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King Lludd and Lugh
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Brotherly Counsel

Long ago, when Lludd was king of Britain, the country was harried by three plagues.

The first plague was that a strange race of sorcerers had arrived. They were called the "Coranians", and had three qualities that made them unpopular: First, they paid their way in "fairy money". Even if this money seemed real it returned to them afterwards. Second, they could hear everything that was said over the whole of Britain, in however low a tone, if only the wind met it. Thirdly, they could not be harmed by any weapon.

The second plague was a shriek that came on every May eve, over every hearth in the Island of Britain. The shriek went through people's hearts and scared them so well that the men lost their hue and their strength and the women their children, and the young men and the maidens their senses. And all the animals and trees and the earth and the waters were left barren.

The third was this: Each year the food hoarded in the king's palace disappeared so completely that a year's provisions were gone in a single night. No one could find out how it happened.

Adviced by his nobles, Lludd went to France to get the help of its king, his brother Llevelys, who was looked up to as a man of great counsel and wisdom.

To be able to consult with his brother without being overheard by the Coranians, Llevelys had a long tube of brass made. Through it they talked to one another. But the sorcerer tribe got to know of it. And though they could not hear what was being said inside the speaking-tube, they sent a demon into it. He whispered insulting messages up and down it, as though from one brother to the other. But Lludd and Llevelys knew one another too well to be fooled by this, and they drove the demon out of the tube by flooding it with wine.

Then Llevelys told Lludd what to do back in Britain:

"Take certain insects that I will give you, and pound them in water. When the water is enough permeated with their essence, you are to call both your own people and the Coranians together as though for a meeting. Then cast it over all of them alike in the middle of the meeting. The water, though harmless to your own people, will all the same prove a deadly poison to the Coranians.

As for the shriek, it is raised by a dragon. This monster is the Red Dragon of Britain, and it raises the shriek because it is being attacked by the White Dragon of the Saxons, which is trying to overcome and destroy it.

Here is what to do about it: Measure the length and breadth of Britain, and when you have found the exact centre of the island, let a pit be dug there. In this pit is to be placed a vessel that contains the best mead that can be made. It is to have a covering of satin over it to hide it. You are then to watch from some safe place. The dragons will appear and fight in the air till they are exhausted. Then they will fall together on to the top of the satin cloth, and thus draw it down with them into the vessel full of mead. Quite naturally they will drink the mead, and, equally naturally, they will then fall asleep.

As soon as you're sure they are helpless, go to the pit, wrap the satin cloth round both of them and bury them together in a stone coffin in the strongest place in Britain. If this is safely done, the shriek will be heard no more.

That the food disappears is caused by a mighty man of magic. He puts everyone to sleep by charms before he takes away what the king owns. You are to watch for him, sitting by the side of a cauldron full of cold water. As often as you feel you begin to get drowsy, plunge into the cauldron. Thus you will be able to keep awake and frustrate the thief."

That's what Lllud's brother told him.

Now Lludd came back to Britain. He pounded the insects in the water, and then summoned both the men of Britain and the Coranians to a meeting. In the middle of it he sprinkled the water over everyone alike. The natives took no harm from this mythological "beetle powder" but the Coranians died.

Lludd was then ready to deal with the dragons. His careful measurements yielded that the centre of the island of Britain was at Oxford.

There he had dug a pit with the vessel of mead in it, and hidden by the satin covering. Having made everything ready, he watched. Soon he saw the dragons appear. For a long time they fought desperately in the air. Then they fell down together on to the satin cloth, and, drawing it after them, sank down into mead.

Lludd waited till they were quite silent. Then he pulled them out, folded them carefully in the wrapping, and took them to the district of Snowdon. There he buried them in a strong fortress. Its remains near Beddgelert are still called "Dinas Emrys".

Afterwards the terrible shriek was not heard again for long.

Last of all, Lludd prepared a great banquet in his hall. He watched over it, armed, with the cauldron of water near him. In the middle of the night he heard soft, drowsy music that nearly put him to sleep; but he kept awake by getting into the cold water again and again. Just before dawn a huge man, clad in armour, came into the hall. He was carrying a basket which he began to load with the viands on the table. The basket seemed able to contain too much. But the man filled it at last and was carrying it out when Lludd stopped him. They fought, and Lludd conquered the man of magic, and made him his vassal.

