The Wooing of Olwen
HORTLY after the birth of Kilhuch, the son of King Kilyth, his
mother died. Before her death she charged the king that he
should not take a wife again until he saw a briar with two
blossoms upon her grave, and the king sent every morning to
see if anything were growing thereon. After many years the
briar appeared, and he took to wife the widow of King Doged.
She foretold to her stepson, Kilhuch, that it was his destiny
to marry a maiden named Olwen, or none other, and he, at his
father's bidding, went to the court of his cousin, King
Arthur, to ask as a boon the hand of the maiden. He rode
upon a grey steed with shell-formed hoofs, having a bridle
of linked gold, and a saddle also of gold. In his hand were
two spears of silver, well-tempered, headed with steel, of
an edge to wound the wind and cause blood to flow, and
swifter than the fall of the dew-drop from the blade of reed
grass upon the earth when the dew of June is at its
heaviest. A gold-hilted sword was on his thigh, and the
blade was of gold, having inlaid upon it a cross of the hue
of the lightning of heaven. Two brindled, white-breasted
 with strong collars of rubies, sported round
him, and his courser cast up four sods with its four hoofs
like four swallows about his head. Upon the steed was a
four-cornered cloth of purple, and an apple of gold was at
each corner. Precious gold was upon the stirrups and shoes,
and the blade of grass bent not beneath them, so light was
the courser's tread as he went towards the gate of King
Arthur received him with great ceremony, and asked him to
remain at the palace; but the youth replied that he came
not to consume meat and drink, but to ask a boon of the
Then said Arthur, "Since thou wilt not remain here,
chieftain, thou shalt receive the boon, whatsoever thy
tongue may name, as far as the wind dries and the rain
moistens, and the sun revolves, and the sea encircles, and
the earth extends, save only my ships and my mantle, my
sword, my lance, my shield, my dagger, and Guinevere my
So Kilhuch craved of him the hand of Olwen, the daughter of
Yspathaden Penkawr, and also asked the favour and aid of all
Then said Arthur, "O chieftain, I have never heard of the
maiden of whom thou speakest, nor of her kindred, but I will
gladly send messengers in search of 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 seek for the maiden; and at the end of the year
Arthur's messengers returned without having gained any
knowledge or information concerning Olwen more than on the
 Then said Kilhuch, "Every one has received his boon, and I
yet lack mine. I will depart and bear away thy honour with
Then said Kay, "Rash chieftain! dost thou reproach Arthur?
Go with us, and we will not part until thou dost either
confess that the maiden exists not in the world, or until we
Thereupon Kay rose up.
Kay 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 Kay's sword no
physician could heal. Very subtle was Kay. 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
handbreath below his hand; and when his companions were
coldest, it was to them as fuel with which to light their
And Arthur called Bedwyr, who never shrank from any
enterprise upon which Kay was bound. None was equal to him
in swiftness throughout this island except Arthur and Drych
Ail Kibthar. 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 Kynthelig the guide. "Go thou 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
He called Gwalchmai, the son of 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
And Arthur called Menw, the son of Teirgwaeth, 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 on till they came to a vast open plain,
wherein they saw a great castle, which was the fairest in
the world. But so far away was it that at night it seemed no
nearer, and they scarcely reached it on the third day. When
they came before the castle they beheld a vast flock of
sheep, boundless and without end. They told their errand to
the herdsman, who endeavoured to dissuade them, since none
who had come thither on that quest had returned alive. They
gave to him a gold ring, which he conveyed to his wife,
telling her who the visitors were.
On the approach of the latter, she ran out with joy to greet
them, and sought to throw her arms about their necks. But
Kay, snatching a billet out of the pile, placed the log
between her two hands, and she squeezed it so that it became
a twisted coil.
"O woman," said Kay, "if thou hadst squeezed me thus, none
could ever again have set their affections on me. Evil love
They entered the house, and after meat she told them that
the maiden Olwen came there every Saturday to wash.
 They pledged their faith that they would not harm her, and a
message was sent to her. So Olwen came, clothed in a robe of
flame-coloured silk, and with a collar of ruddy gold, in
which were emeralds and rubies, about her neck. More golden
was her hair 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. Brighter were her glances
than those of a falcon; her bosom was more snowy than the
breast of the white swan, her cheek redder than the reddest
roses. Whoso beheld was filled with her love. Four white
trefoils sprang up wherever she trod, and therefore was she
Then Kilhuch, sitting beside her on a bench, told her his
love, and she said that he would win her as his bride if he
granted whatever her father asked.
Accordingly they went up to the castle and laid their
request before him.
"Raise up the forks beneath my two eyebrows which have
fallen over my eyes," said Yspathaden Penkawr, "that I may
see the fashion of my son-in-law."
They did so, and he promised them an answer on the morrow.
But as they were going forth, Yspathaden seized one of the
three poisoned darts that lay beside him and threw it back
And Bedwyr caught it and flung it back, wounding Yspathaden
in the knee.
