The Celtic Literature Collective

Cyfranc Lludd a Llefelys
Translated by Lady Charlotte Guest

BELI the Great, the son of Manogan, had three sons, LIudd, and Caswallawn, and Nynyaw; and according to the story he had a fourth son called Llevelys. And after the death of Beli, the kingdom of the Island of Britain fell into the hands of Lludd his eldest son; and Lludd ruled prosperously, and rebuilt the walls of London, and encompassed it about with numberless towers. And after that he bade the citizens build houses therein, such as no houses in the kingdoms could equal. And moreover he was a mighty warrior, and generous and liberal in giving meat and drink to all that sought them. And though he had many castles and cities this one loved he more than any. And he dwelt therein most part of the year, and therefore was it called Caer Lludd, and at last Caer London. And after the stranger-race came there, it was called London, or Lwndrys.

Lludd loved Llevelys best of all his brothers, because he was a wise and discreet man. Having heard that the king of France had died, leaving no heir except a daughter, and that he had left all his possessions in her hands, he came to Lludd his brother, to beseech his counsel and aid. And that not so much for his own welfare, as to seek to add to the glory and honour and dignity of his kindred, if he might go to France to woo the maiden for his wife. And forthwith his brother conferred with him, and this counsel was pleasing unto him.

So he prepared ships and filled them with armed knights, and set forth towards France. And as soon as they had landed, they sent messengers to show the nobles of France the cause of the embassy. And by the joint counsel of the nobles of France and of the princes, the maiden was given to Llevelys, and the crown of the kingdom with her. And thenceforth he ruled the land discreetly, and wisely and happily, as long as his life lasted.

After a space of time had passed, three plagues fell on the Island of Britain, such as none in the islands had ever seen the like of. The first was a certain race that came, and was called the Coranians; and so great was their knowledge, that there was no discourse upon the face of the Island, however low it might be spoken, but what, if the wind met it, it was known to them. And through this they could not be injured.

The second plague was a shriek which came on every May-eve, over every hearth in the Island of Britain. And this went through people's hearts, and so seared them, that the men lost their hue and their strength, and the women their children, and the young men and the maidens lost their senses, and all the animals and trees and the earth and the waters, were left barren.

The third plague was, that however much of provisions and food might be prepared in the king's courts, were there even so much as a year's provision of meat and drink, none of it could ever be found, except what was consumed in the first night. And two of these plagues, no one ever knew their cause, therefore was there better hope of being freed from the first than from the second and third.

And thereupon King Lludd felt great sorrow and care, because that he knew not how he might be freed from these plagues. And he called to him all the nobles of his kingdom, and asked counsel of them what they should do against these afflictions. And by the common counsel of the nobles, Lludd the son of Beli, went to Llevelys his brother, king of France, for he was a man great of counsel and wisdom, to seek his advice.

And they made ready a fleet, and that in secret and in silence, lest that race should know the cause of their errand, or any besides the king and his counsellors. And when they were made ready, they went into their ships, Lludd and those whom he chose with him. And they began to cleave the seas towards France.

And when these tidings came to Llevelys, seeing that he knew not the cause of his brother's ships, he came on the other side to meet him, and with him was a fleet vast of size. And when Lludd saw this, he left all the ships out upon the sea except one only; and in that one he came to meet his brother, and he likewise with a single ship came to meet him. And when they were come together, each put his arms about the other's neck, and they welcomed each other with brotherly love.

After that Lludd had shown his brother the cause of his errand, Llevelys said that he himself knew the cause of the coming to those lands. And they took counsel together to discourse on the matter otherwise than thus, in order that the wind might not catch their words, nor the Coranians know what they might say. Then Llevelys caused a long horn to be made of brass, and through this horn they discoursed. But whatsoever words they spoke through this horn, one to the other, neither of them could hear any other but harsh and hostile words. And when Llevelys saw this, and that there was a demon thwarting them and disturbing through this horn, he caused wine to be put therein to wash it. And through the virtue of the wine the demon was driven out of the horn. And when their discourse was unobstructed, Llevelys told his brother that he would give him some insects whereof he should keep some to breed, lest by chance the like affliction might come a second time. And other of these insects he should take and braise in water. And he assured him that it would have power to destroy the race of the Coranians. That is to say, that when he came home to his kingdom he should call together all the people both of his own race and of the race of the Coranians for a conference, as though with the intent of making peace between them; and that when they were all together, he should take this charmed water, and cast it over all alike. And he assured him that the water would poison the race of the Coranians, but that it would not slay or harm those of his own race.

