The Celtic Literature Collective

Glasynys's Tales
Translated by John Rhys

Gors Goch
When the people of the Gors Goch one evening had just gone to bed, they heard a great row and disturbance around the house. One could not comprehend at all what it was that made a noise at that time of night. Both the husband and the wife had waked up, quite unable to make out what it might be. The children also woke, but no one could utter a word: their tongues had all stuck to the roof of their mouths. The husband, however, at last managed to move, and to ask, "Who is there? What do you want?" Then he was answered from without by a small silvery voice, "It is room we want to dress our children." The door was opened: a dozen small beings came in, and began to search for an earthen pitcher with water; there they remained for some hours, washing and titivating themselves. As the day was breaking, they went away, leaving behind them a fine present for the kindness they had received. Often afterwards did the Gors Goch folks have the company of this family. But once there happened to be there a fine plump and pretty baby in his cradle. The fair family came, and, as the baby had not been baptized, they took the liberty of changing him for one of their own. They left behind in his stead an abominable creature that would do nothing but cry and scream every day of the week. The mother was nearly breaking her heart on account of the misfortune, and greatly afraid of telling anybody about it. But everybody got to see that there was something wrong at the Gors Goch, which was proved before long by the mother dying of longing for her child. The other children died broken-hearted after their mother, and the husband was left alone with the little elf without any one to comfort them. But shortly after, one began to resort again to the hearth of the Gors Goch to dress children, and the gift, which had formerly been silver money, became henceforth pure gold. In the course of a few years the elf became the heir of a large farm in North Wales, and that is why the old people used to say, "Shoe the elf with gold and he will grow" (Fe ddaw gwiddon yn fawr ond ei bedoli ag aur). That is the legend of the Gors Goch.'

William Ellis
Once when William Ellis, of the Gilwern, was fishing on the bank of Cwm Silin Lake on a dark misty day, he had seen no living Christian from the time when he left Nantlle. But as he was in a happy mood, throwing his line, he beheld over against him in a clump of rushes a large crowd of people, or things in the shape of people about a foot in stature: they were engaged in leaping and dancing. He looked on for hours, and he never heard, as he said, such music in his life before. But William went too near them, when they threw a kind of dust into his eyes, and, while he was wiping it away, the little family took the opportunity of betaking themselves somewhere out of his sight, so that he neither saw nor heard anything more of them.'

Llyn y Ffynhonnau
There is a similar story respecting a place called Llyn y Ffynhonnau. There was no end of jollity there, of dancing, harping, and fiddling, with the servant man of Gelli Ffrydau and his two dogs in the midst of the crowd, leaping and capering as nimbly as anybody else. At it they were for three days and three nights, without stopping; and had it not been for a skilled man, who lived not far off, and came to know how things were going on, the poor fellow would, without doubt, have danced himself to death. But he was rescued that time!

