The Black Dog

As previously mentioned, the Fforest of Annwn is vast. Possibly endless. If endless is at all possible. Certainly it seemed to Pwyll that you could often walk all day and not get anywhere. Upon whichever point of the compass he embarked; symbolised, as they were, by the seven windows of the shack where he lived; he frequently found himself back where he started. Or, at least, in a place that looked exactly the same as that from which he started.

Pwyll, sometime Prince of Dyfed, legendary hero, the man who had killed Death and who used the Holy Grail as a cooking pot (which was what it was anyway). He had, as far as he was aware, always lived in the Fforest, where the term “always” implied a very long time. Too long, perhaps. To have lived as long as Pwyll was to have forgotten more than one remembered, any other course led to madness. Perhaps it had led to madness, which was why he had forgotten.

Having recently been to the Other World, if indeed the Fforest itself was not the Other World, he had become restless, developing a wanderlust, a curiosity as to just how far the Fforest extended. As to whether there was anything beyond the Fforest. If the Fforest was indeed endless. He suspected not, especially given a recent dream of Yn Arberth; a place he knew that he had known. His home, indeed his palace, in a time before “always”. But where was Yn Arbeth? He needed to regain his lost past beyond the past. Yet it occurred to him that he needed a way to sneak up on the Fforest, or he would just end up back at his shack, whose door faced the sunrise, or sunset, depending on the time of day. He had begun to suspect that the Fforest didn’t like him, that he was its prisoner or hostage in some titanic struggle.

Rooting around the shack, he gathered some suitable items for the journey; a lucky rabbit’s foot (though unlucky for the rabbit), a pomegranate, a bone from a black cat and a bag of fava beans (another nice symbol of death). Walking on the straight Romanian road he had also found a large rusty nail. An iron nail that had been hand made in a forge with a squared shank and a large round head. Standing in the glade before his shack, sunlight picking out the dew, far off the sound of a woodpecker, he threw the nail high into the air and set off in the direction it pointed when it landed with a soft thud. That’ll fool ‘em.

With his first step the season changed from spring to winter, and he profoundly wished he had put on his donkey jacket with the orange Wimpey across the shoulders. He trudged along a path sunk 20cm in fresh snow, and another of 9 inches of virgin snow. Unimpressed, he again threw the nail in the air. Locating its fall from a dint in the snow, he stepped forward into pelting autumn rain. A nearby larch that had not yet shed offered shelter. He wondered if he had the wrong nail. Throwing it from his place of refuge for a third time he stepped out into warm summer sun. And put the nail firmly in his pocket for safekeeping, had it originally been intended for something malign, like a crucifixion, for example?

Soon he found himself in a deep hollow way, with overhanging ash, sycamore and beech. The dappled light was pleasant, but Pwyll felt a sense of unease. A prickling in the back of his neck as if he had sunburn. Someone or something was watching. Someone or something was following. Someone or something was up to no good.

If you think you are being followed and are not simply paranoid, it is best to walk in a circle. The pursuer will eventually give themself away. Or you will accidentally meet them coming in the opposite direction. Periodically turning widdershins helps. But at this time, on this day, it didn’t seem to help Pwyll that much. Clearly his pursuer was clever, or, more likely in Annwn, supernatural. Not one to give up easily, Pwyll carried on along his path, and as he did so the sky began to darken. He checked his pocket for the nail – still there. He saw a flash of lightning and seconds later heard the first rumble of thunder. The World grew black and thunder and lightning were suddenly overhead, delivering the second soaking he had had in as many minutes. But at this very moment he saw a large dark shape looming through the downpour.

Brave, but not stupid, he turned about, but there again advanced the black thing, even closer. He turned again to be confronted by a massive black hound, something like a wolf or deer hound, only bigger. Remembering his mythology, he was relieved to see that it did not have red ears. Conversely, he then noticed that he was standing at a crossroads, so it could get messy.

Pwyll was fond of dogs, he had had his own pack back in the Rhiannon days, and had known the Cŵn Annwn in passing. He stared at the dog. The dog stared at him with its goggly black eyes….and yawned.

