Mabinogion: Taliesin's Power

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

Taliesin's Power

Then the king was mightily wroth with Elphin for so stoutly withstanding him respecting the goodness of his wife, wherefore he ordered him to his prison a second time, saying that he should not be loosed thence until he had proved the truth of his boast, as well concerning the wisdom of his bard as the virtues of his wife.

In the meantime, his wife and Taliesin remained joyful at Elphin's dwelling. And Taliesin showed his mistress how that Elphin was in prison because of them, but he bade her be glad for that he would go to Maelgwn's court to free his master. Then she asked him in what manner he would set him free.

And he answered her:

A journey will I perform,
And to the gate I will come;
The hall I will enter,
And my song I will sing.
My speech I will pronounce
To silence royal bards;
In presence of their chief,
I will greet to deride:
Upon them I will break,
And Elphin I will free.

Should contention arise,
In presence of the prince
With summons to the bards
For the sweet-flowing song
And wizards' posing lore
And wisdom of Druids,
In the court of the sons of the distributor
Some are who did appear
Intent on wily schemes
By craft and tricking means
In pangs of affliction
To wrong the innocent;
Let the fools be silent
As erst in Badon's fight
With Arthur, of liberal ones
The head, with long red blades,
Through feats of testy men,
And a chief with his foes.
Woe be to them, the fools,
When revenge comes on them.

I, Taliesin, chief of bards,
With a sapient Druid's words,
Will set kind Elphin free
From haughty tyrant's bonds.

To their fell and chilling cry,
By the act of a surprising steed
From the far distant North,
There soon shall be an end.

Let neither grace nor health
Be to Maelgwn Gwynedd,
For this force and this wrong;
And be extremes of ills
And an avenged end
To Rhun and all his race:
Short be his course of life,
Be all his lands laid waste,
And long exile be assigned
To Maelgwn Gwynedd!"

After this, he took leave of his mistress and came at last to the Court of Maelgwn, who was going to sit in his hall and dine in his royal state, as it was the custom in those days for kings and princes to do at every chief feast.

And as soon as Taliesin entered the hall, he placed himself in a quiet corner, near the place where the bards and the minstrels were wont to come in doing their service and duty to the king as is the custom at the high festivals when the bounty is proclaimed. And so, when the bards and the heralds came to cry largess and to proclaim the power of the king and his strength, at the moment that they passed by the corner wherein he was crouching, Taliesin pouted out his lips after them and played "Blerwm, blerwm" with his finger upon his lips.

Neither took they much notice of him as they went by, but proceeded forward till they came before the king, unto whom they made their obeisance with their bodies as they were wont, without speaking a single word, but pouting out their lips and making mouths at the king, playing "Blerwm, blerwm" upon their lips with their fingers as they had seen the boy do elsewhere.

This sight caused the king to wonder and to deem within himself that they were drunk with many liquors. Wherefore he commanded one of his lords who served at the board to go to them and desire them to collect their wits and to consider where they stood and what it was fitting for them to do. And this lord did so gladly. But they ceased not from their folly any more than before.

Whereupon he sent to them a second time, and a third, desiring them to go forth from the hall. At the last, the king ordered one of his squires to give a blow to the chief of them named Heinin Vardd, and the squire took a broom and struck him on the head, so that he fell back in his seat. Then he arose and went on his knees, and besought leave of the king's grace to show that this their fault was not through want of knowledge, neither through drunkenness, but by the influence of some spirit that was in the hall.

And after this Heinin spoke on this wise. "Oh, honourable king, be it known to your grace that not from the strength of drink or of too much liquor are we dumb, without power of speech like drunken men, but through the influence of a spirit that sits in the corner yonder in the form of a child."

Forthwith the king commanded the squire to fetch him, and he went to the nook where Taliesin sat and brought him before the king, who asked him what he was and whence he came.

(900 words)

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