One of the oldest of the Welsh fairy tales tells us about Pwyle, King of Fairyland and father of the numerous clan of the Powells. He was a mighty…
He could ride a horse, draw a bow, and speak the truth. He was always honored by men, and he kept his faith and his promises to women. The children loved him, for he loved them. In the castle hall, he could tell the best stories. No man, bard, or warrior, foot holder or commoner, could excel him in gaining and keeping the attention of his hearers, even when they were sleepy and wanted to go to bed.
One day, when out a hunting in the woods, he noticed a pack of hounds running down a stag. He saw at once that they were not his own, for they were snow white in color and had red ears.
Being a young man, Powell did not know at this time of his life, that red is the fairy color, and that these were all dogs from Fairyland. So he drove off the red-eared hounds, and was about to let loose his own pack on the stag, when a horseman appeared on the scene.
The stranger at once began to upbraid Powell for being impolite. He asked why his hounds should not be allowed to hunt the deer.
Powell spoke pleasantly in reply, making his proper excuses to the horseman. The two began to like each other, and soon got acquainted and mutually enjoyed being companions.
It turned out that the stranger was Arawn, a king in Fairyland. He had a rival named Hargan, who was beating him and his army in war.
So Arawn asked Powell to help him against his enemy. He even made request that one year from that time, Powell should meet Hargan in battle. He told him that one stroke of his sword would finish the enemy. He must then sheathe his weapon, and not, on any account, strike a second time.
To make victory sure, the Fairy King would exchange shapes with the mortal ruler and each take not only the place, but each the shape and form of the other. Powell must go into Fairy Land and govern the kingdom there, while Arawn should take charge of affairs at Dyfed.
But Powell was warned, again, to smite down his enemy with a single stroke of his sword. If, in the heat of the conflict, and the joy of victory, Powell should forget, and give a second blow to Hargan, he would immediately come to life and be as strong as ever.
Powell heeded well these words. Then, putting on the shape of Arawn, he went into Fairy Land, and no one noticed, or thought of anything different from the days and years gone by.
But now, at night, a new and unexpected difficulty arose. Arawn’s beautiful wife was evidently not in the secret, for she greeted Powell as her own husband.
After dinner, when the telling of stories in the banqueting hall was over, the time had come for them to retire.
But the new bed fellow did not even kiss her, or say “good night,” but turned his back to her and his face to the wall, and never moved until daylight. Then the new King in Fairy Land rose up, ate his breakfast, and went out to hunt.
Every day, he ruled the castle and kingdom, as if he had always been the monarch. To everybody, he seemed as if he had been long used to public business, and no questions were asked, nor was there any talk made on the subject. Everyone took things as matter of course.
Yet, however polite or gracious he might be to the queen during the day, in the evening, he spoke not a word, and passed every night as at the first.
The twelve months soon sped along, and now the time for the battle in single combat between Powell and Hargan had fully come. The two warriors met in the middle of a river ford, and backed their horses for a charge. Then they rushed furiously at the other. Powell’s spear struck Hargan so hard, that he was knocked out of the saddle and hurled, the length of a lance, over and beyond the crupper, or tail strap of his horse. He fell mortally wounded upon the ground.
Now came the moment of danger and temptation to Powell, for Hargan cried out:
“For the love of Heaven, finish your work on me. Slay me with your sword.”
But Powell was wise and his head was cool. He had kept in mind the warning to strike only one blow. He called out loudly, so that all could hear him:
“I will not repeat that. Slay thee who may, I shall not.”
So Hargan, knowing his end had come, bade his nobles bear him away from the river shore.
Then Powell, with his armies, overran the two kingdoms of Fairy Land and made himself master of all. He took oath of all the princes and nobles, who swore to be loyal to their new master.
This done, Powell rode away to the trysting place in a glen, and there he met Arawn, as had been appointed. They changed shapes, and each became himself, as he had been before.
Arawn thanked Powell heartily, and bade him see what he had done for him.
Then each one rode back, in his former likeness, to his kingdom.
Now at Anwyn, no one but Arawn himself knew that anything unusual had taken place. After dinner, and the evening story telling were over, and it was time to go to bed, Arawn’s wife was surprised in double measure.
Two things puzzled her. Her husband was now very tender to her and also very talkative; whereas, for a whole year, every night, he had been as silent and immovable as a log. How could it be, in either case?
But this time, the wife was silent as a statue. Even though Arawn spoke to her three times, he received no reply.
Then he asked directly of her, why she was so silent. She made an answer that, for a whole year, no word had been spoken in their bedroom.
“What?” said he, “did we not talk together, as always before?”
“No,” said she, “not for a year has there been talk or caress between us.”
At this answer, Arawn was overcome with surprise, and as struck with admiration at having so good a friend. He burst out first in praise of Powell, and then told his wife all that had happened during the past twelve months. She, too, was full of admiration, and told her husband that in Powell he had certainly found a true friend.
In Dyfed, when Powell had returned to his own land and castle, he called his lords together. Then he asked them to be perfectly frank and free to speak. They must tell him whether they thought him a good king during the year past.
All shouted in chorus of approval. Then their spokesman addressed Powell thus:
“My lord, never was thy wisdom so great, thy generosity more free, nor thy justice more manifest, than during the past year.”
When he ceased, all the vassals showed their approval of this speech.
Then Powell, smiling, told the story of his adventures in exchanging his form and tasks; at the end of which, the spokesman taking his cue from the happy faces of all his fellow vassals, made reply:
“Of a truth, lord, we pray thee, do thou give thanks to Heaven that thou hast formed such a fellowship. Please continue to us the form of the kingdom and rule, that we have enjoyed for a year past.”
Thereupon King Powell took oath, kissing the hilt of his sword, and called on Heaven to witness his promise that he would do as they had desired.
So the two kings confirmed the friendship they had made. Each sent the other rich gifts of jewels, horses and hounds.
In memory of so wonderful and happy union, of a mortal and a fairy, Powell was thereafter, in addition to all his titles, saluted as Lord of Anwyn, which is only another name for the Land of the Fairies.
Welsh Fairy Tales
By WILLIAM ELLIOT GRIFFIS