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The Myddvai Legend


Source: Welsh Folk-lore

A widow, who had an only son, was obliged, in consequence of the large
flocks she possessed, to send, under the care of her son, a portion of
her cattle to graze on the Black Mountain near a small lake called

One day the son perceived, to his great astonishment, a most beautiful
creature with flowing hair sitting on the unruffled surface of the lake
combing her tresses, the water serving as a mirror. Suddenly she beheld
the young man standing on the brink of the lake with his eyes rivetted on
her, and unconsciously offering to herself the provision of barley bread
and cheese with which he had been provided when he left his home.

Bewildered by a feeling of love and admiration for the object before him,
he continued to hold out his hand towards the lady, who imperceptibly
glided near to him, but gently refused the offer of his provisions. He
attempted to touch her, but she eluded his grasp, saying

Cras dy fara;
Nid hawdd fy nala.

Hard baked is thy bread;
It is not easy to catch me.

She immediately dived under the water and disappeared, leaving the
love-stricken youth to return home a prey to disappointment and regret
that he had been unable to make further acquaintance with the lovely
maiden with whom he had desperately fallen in love.

On his return home he communicated to his mother the extraordinary
vision. She advised him to take some unbaked dough the next time in his
pocket, as there must have been some spell connected with the hard baked
bread, or Bara Cras, which prevented his catching the lady.

Next morning, before the sun was up, the young man was at the lake, not
for the purpose of looking after the cattle, but that he might again
witness the enchanting vision of the previous day. In vain did he glance
over the surface of the lake; nothing met his view, save the ripples
occasioned by a stiff breeze, and a dark cloud hung heavily on the summit
of the Van.

Hours passed on, the wind was hushed, the overhanging clouds had
vanished, when the youth was startled by seeing some of his mother's
cattle on the precipitous side of the acclivity, nearly on the opposite
side of the lake. As he was hastening away to rescue them from their
perilous position, the object of his search again appeared to him, and
seemed much more beautiful than when he first beheld her. His hand was
again held out to her, full of unbaked bread, which he offered to her
with an urgent proffer of his heart also, and vows of eternal attachment,
all of which were refused by her, saying

Llaith dy fara!
Ti ni fynna.

Unbaked is thy bread!
I will not have thee.

But the smiles that played upon her features as the lady vanished beneath
the waters forbade him to despair, and cheered him on his way home. His
aged parent was acquainted with his ill success, and she suggested that
his bread should the next time be but slightly baked, as most likely to
please the mysterious being.

Impelled by love, the youth left his mother's home early next morning.
He was soon near the margin of the lake impatiently awaiting the
reappearance of the lady. The sheep and goats browsed on the precipitous
sides of the Van, the cattle strayed amongst the rocks, rain and sunshine
came and passed away, unheeded by the youth who was wrapped up in looking
for the appearance of her who had stolen his heart. The sun was verging
towards the west, and the young man casting a sad look over the waters
ere departing homewards was astonished to see several cows walking along
its surface, and, what was more pleasing to his sight, the maiden
reappeared, even lovelier than ever. She approached the land and he
rushed to meet her in the water. A smile encouraged him to seize her
hand, and she accepted the moderately baked bread he offered her, and
after some persuasion she consented to become his wife, on condition that
they should live together until she received from him three blows without
a cause,

Tri ergyd diachos,

Three causeless blows,

when, should he ever happen to strike her three such blows, she would
leave him for ever. These conditions were readily and joyfully accepted.

Thus the Lady of the Lake became engaged to the young man, and having
loosed her hand for a moment she darted away and dived into the lake.
The grief of the lover at this disappearance of his affianced was such
that he determined to cast himself headlong into its unfathomed depths,
and thus end his life. As he was on the point of committing this rash
act, there emerged out of the lake two most beautiful ladies, accompanied
by a hoary-headed man of noble mien and extraordinary stature, but having
otherwise all the force and strength of youth. This man addressed the
youth, saying that, as he proposed to marry one of his daughters, he
consented to the union, provided the young man could distinguish which of
the two ladies before him was the object of his affections. This was no
easy task, as the maidens were perfect counterparts of each other.

Whilst the young man narrowly scanned the two ladies and failed to
perceive the least difference betwixt the two, one of them thrust her
foot a slight degree forward. The motion, simple as it was, did not
escape the observation of the youth, and he discovered a trifling
variation in the mode in which their sandals were tied. This at once put
an end to the dilemma, for he had on previous occasions noticed the
peculiarity of her shoe-tie, and he boldly took hold of her hand.