Einion and Olwen
Once on a time, a shepherd boy had gone up the mountain. That day, like many a day before and after, was exceedingly misty. Now, though he was well acquainted with the place, he lost his way, and walked backwards and forwards for many a long hour. At last he got into a low rushy spot, where he saw before him many circular rings. He at once recalled the place, and began to fear the worst. He had heard, many hundreds of times, of the bitter experiences, in those rings, of many a shepherd who had happened to chance on the dancing place or the circles of the fair family. He hastened away as fast as ever he could, lest he should be ruined like the rest; but, though he exerted himself to the point of perspiring and losing his breath, there he was, and there he continued to be, a long time. At last he was met by an old fat little man, with merry blue eyes, who asked him what he was doing. He answered that he was trying to find his way home. "Oh," said he, "come after me, and do not utter a word until I bid thee." This he did, following him on and on until they came to an oval stone; and the old fat little man lifted it, after tapping the middle of it three times with his walking-stick. There was there a narrow path with stairs visible here and there; and a sort of whitish light, inclining to grey and blue, was to be seen radiating from the stones. "Follow me fearlessly," said the fat man; "no harm will be done thee." So on the poor youth went, as reluctantly as a dog to be hanged. But presently a fine, wooded, fertile country spread itself out before them, with well arranged mansions dotting it all over, while every kind of apparent magnificence met the eye and seemed to smile in the landscape; the bright waters of the rivers meandered in twisted streams, and the hills were covered with the luxuriant verdure of their grassy growth, and the mountains with a glossy fleece of smooth pasture. By the time they had reached the stout gentleman's mansion, the young man's senses had been bewildered by the sweet cadence of the music which the birds poured forth from the groves: then there was gold dazzling his eyes, and silver flashing on his sight. He saw there all kinds of musical instruments and all sorts of things for playing; but he could discern no inhabitant in the whole place; and, when he sat down to-eat, the dishes on the table came to their places of themselves, and disappeared when one had done with them. This puzzled him beyond measure; moreover, he heard people talking together around him, but for the life of him he could see no one but his old friend. At length the fat man said to him: "Thou canst now talk as much as it may please thee;" but, when he attempted to move his tongue, it would no more stir than if it had been a lump of ice, which greatly frightened him. At this point, a fine old lady, with health and benevolence beaming in her face, came to them and slightly smiled at the shepherd: the mother was followed by her three daughters, who were remarkably beautiful. They gazed with somewhat playful looks at him, and at length began to talk to him; but his tongue would not wag. Then one of the girls came to him, and, playing with his yellow and curly locks, gave him a smart kiss on his ruddy lips. This loosened the string that bound his tongue, and he began to talk freely and eloquently. There he was, under the charm of that kiss, in the bliss of happiness; and there he remained a year and a day without knowing that he had passed more than a day among them; for he had got into a country where there was no reckoning of time. But by-and-by he began to feel somewhat of a longing to visit his old home, and asked the stout man if he might go. "Stay a little yet," said he, "and thou shalt go for awhile." That passed: he stayed on, but Olwen, for that was the name of the damsel that had kissed him, was very unwilling that he should depart. She looked sad every time he talked of going away; nor was he himself without feeling a sort of a cold thrill passing through him at the thought of leaving her. On condition, however, of returning, he obtained leave to go, provided with plenty of gold and silver, of trinkets and gems. When he reached home, nobody knew who he was: it had been the belief that he had been killed by another shepherd, who found it necessary to betake himself hastily far away to America, lest he should be hanged without delay. But here is Einion Las at home, and everybody wonders especially to see that the shepherd had got to look like a wealthy man: his manners, his dress, his language, and the treasure he had with him, all conspired to give him the air of a gentleman. He went back one Thursday night, the first of the moon of that month, as suddenly as he had left the first time, and nobody knew whither. There was great joy in the country below when Einion returned thither, and nobody was more rejoiced at it than Olwen his beloved. The two were right impatient to get married; but it was necessary to do that quietly, for the family below hated nothing more than fuss and noise; so, in a sort of a half-secret fashion, they were wedded. Einion was very desirous to go once more among his own people, accompanied, to be sure, by his wife. After he had been long entreating the old man for leave, they set out on two white ponies, that were, in fact, more like snow than anything else in point of colour. So he arrived with his consort in his old home, and it was the opinion of all that Einion's wife was the handsomest person they had anywhere seen. Whilst at home, a son was born to them, to whom they gave the name of Taliessin. Einion was now in the enjoyment of high repute, and his wife received due respect. Their wealth was immense, and soon they acquired a large estate; but it was not long till people began to inquire after the pedigree of Einion's wife: the country was of opinion that it was not the right thing to be without a pedigree. Einion was questioned about it, but without giving any satisfactory answer, and one came to the conclusion that she was one of the fair family (Tylwyth Teg). "Certainly," replied Einion, "there can be no doubt that she comes from a very fair family; for she has two sisters who are as fair as she, and, if you saw them together, you would admit that name to be a most fitting one." This, then, is the reason why the remarkable family in the Land of Enchantment and Glamour (Hud a Lledrith) is called the fair family.'

