The Mabinogian; books 1 to 4

book 1

Pwyll Prince of Dyfed

The King of Annwn

Pwyll (pow-eek-ch) prince of Dyfed was hunting at Glyn Cuch near his chief court at Arberth with his hounds when he found himself alone in the forest, and another pack of white, red-eared dogs baiting upon a stag. He drove them off in order to bait his own pack, but the owner turned up; Arawn, king of Annwn (The Otherworld).

To make up, he agreed to swap places and faces with Arawn for a year and a day, in order to kill Arawn's fairy foe Hafgan. This they did, Pwyll virtuously keeping his hands off Arawn's wife in bed for 366 nights until slaying Hafgan at the ford with the single blow necessitated by Hafgan's magic. They then met again at Glyn Cuch and resumed their proper identities.

Arawn was impressed to find his wife still un-rogered, and Pwyll to find his kingdom in a period of sustained economic growth, so they remained friends and Pwyll became known as The King Of Annwn.


Another time he was on a magic mound at Arberth when he saw a beautiful lady on a white horse that ambled slowly but that no horseman could catch. Eventually he called to her and she stopped and explained that she was Rhiannon daughter of Hefeydd The Old and being forced to marry another against her will, so they plighted each other's troth and met again a year and a day later at Hefeydd's place to get properly spliced.

At the wedding Pwyll got overexcited and when a mysterious stranger asked for a boon, said "name it". He turned out be Rhiannon's unwelcome suitor Gwawl ap (son of) Clud, and he asked for her hand in marriage and the feast in another year. Pwyll had screwed up and was forced to agree, but Rhiannon had a cunning plan.


A year later Gwawl and Co turned up at Hefeydd's court, and a reluctant Rhiannon, and during the carousal Pwyll came in disguised as a beggar, and asked for his bag to be filled with food. Because of Rhiannon's magic it never became full, until Gwawl ("a true possessor of lands etc") put both his feet in it, at which Pwyll knotted the bag, blew his horn summoning his hundred men nearby, captured Gwawl's pals, and beat up Gwawl pretending he was a badger. They extracted sureties from him, kicked him out, finished the feast and finally got their end away before returning to Arberth.

The Giant Claw

In the third year, to the relief of Pwyll's pals, Rhiannon bore a son, but at night it vanished, and her six handmaidens covered themselves by claiming she ate it. As penance she was made to tell her story at the gate of Arberth for seven years and carry starngers.

Meanwhile Teyrnon Twryf Liant, Lord of Gwent Is-Coed, decided to finally learn how his prize mare's foals were vanishing every May-eve. During his vigil he hacked off a huge claw that came through the window, and found a boy swaddled in silk, whom he raised as Gwri Golden-hair, and gave him the foal.

When he was four Teyrnon saw his similarity to Pwyll and made the connection, and returned him to his parents who renamed him Pryderi and fostered him out to Pendaran Dyfed.

When Pwyll died Pryderi ruled Dyfed and married Cigfa.

book 2

Branwen Daughter of Llyr

The Wedding of Branwen & Matholwch

Bendigeidfran (sometimes mistakenly called Bran) ap Llyr was king of The Island of the Mighty (Britain), and was one day looking out to sea from Harddlech with his brother Manawydan and his stepbrothers (on his mother's side) Nisien & Efnisien, when he saw thirteen ships approaching from Southern Ireland. Aboard was Matholwch King of Ireland, seeking the hand of Bendigeidfran's sister Branwen.

The two hosts met at Aberffraw and Matholwch and Branwen were wed, but the next day Efnisien mutilated Matholwch's horses out of spite and Matholwch left in a huff. Bendigeidfran sweetened him again with new horses and treasure, so he stayed, and then further with with a magical cauldron able to bring the dead back to life.

(Matholwch was once approached in Ireland by a giant Llasar Llaes Gyfnewid bearing a cauldron on his back, and his gianter wife Cymidei Cymeinfoll, who bore a fully armoured warrior every six weeks. After a year they became so unpopular that Matholwch lured the whole family into a specially made iron house, sealed it, covered it with charcoal and made it white-hot with bellows. Only the giant and his wife escaped to Britain, where they gave the cauldron to Bendigeidfran and settled peacefully.)

Matholwch returned to Ireland with Branwen where she bore him a son Gwern, but shit-stirrers in his court nagged him to take vengeance for his horses, by sending Branwen to the kitchens for a regular beating (one of The Three Unhappy Blows) and imprisoning everyone from Wales to keep it secret.

