Grandpa Gwyn and the Gift


Wellell, now, the story as I heard it from my grandpa, who heard it from his grandpa, who heard it from his, went like this:

Once upon a time, many years ago, when there was a lot more movement between Wales and Broceliande, Great however-many-times-it-was Grandpa Gwyn was out riding across his lands. He was a fine figure of a man, Grandpa Gwyn, although he wasn’t young even then – he must have been forty years old. His wife was dead and he had children grown and grandchildren already, but he was a wily old fox and he kept his lands safe. He was a big man, broad in the shoulder and narrow in the hip, and although his hair was greying, he was vigorous in battle, and even more vigorous in bed (and you needn’t tell your mother I said so). He had kept to his own bed while his wife lived and for a while afterwards, but in his youth he had bedded many a pretty girl and handsome boy, and once widowed he had found that there were still bright-eyed women and neat-arsed men willing to catch his eye and follow when he retired to his chamber.

But on this occasion he was looking to his borders and to the safety of his people. He had heard that there was raiding going on in the villages, and that there had been livestock taken by wolfshead fighters, and worse things done, and Grandpa Gwyn didn’t hold with that. He had five or six of his men with him, and they had been chasing off a band of raiders when Grandpa Gwyn’s horse went lame.

Now the horse was his favourite, and Grandpa didn’t allow anybody else to ride it, so one of his men offered to walk back to the castle (well, it was a smallish fortified house in those days, but we like to call it a castle) with it, and to let Gwyn have his horse in exchange. But Gwyn prided himself on never asking one of his men to do anything he wouldn’t do himself (and when you marry or take lovers that is an excellent precept to follow, and you needn’t tell your father that either, although your mother already knows), so he sent his men on ahead and walked with the sad horse after.

And once his men were out of sight, he stopped the horse, and sat on the grass, and said, “All right, where are you and what do you want?” Because the Sight is strong in our family and always has been, and Gwyn had seen that the horse was not lame but ensorcelled.

And the Gate between Here and There, between Wales and Broceliande, opened and a Power stepped through.

Now I asked my Grandpa, just as you are going to ask me, if she was one of the Good People, was she of a beauty unsurpassed? Was she graceful and slender and of the sort to break a man’s heart? And my Grandpa told me, as his had told him, that rather to everybody’s surprise, she was not. She was average height, and she looked to be Gwyn’s age, and her face was unremarkable, which surprised him, because he had always understood that the People were of a loveliness beyond bearing. And she was neither slender nor particularly graceful, but her skin was pale and fine, and her ankles were good, and she looked as if she knew how to have a good time.

And she said to Grandpa Gwyn, “Gwyn of Pencawr, you are known to me, and your children, and your children’s children. And I shall be or possibly have been their Scourge but also their Protector, and occasionally their baby-sitter.”

And Gwyn said, “Lady, I didn’t get any of that.”

And the Lady said, “Never mind, it doesn’t matter. Just bear in mind that I’m on your side, and I need you to do something for me.”

So Grandpa Gwyn said “Well, what, because I’m not signing up for anything until I know what the terms are, and whether I have fourteen days in which to change my mind.”

And the Lady said, “All the Pencawrs have their wits about them, don’t they? Look, let’s just get this sorted out because all that was and is and shall be depends on it, and also if I fuck this up the Gnome will bloody kill me, and the baby is cutting teeth and not sleeping, so her temper isn’t what it might be without me killing off her lover retrospectively.”

And Grandpa Gwyn said, “Sorry, I didn’t get any of that either.”

And the Lady spoke to him in Words of extreme Power, and we know even now that they were Words of Power, because after however many generations we still can’t make any sense of them, although we remember them to this day, and you will learn and remember them too. She said, “I’ve been to see Chronos again to say thank you for the Tempora, and I must say I was glad to hear that the Gnome had already been to express his own sense of obligation, which had the added advantage that I didn’t have to. But he was peering into the Cauldron of Time (Chronos, not the Gnome), and he complained to me that there was a Lump, like an unmelted bit of chocolate in the fondue. And it was my duty to do something about it.”

And Gwyn watched her like a hunting hawk, in the hope that she would say something that he could understand. And she continued, “Apparently this Lump was the necessity for the Pencawrs to have in a past the thing that they would need in a present so that for them there would be a future.”

And Gwyn said, “You mean, Lady, that you want to give me something that you want my family to have?”

And she said, “Hooray, I just love intelligent men, you’ve got it.”

So Gwyn said, “Lady, I mean no offence, but it tends not to be a lucky thing to accept gifts from Powers, because they often want them back at inconvenient times, or you find that you have taken on Dooms and things.”

And the Lady said, “Yes, Huw said so too.”

And that was the first time that the Pencawrs thought of the name Huw, and Gwyn suggested it next time there was a grandson born and the name has run in the family ever since.

“So it had better not be a Gift,” quoth the Fay, “because this Story has been complicated enough already, and because we are trying to play by all the rules. So you’ll have to do me a favour. And here it comes.”

And the Way between the worlds opened again, and the dogs came through. The hounds. Herne’s hounds. The Hounds of Annwn. The Yell Hounds. The Yeff Hounds. The Wild Hunt. Whatever you want to call them. And they swung around the Fairy, and they belled, and she screamed rather unconvincingly, like someone who is pretending to be afraid of dogs, and she ran.

And Herne broke through the way between the worlds after his hounds and shouted, “Keep going straight for the lake; they understand that they aren’t to touch you until the Mortal catches up.”

