The Fforest of Annwn

by Pwyll ap Douglas

He was eaten by a dragon, but as it was a mythical creature, it didn’t do him much harm.

He lived in a shack, in a clearing in the forest. The forest is so far from here that, what ever direction you set out in, it’s always behind you. The forest is vast. Near the shack there are swathes of beech, nut brown mast carpeting the mysterious humps and bumps of the forest floor. There are ancient oak woods, their gnarled, spooky roots infested with elves and faeries and other vermin.

Further off there are vast plantations of spruce and pine. Dark places where it’s hard to walk without turning your ankle. And easy to get totally lost.

The shack was made of fallen trunks, planked with a pit saw. It was roofed with turf and had a window at each point of the compass. Seven in all. The only door faced the sunrise in the morning and the sunset in the evening. It was that kind of shack.

The dragon had got him when he was walking one of the broad rides through the conifers. Swooping down like some insane giant bat, it had swallowed him whole. Next thing he knew he was lying in a glade with some mushrooms right in front of his face like alien visitors. Parasols, he thought, picked them and took them home to cook.

The bit with the dragon didn’t come back to him much later in this story. But on another day when he was out in the conifer forest he saw something very odd. Much odder than a dragon. And far more sinister. If you stare off into these trees there’s a point where the shadows thicken to black. But what he saw was different. Not a fading of light but a black wall, totally matte. Pwyll was a legendary hero and such thinks didn’t frighten him, or so he said. Advancing through the trees he came to the wall. It was always cool in these plantations but here it was cold, a faint mist on the ground and his breath starting to steam. He tried to touch the wall, but his hand just disappeared through, he withdrew it, inspected it and, in for a penny in for a pound, steeped through the wall.

He was in a room with cream walls, stained with the marks of dirt and wear. Opposite him was a large metal framed window and beyond a tall building with rows of very similar windows. There wasn’t much in the room; some chairs of moulded plastic with metal legs and a wooden table with a red Fformica top. I should add that he didn’t know what plastic was, or Fformica, but I’m telling this story so it doesn’t matter.

On the table there was an untidy pile of paper and some empty beer cans. He looked at the top sheet, on which was written; “Eich hawlod am Lwfans cefnogi gwaith wedi’i wrthod”. He turned it over and read “Your claim for employment support allowance has been refused”. Finding little else he turned to the door by which, he assumed, he had come in, and opening it, found himself back in the forest.

From then on he felt very odd. Being a legendary hero is odd, but this was odder. It was as if there was a crack in him, running from his groin to his left shoulder, like a fissure in an old baulk of timber that has split from age. A crack in his soul. He worried at it like a tooth ache, it disturbed his sleep and his dreams. Often he woke sweating from seeing the black wall advancing implacably towards him. The mist on the ground coiling as if it were tendrils gripping his ankles so that he could not run.

What to do? At times like this one went to the fair. But first to find it. He walked the long stone road that ran across the forest, a relic of the Romanians who liked things straight and true. But he did not find the fair. On the second day, pouring with rain, he went to the big clearing by the oak forest, water dripping from the coming acorns. On the third day he sought the deep dell in the beach forest, following the sunken lane where old trees leaned perilously over, waiting to slip down the bank and fall in the next white winter. There was the fair, he saw its smoke some distance off.

Wandering round the tatty stalls he found the tent of the fortune teller, opened the flap and went in.

He was walking down the sunken lane, drops of dew, drip, dripping.

In the forest of Annwn nothing is simple.

Behind one of the painted caravans, where a dappled pony stood placidly cropping the meagre grass he found the bearded lady. “When I try to enter the fortune tellers tent…” “Your end up somewhere else?”

She stroked her beard absently. “You need a key, a pass” She coughed and spat “Something hard with sharp edges, like a crystal. I know that sounds like a lot of hippy shit, but that’s what you need. The crystal cuts the boundary.”

Handing her some of the mushrooms he had been gathering on his wanderings, he set off. The beech woods were veined with channels, narrow stream drains that led, somewhere, to the lake. Searching along the banks he found what was needed. A sharp, white piece of quartz, detached by the frost from some ice age boulder. Gripping the quartz he returned to the fortune teller’s tent and went in.

