Gorsedd Arberth

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Gorsedd Arberth*
photo copyright, Antony Griffiths, 2006  

 Pwyll Encounters a Wonder

And once upon a time he was at Arberth, a chief court of his, with a feast prepared for him and great hosts of men with him.  And after the first serving, Pwyll arose to take a walk, and he made for the top of a mound which was above the court, which was called Gorsedd Arberth.

“Lord,” said one of the court, “a peculiarity of the mound is, any nobleman whatsoever who sits upon it will not go from there without one of two things—either a wound or blows or he will see a wonder.”

“I have no fear of receiving a wound or blows in the midst of such a host.  A wonder, however — I would be pleased to see that.  I will go,” he said, “to the mound to sit.”

He sat on the mound.  And as they were sitting, they could see a woman on a great tall pale white horse, with a shining golden garment of silk brocade about her, coming along the highway which went past the mound.  Her horse had a slow, steady pace, in the mind of anyone who saw it, and it was coming alongside the mound.

“Ah, men,” asked Pwyll, “is there any among you who recognizes the horsewoman?”

“No, lord,” they replied. 

“Let someone go,” he said, “to meet her to find out who she is.”

One rose up, and when he came to the road to meet her, she had gone past.  He pursued her as fast as he could on foot, but the greater his speed would be, the farther she would be from him.  And when he saw that it would not prosper him to pursue her, he returned to Pwyll and said to him, “Lord,” he said, “it will not prosper anyone in the world on foot to pursue her.”

“Yea,” said Pwyll, “go to the court and take the swiftest horse you know of, and go forth after her.”

He took the horse and forth he went.  He reached the level open ground and he showed the spurs to the horse.  But the more he struck the horse, the farther she would be from him.  She had the same pace with which she had begun.  His horse grew tired, and when he noticed that his horse was tiring to a walk, he returned to where Pwyll was.

“Lord,” he said, “it will not prosper anyone to pursue the lady yonder.  I do not know of a faster horse in the realm than that, and it did not prosper me to pursue her.”

“Yea,” said Pwyll, “there is some magic intent there.  Let us go to the court.” 

* No certain location for Gorsedd Arberth has been identified.  The curves of the ramparts of the circular Iron-Age enclosure at Camp Hill, just south of Arberth (Narberth), mark the nearest and best located of several possible sites of Gorsedd Arberth.  A tower of the medieval castle can be seen to the right, with the town behind.  Though now barely visible after centuries of plowing, the Camp Hill enclosure would have been much more prominent in the Middle Ages.  Several similar sites in the area are also possibilities. A large hill or mound just north of Aberteifi (Cardigan) has also been suggested, but (a) this has been known as Crug Mawr (The Great Hill or Cairn) at least since the early ninth century, (b) it would require a different location for Arberth, and (c) it is not in the historical realm of Dyfed.  Though there is a stream called Nant Arberth just to the east of Crug Mawr, locating the court of Arberth so close to Glyn Cuch would not fit the geography of the tale. Gorsedd, ‘mound (of earth), barrow, tumulus, a (prehistoric) burial mound,’ also means ‘throne’ and ‘assembly, court.’  The root -sedd derives from the Indo-European *sed-, also seen in Latin sedeo ‘I sit’ and English sit and seat.