In Wales there are many folktales and legends that tell how humans and people from the Otherworld sometimes fall in love and marry. Very often it is a man who meets a woman from the other world and they fall in love. The woman or her father, often insists on a marriage contract being agreed by the bride’s groom that must be strictly followed. The groom agrees and the marriage takes place and they live for a time in happiness and then something happens that destroys or breaks the contract and destroys their happy life. There are many variations of this theme and presented here is a retelling of a Welsh tale taken from Welsh Fairy Tales by William Elliot Griffis.
It is said that on the rare occasions when women of the Otherworld consent to marriage with a mortal they will only do so if the prospective husband makes a contract with them that must not be broken and must be strictly adhered to. This story tells how a prince of Powys named Benlli found this out to his own cost. He had a fanciful notion in his head that to woo a woman all he had to do was say, “Come and be my bride,” and they would instantly follow him saying “Thank you for asking, of course I will be your bride.” and the two would stroll off to church for the wedding. At least this in his simplicity was what he thought,
The Maiden from the Green Forest
It so happened that sometime, somehow, in the past he had been successful with this style of wooing. He was married to a woman who had once been fair and beautiful but whose beauty and youth had quickly fled after marriage leaving her grey haired and wrinkled. It was probably the thought of a lifetime with her conceited husband that caused this, but Benlli now wanted a young pretty wife with rosy cheeks and long flowing golden hair and hoped to find one to satisfy his vanity.
One day he went hunting in the Green Forest and while his dogs were flushing out a wild boar he was surprised to see a beautiful woman with long golden flowing hair ride out of a cave on a milk-white horse, She was the loveliest woman he had ever seen and he fell in love with her there and then, but she was gone before he could react. The next day he rode to the same cave in the forest and waited hoping to see her again. Sure enough, the same beautiful woman came galloping out of the cave into the forest and in an instant had passed him by and was gone.
On the third day Prince Benlli again rode to the cave in the forest and once again the beautiful woman came galloping out on a milk-white steed. This time he spurred his horse forwards forcing her to stop and as was his style simply told her her to follow him to his palace and be his wife.
The Marriage Contract
The beautiful woman looked at him and said,
“I will will be your wife if you promise to fulfill these three conditions. First, your present wife must go. Second, you must agree that one night in every seven nights on Fridays I shall be free to leave you and you will not follow me. Thirdly, you will not ask where I am going, or what I do and you will not spy on me. You must swear to me that you will uphold these conditions and if you keep them my beauty will remain unblemished. If you break your word the waters shall rise and the pike and the perch shall play between the the bulrushes and the long waving, water reeds shall grow in your hall. Do you agree?”
Without further delay, Benlli, agreed to these conditions and a solemn contract was made between the two and the Maid of the Green Forest became his wife.
As mentioned earlier, Benlli was already married and yet he had just wed the Maid and promised her that his first wife would go so how was he going to manage this situation? Curiously, when the two arrived at his palace she had gone and never once returned, so that saved him a task.
In the days that followed Benlii was very happy with his new wife who, everyday grew prettier and prettier. They would spend days together chatting in the palace, or they would go horse riding in the Green Forest, or sometimes hunted deer. Indeed, the more her loveliness grew the happier he became. For a wedding present he gave her a ring that was set with a big and beautiful diamond and alone was worth a king’s ransom. He gave her lavish jewelry of gold and silver and and a diadem studded with rubies and sapphires and loved his beautiful wife so much he would have given her anything. In those early days never once did he ever think of breaking his marriage contract.
However, time flies and in time all things change. Three times three equals nine and after nine years with his wife disappearing every Friday night he began to grow curious as to what she was up to and where she went. So much did he begin to dwell on the matter that it began to depress and worry him and became irritable and miserable in the company of others. All of his servants and friends noticed the change in him but none dared to ask what the problem was.
Wyland the Monk
Then one night he had invited a very learned monk named Wyland to dinner and he had ordered the banqueting hall to be brightly decorated and that the best food and drink should be served. He hired the best minstrel to provide the best music and entertainment.
Now, Wyland as well as being a monk, was also a man of magic and he knew and saw things that others could not see. That night at dinner, despite all the finery, glamour and happy entertainment he could see Benlli was deeply unhappy and thoroughly miserable. He did not say anything to begin with but after the banquet was over he went home and decided he would call again in a few days time to see Prince Benlli and find out what was troubling him. The next time he met Benlli, Wyland sat him down and said, “Tell me my friend, why are you so unhappy and miserable with life?”
Then Benlli related all to Wyland of how he had met and married the Maid of the Green Forest and of the three conditions of their wedding contract and said,
“Every Friday night, there am I with the owls hooting and the nightingales singing and my wife is absent from my bed until the sun rises. I lay alone there wondering where she can be and what she is doing. Eventually, I fall asleep to wake in the morning finding her by my side. I am overcome with curiosity and jealousy worrying about who she may be seeing and this is weighing down my soul. Even with all of my wealth, my luxurious palace and all its finery I am unhappier than any beggar in Wales or on the island of Britain!”
As Wyland listened to Benlli’s woes his quick mind realized there was a way he could make money from the prince’s woes and benefit his monastery at the same time. All he had to do was to cure the troubles of Benlli’s soul and so he said,
“My friend, I have an idea that may help to ease your soul. If you are but prepared to give the monks of White Minster one tenth of the flocks of sheep in your domain, one tenth of all the riches that flow into your treasury from the rents of the lands, and give the Maiden of the Green Forest to me, I can guarantee your soul will be free of all your troubles and at peace. What do you say?
Benlli readily agreed and shook hands on the deal.
A Battle of Spells
On the next Friday night Wyland the Monk took his book of spells and went to the cave in the forest which he knew as being an entrance to the Otherworld. There, he waited under the silvery moonlight. He had not been waiting too long when out of the cave on horseback there galloped a lady dressed in the finest clothes wearing a glittering crown upon her head. He knew it was Benlli’s wife, the Maiden of the Green Forest and he stepped in front of her holding his book before him calling upon her to stop. There then followed a battle of spells that saw lightning and fire light up the night as the two hurled spells and counter spells at each other. Finally, summoning up the spirits of the air Weland told them of his plan to enrich the monastery and called upon them to assist and bind the Maiden of the Green Forest to his will saying,
“Spirits of the air, I call upon you to bind this maiden to me that she will always be at my side. Bring her to me at the dawn of day to the crossroads before the town of Whiteminster and there I will marry her and she will be my own for all time!”
Waving his hands in the air and uttering special words he cast a spell that would prevent anyone from interfering with this and could not be broken. Then he made his way to the crossroads to await the arrival of his bride-to-be at dawn. Arriving at the crossroads as the sun rose, to his disgust the first thing he saw was a hideous old hag who cackled and hissed and raised her hand pointing her bony finger at him. Set upon it was the big, beautiful diamond ring that Benlli had given to the lovely Maiden of the Forest when she had become his wife.
The Hag of the Green Forest
“Ha, ha, haaaa! I hear my love approaching, Come sweet lover and clasp me to thine bosom!” she shrieked through a mouthful of rotting teeth,
“Look at me, Wyland my love, look deep into my red and burning eyes and know that I am your betrothed. This foul hag that stands before you was once the beautiful bride of Prince Benlli. When my beauty left me his love left with it but on the seventh night my magic brings back my beauty. He has broken our wedding contract and I warned him, I said, ‘If you break your word the waters shall rise and the pike and the perch shall play between the the bulrushes and the long, waving, water reeds that shall grow in your hall.’ This promise is now fulfilled and both your spell and mine are complete. From you he has received the freeing of his soul and eternal peace, for he is dead. My promise caused the a rivers and springs to gush and rise into his halls which is now covered in water and perch and pike play among the bulrushes and reeds. The clashing of our spells means they cannot be undone and no charm or counter spell will avail. Therefore, Wyland my love, come to me and claim me as your reward for we have both kept our promises. Come take me, I am yours!”
So it was that Prince Benlli broke his marriage contract and paid the price as the waters of the land rose drowning him in in own halls. As for Wyland the Monk – man of God and magic – he reaped what he had sown for himself in the tender loving arms of the Maiden of the Green Forest.
© 04/07/2018 zteve t evans
Reference, Attributions and Further Reading
Copyright July 4th, 2018 zteve t evans
- Welsh Fairy Tales by William Elliot Griffis
- Powys – Wikipedia
- Illustrator: Rose Le Quesne from Stories from the Faerie Queen by Edmund Spenser and Jeanie Lang – Public Domain