It was all a bit clichéd. She wore a paisley head scarf over her greying black hair and a long velvet dress. She had one of those long, straight pointed noses and very black eyes. Maybe a bit too black. She sat at a round table draped in a maroon crushed velvet cloth. At the centre of the table an eau de Nile silk cloth covered a crystal ball. A second, bent wood chair faced her, so he sat down.

“Cross my palm with plastic”

“Come again?”

“Oh sorry, not a cashless economy here? Silver?”

He handed her a denarius he had picked up on the straight road.

“It’s about the black wall I suppose, legendary hero?”

“It is”

“I have seen it in the crystal. I’ve also tried mirrors and psychic TV”

“Although that’s not so easy in the age of digital” she added parenthetically.


“It eludes me. Tell me what you saw?”

He described the room, the cryptic text and the tower beyond.

“It could be the Otherworld” She suggested, “Did you see a field of reeds at all? No? Or maybe this is the Otherworld?”

“It’s all relative, isn’t it? But whatever, I fear that wall, and legendary heroes do not know fear”.

“To heal yourself, you must venture again, and bring back a token, then we shall know more.”

Next day he went into the conifer plantations again. It was a dull brooding day, the sky like the dead channel you would use for psychic TV scrying.

Eventually, stumbling between the spruce trunks and tripping in the gullies between them, he saw, far off, the black wall. He had to admit he was a little apprehensive. With trepidation he stepped through the wall.

And found himself staring at an ancient tower. It was surrounded by curtain walls set with bastions. The tower was white, and somehow he knew that, beneath the mound on which it sat, lay the head of Bran. Heading westward (it’s always best to head west) he came upon another tower of glass and steel whose shape seemed to make it loom ominously over the streets below.

People, there was a vast throng of people rushing too and fro. Many seemed to be talking to themselves, holding small flat boxes to their ears. Clearly this was some kind of Bedlam. Or Babel, given the plethora of strange languages in which they spoke. Next, down a narrow side street, he saw a very tall tower, far in the distance. It was pointed, narrow, like a shard of glass. Wandering aimlessly now he saw two more towers, one a strange wedge shape and another like some impossible steel vegetable. A city of insane towers, full of insane people. He hurried on.

He came to an open space of statues and pillars, traffic roaring everywhere. (Somehow the traffic didn’t bother him, though in the Forest of Annwn, everyone went on foot – it might as well have been the storm waves that struck the coast in the far west, for all he cared). He came to a solid building with a large dome, perhaps a sacred place, a grove of stone.

Finally he came to a long straight street, passing a black building which he knew had once house the criminally insane, he came to a palace where they were judged. Finally he saw something promising, a huge plinth, surmounted by a dragon. Having been eaten by a dragon, he knew that what he sought was near here. In a gesture of mercy, the sun found a gap in the grey sky and shone on the street, and in the glint of the sun he spotted a glimmer, but hopefully not a glamour, in the gutter. Among the dust and litter lay a shard of green glass, a shard like the tall tower he had seen in the distance. This was what he had been seeking.

But how to get back to the forest? No ready door here. Having an inkling how these things worked; he was, after all, a legendary hero; he rummaged in his pocket and found a piece of chalk. At times he used it to blaze marks on trees in the forest, not wanting to damage them by cutting them. Nearby there was a water fountain set into the wall. It said on it “Gift of Sir James Duke Bart. MP, Alderman of this Ward”. It didn’t work, but retained the magic of flowing water. Though he wasn’t much of an artist he drew a door round the fountain, with a nice round door knob and, gripping the knob, stepped through into the forest.

Back to the fair, the fortune teller’s tent seemed to have acquired a glow. He parted the entrance and stepped in. The fortune teller regarded him with a smile, her eyes blacker, if possible, than ever.

“You have the token, I sense it”

He placed the shard of glass on the crushed velvet and she snatched it up, caressing it, even though, he noticed, it had cut her palm and it bled on to the table.

