Being the third and final part of the tale of the Dream of Rhonabwy; in which Arthur and Owain ab Urien 1 sit down and play chess. During the game Arthur's men indulge themselves in the sport of harassing Owain's ravens, before the ravens 2 turn the tables and wreck bloody revenge.
An embassy arrives from Osla Gyllellfawr, to beg a truce of a fortnight and a month. The truce is granted, everyone leaves for Cornwall and Rhonabwy wakes up.
And Arthur sat within the carpet, and Owain ab Urien was standing before him. "Owain," said Arthur, "will you play chess?"
"I will, Lord," said Owain. And the red youth brought the chess for Arthur and Owain; golden pieces and a board of silver. And they began to play.
And while they were thus, and when they were best amused with their game, behold they saw a white tent with a red canopy, and the figure of a jet-black serpent on the top of the tent, and red glaring venomous eyes in the head of the serpent, and a red flaming tongue. And there came a young page with yellow curling hair, and blue eyes, and a newly springing beard, wearing a coat and a surcoat of yellow satin, and hose of thin greenish-yellow cloth upon his feet, and over his hose shoes of parti-coloured leather, fastened at the insteps with golden clasps. And he bore a heavy three-edged sword with a golden hilt, in a scabbard of black leather tipped with fine gold. And he came to the place where the Emperor and Owain were playing at chess.
And the youth saluted Owain. And Owain marvelled that the youth should salute him and should not have saluted the Emperor Arthur. And Arthur knew what was in Owain's thought. And he said to Owain, "Do not marvel that the youth salutes you now, for he saluted me before; and it is unto thee that his errand is."
Then said the youth to Owain, "Lord, is it with your leave that the young pages and attendants of the Emperor harass and torment and worry your Ravens? And if it be not with your leave, please ask the Emperor to forbid them."
"Lord," said Owain, "you hear what the youth says; if it seem good to you, forbid them from my Ravens."
"Play the game," he said. Then the youth returned to the tent.
That game they finished, and another they began, and when they were in the middle of the game, behold, a ruddy young man with auburn curling hair and large eyes, well-grown, and having his beard new-shorn, came forth from a bright yellow tent, upon the summit of which was the figure of a bright red lion. And he was clad in a coat of yellow satin, falling as low as the small of his leg, and embroidered with threads of red silk. And on his feet were hose of fine white buckram, and buskins of black leather were over his hose, whereon were golden clasps. And in his hand a huge, heavy, three-edged sword, with a scabbard of red deer-hide, tipped with gold. And he came to the place where Arthur and Owain were playing at chess. And he saluted him. And Owain was troubled at his salutation, but Arthur minded it no more than before. And the youth said to Owain, "Is it not against your will that the attendants of the Emperor harass your Ravens, killing some and worrying others? If it is against your will, beg him to forbid them."
"Lord," said Owain, "forbid your men, if it pleases you."
"Play the game," said the Emperor. And the youth returned to the tent.
And that game was ended and another begun. And as they were beginning the first move of the game, they beheld at a small distance from them a tent speckled yellow, the largest ever seen, and the figure of an eagle of gold upon it, and a precious stone on the eagle's head. And coming out of the tent, they saw a youth with thick yellow-hair upon his head, fair and comely, and a scarf of blue satin upon him, and a brooch of gold in the scarf upon his right shoulder as large as a warrior's middle finger. And upon his feet were hose of fine Totness, and shoes of parti-coloured leather, clasped with gold, and the youth was of noble bearing, fair of face, with ruddy cheeks and large hawk's eyes. In the hand of the youth was a mighty lance, speckled yellow, with a newly sharpened head; and upon the lance a banner displayed.
Fiercely angry, and with rapid pace, the youth came to the place where Arthur was playing at chess with Owain. And they saw that he was angry. And then he saluted Owain, and told him that his Ravens had been killed, the chief part of them, and that those that were not slain were so wounded and bruised that not one of them could raise its wings a single fathom above the earth.
"Lord," said Owain, "forbid your men."
"Play," he said, "if it pleases you."
Then said Owain to the youth, "Go back, and wherever you find the fighting at its thickest, there lift up the banner and let come what pleases Heaven."
So the youth returned back to the place where the fighting bore hardest on the Ravens, and he lifted up the banner; and as he did so they all rose up in the air, angry and fierce and high of spirit, clapping their wings in the wind, and shaking off the weariness that was upon them. And recovering their energy and courage, they descended on the heads of the men with fury and exultation and with one sweep, those who had before caused them anger and pain and damage, were seized upon, some by their heads and others by their eyes, and some by their ears, and others by their arms, and carried up into the air; and in the air there was a mighty tumult with the flapping of the wings of the triumphant Ravens, and with their croaking; and there was another mighty tumult with the groaning of the men, that were being torn and wounded, and some of whom were killed.
