The Lay Of Halffdan

King Halffdan the Stupid lived in a castle that was neither big as a mountain nor small as the wing of a gnat. He had a wife who could not be said to possess either great beauty nor hideous deformity, but those who laid their eyes upon her universally proclaimed her to be "OK". His lands were not wide nor large in their acreage but sufficed to provide for the king and his servants, who were not vast in number like the flies in a midden nor sparse as hairs on a fish. King Halffdan's greatest asset was his court advisor, Herddycws, a sourcerer of huge intelligence, vast charms, diverse wiles and much sarcasm. A blackbird could not flap its wings but that Herddycws did not know of it, and further could predict or affect its subsequent flight. Secrets of the heavens and underworld and the planes that lie between this world and the higher domains was Herddycws privy to. With this worthy mage's aid, King Halffdan could fortell of the harvests, of political intrigues, could bring his enemies to their knees and could always win on the horses. Of this great power, only one proviso did Herddycws make of his master, and that was that no spell would he cast, nor wisdom divine, nor scroll consult if it be the weekend, for he said that man was entitled to peace to attend to his own leisures and his herb garden at those times. And King Halffden did abide by this rule, though it inconvenienced him greatly and he could never comprehend why one of the maids would always go amiss at the weekends.

For without Mighty Herddycws, King Halffdan would have become known as The King That Was Nothing Great, with the exception of his utter stupidity of course. Thus did he rely on the mage for his every decision (excepting when to relieve himself and on matters of dress, for which his wife obliged), though many of the sourcerer's pronouncements he required to have explained to him in much detail else he would do otherwise. And thus was Herddycws often to be seen striding about the court in mighty steps chanting imprecations such as "The King is a fool!" and "I would be better offering my skills to an ape!" and "If 'twere not for the hours, thou would'enst see me for dust!". And all who observed him in this fashion would wonder and praise his mighty insights, for they knew not what an ape was.

Now King Halffdan was holding court one fine day in his abode of Caer Les, when a squire did come to him bringing news.

"Sire," said he, "there are men outside who would see'est thou, for they have much to tell and wonders to observe."

"Show them before me, and shut the door. Thou hast let in a bloody draught that ails my bones" proclaimed Halffdan.

Then were two small, squat men brought into the court, dusty from travel, and between them they carried a huge, black, iron cauldron supported on thick poles. And their rainments were of brown, but on their sleeves they carried torcs that denoted their subservience to another lord.

"Sire," said one, "we come thus to you across many leagues to demonstrate this mighty vessel before your all-seeing gaze, for a powerful spell be on it, and mayhap it will interest you and your court."

"What be the nature of this enchantment?" queried Halffdan, for his interest was aroused and supper wasn't for another two hours.

"Sire, it is this: he who should place himself inside the cauldron, it will not boil his blood if he be a coward!"

"By Bran's body," gasped Halffdan, "indeed this is a mighty spell! Let us try it forthwith. Who of my valourous warriors will volunteer himself to prove his mettle?"

But Herddycws had been observing all from beside the King's throne, and now he gave voice. "Sire, I do not think ..."

"Oh hush you now, good Herddycws," said his master, "Observe this wonder and even you shall learn, I'll warrant!"

"Sire, let me be first!" spoke up a thunderous voice. And Huwen Strong-at-arms stepped forth as he spoke. Lo, he was a sight to behold. A tall man clad in armour all of green, with a mighty sword slung at his side, who could slay nine hundredfold of those who would come against him and still not tire and further was an expert in Do-It-Thineself.

"Sire ..." said Herddycws, and those present observed a worried countenance on his face.

"Good friend, be quiet I pray you. Allow Huwen to please us," said Halffdan.

A great fire was made ready, and the magical cauldron suspended above it and filled with many pitchers of water. And when this was done, Huwen Strong-At-Arms strode up to it.

"Oh god," muttered Herddycws wretchedly.

