Ho and hie!
That Crimson’s away.
Head wedged into an historical tome,
She’s left me alone.
Now Tall Tale Toli can say as I will.
What I will is to tell you this tale.
See, my grandma always used to say that everybody needs a way to die – mayhap she’d met Asars too. Anyway, she’d have liked this tale, gathered off Sir Gareth from Welsh Wales – though he said it told of the cycling of flowers. Ha! Such an naive knight. So, sit back with a jug (the pun is intended) and enjoy for a while my telling of this little Welsh tale.
A Way To Die
or Never Trust A Woman As Fair As A Flower
Now, in Ancient Wales there lived a man, grandson he was of the ruling king, but he was cursed with a terrible affliction. He’d not the ability ever to die. And doubly cursed he was for all through his young life his mother denied him, even refusing him a name. But along came that wily magician, his uncle Woden, and tricked her into spilling his name. Lew Laugh Gyffes it was – least that’s how it sounds to my Anglian ears.
“Huh!” said his ma. “Name he has but he’ll ne’er bear arms.”
Yet Woden tricked her again and lo! She gave to Lew Laugh Gyffes all he ought to have by way of a sword, an axe, and spear.
“Huh!” said his ma again. “Arms he has but he’ll ne’er have wife, not a maiden of this mortal race.”
“Pah!” Woden waved her aside. “No mortal wife. So we’ll make for him a woman of flowers.”
And such a flower-wrought woman did Woden make for Lew Laugh Gyffes. He took the blossoms of mead-sweet, broom and oak and cobbled them together to form like a woman. Then, one wave of his magical wand and lo! There stood a most beautiful, graceful woman.
“I name thee Blodeuwed – which means flower-face,” he said and took her along to meet Lew Laugh Gyffes.
Lew and Blodeuwed duly were wed, and the king, his grandpa, granted him a portion of land to rule over; the entire hundred of Dinodig – though Sir Gareth thought it ought to be Dunoding ‘cause, as he said, that cantrev exists. But wherever the land, they dwelt there in harmony, one and all, from serf to lord, all aglow in their happiness.
But as my ma often said, no one can hold to happiness long. Always a calamity comes along.
The calamity came in the shape of the neighbouring lord, Groaning Pebur – ay, I know, the name’s likely not right but, as I said before, Sir Gareth’s Welsh words do slither and blur in the channels of my Anglian ears.
So, one day when Lew Laugh Gyffes was away – visiting his kingly grandpa – along came this neighbouring lord. See, Groaning Pebur had been out hunting and had ‘strayed’, rather far, from his bounds. He strayed so far that he came upon Lew Laugh’s castle walls, and the crystal waters of a spring beside it.
“Ah!” he gasped as he saw – though he’d not the manners to turn away. For there in that pool, floating atop it as if a lily, was Blodeuwed and nothing upon her but the blush on her face. See, it was hot that day and she was thinking to freshen while her man was away.
Truly, I’d like to linger upon that image, but that’s no way to tell the tale.
Groaning Pebur gazed upon Blodeuwed and Blodeuwed gazed upon him. And both lost their senses, or so it would seem for, she still slippery with water, they held close to each other, all clipping and touching and . . . and that night they spent in her lord’s bed together. And the next night, and the next night, too, for Lew Laugh Gyffes was expected absent for a full three weeks!
The night before his expected returned, the lovers conspired of how to be rid of him forever. It wouldn’t be easily done, see, for the man couldn’t die.
So Lew Laugh Gyffes returned, and his treacherous wife snuggled to him. “My lord, I know you’re unable to die and that’s an affliction, yet to me it’s a blessing. I so love you, I’d be utterly distraught without you, see. So are you sure there’s no way you can meet your demise?”
Lew Laugh Gyffes laughed and pulled her in closer, in the crook of his arm. “I tell you, there is but one way it can happen. But that way is so complex it’s mighty unlikely. Na, there’s no way I can die.”
“Yet there is the one way,” Blodeuwed pressed. “Might you tell me that I can ensure it never will happen?”
Well, full unsuspecting, our Lew Laugh Gyffes shrugged. “So be it. For once I tell you the details you’ll realise you’ve no need to fear. It is this. I must stand with one foot on a dead buck-goat’s back, the other upon the rim of a cauldron that’s roofed with thatch and used for a bath.”
“Oh, that is unlikely,” Blodeuwed agreed and sounded relieved. But already she was scheming of how to arrange it.
“Ay, but that’s not all,” Lew Laugh Gyffes said. “I must be neither inside nor outside a house. And neither on foot nor on a horse.”
“Well so you’d not be if you stood, one foot on a dead buck-goat and the other upon a bathing-cauldron beneath only a roof. But now I do see how unlikely your dying.”
“Ay, but that’s not all,” Lew Laugh Gyffes said. “While holding such an impossible posture, I then must be slain by a spear one year in the making, it being worked only on Sundays.”
Blodeuwed laughed. “But my lord, that never will happen.”
“As I said,” said Lew Laugh Gyffes. “And are your worries now set to rest?”
“Oh, ay,” said his treacherous flower-faced wife, itching to tell it all to her groaning lover.
The year passed, and it seemed to Lew Laugh Gyffes that he’d never been happier. Since their talk, Blodeuwed had been extra attentive. Lew Laugh Gyffes walked his land with a grin on his face. But this wasn’t to last.
“My lord,” Blodeuwed wheedled one early morning, “I still am concerned that you might die. So happy I’ve been, it would utterly destroy me.”
“But I’ve told you—”
“Ay, my lord, I know that you have but . . . Perhaps if you showed me all this unlikely position, then I will know how to guard you against it.”
Lew Laugh Gyffes shrugged, for his wife was fretting for nothing. Yet, like any a husband, to quieten her he agreed it. For her part she tried not to hurry, not to let it be known that in this past year she had had a bathing-cauldron set with a thatched roof above it. Nor that she had purposely tethered a buck-goat beside by it. Lew Laugh Gyffes himself killed it.
Meanwhile, Groaning Pebur had concealed himself behind a convenient bush. There he waited, a spear one year in the making – worked only on Sundays – held in his hands.
With one foot on the back of the dead buck-goat, and his hand held by Blodeuwed to aid his balance, Lew Laugh Gyffes stretched out his leg to settle his other foot upon the rim of the bath. And there he did straighten his stance.
“See, my dear wife, how unlikely this posture. So stop your fretting, for I never shall die.”
But Blodeuwed wasn’t looking at him. Rather, she looked straight past him to where Groaning Pebur now stood, that deadly spear aimed, and let loose from his hand.
The treacherous Blodeuwed stood over the prone and bleeding form of Lew Laugh Gyffes, and with a smile she told him, “But every one must have a way to die.”
Blodeuwed and Groaning Pebur
from ‘Celtic Myth and Legend‘
by E Wallcousins
There is a second part to this tale. Though it’s not about dying but of resurrecting. It reminds me of the Mayday plays. Perhaps it’s best left to another day.
~ ~ ~
Toli might think I’m oblivious to all else around me when my head is ‘wedged’ in a book. But I’m not. And he might claim he had his tale from Sir Gareth, but I know of a fact it is also found, in similar form, in the Fourth Branch of the Mabinogi.
Toli has changed a name or two, too. His Lew Laugh Gyffes is Lleu Llaw Gyffes; his Groaning Pebur is Gronw Pebr. As for Uncle Woden, that ought to be Gwydion, though the two names do seem to be formed from the same.
Finally, I apologise on his behalf to anyone he has offended.