And Arthur and Owain marvelled at the tumult as they played at chess; and, looking up they saw a knight upon a dun-coloured horse coming towards them. And marvellous was the colour of the dun horse. His right shoulder was bright red, and from the top of his legs to the centre of his hoof was bright yellow. Both the knight and his horse were fully equipped with heavy foreign armour. The clothing of the horse from the front opening upwards was of bright red sendal, and from thence opening downwards was of bright yellow sendal. On his thight the youth had a large gold-hilted one-edged sword, in a scabbard of light blue, and tipped with Spanish laton. The belt of the sword was of dark green leather with golden slides and a clasp of ivory upon it, and a buckle of jetblack upon the clasp. A helmet of gold was on the head of the knight, set with precious stones of great virtue, and at the top of the helmet was the image of a flame-coloured leopard with two ruby-red stones in its head, so that it was astounding for a warrior, however stout his heart, to look at the face of the leopard, much more at the face of the knight. He had in his hand a blue-shafted lance, but from the haft to the point it was stained crimson-red with the blood of the Ravens and their plumage.
The knight came to the place where Arthur and Owain were seated at chess. And they saw that be was harassed and vexed and weary as he came towards them. And the youth saluted Arthur, and told him that the Ravens of Owain were slaying his young men and attendants. And Arthur looked at Owain and said, "Forbid your Ravens."
"Lord," answered Owain, "play the game."
And they played. And the knight returned back towards the fighting, and the Ravens were not forbidden any more than before.
And when they had played awhile, they heard a mighty tumult, and a wailing of men, and a croaking of Ravens, as they carried the men in their strength into the air, and, tearing them between them, let them fall piecemeal to the earth. And during the tumult they saw a knight coming towards them, on a light grey horse, and the left foreleg of the horse was jet-black to the contre of his hoof. And the knight and the horse were fully accoutred with huge heavy blue armour. And a robe of honour of yellow diapered satin was upon the knight, and the borders of the robe were blue. And the housings of the horse were jet-black, with borders of bright yellow. And on the thigh of the youth was a sword, long, and three-edged, and heavy. And the scabbard was of red cut leather, and the belt of new red deer-skin, having upon it many golden slides and a buckle of the bone of the sea-horse, the tongue of which was jet-black. A golden helmet was upon the head of the knight, wherein were set sapphire-stones of great virtue. And at the top of the helmet was the figure of a flame-coloured lion, with a fiery-red tongue, issuing above a foot from his mouth, and with venomous eyes, crimson-red, in his head. And the knight came, bearing in his hand a thick ashen lance, the head whereof, which had been newly steeped in blood, was overlaid with silver.
And the youth saluted the Emperor; "Lord," he said, "do you not care about the slaying of your pages, and your young men, and the sons of the nobles of the Island of Britain, without whom it will be difficult to defend this island from henceforward for ever?"
"Owain," said Arthur, "forbid your Ravens."
"Play this game, Lord," said Owain.
So they finished the game and began another; and as they were finishing that game, they heard a great tumult and a clamour of armed men, and a croaking of Ravens, and a flapping of wings in the air, as they flung down the armour entire to the ground, and the men and the horses piecemeal. Then they saw coming a knight on a lofty-headed piebald horse. And the left shoulder of the horse was of bright red, and its right leg from the chest to the hollow of the hoof was pure white. And the knight and horse were equipped with arms of speckled yellow, variegated with Spanish laton. And there was a robe of honour upon him, and upon his horse, divided in two parts, white and black, and the borders of the robe of honour were of golden purple. And above the robe he wore a sword three-edged and bright, with a golden hilt. And the belt of the sword was of yellow goldwork, having a clasp upon it of the eyelid of a black sea-horse, and a tongue of yellow gold to the clasp. Upon the head of the knight was a bright helmet of yellow laton, with sparkling stones of crystal in it, and at the crest of the helmet was the figure of a griffin, with a stone of many virtues in its head. And he had an ashen spear in his hand, with a round shaft, coloured with azure-blue. And the head of the spear was newly stained with blood, and was overlaid with fine silver.
The knight came angrily to the place where Arthur sat, and he told him that the Ravens had killed his household and the sons of the chief men of this island, and he begged him to cause Owain to forbid his Ravens. And Arthur begged Owain to forbid them. Then Arthur took the golden chessmen that were upon the board, and crushed them until they became as dust. Then Owain ordered Gwres the son of Rheged to lower his banner. So it was lowered, and all was peace.
