiden diffused itself through all his frame, although he had never seen her. And his father inquired of him, What has come over thee, my son, and what aileth thee? My stepmother has declared to me that I shall never have a wife until I obtain Olwen, the daughter of Yspadaden Penkawr. That will be easy for thee, answered his father. Arthur is thy cousin. Go, therefore, unto Arthur, to cut thy hair, and ask this of him as a boon.
And the youth pricked forth upon a steed with head dappled gray, four winters old, firm of limb, with shell-formed hoofs, having a bridle of linked gold on his head, and upon him a saddle of costly gold. And in the youths hand were two spears of silver, sharp, well-tempered, headed with steel, three ells in length, of an edge to wound the wind, and cause blood to flow, and swifter than the fall of the dew-drop from the blade of reed-grass, when the dew of June is at the heaviest. A gold-hilted sword was upon his thigh, the blade of which was gilded, bearing a cross of inlaid gold of the hue of the lightning of heaven. His war-horn was of ivory. Before him were two brindled, white-breasted greyhounds, having strong collars of rubies about their necks, reaching from the shoulder to the ear. And the one that was upon the left side bounded across to the right side, and the one on the right to the left, and, like two sea-swallows, sported around him. And his courser cast up four sods, with his four hoofs, like four swallows in the air, about his head, now above, now below. About him was a four-cornered cloth of purple, and an apple of gold was at each corner, and every one of the apples was of the value of an hundred kine. And there was precious gold of the value of three hundred kine upon his shoes, and upon his stirrups, from his knee to the tip of his toe. And the blade of grass bent not beneath him, so light was his coursers tread, as he journeyed toward the gate of Arthurs palace.
Spoke the youth: Is there a porter? There is; and if thou holdest not thy peace, small will be thy welcome. I am Arthurs porter every first day of January. Open the portal. I will not open it. Wherefore not? The knife is in the meat, and the drink is in the horn, and there is revelry in Arthurs hall; and none may enter therein but the son of a king of a privileged country, or a craftsman bringing his craft. But there will be refreshment for thy dogs and for thy horse; and for thee there will be collops cooked and peppered, and luscious wine, and mirthful songs; and food for fifty men shall be brought unto thee in the guest-chamber, where the stranger and the sons of other countries eat, who come not into the precincts of the palace of Arthur. Thou wilt fare no worse there than thou wouldst with Arthur in the court. A lady shall smooth thy couch, and shall lull thee with songs; and early to-morrow morning, when the gate is open for the multitude that came hither to-day, for thee shall it be opened first, and thou mayest sit in the place that thou shalt choose in Arthurs hall, from the upper end to the lower. Said the youth: That will I not do. If thou openest the gate, it is well. If thou dost not open it, I will bring disgrace upon thy lord, and evil report upon thee. And I will set up three shouts at this very gate, than which none were ever heard more deadly. What clamor soever thou mayest make, said Glewlwyd, the porter, against the laws of Arthurs palace, shalt thou not enter therein, until I first go and speak with Arthur.
Then Glewlwyd went into the hall. And Arthur said to him, Hast thou news from the gate? Half of my life is passed, said Glewlwyd, and half of thine. I was heretofore in Kaer Se and Asse, in Sach and Salach, in Lotor and Fotor, and I have been in India the Great and India the Lesser, and I have also been in Europe and Africa, and in the islands of Corsica, and I was present when thou didst conquer Greece in the East. Nine supreme sovereigns, handsome men, saw we there, but never did I behold a man of equal dignity with him who is now at the door of the portal. Then said Arthur: If walking thou didst enter here, return thou running. It is unbecoming to keep such a man as thou sayest he is in the wind and the rain. Said Kay: By the hand of my friend, if thou wouldst follow my counsel, thou wouldst not break through the laws of the court because of him. Not so, blessed Kay, said Arthur; it is an honor to us to be resorted to, and the greater our courtesy, the greater will be our renown and our fame and our glory.
And Glewlwyd came to the gate, and opened the gate before Kilwich; and although all dismounted upon the horse-block at the gate, yet did he not dismount, but he rode in upon his charger. Then said he, Greeting be unto thee, sovereign ruler of this island, and be this greeting no less unto the lowest than unto the highest, and be it equally unto thy guests, and thy warriors, and thy chieftains; let all partake of it as completely as thyself. And complete be thy favor, and thy fame, and thy glory, throughout all this island. Greeting unto thee also, said Arthur; sit thou between two of my warriors, and thou shalt have minstrels before thee, and thou shalt enjoy the privileges of a king born to a throne, as long as thou remainest here. And when I disperse my presents to the visitors and strangers in this court, they shall be in thy hand at my commencing. Said the youth, I came not here to consume meat and drink; but if I obtain the boon that I seek, I will requite it thee, and extol thee; but if I have it not, I will bear forth thy dispraise to the four quarters of the world, as far as thy renown has extended. Then said Arthur, Since thou wilt not remain here, chieftain, thou shalt receive the boon, whatsoever thy tongue may name, as far as the wind dries, and the rain moistens, and the sun revolves, and the sea encircles, and the earth extends; save only my ship Prydwen, and my mantle, and Caleburn, my sword, and Rhongomyant, my lance, and Guenever, my wife. By the truth of Heaven, thou shalt have it cheerfully, name what thou wilt. I would that thou bless my hair, said he. That shall be granted thee.
And Arthur took a golden comb, and scissors whereof the loops were of silver, and he combed his hair. And Arthur inquired of him who he was; for my heart warms unto thee, and I know that thou art come of my blood. Tell me, therefore, who thou art. I will tell thee, said the youth. I am Kilwich, the son of Kilydd, the son of Prince Kelyddon, by Goleudyd, my mother, the daughter of Prince Anlawd. That is true, said Arthur; thou art my cousin. Whatsoever boon thou mayest ask, thou shalt receive, be it what it may that thy tongue shall name. Pledge the truth of Heaven and the faith of thy kingdom thereof. I pledge it thee gladly. I crave of thee, then, that thou obtain for me Olwen, the daughter of Yspadaden Penkawr, to wife; and this boon I likewise seek at the hands of thy warriors. I seek it from Kay and from Bedwyr; and from Gwynn, the son of Nudd, and Gadwy, the son of Geraint, and Prince Flewddur Flam, and Iona, king of France, and Sel, the son of Selgi, and Taliesin, the chief of the bards, and Geraint, the son of Erbin, Garanwyn, the son of Kay, and Amren, the son of Bedwyr, Ol, the son of Olwyd, Bedwin, the bishop, Guenever, the chief lady, and Guenhywach, her sister, Morved, the daughter of Urien, and Gwenlian Deg, the majestic maiden, Creiddylad,1 the daughter of Lludd, the constant maiden, and Ewaedah, the daughter of Kynvelyn,2 the half-man. All these did Kilwich, the son of Kilydd, adjure to obtain his boon.
Then said Arthur, O chieftain, I have never heard of the maiden of whom thou speakest, nor of her kindred, but I will gladly send messengers in search of her. Give me time to seek her. And the youth said, I will willingly grant from this night to that at the end of the year to do so. Then Arthur sent messengers to every land within his dominions to seek for the maiden, and at the end of the year Arthurs messengers returned without having gained any knowledge or intelligence concerning Olwen, more than on the first day. Then said Kilwich, Every one has received his boon, and I yet lack mine. I will depart, and bear away thy honor with me. Then said Kay, Rash chieftain! dost thou reproach Arthur? Go with us, and we will not part until thou dost either confess that the maiden exists not in the world, or until we obtain her. Thereupon Kay rose up. And Arthur called Bedwyr, who never shrank from any enterprise upon which Kay was bound. None were equal to him in swiftness throughout this island except Arthur alone; and although he was one handed; three warriors could not shed blood faster than he on the field of battle.
And Arthur called Meneu, the son of Teirgwed, in order that, if they went into a savage country, he might cast a charm and an illusion over them, so that none might see them, whilst they could see every one.
They journeyed until they came to a vast open plain, wherein they saw a great castle, which was the fairest of the castles of the world. And when they came before the castle, they beheld a vast flock of sheep. And upon the top of a mound there was a herdsman keeping the sheep. And a rug made of skins was upon him, and by his side was a shaggy mastiff, larger than a steed nine winters old.
Then said Kay, Gurhyr Gwalstat, go thou and salute yonder man. Kay, said he, I engaged not to go further than thou thyself. Let us go then together, answered Kay. Said Meneu, Fear not to go thither, for I will cast a spell upon the dog, so that he shall injure no one. And they went up to the mound whereon the herdsman was, and they said to him, How dost thou fare, herdsman? Not less fair be it to you than to me. Whose are the sheep that thou dost keep, and to whom does yonder castle belong? Stupid are ye, truly! not to know that this is the castle of Yspadaden Penkawr. And ye also, who are ye? We are an embassy from Arthur, come to seek Olwen, the daughter of Yspadaden Penkawr. O men! the mercy of Heaven be upon you; do not that for all the world. None who ever came hither on this quest has returned alive. And the herdsman rose up. And as he rose Kilwich gave unto him a ring of gold. And he went home and gave the ring to his spouse to keep. And she took the ring when it was given her, and she said, Whence came this ring, for thou art not wont to have good fortune. O wife, him to whom this ring belonged thou shalt see here this evening. And who is he? asked the woman. Kilwich, the son of Kilydd, by Goleudid, the daughter of Prince Anlawd, who is come to seek Olwen as his wife. And when she heard that, she had joy that her nephew, the son of her sister, was coming to her, and sorrow, because she had never known any one depart alive who had come on that quest.
And the men went forward to the gate of the herdsmans dwelling. And when she heard their footsteps approaching, she ran out with joy to meet them. And Kay snatched a billet out of the pile. And when she met them, she sought to throw her arms about their necks. And Kay placed the log between her two hands, and she squeezed it so that it became a twisted coil. O woman, said Kay, if thou hadst squeezed me thus, none could ever again have set their affections on me. Evil love were this. They entered into the house and were served; and soon after, they all went forth to amuse themselves. Then the woman opened a stone chest that was before the chimney-corner, and out of it arose a youth with yellow, curling hair. Said Gurhyr, It is a pity to hide this youth. I know that it is not his own crime that is thus visited upon him. This is but a remnant, said the woman. Three and twenty of my sons has Yspadaden Penkawr slain, and I have no more hope of this one than of the others. Then said Kay, Let him come and be a companion with me, and he shall not be slain unless I also am slain with him. And they ate. And the woman asked them, Upon what errand come you here? We come to seek Olwen for this youth. Then said the woman, In the name of Heaven, since no one from the castle hath yet seen you, return again whence you came. Heaven is our witness, that we will not return until we have seen the maiden. Does she ever come hither, so that she may be seen? She comes here every Saturday to wash her head, and in the vessel where she washes she leaves all her rings, and she never either comes herself or sends any messengers to fetch them. Will she come here if she is sent to? Heaven knows that I will not destroy my soul, nor will I betray those that trust me; unless you will pledge me your faith that you will not harm her, I will not send to her. We pledge it, said they. So a message was sent, and she came.
The maiden was clothed in a robe of flame-colored silk, and about her neck was a collar of ruddy gold, on which were precious emeralds and rubies. More yellow was her head than the flower of the broom,3 and her skin was whiter than the foam of the wave, and fairer were her hands and her fingers than the blossoms of the woodanemone amidst the spray of the meadow fountain. The eye of the trained hawk was not brighter than hers. Her bosom was more snowy than the breast of the white swan, her cheek was redder than the reddest roses. Whoso beheld her was filled with her love. Four white trefoils sprung up wherever she trod. And therefore was she called Olwen.
She entered the house and sat beside Kilwich upon the foremost bench; and as soon as he saw her, he knew her. And Kilwich said unto her, Ah! maiden, thou art she whom I have loved; come away with me, lest they speak evil of thee and of me. Many a day have I loved thee. I cannot do this, for I have pledged my faith to my father not to go without his counsel, for his life will last only until the time of my espousals. Whatever is to be, must be. But I will give thee advice, if thou wilt take it. Go, ask me of my father, and that which he shall require of thee, grant it, and thou wilt obtain me; but if thou deny him anything, thou wilt not obtain me, and it will be well for thee if thou escape with thy life. I promise all this, if occasion offer, said he.
She returned to her chamber, and they all rose up, and followed her to the castle. And they slew the nine porters, that were at the nine gates, in silence. And they slew the nine watch-dogs without one of them barking. And they went forward to the hall.
The greeting of Heaven and of man be unto thee, Yspadaden Penkawr, said they. And you, wherefore come you? We come to ask thy daughter Olwen for Kilwich, the son of Kilydd, the son of Prince Kelyddon. Where are my pages and my servants? Raise up the forks beneath my two eyebrows, which have fallen over my eyes, that I may see the fashion of my son-in-law. And they did so. Come hither to-morrow, and you shall have an answer.
They rose to go forth, and Yspadaden Penkawr seized one of the three poisoned darts that lay beside him, and threw it after them. And Bedwyr caught it, and flung it, and pierced Yspadaden Penkawr grievously with it through the knee. Then he said, A cursed ungentle son-in-law, truly! I shall ever walk the worse for his rudeness, and shall ever be without a cure. This poisoned iron pains me like the bite of a gad-fly. Cursed be the smith who forged it, and the anvil on which it was wrought! So sharp is it!
