by W. Jenkyn Thomas
The Fairy Wife
VERY many years ago there lived in the farmhouse of Ystrad, in Nant y Bettws, the Vale of the Beadhouse, a youth who was joyous and active, brave and determined of heart. On moonlight nights he used to amuse himself with watching the Fairy Family dancing, and with listening to their music. One night they came very near the house, to a field near the lake, which was afterwards called Llyn y Dywarchen, the Lake of the Sod, there to beguile the night in merrymaking. The young fellow, as was his wont, went out to watch them. Immediately his eye fell on one of the fairy damsels, whose beauty was beyond anything he had ever seen in a human being. Her complexion was like blood upon snow: her voice was like the voice of a nightingale and as gentle as the breeze of a summer evening in a flower garden: her bearing was graceful and noble, and she tripped on the greensward as lightly as the rays of the sun had danced a few hours before on the ripples of the lake hard by. He fell in love with her over head and ears, and under the impulse of that sudden passion, when the merriment was at its height, he rushed into the middle of the fair crowd, snatched the lovely maiden in his arms, and ran off instantly with her into the house. As soon as the other fairies saw the violence that had been done by a mortal, they broke up the dance and ran off after her towards the house. But they were too late: the door was locked and bolted, and the stolen maiden was safely lodged in a chamber. The iron bolt and lock made it impossible for them to reclaim her, for the Fair Family abhor iron. When the young man had got her under his roof, he applied every means in his power to win her affection and asked her to marry him. She refused him, though he begged her time after time to be his wife. When, however, she saw that he would not allow her to return to her own people, she said to him, "I will not be your wife, but if you can find out my name I will be your servant." He, thinking that the task was by no means impossible, reluctantly agreed to the condition.
But the task was harder than he had imagined. He tried every name that he had ever heard of, even such curious Bible names as Zeruiah, La-ruhamel and Hazelelponi, but found himself no nearer his point. Nevertheless, he was not willing to give up, and at last fortune came to his rescue. One night, as he was returning from Carnarvon market, he espied a number of the Fair Family in a turbary not far from his path. They seemed as if they were seriously deliberating together in council, and he at once thought to himself, "I am sure they are planning how to recover their stolen sister. Perhaps if I can get within hearing distance of them without being observed I shall be able to find out my darling's name."
On looking carefully around, he saw that a deep ditch ran through the turbary, and passed near the spot where the Fair Family sat in council. So he made his way round to the ditch and crept, on all fours, along it as quietly as a snail and almost as slowly, until he was within hearing of the group. After listening a while he found that he had been correct in his surmise: they were discussing the fate of the maiden whom he had carried away from them, and he heard one of them wailing aloud, "Oh, Penelope, Penelope, my sister, why didst thou run away with a mortal?"
"Penelope," said the young man to himself; "that must be the name of my beloved: that is enough." At once he began to creep back as quietly as he had crept there, and he managed to reach home without being seen by the fairies. When he got into the house he called out to the damsel, "Penelope, my heart of gold, come hither."
She came forward and asked in astonishment, "Oh, mortal, who has betrayed my name to thee?" Then folding her tiny hands, she exclaimed, "Alas, my fate, my fate! " But she resigned herself to her lot and took to her work as servant in earnest. Everything in the house and on the farm prospered under her charge. There was no better or cleanlier housewife in all the country around, or one that was more provident and thrifty than she was. She milked the cows three times a day, and they gave the usual quantity of milk each time. The butter she made was so good that it fetched a penny a pound more than any other butter sold at Carnarvon market. The young man, however, was by no means willing that she should be a servant to him, and he persistently begged her to marry him. Many a blow will break the stone, says the Welsh proverb, and she at last consented to be married. But, said she, "There is one condition you must observe: you must never strike me with iron: if you do, I must be free to leave you and return to my family."
The young man would have agreed to any conditions, and this one he considered very easy to observe. So they were wedded, and lived happily together for years, and were blessed with two children, a boy and a girl, the images of their mother and the idols of their father. So wise and active was the fairy wife that he became one of the richest men of that country, and besides the farm of Ystrad he farmed all the lands on the north of Nant y Bettws to the top of Snowdon and all Cwm Brwynog, in Llanberis, or about five thousand acres.
One day the husband wanted to go to a fair at Carnarvon, and went out to catch a filly that was grazing in a field near the house, in order to sell her at the fair. But for the life of him he could not secure her, and he called to his wife to come to assist him. She came with-out delay, and they managed to drive the frisky young creature to a secure corner, as they thought: but, as he approached her to put on the bridle, the frolicsome animal rushed past him. In his anger he threw the bridle after her; but who should be running after her but his wife! The iron bit struck her on the cheek, and she vanished out of sight in a moment. But, though the broken compact had compelled her disappearance, the fairy wife could not forget her love for her children and husband. One cold night, a long time after this event, when the Dead Men's Feet Wind was blowing, the husband was awakened from his sleep by a gentle tapping on the glass of his bedroom window. After he had given a response he recognised the gentle and tender voice of his wife saying to him:
"Should the cold oppress my son,
See his father's coat's put on
If my daughter feels the cold,
Wrap her in my skirt's thick fold."
She even contrived a way to see and speak to her loved ones regularly. The law of her country would not allow her to walk the earth after her return to Fairyland, so she made a large sod to float on the surface of the lake: on this she would spend hours and hours, freely conversing in tenderness with her husband and children on the shore. By means of this contrivance they managed to live together, until husband and children breathed their last. The floating island she made may still be seen, and it is from this that the lake acquired its name.
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