The Assembly of Branwen & Matholwch

After three years Branwen alerted her brother via trained starling, who left Cradawg ap Bran and seven knights (including the young Pendaran Dyfed) in charge while he waded off for revenge followed by his fleet (which somehow included the mature Pryderi).

The Irish shit themselves, retreated beyond the impassable River Llinon (Shannon or Liffey) and destroyed the bridge. Bendigeidfran said "He who is chief, let him be a bridge", and his armies crossed over his back. Matholwch immediately offered the kingship of Ireland to Bendigeidfran's nephew Gwern, but he held out for the kingship for himself.

The Irish then built a special house to contain the enormous Bendigeidfran, and hid 200 men in bags hanging from its pillars, but Efnisien casually crushed their skulls through the hides. Then they made peace at the feast, but Efnisien threw Gwern into the fire and started a war. When he saw naked Irishmen throwing their dead comrades into the cauldron to revive them he hid amongst the enemies' bodies, and when he was mistakenly thrown in he burst it from within, and his heart also.

Bendigeidfran died from a poisoned spear, but commanded his seven survivors (Pryderi of Dyfed, Manawydan, Glifieu ap Taran, Taliesin, Ynawg, Gruddieu ap Muriel and Heilyn) to cut off his head and carry it round Britain for 87 years before burying it on The White Mount over London facing France.

When the seven returned to Britain to do the head's bidding Branwen died of grief, and only five pregnant women were left alive in all Ireland, so the British won by two and a head.

They learned that meanwhile Cradawg had died of shock at not seeing his uncle Caswallawn ap Beli (Manawydan's cousin) slay six of the seven knights left in charge using a mantle of invisibility, and only young Pendaran Dyfed had escaped into the forest.

The Assembly of the Wondrous Head

They then spent seven years feasting in Harddlech being sung to by the birds of Rhiannon, then eighty in a magic palace in Gwales in Penfro being entertained by the talking head, until Heilyn opened a door facing Cornwall and broke the spell.

Then they buried the head as specified (one of The Three Happy Concealements) to protect Britain from plague (presumably until one of The Three Unhappy Disclosures allowed the great plague to cross the channel in 1348).

book 3

Manawydan Ap Llyr

The Return to Dyfed

After burying the head the company of seven heroes (Pryderi, Manawydan, Glifieu, Taliesin, Ynawg, Gruddieu and Heilyn) disbanded. Pryderi left London and returned to his wife Cigfa in Dyfed, where he also married off his pal Manawydan (one of The Three Ungrasping Chieftains) to his mum Rhiannon and gave him his own seven cantrefs there.

The Enchantment of Dyfed

After returning from a trip to Oxford to butter-up Caswallan the four were feasting at Arberth when a Spielberg special effect magically removed every other man, beast and dwelling from Dyfed. They spent a couple of years living wild, then headed for Hereford in Lloegyr (England) to make excellent saddles, until being driven out by restrictive practises. Then they tried shieldmaking, and finally shoemaking before being driven back to Dyfed by enraged cobblers.

After another year there whilst out hunting one day a huge white boar led the two blokes to a mysterious fort, but when Pryderi entered to retrieve his dogs he got stuck to a golden bowl hanging from iron chains attached to sky-hooks, and Manawydan lost his bottle and returned home. After chiding him Rhianon went looking for her son and became trapped the same, whereupon the fort vanished with them.

After promising Cigfa no sexual harrassment Manawyden took her to England again for another year where he cobbled, until again being driven back to Dyfed with a burden of wheat which he planted in three crofts.

Rodent Rampage

When he came one morning to harvest the first ripe croft he found every ear already taken, and the same later with the second. So he staked out the third by night and beheld a host of mice taking the ears, and captured a slow one in his glove which he took home to Cigfa. Although she objected he was preparing to hang it for theft next morning when a poor clerk wandered along (the first other human he had seen in Dyfed in seven years) who failed to persuade or bribe him to let it go, followed by a priest and finally a bishop. This latter finally admitted to being Llwyd ap Cil Coed and friend of Gwawl ap Clud (humiliated by Pwyll two books ago), who had enchanted Dyfed to avenge his friend, captured Pryderi (Pwyll's son) and Rhiannon (who had spurned Gwawl) and transformed his warband and court into mice, including his own pregnant wife whom Manawydan had captured.

For her safe return Llwyd promised to reverse all his enchantments, re-populate Dyfed, free Pryderi and his mum and take no vengeance. And that was the end of that.

book 4

Math Ap Mathonwy

Pig Wars

Pryderi ap Pwyll was lord over 21 cantrefs in the South, including the seven of Dyfed, and Math ap Mathonwy was lord of Gwynedd in the North. When not actually at war Math rested his feet in the lap of a maiden called Goewin at Caer Dathyl in Arfon, or patrolled his lands with his nephews Gilfaethwy and Gwydion sons of Don.

