Category Archives: folk tales

Gwyn and the Dragon: Part II

Gwyn and the Dragon: Part I

When, on the morrow, the dragon snatched the best of Gwyn’s flock, the act struck the lowly shepherd as premeditated or, perhaps, preordained, except by mutual consent of both parties. As the dragon crossed the September sky, Gwyn knew he was witnessing his future in the talons of the fiery feathered beast. So with the weight of having nothing left to lose, aside from his father’s flock, he abandoned the sheep’s welfare to the dogs and followed the shadow of the dragon as it coasted toward the forest.

At the edge of the trees, Gwyn nearly stumbled into an old woman whose body bent itself in an unnatural, humpbacked way toward the mossy ground, where she was digging up mushrooms. Gwyn recognized her as the old witch who lived in a small hut in the woods. He started as she suddenly sprang up to her full height and steadied her jittery, marble blue eyes on his face.

“I….I,” he stuttered, and his fingers found the cross pendant round in his neck, one of the only objects he had to remind him of his mother who had passed in his youth.

“You’re following after the gwiber,” the old witch said.

“He’s stolen my lamb.”

“And he’ll steal more than that before he’s done with his stealing. No, no, I’ll content myself with Penny Buns for stew.”

Gwyn, who wanted only to be on his way, but who dreaded the witch’s stews and Penny Buns and curses, absently bent down and plucked a large toadstool. He handed it to her as an oblation.

In a flash, she hid it in her basket. “Who do you want me to kill with this, my little Destroying Angel, eh? Would that be the beast himself, or the nobleman who holds your desired maiden in his arms night after night?”

Alarmed, Gwyn shook his head and reached out to the witch’s basket. “I want nothing to do with killing. I meant it as a token of, of….”

“Gratitude?” She handed the toadstool back to him. “Do with it what you will, but think twice, three times before trading your soul for the world. Rescue your lamb, and then ask yourself if the children might already live in freedom before rescuing them to bondage.”

His hands trembling, Gwyn dropped the toadstool and wandered away from the old woman, not knowing what direction to take; he’d long lost the shadow of the beast.

He heard her faint voice on the wind, “He cannot survive without water. His cave is at the river’s mouth, behind the veil.”

The day darkened as he hiked by the side of the river, and he thought about what the witch had told him: the dragon’s cave is behind the veil. As the foliage at the riverside became unnavigable, he slipped into the water and walked upstream. The waterway narrowed and slipped between slabs of rock outcroppings draped in vines. His heart thudded. There it was—a waterfall, a veil of water streaming over the rocks, and behind it, a dark space. He sensed the dragon, and he knew, as he crossed the veil of water, that he would have no possibility of retreat.

From nowhere, the shouts of boys echoed around the hollow of murky rock. Three small boys shot past him, through the veil, whooping and splashing in the water. The children were playing—smiles wreathing their rosy faces. Then he heard the bleating of his sheep, and the sound wasn’t joyous, but a choked, frightened noise. Gywn moved forward into the darkness, attracted to the glow of a lamp lost in the blackness. It was a lamp that cast no shadows and refused to flicker in the draft.

“Boys!” he heard a female voice. He couldn’t be certain and, yet, the smooth tones were familiar to his ear–pleasing. “Boys!”

He halted as her figure materialized beside the glowing orb she held aloft. “Elen?”

“Oh, dear Gwyn, I’ve been waiting for you a very long time. He’s been waiting for you, too.”

“Who?”

“Our Gwiber Yago.”

“Why are you here?”

“Yago is with us, my love. We’re either with him, or against him, although he’s never against us. We either make an ally of him, or of the King. Yago will protect us either way.”

The chill of the cave crept up his back. “No, I will not be under the protection of a beast.”

“He’s not a beast. He’s the minister of our future. He promised us fertility, many blessings, many children.”

“Our fertility, Elen? Between you and me? Or the fertility of the land?”

“Ours, Gwyn. He’s waiting for you in the inner cave. Go.”

Gwyn went, his feet stepping forward willingly, and his heart, too, though his mind couldn’t make sense of the offering. At the opening of the inner cave, the passage was so narrow he could touch the walls on either side of him, and he could smell a faint waft of smoke. He ducked his head and entered into a room with a fire pit that lit up piles of shadowy treasure with one flicker and then another. At the fore of the treasure, the gwiber waited, stamping its birdlike feet as though impatient. The stolen lamb ran pellmell, skittering over the piles of gold. The lamb’s bleats should have torn Gwyn’s heart, but there was too much at stake to worry over a lost animal.

