Inside the cottage by the river, sat a man and a boy. It was winter in Cymry, the name for the old country now known as Wales, and was therefore a time for the telling of tall tales. Arthur Rawn, the father, looked into the eyes of his anxious young son, Gwynn.
"Would you like to hear a true story, boy?" Arthur asked Gwynn.
"That I would."
"Well, since your name is Gwynn, I'll tell you a story about your namesake, Gwynn ap Nudd. I take you've heard tell of him?"
"Naw. Who was Gwynn ap Nudd, da?
"He is a demon who lives in hell, boy. Now, be quiet and let me tell you the story."
"This very thing happened to me as I was walking along the old Glyn Cuch two summers ago," began Arthur. The Glyn Cuch is a river in southwestern Wales. "You've no doubt heard tales told of the Otherworld, that which our forefathers called Annwn. Some in the church would call that place by the name of hell.
"Anyway," continued Arthur, "I was walking me dogs down by the Cuch, minding my own business, when I happened upon the most fierce-looking man my eyes ever did behold. It appeared to me a man such as never I'd seen before, nor since then. I could tell right away that he wasn't an ordinary fellow.
"His skin was as black as coal and his face was covered with gruesome wounds; not all of them healed up properly, either. The man, or devil, I could not tell which he was, stared at me from the riverside. And he sat upon an awesome eight-legged horse."
"How could a horse have eight legs?" asked a skeptical Gwynn. "I've never heard tell of such things before."
"We are speaking of the Otherworld, lad, where anything is possible.
"Anyway, to be getting on with the story. The creature sat upon that strange horse, not saying a word. By this time my dogs were in a panic. They were howmling like mad, and straining at their leashes. And I knew why?
"I got a better look at this creature and could see that it was a terrible-looking thing. Finally the demon spurred on his hideous mount and came closer to where I stood. My legs were all a tremble, and I couldn't move. This was too much for the dogs, however, and they broke the leashes and fled back to our cottage. But my own legs would not carry me anywhere. I stood there, as if frozen to the spot, and this on a fine, warm Welsh spring day."
"Why didn't you flee from the hideous creature?" asked Gwynn.
"I tried to, but my feet would not move. Now, let me finish this tale, lad," pleaded Arthur. "These constant interruptions aren't helping the story any.
"Of course I'd heard of Lord Pwyll," continued Arthur, "and his meeting with Arawn a very long time ago, who was Head of Annwn. And Arawn's name is much like my own surname. But to me it had just been another story. Could this hideous being coming at me be the fabled Arawn? Surely not.
"But as he approached, clouds gathered above our heads and it suddenly became very dark. As each hoof of the eight-legged creature hit the ground, I heard the clap of thunder.
"As he approached further, I finally got up the courage to ask him who he was.
"'I am Arawn, Lord of Annwn. Some call me Gwynn ap Nudd. I rule the Abyss.'
"His voice was like the roar of a lion. His breath was as fetid as the grave itself. His eyes bespoke the very fires of Hell, of Annwn. This was a creature of whom good Christians call Lucifer, the devil, Satan.
"Behind this figure was a portal, the very doorway to Annwn. I could catch glimpses of what I took to be demons, and souls in torment.
"'Is that Hell behind you?' I asked. 'Hell,' he said contemptuously, as if the word left a bad taste in his mouth. 'It is Annwn, and I am Lord there. But one known as Pwyll would seek to overthrow me and kill me. Now he would try to dethrone me in my own realm.'
"'What have I to do with this subterranean plot?' asked I. 'I would have you take my place in Annwn for one year and one day, as Pwyll did those many years ago. Then I would have you kill Lord Pwyll.'
"'What do I get in return?' I asked. 'The gratitude of Gwynn ap Nudd, and a future place of honor in Annwn,' he answered.
"Being a faithful Christian man, I wasn't sure that I should agree with the demon's plan. After all, I wanted my place in heaven after death, not in Annwn. I'd always been taught that Annwn was Hell itself." Here Arthur paused for good effect. Gwynn stared with eyes wide at his father,, waiting to find out what would happen in this most interesting story.
"Well," Gwynn finally said, "then what happened, da?"
"Being a God-fearing man, I didn't like Arawn's offer at all. But, I made a deal with him anyway. I would undertake his quest, but, in return, he must promise not to take me forever into Annwn. I wanted to reside in heaven when I died. But instead, he wanted to take the soul of my first-born son, but I would have none of that.
"Yet the demon must have his way. Such are the ways of the old gods, those we now call demons and devils. It must be either my soul, or the soul of my first-born son. I reluctantly decided that it must be my soul. I'd not have my son dwell in Annwn for eternity. Arawn miraculously agreed to what I planned, which surprised me no end.
"After a short while, I told Arawn that I would do as he planned. I looked into a nearby puddle of water and saw the hideous visage of Arawn staring back at me. I was absolutely horrified.
"Arawn got off of his eight-legged horse and I slowly got on. Arawn soon wore my face as his own. Then my face took on the visage of Arawn. It was exceedingly strange. It was just like looking in a mirror.
"Then Arawn headed for my own cottage. I headed towards Annwn, the horse leading me on, for it seemed to know where it was going. I suppose that it could smell the stench of Annwn. I knew that I would be gone for a year and a day. Ahead lay my greatest adventure of all. I would rule Annwn, that ancient abode, for over a year.
