The Bull of Battle and the Great Horned Bull

Auroch Skull, the Harris Museum

Auroch Skull, Harris Museum, Preston

I. Bull of Battle: Tracing an Epithet

In the opening line of The Conversation of Gwyn ap Nudd and Gwyddno Garanhir, Gwyddno addresses Gwyn as tarv trin* ‘bull of battle.’ This has always struck me as a sacred title suitable for Gwyn (‘White’ ‘Blessed’) as a divine warrior-huntsman and psychopomp on an intuitive level. Tracing its origin has led to fascinating discoveries.

Gwyn is not the only one awarded this title. In The Gododdin, a poem from The Book of Aneirin which praises the exploits of the warriors who died in the catastrophic battle of Catraeth, Eithinyn is called tarw trin twice. Caradog and ‘a man of Gwynedd’ are referred to as tarw byddin ‘bull of an army’.

In The Triads we find Tri Tharw Unben ‘Three Bull-Chieftains’ and Tri Tharw Caduc ‘Three Bull-Protectors’. Amongst them are several famous warriors of the Old North: Cynfawr ap Cynwyd Cynwydion, Gwenddolau ap Ceidio, Urien ap Cynfarch, Gwallog ap Lleenog and Afaon, son of Urien’s bard, Taliesin.

More strangely we find Tri Tharw Ellyll ‘Three Bull-Spectres’. Ellyll means ‘spirit, phantom, ghost,’ ‘goblin, elf’ or ‘wraith’ whilst gwyd ellyll refers to ‘furious activity in battle’ and is related to gwyllt ‘wild’ ‘mad’. ‘Bull-Spectres’ may be bull-epitheted warriors who went mad through battle-trauma or their ghosts.

These bull-epithets are more than poetic metaphors. Anne Ross says their underlying significance is ‘an especially apposite title for eminent warriors in a society which at one stage likened its tribal god, leader in war and protector of his people, to a great horned bull, possessing all the most impressive and desirable qualities of the animal.’

Gwyddno addresses Gwyn as ‘awesome / Leader of many’ and enters his protection. Gwyn’s rulership of Annwn and recitation of the names of prominent warriors whose deaths he attended demonstrate his role as a psychopomp and tribal or ancestral deity.

If Gwyn is the ‘tribal god’ of the men whose souls he gathers and other bull-epitheted warriors, who is the ‘great horned bull’ to whom he is likened?

II. The Great Horned Bull

Cattle played a central role in Celtic society and bulls were highly valued for their virility and strength. Therefore it is surprising we do not have an equivalent of Deiotarus ‘Divine Bull’ or Donnotaurus ‘Lordly Bull’ in Britain.

However in Paris we find a sculpture named Tarvos Trigaranus (‘The Bull with Three Cranes’). He is depicted on ‘The Pillar of the Boatmen’ (1AD) thick-set, heavy-chested, with two cranes back-to-back on his back and a third crane on his head. He stands in front of a willow. On an adjacent panel Esus (‘Lord’) is pictured cutting a willow-branch.

Tarvos Trigaranus, Wikipedia Commons

Tarvos Trigaranus, Wikipedia Commons

On a similar monument from Triers on a single stone a man cuts down a tree with a bull’s head and three cranes or egrets in it. At Maiden Castle in Dorset a bronze bull with three horns carrying three female figures was found at a 4AD shrine and may have a basis in legends of shapeshifters who took the form of cranes.

This intrigues me because with Gwyn as a bull of battle we find Gwyddno Garanhir (‘Crane-Legs’). In a personal vision, after their conversation, Gwyddno took the form of a crane and flew to Annwn with his wife and mother who were also cranes. I saw a bull and three cranes before knowing anything about Tarvos Trigaranus.

Miranda Green suggests a naturalistic explanation for the Bull with Three Cranes: ‘egrets and cattle are symbiotically linked in that the birds feed on tics and other pests which infest the hides of the cattle.’ The cattle egret is variously named ‘cow crane’, ‘cow bird’, ‘cow heron’, ‘father of ticks’ and performs this role. Could an egret picking tics from a bull’s back be the source?

Cattle egrets are native to Africa, Spain and Portugal and only spread to northern France in 1981 and Britain in 2007 so it appears this is not the case. Cranes migrate from Sweden through Germany and France to Spain and Mexico but their stops are only temporary and wouldn’t explain a long-term link with local cattle.

Although cattle egrets have only just arrived in Britain, lasting relationships exist between longhorned cattle and wetland birds. English Longhorns originate from Craven and were popular before Holstein Friesians were imported in the 19th C. They are currently being revived as ‘wetland lawnmowers’ at nature reserves because their grazing of long grasses leaves tufts for wildfowl to feed on and hollows left by their hooves are used by nesting lapwings and redshanks.

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Longhorned Cow, Brockholes Nature Reserve

It seems possible such relations date back two thousand years to when aurochs existed alongside wetland birds. Paris’s ancient name was Lutetia (‘marsh’). The image of the ‘great horned bull’ Tarvos Trigaranus was no doubt born from Lutetia’s landscape and inhabitants.

III. The Sacrificial Bull

Auroch bulls could stand two metres high at the shoulder and weigh 1000kg. In his Gallic Wars (48-49BC), Julius Caesar describes an aurochs as ‘a little below the elephant in size, and of the appearance, colour, and shape of a bull.’ These mighty beasts were prized prey for hunters and sadly hunted to extinction in Britain in the Iron Age.

The hunting and killing of an aurochs-like bull is depicted in the bottom of the Gundestrup Cauldron. A hunter or huntress aided by three hounds prepares its slaughter with a blade. Cleverly this death-scene is also one of regeneration. The dead bull lies in a near foetal position surrounded by foliage. On a separate panel three bulls are killed by three hunters accompanied by hounds above and beneath.

'The Bull Fight' National Museum of Denmark

‘The Bull Fight’ National Museum of Denmaek

A sculpture of a sacrificial bull in the same position is found in Paris. On two altars from Alpraham near Chester we find the same bull sculpture and a hound with a close resemblance to one of the three in the bottom of the Gundestrup Cauldron.

We possess several written records of bull sacrifices. Pliny’s Natural History (1AD) refers to a complex Druidic healing ceremony in Gaul where a white-robed Druid climbs a tree and cuts mistletoe with a golden sickle on the sixth day of the moon. Afterward two white bulls ‘whose horns are bound for the first time’ are sacrificed with prayers to an unnamed god. This is followed by ritual feasting.

In Tara the way of selecting a new king was through a tarbhfhess (‘bull feast’). A bull was slaughtered then a medium ate its meat and drank its broth. Four Druids chanted a truth-spell whilst he slept and received a vision of the king. A trace of similar rites in Britain is found in Rhonabwy’s Dream where Rhonabwy experiences a prophetic vision sleeping on an ox-hide.

Stories of bull sacrifices are supported by archaeological evidence. At the war sanctuary of Gournay-sur-Aronde, cattle (including bulls) were led to a pit, killed by a single blow to the nape of the neck then left to decompose; their blood and rotting flesh feeding the earth and underworld deities. Broken weapons were piled in pits surrounding the dead animal.

Afterward the cattle bones were separated. The heads were removed and stored whilst the neck, shoulder and spine were deposited in ditches either side of the entrance with the weapons. About 3,000 bones and 2,000 bent and broken weapons were found. This provides clear evidence of associations between bulls, battle and the underworld gods.

In Britain a complete bull was found interred in a subterranean Cambridge shrine which may have been a sacrifice to the chthonic deities. A West Yorkshire chariot burial surrounded by bones from 300 cattle is suggestive of ritual feasting taking place over hundreds of years. At Maiden Castle human burials were discovered with joints of beef.

This accumulation of evidence shows the importance of the bull as a sacrificial animal whose flesh was deemed incredibly sacred as food for humans and the gods. The sacrifice of a bull would have been a considerable cost for a community. From it powerful magic stemmed for healing, prophecy and war.

IV. Magical Bulls and the Underworld

A pair of magical bulls: Finnbennach (‘White-horned of Connacht’) and Donn Cúailnge (‘Brown Bull of Cooley’) appear in the Táin Bó Cúailnge (‘The Cattle Raid of Cooley’) and fight to their deaths at the end. These bulls were originally divine herdsmen and also took the forms of ‘ravens, stags, champions, water-beasts, demons and water-worms.’

Their capacity to shift shape suggests they were theriomorphic bull deities and progenitors and protectors of their herd (which may be extended metaphorically to people). Donn Cúailnge bears resemblances to Donnotaurus ‘Lordly Bull’ whereas Finnbennach may be connected to the special white cattle sacrificed by the Gaulish Druids.

In Culhwch and Olwen, the impossible tasks fulfilled by Arthur and his men for Culhwch include the capture and yoking together of three pairs of legendary oxen: ‘two oxen of Gwylwlydd Winau’, ‘the Melyn Gwanwyn (‘The one of the yellow of spring’) and the Ych Brych (‘Brindled Ox’)’ and ‘Two horned oxen… Nyniaw and Peibiaw.’

Nyniaw and Peibiaw are the sons of Erb, King of Archenfield, ‘whom God transformed into oxen for their sins.’ I suspect this is a Christian overlay for divine herdsmen who defied the boundaries of man and ox like Finnbennach and Donn Cúailnge.

In Culhwch and Olwen it is not explained how the Brindled Ox is captured or where from. This may be derived from his appearance in The Spoils of Annwn at Caer Fanddwy (‘Fortress of God’s Peak’). Along with seven other Caers, Caer Fanddwy is located in Annwn. The Brindled Ox is described: ‘thick his headband / Seven score links / on his collar’.

The headband gives him a human-like apparel and puts me in mind of Anne Ross’s description of bronze heads on Bronze and Iron Age bucket mounts. One has a ‘hair-line defined by means of a narrow, notched band.’ Human heads with bull’s horns and birds emerging from bull’s heads appear together and are suggestive of shapeshifting bull deities. Such ancient iconography may lie behind the Brindled Ox.

In The Conversation of Gwyn ap Nudd and Gwyddno Garanhir, Gwyn speaks of his sorrow at witnessing battle at Caer Fanddwy: ‘a host / Shields shattered, spears broken, / Violence inflicted by the honoured and fair.’ It seems likely Gwyn refers to the struggle between Arthur and the people of Annwn for the Brindled Ox and this is how he was captured. Of Arthur’s side ‘except seven / none rose up.’

I believe it is no coincidence Gwyn, a bull of battle and ruler of Annwn, is present at the capture of the Brindled Ox. The Chief of Annwn is a central figure in The Spoils of Annwn and Gwyn is a potential candidate for this title. The Chief of Annwn possesses a magical cauldron. This could well be connected with a bull sacrifice and feast.

V. Fairy Kine

The notion cattle come from the underworld is deeply ingrained in the lore of Ireland and Wales. In Cruachan, King Conn steals cattle from the Sidhe then covers his land with magical snow. To melt the snow, the Sidhe kill three hundred white cows with red ears and spread their livers across the plains. For this reason, Magh Ai is called ‘The Plain of Livers’.

Here we find white cows with red ears belonging to the Sidhe (‘fairies’) which presumably come from the Sidhe (‘mounds’). A shining white coat and red ears are traditional significators of otherworldly origins.

Several Welsh stories refer to Gwartheg y Llyn (‘Kine of the Lake’) watched over by divine herdswomen called Gwragedd Annwn (‘Wives of the Underworld’). Wirt Sikes says their favourite haunts are ‘lakes and rivers… especially the wild and lonely lakes upon the mountain heights’ which ‘serve as avenues of communication between this world and the lower one of Annwn, the shadowy domain presided over by Gwyn ap Nudd.’

Cairn adjacent to Llyn Barfog,, by andy, Wikimedia Commons

‘Cairn adjacent to Llyn Barfog’,, by Andy, Wikipedia Commons

Gwragedd Annwn were rumoured to appear at dusk close to Llyn Barfog, in the hills behind Aberdovey, clad in green with hounds and ‘beautiful milk white kine’. When one of these cows strayed, falling in love with cattle from a thisworldly herd, a farmer managed to catch her. She produced calves, milk, butter and cheese like none seen in Wales.

Unfortunately the farmer decided to fatten her up to eat. Once she was fatter than the fattest cow he’d ever seen he called for the butcher. As the butcher raised his ‘red right arm’ and ‘struck fair and hard between the eyes’ with his bludgeon the blow went straight through the cow’s ‘goblin head’ raising a deafening shriek and knocking over nine men. A green Graig appeared on a crag above the lake crying:

‘Dere di felen Emion,
Cyrn Cyfeiliorn-braith y Llyn,
A’r foci Dodin,
Codwch, dewch adre.

Come yellow Anvil, stray horns,
Speckled one of the lake,
And of the hornless Dodlin,
Arise, come home.’

The milk white cow returned with all her progeny, leaving only one cow who turned from white to black. This legend explains the origin of Welsh black cattle.

VI. White Park Cattle

Historical records exist of payments of ‘real’ white cows with red ears. An Irish law tract states the penalty for satirising King Cernodon of Ulster included ‘seven white cows with red ears’.

In Wales The Laws of Hywel Dda (10th C) determined fines by numbers of colour-pointed cattle. The honour price for an insult to the King of Aberffraw was ‘100 cows for each cantref (‘hundred town’) in his dominion; a white bull with red ears for every hundred cows.’

The Lord of Dinefwr’s honour price was ‘as many white cattle with red ears that will extend, the head of the one to the tail of the other from Argoel to the palace of Dinefwr, with a bull of the same colour for every score.’ The Welsh sent 400 white colour-pointed cows and a bull to King John (who reigned 1199 – 1216AD) in a failed attempt at appeasement.

A fascinating fact that emerged from my research is that white cattle with red ears really existed and are still with us in Britain today. On Dinefwr Park in Carmarthenshire, Cadzow in Lanarkshire and Chartley in Staffordshire herds of White Park cattle are thriving. They are white and ‘have a pigmented skin with red or black ears, eyelids, muzzle, feat and teats. Sometimes there are freckles on the face, neck or shoulders. Sometimes the tail switch is white.’

White Park cow with calf on Hambledon Hill 1 Marilyn Peddle, Wikipedia Commons

White Park cow with calf on Hambledon Hill 1, Marilyn Peddle,, Wikipedia Commons

White Parks could be the source of the laws and earlier stories about white bulls and fairy kine. They even carry a recessive gene resulting in black calves which could explain the remaining black cow in the story from Llyn Barfog. Although scholars have speculated they were brought by the Romans, genetic research has proved this is not true. These Ancient British cattle could come from the underworld.

VII. The Bull and the Portal

In September 2012, Gwyn appeared to me as a bull of battle: a white warrior in a bull-horned helmet stepping with spear and shield straight out of 6th C Wales into 21st C Preston to gift me the imperative of ‘enchanting the shadowlands.’ Now my book is complete I’m being led through the portal opened on that day to explore the connections between the modern world and ‘Heroic Age’.

The image of Gwyn in the numinous prophetic aegis of tarv trin emerged from a Brythonic society not only at war with the Anglo-Saxons but plagued by bloody internecine warfare between its rulers. Gwyn served as a psychopomp to the Men of the North and the death of an era.

1500 years on thankfully wars between rival kingdoms in Britain are at an end. However we still face battle and conflict in relation to environmental and political issues.

Gwyn appears again in the Old North calling me to enter Annwn, learn to shift shape like his herdsmen and women. To seek the friendship of a great horned bull with horns of willow filled with singing birds, an island of dancing cranes, stampedes of wild white red-eared cattle careering from lakes stopping traffic on country lanes. To return with horns and hair full of birds and twigs to speak visions of hope for a new world alongside the marsh and the gods of the deep.

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*The change in spelling from tarv to tarw results from the transition between Old and Middle Welsh. Tarv would have been pronounced ‘tarb’ whilst tarw is ‘tar-oo’. The shift from tarw to tharw is caused by the spirant mutation. Many thanks to Heron for this information and help with understanding Jarman’s translations in The Gododdin.


A.O.H. Jarman (transl), Aneirin – Gododdin, (Gomer Press, 1998)
Anne Ross, Pagan Celtic Britain, (Cardinal, 1974)
Anne Ross & Don Robins, The Life and Death of a Druid Prince, (Touchstone, 1991)
Heron (transl), Gwyn ap Nudd and Gwyddno Garanhir (2015)
Janet Vorwald Dohner, The Encyclopedia of Endangered and Historic Lifestock and Poultry Breeds, (Yale University Press, 2002)
Jean Sprackland, Strands: A Year of Discoveries on the Beach, (Vintage, 2013)
Lady Augusta Gregory (transl), Cuchulain of Muirthemne, (Sacred Texts, 1902)
Miranda Green, Animals in Celtic Life and Myth, (Routledge, 1998)
Miranda Green, Dying for the Gods, (The History Press, 2002)
Peter Thomas Ellis, Welsh Law and Custom in the Middle Ages, (University of Bristol)
Rachel Bromwich (ed), The Triads of the Island of Britain, (University of Wales Press, 2014)
Rachel Bromwich and Simon D. Evans (eds), Culhwch and Olwen, (University of Wales, 1998)
Sarah Higley (transl), Preiddu Annwn: The Spoils of Annwn, (The Camelot Project, 2007)
Sioned Davies (transl), The Mabinogion, (Oxford University Press, 2007)
Thomas Kinsella (transl), The Tain, (Oxford University Press, 1969)
W.A.McDevitte & W.S.Bohn (transl.), Julius Caesar, Gallic Wars, (Sacred Texts, 1859)
Wirt Sikes, British Goblins, (Lightning Source, 1880)

Thirteen calves born at WWT Martin Mere‘, Wetland and Wildfowl Trust
Ancient chariot burial excites experts‘, BBC News
The famous white cattle of Carmarthenshire’s Dinefwr’ Park‘, Wales Online

Mary of the Marsh

Enduring years of disconnection,
incredulity of stars,
anger beneath the heavens,
she scathed the priests and walked alone,
drifting among chapels, knowing she didn’t belong,
her robes of night fell on soft rushes.