Cwmllan of the Tylwyth Teg
Cwmllan was the principal resort of the fair family [Tylwyth Teg], and the shepherds of Hafod Llan used to see them daily in the ages of faith gone by. Once, on a misty afternoon, one of them had been searching for sheep towards Nant y Bettws. When he had crossed Bwlch Cwmllan, and was hastening laboriously down, he saw an endless number of little folks singing and dancing in a lively and light-footed fashion, while the handsomest girls he had ever seen anywhere were at it preparing a banquet. He went to them and had a share of their dainties, and it seemed to him that he had never in his life tasted anything approaching their dishes. When the twilight came, they spread their tents, and the man never before saw such beauty and ingenuity. They gave him a soft bed of yielding down, with sheets of the finest linen, and he went to rest as proud as if he had been a prince. But, alas! next morning, after all the jollity and sham splendour, the poor man, when he opened his eyes, found that his bed was but a bush of bulrushes, and his pillow a clump of moss. Nevertheless, he found silver money in his shoes, and afterwards he continued for a long time to find, every week, a piece of coined money between two stones near the spot where he had slept. One day, however, he told a friend of his the secret respecting the money, and he never found any more.'

Another of these shepherds was one day urging his dog at the sheep in Cwmllan, when he heard a kind of low noise in the cleft of a rock. He turned to look, when he found there some kind of a creature weeping plenteously. He approached, and drew out a wee lass; very shortly afterwards two middle-aged men came to him to thank him for his kindness, and, when about to part, one of them gave him a walking-stick, as a souvenir of his good deed. The year after this, every sheep in his possession had two ewe-lambs; and so his sheep continued to breed for some years. But he had stayed one evening in the village until it was rather late, and there hardly ever was a more tempestuous night than that: the wind howled, and the clouds shed their contents in sheets of rain, while the darkness was such that next to nothing could be seen. As he was crossing the river that comes down from Cwmllan, where its flood was sweeping all before it in a terrible current, he somehow let go the walking-stick from his hand; and when one went next morning up the Cwm, it was found that nearly all the sheep had been swept away by the flood, and that the farmer's wealth had gone almost as it came with the walking-stick.'

The Mermaid
The shorter versions given by Glasynys are probably more nearly given as he heard them, than the longer ones, which may be suspected of having been a good deal spun out by him; but there is probably very little in any of them of his own invention, though the question whence he got his materials in each instance may be difficult to answer. In one this is quite clear, though he does not state it, namely the story of the sojourn of Elfod the Shepherd in Fairyland, as given in Cymru Fu, p. 477: it is no other than a second or third-hand reproduction of that recorded by Giraldus concerning a certain Eliodorus, a twelfth-century cleric in the diocese of St. David's. But the longest tale published by Glasynys is the one about a mermaid: see Cymru Fu, pp. 434-44. Where he got this from I have not been able to find out, but it has probably been pieced together from various sources. I feel sure that some of the materials at least were Welsh, besides the characters known to Welsh mythology as Nefydd Naf Neifion, Gwyn ab Nudd, Gwydion ab Dn, Dylan, and Ceridwen, who have been recklessly introduced into it. He locates it, apparently, somewhere on the coast of Carnarvonshire, the chief scene being called Ogof Deio or David's Cave, which so far as I know is not an actual name, but one suggested by 'David Jones' locker' as sailors' slang for the sea. In hopes that somebody will communicate to me any bits of this tale that happen to be still current on the Welsh coast, I give an abstract of it here:--

