The Tale of The Red Giant and the Cloak of Beards

The brothers, Nyniaw and Peibiaw were out one evening surveying their lands. Each boasting to the other, as was their want, and each time their boasts escalated to become more and more extreme. Nyniaw was taling Piebiaw across his own demesnes, showing his borther just how fine his lands were. But Peibiaw was having none of it:

‘Ah,’ Peibiaw replied, ‘you are obviously no judge of land, for I have at least half a score better at home. I think that you had better come and see what a proper field looks like some time.’

‘My flocks, then,’ remarked Nyniaw as he first pointed here and then there and everywhere. ‘Tell the truth now, did you ever see herds and flocks so numerous and fine?’

‘Often’, his rival responded, ‘and they al belong to me.’

‘I think you boast,’ Nyniaw rejoindered. ‘However, if you meet me here tonight and I shall show you such fields that will make your mouth run dry and your eyes water.’

That night they came to the same place when the moon was full and a fleece of stars painted the ribbon of the milky way. ‘Now look upwards,’ Nyniaw said, ‘and behold my most beauteous and extensive field.’

Peibiaw gazed upwards, but bewildered he enquired: ‘where is it then?’

The whole firmament of heaven,’ Nyniaw responded. ‘As far as the eye can discern that is my whole field. Deny it, if you dare…’

‘Why should I deny this,’ Peibiaw responded, ‘when I see me entire flock graze free of charge across its entire expanse.’

‘Where, then, are they?’ enquired Nyniaw, shocked.

‘Those clusters and galaxies of stars,’ replied Peibiaw, ‘are my milk-white cattle and my snow-white sheep. And flock ever had a shepherdess wondrous as mine.’

‘Who then is she?’ demanded Nyniaw.

She is the moon, great and golden and leads them where the pasture is at its richest.’

‘They shall not graze in my pasture…’ threatened Nyniaw.

‘Believe me, they shall…’ retorted Peibiaw.

This volley of yeas and nays continued for some time until one shouted: ‘Over my dead body’ and the other retorted with: ‘Over mine’ and they came to blows. This escalated until their armies were brought to bear and their kingdoms were laid waist and their armies slain — all over the grazing rights to the firmament.

Tales of the two kings’ folly eventually reached the ears of Rhudda Gawr who at the time was ruler of North Wales. He berated the limitless folly of the two men, adding: ‘surely they know that the grazing rights of the firmament are mine!’. Rhudda amassed his armies and marched on the two warring kings. He easily overwhelmed their remaining forces and imposed peace. Utterly vanquishing Nyniaw and Peibiaw he marked his disapproval of their presumption by removing their beards all in one piece and from these he fashioned a cap for himself. This done he wondered out that night to number his seep up in the firmament.

There the matter might had ended had not the remaining 26 kings of Britain not taken great offence at the insult offered to the two disbearded kings. ‘If we allow such a thing.’ they said, ‘then no beard will be safe throughout this entire realm.’ Thus they assembled their armies and marched upon Rhudda the Giant. But when Rhudda fell upon them he mowed through their forces like a great gale, strewing the soldiers across the entire plain.

‘Well,’ Rhudda exclaimed ‘this looks like another extensive field of mine.’ At once he had the twenty-six kings play homage to him and he removed all their beards and had them stitched together as a cape for his shoulders and when this was done he went out that night to count his kine in the firmament.

It might all have ended there, had not the rulers of the neighbouring countries heard of the disgrace inflicted on the disbearded kings of Britain. They feared that unless they stopped him Rhudda would not leave a single beard untouched across the entirety of their realms. ‘Besides,’ the most level-headed of them would add ‘he is infringing upon our grazing rights in the firmament.’ Thus they assembled armies as densely-packed as the trees in the wildwood and they marched upon Rhudda’s land. But it was all to no avail, for when Rhudda the Giant fell upon their ranks he was like a winter ice-storm, ripping them and rending them apart and scattering the remains across the ground. Thus he claimed another field and removed the beards and had them stitched into a mantle that extended from his shoulders to his heels. Then he drove the men out of his earthly fields and wrapping his new cloak about him to keep warm he walked his fields that moonlit night to oversee his golden shepherdess.

Again, these events would almost certainly have marked the end of the matter had not Rhudda heard tales of a new young king to the south whose name was Arthur. Having attained the beards of all the other kings Rhudda could not rest until he had gained Arthur’s beard as well. ‘After all,’ he convinced himself, ‘if he keeps his beard he may well become as arrogant as Nyniaw or as daft as Peibiaw. It is the least I can do to preserve him from such a fate.