“Greetin’s oh Prince ap Dyfed. I is here fur youm” it said.

Living in Annwn, talking dogs were not such a big thing as elsewhere, so Pwyll was not that taken aback.

“Greetings hound, how art thee yclept?” adopting a formal tone just in case.

“I is Black Shuck, Barguist, Grim, Gytrash, Padfoot, Shag, Skriker or Striker, Trash, Tchian d’Bouôlé, Tchen Bodu, Frey Bug, Moddey Dhoo and Hairy Jack”

I’m glad I don’t have to call him for his dinner, Pwyll thought.

“But youm cun clep us Jack” the dog observed.

“And in what sense” said Pwyll cautiously, “are you here for me?”

“I’m nose we’m haf a badly rep fur stuff, bitin ‘n’ dat,” the dog observed..”but us’n do’m, fre tyme two time, yact us guides tow loonly travelus”

“Thank god for that” Pwyll sighed, although he was sort of an atheist.

“Ye us tinkin two leaf da fforust, Pike?”


“Eye kin hulp wi dat”

Pwll wished he had had some dog chews with him.

The Black Dog could open ways denied to Pwll, its sense of smell, he guessed, could cut across the glamours. Free him from his prison bonds. And soon enough they were on a wide green road, hedged, with fields beyond. Though as yet he saw no one, no sign of habitation, no tell tale twist of chimney smoke behind a copse.

“Are we still in the Fforest?”

“Smells as like”

“But don’t look like, don’t ya know.”

“Us dunt do look so much”

After a long time, or maybe no time at all, Pwyll spotted two figures in the distance. The dog raised one ear contemplatively, sniffed and then lowered its ear again. As they approached it became apparent that the figures were two children of about 8 or 10, but it equally became apparent that their skin was as green as runner beans. Pwyll generally hated magical children, they were always a pain in the arse and always wanting something magical that required a tedious quest to find it.

As they finally confronted the pair. The largest, a girl, and presumably eldest said, “Enola su evael dna ffo reggub uoy t’nod yhw?”

Pwyll parsed the interrogative, but the rest was Greek to him (he had small Latin and less Greek). Despite some indications to the contrary, it was not Welsh, for as a Prince of Dyfed he spoke the language.

” Snaeb yna tog?” the girl demanded, now seeming somewhat exasperated. The boy did not look at all well and stared about vacantly with spit dribbling from his lips.

“Any idea what these are?” he enquired of the dog, who at least spoke something resembling English (or was it Welsh?). Green made him think of aliens; even the horrid little fairies and pixies that infested the Fforest were not green.

“Morf uoy erehw?” the dog growled

“Dnal snitram tnias. Thgilwt fo dnal eht.” the girl was becoming sulky, shifting from one foot to another and glowering into the distance. The boy was shaking and appeared on the point of collapse.

“Them hail frum Land uf Twilight…dat gud?”

” Snaeb yna tog?” the girl repeated impatiently

“Them mun askin fur beans”

“Fuck” thought Pwyll, “not magic beans again”

“Beans?” he enquired cautiously.

“Snaeb?” the dog translated

“Snaeb neerg ekil. Snaeb tae ylno ew.”

“She m want greene beans. S’all un eats”

“Figures” Pwyll observed with relief. “Jack, are these children dead, given their predilection for beans?”

“Un not smelling ded” the dog shook himself and contemplated the children.

“If these little buggers know a way out of the Fforest, and will exchange it for beans, we have a deal”

Pwyll rooted in his pocket and produced the bag of beans he had fortuitously brought along. Afterall, they might have wanted a pomegranate…

“Drecshuns to the uther wurld, in exchanj fur beenz?” the dog suggested sdrawkcab.

“Find you the round green hill,
Surrounded with terrace-rings
From the bottom to the top;”

the children intoned in a raggéd unison (1)

“Go round it three times widdershins,
And each time say:
“’Open, door! open, door!
And let me come in.’”

Pwyll ceremoniously handed over the beans and in the blink of an eye, the children vanished.

Pwyll was relieved.

“So” he asked, scratching the dog’s neck, “any thoughts on round green hills?”

