The Mabinogion: Pwyll Lord of Dyved
14th century, Middle Welsh, National Library of Wales
Going back into the stable, the Welsh nobleman finds a baby lying on the floor.
Rhiannon has to stand at a mounting block every day for seven years and offer to carry all-comers across the courtyard on her back.
The rationale for this, and the outcome of this curious story, is as follows:
Rhiannon and Pwyll are childless. Pressure is put on her to conceive, and she gives birth at last. Women are asigned to look after her, but during the night they fall asleep and the baby is snatched away by unseen hands. To cover up their laxity in watching over her, the women kill some puppies and make out that the blood found on Rhiannon is a result of her killing her baby, which they say they were unable to prevent. As a punishment for this, Rhiannon is sentenced to stand at a mounting block every day for seven years and offer to carry all-comers across the courtyard on her back.
Meanwhile, a local nobleman has a prize mare who has given birth every year, but the foal is never anywhere to be seen in the morning. At last, the nobleman resolves to watch over the birth and to guard the stable all night. The new foal is born, and in the darkness, suddenly, a claw reaches in and tries to snatch the baby foal away. The man cuts off the invading limb with a sword and rushes out to confront the intruder, but it has disappeared. Going back into the stable, he finds a baby on the floor.
The nobleman and his wife bring up the child as their own, but as the boy grows older, and being on familiar terms with Pwyll, it becomes clear to them both whose son he really is. So at last they take him to Pwyll, Head of Annwvyn – Annwvyn = Not-world, the Otherworld – and tell him the truth. Rhiannon is vindicated amd all ends happily. The boy is named Pryderi, which is 'anxiety' in Welsh.
'Sounds garbelled to me,' said Miranda.
'The Gauls used to have a horse goddess,' said Quintin. 'Her name was Epona. Maybe a garbelled recollection of her myth?'