Then Rhonabwy asked Iddawc who were the first three men that came to Owain, to tell him his Ravens were being killed. Said Iddawc, "They were men who grieved that Owain should suffer loss, his fellow-chieftains and companions, Selyf ap Cynan, Garwyn of Powys, and Gwgawn Gleddyfrudd, and Gwres the son of Rheged, he who bears the banner in the day of battle and strife."
"Who," said Rhonabwy, "were the last three men who came to Arthur, and told him that the Ravens were slaughtering his men?"
"The best of men," said Iddawc, "and the bravest, and who would grieve exceedingly that Arthur should have suffered any hurt; Bleddyn ap Mawrhedd, and Rhufawn Pebyr the son of Prince Deorthach, and Hyfeidd Unllenn."
And with that twenty four knights came from Osla Gyllellfawr, to beg a truce of Arthur for a fortnight and a month. And Arthur arose and went to take advice. And he came to where a tall, auburn, curly-headed man was a little way off, and there he assembled his counsellors. Bedwin the Bishop, and Gwarthegyd ap Caw, and March ap Meirchawn, and Caradog Freichfras, and Gwalchmai ap Gwyar, and Edeyrn ap Nudd, and Rhufawn Pebyr the son of Prince Deorthach, and Rhiogan the son of the King of Ireland, and Gwenwynwyn ap Naf, Hywel ab Emyr Llydaw, Gwilym ap Rhwyf Freine, and Daned ab Ath, and Goren Custennin, and Mabon ap Modron, and Peredur Paladyr Hir, and Hyfeidd Unllenn, and Twrch ap Perif, and Nerth ap Cadarn, and Gobrwy ab Echel Forddwyttwll, Gwair ap Gwestyl, and Gadwy ap Geraint, Trystan ap Tallwch, Moryen Manawc, Granwen ap Llyr, and Llacheu ab Arthur, and Llawfodedd Farfog, and Cadwr Earl of Cornwall, Morfran ap Tegid, and Rhyawd ap Morgant, and Dyfyr ap Alun Dyfed, Gwrhyr Gwalstawd Ieithoedd, Adaon ap Taliesin, Llary ap Casnar Wledig, and Fflewddur Fflam, and Greidawl Galldofydd, Gilbert ap Cadgyffro, Menw ap Teirgwaedd, Gwrthmwl Wledig, Cawrdaf ap Caradog Freichfras, Gildas ap Caw, Cadyriaith ap Saidi, and many of the men of Norway, and Denmark, and many of the men of Greece, and a crowd of the men of the host came to that council.
"Iddawc," said Rhonabwy, "who was the auburn-haired man to whom they came just now?"
"Rhun ap Maelgwn Gwynedd, a man whose prerogative it is to join in counsel with all."
"And why did they admit into counsel with men of such dignity as are there a stripling so young as Cadyriaith ap Saidi?"
"Because there is not throughout Britain a man better skilled in counsel than he."
Then bards came and recited verses before Arthur, and no man understood those verses but Cadyriaith only, save that they were in Arthur's praise.
And lo, there came twenty four asses with their burdens of gold and of silver, and a tired wayworn man with each of them, bringing tribute to Arthur from the Islands of Greece. Then Cadyriaith ap Saidi begged that a truce might be granted to Osla Gyllellfawr for the space of a fortnight and a month, and that the asses and the burdens they carried might be given to the bards, to be to them as the reward for their stay and that their verse might be recompensed during the time of the truce. And so it was settled.
"Rhonabwy," said Iddawc, "would it not be wrong to forbid a youth who can give counsel so liberal as this from coming to the councils of his lord?"
Then Cai arose, and he said, "Whoever wishes to follow Arthur, let him be with him to-night in Cornwall, and whoever does not, let him be opposed to Arthur even during the truce." And through the greatness of the tumult that ensued, Rhonabwy awoke. And when he awoke he was upon the yellow calf skin, having slept three nights and three days.
And this tale is called the Dream of Rhonabwy. And this is the reason that no one knows the dream without a book, neither bard nor gifted seer; because of the various colours that were upon the horses, and the many wondrous colours of the arms and of the panoply, and of the precious scarfs, and of the virtue-bearing stones.
1 Owain ab Urien was an historical ruler of the Brythonic kingdom of Rheged who ruled sometime towards the end of the sixth century.
2 Ravens appear to be traditionally associated with the kingdom of Rheged in general and Owain ab Urien in particular, and were probably featured on the armorial bearings for the ruling family of Rheged