“U gut me boss” the dog replied lugubriously and sighed (dogs do sigh, believe me).

The green road stretched before them so they strolled on. In the distance Pwyll spotted great flocks of jackdaws and just possibly a wisp of chimney smoke. Twilight came and they gathered sticks for a fire, Pwyll wished he’d brought the grail/cauldron with him, but it was a bit bulky for travel. Pomegranate then, and whatever else they could scrounge from the hedgerows.

Night. The fire crackled, bats whispered overhead and Hairy Jack rolled onto his back with his legs the air. They did not hear any owls, as that is a cliché. Maybe the odd black bird alarm calling from the hedgerows. Time passed…

A reddish brown face appeared, tentatively at the margin of the firelight, and a quiet voice spoke.

“Pwyll, Prince of Dyfed, may I parlay?”

“Sure, what is your concern?” Pwyll wasn’t quite sure

“I wish to approach, but fear the Black Dog”

“You and everybody else, but you have my warrant, approach friend”

The dog looked away huffily and a long red brown bush entered the firelight.

“You seek the round green hill? ” said the fox.

“I do”

“I know of high ringed hills on the southern shores of Lloegr
I have seen the red cairn of Caradoc
I have heard tell of the Raven’s Castle by the sea
I have walked the many rings above Abertawe and Castell Nedd
And the small rings, slighted by the Romanians,
Along the Cefn Ffordd.”

“You have travelled far and learned much,” Pwyll replied, observing the niceties,
“But which is the round green hill I seek?”

“That I cannot tell, my lord” the fox admitted.

“Go you then in peace, with my thanks” Pwyll replied.

Time passed…

And the breeze picked up, rustling in the hedgerow where the blackbird now slept.

And as if in answer, another rustling sound came from the road side ditch, and another snout emerged from the gloom.

“Pwyll, Prince of Dyfed, may I parlay?” whispered another quiet voice, redolent of dry autumn leaves.

“You’re afraid of old Hairy Jack here? Don’t worry, you have my safe conduct”

A hedgehog emerged fully into the firelight and Pwyll could tell by his expression that the dog was longing to pick it up (as dogs somehow can do without getting prickled).

“You seek the round green hill? ” said the hedgehog

“I do”

“Straight down the green lane, turn left at the big lone Holly tree”

“My eternal thanks” said Pwyll “May the slug hunt fare well tonight”

The hedgehog scuttled off into the gloom.

The dog looked at Pwyll and Pwyll looked at the dog, their faces dappled by the waning firelight.

“There you go” observed Pwyll, “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing…
… old Archilochus was right about that” (2)

Hairy Jack yawned and let his head flop back on the earth.

Next morning they awoke to the dawn chorus and set off down the green road. Sure enough they came to a splendid lone Holly tree and took a turning to their left through a narrow grassy valley. It appeared to have been terraced with what are called lynchets, but still Pwyll saw little sign of humans, or indeed any other sentient beings.

Finally before them, as the Valley opened out, was a round green hill with a series of rings around it. When Pwyll was a lad they would have called it a castle. Later times referred to a Hill Fort. This one was a little too perfect, like a naive artist’s impression of a “round green hill,
Surrounded with terrace-rings” But that was magic for you.

They set off to walk round three times anticlockwise, each time reciting,

“Open, door! open, door!
And let me come in.”

But what most folk tales omit is the time involved. It took them till well past noon to circumambulate 3 times, and this involved finding gaps in hedges and fording ditches. Fairy tales are not for the faint hearted.

At long last they completed the 3rd circuit and announced

“Open, door! open, door!
And let me come in.”

As Pwyll later described it, it was as if the door had always been there, but they had failed to notice it. Not even Hairy Jack with his phenomenal nose. The door, or portal, consisted of two megaliths capped by a third, with just enough height to walk in if you bent low (Pwyll was, in any case, not particularly tall). After a few paces stumbling in a darkness that smelled of earth and patchouli, they saw light ahead and eventually emerged from a large concrete culvert at the side of a tarmac road.

Almost immediately, a loud roar was accompanied by a red box that flashed past down the hill causing Pwyll and Jack to dive into the adjacent hedge. Yet Pwyll seemed overjoyed.

