The Mantle of Kings' Beards
THERE were formerly two kings in Britain named Nynio and Peibio. One moonlight night, as they were walking the fields, "See," said Nynio, "what a beautiful and extensive field I possess." "Where is it?" said Peibio. "There it is," said Nynio, "the whole sky, as far as vision can extend." "And dost thou see," said Peibio, "what countless herds and flocks of cattle and sheep I have grazing in thy field? " "Where are they? " said Nynio. "There they are," said Peibio, "the whole host of stars which thou seest, each of golden brightness, with the Moon for their shepherdess, to look after their wanderings." "They shall not graze in my pasture," said Nynio. "They shall," said Peibio. " They shall not," said the one. "They shall," said the other. From contention it came to furious war, and the armies and subjects of both the kings were nearly all destroyed.
Rhitta Gawr, King of Wales, hearing of the desolation wrought by these mad monarchs, determined to attack them. Having previously consulted the laws and his people, he marched against them, vanquished them and cut off their beards. When the other Kings of Britain, twenty-eight in number, heard of this, they combined all their legions to avenge the degradation committed on the two disbearded kings, and made a fierce onset on Rhitta the Giant and his forces; and furiously bold was the engagement. But Rhitta won the day. "This is my extensive field," said he then, and he shaved the beards of these kings also, so that he now had the beards of thirty Kings of Britain.
When the kings of the surrounding countries heard of the disgrace inflicted on all these disbearded kings, they armed themselves against Rhitta and his men, and tremendous was the conflict. But Rhitta achieved a decisive victory, and then exclaimed, " This is my immense field," and at once ordered his men to shave off the beards of the kings. Then pointing to them, "These," said he, "are the animals that grazed my field, but I have driven them out: they shall no longer depasture there!" After that he took up all the beards and trimmed with them a mantle for himself that extended from head to heel: and Rhitta was twice as large as any other person ever seen.
Then Rhitta sent a messenger to the Court of King Arthur to say that he had trimmed a mantle with kings' beards, and to command Arthur carefully to flay off his beard and send it to him. Out of respect to his pre-eminence over other kings his beard should have the honour of the principal place. But if he refused to do it, he challenged him to a duel, with this offer, that the conqueror should have the mantle and the beard of the vanquished. Then was Arthur furiously wroth and said:
"Were it permitted to slay a messenger, thou shouldest not go back to thy lord alive, for this is the most arrogant and villainous message that ever man sent to a king. By the faith of my body, Rhitta shall lose his head."
Arthur gathered his host and marched into Gwynedd and encountered Rhitta. The twain fought on foot, and they gave one another blows so fierce, so frequent and so powerful, that their helmets were pierced and their skullcaps were broken and their arms were shattered and the light of their eyes was darkened by sweat and blood. At the last Arthur became enraged, and he called to him all his strength: and boldly angry and swiftly resolute and furiously determined, he lifted up his sword and struck Rhitta on the crown of the head a blow so fiercely-wounding, severely-venomous and sternly-smiting that it cut through all his head armour and his skin and his flesh and clove him in twain. And Rhitta gave up the ghost, and was buried on the top of the highest mountain of Eryri, and each of his soldiers placed a stone on his tomb. The place was afterwards known as Gwyddfa Rhitta, Rhitta's Barrow, but the English call it Snowdon.