Gwyn ap Nudd was King of the Underworld and the mountains of Cadair Berwyn and Moel Sych his throne. His was a cold, barren kingdom filled with foul swamps, evil vipers and devils. This was the land of the dead, a dangerous desolate place seldom visited by mortals. The gateway to this distant kingdom was Pistyll Rhaeadr and each night Gwyn ap Nudd would leave his kingdom to stalk the lands of Wales, collecting the souls of the dead.
Mortal men who were brave or foolish enough to venture into mountains of Berwyn would find the King feasting in a fine palace. The lamps would be lit. Gold and silver plate would sparkle in the shimmering light. None could resist the King’s offer to join in the feast and enjoy the sumptuous food and wine that was being offered. As they ate the meats and fruits and drank the fine wines, King Nudd would steal their souls and throw them onto the mountain where they would lay tormented until time ended. None ever returned to their homes or their loved ones.
Wives cried for their husband and children mourned their lost fathers. Wary of calling out loud lest they upset King ap Nudd, people whispered about the missing souls. Slowly, the stories of how no one ever returned from the mountain above Pistyll Rhaeadr spread across the land.
In Llangollen, St. Collen listened intently as the tales of woe were repeated in hushed tones. Seeing that this was the devil’s work, he at once determined to climb the mountain and put an end to the misery. Armed only with a small bottle of holy water, the saint set out on his perilous quest. As he walked, he wondered what had happened to the missing people. He arrived at the little village of Llanmaeadr ym Mochnant to find the people fearful. A dark cloud hung over the once beautiful valley and pressed up against the mountain filling the air with damp, putrid fog.
St. Collen walked on up the valley, following the river until he came to a great waterfall. The icy water poured down from the mountain with a defiant roar that chilled his blood. Slowly, the saint picked his way across the rocks and began to climb. As he climbed, the air grew colder and the damp soaked through his cloak, mixing with his hot sweat. He reached the top of the waterfall where a cold wind sliced through his wet clothing and chilled him to the bone. Exhausted by the climb, he sat and rested. The sky grew dark and rain began to fall. St. Collen began to shake violently, his frozen body aching with cold. He could feel evil in the air.
Standing up, St. Collen started to walk north towards the higher mountains. Beneath his feet the ground was fetid with decay and his legs sank into the mud. Slowly, he made his way forward, climbing as he went. After many hours trudging through the slime, exhausted, he sank down on his knees and wept. He knew he could not go on. As he knelt, the wind gusted and a voice howled across the mountain, 'Why do you weep? Come. Here is warmth and food and wine that will warm your very innards.'
St. Collen peered into the mist and saw bright light twinkling in the distance. He pulled himself to his feet and stumbled on. Getting closer, he saw a fine palace blazing with radiant illumination. The doors were open and a stream of light poured out. He could smell tempting food being cooked. He went into the palace. Inside, sat on a great throne, was a giant of a man. In one hand he held a huge golden goblet and in the other a leg of beef. Below him was a table laid to overflowing with gold and silver plates loaded with fine foods of every description.
'Who are you?' demanded St. Collen.
'Who am I, you ask. I am Gwyn ap Nudd, King of the Underworld and this is my house. Come join me. We will eat and drink together,' said the king. St. Collen crossed the floor and sat on a stool near the king. He looked at the table piled high with food.
'You must be hungry after your climb. Help yourself,' snorted the king as he chewed on his beef. But, although he was hungry, St. Collen did not eat and, although he was thirsty, he did not drink. Instead he opened his cloak and drew out the small bottle of holy water that he had bought with him and drank sparingly. Then he replaced the bottle in his pocket and sat quietly looking at the King. Gwyn ap Nudd continued to feast, pretending to ignore his visitor but watching the saint slyly as he did so. Nudd wondered why the mortal did not eat or drink. This had never happened before.
After some hours the king grew tired of eating and drinking. He wiped his mouth on his sleeve and sat back in his throne eyeing the saint with suspicion.
'Why have you come to my table and insulted me by refusing my hospitality? He yelled.
'Come, humour me by tasting a little of this fine fruit,' he said more quietly, pointing to the table.
'Why do you steal the souls of the living?' asked the Saint.
'The souls of all mortals belong to me!' answered King Nudd.
'Not before their time,' replied Saint Collen. King Nudd and Saint Collen debated and argued for days over who owned the souls of the living. The heated discussion went back and fore as the King ate and drank heartily, eagerly encouraging his opponent to join him. Saint Collen saw this was a trap. He did not eat a morsel of food or touch a drop of wine. Instead he took tiny sips of holy water to keep refreshed.
The King grew tired of the argument. He saw that he would never win against the quiet saint. As he argued he knew his grip over mortal men was slipping away. Slowly, as the King of the Underworld ran out of arguments, his palace began to fade. Before long it had vanished forever, taking the King with it.
Saint Collen found himself sat on a pile of stones on the top of the mountain. All that was left of the palace below him was a deep hollow where the Kings’ throne had been. The sun was shining on Moel Sych and the birds were singing as Saint Collen trudged wearily down the mountain. His work was done.