Once upon a time, a poor fisherman made the acquaintance of a mermaid in a cave on the sea-coast; at first she screeched wildly, but, when she got a little calmer, she told him to go off out of the way of her brother, and to return betimes the day after. In getting away, he was tossed into the sea, and tossed out on the land with a rope, which had got wound about his waist; and on pulling at this he got ashore a coffer full of treasure, which he spent the night in carrying home. He was somewhat late in revisiting the cave the next day, and saw no mermaid come there to meet him according to her promise. But the following night he was roused out of his sleep by a visit from her at his home, when she told him to come in time next day. On his way thither, he learnt from some fishermen that they had been labouring in vain during the night, as a great big mermaid had opened their nets in order to pick the best fish, while she let the rest escape. When he reached the cave he found the mermaid there combing her hair: she surprised him by telling him that she had come to live among the inhabitants of the land, though she was, according to her own account, a king's daughter. She was no longer stark naked, but dressed like a lady: in one hand she held a diadem of pure gold, and in the other a cap of wonderful workmanship, the former of which she placed on her head, while she handed the latter to Ifan Morgan, with the order that he should keep it. Then she related to him how she had noticed him when he was a ruddy boy, out fishing in his father's white boat, and heard him sing a song which made her love him, and how she had tried to repeat this song at her father's court, where everybody wanted to get it. Many a time, she said, she had been anxiously listening if she might hear it again, but all in vain. So she had obtained permission from her family to come with her treasures and see if he would not teach it her; but she soon saw that she would not succeed without appearing in the form in which she now was. After saying that her name was Nefyn, daughter of Nefydd Naf Neifion, and niece to Gwyn son of Nudd, and Gwydion son of Dn, she calmed his feelings on the subject of the humble cottage in which he lived. Presently he asked her to be his wife, and she consented on the condition that he should always keep the cap she had given him out of her sight and teach her the song. They were married and lived happily together, and had children born them five times, a son and a daughter each time; they frequently went to the cave, and no one knew what treasures they had there; but once on a time they went out in a boat pleasuring, as was their wont, with six or seven of the children accompanying them, and when they were far from the land a great storm arose; besides the usual accompaniments of a storm at sea, most unearthly screeches and noises were heard, which frightened the children and made their mother look uncomfortable; but presently she bent her head over the side of the boat, and whispered something they did not catch: to their surprise the sea was instantly calm. They got home comfortably, but the elder children were puzzled greatly by their mother's influence over the sea, and it was not long after this till they so teased some ill-natured old women, that the latter told them all about the uncanny origin of their mother. The eldest boy was vexed at this, and remembered how his mother had spoken to somebody near the boat at sea, and that he was never allowed to go with his parents to Ogof Deio. He recalled, also, his mother's account of the strange countries she had seen. Once there came also to Han Morgan's home, which was now a mansion, a visitor whom the children were not even allowed to see; and one night, when the young moon had sunk behind the western horizon, Han and his wife went quietly out of the house, telling a servant that they would not return for three weeks or a month: this was overheard by the eldest son. So he followed them very quietly until he saw them on the strand, where he beheld his mother casting a sort of leather mantle round herself and his father, and both of them threw themselves into the hollow of a billow that came to fetch them. The son went home, broke his heart, and died in nine days at finding out that his mother was a mermaid; and, on seeing her brother dead, his twin sister went and threw herself into the sea; but, instead of being drowned, she was taken up on his steed by a fine looking knight, who then galloped away over the waves as if they had been dry and level land. The servants were in doubt what to do, now that Nefydd Morgan was dead and Eilonwy had thrown herself into the sea; but Tegid, the second son, who feared nothing, said that Nefydd's body should be taken to the strand, as somebody was likely to come to fetch it for burial among his mother's family. At midnight a knight arrived, who said the funeral was to be at three that morning, and told them that their brother would come back to them, as Gwydion ab Dn was going to give him a heart that no weight could break, that Eilonwy was soon to be wedded to one of the finest and bravest of the knights of Gwerddonau Llion, and that their parents were with Gwyn ab Nudd in the Gwaelodion. The body was accordingly taken to the beach, and, as soon as the wave touched it, out of his coffin leaped Nefydd like a porpoise. He was seen then to walk away arm in arm with Gwydion ab Dn to a ship that was in waiting, and most enchanting music was heard by those on shore; but soon the ship sailed away, hardly touching the tops of the billows. After a year and a day had elapsed Han Morgan, the father, came home, looking much better and more gentlemanly than he had ever done before; he had never spoken of Nefyn, his wife, until Tegid one day asked him what about his mother; she had gone, he said, in search of Eilonwy, who had run away from her husband in Gwerddonau Llion, with Glanfryd ab Gloywfraint. She would be back soon, he thought, and describe to them all the wonders they had seen. Ifan Morgan went to bed that night, and was found dead in it in the morning; it was thought that his death had been caused by a Black Knight, who had been seen haunting the place at midnight for some time, and always disappearing, when pursued, into a well that bubbled forth in a dark recess near at hand. The day of Han Morgan's funeral, Nefyn, his wife, returned, and bewailed him with many tears; she was never more seen on the dry land. Tegid had now the charge of the family, and he conducted himself in all things as behoved a man and a gentleman of high principles and great generosity. He was very wealthy, but often grieved by the thought of his father's murder. One day, when he and two of his brothers were out in a boat fishing in the neighbouring bay, they were driven by the wind to the most wonderful spot they had ever seen. The sea there was as smooth as glass, and as bright as the clearest light, while beneath it, and not far from them, they saw a most splendid country with fertile fields and dales covered with pastures, with flowery hedges, groves clad in their green foliage, and forests gently waving their leafy luxuriance, with rivers lazily contemplating their own tortuous courses, and with mansions here and there of the most beautiful and ingenious description; and presently they saw that the inhabitants amused themselves with all kinds of merriment and frolicking, and that here and there they had music and engaged themselves in the most energetic dancing; in fact, the rippling waves seemed to have absorbed their fill of the music, so that the faint echo of it, as gently given forth by the waves, never ceased to charm their ears until they reached the shore. That night the three brothers had the same dream, namely that the Black Knight who had throttled their father was in hiding in a cave on the coast: so they made for the cave in the morning, but the Black Knight fled from them and galloped off on the waves as if he had been riding for amusement over a meadow. That day their sisters, on returning home from school, had to cross a piece of sea, when a tempest arose and sunk the vessel, drowning all on board, and the brothers ascribed this to the Black Knight. About this time there was great consternation among the fishermen on account of a sea-serpent that twined itself about the rocks near the caves, and nothing would do but that Tegid and his brothers should go forth to kill it; but when one day they came near the spot frequented by it, they heard a deep voice saying to them, "Do not kill your sister," so they wondered greatly and suddenly went home. But that night Tegid returned there alone, and called his sister by her name, and after waiting a long while she crept towards him in the shape of a sea-serpent, and said that she must remain some time in that form on account of her having run away with one who was not her husband; she went on to say that she had seen their sisters walking with their mother, and their father would soon be in the cave. But all of a sudden there came the Black Knight, who unsheathed a sword that looked like a flame of fire, and began to cut the sea-serpent into a thousand bits, which united, however, as fast as he cut it, and became as whole as before. The end was that the monster twisted itself in a coil round his throat and bit him terribly in his breast. At this point a White Knight comes and runs him through with his spear, so that he fell instantly, while the White Knight went off hurriedly with the sea-serpent in a coil round his neck. Tegid ran away for his life, but not before a monster more terrible than anything he had ever seen had begun to attack him. It haunted him in all kinds of ways: sometimes it would be like a sea, but Tegid was able to swim: sometimes it would be a mountain of ice, but Tegid was able to climb it: and sometimes it was like a furnace of intense fire, but the heat had no effect on him. But it appeared mostly as a combination of the beast of prey and the venomous reptile. Suddenly, however, a young man appeared, taking hold of Tegid's arm and encouraging him, when the monster fled away screeching, and a host of knights in splendid array and on proudly prancing horses came to him: among them he found his brothers, and he went with them to his mother's country. He was especially welcome there, and he found all happy and present save his father only, whom he thought of fetching from the world above, having in fact got leave to do so from his grandfather. His mother and his brothers went with him to search for his father's body, and with him came Gwydion ab Dn and Gwyn ab Nudd, but he would not be wakened. So Tegid, who loved his father greatly, asked leave to remain on his father's grave, where he remains to this day. His mother is wont to come there to soothe him, and his brothers send him gifts, while he sends his gifts to Nefyd Naf Neifion, his grandfather; it is also said that his twin-sister, Ceridwen, has long since come to live near him, to make the glad gladder and the pretty prettier, and to maintain her dignity and honour in peace and tranquillity.

Glasynys. extracts from Cymru Fu trans. John Rhys. Celtic Folklore.