Mabinogion: The Ring upon the Finger

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

The Ring upon the Finger

When they had all made an end of thus praising the king and his gifts, it befell that Elphin spoke in this wise. "Of a truth none but a king may vie with a king, but were he not a king, I would say that my wife was as virtuous as any lady in the kingdom and also that I have a bard who is more skilful than all the king's bards."

In a short space some of his fellows showed the king all the boastings of Elphin, and the king ordered him to be thrown into a strong prison until he might know the truth as to the virtues of his wife and the wisdom of his bard.

Now when Elphin had been put in a tower of the castle with a thick chain about his feet (it is said that it was a silver chain because he was of royal blood), the king, as the story relates, sent his son Rhun to inquire into the demeanour of Elphin's wife.

Now Rhun was the most graceless man in the world, and there was neither wife nor maiden with whom he had held converse but was evil spoken of.

While Rhun went in haste towards Elphin's dwelling, being fully minded to bring disgrace upon his wife, Taliesin told his mistress how that the king had placed his master in durance in prison and how that Rhun was coming in haste to strive to bring disgrace upon her. Wherefore he caused his mistress to array one of the maids of her kitchen in her apparel, which the noble lady gladly did, and she loaded her hands with the best rings that she and her husband possessed.

In this guise Taliesin caused his mistress to put the maiden to sit at the board in her room at supper, and he made her to seem as her mistress and the mistress to seem as the maid. And when they were in due time seated at their supper in the manner that has been said, Rhun suddenly arrived at Elphin's dwelling and was received with joy for all the servants knew him plainly, and they brought him in haste to the room of their mistress, in the semblance of whom the maid rose up from supper and welcomed him gladly.

And afterwards she sat down to supper again the second time, and Rhun with her. Then Rhun began jesting with the maid, who still kept the semblance of her mistress. And verily this story shows that the maiden became so intoxicated that she fell asleep, and the story relates that it was a powder that Rhun put into the drink that made her sleep so soundly that she never felt it when he cut from off her hand her little finger, whereupon was the signet ring of Elphin, which he had sent to his wife as a token a short time before.

And Rhun returned to the king with the finger and the ring as a proof to show that he had cut it from off her hand without her awaking from her sleep of intemperance.

The king rejoiced greatly at these tidings, and he sent for his councillors, to whom he told the whole story from the beginning. And he caused Elphin to be brought out of his prison, and he chided him because of his boast. And he spake unto Elphin on this wise. "Elphin, be it known to thee beyond a doubt that it is but folly for a man to trust in the virtues of his wife further than he can see her, and that thou mayest be certain of thy wife's vileness, behold her finger, with thy signet ring upon it, which was cut from her hand last night while she slept the sleep of intoxication."

Then thus spake Elphin. "With thy leave, mighty king, I cannot deny my ring, for it is known of many, but verily I assert strongly that the finger around which it is was never attached to the hand of my wife, for in truth and certainty there are three notable things pertaining to it, none of which ever belonged to any of my wife's fingers. The first of the three is that it is certain, by your grace's leave, that wheresoever my wife is at this present hour — whether sitting, or standing, or lying down — this ring would never remain upon her thumb, whereas you can plainly see that it was hard to draw it over the joint of the little finger of the hand whence this was cut. The second thing is that my wife has never let pass one Saturday since I have known her without paring her nails before going to bed, and you can see fully that the nail of this little finger has not been pared for a month. The third is, truly, that the hand whence this finger came was kneading rye dough within three days before the finger was cut therefrom, and I can assure your goodness that my wife has never kneaded rye dough since my wife she has been."


(900 words)

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