The Swallowed Court
BENLLI, a wicked Prince of Powys, had been married a long time, and he was getting tired of his wife's faded looks and wrinkles. One day, as he was hunting in the Green Forest, a maiden of dazzling beauty rode past him, and he fell in love with her at first sight. He went to the same spot in the forest the next day, and the same vision appeared to him, but vanished before he was able to speak. The third day the damsel appeared again, and he spoke to her, begging her to come and live with him at his palace. "You must put your wife away," said the damsel, "and I will become your wedded wife on one condition. You must allow me to leave you unfollowed one night in every seven, and you must not inquire where I go to or what I do. If you will swear this, and if you do not break your solemn oath whatever happens, my beauty shall know no change until the tall flag-reeds and the long green rushes grow in your hall."
The Prince took a solemn oath to observe this condition, and the Maid of the Green Forest went to live with him at his court. The Prince was spared the necessity of putting his old wife away, because she disappeared before the new bride came to usurp her position. For a long time the Prince lived happily with his young wife, and her beauty seemed to become more and more radiant. He gave her, among other presents, a glorious crown of beryl and sapphire, and a ring with a magnificent diamond worth a king's ransom, and his love was so absorbing that he had no difficulty in abiding by the condition which he had sworn to observe. As time went on, however, the mystery of her absence every seventh night began to oppress him, and he became very unhappy.
About nine years after he had wedded the Maid of the Green Forest he invited, among others, a learned clerk, whose name was Wylan, to a feast. Wylan was skilled in magic, and he noticed that in spite of the splendid banquet with its costly viands and racy wines and mirthful songs, some secret sorrow was brooding over the Prince's mind. Some days after the clerk sought out the Prince and said to him, "Christ save thee, Benlli, what secret sorrow makes thy brow so gloomy?" Then the Prince told him how he had nine years before met the Maid of the Green Forest, and she had become his bride on condition that she should leave him unfollowed one night in every seven. "When the owls and the crickets cry, she leaves my bed and I lie all alone till the day-star appears. Then a heavy slumber fails on my eyelids, and when the sun rises I start from a feverish sleep to find her by my side again. The mystery of it lies heavy on my soul, and I find no peace in the rich banquet, and my whole life is riven with sorrow."
"I can repair thy peace," said clerk Wylan to the troubled Prince, "if thou wilt resign to me the Maid of the Green Forest, and bestow upon the monks of the White Minster a tithe annually of all that feeds in thy palace meadows and all that flows in thy palace vaults."
The prince consented, and clerk Wylan taking with him his clasped book went before midnight to the rooks by the Giant's Grave, and concealed himself by the mouth of a cave leading down to Fairyland. As he lay there a lady hurried past him into the cave. She was royally dressed, and her crown glittered in the moonlight--she was the Maid of the Green Forest.
While she was within the cave the clerk began his potent spells, and he said to the spirits which he summoned, "Let peace be restored to Prince. Benlli, for he has promised to the monks of the White Minster a tithe annually of all that feeds in his palace meadows and all that flows in his palace vaults. He has resigned the Maid of the Green Forest to me: let her for ever be as she now appears, and never leave my side. I swear to make her my own at the Cross near the town of the White Minster. Thither bear her before the break of day, and I will meet and wed her there."
By his magical skill he made these words irrevocable, and departing from the cave's mouth he hastened to the Cross. There he saw a grim ogress smiling and rolling her bleared eyeballs on him. Thin grey hairs stood on her wrinkled chin, and the hair on her head was like the moss of old orchard trees. She stretched out to the clerk a bony finger on which was the ring with the great flashing diamond given by Benlli to the Maid of the Green Forest. "Take me to thy bosom," she said with a hideous laugh, "for I am the wife thou art sworn to wed. A foul ogress am I now, but thirty years agone I was Benlli's blooming bride. But as I lost my beauty I lost his love, and I had recourse to magic.
"On condition of returning to the cave which thou sawest me enter, to be an ogress one night in every seven, I received my youth and beauty again. With these I charmed the Prince anew, for I was the Maid of the Green Forest. I promised him that my beauty should know no change until the tall flag-reeds and the long green rushes grew in his hall. This promise have I kept, for the deep waters have overwhelmed Prince and palace, and the flag-reeds and green rushes already grow in the banqueting chamber. Thy spells, too, were sure, for the peace which thou didst promise doth now bless Benlli, but it is the peace of the dead. Our spells have clashed, and no charm can redress our fate. Take me then to be thy bride, as decreed by oath and spell, and take with me thy reward, a tithe of the pike and dare feeding in the green meadows of the palace and of the water flowing in its vaults." Thus was clerk Wylan caught in his own dark plot.
Llynclys, or Swallowed Court, was the name given to the water which overwhelmed Benili and his palace. It is on the Welsh border, near Oswestry, and when the surface is smooth, towers and chimneys can be seen at a great depth in the lake. The clerk, who fell into his own trap, is commemorated by the names Croes Wylan, Wylan's Cross, and Tre Wylan, or Wylan's Stead, both near Oswestry.