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From welsh fairy tales by william griffis.
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Age Rating 8 plus.
Every old country that has won fame in history and built up a
civilization of its own, has a national flower. Besides this, some
living creature, bird, or beast, or, it may be, a fish is on its flag.
In places of honor, it stands as the emblem of the nation; that is, of
the people, apart from the land they live on. Besides flag and symbol,
it has a motto. That of Wales is: "Awake: It is light."
Now because the glorious stories of Wales, Scotland and Ireland have
been nearly lost in that of mighty England, men have at times, almost
forgotten about the leek, the thistle, and the shamrock, which stand
for the other three divisions of the British Isles.
Yet each of these peoples has a history as noble as that of which the
rose and the lion are the emblems. Each has also its patron saint and
civilizer. So we have Saint George, Saint David, Saint Andrew, and
Saint Patrick, all of them white-souled heroes. On the union flag, or
standard of the United Kingdom, we see their three crosses.
The lion of England, the harp of Ireland, the thistle of Scotland, and
the Red Dragon of Wales represent the four peoples in the British
Isles, each with its own speech, traditions, and emblems; yet all in
unity and in loyalty, none excelling the Welsh, whose symbol is the
Red Dragon. In classic phrase, we talk of Albion, Scotia, Cymry, and
But why red? Almost all the other dragons in the world are white, or
yellow, green or purple, blue, or pink. Why a fiery red color like
that of Mars?
Borne on the banners of the Welsh archers, who in old days won the
battles of Crecy and Agincourt, and now seen on the crests on the town
halls and city flags, in heraldry, and in art, the red dragon is as
rampant, as when King Arthur sat with His Knights at the Round Table.
The Red Dragon has four three-toed claws, a long, barbed tongue, and
tail ending like an arrow head. With its wide wings unfolded, it
guards those ancient liberties, which neither Saxon, nor Norman, nor
German, nor kings on the throne, whether foolish or wise, have ever
been able to take away. No people on earth combine so handsomely loyal
freedom and the larger patriotism, or hold in purer loyalty to the
union of hearts and hands in the British Empire, which the sovereign
represents, as do the Welsh.
The Welsh are the oldest of the British peoples. They preserve the
language of the Druids, bards, and chiefs, of primeval ages which go
back and far beyond any royal line in Europe, while most of their
fairy tales are pre-ancient and beyond the dating.
Why the Cymric dragon is red, is thus told, from times beyond human
It was in those early days, after the Romans in the south had left the
island, and the Cymric king, Vortigern, was hard pressed by the Picts
and Scots of the north. To his aid, he invited over from beyond the
North Sea, or German Ocean, the tribes called the Long Knives, or
Saxons, to help him.
But once on the big island, these friends became enemies and would not
go back. They wanted to possess all Britain.
Vortigern thought this was treachery. Knowing that the Long Knives
would soon attack him, he called his twelve wise men together for
their advice. With one voice, they advised him to retreat westward
behind the mountains into Cymry. There he must build a strong fortress
and there defy his enemies.
So the Saxons, who were Germans, thought they had driven the Cymry
beyond the western borders of the country which was later called
England, and into what they named the foreign or Welsh parts.
Centuries afterwards, this land received the name of Wales.
People in Europe spoke of Galatians, Wallachians, Belgians, Walloons,
Alsatians, and others as "Welsh." They called the new fruit imported
from Asia walnuts, but the names "Wales" and "Welsh" were unheard of
until after the fifth century.
The place chosen for the fortified city of the Cymry was among the
mountains. From all over his realm, the King sent for masons and
carpenters and collected the materials for building. Then, a solemn
invocation was made to the gods by the Druid priests. These grand
looking old men were robed in white, with long, snowy beards falling
over their breasts, and they had milk-white oxen drawing their
chariot. With a silver knife they cut the mistletoe from the
tree-branch, hailing it as a sign of favor from God. Then with harp,
music and song they dedicated the spot as a stronghold of the Cymric
Then the King set the diggers to work. He promised a rich reward to
those men of the pick and shovel who should dig the fastest and throw
up the most dirt, so that the masons could, at the earliest moment,
begin their part of the work.
