Explore: For another story about a fairy bride, see The Bride from the Red Lake. For a more dangerous supernatural seduction, see Einion and the Lady of the Greenwood.
[notes by LKG]
This story is part of the Welsh Fairy Tales unit. Story source: The Welsh Fairy Book by W. Jenkyn Thomas with illustrations by Willy Pogány (1908).
Einion and the Fair Family
ONCE on a time a shepherd went up a mountain to look after his sheep. A thick mist came on, and he lost his way, and walked backwards and forwards for many a long hour. At last he got into a low rushy place, where he saw before him many circular rings. He knew at once that they were the circles in which the Fair Family danced, and remembering how many a shepherd who had chanced on these rings had disappeared from mortal eyes, he determined to run away as fast as he could.
As he was racing off he was met by an old fat little man. "Stop," said the old man, and there was something in this voice which made Einion (that was the shepherd's name) obey. "What art thou doing?"
"I am running home," said the shepherd.
"Come after me," said the old man, "and do not utter a word until I bid thee."
The shepherd could not choose but obey, and he followed his guide on and on until they came to an oval stone. The old man tapped the stone three times with his walking stick, and the stone rose of its own accord, disclosing a narrow passage leading into the earth.. "Follow me fearlessly," said the fat man; "no harm will be done thee."
On the youth went, as reluctantly as a dog to be hanged. It was dark in the passage, though a sort of whitish light radiated from the stones which formed the roof: at last the tunnel opened into a fine wooded fertile country. Birds sang in the groves, and streams of clear water, flowing through meadows carpeted with bright flowers, made music as sweet as that of the feathered tribe. Dotting the landscape were splendid mansions, and into one of these Einion was led by the little man.
Both sat down to eat at a table of silver: golden dishes containing the most delicious meats and golden goblets full of exquisite wine came to their places of themselves and disappeared of themselves when done with. This puzzled the shepherd beyond measure: moreover, he heard people talking together around him, but for the life of him he could see no one but his aged friend.
At length the fat man said to him, "Thou canst now talk as much as it may please thee." Einion tried to speak, but he found that his tongue would no more stir than if it had been a lump of ice.
Three beautiful maidens came in: they looked archly at him and began to talk to him, but still his tongue would not wag. Then one of the maidens came to him, and playing with his fair curling hair, gave him a kiss on his ruddy lips. This loosened the string that bound his tongue, and Einion began to talk freely, and he had much to say, especially to the maiden who had kissed him.
He remained a year and a day with the little man and his daughters without knowing that he had passed more than a day among them, for he was so happy. But by-and-by he began to feel somewhat of a longing to visit his old home, and he asked his fat host if he might go.
"Stay a little yet," said he, "and thou shalt go for a while."
He asked a second time after some while, and was again refused permission. Mererid (that was what the damsel who kissed him was called) looked very sad when he talked of going away, nor was he himself without feeling a sort of a cold thrill passing through him at the thought of leaving her. The longing for home, however, would not leave him, and he asked a third time to be allowed to go to earth. This time, on condition that he returned on the first night of the new moon, he obtained leave to go.
Everyone was delighted to see him, for it was thought that he had been killed. Another shepherd had been suspected of murdering him, and had been compelled to run away to Merthyr Tydfil (that was where all persons fled to at that time when they wished to avoid punishment) lest he should be hanged.
Einion would not tell anyone where he had been, and on the appointed night he went back to Fairyland. Mererid was rejoiced at his return, and before long the twain were wedded, and lived very happily. Einion, however, could not rest contented with his life in Fairyland, and entreated the old man for leave to take his wife with him and dwell on earth. At last the old man consented and gave him much silver and gold, and many precious gems to take with him.
So Einion and his bride set out on two ponies whiter than snow and arrived at his old home. With the treasure which they had brought with them they acquired an immense estate, and no couple in the country were more honoured than they. But it was not long before people began to inquire about the pedigree of Einion's wife, and as he would not tell them who she was, they came to the conclusion that she was one of the Fair Family. "Certainly," said Einion, when asked whether this were so, "there can be no doubt that she comes from a very fair family: for she has two sisters who are almost as fair as she is, and if you saw them together, you would admit that this name is a most fitting one."