I've been reading Irish and Welsh folktales lately, and have just explored the first three branches of the Mabinogion, an eclectic collection of Welsh folktales which were compiled in the medieval era from many centuries of oral tradition. This is my (fun) retelling derived from a small portion of the third branch.
“Oh, woe is me!” exclaims Manawydan, full of woe. “The beautiful and flawless and perfect wheat field of Dyfed--that my homie Pryderi let me just, like, have, before getting his and his mother’s hands stuck to a magic bowl and immobilized in time--is all empty and gross!”
Cifga, Pryderi’s wife, doesn’t seem to have anything to say. I like to think she was wildly dramatic about it, but I suppose that just by having lived with Pryderi for a while she’d have gotten used to a degree of shenaniganry.
Manawydan doesn’t know how it happened, but he does know that procrastination is the tool of artists, college students, and Ye Olde Heroes, because instead of using the day he would have spent reaping the first field to reap the second, equally luxurious field, he decides he’ll reap Field Two the next day.
To nobody’s surprise except Manawydan’s, the second field is toast by the time he gets up the next morning.
Finally deciding that someone is probably stealing his wheat, Manawydan decides to… procrastinate and reap the third field the next day. But it’s okay, because this time he’s gonna keep watch!
So Manawydan keeps watch, ready with his weapons to fight off a thief.
‘Course, it’s kind of hard to use a sword to fight off a gargantuan army of mice that attack the field with the loudest munching noises known to man. All he manages to do is capture one especially chunky mouse who was slower than all the others, which he puts in his glove and proudly shows to Cifga. Cifga asks what the actual hell he plans to do with it, and Manawydan, wise fella and generally smart dude, says that it is a thief and therefore he will hang it.
Cifga stares at him for a second, and eventually is like “Dude. Bro. My husband’s best pal.
W H Y.”
To which Manawydan says ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
So Cifga quits, and Manawydan starts building a tiny little gallows because real men are into absolutely METAL arts and crafts.
As he’s doing this and Cifga is facepalming in the background, a cleric comes by. The cleric takes in the scene, can’t figure out what on earth is happening, and finally has to ask. When Manawydan proudly tells him, the cleric says Manawydan should let the mouse go, because honestly, what is he even doing. Manawydan says hey, you don’t argue with the L A W. Cifga presumably starts drinking.
The cleric offers Manawydan a pound to let the mouse go. Manawydan refuses, and the cleric decides he’s tired of this conversation, God bless, have a nice life and RIP the mouse.
Manawydan keeps building his gallows, when lo and behold, a priest comes down the road. Rinse and repeat the previous encounter, except this time, the priest offers Manawydan three pounds to free the mouse and stop embarrassing himself. Manawydan refuses.
But third time’s a charm!
This time, a bishop comes down the road. The bishop says “what do you have there?” Manawydan says “a thief!” The bishop blinks a few times and says “That’s a mouse.” Manawydan, apparently unfazed by constantly having to explain his nonsense, is all like “yep, sure thing!”
The bishop says that he’ll give Manawydan seven pounds if he frees the mouse. Manawydan says that by God he shall not be denied his justice, and seven pounds ain’t it. “Twenty-four…?” the bishop ventures.
“NAY”, crieth Manawydan. “You could double that and I’d still hang this fat little monster.”
“Fine!” The bishop says. He’s invested. “I’ll give you every horse you can see on this plain, and also like an absolute TON of other stuff.”
Manawydan flatly refuses.
The bishop throws up his hands. “Then name your price!”
Manawydan gets all sly. “Alright then,” he says, petting the moustache I assume he has. “You know my best friend and his mom who are currently stuck to a bowl and imprisoned frozen in time? I want you to release them.”
The bishop agrees, and the reader begins to wonder if Manawydan is actually onto something and just couldn’t be bothered to explain it, maybe because plot tension or maybe because he likes watching Cifga’s eye twitch every time he says something stupid.
“Swell,” Manawydan says. “But actually, that’s not enough.”
The bishop fidgets as Manawydan proceeds to negotiate his way through increasingly impressive and cleverly-specific demands, to all of which the bishop hurries to agree.
When Manawydan is doing this, he looks at the bishop sideways. “Right, okay,” he says slowly. “Now I really want to know why you care so much about a mouse.”
The bishop, very harried by this point, blurts out that he’s literally just a friend of someone who got (very rightly) screwed over in the first branch of the Mabinogion, and he’d cursed Dyfed, captured Pryderi and Rhiannon, and set the mice on the fields to get revenge in what was a bro move until MANAWYDAN CAPTURED HIS WIFE, BY GOD MAN GIVE THE MOUSE BACK SHE’S PREGNANT
So Manawydan did, Dyfed got un-cursed, and Pryderi, Cifga, Rhiannon, and Manawydan lived happily ever after (until the next shenanigan).
E.G. RADCLIFF IS A PART-TIME pooka and native of the Unseelie Court. She collects acorns, glass beads, and pretty rocks, and the crows outside her house know her as She Who Has Bread. Her fantasy novels in The Coming of Áed series are crafted in the dead of night after offering sacrifices of almonds and red wine to the writing-block deities.
You can reach her by scrying bowl, carrier pigeon, or @egradcliff on social media.
mouse photo credit Frenjamin Benklin/Unsplash
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