THE STORY OF THE SONS OF TEYRNON
Note: I originally wrote a version of this story as a
sort of interlude in my historical novel Griffri, set in twelfth century
Wales. The tale is written in the style and set in the milieu of
the early Welsh tales of the Mabinogi, but it draws on the extraordinary
Algonquian myth, The Beaver Medicine Legend, and also borrows something
from other sources including the first known written story, The Epic of
Gilgamesh. A full text of a revised version was first published in
2006 with the title The Story of the Afanc King & the Sons of Teyrnon
as a limited edition from Gwasg Gregynog, with linoprints by the Sara Philpott
When Teyrnon Twrf Liant was ruler over Gwent Iscoed, it
happened that after a long time without children his wife became pregnant.
Teyrnon’s wife said to him,
“This is god’s reward for restoring the foundling child, Gwri Wallt Eurin,
to his true parents, Pwyll and Rhiannon.”
Teyrnon remembered the time,
as returning the child had almost broken his heart. He said, “When this
child is born we will name it after Gwri Wallt Eurin.”
But Teyrnon’s wife gave birth
to twins. Teyrnon was filled with love for his sons and decided that
one would be called Gwri and the other Eurin.
Gwri and Eurin grew to manhood
and they became admired princes. They were close friends, alike in
all things except one, and this was that Gwri conceived that his father
Teyrnon showed greater love and favour to his brother Eurin than to himself.
One day the brothers went out to hunt. Gwri had
a spear of steel and Eurin’s was of gold. Gwri’s bow was of elm and
Eurin’s was of yew.
Chasing the boar, they became
lost and came to a valley they had never seen before. Still in pursuit,
they plunged into the trees and came to the shore of a lake and in its
centre there was an island.
“I can see the boar swimming,”
Eurin looked the way his brother
“It has climbed onto that
island,” Gwri said.
But Eurin had not seen it.
“Let us cross to the island,”
And the brothers cut down a
tree and hollowed it, and, using the blades of their spears, paddled across.
They paddled for a day and a night and in the morning they walked onto
Eurin set out after the boar,
saying, “If we catch him people will call this island Ynys y Twrch because
this was where the boar was killed.”
“They had better call
it Ynys Eurin, then,” Gwri said.
At that, Eurin turned, dropping
his weapons, and saw Gwri approaching with his sword raised.
“My other self!” Eurin
cried. “What’s this?”
But Gwri said nothing.
Eurin tore off a bough of rowan
to defend himself and that was how they fought, with sword and branch.
Gwri swung his sword down and instantly the branch was severed. The
blade struck Eurin’s head, and so he fell.
At that moment Gwri knew what
he had done and he was filled with grief and terror. He gathered
the weapons and fled. But as he paddled across the lake some of his
terror left him and he said, “I will tell nobody about this.”
Reaching the shore, he took
up Eurin’s golden spear and yew bow. He sank the boat and returned to his
Teyrnon and all the court were pleased at the return of
the king’s son, but because he carried the golden spear and the bow of
yew and had left his own weapons in the boat, they thought that he was
While Gwri embraced his mother,
Teyrnon said, “Eurin, where is your brother?”
“Father,” Gwri said, “I
lost him among the trees, then I heard a cry and ran to him. I came
to a lake and Gwri was wrestling with the boar in the water and they went
under. They returned to the surface. I searched for three days
but found nothing.”
Teyrnon’s grief was great and
he could not speak. The whole country was so concerned at his condition
that they neglected Gwri’s story. For three years Teyrnon was silent,
and no richness of the land nor the love of his people nor the songs of
his poets could bring him from his affliction. After that, he died
and Gwri called Eurin became ruler. The new king made a wise match,
marrying the woman Indeg who had been purposed for his brother.
But Eurin had not died. Although the sword had cut through
the rowan bough, its force had been weakened. Three days and nights
he lay on the shore after Gwri had left him. Then he woke and found the
broken bough in his hands and the wound on his head.
The island had many animals
and small trees, though there were no people. And so he lived by
hunting that summer.
One day Eurin walked to the
furthest shore of the island, and there he saw a wooden city.
The peculiarity of this city was this: that part of it was built on the
land and part of it was built on the water.