“I’m here to fetch the son of the High Sheriff,” Gwyn said, though he wasn’t altogether certain that was his purpose here.

“The reward you will receive is paltry compared to the one I offer.”

The gwiber’s surprisingly gentle voice didn’t reassure Gwyn. The shepherd kept his distance. “What are you offering?”

“The world, my friend. I’m offering you a portion of my treasure, and political power in your realm.”

“And what do I have to give in exchange?”

“What you have to give is nothing. You will do my bidding and live by my standard, you and your male children, up to the fourteenth generation.”

“And what if I or my offspring choose not to do your bidding?”

“What I ask of you will never be onerous; it will always benefit your village. But in the case you decide to turn from me, you will die young. And, yet, you will die young and wealthy, leaving your family with riches.”

“And Elen?”

“She will be yours. She is already yours; she and the son of the High Sheriff in her womb. I’ve taken no son but the one in Elen’s womb.”

At those words, Gwyn’s heart broke, and the gravity of the situation fell on his shoulders. He had walked into a trap–a trap devised by a man who already possessed all the wealth he needed.

“I’m taking on another man’s contract,” Gwyn said. “That is something I can’t do.”

“If he refuses my bidding, he will die young, and you will still win the treasure and the bride. More fool that he was, he believed he could worm his way out of my contract and still keep his wealth and power.”

Gwyn thought about it–the rent in his heart growing. How could he respect his wife-to-be, or the lord who resided over his land?

“And if I don’t sign, all I lose is one lamb?” Gwyn smiled at the simplicity. He would return a shepherd, with no wealth and no love–just as before. And the lamb was surely taken by a rabid beast–his father would believe the lie.

“I will have to keep Elen. She will be my bride, if not the bride of you foolish men who reject my offers.”

Despite the damp, Gwyn broke into a sweat. He wanted to run from the cave, and he turned around, swallowing air into his dry throat. There Elen stood, in the glow of her orb, at the entrance to the inner cave. Her eyes pleaded with him, and he detected that her body shook with fright.

“Elen,” he said. He swallowed back air again, and the bile that rose from his stomach. “I’ll sign your contract, gwiber. But I’ll do so for Elen, and not for the treasure.”

Elen bowed her head, as though in shame. “Don’t be a fool, Gwyn. Take the treasure. What does it matter now?”

He nodded, and the gwiber handed him a plume and parchment, which he quickly signed to be done with it.

“Take only what you can carry away in one purse,” the gwiber said. “You won’t be allowed to return, and this is the richest sort of treasure that can never be fully spent.”

Because Gwyn wouldn’t move–because his young body felt suddenly stiff and old and frozen–Elen scooped a handful of gold into her own purse. She held out her hand to him.

As he took it, tears sprang to his eyes. She guided him and the little lamb that followed them both out of the cave and back through the waterfall, back upstream and through the tangled density of forest, out into the clearing.

The wedding feast occurred on the following Sunday and, although Gwyn found happiness with his lot in life, his treasure and his bride–although he lived to a ripe old age, long past the High Sheriff’s early death, he wore sadness in his heart that could never be shaken. And he watched his firstborn son die young, and then watched with trepidation as his first grandson grew to be a fine, young man whose heart tended only toward evil.

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Gwyn and the Dragon: Part I

Do you remember the days when the red-feathered dragon moved into the forest near Penllyn Castle? After the dragon’s short reign of terror, the people quickly established a peaceful outer obedience to the beast’s demands for local livestock. As long as each farmer in turn gave of the best of his flock, the dragon left the people and their children alone, except, of course, when it needed admiration. Every Friday at sunset, the dragon freewheeled in flight, coasting at a just-so angle, reflecting the last rays of the red sun. The dragon shimmered, and the people dutifully pointed and exclaimed and then hightailed it back to their cottages before darkness overcame them.

