The Tale of Gwydion EditIn the Mythic Age, there was Glamour aplenty throughout the land, and the heroes of that age were mighty indeed. This held true for none more than the brash young sidhe called Gwydion the Grey. Lord Gwydion was not only a masterful warrior by all accounts, but an accomplished sorcerer besides. He had wrested the secret of shape changing from a terrible giant and could take the form of a swift stag, a horrid boar, or a wolf the size of a horse whenever he chose. It was said that no man or woman could best him, short of the Tuatha de Danaan themselves.
Gwydon was young, foolish, and full of pride at first. He cared for little beyond his own desires, or the whims of his companions. He and his cousins were near-bandits at the time, riding the land and taking what they liked when the mood struck them. But for all that, they were no worse than most of the Unseelie at the time. This foolish period ended when they did a much greater wrong.
Caer Dathal Edit
While the Tuatha were away at war (for they were in such a habit of doing so then), Gwydion's band came to one of their households, Caer Dathal. There, Gwydion bested the guards and hurled them down a well while his cousins ransacked the town. And while the grey-haired, grey-eyed Gwydion drank himself into a stupor, his companions carried Caer Dathal's chambermaids into the highest tower and took them against their will.
But the Lord of Caer Dathal returned much earlier than expected. His name was Math Mathonwy, and he was a great sorcerer of the Tuatha de Danaan. He and his retinue were greeted at the gates by a weeping servant, maiden no longer, and the wizard's wrath grew terrible; he strode through the keep's halls, slaying the raiders with white fire. The last one Mathonwy found was Gwydion's own cousin. Math kept the brigand alive a little longer to discover how his guards had been overcome. When Mathonwy learned that his own sister's son, Gwydion, was the one who had conquered his entire household guard, he stormed out and captured the besotted young warrior easily.
Gwydion's Trial Edit
When Gwydion recovered his senses, he was dragged from the dungeons and brought into the woods of Caer Dathal. There he was flung before Math Mathonwy, who was dressed in hunter's garb. Gwydion could hardly look on the blazing countenance of the wrathful Tuatha de Danaan, so he turned his face away.
"Why have you done this thing?" Math boomed. "Why did you help your companions defile my household and hurt my subjects?" Gwydion said nothing and hung his head. "You have no answer for me?" Math rumbled.
Finally Gwydion spoke. "I did such a thing... because I could, and because my cousins asked me to."
Mathonwy scowled, the heat of his anger wilting the leaves of the tree he stood under. Then he grew calmer and said, "I am in a kind mood and willing to grant you some leniency, for you slew no unarmed man or woman in this deed. However, you are still responsible for your cousins' acts, and the suffering of my subjects rests fully on your shoulders. Are you willing to accept the terms I offer?"
Gwydion still dared not look Math in the face. "I have no choice but to accept," he said, "no matter what your terms may be."
So then Math called for his daughter, a girl who had only just set aside the dresses of a child and who had been away at the time of the raid. She came quietly and knelt at Math's feet as he said, "Daughter, do you see that bold young man there? He is to fight you, as warrior wizards do, and should he lose, he is to do as I say for three years. However, should he win, I have agreed to let him take my head. Go and fight him, for he is impatient."
Gwydion was released and given a spear, and the young girl took one as well. Filled with desperation, Gwydion attacked with all the force he could muster. However, she met every attack with equal force and returned even more force. Soon she won, and Gwydion the Grey lay battered and exhausted on the forest floor.
Math took Gwydion by the ear. "You are strong, pup," he said grimly, "but you have yet to learn the secret of true strength: virtue. My daughter fought for me, while you fought only for yourself. You must learn to think of others before you if you are ever to become a knight of any worth."
With that, Math struck Gwydion with his wand and Gwydion was suddenly in the stag's shape that he'd worn so often. "I give you three years to learn," Math added, "and for each one, you will wear the form of a beast and nothing else. At the end of this time, we shall see whether you deserve to live as a man, or die as a beast."
Gwydion the Beast Edit
And so Gwydion lived for a year as a stag, challenging hunters and driving trespassers from the woods. When a year had passed, Mathonwy came to the woods and changed Gwydion into his second shape of a boar. The second and third year passed as Math decreed. Many men tried to hunt Gwydion, questing after the great Grey Stag first, then the Grey Boar, and the Grey Wolf finally. None could catch him, but one almost did. This man was named Bleiddwn Wolfson, a great and enduring lord with the strength of 10 packs of wolves. It was Bleiddwn who pursued the Grey Wolf on foot and managed to take him by the tail, but at last he relented and let Gwydion go.
It is said that in those three years, Gwydion lived fully as a beast; that he guarded the forest more ferociously because he own cubs romped in a hidden den in the deepest thickets. No one knows the truth.
