Myths and Legends of the Celtic Race

Page: 196

But one day towards the end of the year three drops of the magic liquor flew out of the cauldron and lighted on the finger of Gwion. Like Finn mac Cumhal on a similar occasion, he put his finger in his mouth, and immediately became gifted with supernatural insight. He saw that he had got what was intended for Avagddu, and he saw also that Ceridwen would destroy him for it if she could. So he fled to his own land, and the cauldron, deprived of the sacred drops, now contained nothing but poison, the power of which burst the vessel, and the liquor ran into a stream hard by and poisoned the horses of Gwyddno Garanhir which drank of the water. Whence the stream is called the Poison of the Horses of Gwyddno from that time forth.

Ceridwen now came on the scene and saw that her year's labour was lost. In her rage she smote Morda [pg 414] with a billet of firewood and struck out his eye, and she then pursued after Gwion Bach. He saw her and changed himself into a hare. She became a greyhound. He leaped into a river and became a fish, and she chased him as an otter. He became a bird and she a hawk. Then he turned himself into a grain of wheat and dropped among the other grains on a threshing-floor, and she became a black hen and swallowed him. Nine months afterwards she bore him as an infant; and she would have killed him, but could not on account of his beauty, “so she wrapped him in a leathern bag, and cast him into the sea to the mercy of God.”

The Luck of Elphin

Now Gwyddno, of the poisoned horses, had a salmon weir on the strand between Dyvi and Aberystwyth. And his son Elphin, a needy and luckless lad, one day fished out the leathern bag as it stuck on the weir. They opened it, and found the infant within. “Behold a radiant brow!” said Gwyddno. “Taliesin be he called,” said Elphin. And they brought the child home very carefully and reared it as their own. And this was Taliesin, prime bard of the Cymry; and the first of the poems he made was a lay of praise to Elphin and promise of good fortune for the future. And this was fulfilled, for Elphin grew in riches and honour day after day, and in love and favour with King Arthur.

But one day as men praised King Arthur and all his belongings above measure, Elphin boasted that he had a wife as virtuous as any at Arthur's Court and a bard more skilful than any of the King's; and they flung him into prison until they should see if he could make good his boast. And as he lay there with a silver chain [pg 415] about his feet, a graceless fellow named Rhun was sent to court the wife of Elphin and to bring back proofs of her folly; and it was said that neither maid nor matron with whom Rhun conversed but was evil-spoken of.

Taliesin then bade his mistress conceal herself, and she gave her raiment and jewels to one of the kitchenmaids, who received Rhun as if she were mistress of the household. And after supper Rhun plied the maid with drink, and she became intoxicated and fell in a deep sleep; whereupon Rhun cut off one of her fingers, on which was the signet-ring of Elphin that he had sent his wife a little while before. Rhun brought the finger and the ring on it to Arthur's Court.

Next day Elphin was fetched out of prison and shown the finger and the ring. Whereupon he said: “With thy leave, mighty king, I cannot deny the ring, but the finger it is on was never my wife's. For this is the little finger, and the ring fits tightly on it, but my wife could barely keep it on her thumb. And my wife, moreover, is wont to pare her nails every Saturday night, but this nail hath not been pared for a month. And thirdly, the hand to which this finger belonged was kneading rye-dough within three days past, but my wife has never kneaded rye-dough since my wife she has been.”

Then the King was angry because his test had failed, and he ordered Elphin back to prison till he could prove what he had affirmed about his bard.

Taliesin, Prime Bard of Britain

Then Taliesin went to court, and one high day when the King's bards and minstrels should sing and play before him, Taliesin, as they passed him sitting quietly [pg 416] in a corner, pouted his lips and played “Blerwm, blerwm” with his finger on his mouth. And when the bards came to perform before the King, lo ! a spell was on them, and they could do nothing but bow before him and play “Blerwm, blerwm” with their fingers on their lips. And the chief of them, Heinin, said: “O king, we be not drunken with wine, but are dumb through the influence of the spirit that sits in yon corner under the form of a child.” Then Taliesin was brought forth, and they asked him who he was and whence he came. And he sang as follows: