Tell Me a Story

The Shepherd and the Fairies (A Celtic Tale)

One autumn day long ago a young shepherd called Einion was herding his flock toward home when a heavy mist came down and cloaked the hills. In that fog, he lost his way.

Einion walked and walked, but alas, he knew he was walking in circles. After some time, he came to a hollow place surrounded by rushes, and in the midst of those rushes, he saw rings. At once he understood this was one of those places the villagers spoke of, the home of the fair folk. "'Tis one of the dancing places," he said aloud, and a shiver of fear passed through him. "I must be away," and he turned to leave.

Alas, he could not move; it was as if a magnet were holding him, and no matter how hard he tried to move, he could not.

After a little while a jolly, fat old man appeared, a man with twinkling blue eyes. Einion thought the man might guide him home, and so he smiled and said, "Excuse me ..."

But before he could utter one more word, the old man put a chubby finger to his lips and shushed the lad. "Do not say another word until I tell you to," he said. "Now follow me."

Einion had little choice but to do as the man said, and once the old man began to walk, Einion, too, could walk. He followed him for a while until they reached a standing stone, long and narrow -- a stone the people call a "menhir."

"Follow me fearlessly," the old man said again, and he tapped three times upon the stone. Then the great stone glided effortlessly backward and revealed a dark, narrow path with steps leading downward.

Einion could not believe his eyes, and he wondered what would become of him. He rubbed his eyes, and when he opened them again, he saw a blue light shining from the stairwell.

The old man walked into the light and turned to Einion and said, "Follow me."

What else could he do?

They walked for a while, and presently they came to a forest, thick and fragrant. In the distance Einion saw tall mountains rising, and as they walked, they followed the path of a beautiful, clear river. Everywhere Einion looked he saw a sight more beautiful than the last -- towering trees, bright leaves and flowers. And all around him he heard the sound of birds and of music -- violins and flutes and harps. The sights and sounds and smells were exquisite.

Finally they came to a palace, and Einion guessed this must be the home of the old man. He followed him inside, into a high-ceilinged room with a long wooden table. "Sit and we shall feast," the old man said. Soon platters of fruit and cheese and sweets began to appear, but they floated through the air, carried by no one. Then Einion heard voices -- there were whispers everywhere, but every time he turned to see who was speaking, he saw no one at all.

"Welcome," the old man said. "Now you may speak."

Einion opened his mouth to ask the many questions he wished to ask, but no matter how hard he tried, he could not speak. He felt as though he had lost his tongue.

Some time passed when a smiling old lady appeared, and behind her came three of the most beautiful young women Einion had ever seen. When the three girls saw the shepherd they smiled, and they became more beautiful still. They greeted Einion warmly.

He tried to greet them in return, and still he could not speak.

Then one of the girls, Olwen, leaned forward and kissed him on the lips, and all at once he found his voice again, and everyone began to speak and laugh and joke and tell stories. Einion felt his heart swell with joy. He had never felt such happiness.

Together they feasted, and then, to the sound of the beautiful music, they danced. They laughed some more and ate some more, and soon a whole year and one day had passed as if in a single afternoon.

Einion loved this world, but he missed his family and his old friends. So one day he said to the old man, "I must go home."

"Wait a while," the old man said. And Einion waited, and another year passed.

But then he woke one day and he knew he must see his old friends. "I love you but I must go home," he said to Olwen.

"Do not leave me," she begged, and so he promised he would return.

Olwen loaded him with riches -- dressing him in the finest silks and loading his pockets with silver and gold. "Take these with you, but make certain to come back here."

Einion departed. He climbed the stairs and lifted the stone and suddenly he knew his way home. But when he reached his village, no one knew him. They spoke the name of the boy they had known as Einion. "He died long ago," they said, and this young man who claimed to be him was far too much a gentleman, with his fine clothing and his airs. No one believed he was their shepherd lad.

On the first day of the new moon, Einion remembered his promise to Olwen, and so he went back the way he had come. Olwen was waiting for him.

They married, quietly. The family did not like to make a fuss.

And then Einion asked Olwen to come to his world.

The fair folk gave the couple two ponies, white as snow, and they reached the upper world safely. They lived together happily ever after. The lady was the fairest of all the ladies of the land, and so it is that those who come from the Land of Enchantment ("Hud a Lledrith") are called the fair family.

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