The Ancients of the World
THERE was once an Eagle living in the woods of Gwernabwy: he and his mate had young ones till the ninth generation and far beyond that; then the old mother eagle died, leaving her husband a lonely widower, without anyone to console and cheer him in his old age. In the sadness of his heart he thought it would be well if he married an old widow of his own age. Hearing of the old Owl of Cwm Cawlyd, he took it into his head to make her his second wife, but before doing so, being anxious not to degrade his race, he determined to make enquiries about her.
He had an old friend, older than himself, the Stag of Rhedynfre, in Gwent. He went to him and asked the age of the old Owl. The Stag answered him thus:
"Seest thou, my friend, this oak by which I lie? It is now but a withered stump, without leaves or branches, but I remember seeing it an acorn on the top of the chief tree of this forest. An oak is three hundred years in growing, and after that three hundred years in its strength and prime, and after that three hundred years in returning unto earth. Upwards of sixty years of the last hundred of this oak are passed, and the Owl has been old since I first remember her. Nor does anyone of my kindred know her age. But I have a friend who is much older than I, the Salmon of Llyn Llifon. Go to him and ask him if he knows aught of the age and history of the old Owl."
The Eagle went to the Salmon, who answered him thus: "I have a year over my head for every gem on my skin and for every egg in my roe, but the Owl was old when first I remember her. But I have a friend who is much older than I, the Ousel of Cilgwri. Haply he knows more about the Owl than I do."
The Eagle went and found the Ousel sitting on a hard flint, and asked him if he knew aught of the age and history of the Owl. The Ousel answering, said: "Seest thou this flint on which I sit? I have seen it so large that it would have taken three hundred yoke of the largest oxen to move it, and it has never been worn away save by my cleaning my beak upon it once every night before going to sleep, and striking the tip of my wing against it after rising in the morning. Yet never have I known the Owl younger or older than she is to-day. But I have a friend who is much older than I, the Toad of Cors Fochno. Go to him and ask him if he knows aught of the age and history of the Owl."
The Eagle went to the Toad, who answered him thus:
"I never eat any food save the dust of the earth, and I never eat half enough to satisfy me. Seest thou the great hills around this bog? I have seen the place where they stand level ground. I have eaten all the earth they contain, though I eat so little for fear lest the mould of the earth should be consumed before my death. Yet never have I known the Owl anything else but an old grey hag who cried to-whit-to-whoo in the woods in the long winter nights, and scared children with her voice even as she does to-day."
Then the Eagle saw he could marry her without bringing disgrace or degradation on his tribe. And so it was from the, courtship of the Eagle that it was known which were the oldest creatures in the world. They are the Eagle of Gwernabwy, the Stag of Rhedynfre, the Salmon of Llyn Llifon, the Ousel of Cilgwri, the Toad of Cors Fochno, and the Owl of Cwm Cawlyd, and the oldest of them all is the Owl.