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The Fairy Wife

VERY many years ago there lived in the farmhouse of Ystrad, in Nant y Bettws,
the Vale of the Beadhouse, a youth who was joyous and active, brave and
determined of heart. On moonlight nights he used to amuse himself with
watching the Fairy Family dancing, and with listening to their music. One night
they came very near the house, to a field near the lake, which was afterwards
called Llyn y Dywarchen, the Lake of the Sod, there to beguile the night in
merrymaking. The young fellow, as was his wont, went out to watch them.
Immediately his eye fell on one of the fairy damsels, whose beauty was beyond
anything he had ever seen in a human being. Her complexion was like blood
upon snow: her voice was like the voice of a nightingale and as gentle as the
breeze of a summer evening in a flower garden: her bearing was graceful and
noble, and she tripped on the greensward as lightly as the rays of the sun had
danced a few hours before on the ripples of the lake hard by. He fell in love with
her over head and ears, and under the impulse of that sudden passion, when the
merriment was at its height, he rushed into the middle of the fair crowd, snatched
the lovely maiden in his arms, and ran off instantly with her into the house. As
soon as the other fairies saw the violence that had been done by a mortal, they
broke up the dance and ran off after her towards the house. But they were too
late: the door was locked and bolted, and the stolen maiden was safely lodged in
a chamber. The iron bolt and lock made it impossible for them to reclaim her, for
the Fair Family abhor iron. When the young man had got her under his roof, he
applied every means in his power to win her affection and asked her to marry
him. She refused him, though he begged her time after time to be his wife. When,
however, she saw that he would not allow her to return to her own people, she
said to him, "I will not be your wife, but if you can find out my name I will be
your servant." He, thinking that the task was by no means impossible, reluctantly
agreed to the condition.

But the task was harder than he had imagined. He tried every name that he had
ever heard of, even such curious Bible names as Zeruiah, La-ruhamel and
Hazelelponi, but found himself no nearer his point. Nevertheless, he was not
willing to give up, and at last fortune came to his rescue. One night, as he was
returning from Carnarvon market, he espied a number of the Fair Family in a
turbary not far from his path. They seemed as if they were seriously deliberating
together in council, and he at once thought to himself, "I am sure they are
planning how to recover their stolen sister. Perhaps if I can get within hearing
distance of them without being observed I shall be able to find out my darling's
On looking carefully around, he saw that a deep ditch ran through the turbary,
and passed near the spot where the Fair Family sat in council. So he made his
way round to the ditch and crept, on all fours, along it as quietly as a snail and
almost as slowly, until he was within hearing of the group. After listening a while
he found that he had been correct in his surmise: they were discussing the fate of
the maiden whom he had carried away from them, and he heard one of them
wailing aloud, "Oh, Penelope, Penelope, my sister, why didst thou run away with
a mortal?"

"Penelope," said the young man to himself; "that must be the name of my
beloved: that is enough." At once he began to creep back as quietly as he had
crept there, and he managed to reach home without being seen by the fairies.
When he got into the house he called out to the damsel, "Penelope, my heart of
gold, come hither."

She came forward and asked in astonishment, "Oh, mortal, who has betrayed my
name to thee?" Then folding her tiny hands, she exclaimed, "Alas, my fate, my
fate! " But she resigned herself to her lot and took to her work as servant in
earnest. Everything in the house and on the farm prospered under her charge.
There was no better or cleanlier housewife in all the country around, or one that
was more provident and thrifty than she was. She milked the cows three times a
day, and they gave the usual quantity of milk each time. The butter she made was
so good that it fetched a penny a pound more than any other butter sold at
Carnarvon market. The young man, however, was by no means willing that she
should be a servant to him, and he persistently begged her to marry him. Many a
blow will break the stone, says the Welsh proverb, and she at last consented to be
married. But, said she, "There is one condition you must observe: you must never
strike me with iron: if you do, I must be free to leave you and return to my

The young man would have agreed to any conditions, and this one he considered
very easy to observe. So they were wedded, and lived happily together for years,
and were blessed with two children, a boy and a girl, the images of their mother
and the idols of their father. So wise and active was the fairy wife that he became
one of the richest men of that country, and besides the farm of Ystrad he farmed
all the lands on the north of Nant y Bettws to the top of Snowdon and all Cwm
Brwynog, in Llanberis, or about five thousand acres.

One day the husband wanted to go to a fair at Carnarvon, and went out to catch a
filly that was grazing in a field near the house, in order to sell her at the fair. But
for the life of him he could not secure her, and he called to his wife to come to
assist him. She came with-out delay, and they managed to drive the frisky young
creature to a secure corner, as they thought: but, as he approached her to put on
the bridle, the frolicsome animal rushed past him. In his anger he threw the bridle
after her; but who should be running after her but his wife! The iron bit struck her
on the cheek, and she vanished out of sight in a moment. But, though the broken
compact had compelled her disappearance, the fairy wife could not forget her
love for her children and husband. One cold night, a long time after this event,
when the Dead Men's Feet Wind was blowing, the husband was awakened from
his sleep by a gentle tapping on the glass of his bedroom window. After he had
given a response he recognised the gentle and tender voice of his wife saying to

"Should the cold oppress my son,

See his father's coat's put on
If my daughter feels the cold,
Wrap her in my skirt's thick fold."

She even contrived a way to see and speak to her loved ones regularly. The law
of her country would not allow her to walk the earth after her return to Fairyland,
so she made a large sod to float on the surface of the lake: on this she would
spend hours and hours, freely conversing in tenderness with her husband and
children on the shore. By means of this contrivance they managed to live
together, until husband and children breathed their last. The floating island she
made may still be seen, and it is from this that the lake acquired its name.