Prince of Annwn has two parts: “Descent into the Abyss” and “Rhiannon of the Birds.” Having broken a hunting code, Pwyll, Prince of Dyved (South Wales), accepts an exchange with Arawn, King of Annwn (Kingdom of the Dead). Pwyll changes shape with Arawn to battle Havgan, a rival king in Annwn. Entering Annwn, Pwyll faces a series of tests: a huge, spiderlike monster; a huge bird that guards the entrance gate; and finally the bedroom invitation of Arawn’s wife. After a day-long battle, Pwyll follows Arawn’s instructions and resists the wounded Havgan’s appeal to “take my head” and so vanquishes him.
Returning to Dyved, Pwyll exchanges pledges of friendship with Arawn, whose rule has gained Pwyll a reputation for wisdom. By resisting a Druidic coronation rite of coupling with a white mare, Pwyll antagonizes the High Druid, who questions his virility, forces him to promise marriage, and plots his death.
From Gorsedd Arbeth, a magical burial mound, Pwyll sees beautiful Rhiannon, whom he had met in Annwn. He pursues her but cannot overtake her until he requests that she stop. Rhiannon, the daughter of Heveydd the Ancient, a former king of Dyved, has been promised against her will to Gwawl the Bright. Drawn together, Rhiannon and Pwyll agree to marry. At their wedding feast, Pwyll responds generously to Gwawl’s request, and Gwawl claims Rhiannon. A year and a day later, shabbily dressed Pwyll tricks Gwawl with his request that a small food bag be filled. Gwawl is trapped in this bottomless bag and brutally beaten. Rhiannon protects Pwyll from betrayal by six of his elite guard. The dying High Druid curses Pwyll, so that he cannot father children.
The Children of Llyr has a prologue and fourteen chapters. In the prologue, resentful Eurysswudd refuses tribute to “outlander” Llyr, holds him hostage, and as ransom demands a night with Llyr’s wife, Pendardin. Following the Old Tribe’s “Ancient Harmonies,” which allowed women to mate with whom they desired, Llyr accepts but later kills Eurysswudd in a duel. From this strange union are born mirror-opposite twins, Evnissyen, who “has a nose for pain,” and Nissyen, who breaks social tensions with kindness or laughter.
Gigantic Bran the Blessed, the eldest of Llyr’s sons by Pandarin, seeks to unite the Old and New tribes by a peace-marriage between his sister Branwen and Matholuch, king of Ireland. This treaty is made without consulting Evnissyen, who out of spite mutilates the Irish horses. As “face-price” for this offense, Bran gives Matholuch a magic cauldron that regenerates the dead.
In Ireland, Branwen bears Matholuch a son, Gwern. Rumor of the insult to Matholuch spreads. Bowing to social pressure, he agrees to put his wife aside. He strikes her and dismisses her to his kitchen, where she is brutally mistreated.
Branwen trains a starling to carry her message to Bran, who calls up warriors to avenge her mistreatment. Bran’s motive is not without self-interest. He ignores the matrilinear claim by which Branwen’s son, Gwern,...
(The entire section is 1265 words.)