And so Huwen lowered himself into the cauldron. And after the smallest instants of time, the water began to bubble and boil and Huwen screamed and writhed in terrible agonies, for he was a true hero and thus his blood did boil. And when Huwen screamed no more, but merely sank into the heaving waters, King Halffdan ordered the cauldron to be tipped and emptied, and thus Huwen's body spilled out with the hot waters over the flagstones of the court and it did steam and smell of burnt cabbage.

"By the body odour of Macsen, he was a true hero!!" cried Halffdan ecstatically.

"Yes sire," countered Herddycws smoothly, "and he is also dead as a very dead thing indeed."

"Thor's nipples, thou art correct, great wizard!"

And thus all the court did wonder at the wondrous cauldron and its magical effects.

"I must try this object for myself," declared the King. And lo, his loyal subjects did plead with him not to do so for, as they cried, "Sire, thou art surely a great hero and would suffer much harm in the unworldly vessel! Herddycws, tell him 'tis so!" But the mage kept his own counsel, for he remembered well the King's performance at the battle of Penllarnaw (wherein his majesty later professed to have mistaken the advance signal for retreat and had retreated all the way back to Caer Les, bolting the drawbridge behind him and leaving Herddycws to defeat the crazed barbarian hordes with much strenuous magic) and so he said naught against the King's decision.

And so the cauldron was made ready another time by its grinning bearers and then the King prepared to step into its unearthly waters, and still did Herddycws remain silent and still. And so Halffdan was lowered into the cauldron while around him his court did weep and wail in fear for him. And lo! Naught happened. And then the King did look around him in puzzlement and say, "Why, methinks mine royal presence must have broken the spell!" And again Herddycws kept his own counsel and hid his inner thoughts so well that those who looked upon him bethought there to be only a cynical look on his countenance.

Thus the court cheered as one at the sight of their ruler stepping unharmed from the cauldron having defeated its demons, but the men who had brought it into the court did not look best pleased.

"Sire," they wailed, "thou hast broken our lord's most treasured possession! He will surely demand compensation, 'ere his wrath force him to avenge this wrong thou hast done him!"

"Tough shite," said Halffdan, for his judgements were ever wise but rough. "He will get naught from me save your lives. Begone now hence, thou false merchants, and tell thine master that he must suffer his loss!"

"Thou hast not heard an end of this," they muttered darkly as they lifted the useless cauldron onto their shoulders and departed.

Whereupon did Herddycws break into a terrible agitation and hand-wringing and did beseech his lord thus: "Sire, thou hast made an awful mistake, for the torcs on their sleeves marked yonder men as belonging to Llenardd the Hot-tempered who wages war easily and with much gusto and is known to have once slain his neighbour's entire population when that man did not return his ball! Thou hast made a powerful enemy, I fear. No good will come of this, I foretell it so."

"But surely, good mage," soothed Halffdan, "this man's fatal temper will be calmed if I send him a message of apology and a portrait of myself and the Queen?"

Whereupon did Herddycws stride quickly from the hall under a cloud of anger, and those who he passed heard him mutter about his P45 and the howls of the court dogs as he dealt them vicious kicks on his way.

Only days later came a message from the court of Llenardd the Hot-tempered, and when it was read to King Halffdan it was perceived to be a dire threat to his life and his kingdom thus: "Numb nuts, thou hast done me a great wrong and as forfeit I demand the hand of thine daughter, the Princess Lilyth, and all the other parts thereof including the moist bits, 'ere the huge army that even now I gather comes to grind your kingdom into dust, feed your dogs to my cats, and strip thee of thine inheritance and thine bolochs! Yours with love, Llenardd (the Boloch-Stripper)" And then did King Halffdan commence a great hand-wringing and distress for his heart was sorely troubled and his bowels did loosen. And he called hence for Herddycws for counsel.

"What oh what am I to do about this rogue's terrible threat, oh mighty Herddycws?" wailed Halffdan.

"Majesty, thou has been, if I may make so bold, a right pillock," countered the wizard. "There can be only one counsel."

