Not far from the castle where King Powell had his court, there was a hillock called the Mount of Macbeth.
It was the common belief that some strange adventure would befall anyone who should sit upon that mound.
He would receive blows, or wounds, or else he would see something wonderful.
Thus it came to pass, that none but peaceful bards had ever sat upon the mound. Never a warrior or a common man had risked sitting there. The general fear felt, and the awe inspired by the place, was too great.
But after his adventure of being King of Fairy Land for a whole year, everything else to Powell seemed dull and commonplace. So, to test his own courage, and worthiness of kingship, Powell assembled all his lords at Narberth.
After the night’s feasting, revelry and story telling, Powell declared that, next day, he would sit upon the enchanted mound.
So when the sun was fully risen, Powell took his seat upon the mound, expecting that, all of a sudden, something unusual would happen.
For some minutes nothing, whether event or vision, took place. Then he lifted up his eyes and saw approaching him a white horse on which rode a lady. She was dressed in shining garments, as if made of gold. Evidently she was a princess. Yet she came not very near.
“Does anyone among you know who this lady is?” asked Powell of his chieftains.
“Not one of us,” was the answer.
Thereupon Powell ordered his vassals to ride forward. They were to greet her courteously, and inquire who she was.
But now the predicted wonder took place. She moved away from them, yet at a quiet pace that suited her. Though the knights spurred their horses, and rode fast and furiously, they could not come any nearer to her.
They galloped back, and reported their failure to reach the lady.
Then Powell picked out others and sent them riding after the lady, but each time, one and all returned, chagrined with failure. A woman had beaten them.
So the day closed with silence in the castle hall. There was no merry making or story telling that night.
The next day, Powell sat again on the mound and once more the golden lady came near.
This time, Powell himself left his seat on the mound, leaped on his fleetest horse, and pursued the maiden, robed in gold, on the white horse.
But she flitted away, as she had done before from the knights. Again and again, though he could get nearer and nearer to her, he failed.
Then the baffled king cried out, in despair, “O maiden fair, for the sake of him whom thou lovest, stay for me.”
Evidently the lady, who lived in the time of castles and courts, did not care to be wooed in the style of the cave men. Such manners did not suit her, but with a change of method of making love, her heart melted. Besides, she was a kind woman. She took pity on horses, as well as on men.
Sweet was her voice, as she answered most graciously:
“I will stay gladly, and it were better for thy horses, hadst thou asked me properly, long ago.”
To his questions, as to how and why she came to him, she told her story, as follows:
“I am Rhiannon, descended from the August and Venerable One of old. My aunts and uncles tried to make me marry against my will a chieftain named Gwawl, an auburn-haired youth, son of Clud, but, because of my love to thee, would I have no husband, and if you reject me, I will never marry any man.”
“As Heaven is my witness, were I to choose among all the damsels and ladies of the world, thee would I choose,” cried Powell.
After that, it was agreed that, when a year had sped, Powell should go to the Palace of the August and Venerable One of old, and claim her for his bride.
So, when twelve months had passed, Powell with his retinue of a hundred knights, all splendidly horsed and finely appareled, presented himself before the castle. There he found his fair lady and a feast already prepared at which he sat with her. On the other side of the table, were her father and mother.
In the midst of this joyous occasion, when all was gayety, and they talked together, in strode a youth clad in sheeny satin. He was of noble bearing and had auburn hair. He saluted Powell and his knights courteously.
At once Powell, the lord of Narberth, invited the stranger to come and sit down as guest beside him.
“Not so,” replied the youth. “I am a suitor, and have come to crave a boon of thee.”
Without guile or suspicion, Powell replied innocently.
“Ask what you will. If in my power, it shall be yours.”
But Rhiannon chided Powell. She asked, “Oh, why did you give him such an answer?”
“But he did give it,” cried the auburn haired youth. Then turning to the whole company of nobles, he appealed to them:
“Did he not pledge his word, before you all, to give me what I asked?”
Then, turning to Powell, he said:
“The boon I ask is this, to have thy bride, Rhiannon. Further, I want this feast and banquet to celebrate, in this place, our wedding.”
At this demand, Powell seemed to have been struck dumb. He did not speak, but Rhiannon did.
“Be silent, as long as thou wilt,” she cried, “but surely no man ever made worse use of his wits than thou hast done; for this man, to whom thou gavest thy oath of promise, is none other than Gwawl, the son of Clud. He is the suitor, from whom I fled to come to you, while you sat on the Narberth mound.”
Now, out of such trouble, how should the maiden, promised to two men, be delivered?
Her wit saved her for the nonce. Powell was bound to keep his word; but Rhiannon explained to Gwawl, that it was not his castle or hall. So, he could not give the banquet; but, in a year from that date, if Gwawl would come for her, she would be his bride. Then, a new bridal feast would be set for the wedding.
In the meantime, Rhiannon planned with Powell to get out of the trouble. For this purpose, she gave him a magical bag, which he was to use when the right time should come.
Quickly the twelve months passed and then Gwawl appeared again, to claim his bride, and a great feast was spread in his honor.
All were having a good time, when in the midst of their merriment, a beggar appeared in the hall. He was in rags, and carried the usual beggar’s wallet for food or alms. He asked only that, out of the abundance on the table, his bag might be filled.
Gwawl agreed, and ordered his servants to attend to the matter.
But the bag never got full. What they put into it, or how much made no difference. Dish after dish was emptied. By degrees, most of the food on the table was in the beggar’s bag.
“My soul alive! Will that bag never get full?” asked Gwawl.
“No, by Heaven! Not unless some rich man shall get into it, stamp it down with his feet, and call out ‘enough.'”
Then Rhiannon, who sat beside Gwawl, urged him to attempt the task, by putting his two feet in the bag to stamp it down.
No sooner had Gwawl done this, than the supposed beggar pushed him down inside the bag. Then drawing the mouth shut, he tied it tight over Gwawl’s head.
Then the beggar’s rags dropped, and there stood forth the handsome leader, Powell. He blew his horn, and in rushed his knights who overcame and bound the followers of Gwawl.
Then they proceeded to play a merry game of football, using the bag, in which Gwawl was tied, as men in our day kick pigskin. One called to his mate, or rival, “What’s in the bag?” and others answered, “a badger.” So they played the game of “Badger in the Bag,” kicking it around the hall.
They did not let the prisoner out of the bag, until he had promised to pay the pipers, the harpers, and the singers, who should come to the wedding of Powell and Rhiannon. He must give up all his claims, and register a vow never to take revenge. This oath given, and promises made, the bag was opened and the agreements solemnly confirmed in presence of all.
Then Gwawl, and every one of his men, knights and servants, were let go, and they went back to their own country.
A few evenings later, in the large banqueting hall, Powell and Rhiannon were married. Besides the great feast, presents were given to all present, high and low. Then the happy pair made their wedding journey to Gwawl’s palace at Narberth. There the lovely bride gave a ring, or a gem, to every lord and lady in her new realm, and everybody was happy.
Welsh Fairy Tales
By WILLIAM ELLIOT GRIFFIS