But it all turned out differently from what the king expected. Some
dragon, or powerful being underground, must have been offended by this
invasion of his domain; for, the next morning, they saw that
everything in the form of stone, timber, iron or tools, had
disappeared during the night. It looked as if an earthquake had
swallowed them all up.
Both king and seers, priests and bards, were greatly puzzled at this.
However, not being able to account for it, and the Saxons likely to
march on them at any time, the sovereign set the diggers at work and
again collected more wood and stone.
This time, even the women helped, not only to cook the food, but to
drag the logs and stones. They were even ready to cut off their
beautiful long hair to make ropes, if necessary.
But in the morning, all had again disappeared, as if swept by a
tempest. The ground was bare.
Nevertheless, all hands began again, for all hearts were united.
For the third time, the work proceeded. Yet when the sun rose next
morning, there was not even a trace of either material or labor.
What was the matter? Had some dragon swallowed everything up?
Vortigern again summoned his twelve wise men, to meet in council, and
to inquire concerning the cause of the marvel and to decide what was
to be done.
After long deliberation, while all the workmen and people outside
waited for their verdict, the wise men agreed upon a remedy.
Now in ancient times, it was a custom, all over the world, notably in
China and Japan and among our ancestors, that when a new castle or
bridge was to be built, they sacrificed a human being. This was done
either by walling up the victim while alive, or by mixing his or her
blood with the cement used in the walls. Often it was a virgin or a
little child thus chosen by lot and made to die, the one for the many.
The idea was not only to ward off the anger of the spirits of the air,
or to appease the dragons under ground, but also to make the workmen
do their best work faithfully, so that the foundation should be sure
and the edifice withstand the storm, the wind, and the earthquake
So, nobody was surprised, or raised his eyebrows, or shook his head,
or pursed up his lips, when the king announced that what the wise men
declared, must be done and that quickly. Nevertheless, many a mother
hugged her darling more closely to her bosom, and fathers feared for
their sons or daughters, lest one of these, their own, should be
chosen as the victim to be slain.
King Vortigern had the long horn blown for perfect silence, and then
"A child must be found who was born without a father. He must be
brought here and be solemnly put to death. Then his blood will be
sprinkled on the ground and the citadel will be built securely."
Within an hour, swift runners were seen bounding over the Cymric
hills. They were dispatched in search of a boy without a father, and a
large reward was promised to the young man who found what was wanted.
So into every part of the Cymric land, the searchers went.
One messenger noticed some boys playing ball. Two of them were
quarreling. Coming near, he heard one say to the other:
"Oh, you boy without a father, nothing good will ever happen to you."
"This must be the one looked for," said the royal messenger to
himself. So he went up to the boy, who had been thus twitted and spoke
to him thus:
"Don't mind what he says." Then he prophesied great things, if he
would go along with him. The boy was only too glad to go, and the next
day the lad was brought before King Vortigern.
The workmen and their wives and children, numbering thousands, had
assembled for the solemn ceremony of dedicating the ground by shedding
the boy's blood. In strained attention the people held their breath.
The boy asked the king:
"Why have your servants brought me to this place?"
Then the sovereign told him the reason, and the boy asked:
"Who instructed you to do this?"
"My wise men told me so to do, and even the sovereign of the land
obeys his wise councilors."
"Order them to come to me, Your Majesty," pleaded the boy.
When the wise men appeared, the boy, in respectful manner, inquired of
"How was the secret of my life revealed to you? Please speak freely
and declare who it was that discovered me to you."
Turning to the king, the boy added:
"Pardon my boldness, Your Majesty. I shall soon reveal the whole
matter to you, but I wish first to question your advisers. I want them
to tell you what is the real cause, and reveal, if they can, what is
hidden here underneath the ground."
But the wise men were confounded. They could not tell and they fully
confessed their ignorance.
The boy then said:
"There is a pool of water down below. Please order your men to dig for
At once the spades were plied by strong hands, and in a few minutes
the workmen saw their faces reflected, as in a looking glass. There
was a pool of clear water there.
Turning to the wise men, the boy asked before all:
"Now tell me, what is in the pool?"