Unfortunately Gilfaethwy fancied Gowein, and with his brother hatched a plot. They visited Pryderi disguised as two of twelve bards and persuaded him to lend them his magical hogs from Annwn in return for twelve horses, hounds and shields created temporarily from Gwydion's magic. By the time they were home in Gwynedd the spell had worn off and Pryderi was in persuit with an army and Math was on his way to meet him. With Math out of the way Gwydion entered Caer Dathyl and ravished Gowein before returning for the battle at Maenawrs Bennardd and Coed Alun, where Pryderi was forced to retreat. He then challenged Gwydion to single combat and was killed, and buried at Maen Tyriawg.

When Math returned home Gowein told him of her ravishment by Gilfaethwy, and as punishment Math used his own magic to turn Gwydion and his brother into stags, boars and wolves of alternating opposite sexes for a year each, and thus they spent three years in the forest mounting each other and between them giving birth to one faun, piglet and wolf-cub, which Math turned into humans called Bleiddwn, Hyddwn & Hychdwn Hir. The brothers were then forgiven.

The "Birth" of Lleu Llaw Gyffes

At their suggestion Math selected as his next maiden their sister Aranrhod daughter of Don, but she failed his magical virginity test whilst jumping over his wand and dropped a boy, dropping another small thing as she ran for the door, which Gwydion hid in the chest at the foot of his bed. The boy was named Dylan Eil Ton (Sea Son of Wave) and was later killed by his uncle Gofannon (another of the Three Unhappy Blows). The thing in the chest one day was found to be another boy who then grew at double rate.

When Gwydion introduced the four-year-old to his embarassed mum Aranrhod she cursed him to have no name but one given by her, so Gwydion used his magic to disguise himself and the lad as cobblers. The disguised boy was fitting his mum with shoes at Caer Aranrhod when he slinged a passing wren, and she remarked on his deft hand, unwittingly naming him Lleu Llaw Gyffes (Fair Hand Deft).

Utterly pissed off, she then cursed him to never bear arms until equipped by herself. So this time Gwydion disguised themselves both as bards to enter her castle and created an illusory fleet attacking them. In panic Aranrhod provided them both with weapons, unwittingly arming her son herself. Foiled again!

Her final curse was that Lleu should never have a wife "of the race that is now on this earth", so Gwydion and Math together used their magic to create a woman out of flowers, and named her Blodeuedd. Lleu married her and moved to Cantref Dinoding where he ruled from Mur Castell in the uplands of Ardudwy.

The Treachery of Blodeuedd

One day when Lleu was visiting Math at Caer Dathyl, Gronw Bebyr, Lord of Penllyn, was hunting nearby and Blodeuedd put him up for the night. In THAT sense. Instantly in love, they planned to learn how to kill Lleu, so Gronw returned home and when Lleu returned Blodeuedd wheedled it out him. He could only be killed with a spear made over a year during Sunday Masses, neither indoors nor outdoors, and neither on foot nor on horseback. That is, standing with one foot on the edge of a bath tub on a river bank and the other on a billy-goat under a thatched vaulted frame.

Gronw secretly made the spear and Blodeuedd somehow persuaded Lleu to give a demonstration by the River Cynfael, during which Gronw popped up from behind Bryn Cyfergyr and speared him through. Lleu screamed horribly and flew off as an eagle, and Gronw took his lands.

When Math heard of all this he searched all Powys for the transformed Lleu, finally persuing the speeding sow of a swineherd in Maenawr Bennardd in Arfon to a valley (now called Nantlleu) where he saw her feeding off rotting flesh and maggots falling from a putrid eagle in a tree. He sang it down and with his wand transformed it back into a ravaged Lleu, whom he took home to Caer Dathyl and healed.

The Death of Gronw

They mustered Gwynedd and headed for Ardudwy to set things right. Blodeuedd and her maidens were running backwards to Mur Castell but fell into the lake and all drowned save she, so Gwydion turned her into an owl as punishment. Gronw accepted Lleu's punishment of a return spear-cast on the same river bank, because his men refused to take it for him (they being one of The Three Disloyal Warbands), but he was allowed to stick a rock up his shirt. Lleu killed him outright anyway, and the holed rock is now called Llech Ronw (Gronw's Stone) by the Cynfael river in Ardudwy.

Lleu subdued his lands a second time and ruled them prosperously, and later Gwynedd also. And was presumably either very frustrated or found an alternative to women.

Ready for books 5 to 8 ?