top of page

Mari  Llwyd

A Story from Wish Man's Wood

John hated Pentredeg with a vengeance. He hated New Year even more. How could it be otherwise, after last year? Now New Year in Pentredeg, his second, was only minutes away. His mood couldn’t have been darker. Why hadn’t he rid himself of the cottage months ago? The answer was, he knew, that a dark blanket had smothered every aspect of his life since Beti had been taken from him.

His sole friend in the village, Ieuan, the local minister, had assured him everything would be better this year. Ieuan told him he’d warned the locals to stay away from the remote cottage. So far, his friend had never let John down, but how could anyone be sure what these people would do once they’d got few drinks inside them? It seemed this year the plan was for the parade to start at about three in the afternoon because of the high winds forecast. It would be all over well before ten o’clock, Ieuan had confidently told him.

Every one of the locals would be indoors, watching for the fireworks on television at midnight. Well, John wouldn’t be watching any fireworks. He didn’t even have a television. His own miserable evening had been spent half-listening to the radio and staring blankly at the window. All day, he’d felt unable to concentrate on the lightest reading. The radio had been switched off a full hour ago. Now he simply sat here. It wouldn’t be right to go to bed before the exact anniversary of Beti’s death.

‘This nonsense is no more than a new take on an old rural tradition. Goes back centuries, it does. The whole thing is supposed to be no more than a harmless bit of fun.’ This had been Ieuan’s take on it.

Was it a harmless bit of fun when rowdies surrounded the cottage chanting like idiots for at least half-an-hour? Had it been fun when Beti looked out of the window to catch sight of the grotesque horse’s skull hoisted above a white sheet and these people in their coloured clothes dancing around the monstrosity like demented fools? The skull may have been a real one rather than the rough wooden carving John had read about, but he could see the whole was nothing more than a crudely put-together figure. Beti couldn’t. She’d spent her young years in this place. Who knows what poison had been dripped into her innocent mind years before?

‘Y Fari Lwyd!’ she’d murmured. These were the last words to pass her lips. He couldn’t get her to say anything else. She slumped in the corner of this room and covered her face with her hands. All the time she’d been whimpering softly to herself, like a frightened child. And this was the woman whose mature judgement had always been her most impressive quality. The sound of her sobbing was dreadful.

She said nothing for a whole hour after the rowdies had gone before suddenly rushing out of the front door, banging it behind her. He thought it would be wisest to give her ten minutes to herself before chasing after her. How often now he regretted wasting those ten minutes. If only… But, in more rational moments, he recognised his intervention would have made no difference.

In the early minutes of last New Year’s Day he’d walked less than thirty yards down the lane before he found the riderless horse sprawled grotesquely across its width. Ten yards further on he’d found Beti. Like the horse, his wife was lying in the lane. Both of them had broken their necks as they fell. Beti’s eyes were wide open and tilted backwards in a way horrible to see. They’d recorded a verdict of ‘accidental death through misadventure’ at the inquest. It might be true that galloping full tilt down a dark lane was an unwise thing to do, but there was nothing accidental about his wife’s death. She’d been murdered by the benighted beliefs of these villagers.


At one minute past midnight the shrieking wind suddenly dropped. All became still. Then, faintly at first, afterwards unmistakably, he heard the clip-clopping of a horse’s hooves. The sound came to a halt, as he knew it would, outside the heavy, wooden door of the cottage.

‘I have come for you, John. As this day ends it will be time for you to join me.’

The voice sounded uncannily like that of Beti. This was too much. Had these people no shame?

‘Husband; as midnight approaches on this coming night we will be united again.’

Ieuan had promised he’d keep these people away this year. So much for the friendship of a man of the cloth.

‘GO AWAY! Leave me alone.’


As Ieuan shouted, he collapsed in the corner, in unconscious echo of Beti last year. The noise of the wind resumed, but this time as no more than the gentlest of whistles. No other sound could be heard.



It was Ieuan. A fist pounded at the door as he forced his eyes open. He must have fallen asleep where he lay last night.

‘John! Are you all right?’

He scrambled up and unbolted the door, admitting Ieuan together with a sharp gust of wind.

‘I came to see if you’d had a good night’s sleep.’ Ieuan looked at John doubtfully. ‘You should have. After the parade finished at eleven o’clock – a bit later than they promised me  – I stood guard for a couple of hours at the start of the lane to your cottage from the village. I wanted to make absolutely sure there’d be no funny business this year. There wasn’t; they’d all gone home to their beds after their televised fireworks. Mind you; it was a lovely night to be out. Unlike this morning, there wasn’t even any wind, despite the forecast.’

bottom of page