“This will do perfectly”


“The cause of your ailment resides in the other world, beyond the black wall. She is a powerful sorceress who means to claim this world for her own. You must pass the wall for a third time and, taking this shard, plunge it into her left eye. The you will be free and the wall will be gone.”

“And the forest will return to what it was.”

“Make no mistake, strike her, or the crack you feel in your soul will widen, it will kill you, if the wall does not cover the land first.”

He left the tent and wandered off into the forest, thinking of the fortune teller’s black eyes and the black wall, of the shard, the city of towers and the shard. He had no choice to return for a third time, he knew no other magic path to stem the advance of the wall, legendary hero or not.

Next morning, a darker day than ever, Pwyll strode out into the conifers, determined to do what was needed. This time he didn’t hesitate at the wall, but stepped through, come what may.

He found himself in a room almost identical to the first. Through the window stood an identical tower, and somehow he knew that the room opposite was where he had originally stood, and that it now regarded him with its lidless eye. On a worn leather sofa sat a fat dark woman in a cotton print dress. Her hair was braided like a nest of snakes and he thought “here is the sorceress”. She was watching daytime TV on a large flat screen.

“Welcome Pwyll, Lord of Dyfed” she said, turning off the TV with what we know to be a remote. “I have been expecting you, take a seat” She gestured to a wide armchair of the same scuffed brown leather, the colour of old shoes in second hand shops.

Not wishing to rush things, he sat, fingering the glass shard in his pocket.

“I know why you have come, and who sent you” Raising another remote like a wand, she started a CD.

“Welcome to my world

Won’t you come on in?”

Sang Jim Reeves

“Miracles, I guess

Still happen now and then”

Pwyll was a little nonplussed, not being a Jim Reeves fan. But it relaxed him and he withdrew his hand from his pocket.

“She has deceived you, luv, like she deceives us all” The woman regarded him with calm brown eyes, there was almost a laugh in them. “Do you know who she is, your fortune teller”

Pywll knew that he didn’t, the fair was just the fair, it was always there, though the booths came and went. “I’m sure you will tell me.” He suggested.

“Does the name Cerridwen mean anything to you?”

“The White Goddess? She seems a but dark for a white goddess?”

“In some places Death comes in white, in others she comes in black”

Pwyll guessed, “And it is she who has made the black wall?”

“Like you said” The woman shifted her bulk, leaning towards him, “She wants to claim your forest of Annwn and absorb it into this world of greed and madness. Death is everywhere here, and takes many shapes”

“But you live here?”

“Someone has to.” She smiled, a little sadly.

“and I suppose I should kill her? In the same manner she decreed for you?”

“You must do what you think is right, I can only advise”

“Knock and the door will open

Seek and you will find

Ask and you’ll be given

The key to this world of mine”

Said Jim Reeves.

Brown eyes or black, he rose and turned back to the door. “Thank you” he said.

“Come again, if you can find the road”

Back in the forest he dawdled, still uncertain. But walking the rides in the confers, he saw that the wall had almost reached the oaks, and that was enough.

Returning to the fair, and the now almost incandescent fortune tellers tent, he stepped in again and confronted the black eyes.

“Is it done” she smirked, grinned, showing uneven, yellowed teeth. Her black eyes were as matte and cold as the wall, almost absorbing him with their gaze.

“Not yet” he said and, leaping forward, as only a legendary hero can, he drove the shard into her left eye.

He had expected blood, or at least the vile jelly of her bursting eyeball. But what he got was a blast of bright light, brighter than spring fireworks, and a booming roar louder and longer than the August thunder.

He came too in the sunken lane, his clothes seeming to smoke slightly and his face glowing as if he had got too close to the fire. Out in the conifer woods, the black wall had gone, the coils of ground mist retreating into the normal dark. When he returned to the fair, the site of the fortune tellers tent was marked by a perfect blackened circle in the grass. It smelled of burned plastic.

He wandered over to where the bearded lady sat poking at the fire under her kettle.

“tea?” she offered.

“I could do with one,” he answered “for I have just killed Death”

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