Being the third part of the tale of Culhwch ac Olwen; in which Culhwch, together with with a hand-picked party of Arthur's best warriors set out on the first part of the quest, which is to establish the location of Olwen and find out from her father, Yspaddaden Pencawr how it is that Culhwch may obtain her hand in marriage.
Then said Arthur, "Chieftain, I have never heard of the maiden of whom you speak, nor of her family, but I will gladly send messengers in search of her. Give me time to seek her."
And the youth said, "I will willingly grant from this night to that at the end of the year to do so."
Then Arthur sent messengers to every land within his dominions to look for the maiden; and at the end of the year Arthur's messengers returned without having gained any knowledge or intelligence concerning Olwen more than on the first day. Then said Culhwch, "Every one has received his favour, and I yet lack mine. I will depart and bear away your honour with me."
Then said Cai, "Rash chieftain, do you reproach Arthur? Go with us, and we will not part until you do either confess that the maiden does not exist in the world, or until we obtain her." Thereupon Cai rose up. Cai had this peculiarity, that his breath lasted nine nights and nine days under water, and he could exist nine nights and nine days without sleep. A wound from Cai's sword no physician could heal. Very subtle was Cai. When it pleased him he could render himself as tall as the highest tree in the forest. And he had another peculiarity; so great was the heat of his nature, that, when it rained hardest, whatever he carried remained dry for a handbreadth above and a handbreadth below his hand; and when his companions were coldest, it was to them as fuel with which to light their fire.
And Arthur called Bedwyr, who never shrank from any enterprise upon which Cai was bound. None was equal to him in swiftness throughout this Island except Arthur and Drych Ail Cibddar. And although he was one-handed, three warriors could not shed blood faster than he on the field of battle. Another property he had; his lance would produce a wound equal to those of nine opposing lances.
And Arthur called to Cynddelig the Guide, "Go upon this expedition with the chieftain." For as good a guide was he in a land which he had never seen as he was in his own.
He called Gwrhyr Gwalstawt Ieithoedd, because he knew all tongues.
He called Gwalchmai ap Gwyar, because he never returned home without achieving the adventure of which he went in quest. He was the best of footmen and the best of knights. He was nephew to Arthur, the son of his sister, and his cousin.
And Arthur called Menw ap Teirgwaedd, in order that if they went into a savage country, he might cast a charm and an illusion over them, so that none might see them whilst they could see every one.
They journeyed until they came to a vast open plain, wherein they saw a great castle, which was the fairest of the castles of the world. And they journeyed that day until the evening, and when they thought they were close to the castle, they were no nearer to it than they had been in the morning. And the second and the third day they journeyed, and even then scarcely could they reach so far. And when they came before the castle, they saw a vast flock of sheep, which was boundless and without an end. And upon the top of a mound there was a herdsman, keeping the sheep. And a rug made of skins was upon him; and by his side was a shaggy mastiff, larger than a horse nine winters old. Never had he lost even a lamb from his flock, much less a large sheep. He let no occasion ever pass without doing some hurt and harm. All the dead trees and bushes in the plain he burnt with his breath down to the very ground.
Then Cai said "Gwrhyr Gwalstawt Ieithoedd, go and salute that man."
"Cai," he said "I engaged not to go any further than you yourself."
"Let us then go together," answered Cai.
And Menw ap Teirgwaedd said, "Do not fear to go there, for I will cast a spell upon the dog, so that he shall injure no one."
They went up to the mound whereon the herdsman was, and they said to him, "How do you fare, herdsman?"
"No less fair be it to you than to me."
"Truly, are you the chief?"
"There is no hurt to injure me but my own."
"Whose are the sheep that you do keep, and to whom does that castle belong?"
"You are truly stupid! Through the whole world is it known that this is the castle of Yspaddaden Pencawr."
"And who are you?"
"I am called Custennin ap Dyfnedig, and my brother Yspaddaden Pencawr oppressed me because of my possessions. And who are you?"
"We are an embassy from Arthur, come to seek Olwen the daughter of Yspaddaden Pencawr."
"Oh men, the mercy of heaven be upon you, do not do that for all the world. None who came here on this quest have ever returned alive."
And the herdsman rose up. And as he arose, Culhwch gave to him a ring of gold. And he sought to put on the ring, but it was too small for him, so he placed it in the finger of his glove. And he went home, and gave the glove to his wife to keep. And she took the ring from the glove when it was given to her, and she said, "Where did this ring come from, for you are not wont to have good fortune?"
"I went," he said, "to the sea to seek for fish, and lo, I saw a corpse borne by the waves. And a fairer corpse than it did I never behold. And from its finger did I take this ring."
"Man, does the sea permit its dead to wear jewels? Show me then this body."
"Wife, him to whom this ring belonged you shall see here in the evening."
"And who is he?" asked the woman.
"Culhwch ap Cilydd, the son of Prince Celyddon, by Goleuddydd the daughter of Prince Anlawdd, his mother, who is come to seek Olwen as his wife."
And when she heard that, her feelings were divided between the joy that she had that her nephew, the son of her sister, was coming to her, and sorrow because she had never known any one depart alive who had come on that quest.
