Once upon a time, there was a man who lived in a small cantref in Wales and his name was Elphin.

Now Elphin was an extraordinarily unlucky man. He could go fishing with ten other men and all of them would fill their nets with salmon, except for Elphin. Elphin wouldn’t get so much as a minnow. One year everyone in the cantref had a marvelously fruitful harvest, except for Elphin. All of Elphin’s wheat and cattle died, and his potatoes were tiny and shriveled. His house had been struck by lightening three times, in the same year.

In fact, the only good fortune Elphin had was that he was the king’s son. This meant that men only snickered at him behind his back rather than to his face, and when his cows keeled over and his nets came up empty the king provided for Elphin and his young wife.

And it was only Elphin and his wife, because on top of all his other misfortunes, Elphin had no children. Children were even more precious than cattle, yet Elphin’s coffers were empty in that regard–as they were in all regards, save one.

Elphin was unswervingly hopeful. He smiled and laughed and kissed his wife on the tip of her nose because he firmly believed that one day his luck would change. And any change would have to be for the better, because his luck certainly couldn’t get any worse. And his wife? Well, she humored him to his face and cried behind his back.

One year, the king felt terribly sorry for his unlucky son and resolved to give him a chance to improve his pathetic lot in life. He decided to grant to Elphin all the contents of that season’s weir.

Now, a weir, you understand, is nothing more than a dam to trap fish. Since the soil in Wales is suited for very little but raising grass and cattle, this little cantref’s relied on the migrating salmon caught each year in the weirs.

When men found out about the king’s decision, they all laughed. With Elphin’s luck, not only would the weirs be empty that year, but battered and ruined as well. Or perhaps the weirs would be struck by lightening as Elphin stood in the water to collect the fish.

Still, Elphin hoped. Surely the weirs would be full to bursting with fish, and this year his luck would change for the better. No longer would Lady Fortune giggle at him from behind her shawl.

The morning of the fish gathering dawned sharp and cold. Eager to visit the weirs, Elphin hastened out of bed and left his house before his wife was even awake. He went down to the water’s edge and waded into the brine.

He sloshed quickly to the first weir and looked into it. It was empty, and none of the weirs had been found empty since the time of his grandfather’s grandfather.

Refusing to abandon hope, Elphin hurried to the second weir. It too, was empty.

The third weir was exactly the same.

By this time, the men of the cantref were up and about, and all of them had come to watch Elphin check the weirs. The results were no more than they had expected and they bantered among themselves about Elphin’s ill luck.

Undaunted by their ridicule and the barren weirs, Elphin moved on to the fourth, only to find it too, deserted. The fifth and six weirs were just the same, and not even Elphin’s enduring hope could live indefinitely without any encouragement. It began to waver.

Still, Elphin thought he would at least look at the last weir. If it too was empty, he would have to trudge back to his house with stooped shoulders, unlucky and unwanted.

He waded to the weir and immediately saw that not one salmon had been caught. But something else had been caught.

It was a basket, large and tightly woven, a lid set on top. Wondering how it had ended up in the sea, Elphin fetched it and opened it up.

Inside was an infant, smiling up at him. Elphin was quite sure such a young baby shouldn’t be able to smile yet, but it did so nonetheless. It had soft brown hair and intelligent dark eyes. Yet to Elphin’s astonishment, the baby’s most beautiful feature was its forehead.

“What a radiant brow!” Elphin exclaimed, taking the child into his arms.

He gave the child to his wife to raise, and from that moment onwards Elphin never again had cause to curse his luck.

The child grew to be Wales’ greatest bard and sang at the court of Britain’s greatest king. Elphin named him Radiant Brow, which, in his language, was Taliesin.

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10 responses »

  1. Sarah says:

    Isn’t this from Stephen Lawhead’s Taliesin?

    • Technically, no. A lot a of Lawhead’s stories are based on–or straightaway lifted from–old Celtic legends and mythologies. He used a variation of this story in Taliesin, but this is just a retelling of an old, old myth.

      Which reminds me: I keep meaning to write the rest of story (which includes bards, curses, and even King Arthur). I’ll try to get Part II up after NaNoWriMo

  2. Sarah says:

    Really?? Okay, because it really reminded me of his version in Taliesin. Which I guess is a complement to your writing (or possibly just my bad memory.)

  3. A. Setliffe says:

    Well-told. 🙂

    Do you appreciate constructive criticism?

  4. A. Setliffe says:

    Then I must first ask you a question!

    Who is telling this story?

    • An omniscient narrator. I was trying to write in a style similar to the old fables and fairy tales, where events are related by a voice outside of the cast of characters but who knows everyone’s thoughts/actions.

  5. A. Setliffe says:

    And how would you characterize this omniscient narrator?
    Consider the old fables and fairy tales you are emulating. The best ones are told by a narrator who, while not overtly a character, has a distinct voice or style.

    Your language is excellent, your humor is good, the story is good, but the voice of the narrator is (in my opinion) too generic. You have the start of a strong narrator voice. It is casual, even conversational, like someone spinning a tale for pleasure by a fireside. All that is needed, I think, is for you to be more conscious of your narrator’s voice, and to refine and strengthen it so that it gives the story direction and a specific feel.

    Also, as a side-note, I think that “His house had been struck by lightening three times, in the same year” ought to be the second or third sentence! It is strong, punchy, and gets the point of Elphin’s unluckiness across perfectly. 🙂

  6. A. Setliffe says:

    You’re most welcome! I hope it is useful. 🙂

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