"And the second plague," said he, " that is in thy dominion, behold it is a dragon. And another dragon of a foreign race is fighting with it, and striving to overcome it. And therefore does your dragon make a fearful outcry. And on this wise mayest thou come to know this. After thou hast returned home, cause the Island to be measured in its length and breadth, and in the place where thou dost find the exact central point, there cause a pit to be dug, and cause a cauldron full of the best mead that can be made to be put in the pit, with a covering of satin over the face of the cauldron. And then, in thine own person do thou remain there watching, and thou wilt see the dragons fighting in the form of terrific animals. And at length they will take the form of dragons in the air. And last of all, after wearying themselves with fierce and furious fighting, they will fall in the form of two pigs upon the covering, and they will sink in, and the covering with them, and they will draw it down to the very bottom of the cauldron. And they will drink up the whole of the mead; and after that they will sleep. Thereupon do thou immediately fold the covering around them, and bury them in a kistvaen, in the strongest place thou hast in thy dominions, and hide them in the earth. And as long as they shall bide in that strong place no plague shall come to the Island of Britain from elsewhere."1

"The cause of the third plague," said he, "is a mighty man of magic, who takes thy meat and thy drink and thy store. And he through illusions and charms causes every one to sleep. Therefore it is needful for thee in thy own person to watch thy food and thy provisions. And lest he should overcome thee with sleep, be there a cauldron of cold water by thy side, and when thou art oppressed with sleep, plunge into the cauldron."2

Then Lludd returned back unto his land. And immediately he summoned to him the whole of his own race and of the Coranians. And as Llevelys had taught him, he bruised the insects in water, the which he cast over them all together, and forthwith it destroyed the whole tribe of the Coranians, without hurt to any of the Britons.

And some time after this, Lludd caused the Island to be measured in its length and in its breadth. And in Oxford he found the central point, and in that place he caused the earth to be dug, and in that pit a cauldron to be set, full of the best mead that could be made, and a covering of satin over the face of it. And he himself watched that night. And while he was there, he beheld the dragons fighting. And when they were weary they fell, and came down upon the top of the satin, and drew it with them to the bottom of the cauldron. And when they had drunk the mead they slept. And in their sleep, Lludd folded the covering around them, and in the securest place he had in Snowdon, he hid them in a kistraen. Now after that this spot was called Dinas Emreis, but before that, Dinas Ffaraon. And thus the fierce outcry ceased in his dominions.

And when this was ended, King Lludd caused an exceeding great banquet to be prepared. And when it was ready, he placed a vessel of cold water by his side, and he in his own proper person watched it. And as he abode thus clad with arms, about the third watch of the night, lo, he heard many surpassing fascinations and various songs. And drowsiness urged him to sleep. Upon this, lest he should be hindered from his purpose and be overcome by sleep, he went often into the water. And at last, behold, a man of vast size, clad in strong, heavy armour, came in, bearing a hamper. And, as he was wont, he put all the food and provisions of meat and drink into the hamper, and proceeded to go with it forth. And nothing was ever more wonderful to Lludd, than that the hamper should hold so much.

And thereupon King Lludd went after him and spoke unto him thus. "Stop, stop," said he, "though thou hast done many insults and much spoil erewhile, thou shalt not do so any more, unless thy skill in arms and thy prowess be greater than mine."

Then he instantly put down the hamper on the floor, and awaited him. And a fierce encounter was between them, so that the glittering fire flew out from their arms. And at the last Lludd grappled with him, and fate bestowed the victory on Lludd. And he threw the plague to the earth. And after he had overcome him by strength and might, he besought his mercy. "How can I grant thee mercy," said the king, "after all the many injuries and wrongs that thou hast done me?"

All the losses that ever I have caused thee," said he, "I will make thee atonement for, equal to what I have taken. And I will never do the like from this time forth. But thy faithful vassal will I be." And the king accepted this from him.

And thus Lludd freed the Island of Britain from the three plagues. And from thenceforth until the end of his life, in prosperous peace did Lludd the son of Beli rule the Island of Britain. And this Tale is called the Story of Lludd and Llevelys. And thus it ends.

1. These are the same dragons which appear in Nennius' story of Ambrosius and Vortigern, which Geoffrey of Monmouth makes Merlin and Vortigern. From Nennius comes the concept of the red dragon as representing the Britons; this is the same red dragon on the flag of Wales.

2. This of course is reminiscient of both Beowulf's Grendel, and the story of "Bel and the Dragon" in the Deuterocannonical chapters of Daniel.

What makes this an interesting tale, in terms of the Mabinogion, is that unlike the other eleven (or twelve) stories usually included in that collection, this one exists both as an independent tale, and as a section in the Welsh version of Geoffrey of Monmouth's The History of the Kings of Britain. It is not included in the Latin versions of Geoffrey's book, but began appearing in the Welsh translations beginning around 1225-1250, first found in the Llanstephan MS I copy of Brut y Brenhinedd (The Welsh title, "Brut" meaning history, and "Brenhinedd" plural for "kings"). This is about a hundred years after Geoffrey wrote his book; it is also the earliest copy of the story.

The Brut Tysilio and Brut of the Cleopatria manuscripts--much later condensations of Geoffrey's work--also contain the story, but in a highly abridged form.