Thou hast chosen rightly, said the Father, be to her a kind and
faithful husband, and I will give her, as a dowry, as many sheep, cattle,
goats, and horses, as she can count of each without heaving or drawing in
her breath. But remember, that if you prove unkind to her at any time
and strike her three times without a cause, she shall return to me, and
shall bring all her stock with her.

Such was the marriage settlement, to which the young man gladly assented,
and the bride was desired to count the number of sheep she was to have.
She immediately adopted the mode of counting by fives, thus:--One, two,
three, four, five,--one, two, three, four, five; as many times as
possible in rapid succession, till her breath was exhausted. The same
process of reckoning had to determine the number of goats, cattle, and
horses, respectively; and in an instant the full number of each came out
of the lake, when called upon by the Father.

The young couple were then married, and went to reside at a farm called
Esgair Llaethdy, near Myddvai, where they lived in prosperity and
happiness for several years, and became the parents of three beautiful

Once upon a time there was a christening in the neighbourhood to which
the parents were invited. When the day arrived the wife appeared
reluctant to attend the christening, alleging that the distance was too
great for her to walk. Her husband told her to fetch one of the horses
from the field. I will, said she, if you will bring me my gloves
which I left in our house. He went for the gloves, and finding she had
not gone for the horse, he playfully slapped her shoulder with one of
them, saying dos, dos, go, go, when she reminded him of the terms
on which she consented to marry him, and warned him to be more cautious
in the future, as he had now given her one causeless blow.

On another occasion when they were together at a wedding and the
assembled guests were greatly enjoying themselves the wife burst into
tears and sobbed most piteously. Her husband touched her on the shoulder
and inquired the cause of her weeping; she said, Now people are entering
into trouble, and your troubles are likely to commence, as you have the
second time stricken me without a cause.

Years passed on, and their children had grown up, and were particularly
clever young men. Amidst so many worldly blessings the husband almost
forgot that only one causeless blow would destroy his prosperity.
Still he was watchful lest any trivial occurrence should take place which
his wife must regard as a breach of their marriage contract. She told
him that her affection for him was unabated, and warned him to be careful
lest through inadvertence he might give the last and only blow which, by
an unalterable destiny, over which she had no control, would separate
them for ever.

One day it happened that they went to a funeral together, where, in the
midst of mourning and grief at the house of the deceased, she appeared in
the gayest of spirits, and indulged in inconsiderate fits of laughter,
which so shocked her husband that he touched her, saying--Hush! hush!
don't laugh. She said that she laughed because people when they die go
out of trouble, and rising up, she went out of the house, saying, The
last blow has been struck, our marriage contract is broken, and at an
end. Farewell! Then she started off towards Esgair Llaethdy, where she
called her cattle and other stock together, each by name, not forgetting,
the little black calf which had been slaughtered and was suspended on
the hook, and away went the calf and all the stock, with the Lady across
Myddvai Mountain, and disappeared beneath the waters of the lake whence
the Lady had come. The four oxen that were ploughing departed, drawing
after them the plough, which made a furrow in the ground, and which
remains as a testimony of the truth of this story.

She is said to have appeared to her sons, and accosting Rhiwallon, her
firstborn, to have informed him that he was to be a benefactor to
mankind, through healing all manner of their diseases, and she furnished
him with prescriptions and instructions for the preservation of health.
Then, promising to meet him when her counsel was most needed, she
vanished. On several other occasions she met her sons, and pointed out
to them plants and herbs, and revealed to them their medicinal qualities
or virtues.

So ends the Myddvai Legend.

A variant of this tale appears in the form of a letter in the
Cambro-Briton, vol. ii, pp. 313-315. The editor prefaces the legend
with the remark that the tale acquires an additional interest from its
resemblance in one particular to a similar tradition current in Scotland,
wherein certain beasts, brought from a lake, as in this tale, play much
the same part as is here described. The volume of the Cambro-Briton
now referred to was published in 1821 and apparently the writer, who
calls himself Siencyn ab Tydvil, communicates an unwritten tradition
afloat in Carmarthenshire, for he does not tell us whence he obtained the
story. As the tale differs in some particulars from that already given,
I will transcribe it.

Next: The Cambro-briton Version Of The Myddvai Legend

Previous: The Llanfrothen Legend

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