And Gwyn, who did not hold with anybody acting disrespectfully to a lady, specially not one who was a Power and on his side, because you never know when you may need such a thing, hurled himself onto his horse, shouting “Take the damned Glamour off the horse and I’ll rescue you.”

And the Fairy did something with her hands, and the Ensorcelment fell from the horse, and Gwyn spurred after her and caught her round the waist, which was not as narrow as he would have expected in one of the Fair Folk, and heaved her to the saddle in front of him, which cost him in a twinged back for days afterwards, and rode hard in front of the Hunt until the Fairy shouted more words of Power over his shoulder, being “Thanks, Herne, that should be enough, I owe you one.”

And the Wild Hunt fell away from them, and Gwyn drew his horse from a gallop to a trot and from a trot to a walk, and said, “Will that do it then, or is there more?”

And the Fay said, “No, that should do it, it just keeps the books straight. O.K., you can let me down now.”

So Gwyn swung down from his horse, and reached up to take the Fay around the waist and lifted her down to the ground. But the horse sidled, and moved against them, so that the Fay was pressed against Grandpa Gwyn’s body, and her eyes went rather wide and she giggled.

And she said, “O.K., I’ve got this for you. Because you behaved like a True Knight, and rescued me from the ravages of Herne and the Wild Hunt (and believe me, nobody can ravage like Herne, and I should know), I will give you a Gift. And this is it.”

And she gave Grandpa Gwyn the Pencawr Protection. It was a silk undershirt, very warm and strong, and the Fay said, “There is a spell of Protection on it and you have no idea how long it took me to sort that out because needlework isn’t my thing and it took me ages to think of spelling the washing machine and then doing rinse and spin on the blasted garment. While you wear it, no blade will cut, no spear will pierce, no mace will crush. Do not under any circumstances lose the fucker or we are all in more trouble than I want to think of. Every time it saves you it will fray a little and when the last piece goes you are on your own.”

And Gwyn knelt and kissed her hand, and she giggled again, so he licked the inside of her wrist, and then he sucked her fingers, and then she said, “Oh, go on then, it’s not as if I have anything better to do this afternoon, Carabosse is being a wicked stepmother with that stupid bitch who does housework and hasn’t even the wit to see that if you have to do it, you should go away from home and be paid to do it.”

And she walked with him to a place near the water’s edge where the grass grew tall and thickly, and then she said, “Here, is there a lover at home?”

And Gwyn said, “There has been, but the cheeky little sod went off in a huff yesterday because I wouldn’t let him off archery practice. So there is no lover.”

“Good,” said the Fay, “because I don’t poach. How does this thing come off?”

And Grandpa Gwyn would never say what the Fay had done next, and always said that a gentleman doesn’t talk about such things in public, but he said that he had been right about her looking as if she knew how to have a good time.

And afterwards, they lay in the long grass, and the Fay said, “About the lover. Have you tried turning the snotty pup over your lap and spanking him until he yells?”

And Grandpa Gwyn admitted that he had not thought of doing such a thing. But the Fay said, “Well, if I were you, I would try it,” and then she got up and went to one of the trees that wept over the water, and said to the tree, “You know who I am: don’t use my name please, but could I trouble you for an implement?” And the tree quivered its branches and dropped a long switch into her hand. And she came back to Grandpa Gwyn and said, “Turn over and I’ll show you what I mean.”

And Grandpa Gwyn turned over, rather nervously, and the Fay said, “Now come up onto your hands and knees,” and Grandpa Gwyn did that too, and the Fay said, “You see, a little heat applied here,” and she brought the switch down smartly several times across his seat, “and here,” and she laced him across the tops of his legs, “concentrates the mind remarkably on the sins committed.”

And Gwyn said, rather crossly, “But Lady, I don’t think I’ve committed any sins worth mentioning, unless it should be a sin to dally with one of the People like yourself.”

But the Fay said, “I don’t know if it’s a sin or not, although I doubt it; you might need to ask the Rat. But if you think about what you can feel behind, you will find that a little heat there becomes a little heat in front, and then. . .”

And Grandpa Gwyn said, “Yes, I think I’ve got the idea”, and took the Fay’s hand and drew her back down into the long grass, and demonstrated that he had.

And as the afternoon turned to evening, she rose from him and said, “Now remember what I’ve told you, and don’t lose that bloody Protection, O.K.? And try the thing with the switch, you might find it does you some good.”

And Gwyn said, “Lady, will I see you again?”

But she said, “I doubt it, I’m taking the baby for the weekend to give Huw and the Gnome some time to themselves, and after that Carabosse will be home and I won’t have a moment to call my own.”

So he said, “Lady, you will be remembered in my family throughout the generations.”

And the Fay said, “Oh, bugger, I didn’t think of that; that will banjax the plot completely. I think you had better have a geis to stop you mentioning what you did for the Protection outside the family. And don’t mention my name.”

But Grandpa Gwyn said, “Lady, I don’t know your name, and that is a great failing, because my father and my father’s father said that I should never take a partner to my bed without being able to remember afterwards what their name was.”

“Good advice,” agreed the Lady. “But I am one of the People, so I do not give my True Name, and I choose not to give my Use Name.”

“Then how shall I call you when I tell this tale to my children and my grandchildren?”

And the Lady opened a Way back to Broceliande, and as she stepped into the Gate, she looked back and smiled at him and said:

“What about Damart?”


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