Years later, a new High Sheriff, appointed by the English throne, entered the dragon’s realm. Wealthy men followed the sheriff, building houses that encroached upon the dragon’s territory. As men felled trees for their homes, the dragon retreated into the depth of the forest, farther and farther, to avoid these new men and their weapons. In retaliation for the loss of its domain, the dragon returned to its secretive and predatory ways, snatching livestock at will and refusing the offerings of the people. No longer did it freewheel on Friday evenings, expecting the awe of the peasants and farmers. Worse still, an occasional child vanished, which set tongues to wagging because the High Sheriff seemed to have no concern for their missing children. The people were superstitious, the Sheriff claimed. There was no dragon–only evil men. And the vilest of all men were the ones who resided in the monasteries, now in the process of dissolution. The High Sheriff was a busy man.

There was a poor shepherd boy called Gwyn who lived in the region; he was a member of all search parties involving missing children, due to his tracking abilities. Daily, though, it was his duty to protect his father’s sheep from the clutches of the dragon, or any other threats. Although Gwyn’s father had long given the best of his flock to the dragon when his lot was called, now that the beast threatened to ravage any or all of the flock at unexpected moments, he and Gwyn built a strong sheepfold which had a roof for blocking the flock from aerial view. When Gwyn took the flock to grazing land, he also took with him two well-trained dogs that gave advance warning of the stealthy, flying creature.

Gwyn had good reason to protect what little wealth he and his family possessed. Gwyn was in love and wanted to marry, but the woman of his choice–the beautiful miller’s daughter, Elen–had a heart only for wealth and security. Her head had been turned, as had many of the local girls’ heads, by the wily compliments of a wealthy gent, who was a friend to the new High Sheriff. In consequence of his friendship, the wily man was appointed officer of the law and, whilst the local women favored him when he rode into the village, tall and stately on his horse, the local men despised him. They were known to shout insults at the man because this officer of the law barely understood the local tongue. So they hurled their best, with smiles on their faces, lest they incur the wrath of the officer’s sword. Their friendly smiles encouraged the officer, who responded by puffing his chest and straightening his back and forcing his horse to prance in a disgusting manner.

One evening, after his father’s sheep were in the fold, and Gwyn had imbibed plenty of ale at the local inn, he and the village men watched the officer step up to the town platform and unroll a scroll–some kind of edict for capturing a wanted man, no doubt. Well, they would never give up their own, not for the greatest reward in heaven.

“He’s every bit the dragon,” Gwyn said. “Look at the way he takes our best and puffs his chest.”

An old friend jabbed Gwyn in the ribs. “Fight him, then. Take the best back, if you catch my meaning.”

Gwyn grasped the full intent of his friend’s meaning, but he didn’t know how he–a shepherd–could win the miller’s daughter from a man who wore a sword and had money to spare. Perhaps, though–perhaps, he could win the award, after all, turn in one of his own to marry the woman he desired. What did criminals know of loyalty, anyway? He, therefore, listened intently to the officer’s proclamation.

“I hereby announce the offering of a hefty reward by edict of the High Sheriff for the man who captures the awful wyvere in the forest and rescues the High Sheriff’s son who went missing two nights past!” That was the gist of the message; however, the officer, not knowing well the common language, stumbled over it and had to read it three times in a row before the men understood him and stopped their laughing.

“Ah, he just wants the dragon’s gold!” one man shouted.

Another said, “Does he expect us to rescue his son, when he has no care for ours?”

Meanwhile, they plastered smiles on their faces before dispersing to their homes, because they knew that actions always mean more than words.

“And what does the High Sheriff want with dragon gold?” Gwyn spoke aloud, believing he was alone.

Mysteriously, a voice whispered in his ear, “If you seek the dragon and find no gold, you’ll still have your reward.”

When he turned around, he beheld Elen, the beautiful miller’s daughter, whose golden hair appeared silver under the moonlight. “Shouldn’t you be home?” he asked her.

“Yes, I should be. My father awaits me. You could slay the dragon, Gwyn. You could take a portion of the gold for yourself.”

“And then what? Will I win your heart?”

“Yes. I’ve never desired to marry a fool.”

“Only a fool would slay a dragon for monetary gain.”

Elen touched his cheek. “Only a fool would let the award go to another man.”

Elen’s words haunted him for days. They haunted him as he watched his father’s sheep and as he ate his supper and warmed himself by the evening hearth. Finally, he came to a decision. He would allow the dragon to steal one of his flock. For the reward of Elen’s hand, one lamb was meaningless. Then he would track the dragon to its cave and see for himself whether a hoard of treasure waited inside…or, perhaps a treasure of small boys, the chiefest of which, deserved a heavy ransom.

Gwyn and the Dragon: Part II

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