Then said he, "A cursed ungentle son-in-law, truly. I shall
ever walk the worse for his rudeness. This poisoned iron
pains me like the bite of a gad-fly. Cursed be the smith who
forged it, and the anvil whereon it was wrought."
 The knights rested in the house of Custennin the herdsman,
but the next day at dawn they returned to the castle and
renewed their request.
Yspathaden said it was necessary that he should consult
Olwen's four great-grandmothers and her four
The knights again withdrew, and as they were going he took
the second dart and cast it after them.
But Menw caught it and flung it back, piercing Yspathaden's
breast with it, so that it came out at the small of his
"A cursed ungentle son-in-law, truly," says he, "the hard
iron pains me like the bite of a horse-leech. Cursed be the
hearth whereon it was heated! Henceforth whenever
 I go up a
hill, I shall have a scant in my breath and a pain in my
On the third day the knights returned once more to the
palace, and Yspathaden took the third dart and cast it at
But Kilhuch caught it and threw it vigorously, and wounded
him through the eyeball, so that the dart came out at the
back of his head.
"A cursed ungentle son-in-law, truly. As long as I remain
alive my eyesight will be the worse. Whenever I go against
the wind my eyes will water, and peradventure 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.
Said Yspathaden Penkawr, "Is it thou that seekest my
"It is I," answered Kilhuch.
"I must have thy pledge that thou wilt not do towards me
otherwise than is just, and when I have gotten that which I
shall name, my daughter thou shalt have."
"I promise thee that willingly," said Kilhuch, "name what
"I will do so," said he.
"Throughout the world there is not a comb or scissors with
which I can arrange my hair, on account of its rankness,
except the comb and scissors that are between the two ears
of Turch Truith, the son of Prince Tared. He will not give
them of his own free will, and thou wilt not be able to
 "It will be easy for me to compass this, although thou
mayest think that it will not be easy."
"Though thou get this, there is yet that which thou wilt not
get. It will not be possible to hunt Turch Truith without
Drudwyn the whelp of Greid, the son of Eri, and know that
throughout the world there is not a huntsman who can hunt
with this dog, except Mabon the son of Modron. He was taken
from his mother when three nights old, and it is not known
where he now is, nor whether he is living or dead."
"It will be easy for me to compass this, although thou
mayest think that it will not be easy."
"Though thou get this, there is yet that which thou wilt not
get. Thou wilt not get Mabon, for it is not known where he
is, unless thou find Eidoel, his kinsman in blood, the son
of Aer. For it would be useless to seek for him. He is his
"It will be easy for me to compass this, although thou
mayest think that it will not be easy. Horses shall I have,
and chivalry; and my lord and kinsman Arthur will obtain
for me all these things. And I shall gain thy daughter, and
thou shalt lose thy life."
"Go forward. And thou shalt not be chargeable for food or
raiment for my daughter while thou art seeking these things;
and when thou hast compassed all these marvels, thou shalt
have my daughter for wife."
Now, when they told Arthur how they had sped, Arthur said,
"Which of these marvels will it be best for us to seek
"It will be best," said they, "to seek Mabon the son of
Modron; and he will not be found unless we first find
Eidoel, the son of Aer, his kinsman."
 Then Arthur rose up, and the warriors of the Islands of
Britain with him, to seek for Eidoel; and they proceeded
until they came before the castle of Glivi, where Eidoel was
Glivi stood on the summit of his castle, and said, "Arthur,
what requirest thou of me, since nothing remains to me in
this fortress, and I have neither joy nor pleasure in it;
neither wheat nor oats?"
Said Arthur, "Not to injure thee came I hither, but to seek
for the prisoner that is with thee."
"I will give thee my prisoner, though I had not thought to
give him up to any one; and therewith shalt thou have my
suport and my aid."
His followers then said unto Arthur, "Lord, go thou home,
thou canst not proceed with thy host in quest of such small
adventures as these."
Then said Arthur, "It were well for thee, Gwrhyr Gwalstawt
Ieithoedd, to go upon this quest, for thou knowest all
languages, and art familiar with those of the birds and the
beasts. Go, Eidoel, likewise with my men in search of thy
cousin. And as for you, Kay and Bedwyr, I have hope of
whatever adventure ye are in quest of, that ye will achieve
it. Achieve ye this adventure for me."
These went forward until they came to the Ousel of Cilgwri,
and Gwrhyr adjured her for the sake of Heaven, saying, "Tell
me if thou knowest aught of Mabon, the son of Modron, who
was taken when three nights old from between his mother and
And the Ousel answered, "When I first came here there was a
smith's anvil in this place, and I was then a young bird,
and from that time no work has been done upon it, save
pecking of my beak every evening, and now there is not so
much as the size of a nut remaining thereof; yet the
vengeance of Heaven be upon me if during all that time I
have ever heard of the man for whom you inquire.
Nevertheless, there is a race of animals who were formed
before me, and I will be your guide to them."
So they proceeded to the place where was the Stag of
"Stag of Redynvre, behold we are come to thee, an embassy
from Arthur, for we have not heard of any animal older than
thou. Say, knowest thou aught of Mabon?"
The stag said, "When first I came hither, there was a plain
all around me, without any trees save one oak sapling, which
grew up to be an oak with an hundred branches. And that oak
has since perished, so that now nothing remains of it but
the withered stump; and from that day to this I have been
here, yet have I never heard of the man for whom you
inquire. Nevertheless, I will be your guide to the place
where there is an animal which was formed before I was."
So they proceeded to the place where was the Owl of Cwm
Cawlwyd, to inquire of him concerning Mabon.
And the owl said, "If I knew I would tell you. When first I
came hither, the wide valley you see was a wooded glen. And
a race of men came and rooted it up. And there grew there a
second wood, and this wood is the third. My wings, are they
not withered stumps? Yet all this time, even until to-day,
I have never heard of the man for whom you inquire.
Nevertheless, I will be the guide of Arthur's embassy until
you come to the place where is the oldest
 animal in this
world, and the one who has travelled most, the eagle of
When they came to the eagle, Gwrhyr asked it the same
question; but it replied, "I have been here for a great
space of time, and when I first came hither there was a rock
here, from the top of which I pecked at the stars every
evening, and now it is not so much as a span high. From that
day to this I have been here, and I have never heard of the
man for whom you inquire, except once when I went in search
of food as far as Llyn Llyw. And when I came there, I struck
my talons into a salmon, thinking he would serve me as food
for a long time. But he drew me into the deep, and I was
scarcely able to escape from him. After that I went with my
whole kindred to attack him and to try to destroy him, but
he sent messengers and made peace with me, and came and
besought me to take fifty fish-spears out of his back.
Unless he know something of him whom you seek, I cannot tell
you who may. However, I will guide you to the place where he
So they went thither, and the eagle said, "Salmon of Llyn
Llyw, I have come to thee with an embassy from Arthur to
ask thee if thou knowest aught concerning Mabon, the son of
Modron, who was taken away at three nights old from between
his mother and the wall."
And the salmon answered, "As much as I know I will tell
thee. With every tide I go along the river upwards, until I
come near to the walls of Gloucester, and there have I found
such wrong as I never found elsewhere; and to the end that
ye may give credence thereto, let one of you go thither upon
each of my two shoulders."
So Kay and Gwrhyr went upon his shoulders, and they
 proceeded till they came to the wall of the prison, and they
heard a great wailing and lamenting from the dungeon.
Said Gwrhyr, "Who is it that laments in this house of
And the voice replied, "Alas, it is Mabon, the son of
Modron, who is here imprisoned!"
Then they returned and told Arthur, who, summoning his
warriors, attacked the castle.
And whilst the fight was going on, Kay and Bedwyr, mounting
on the shoulders of the fish, broke into the dungeon, and
brought away with them Mabon, the son of Modron.
Then Arthur summoned unto him all the warriors that were in
the three islands of Britain and in the three islands
adjacent; and he went as far as Esgeir Oervel in Ireland
where the Boar Truith was with his seven young pigs. And the
dogs were let loose upon him from all sides. But he wasted
the fifth part of Ireland, and then set forth through the
sea to Wales. Arthur and his hosts, and his horses, and his
dogs followed hard after him. But ever and awhile the boar
made a stand, and many a champion of Arthur's did he slay.
Throughout all Wales did Arthur follow him, and one by one
the young pigs were killed. At length, when he would fain
have crossed the Severn and escaped into Cornwall, Mabon the
son of Modron came up with him, and Arthur fell upon him
together with the champions of Britain. On the one side
Mabon the son of Modron spurred his steed and snatched his
razor from him, whilst Kay came up with him on the other
side and took from him the scissors. But before they could
obtain the comb he had regained the ground with his feet,
and from the moment
 that he reached the shore, neither dog
nor man nor horse could overtake him until he came to
Cornwall. There Arthur and his hosts followed in his track
until they overtook him in Cornwall. Hard had been their
trouble before, but it was child's play to what they met in
seeking the comb. Win it they did, and the Boar Truith they
hunted into the deep sea, and it was never known whither he
Then Kilhuch set forward, and as many as wished ill to
Yspathaden Penkawr. And they took the marvels with them to
his court. And Kaw of North Britain came and shaved his
beard, skin and flesh clean off to the very bone from ear to
"Art thou shaved, man?" said Kilhuch.
"I am shaved," answered he.
"Is thy daughter mine now?"
"She is thine, but therefore needst thou not thank me, but
Arthur who hath accomplished this for thee. By my free will
thou shouldst never have had her, for with her I lose my
Then Goreu the son of Custennin seized him by the hair of
his head and dragged him after him to the keep, and cut off
his head and placed it on a stake on the citadel.
Thereafter the hosts of Arthur dispersed themselves each man
to his own country.
Thus did Kilhuch son of Kelython win to wife Olwen, the
daughter of Yspathaden Penkawr.