"Oh, 'tis as I feared!" cried Halffdan. "Thou is to tell me that we must prepare for bloody war and not rest until many atrocities have we committed on this accursed Llenardd and his army!"

"No, I was about to counsel that we give him what he wants," replied Herddycws with much smoothness.

"Ah, good friend, I see it now! Dim Ysmygu!" said Halffdan.

"'No smoking'?" translated the mage, puzzled.

"Methinks I mean no problem, is that not so, Herddycws?"

"Of course, Highness," bowed Herddycws.

"Send forth for the Princess Lilyth," called Halffdan. And the Princess was brought before them, and Halffdan did explain her fate and then did she protest and outcry with much spirit, for she had been saving herself for brave Sir Shafftalot. And then she ran from the court and her father in great distress, vowing never to fulfill his wishes.

And Halffdan did say thence to his wizard: "Drug her at supper, Herddycws. I will not risk mine squishy bits for yonder silly bint."

And Herddycws did see to his master's wishes, so that come supper the Princess Lilyth did fall into the deepest of slumbers. And immediately did Halffdan rise and say unto his court: "Let us pack quickly and begone to the abode of Llenardd!" And so it was done.

And many travelled forth in the King's retinue. There were scores of his most loyal knights and warriors to guard the procession, and ladies who would come "for the trip", and bearers to announce their passage, unless it be through dark foreboding woods whence they would tiptoe, and servants to carry food and diverse supplies for their every comfort, and dogs to a-hunt with on the way, and many other subjects thereof. And so splendid was this party that none had been seen like it ever before in all of human history, save maybe that of Arthur's march to the battle of Camlann and several others which shall not be divulged.

And after they had travelled for forty days and nights, they came unto a meadow great in size and even greater in beauty for it contained numerous lovely flowers, and soft grasses, and strange plants, and gentle streams so none who looked upon it thought it aught but a paradise on earth and they did ache to linger there a while and eat a ham sandwich.

But even as they were entranced by this sight, there arose before them a knight of giant proportions and mighty sinews, clad all in gleaming armour of silver so that when the sun caught him he hurt the eyes of those who looked upon him. And his shield was of a size to cover Dyfed and his sword large enough to reach even unto the moon herself. And Herddycws did say, "Cease exaggerating, scribe, they're not that big" and so I did.

"By my faith, you shall not pass," said he in a thunderous tone.

"Good sir knight," said Halffdan, "we only desire to admire the flowers and enjoy yonder lovely meadow and maybe eat our sandwiches."

"Nevertheless, thou can not for I have sworn to let none enter here, by my bloody sword and many-scarred shield hereof," replied the knight.

"Good knight, canst thou tell us why thou hast sworn this oath?" asked Herddycws.

And the knight did stoop down and grasp a many-coloured flower at his feet and pick it up and turn it daintily under his nose and did say unto the company, "Because I like flowers, that's why." And so saying he threw down the flower and unsheathed his huge sword and did charge at the company in terrible wrath. Out stepped Uryth, the King's loyallest knight who could slay nine men in one sweep of his sword, and the silver knight did come upon him and raised his sword and brought it down with such force that it clove Uryth in two and ruined a good suit of armour thereof. And one by one the King's warriors did come forth and the silver knight did terrible battle with them and maim and kill and break fingernails of them.

And the King did plead with his most clever mage: "Herddycws, thou must do something 'ere all my warriors be rendered useless to me!"

And Herddycws gave reply thus: "That I cannot, for it is the weekend and thou knowest I will not work then."

And the King did implore him thus: "Have double time, Herddycws, for thy troubles and take two maids if thou wilst"

And Herddycws did say unto Halffdan: "Done!" And so he did set to work gathering precious weeds and herbs and when he had gathered all that which he sought, he set to work to roll and bind them in cunning fashions.

And Halffdan did watch with much confusion until he could hold his curious tongue no more and said unto Herddycws: "What is this that thou labours over? My warriors are being laid waste and thou sits making daisychains!"