They say she walked along the marsh.
They say she walked out to the river.
They say she looked out to the sea.

In the damp, dark parishes
paradise was never hers,
she walked amongst the outcasts and the sick
healing wounds that should never open,
seeing what shouldn’t be seen,
her robes of night fell on troubled waters.

Mary of the lepers,
Mary of the marsh,
I saw you running to the river,
I saw you running to the sea.
How you longed to sail away…

Lady of the Oak

I leave the shelter of the grove ducking beneath twisted hawthorn branches. The trees weave the entrance closed behind me. Rain hits my face, falling from a heaven of relentless grey. Reading the sky’s grimace I wonder what has been seen.

A crow caws his warning. Sprinting toward me up the hollow way I see a young man, legs a blur of blue white checkers and feet a splash of mud and leather. Hair slicked to his head, his dark eyes flicker with awe and wariness. The first dapples of a beard play across his chin like leafy shadows.

“M-my Lady of the Oak,” he stammers pulling up.

His breathless chest heaves beneath a sodden tunic. It is rare for youths to approach me without an elder. Looking more closely at my gnarled face his eyes widen in dawning horror. “Bad news travels from up river. A Man of the Oak wishes to speak with you.” He runs away in a flurry of muddy feet.

I follow down the hollow way heedless of the downpour weighing my cloak for the damp of the air already resides deep within my bones. Looking east, rain drenches the green hill, our sacred headland, and the greener barrow housing our ancestors. The torrent’s drumming beat strikes bubbles across the marsh land. As I walk onto the wooden pad way the reeds hiss like snakes. Decay bites my throat. The steely cast of the river of shining water reflects the glumness of the sky.

In a canoe roped to the jetty my cousin Drust sits hunched in his robes. I question what he is doing here, alone.

The river’s song answers. Her visions flood my mind. I see the battle at the ford of roaring water. Broken chariots, tribesmen slaughtered, the hero light vanishing from their eyes like fleeing stars. The eagle standard flies high, reflected in the crimson river. Seeing the pale flicker of their separating ghosts I speak a prayer for the souls doomed to return to a land where they no longer belong.

Sorrow chokes me like bile. I vomit it in anger at Drust, “what are you doing here, when your clan are dead?”

Drust looks up, yet his face remains hidden by his cowl. “I am taking the remnants of our traditions and our gods to the island across the sea.”

I laugh, a throaty brittle sound like twigs twisting and snapping. “Gods are not like saplings, to be taken away and re-rooted and traditions are not nurtured by foreign soils. It seems the ideas of the invaders have penetrated more deeply than I imagined.”

Drust tenses. Drawing my knife from its leather sheath I lean down and slice the rope tying his canoe to the jetty. The river sluices him west and out to sea.

The wind carries enemy voices. Reflected in the falling droplets I see swords and plumed helms. Slipping on the wood and slithering up the hollow way I reach the grove and beg the hawthorns for passage. A peace of ancient green breaks over me, like I’m sinking into a bed of moss. Beneath the canopy’s protective shadow I believe myself safe until tumult disturbs the roots. Crows caw, anticipating carrion.

I cross a sea of acorns and approach the grove’s mighty king. Putting my arms around his trunk, I press my face to the rough bark. “Brother Oak, let me see into the future.”

My heartbeat merges with the pulse of rising sap. My feet become roots reaching downward through damp soil to the outer edges of the grove. My arms stretch into branches and split, bearing bunches of lobed leaves nourished by the hidden sun, washed by the rain, flourishing green.

The ground shudders at the march of soldiers, galloping hooves and chariot wheels. Battle cries are hollered. Bows hum to the crash of metal. Screams and groans rock me. I taste blood and its bitterness fills me.

