Explore: For other stories about the fairies under the water, see The Bride from the Red Lake and Owen Goes A-Wooing.
[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).
The Stray Cow
In times of old the neighbourhood of the lake was haunted by a band of elfin ladies. They were sometimes seen in the dusk of a summer evening, clad all in green, accompanied by their hounds and comely milk-white kine; but no one was favoured with more than a passing glimpse till an old farmer residing at Dyssyrnant, in the adjoining valley of Dyffryn Gwyn, had the good luck to catch one of the Gwartheg y Llyn, or kine of the lake, which had fallen in love with the cattle of his herd.
From the day that he captured the elfin cow the farmer's fortune was made. Never was there such a cow, never such calves, never such milk and butter and cheese, and the fame of the Fuwch Gyfeiliorn, or the Stray Cow, spread through that central part of Wales known as Rhwng y Ddwy Afon, the Mesopotamia between the banks of the Mawddach and those of the Dovey. The farmer, who had been poor, became rich, the owner of vast flocks and herds, a very patriarch of the mountains.
But much wealth made him mad. Fearing that the elfin cow would become too old to be profitable, he thought that he had better fatten her for the market. Even when she was fattened she showed that she was different from earthly cattle, for never was such a fat beast seen as this cow grew to be.
Killing day came, and the neighbours came from all about to see it slaughtered. The cow was tethered, no regard being paid to her mournful lowing and pleading eyes. The farmer counted up his gains from the sale, and the butcher raised his red right arm to strike the fatal blow. Just as the bludgeon was falling, a piercing cry awakened the echoes of the hills and made the welkin ring. The butcher's arm was paralysed and the bludgeon fell from his hand.
Looking in the direction from which the shriek had come, the astonished assemblage beheld a female figure, clad in green, with uplifted arms, standing on one of the crags overhanging Llyn Barfog, and heard her calling with a voice loud as thunder:
"Come thou, Einion's Yellow One,
Stray-horns, the Particoloured Lake Cow.
And the hornless Dodyn,
Arise, come home."
No sooner were these words uttered than the elfin cow and all her progeny to the third and fourth generation were in full flight towards the lake. Partly recovering from his astonishment, the farmer ran his hardest after them, but when, breathless and panting, he gained an eminence overlooking the water, he saw the elfin dame, with the cows and their calves formed in a circle round her, leisurely descending mid-lake. They disappeared beneath the dark surface, leaving only the yellow waterlily to mark the spot where they had vanished.
The farmer was reduced from wealth to poverty, but few felt pity for one who had shown himself so ungrateful as to purpose slaying his benefactor.
Next: Bala Lake