That night also they took up their abode in the house of the herdsman. The next day, with the dawn, they arrayed themselves and proceeded to the castle, and entered the hall; and they said, Yspadaden Penkawr, give us thy daughter in consideration of her dower and her maiden fee, which we will pay to thee, and to her two kinswomen likewise. Then he said, Her four great-grandmothers and her four great-grandsires are yet alive; it is needful that I take counsel of them. Be it so, they answered, we will go to meat. As they rose up he took the second dart that was beside him, and cast it after them. And Meneu, the son of Gawedd, caught it, and flung it back at him, and wounded him in the centre of the breast. A cursed ungentle son-in-law, truly! said he; the hard iron pains me like the bite of a horse-leech. Cursed be the hearth whereon it was heated, and the smith who formed it! So sharp is it! Henceforth, whenever I go up hill, I shall have a scant in my breath, and a pain in my chest, and I shall often loathe my food. And they went to meat.
And the third day they returned to the palace. And Yspadaden Penkawr said to them, Shoot not at me again unless you desire death. Where are my attendants? Lift up the forks of my eyebrows, which have fallen over my eyeballs, that I may see the fashion of my son-in-law. Then they arose, and, as they did so, Yspadaden Penkawr took the third poisoned dart and cast it at them. And Kilwich caught it, and threw it vigorously, and wounded him through the eyeball. A cursed ungentle son-in-law, truly! As long as I remain alive, my eyesight will be the worse. Whenever I go against the wind, my eyes will water; and peradventure my head will burn, and I shall have a giddiness every new moon. Like the bite of a mad dog is the stroke of this poisoned iron. Cursed be the fire in which it was forged! And they went to meat.
And the next day they came again to the palace, and they said, Shoot not at us any more, unless thou desirest such hurt and harm and torture as thou now hast, and even more. Said Kilwich, Give me thy daughter; and if thou wilt not give her, thou shalt receive thy death because of her. Where is he that seeks my daughter? Come hither where I may see thee. And they placed him a chair face to face with him.
When first I met the mother of this maiden, nine bushels of flax were sown therein, and none has yet sprung up, white nor black. I require to have the flax to sow in the new land yonder, that when it grows up it may make a white wimple for my daughters head on the day of thy wedding.
Though thou get this, there is yet that which thou wilt not getthe harp of Teirtu, to play to us that night. When a man desires that it should play, it does so of itself; and when he desires that it should cease, it ceases. And this he will not give of his own free will, and thou wilt not be able to compel him.
Though thou get this, there is yet that which thou wilt not get. I require thee to get me for my huntsman Mabon, the son of Modron. He was taken from his mother when three nights old, and it is not known where he now is, nor whether he is living or dead.
Though thou get this, there is yet that which thou wilt not getthe two cubs of the wolf Gast Rhymhi; no leash in the world will hold them, but a leash made from the beard of Dillus Varwawc, the robber. And the leash will be of no avail unless it be plucked from his beard while he is alive. While he lives he will not suffer this to be done to him, and the leash will be of no use should he be dead, because it will be brittle.
Though thou get this, there is yet that which thou wilt not get. Difficulties shalt thou meet with, and nights without sleep, in seeking this, and if thou obtain it not, neither shalt thou obtain my daughter.
Go forward. And thou shalt not be chargeable for food or raiment for my daughter while thou art seeking these things; and when thou hast compassed all these marvels, thou shalt have my daughter for thy wife.
Note 1. Creiddylad is no other than Shakspeares Cordelia, whose father, King Lear, is by the Welsh authorities called indiscriminately Llyr or Lludd. All the old chronicles give the story of her devotion to her aged parent, but none of them seem to have been aware that she is destined to remain with him till the day of doom, whilst Gwyn ap Nudd, the king of the fairies, and Gwythyr op Greidiol, fight for her every first of May, and whichever of them may be fortunate enough to be the conqueror at that time will obtain her as a bride. [back]
Note 2. The Welsh have a fable on the subject of the half-man, taken to be illustrative of the force of habit. In this allegory Arthur is supposed to be met by a sprite, who appears at first in a small and indistinct form, but who, on approaching nearer, increases in size, and, assuming the semblance of half a man, endeavors to provoke the king to wrestle. Despising his weakness, and considering that he should gain no credit by the encounter, Arthur refuses to do so, and delays the contest until at length the half-man (Habit) becomes so strong that it requires his utmost efforts to overcome him. [back]
Note 3. The romancers dwell with great complacency on the fair hair and delicate complexion of their heroines. This taste continued for a long time, and to render the hair light was an object of education. Even when wigs came into fashion they were all flaxen. Such was the color of the hair of the Gauls and of their German conquerors. It required some centuries to reconcile their eyes to the swarthy beauties of their Spanish and Italian neighbors. [back]