As ignorant as before, and now thoroughly ashamed, the wise men were
"Your Majesty, I can tell you, even if these men cannot. There are two
vases in the pool."
Two brave men leaped down into the pool. They felt around and brought
up two vases, as the boy had said.
Again, the lad put a question to the wise men:
"What is in these vases?"
Once more, those who professed to know the secrets of the world, even
to the demanding of the life of a human being, held their tongues.
"There is a tent in them," said the boy. "Separate them, and you will
find it so."
By the king's command, a soldier thrust in his hand and found a folded
Again, while all wondered, the boy was in command of the situation.
Everything seemed so reasonable, that all were prompt and alert to
"What a splendid chief and general, he would make, to lead us against
our enemies, the 'Long Knives!'" whispered one soldier to another.
"What is in the tent?" asked the boy of the wise men.
Not one of the twelve knew what to say, and there was an almost
"I will tell you, Your Majesty, and all here, what is in this tent.
There are two serpents, one white and one red. Unfold the tent."
With such a leader, no soldier was afraid, nor did a single person in
the crowd draw back? Two stalwart fellows stepped forward to open the
But now, a few of the men and many of the women shrank back while
those that had babies, or little folks, snatched up their children,
fearing lest the poisonous snakes might wriggle towards them.
The two serpents were coiled up and asleep, but they soon showed signs
of waking, and their fiery, lidless eyes glared at the people.
"Now, Your Majesty, and all here, be you the witnesses of what will
happen. Let the King and wise men look in the tent."
At this moment, the serpents stretched themselves out at full length,
while all fell back, giving them a wide circle to struggle in.
Then they reared their heads. With their glittering eyes flashing
fire, they began to struggle with each other. The white one rose up
first, threw the red one into the middle of the arena, and then
pursued him to the edge of the round space.
Three times did the white serpent gain the victory over the red one.
But while the white serpent seemed to be gloating over the other for a
final onset, the red one, gathering strength, erected its head and
struck at the other.
The struggle went on for several minutes, but in the end the red
serpent overcame the white, driving it first out of the circle, then
from the tent, and into the pool, where it disappeared, while the
victorious red one moved into the tent again.
When the tent flap was opened for all to see, nothing was visible
except a red dragon; for the victorious serpent had turned into this
great creature which combined in one new form the body and the powers
of bird, beast, reptile and fish. It had wings to fly, the strongest
animal strength, and could crawl, swim, and live in either water or
air, or on the earth. In its body was the sum total of all life.
Then, in the presence of all the assembly, the youth turned to the
wise men to explain the meaning of what had happened. But not a word
did they speak. In fact, their faces were full of shame before the
"Now, Your Majesty, let me reveal to you the meaning of this mystery."
"Speak on," said the King, gratefully.
"This pool is the emblem of the world, and the tent is that of your
kingdom. The two serpents are two dragons. The white serpent is the
dragon of the Saxons, who now occupy several of the provinces and
districts of Britain and from sea to sea. But when they invade our
soil our people will finally drive them back and hold fast forever
their beloved Cymric land. But you must choose another site, on which
to erect your castle."
After this, whenever a castle was to be built no more human victims
were doomed to death. All the twelve men, who had wanted to keep up
the old cruel custom, were treated as deceivers of the people. By the
King's orders, they were all put to death and buried before all the
To-day, like so many who keep alive old and worn-out notions by means
of deception and falsehood, these men are remembered only by the
Twelve Mounds, which rise on the surface of the field hard by.
As for the boy, he became a great magician, or, as we in our age would
call him, a man of science and wisdom, named Merlin. He lived long on
the mountain, but when he went away with a friend, he placed all his
treasures in a golden cauldron and hid them in a cave. He rolled a
great stone over its mouth. Then with sod and earth he covered it all
over so as to hide it from view. His purpose was to leave this his
wealth for a leader, who, in some future generation, would use it for
the benefit of his country, when most needed.
This special person will be a youth with yellow hair and blue eyes.
When he comes to Denas, a bell will ring to invite him into the cave.
The moment his foot is over the place, the stone of entrance will open
of its own accord. Anyone else will be considered an intruder and it
will not be possible for him to carry away the treasure.