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Nansi Llwyd and the Dog of Darkness


The following folktale entitled ‘Nansi Llwyd and the Dog of Darkness’ appeared in ‘The Welsh Fairy Book’ (1908) by W. Jenkyn Thomas.  NANSI LLWYD was walking in the dusk of the evening towards Aberystruth, and she was in a very bad temper, for she was longing to get married, and according to all the omens she never would.

The previous night being All Hallow Eve, she and Gweno Dafydd and Sian Probert had been seeking to learn the future. Sian and Gweno were satisfied with the results of the rhamanta or divination, but Nansi was cruelly disappointed. What made it worse was that they had all made a great preparation for the test. Nansi had slept not long before on an oat-straw bed, Gweno had spent a night on a mattress made of the leaves of the mountain ash mixed with the seeds of spring fern, and Sian had a pillow of maiden hair on which she had laid her comely head. Nor had, they confined themselves to one test. First of all they experimented with yarn. Taking a ball of yarn, Nansi and Gweno doubled the threads and tied tiny pieces of wood along them so as to form a little ladder. Then they went upstairs together and, opening the window, threw the ladder to the ground. Nansi began winding the yarn back, saying the while:

"I am winding,
Who is holding?"

This she did three times, and no lover made his appearance, so that her chance of marriage for one year was lost. When Gweno performed the ceremony, on the other hand, Cadwaladr Rhys, a most desirable young man, appeared.

The water-in-basin test was still more unsatisfactory. Three basins were placed on the table, one filled with clear spring water, one with muddy water, and the other empty. The three girls were led blindfolded to the table, and told to place their hands on the basins. Gweno put her hand on the basin containing clear spring water, which showed that she was to marry a bachelor. Sian touched the basin with the muddy water, which meant she was to wed a widower. Nansi's hand lighted on the empty basin. This meant that a single life was in store for her. Now, to remain unmarried for one year is not very serious, but lifelong maidenhood was a prospect which made Nansi feel first hot and then cold.

She consoled herself with the reflection that the water-in-basin test was not absolutely certain, and she decided to try the pullet's egg test. She took the first egg of a pullet, cut it through the middle, filled one half-shell with wheaten flour, added salt to the other, and then made a cake out of the egg, the flour and the salt. One-half of this cake she ate: the other half she placed in the foot of her left stocking under her pillow as she went to bed. Then she said her prayers, and lay down to sleep. Now she ought to have dreamt of some man coming to her bedside to offer her a drink of water: this man would be her future husband. But troubled as her dreams were, no human being figured in them, and she felt when she got up that all the sunshine had gone out of life. She became still more sad when she went to examine the movements of the snail she had placed under a basin early the day before. If it had been a right-minded snail it would have moved about and traced the initials of her future husband's name. But the slimy sluggard had remained motionless, and Nansi hurled it viciously out of the window. If it did not sustain serious injuries from the fall, it was not Nansi's fault. All this evidence that she was to be an old maid made Nansi very bad tempered, and she had not recovered when she took her walk.

Suddenly a horse came galloping down the road, and she was all but knocked down by the furious animal. She recognised the horse as that of Jenkin Pari, whom she had noticed going to market that morning, and she wondered how it had come to pass that the steed was bolting home at such a pace without its rider. As she proceeded on her way, thinking about the horse, she saw two large shining eyes, which drew nearer and nearer. Presently the body and limbs of a large spotted dog loomed into sight. Nansi had a mastiff with her, and she tried to set it on the strange hound. In vain: the mastiff crouched frightened at her feet and whined piteously. The great dog with the fiery eyes came right up to her, and Nansi, to protect herself, kicked at it as hard as she could with her right foot. Her foot was paralysed, and when a circle of fire surrounded the hound she had kicked, and it squatted on its haunches, setting up a loud, horrible unearthly howl, she fell senseless on the ground.

She was discovered, still unconscious, by old Antoni, Jenkin Pari's farm bailiff. He, seeing his master's horse standing trembling by the stable door, had set out in search of the farmer. He came across Nansi, and brought her to by dashing cold water on her face. Going further along the road he found Jenkin Pari lying in a dead faint on his back in the mud. Jenkin said when he came to himself that the horse had shied, reared and tumbled him off. Jenkin was none the worse for his fall, but Nansi's right leg was as black as coal until the day of her death. Had she not been in so bad a temper, she would have realised that it was the Gwyllgi, or Dog of Darkness, that had come along the road, and she would no more have touched it than she would have refused an offer of marriage.

Note: The map shows a location near Blaina, as Blaina is the village where the Parish Church for the ancient ecclesiastical parish of Aberystruth can be found, St Peter’s. The parish of Aberystruth stretched from Abertillery to Beaufort.


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