08 March 2006

the great game, welsh style

While playing gywddbwyll Arthur and Owein were amazed to hear such a noise, and as they looked round they saw a rider on a dapple-grey horse. This horse was a remarkable colour: dapple-grey, with a pure red right leg, and from the top of its legs to its hooves pure yellow; and both horse and rider were clothed in strange heavy armour. The horse was covered from the pommel up in pure red linen, and from the pommel down in pure yellow linen. The youth wore a great gold-hilted one-edged sword on his thigh, with a new pure green scabbard and a tip of Spanish brass, while the sword belt was of blackish-green cordovan with gilt crossbeams and a clasp of elephant ivory with a pure black tongue. On his head he wore a gold helmet, set with precious stones of great value, and on the crest a yellow-red leopard with two blood-red stones in its head, so that it was dreadful for any warrior, however stout-hearted, to look at the leopard's face, let alone the rider's; in this hand he carried a long heavy green-shafted spear, blood-red from the grip up and the blade covered with ravens' blood and feathers. This rider approached the gwyddbwyll players and they saw that he was tired and angry; he greeted Arthur and said that the ravens were killing the squires and pages, whereupon Arthur looked at Owein and said, 'Call off your ravens.' Owein replied, 'your move, lord.'
—The Dream of Rhonabwy, The Mabinogion, pp. 187-88.

I've been reading the Mabinogion for a little while now, taking in a story at a time and gradually getting used to words like "gwyddbwyll." This is my favorite story yet, as it's the most visual (obviously) and makes me laugh. This is one of about a dozen horsemen that come in to interrupt Arthur and Owein's game (which sounds a bit like chess, and is a metaphor within a dream for various regional battles) and each one has a different fabulous ensemble, coordinated quite literally to the hilt. I chose to regale you with this one because of the pure green scabbard with its tip of Spanish brass--what makes it Spanish? is that somehow fashionable? All the horsemen are wearing spanish brass this season, except for that sloth Ysbaddaden, who is still wearing Danish brass. sooo 1198, no? Owein replied, 'your move, lord.' dark.

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