But Herddycws said naught in reply, so intent was he on his craft. And when he had finished he produced a long barrel constructed of his plants thereof and in answer to the many questions he did say that it were a work of "grassroots magic". And he went unto the silver knight and said: "Good sir knight, thou art a great fighter and mayhap thou art now weary from thine efforts. Wilst thou now accept a small smoke to relax and recuperate thou 'ere thou continue the battle?" And the knight did accept so that he took Herddycws' offering in his mouth and Herddycws did set fire to the end for him and the knight did draw the vapours thus produced into his mighty lungs. And lo, he did fall down giggling and was rendered helpless, so that the company could pass by him unhindered for scarce could he lift arms against any of them, nor was the inclination within him. And as they rode past he did give voice to many strange and peculiar words such as "Why art thou melting?" and "Wow man, look at the crazy colours!" And all did wonder thence at this mighty sourcery and praise Herddycws highly.

And they did reach a gentle stream and stop thereby to rest and feed. And Halffdan did heap many compliments on Herddycws. But Herddycws said naught, but merely chose two of the King's finest and most well-shaped maids and did disappear with them into the meadow for many hours.

And so fine did King Halffdan and his retinue find that resting place in the beautiful meadow that they did feast there for seven years. And at the end of the third year, Herddycws did come unto the King fretfully and say: "Your majesty, surely we should be moving along once more 'ere we are late coming to Llenardd's castle?"

And Halffdan replied: "Nonsense, good mage! We have plenty of time!"

And so Herddycws did fret thus for another four years.

And eventually it came to pass that all the food, even unto the After-Supper mints, was consumed and they set out once more for the abode of Llenardd. And after a long and arduous journey they came upon his castle and it was thus: tall, grey battlements and many men within and a large portcullis and PVC replacement arrow slits. And Halffdan said unto Herddycws, "I like not these modern Wimpy places". And Herddycws advised him to keep his own counsel lest he anger Llenardd.

And thus they did come into the court of Llenardd and find that mighty man sat on a huge throne with his long, flowing black hair and dark eyebrows and darker countenance. And he did say unto Halffdan: "Where the ffych hast thou been, by the pubes of Morgana?"

And Halffdan replied: "Apologies my lord, but we did stop for a picnic at a most delightful place and ..."

But Llenardd cut him short. "Hast thou brought thine daughter to my presence as I demanded?" said he.

And at that moment, Herddycws made a sharp jabbing motion with his wand and lo, the Princess Lilyth awoke rubbing her backside.

"Here she is, though I doubt she wishes to consort with thee, Llenardd," said Halffdan.

But Lilyth did set eyes upon Llenardd and swooned to observe his cruel looks and mighty sinews and bulging codpiece. And Llenardd did likewise and approved of her flowing locks and wondrous complexion and heavy bosom.

And Lilyth beseeched her father thus: "Father, thou talkest nonsense for this man appears as a good provider and abundant wellspring of happiness to me."

And Halffdan said: "Eh, what?"

And so they settled down to feasting. This is how they sat: on chairs. And Llenardd and Halffdan did forget their enemities while Herddycws admired the tapestries and banners and serving maids therein. And after they had eaten, Llenardd did retire with Lilyth to his room so that they might converse and grow fond of one another. And passing the door of Llenardd's chamber later, Halffdan and Herddycws heard much banging and commotion and the voice of fair Lilyth crying out lustily for God. And Halffdan wondered and said unto Herddycws: "Truly, King Llenardd be a man of much faith to induce such great religious fervour in mine daughter!". And as he walked on, Herddycws did look after him in a maze and say "Truly, my lord is as thick as a pair of planks which are not greater in height than a dwarf!"

And so Llenardd and Lilyth were wed and she became his Queen. And the advice and foresight of wily Herddycws was vindicated, for over the next fifty years Lilyth did scold and nag and beseech Llenardd unto the grave so that he became known as Llenardd the Tongue-Lashed Who Never Replastered The Hallway and his last words were reputed to be: "Lord, quickly rescue me from yon nagging bint!"

Here endeth the Lay of Halffdan.