With that the "Three Plagues of Britain" had come to an end.

[An ancient Welch tale]

Lludd was "famous for building cities, but he loved one of them above the others and lived in it most of the year. Therefore it was called Kaerlud, which was turned into Caerlondon; and in due time, London. When he was dead, his body was buried by the gate which to this time is called Parthlud after him, and in Saxon, "Ludesgata", a shrine overlooking the Thames. Tradition has it that it is the spot which St. Paul's Cathedral stands on.

Lugh Is Born

The dreaded king Balor heard in a druidic prophecy that he would be slain by his grandson. His only child was an infant daughter named Ethlinn. To avert the doom he had her imprisoned in a high tower which he caused to be built on a precipitous headland in Tory Island.

In the tower the girl was placed in charge of twelve matrons. They were strictly charged to prevent her from ever seeing the face of man. In this seclusion Ethlinn grew up to become a girl of surpassing beauty.

Now it happened that there were on the mainland three brothers, namely, Kian, Sawan, and Goban the Smith. Kian had a magical cow. Its milk was so abundant that everyone longed to possess her, and he had to keep her strictly under protection. Balor determined to get the cow for himself.

One day Kian and Sawan had come to the forge of Goban to have some weapons made for them, and brought fine steel for that purpose. Kian went into the forge while leaving Sawan in charge of the cow. Now Balor appeared in the shape of a little red-headed boy. He told Sawan that he had overheard that the brothers inside the forge had concocted a plan for using all the fine steel for their own swords, leaving but common metal for Sawan's sword. On hearing this Sawan handed over the cow's halter to the boy in a great rage and rushed into the forge to set things right, while Balor at once carried off the cow and dragged her across the sea to Tory Island.

Kian now determined to avenge himself on Balor. He therefore sought the advice of a druidess. Dressing himself in woman's garb he was wafted by magical spells across the sea, where the druidess who went with him, let Ethlinn's guardians think that they were two noble ladies cast upon the shore after escaping from an abductor, and begged for shelter. They were admitted. Then Kian found means to sleep with Princess Ethlinn while the matrons were laid under the spell of an enchanted slumber by the druidess.

When they woke up, Kian and the druidess were gone. But Ethlinn had given Kian her love, and her guardians found that she was with child. Since they feared her father's anger, the matrons persuaded her that the whole transaction was but a dream. Afterwards none of them mentioned it; but in due time Ethlinn gave birth to three sons.

News of this came to Balor. In anger and fear he commanded the three infants to be drowned in a whirlpool off the Irish coast. The messenger who was charged with this command rolled up the children in a sheet. But as he carried them to the appointed place the pin of the sheet came loose, and one of the children dropped out and fell into a little bay. The other two were drowned, and the servant reported his mission accomplished.

But the child who had fallen into the bay was guarded by the druidess. She wafted it to the home of its father, Kian, and Kian gave it in fosterage to his brother, Goban the smith. The smith taught the child his own trade and made it skilled in every manner of craft and handiwork. This child was Lugh.

Lugh Enters a Job

When he had grown to be a man, Lugh went off to take service with Nuada of the Silver Hand. When the doorkeeper at the royal palace of Tara asked him what he could do, he answered that he was a carpenter.

"We are in no need of a carpenter," said the doorkeeper; "we have an excellent one already."

"I am a smith too," said Lugh.

"We have a master-smith," said the doorkeeper, "already."

"Then I am a warrior," said Lugh.

"We do not need one," said the doorkeeper, "while we have Ogma."

Lugh went on to name all the occupations and arts he could think of - he was a poet, a harper, a man of science, a physician, a spencer, and so on. But whatever art he mentioned, he was always answered Nuada had a well accomplished man in his service at the court already.

"Then ask the King," said Lugh, "if he has in his service any one man who is accomplished in every one of these arts, and if he has, I shall stay here no longer, nor seek to enter his palace."

