Otherworldly Encounters: Einion and the Lady of the Greenwood

Howard Pyle [Public domain]

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.”

Goodbye

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.

The Otherworld

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.  

Angharad

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.

Happy Ending

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

The Forbidden Fountain of the Tylwyth Teg

Wales is an ancient land rich in folktales, folklore and legend that for many centuries were passed on orally before being written into texts.  Many of these legends and folktales are associated with natural features of the landscape such as springs, rivers, lakes, hills and mountains, indeed just about everywhere you look there is a legend or folktale, or custom and tradition that explains, or is associated with some part of the landscape.

According to myth and legend there were many strange creatures that lived within that landscape such as monsters and beings like the afanc, giants and the Tylwyth Teg, the Fairy Folk.  The folktale presented here tells how a poor shepherd boy found the Tylwyth Teg  while he was tending his sheep.  They invited him to join them and he stayed with them in their land for a time living a life of pleasure and luxury with all he could ever need and all he had to do was obey one simple rule which was that he was forbidden to drink from the fountain.

The Shepherd boy and the Tylwyth Teg

james_ward_-_a_shepherd_boy_-_google_art_project

Public Domain

This story is a version based on one called the Forbidden Fountain, from the Welsh Fairy Book by W. Jenkyn Thomas and begins with a shepherd boy who was instructed by his father to take his sheep to the Frenni Fach to graze early one morning in the month of June.  Obeying his father he took his flock to the pasture and because the weather on the hills and mountains of Wales can change quickly he looked across to the summit of Frenni Fawr for signs of change.  He had been taught that if the early morning mists  slipped down one side of the hill then he could expect fair weather.   If the mist slipped down the other side then foul weather would prevail.

The boy was pleased because he saw the mist slipping down the side of the mountain that promised a fair day ahead and he whistled happily while he tended his sheep.  His flock were happily grazing and it was indeed beginning to be a fair day and he looked around him idly.  In the distance his eye was caught by the movement  of a group of men.  At first he could not quite make out who they were and then he had the idea they were a group of soldiers busily engaged in some activity but couldn’t make out what.

He thought it most strange that soldiers should be active in the hills so he climbed to the top of a nearby hillock for a better view.  When he reached the top he saw to his surprise that what he thought had been soldiers were too small and realized that they must be a troop of the Tylwyth Teg.  He had often heard stories about them from his elders and he had seen the rings of mushrooms that sometimes appeared in different places where they had been  but never had he seen one of the Fair Folk himself.

The Tylwyth Teg

To his excitement he realized what he saw was indeed a group of the little people and he thought about running home to tell his mother and father.  On second thoughts he realized that by the time he had run home and returned with his parents they may well have gone and perhaps he would then be accused of being a liar and get into to trouble for leaving the sheep. He decided not to say anything yet thinking it would be safer.

Nevertheless, he was fascinated by the thought that it might be the Tylwyth Teg and decided to get nearer to get a better view of what they were up to.  So slowly and stealthily he crept towards them and managed to get close enough without disturbing them to get a very good view of what they were doing.

To his surprise and delight he saw they were indeed little people of both men and women all inside a great circle of mushrooms.  The men were very handsome and the women were very beautiful and some of them were dancing in circles with one another, others were playing and chasing with each other, while others were galloping around on little white horses.

fairy_rings_and_toadstools_by_r_doyle

Public Domain

They were wearing mostly red, white and green clothing.  The men wore red caps and the women wore a green head dress, which flowed behind them in the breeze as they danced. Although he could hear no music it looked like the entire company was singing and laughing and a happier sight the shepherd boy had never seen before.

The boy was enchanted and stood to get a better view.  Seeing him stand the smiling Tylwyth Teg beckoned and called for him to join them.  Cautiously he edged towards them and stood outside the circle looking in.  Laughing and calling to him they urged him to step into the circle and as he did so his ears were struck by the sweetest music.  It was both merry and serious and more melodious than any music he had ever heard before.

Looking around he was shocked to discover he wasn’t in the fairy ring on the mountainside but in a wonderfully beautiful palace of shining gold, glittering silver and lustrous pearls.  He was stunned at all of the treasures and jewels that he saw and the people were so friendly offering every type of pleasure for his enjoyment.

The warning of the Tylwyth Teg

The Tylwyth Teg allowed him to move around as he pleased and he was attended to every second by the most beautiful maidens.  They offered him food and drink the like he had never tasted before, or even dreamed of and served it up on silver platters.  They urged him to eat and drink his fill which he did, but they placed  but one small restriction upon him.   They warned him not to drink from the fountain in the garden in which swam wondrous fishes of gold, silver and many other colors and he agreed not to.

He stayed in the palace of the Tylwyth Teg for many a day and all the time he was given wonderful food to eat, the best beer and the sweetest wine and he was entertained wonderfully.    New pastimes and activities were invented solely to please him and each new face he saw seemed fairer than the last if such a thing was possible and he lived in a state  of idleness and joy.  Here he was a poor shepherd boy who had only ever known poverty and hardship now living a life of luxury and ease everything he needed or even dreamed of was at his beck and call, yet something still gnawed at him.

The forbidden fountain

Although the Tylwyth Teg had warned him there was a curiosity that burned in him.  He would often find himself drawn to the forbidden fountain but just managed to remember the warning.  One day though he found himself gazing at the fish of gold and silver and many other colors that swam here and there in the waters of the fountain.

When he thought no one was looking he gently tipped his hand in the water. Immediately the fish disappeared.  He then cupped his hands and filled them with water from the fountain and raised them to his mouth to drink.  As soon as the water wet his lips a hideous scream ran through the garden.

The fountain vanished, the garden vanished and the palace dissolved into nothing and he found himself on the mountainside in the exact place he had entered the fairy ring.  Looking round in shock he saw his flock quietly grazing on the mountain pasture exactly as he had left them and the mist on the Frenni Fawr had not moved.  Although he had thought he had been with the Tylwyth Teg for years in fact it had only been a few minutes.

Time and humans

And such is the case for time flows differently in the land of the Tylwyth Teg and a few earth minutes can seem like years.  For most humans this is too great a thing to bear.  There is always a desire to enjoy new sensations and experiences so even though the boy could have spent his life enjoying a life of ease and pleasure that were readily available to him he just had to drink from the forbidden fountain.

© 31/05/2016 zteve t evans

References and Attributions

Copyright May 31st, 2016 zteve t evans