This was how, as Arthur washed his hands after slaying the red-eyed giant of Cernyw that a messenger from Rhudda in North Wales came before him and demanded his beard, explaining that his master had need of it to patch his cloak. The messenger also demanded that Arthur renounce all his claims to the fair fields, the flocks and the herds of the firmament. Arthur continued washing his hands and then turned to face the messenger. ‘I might well acquiesce to the second promise,’ he said, ‘you will see that my beard is still young. Tell your master to go and seek another beard elsewhere.’

‘Perhaps he would take mine,’ said Cei jutting out his chin to emphasize his broad black beard.

‘Or mine,’ echoed Bedwyr, whose beard was thick and its bristles stiff as reeds.

‘Or mine,’ added Uchdryd Barfgroes whose dense red beard could be cast over a full fifty rafters of the roof of Arthur’s llys.

‘However,’ Arthur said, ‘if this answer pleases your master not, tell him that I will, myself, find him the perfect beard to complete his mantle. Though my advice to him is to rest content with what he already has.’ This response was conducted to Rhudda the Giant who doing his mantle of beards assembled his host and marched south. As he drew near Arthur’s court he saw a flash as of lightning piercing the sky. Asking his advisors what the lightning was, they replied that it was the flash of Arthur’s warriors advancing their spears for battle. Then he heard a roar as of mighty thunder rolling between the hosts. Again he enquired as to the source of this sound and his advisors told him that this was the sound made as Arthur’s infantry and his cavalry greeted their lord. Then an overwhelming odour of sweetness enveloped his host and his advisors told him that Arthur’s men were toasting their men with mead before battle and the virtue of the mead was that it made one man’s stroke the equivalent of the stroke of nine and no man could oppose such a blow.

Messengers were sent between the two kings and they met upon a level plain before their respective hosts. Arthur walked calmly towards Rhudda and with a confident voice he said: ‘you can see that my beard is still young in its growth and from the wear in your mantle I see that it will not suffice as a patch. Still, I know of one beard that will serve your purposes.’

‘Whose beard is that?’ enquired Rhudda.

‘It is your own,’ Arthur responded calmly as the joyous clamouring of his chosen men drowned out the cries of dismay from Rhudda’s warriors. ‘Will you yield, or will you fight?’ Arthur demanded of his foe.

Arthur’s battle-leaders advanced, shining swords drawn as their rearing night-black chargers blotted-out the sky. Their hooves struck sparks on the stones of the earth. Rhudda’s men fell back in dismay as they urged their king to yield. And Rhudda, seeing that his men had lost the use of their legs and the strength of their arms yielded. Cadw of Prydyn, who had cause to shave many a giant before, strode forwards and brandishing a flaying knife he struck the beard from Rhudda’s face with a single stroke.

‘Now,’ Arthur said, ‘take an awl and thread and stitch your beard to all the others so that your former glory now becomes your shame and your presumption your disgrace.’

This Rhudda did and the mantle was draped about him as, disgraced, he turned to depart. As he made to leave, Arthur turned to face him and asked: ‘Whose is the expanse of the firmament, king?’

‘Nyniaw’s for all I care…’ growled the disgraced giant.

‘Whose then are the herds of the fixed and wandering stars?’ Arthur enquired of him again.

‘Peibiaw’s for all I care,’ rumbled Rhudda the Giant.

‘And who is your lord, o king?’ Arthur asked again.

‘The emperor, Arthur,’ growled Rhudda in response, before adding: ‘and it would have been better for me had I accepted thee as my lord long ago.’

Thus did Rhudda the Giant return to his own realm much humbled in stature but much wiser in knowledge. And to the end of his days he wore the mantle of beards, now become the badge of his servitude to Arthur and at the lowermost hem of this was his own beard, which had once been thick an yellow-white and this is why, when the snow falls thickly on a winter’s night it is said that it falls ‘mor drwchus a barf Rhudda’ (as thick as Rhitta’s beard). And if any asks of the origin of this saying simply relate to them this tale.

When Rhudda died, it took all of Arthur’s retinue to bury him. They carried him to the highest peak of the fastness of Eryri and they built a giant cairn atop his body. That cairn was known as Gwyddfa Rhitta, or Yr Wyddfa in Modern Welsh (which the English know as Snowdon).