Little Gwynn stared in awe at his somewhat elderly father. To think that his father had actually done as Pwyll Lord of Dyfed had done. But Gwynn did not think of himself as being gullible. Part of him had a hard time believing his father's story.
"Is this a really true story?" Gwynn asked.
"As true as I'm sitting here. I talked with Arawn himself. Some would liken him to the devil himself."
"What happened then?"
"The strange eight-legged horse carried me all the way to Annwn. I knew that I was there when I could smell the stench of corpses. There was an eerie tree at the entrance to Annwn. On the tree there were severed human heads; all of them speaking at once, and speaking gibberish. I could not understand what they were saying, so I ignored them as much as possible. But it was strange to see: heads without bodies, and speaking no less.
"But that wasn't the strangest thing I saw there. No indeed. There were islands of both the living and the dead, existing side-by-side. Islands in the River Cuch itself, or was it really the river that I knew? I could not tell where the real world of Wales ended and the nightmarish world of Annwn started. Both of these worlds seemed to run into each other. It was as if I were living in a dream.
"Ah, but if I give more details of Annwn, surely it will give you nightmares. So I shant say any more, except that I came safely out of the place a year later. And here I am today."
Gwynn sat there with his mouth wide open, obviously waiting for more of this fascinating story. When no more was forthcoming, he closed his mouth and looked deeply offended.
"You won't tell me the best parts of the story?" demanded Gwynn.
"I am an old man, lad, and forget many things now. I do believe that I've forgotten most of the story. Besides, you don't really believe the story, do you?"
"I don't know."
"The Wild Hunt is real enough, all right, that's what our Christian brethren call Lucifer and his soul hunters. I'll grant you that. You have to especially be fearful on stormy nights, when the thunder booms loudly in the distance. You know what the thunder is, don't you?"
"No, I don't."
"The thunder is the sound of the horses hooves of the Wild Hunt, as they strike the very air savagely. I've heard that sound many times before, and am still fearful of it. It isn't a thing to laugh at, I'll tell you that. It is a thing to be fearful of."
Gwynn looked as if he didn't believe what Arthur was telling him.
"It must be a made-up story," Gwynn finally decided to say. "A story to frighten little children with. I'm not a child anymore."
"If you say so, lad," the father said resignedly.
"Then what happened after you came back?"
Arthur smiled warmly. "I thought you weren't a child anymore, and didn't believe in what happened?"
"Please, da, tell me what happened next."
"Well, Arawn said that in two year's time, he would come back to exchange places with me permanently."
"What do you mean?"
"That he would come back and take over my life here on Earth, and that I would fly to Annwn and take his place as Head of Annwn. For Arawn wants to terrorize Wales in person."
"So he would become you, and even look like you?"
"Exactly, lad. And that day will happen on the morrow. I thought it best to tell you now, so that you wouldn't be afraid when the time finally comes."
"Aye, lad. Are you hard of hearing?"
"Then go to sleep, and know that I love you, and always will. For tomorrow I'll be another person. I have to tell you now, for I'll have no other chance."
"Good night, da. I love you very much."
Hours later Gwynn went to sleep, but it was a fitful sleep. Gwynn kept thinking that he heard noises. Once, during the night, he thought he heard the sound of horses hooves beating upon the air, and the howling of dogs. The hounds of Annwn themselves. Gwynn awoke with a start. The wind outside in the dark was blowing fiercely. There seemed to be a cacophony of sounds.
Gwynn looked out the window and squinted his eyes, for it was dark outside, with no moonlight to make things better to see. He saw the face of the ugliest creature he had ever seen, and knew this to be Gwynn ap Nudd, his namesake. Inside the warm cottage, Gwynn shivered with fear. Fear for the very soul of his father.
Hellish-looking dogs barked at the cottage, setting up a fearful din. Gwynn was afraid the people in the nearby village would hear the noise. Arthur walked hesitatingly out of the front door, as Gwynn ap Nudd descended from his eight-legged horse. Arthur then got onto the horse. Arthur's face then turned into that of Gwynn ap Nudd, also called Arawn, and the demon took on Arthur's face. Then his father/Gwynn ap Nudd, sped away with the dogs of Annwn close at his heels.
Gwynn lay down in bed as the real demon came into the cottage. It took little Gwynn many hours to get back to sleep. His sleep was very fitful. Upon waking in the morning, Gwynn carefully looked over his father as the old man made breakfast for the two of them. Gwynn's mother had died in childbirth. So it was just the two of them, alone in the small cottage.
"How are you doing, da?" Gwynn asked innocently. For Gwynn didn't know whether he had dreamt about the Wild Hunt the night before.
"Are you talking to me? If you are, I feel no differently than at any other time. Eat your food before it gets cold."
"I thought about that story you told me last night, da."
"And all true as well."
The old man looked directly at Gwynn and the boy, to his terror, saw the eyes gleam red like those of a demon of hell. Then the old man went over to the fireplace, pointed his finger at the logs, as a blast of flame came from his hand and started a fire.
"That's damed better," the old man said, in a voice that grated like gravel. Then as the old man sat down Gwynn could smell an evil smell like that which reeked from an open grave.
Then the old man looked at Gwynn and said, "Now it's warm in here just like I like it. Just like home, lad."
Author's note: This story was published in the Canadian pagan magazine called "Waxing and Waning," in their Spring 2001 issue, Issue # 7, pages 27-29.