Eerie is the Otherworld and a strange tale to tell. In Welsh folklore and tales those who encounter the dwellers from that place – willing, or otherwise – often do not come out of it too well. This is a retelling of one such story, Einion and the Lady of the Greenwood, from, The Welsh Fairy Book, by W. Jenkyn Thomas and has a happier ending than similar tales of such encounters.
Einion and the Lady of the Greenwood
It begins one fine summer day in the green woods of Trefeiler where Einion, the son of Gwalchmai, was out walking. To his surprise he met a lady alone in the woods. She was slim, graceful and her complexion was very fair and she was very beautiful to behold. Looking upon her Einion was interested in who she was and what she was doing out alone in the woods. He put his hand up in a friendly greeting and she readily waved back. From her action and demeanor he concluded she would not mind talking to him.
Therefore, he approached her in a calm and friendly manner and she walked towards him, indicating she was willing to speak to him. As he drew near he cast a glance downwards and was surprised to see that instead of feet she walked on two hooves. Quietly and calmly she approached him and whispered, “Thou wilt follow me wherever I go and wilt do as I bid thee from now until the end.”
Einion stopped dead but it was too late she had him under her spell. He promised he was her slave and would willingly go to the ends of the earth at her bidding. All he asked was that he be allowed to say goodbye to his wife. So sure was she of her power over him the Lady of the Greenwood agreed but said, “You may, but I shall remain with you all the time invisible to all others but you.”
Einion, accompanied by the Lady, went back home to his wife Angharad to say goodbye. They had been very happily married for many years and Einion loved her greatly. Although over the years both had aged he always saw her in his mind as the fair, young maiden he had married in his youth. Indeed, he truly loved her. However, when he got home she appeared before him through the spell of the Lady of the Greenwood to be an old hag. Nevertheless, he could still see the young maiden in her eyes but could not break the bond of the spell although he tried. Sadly he told her, “Love of my life, I fear it is necessary for me to leave you and our home. I do not know how long I shall be or when I will come back, but I have to go.”
The couple wept in each others arms and together broke a gold ring in two. Einion gave Angharad one half and she gave him the other. At last all their goodbyes were said and Einion left with the Lady of the Greenwood. Eerie is the Otherworld and a strange, strange tale to tell and Einion was taken by the Lady to her homeland where nothing is what it seems. The spell she had placed upon him was strong. He could see nothing of any place or person in an earthly form finding himself in a misty, distorted, shifting unfathomable landscape. The only thing that did not change its appearance or form was the half of the gold ring given to him by his beloved Angharad.
Time was not like that on earth and he had no idea of how long he lived in that queer and twisted place, but his grief and sorrow to him seemed eternal. Bound by the Lady’s spell he was at her beck and call for her leisure and her pleasure. All he had that gave him any security was the half of the gold ring he carried that Angharad had given him. Fearing that one day it should be lost or discovered he decided he would hide it behind his eyelid as the safest place he could think of at the time.
As he was doing this he became aware that a man dressed all in white was riding towards him on a pure white horse. In his hand he carried a white staff. The rider approached and and asked him what he was doing. Einion answered truthfully and with longing telling him about the ring and how he and his wife had given each other half. He explained he was placing his half behind his eyelid to keep it safe where he could always see it and cherish the memory of his beloved wife. The rider said, “If that is so you must be willing to endure much pain and torment to keep her memory alive!”
“That I am!” replied Einion.
“Do you desire to see her?” asked the rider.
“That I do, above all other things and pleasures that exist!”
“If that is so, get behind me on this horse,” replied the rider. Einion hesitated. Looking around he could not see anything of the Lady but noticed hoof tracks of huge size striding off northwards. Therefore, he accepted the invitation.
“What kind of enchantment holds thee?” asked the rider.
Einion told the rider everything that had happened with the Lady of the Greenwood and himself as they rode. He listened intently to everything and then said, “Take thee, this white staff in your hand and make a wish for whatever is your greatest desire.”
Einion was still under the spell of the Lady of the Greenwood and he wished to know where she was. To his shock and horror the world about him transformed into a hideously grotesque world of madness. The Lady appeared before him as he had never seen her before like some towering demonic beast, repulsive and terrifying and she pointed at him. He cried out in fear and the rider hearing this threw his white cloak over him and she was gone. No sooner than she had disappeared when they came to the hill of Trefilir where Einion once had his home. There were people about but he did not know them or they him.
After Einion had left home Angharad had spent the years in lonely grief and sorrow pining for her absent husband. The Lady of the Greenwood becoming aware of Einion’s departure had traveled back to his home on the hill so fast she arrived well before him. She transformed herself into a most noble and handsome looking nobleman and placed a letter in the hand of his grieving wife. The letter stated that Einion had died nine years previously in Norway.
The Lady now transformed as the nobleman, cast a spell upon Angharad so that she was bewitched by fair words of love and affection that were poured upon her. He proposed marriage and told her she would become a lady of high standing, rich and prosperous. Completely under the spell Angharad accepted a date set for their marriage. A great wedding feast was prepared and an elegant wedding dress made. Bards and musicians appeared and guests arrived for the ceremony there in her own hall in her own house.
It so happened that Einion’s harp still rested in one corner of the hall. It was very beautiful and it attracted the eye of the bridegroom who wanted to hear it play. Among the guests there were the best harp players in Wales and one by one they attempted to tune it. One by one they failed. As the last gave up Einion entered the house carrying the white staff of the white rider. Immediately another spell was placed upon Angharad and now Einion appeared to her as a bent and enfeebled old man, grey-haired and clad in rags.
Seeing that all the minstrels had failed to tune it he took it up and quickly placed it into tune. He then proceeded to play a melody he had composed just for her. Angharad had loved that tune which he had often played to her before he left. Angharad recognized the tune and marveled at how he should know it.
He told her, “I know it because I wrote it especially for my true love and I often would sing it to her. My name is Einion, the son of Gwalchmai and I am your husband. See here is the half of the gold ring that you gave me when I left.”
He put it in her hand but the enchantment upon her was strong and she said, “I cannot quite remember.“
Seeing she was bewitched he placed the white staff in her hand. Immediately, the bridegroom transformed into a hideous, raging beast and seeing this Angharad fainted in fear and shock. When she came round there was no monster just Einion, the harp and the banquet table laden with food. Great was there joy at their reunion and with the wonderful aromas coming from the banquet table they decided to celebrate by sitting down to eat much relieved at the breaking of the enchantment. Einion and Angharad spent many long years together and he was always careful of who he approached when out alone in the woods after that.
The encounter of Einion with the Lady of the Greenwood brought him grief, sorrow and in the end great happiness. We cannot help but wonder if he had not had that encounter would be have ever reached such happiness. Indeed, eerie, eerie, is the Otherworld and a strange tale to tell. This time in the encounter with the Otherworld there was a happy ending but can we ever know where a story will take us?
© 08/05/2019 zteve t evans
References, Attributions and Further Reading
Copyright May 8th, 2019 zteve t evans
- Einion and the Lady of the Greenwood from The Welsh Fairy Book by W. Jenkyn Thomas  at Sacred Texts