“Oh Black Jack” he laughed, “I have seen these chariots before, we are now in the Other World”

For his part the dog seemed unimpressed, but nevertheless they set off down the curving slope of the road with high hedges on either side… And found themselves back at the mouth of the culvert. Jack shook himself vigorously such that his legs seemed to dance about of their own accord.

“Yet the Fforest seems disinclined to release us. An incantation is needed”

Once again Pwyll strode off down the hill chanting “Up the hill backwards, Up the hill backwards” and lo they began to make progress keeping a warry ear out for noisesome chariots. As the road descended, a gap in the hedge offered a vista across the shallow valley to a town beyond, with the spire of a church vividly in view.

“This surely must be Yn Arberth?” Pwyll observed, “Though I do not spy the towers of my Palace”

“Tempers fuckit” the dog remarked.

“I knew not that you had the Latin sir hound!”

“Unly der gud bits”

Gradually the road reached the bottom of the hill where a low bridge bordered by willowherb crossed a Brook. On a grassy verge a sign announced Narberth and something called a “Business Park” which meant nothing to either Pwyll or the dog. Then their path rose again, bordered now by low stone walls and embankments shaded by trees and rhododendron. As they progressed Pwyll began to notice a few people, but as soon as these folk spied them they either retreated behind doors or ran away, which made any converse difficult. He was about to remark on the unfriendliness of the natives when it occurred to Pwyll that the sight of a massive black dog with goggly eyes might be off-putting.

People, he reflected, could often be a bit funny about dogs.

Finally they came to the town proper with its colourfully painted terraces of houses, but there was no sign yet of castle or Palace. Reaching a kind of square (albeit it was triangular) Pwyll stopped to survey their surroundings and noticed some tall structures emerging from the trees along the road on which they had approached.

Pwyll began to feel apprehensive. But, undaunted, they retraced their steps to a place where a gate, entitled “Strictly no parking” opened on a narrow path towards their goal. Pwyll sensed that, beneath their feet lay generations of his kinsmen (or perhaps kinspersons as it should now more properly be)

Here at last was the Palace of the Prince of Dyfed. A collection of massive, yet ruined, towers and a damp cellar. All set among carefully tended lawns.

“Fuck” Pwyll observed.

A tsunami of memories nearly knocked him from his feet. The moon shining through the trees. Cock crow. Misty mornings and the fluttering of pennants above slate roofed turrets. New baked bread and the breath of ponies. The clang of the farriers hammer and the laughter of children.

Jack’s wet nose nuzzling his ear brought him back to the moment.

They sat among the fragments of masonry and contemplated the wreck of his dreams.

“I’ve always lived in the Fforest, old chum. But before that this was my home, my castle, my Palace. From here I sallied forth into Dyfed, encountered Rhiannon and the King of the Other World. In as much as it all comes flooding back, it as soon washes away again in these ruins. I am not here any more, and haven’t been for an age”

Gesturing to the way they had entered the enclosure, he continued “All that were my kin are, or were buried there. I can feel them. But they are gone, and although I am here now I left a very long time ago. And perhaps the reason I couldn’t escape the Fforest was because I was trying to go somewhere that did not exist. Anymore, at least”

“Even tragedy ends up as nothing but dust”

The black dog rose clumsily to his feet and began to sniff around. Pwyll guessed he was becoming impatient with the maudlin soliloquy.

“Well let’s at least bypass the beans and green children this time”

Resting an arm on the dogs shoulders, he clicked the Cuban heels of his boots together three times and recited:

“There’s no place like home
There’s no place like home
There’s no place like home”

And before they knew it, or around about the same time, they were in the shack with seven windows, contemplating the embers that glowed in the fireplace beneath the Holy Grail. Pwyll began industriously urging the fire back into life, as evening descended once again across the Fforest.

“I wonder if I have anything you would eat?” he said, contemplating the huge black dog now slumped by his fire. “I might have some fish?”

“Fisssssh” said Jack

1 See

2 The World can be divided into two kinds of people; those that believe there are two kinds of people, and those that don’t – see

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