While he looked, Eurin saw a
strange creature approaching him. The creature was less than half
Eurin’s height and it had sleek fur and a long tail and yellow fangs, but
it had the hands and face of a man, and a man’s voice.
“My father invites you
into his city,” the animal said.
Eurin walked with the creature
through the city gates.
Inside, he went through many
halls that were under the earth and many that were over the water.
The animal presented him to his father, who was the Afanc King, and all
The king was larger than the
others and wore a torc of piped gold, and his fur was silvered.
The Afanc King entertained his
guest with food and music. After the meal, Eurin told the story of
his cruel treatment to the king, who said,
“Eurin, live here with
me, and my family and I will teach you good and useful things.”
Eurin accepted this and among
these creatures he was the first man to learn beekeeping and the making
of mead, and from the Afanc King himself he learned magic.
So for three years Eurin was
happy, but then he discovered, by the art the Afanc King had taught him,
of his father’s death and of what else had happened at Teyrnon’s court,
and he longed for his birthright and his country.
Eurin told these things to the
The Afanc King was thoughtful
and then said:
“Eurin, I can bring about
what you want. Every year my bees visit your country to gather pollen.
Next spring, one of them can carry a message to bring your brother here.
But if you leave my country you may never return.”
Eurin said he would do this,
and though the Afanc King was sad, he allowed it.
Gwri called Eurin was king of Gwent Iscoed and his mother,
his wife Indeg, and the people were surprised that his rule was less wise
than his father’s.
In truth, Gwri often thought
of his brother, and of Teyrnon’s grieving for the son he had thought was
Gwri, and these thoughts burdened him.
One night, when Gwri and Indeg
were asleep, a bee flew into their room. It settled in Indeg’s hair
and there it buzzed gently.
At first light, it flew away
and Indeg woke up suddenly with a cry.
“Eurin,” she said.
“I had a strange dream. I dreamt I was standing on the shore of the
lake you spoke of.”
“What lake?” Gwri said,
though he knew well enough.
“Where Gwri fought the
boar,” she said. “I looked across the water and I could see an island.
Why are you staring? There was a ripple in the lake and a man walked
up out of the water, as if he had walked from the island. It was
Gwri was angry and shook Indeg
by the shoulders, but he saw she was afraid and his anger left him.
He told her to go on.
“He had a strange branch
in either hand,” she said, “ and on his head there was a wound. And
that was my dream.”
Gwri hid his disquiet, but decided
to go back to the island and see his brother’s bones on the shore so that
his mind would be soothed.
So Gwri went out one day, saying that he would hunt alone
and he made himself a boat of skins and he searched for the lake.
At length he saw a boar, which
turned ran into the trees. Gwri followed and soon he was in the strange
When he came to the lake, Gwri
put his boat in the water and went to the island. He arrived quickly,
because even when he rested, the boat still moved as if drawn by a charm.
On the shore, he went to the
place where he had struck his brother. He found no remains.
Eurin had been watching from
a thicket nearby and when he saw Gwri’s fear, by his art he took the form
of a huge boar and rushed out. Gwri fled into the water but the boar
followed him and they went under the surface, and that was the end of Gwri.
Presently the boar returned alone and resumed the form of Eurin.
So Gwri, in his invention, had
foreseen the manner of his own death.
Eurin said goodbye to the Afanc
King and his people and took as a gift a sapling rowan because that was
the tree that had saved his life. He went back to his father’s country,
and he never saw the island or the city or the Afanc King again.
The true Eurin was accepted in Gwent Iscoed and told
no one what had happened. He ruled well and taught his people how
to make mead and the country came to know of his skill in magic.
He planted the rowan, and that was how it came into this country. Eurin
it was who showed the tree’s power to ward off ill-doing.
Because of all these things
Indeg grew suspicious, and asked him about his solitary hunt. Then
Eurin told her his story. At first Indeg would not believe him but
then he parted his hair and showed her the scar where Gwri’s sword had
wounded him. And, she remembered her dream and saw that the strange
branches were of rowan. She remembered how her husband had stared and then
grown angry when she told him about the dream, and she had to believe.
“Are you angry that I
have tricked you?” Eurin said.
“No,” she said, “You are
truly yourself. It was Gwri who tricked me.”
After that Eurin ruled many
years and they lived happily.