Now Lugh was welcomed inside, and the surnames "the all-craftsman" and "prince of all the sciences" were bestowed on him. Another name that he commonly bore was Lugh Lamfada, Lugh of the Long Arm.

When Lugh came along he brought with him many gifts. First there was a boat which knew a man's thoughts and would travel wherever he would. Then there was a horse that could go alike over land and sea. He also owned a terrible sword named that could cut through any mail. Equipped with them all he appeared one day before an assembly of chiefs who were met to pay a heavy tribute to the Formorians who oppressed them at the time.

When the chiefs saw him, they felt as if they saw the rising sun on a dry summer's day. Under Lugh's leadership, instead of paying the tribute they attacked the Fomorians. Only nine of them survived and were sent back to tell Balor there would be no tribute from then on.

Balor made ready for battle and bade his captains:

"When you have subdued these men, make fast their island by cables to your ships and tow it far northward to our regions of ice and gloom, where it will no longer trouble us."

Kian Is Stoned to Death

Lugh, on his side, also prepared for the combat. To ensure victory some more magical items had to be obtained.

Kian was sent northward by Lugh to summon the fighting men of Ulster to the hosting against the Fomorians. On his way he crossed the Plain of Murthemney near Dundalk. There he met with three brothers, Brian, Luchar, and Iucharba. They were sons of Turenn, and there was as blood feud between their house and that of Kian.

Kian sought to avoid them by changing into the form of a pig and joining a herd which was rooting in the plain. But the brothers detected him and Brian wounded him with a cast from a spear.

Kian understood that his end is come, and begged to be allowed to change back into human form before he was slain.

"Yes, rather kill a man than a pig," said Brian.

Kian then stood before them as a man with the blood from Brian's spear trickling from his breast.

"I have outwitted you," he cried, for if you had slain a pig you would have paid but the blood fine of a pig. But now you shall pay the blood fine of a man. Never was there a greater one than the one you shall pay; and the weapons you slay me with shall tell the tale to my avenging relative."

"Then you shall be slain with no weapons at all," said Brian, and he and the brothers stoned him to death.

Afterwards they buried him in the ground as deep as the height of a man.

The fine for stoning Kian

Shortly afterwards Lugh passed that way. Then the stones on the plain cried out and told him Kian had been murdered at the hands of the sons of Turenn. He uncovered the body, vowed vengeance, and returned to Tara. Here he accused the sons of Turenn before the High King, and was permitted to have them executed or to name the blood fine he would accept instead.

Lugh chose to have this blood fine:

"Three apples, the skin of a pig, a spear, a chariot with two horses, seven swine, a hound, a cooking-spit, and, finally, to give three shouts on a hill."

The brothers chose to pay the fine, and then Lugh laid bare the exact meaning of it,

"The three apples are those that grow in the Garden of the Sun. The pig-skin is a magical skin which heals every wound arid sickness if it can be laid on the sufferer, and the King of Greece owns it. The spear is a magical weapon owned by the King of Persia. The seven swine belong to King Asal of the Golden Pillars, and may be killed and eaten every night and yet be found whole next day. The spit belongs to the sea-nymphs of the sunken Island of Finchory. And the three shouts are to be given on the hill of a fierce warrior, Mochaen, who, with his sons, are under vows to prevent any man from raising his voice on that hill."

To fulfil any one of these tasks would be an impossible task, and the brothers had to accomplish them all before they could clear themselves of the guilt and penalty of killing Kian.


King Lludd and Lugh of Celtic myths, Literature  

Glover, W. J., ed. 1920. British Fairy and Folk Tales. London: A. and C. Black. ⍽▢⍽ The story of King Lludd is included.

Guest, Lady Charlotte, tr. 1902. The Mabinogion. Vol 3. London: Fischer Unwin. ⍽▢⍽ The story of King Lludd is here too.

Matson, Gienna, and Jeremy Roberts. 2010. Celtic Mythology A to Z. 2nd ed. New York: Chelsea House. ⍽▢⍽ Lugh stories are summed up.

Rolleston, Thomas W. 1911. Myths and Legends of the Celtic Race. 2nd, rev. ed. London: George G. Harrap and Co. ⍽▢⍽ About Lugh from p. 109 ff. Well told.

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