Mabinogion: Elphin's Reward

This story is part of the Mabinogion unit. Story source: The Mabinogion, translated by Lady Charlotte Guest (1877).

Elphin's Reward

Then he bade Elphin wager the king that he had a horse both better and swifter than the king's horses. And this Elphin did, and the day and the time and the place were fixed, and the place was that which at this day is called Morva Rhiannedd, and thither the king went with all his people and four-and-twenty of the swiftest horses he possessed.

And after a long process, the course was marked, and the horses were placed for running. Then came Taliesin with four-and-twenty twigs of holly which he had burnt black, and he caused the youth who was to ride his master's horse to place them in his belt, and he gave him orders to let all the king's horses get before him and, as he should overtake one horse after the other, to take one of the twigs and strike the horse with it over the crupper and then let that twig fall, and after that to take another twig and do in like manner to every one of the horses as he should overtake them, enjoining the horseman strictly to watch when his own horse should stumble and to throw down his cap on the spot.

All these things did the youth fulfil, giving a blow to every one of the king's horses and throwing down his cap on the spot where his horse stumbled. And to this spot Taliesin brought his master after his horse had won the race. And he caused Elphin to put workmen to dig a hole there, and, when they had dug the ground deep enough, they found a large cauldron full of gold.

And then said Taliesin, "Elphin, behold a payment and reward unto thee for having taken me out of the weir and for having reared me from that time until now."

And on this spot stands a pool of water, which is to this time called Pwllbair.

After all this, the king caused Taliesin to be brought before him, and he asked him to recite concerning the creation of man from the beginning, and thereupon he made the poem which is now called "One of the Four Pillars of Song."

The Almighty made,
Down the Hebron vale,
With his plastic hands,
Adam's fair form:
And five hundred years,
Void of any help,
There he remained and lay
Without a soul.

He again did form,
In calm paradise,
From a left-side rib,
Bliss-throbbing Eve.

Seven hours they were
The orchard keeping,
Till Satan brought strife,
With wiles from hell.

Thence were they driven,
Cold and shivering,
To gain their living,
Into this world,
To bring forth with pain
Their sons and daughters,
To have possession
Of Asia's land.

Twice five, ten and eight,
She was self-bearing,
The mixed burden
Of man-woman.

And once, not hidden,
She brought forth Abel,
And Cain the forlorn,
The homicide.

To him and his mate
Was given a spade,
To break up the soil,
Thus to get bread.

The wheat pure and white,
Summer tilth to sow,
Every man to feed,
Till great yule feast.

An angelic hand
From the high Father,
Brought seed for growing
That Eve might sow;
But she then did hide
Of the gift a tenth,
And all did not sow
Of what was dug.

Black rye then was found,
And not pure wheat grain,
To show the mischief
Thus of thieving.

For this thievish act,
It is requisite,
That all men should pay
Tithe unto God
Of the ruddy wine,
Planted on sunny days,
And on new-moon nights,
And the white wine.

The wheat rich in grain
And red flowing wine
Christ's pure body make,
Son of Alpha.

The wafer is flesh,
The wine is spilt blood,
The Trinity's words
Sanctify them.

The concealed books
From Emmanuel's hand
Were brought by Raphael
As Adam's gift,
When in his old age,
To his chin immersed
In Jordan's water,
Keeping a fast,
Moses did obtain
In Jordan's water,
The aid of the three
Most special rods.

Solomon did obtain
In Babel's tower,
All the sciences
In Asia land.

So did I obtain,
In my bardic books,
All the sciences
Of Europe and Africa.

Their course, their bearing,
Their permitted way,
And their fate I know,
Unto the end.

Oh! What misery,
Through extreme of woe,
Prophecy will show
On Troia's race!

A coiling serpent
Proud and merciless,
On her golden wings,
From Germany.

She will overrun
England and Scotland,
From Lychlyn sea-shore
To the Severn.

Then will the Brython
Be as prisoners,
By strangers swayed,
From Saxony.

Their Lord they will praise,
Their speech they will keep,
Their land they will lose,
Except wild Walia.

Till some change shall come,
After long penance,
When equally rife
The two crimes come.

Britons then shall have
Their land and their crown,
And the stranger swarm
Shall disappear.

All the angel's words
As to peace and war,
Will be fulfilled
To Britain's race.

(800 words)

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