The Return Edit
The three complete turns of the seasons passed. Math Mathonwy strode into the forest on Midsummer, and the Grey Wolf slunk from the brush on his belly. Math struck the wolf with his wand and suddenly there was Gwydion the man again, kneeling naked before the great wizard.
"You understand what you have done?" Math asked calmly.
"I do," Gwydion rasped, "and I am most ashamed. I have used the strength I've won for wrong."
"And who have you wronged?"
"I have wronged my people. I have bullied and abused those who needed my protection. My lord, I exist only at your sufferance."
Math smiled. "And if I give you your life?"
Gwydion raised his head and looked Math full in the eye. His gaze burned, but the anger was a different sort. "My lord," he growled, "then surely the tyrants and monsters of this land shall curse your name, for I shall be upon their throats from now until I draw my final breath."
Math smiled again. "You have changed, Gwydion. I know you speak honestly, and that you will fight hard against those who are as you were. To that end, I shall gladly teach you the trick of sifting falsehood from truth, that you might judge you foes fairly, as you yourself have been judged.
"Of course, there must be a final test. If true nobility has entered your heart, and you absolutely know what responsibilities strength brings, then call upon it. Show me your newfound nobility. Show me that you will be able to see farther than your own hands."
Gwydion stood, shimmered, then was gone. In his place was a golden falcon that beat its wings joyously against the air and shot into the sky with a scream of fury and delight.
The Changed Fae Edit
From then on, Gwydion the Grey was a different man. Those that knew Gwydion the upstart, the selfish warrior who cared for the welfare of himself and his friends alone, they would not have recognized the grey lord that now strode Cymru. Now he was a prince among warriors, a lord among sorcerers. He stalked among the cantrevs of the day like a lion among a flock of sheep, and the villainous were hard-pressed to stay hidden from his falcon eyes. Wherever Gwydion found a wicked lord or brutal ogre misusing their strength, he flew into a righteous anger so terrible that he would uproot oaks in his fury. All of Cymru soon knew that wherever the golden falcon dove from the sky, an evil one was soon to meet their fate.
He fought like this for a year and overthrew many a sinister foe. And yet, the creatures of nightmare and the most corrupt of fae remained far too numerous. Lord Gwydion realized that the war was too great. He could not win it alone.
The Challenge Edit
And so he sent messengers speeding to all corners of the land. Each one, whether bird, beast, sprite, man, or woman, bore the same message: Gwydion the Grey would be waiting for a year and a day at the mouth of Annwn, and he would pass his greatest magics to the one who came and bested him in single combat.
And they came. Whether dire enemies or devoted admirers, whether lofty fae or doughty humans, whether haughty lords of many cantrevs or valiant commoners with not so much as a pig to their name, they all flocked to the mouth of the Twilight Land, There they camped in the cool shadows, and Gwydion emerged from his tent each dawn and called for the next warrior to come and face him. They fought duels of sword craft, shapeshifting, wresting, and sorcery. Gwydion battled 20 men and women each day, may for hours on end, and he bested them all.
But you see, Gwydion fought with his eyes sharp. Those who attempted to cheat, or who behaved with little honor, received a brutal thrashing at his hands. Those who fought fairy and who comported themselves with the honor of true warriors... Gwydion took these aside and spoke quiet words to each one. The first lord to show enough nobility and strength was the same Bleiddwn Wolfson who had nearly caught Gwydion as a wolf. But after Gwydion defeated him and spoke with him afterward, Bleiddwn moved his tent beside Gwydion's.
Many lords and warriors went home defeated and sad as the seasons passed, but the tents pitched by Gwydion's people grew slowly in number. When the year passed, Gwydion had only 300 warriors loyal to him, but they were the finest in all the land.
The Coming of Keredwyn Edit
On the dawning of the final day, one last combatant remained to challenge Lord Gwydion: Keredwyn, daughter of Math Mathonwy, who had grown into a stronger young woman. Gwydion's heart sank when he saw her, for he remembered the shameful way in which he'd last done battle with her, and she was only a girl at the time.
They battled all day and into the night, for Math's daughter had, too, grown more powerful and wise, able to match Gwydion in strength, magic, and skill. As they fought on, Gwydion's shame began to weaken him: He began to lose. But as the sky once again lightened, Gwydion felt the eyes of his warriors upon him. He knew then that his quest to provide the lands with true champions was for nothing if he was to lose now, so he put aside thoughts of all things save defending his beloved people. At that point, Gwydion's strength rose as never before and he struck Keredwyn unconscious.
The 300 warriors cheered, but Gwydion silenced them with one resolute look. He knelt by Keredwyn's side until she awoke then bowed his head to her. It's said she smiled, and the two spoke only a few words to one another before she took her place among those gathered at Gwydion's side.
It's no secret that Gwydion and Keredwyn were wed within a few years, but the story of their marriage and love for one another was one they kept to themselves. No, the tales that endure are those of their deeds, and the deeds of the 300 newly knights fae that followed them.