The earliest independent edition is found in the White Book of Rhydderch, ca. 1375 or so, over a hundred years later. The story is also obliquely referred to in "The Short Contention of Lludd" a poem in the Book of Taliesin, ca. 1325, though without details about the Coranians, the dragons, or the disappearance of the food.

The "Third Series of Triads"--those included in the Myvyrian Archaiology which are the invention of Iolo Morgannwg--mentions the Coranians, saying that they were not fairies or dwarves (as is implied in the text), but that they were Roman invaders lead by Julius Caesar. While this is convenient--as Caswallawn, the brother of Lludd and Lleuelys, is often conflated with Casibellanus, the British chieftain who fought off Caesar's invasion. However, there is no other evidence except that which comes from Morgannwg, to ever suspect that the medieval Welsh thought of the Coranians as Romans. However, the story is alluded to in two authentic triads, "The Three Oppressions that Came to This Island" and "The Three Concealments and The Three Disclosures of the Island of Britain." "Opression" here is the word gormes, which may be "opression" but implies the conquering of an invading race.

As for the three plagues themselves, they are extremely primitive elements which draw analogues to Beowulf or the Biblical apocrypha of Bel and the Dragon--only, of course that the dragons and the invisible man here are real and not explained away as priests. We see the helpless king about to lose his kingdom, the helpful outsider with answers, and three magical problems needing to be solved.

* Coranians: probably from cor "dwarf." These are fairy people, the Tylwyth Teg, invading the island, as do the fairy races of Ireland. The fairies are both helpful and harmful in Celtic mythology, tricksters who usurp the land but are usually kept subjugated. The meaning of the bowl full of bugs could be references perhaps to an actual plague spread among some actual invading group, but this is just wild speculation.

As said before, Morgannwg equated them with the Romans, who are oddly not listed in the triad of the Three Opressions. However, the word for Romans would be Cesaryeit--Caesarians. They could have been conflated accidentally, or fitting Morgannwg's plan. Others have tried to conflate them with the Cruitan--Picts--but this is liguistically faulty, according to Bromwich.

* Dragons: while the story of the dragons in part sets the stage for when Amrosius Merlin finds the dragons at Dinas Emrys for Vortigern, it also has other important elements. First, the dragon represents Britain--it is the totem animal of all the Britons, if you will. This helps to explain why the red dragon is on the Welsh flag. Uther Pendragon is king of the island, followed by his son King Arthur; and Maelgwn Gwynedd is called "dragon of the island" by Gildas in the sixth century.

This dragon is being attacked by a foreign enemy. The burial of the two dragons keeps Britain safe from invasion (making it one of the Three Concealments, until they are revealed again by Vortigern (one of the Three Disclosures.

Secondly, the day on which the dragon screams is significant. It is on "May-eve"--Walpurgisnacht, or better, the Celtic holiday of Beltane. It is on Beltane that the Milesians came to Ireland, and so it was on Beltane that the Partholonians died. Beltane is also the day that Gwyn ap Nudd and Greidawl battle for Creddyladd once a year until judgement day. It would seem that Beltane is a day when rulership is challenged, when plagues appear, and so on.

Finally, this is all part of a belief in talismanic burial, which is also seen in the story of Branwen uerch Llyr (the burial of Bran's head) as well as in some later Irish myths of kings or weapons buried to protect the island.2

* The Invisible Man: this bares some similarities to the story of Grendel in Beowulf, except of course that there isn't a man being killed every night. Standard fairy tale fare which serves to express chivalric qualities, as well as demonstrating that the king is able to overcome supernatural figures and make them subject to him.

1. Lleuelys: while the name is sometimes "Llefelys" it also takes the intermediate form "Llevelys." That "v" may either be a "u" or an "f"--perhaps "u" as there is no "v" in medieval Welsh, perhaps "f" as "f" is pronounced as we pronounce "v" in English. However, following the scholarship of Patrick K. Ford in his translation of this story, I use Lleuelys, as it demonstrates his hypothetical connection between this story and that of "The Second Battle of Magh Turedh" in which Nuada (the Irish Lludd/Nudd), king of the Tuatha Dé Danann (the Irish equvalent of the Children of Don and Beli depicted in this story) is plagued by the Fomorians. Lugh Lamhada comes from over the sea and is able to defeat the Fomorians for Nuada. Otherwise, Nuada's kingship is forfeit, just as it was when he lost his hand (a detail missing in this story).

Now, the name Lugh in Welsh is Lleu--which can also be seen in Lleuelys. Whether we can find the original conneciton, or whether the two figures of Lleu--who would have been the nephew of the original Lleuelys--and Lleuelys developed seperately, I do not know, but I do trust Ford's work enought to at least present the theory.

2. Talismanic Burial: However, the Irish stories show the objects/people are buried for protection from internal invaders, not external ones, showing the political climatic differences between the islands.

Bromwich, Rachel. Trioedd Ynys Prydein. University of Wales Press, 1966.

Ford, Patrick K. The Mabinogi, and Other Medieval Welsh Tales. University of California Press, 1983.

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