Earth and water shift as ditches are cut, fields plundered to feed the enemy. Ancestral ghosts clutch my twigs shrieking of their barrow torn down and a temple built to a foreign god. I moan at the ache of rot softening my flesh, bowing and creaking as my branches snap and innards hollow. I beg for lightning’s merciful release but there is no answer from the clouds of sorrow.

“Brother, let me return,” I speak. “The tribe need my support in their defeat.”

I ease back from the oak as the hawthorns scream and turn to see branches broken, shredded leaves and burst haws at the sandaled feet of a man dressed in a plumed helmet, iron breast plate and red woollen tunic. His eyes are blue, skin tanned by the sun of a hotter land. Brandishing a sword stained with blood and sap he accuses me of witchcraft, of sacrificing innocents to divine the future from their death throes.

I smile. The man freezes in horror. I draw my knife and mustering all my oaken might I drive it between the iron plates and slice open his stomach, spilling his guts upon the grass. Attempting to gather them in like rope he drops twitching and groaning to his knees.

I read the future of his people and their empire from his pulsing entrails.

Kneeling, I pick up a handful of blood soaked acorns and address my brother, “do not fear. Whilst tribes and empires rise and fall, the steady strength of oak will conquer all.”

Oak, St Mary's graveyard, Castle Hill

The Black One of the Seas

Castle Hill, on the RibbleThe green hill on the water drifts
Anchorless on high tide.
Wraiths of fog fight the primal mist.
Hoof beats fall from behind.

The splash of marsh brings rounded feet;
Miracle he doesn’t sink,
Approaches like an isle-bound fleet,
The Black One of the Seas.

His mane is waves, his arching crest
Vaunts higher than a mountain.
His tail, a tiller switches, twists,
His nostrils foam black fountains.

His heaving chest rumbles and roars,
Rolls like the tides of the seas.
His long legs, a volley of oars
Beat like a heart possessed.

A troupe of seven rides his back,
The Northern King Elidyr,
Advisors, servants, child behind,
A cook upon his crupper.

Weary party, a doomed portent,
Endlessly blown ferry
Voyages black and breaking straits
From Clyde to Anglesey.

Rhythms of life they drive and smash
Like waves wrecking a jetty.
Then sink back to the ocean’s death
With the Black One of the Seas.

* This poem is based on ‘The Three Horse Burdens’ from The Triads of the Island of Britain, which can be found here:

The King of Faery

In woodland damp, a shady dark divine
On aged slope the creeping ivy climbs.
Caressing thorn and dressing ash with vine
A poison maid spreading her locks sublime
Drapes kingdom fair with wanton waxen shine.
The deep earth’s lawless vagabond of joy
Cords heart shaped leaf where eldritch magic lives,
Ascends, protects the glamorous abode
Of fair folk ancient as the darkness of the wood.

Rooted fast at the foot of hallowed hill
In somber silence stands a leaning yew
Ghosts and needles shadowing its boughs
Whispers hanging sorrowful and true,
Of pageant stately passing at full moon.
Yew tree hides the underworld’s feared gateway
Beneath the haunted watching of its roots.
The wise and dead or reckless seek entry
Imploring the illustrious King of Faery.


His spectral shine shimmers white as moonlight
His hair floats fair about his phantom limbs
His warrior attire is black as night.
The eyes of the hunter of souls are grim
As the howl of his hounds on Annwn’s winds.
His dread black steed is a beast of the marsh
Dripping like the sea, his whinnying swims
Like a wetland dobbie bridging the worlds
And hurtling his way across the oak covered swamp.

The King’s pale face is black with wrath
For an eldritch dream killed by disbelief.
Souls who crossed to Annwn to be reborn
Stagnate in the gloom of apathy’s reign.
Through a mist of twilight doomed rides the King.
He travels the path of the Ribble’s old course
From the heart of the hill the death knell rings.
Decked in somber garments the fair folk march
Calling souls to the underworld with funeral spells.


Full moon breaks the rushes,
quivering lips soft whiskered brush the water,
hair line trail traces black velvet muzzle
which moistens, smacks and laps,
heavy glug of oesophagus
tugs water to the bowels of a dread black creature.
The beast drinks deep, shaggy hide
long and twitching skirts agile cloven feet.
His saucer red eyes hold star glow infernal.
Head raised dripping, he speaks a gargling tale
of strangled marshes, dried out mosslands,
shrunken brooks and pools abandoned,
eternal thirst his cruel domain and an endless lust for riders
to sink beneath the skin of a world unintelligible
to one deep as peat and old as the glaciers.
His lips close slapping. His burning eyes blink.
With a fish-like leap he slips below the water.