And they went forward to the gate of Custennin the herdsman's dwelling. And when she heard their footsteps approaching, she ran out with joy to meet them. And Cai snatched a billet out of the pile. And when she met them she sought to throw her arms about their necks. And Cai placed the log between her two hands, and she squeezed it so that it became a twisted coil. "Woman," said Cai, "if you had squeezed me thus, none could ever again have set their affections on me. Evil love were this." They entered into the house, and were served; and soon after they all went forth to amuse themselves. Then the woman opened a stone chest that was before the chimney-corner, and out of it arose a youth with yellow curling hair. Said Gwrhyr, "It is a pity to hide this youth. I know that it is not his own crime that is thus visited upon him."
"This is but a remnant," said the woman. "Twenty three of my sons has Yspaddaden Pencawr slain, and I have no more hope of this one than of the others."
Then said Cai, "Let him come and be a companion with me, and he shall not be slain unless I also am slain with him." And they ate.
And the woman asked them, "On what errand do come you here?"
"We come to seek Olwen for this youth."
Then said the woman, "In the name of heaven, since no one from the castle has yet seen you, return from where you came."
"Heaven is our witness, that we will not return until we have seen the maiden."
Said Cai, "Does she ever come here, so that she may be seen?"
"She comes here every Saturday to wash her head, and in the vessel where she washes, she leaves all her rings, and she never either comes herself or sends any messengers to fetch them."
"Will she come here if she is sent for?"
"Heaven knows that I will not destroy my soul, nor will I betray those that trust me; unless you will pledge me your faith that you will not harm her, I will not send for her."
"We pledge it," they said. So a message was sent, and she came.
The maiden was clothed in a robe of flame-coloured silk, and about her neck was a collar of red gold, on which were precious emeralds and rubies. More yellow was her head than the flower of the broom, and her skin was whiter than the foam of the wave, and fairer were her hands and her fingers than the blossoms of the wood anemone amidst the spray of the meadow fountain. The eye of the trained hawk, the glance of the three-mewed falcon was not brighter than hers. Her breasts was more snowy than the breast of the white swan, her cheek was redder than the reddest roses. Whoever saw her was filled with her love. Four white trefoils sprung up wherever she trod. And therefore was she called Olwen.
She entered the house, and sat beside Culhwch upon the foremost bench; and as soon as he saw her he knew her. And Culhwch said unto her, "Maiden, you are she whom I have loved; come away with me, lest they speak evil of you and of me. Many a day have I loved you."
"I cannot do this, for I have pledged my faith to my father not to go without his permission, for his life will last only until the time of my engagement. Whatever is, must be. But I will give you advice if you will take it. Go, ask me of my father, and that which he shall require of you, grant it, and you will obtain me; but it you deny him anything, you will not obtain me, and it will be well for you if you escape with your life."
"I promise all this, if occasion offer," he said.
She returned to her chamber, and they all rose up and followed her to the castle. And they slew the nine porters that were at the nine gates in silence. And they slew the nine watch-dogs without one of them barking. And they went forward to the hall.
"The greeting of heaven and of man be unto you, Yspaddaden Pencawr," they said.
"And you, why do you come here?"
"We come to ask your daughter Olwen, for Culhwch ap Cilydd, the son of Prince Celyddon."
"Where are my pages and my servants? Raise up the forks beneath my two eyebrows which have fallen over my eyes, that I may see the fashion of my son-in-law." And they did so. "Come here to-morrow, and you shall have an answer."
They rose to leave, and Yspaddaden Pencawr seized one of the three poisoned spears that lay beside him, and threw it after them. And Bedwyr caught it, and flung it, and pierced Yspaddaden Pencawr grievously with it through the knee. Then he said, "A cursed ungentle son-in-law. I shall ever walk the worse for his rudeness, and shall ever be without a cure. This poisoned iron pains me like the bite of a gadfly. Cursed be the smith who forged it, and the anvil whereon it was wrought! So sharp is it!"
That night also they took up their abode in the house of Custennin the herdsman. The next day with the dawn, they arrayed themselves in haste and proceeded to the castle, and entered the hall, and they said, "Yspaddaden Pencawr, give us your daughter in consideration of her dower and her maiden fee, which we will pay to you and to her two kinswomen likewise. And unless you will do so, you shall meet with your death on her account."
Then he said, "Her four great-grandmothers, and her four great-grandsires are yet alive, it is needful that I take their advice."
"Be it so," they answered, "we will go to meat."
As they rose up, he took the second spear that was beside him, and cast it after them. And Menw ap Gwaedd caught it, and flung it back at him, and wounded him in the centre of the breast, so that it came out at the small of his back.
"A cursed ungentle son-in-law," he said, "the hard iron pains me like the bite of a horse-leech. Cursed be the hearth whereon it was heated, and the smith who formed it! So sharp is it! Henceforth, whenever I go up a hill, I shall have a scant in my breath, and a pain in my chest, and I shall often loathe my food." And they went to meat.
And the third day they returned to the palace. And Yspaddaden Pencawr said to them, "Shoot not at me again unless you desire death. Where are my attendants? Lift up the forks of my eyebrows which have fallen over my eyeballs, that I may see the fashion of my son-in-law." Then they arose, and, as they did so, Yspaddaden Pencawr took the third poisoned spear and cast it at them. And Culhwch caught it and threw it vigorously, and wounded him through the eyeball, so that the spear came out at the back of his head.
"A cursed ungentle son-in-law! As long as I remain alive, my eyesight will be the worse. Whenever I go against the wind, my eyes will water; and my head will burn, and I shall have a giddiness every new moon. Cursed be the fire in which it was forged. Like the bite of a mad dog is the stroke of this poisoned iron." And they went to meat.
To the fourth part of Culhwch ac Olwen