The Ancient Tongue

By Ian Wilson (Rated G)

I sat in the tranquility of the unspoiled forests of Ceredigion, in the east of Wales. It was a bright, warm day, the late afternoon, as I recall. I strummed a new composition on my lyre and sang quietly in my special language; that is, the tongue I made for myself or thought I made for myself. I used it for a number of my compositions. The whole forest grew silent to listen to my song.
A twig snapped. I looked up from my reverie to see a dark figure looming over me. His features were bestial, his posture brutish. His speech was slurred by over-large, jagged teeth. I knew I had met him before, but I could not recall where or when.
“At last!” it said. The creature drew a short sword and went to kill me. I rolled out of the way of his blade and rose to my feet. I drew a dagger from my belt as the creature charged at me. I should’ve run away, but I couldn’t let the thing hurt my lyre; it was my most valued possession. I slashed and stabbed at the thing, dodging his sword, trying to get at my instrument. Just as it was within reach, the being snatched it. A cruel grin spread across his deformed face.
“Is this what you want, Gwion?” he growled.
Why had he called me by that name? The name sparked a memory, as one remembers a dream, but I could not recall any more.
“Please just leave it alone!” I pleaded.
The crack of breaking wood combined with the tone of strings that I would never play again rent the air. I cried out in anguish. Anger rose within me. I shouted a single word. Leaves and twigs whirled around me. A small whirlwind swept up the creature, blew him into the air, and landed him flat on the earth. The thing looked at me in terror and hate.
“That power was never meant for you!” he spat. He rose to his feet and picked up his fallen sword. Suddenly he cried out in pain as an arrow tore into his leg.
A tall man in hunter’s garb stood a distance away holding a bow and a quiver of arrows. He had a noble countenance, but I did not recognize him.
The creature staggered away, clutching his injured leg. “This isn’t over, Gwion!” he cried.
The man strode over to me and looked at the shards of wood on the ground.
“A pity I didn’t come sooner,” he said.
“All the same, thank you, sir,” I said.
“You’re welcome, young bard,” said the huntsman.
“By what name are you called, good sir?” I asked.
“I am called Emrys Wledig,” he replied.
“Not really?” I asked in astonishment.
“Yes, really,” he replied.
I took a step back and knelt before him. It’s not every day you meet the high king of Britain in the forest.
“Rise,” said Emrys. “The creature called you ‘Gwion’; is that your name?”
“No, sire,” I answered, “He must’ve been mistaken. My name is Taliesin.”
“Ah. Lord Elffin’s famous bard. I guessed as much.”
“Yes, sir,” I beamed with pride, then quickly frowned. “I’m not much of a bard without a lyre, am I?”
The king smiled.
“Follow me.”
I followed the king northward through the wood.
“Who or what was that who tried to kill me?” I inquired.
“I do not know, but I suspect it was Afagdu, son of Tegid.”
A chill ran through my blood at the mention of Tegid. The dark sorcerer of Annwn was feared among Britons at that time.
“What would he want with me?” I asked.
“I don’t know that, either, but I’m certain he has some purpose. I got word that he was exiled from the dark land of Annwn some time ago.”
We arrived at the king’s camp. His retinue was watering their horses at a stream. They bowed low at Emrys’ approach.
“This is Taliesin, the famous bard of Ceredigion,” said Emrys, gesturing to me. Turning to me, he said: “I was planning on presenting you with this when we arrived at Ceredigion, but I suppose there’s no point in holding back, now.”
He gestured to one of his men who produced a large box. The king opened the box, revealing a new lyre. My heart leaped for joy at the sight of it. It was beautiful. I strummed the strings. Its tone was perfect.
“Thank you, sire,” I said, inclining my head to the king.
“Let us be off,” he said. “Ceredigion awaits!”

The Great Hall of Ceredigion was merry that night. The court musicians played festive tunes, and the walls shook with the sound of our laughter. Despite his grave demeanor, King Emrys was a ready wit and enjoyed jesting as much as anyone. He told tales of his battles and victories and we hung on every word.
“Taliesin,” said Emrys suddenly, “let us hear the famous bard of Ceredigion. Sing us a song!”
I gladly placed my new lyre on my lap and sang a new song in my special, magic language. I sang of the exploits of the elves in times past, of their wars of the giants in the time before any mortal man walked the earth. I sang of the mighty sword, Caledbur, forged by the elves and quenched in the blood of dragons. When the song ended, all were dumbstruck. After a long silence, all those gathered clapped and cheered. I bowed and took my seat next to Lord Elffin and Lady Aeronwen, not far from King Emrys at the head of the table.
“Where did you learn that language?” inquired the king.
“I just… knew it,” I replied.
“How… how is that possible?”
I shrugged. I wasn’t sure how to answer the king.
“It’s his ‘magic language’” said Lady Aeronwen. “He can do marvelous things when he sings in that tongue.”
“Indeed,” said Lord Elffin. “He’s saved my crops from failure more than once, simply by singing one of his songs.”
“I don’t doubt it,” said the King. “It is the tongue of the elves. Few mortal men have heard it, and fewer speak it fluently.”
“They say the elven tongue was the first language ever spoken,” said Lady Aeronwen.
“It was,” said the king. “Though mortal man has forgotten it, the earth remembers. Those who speak the elven tongue can bend nature to their will.
Elffin looked at me as though I were a total stranger.
“How on earth did you learn it?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” I replied.
“He’s gifted, that one,” said Emrys, pointing at me. “He will save Britain one day.”

I awoke the next morning, dressed, and made my way to the chapel for morning liturgy. As I was doing so, I heard raised voices in the courtyard.
“I cannot allow it!” I heard Elffin’s voice say. “I don’t care if you are high king, you ask too great a thing!”
“Lord Elffin, be reasonable,” said King Emrys.
“You don’t know what it was like before Taliesin came to me,” replied Elffin. “Before I found that boy in the weir, I was known as ‘Elffin the Luckless’. He changed everything for us.”
“I understand that, Elffin,” responded the king, “I am simply asking that his influence be spread to the whole of Britain. He is a great bard and a magician. He would prove a great asset in Camelot.”
“And what of us?” snapped Elffin. “If he departs, my crops may fail! There may be drought, disease, locusts, or some other pestilence.”
“Elffin, he is but a young man,” said the king, in a calm voice. “Put not your trust in mere flesh and blood.”
“I just don’t know.”
“Then let the lad decide,” said Emrys. “Taliesin, there’s no point in hiding. I know you’re there, and I know what you heard.”
I came sheepishly out from behind one of the great houses.
“How would you like to be the chief bard of Britain?” asked the king.
“I… I don’t know,” I replied. “I will think and pray about it and deliver my decision after morning liturgy.”
“Very wise,” said Emrys.

I knelt in the chapel before the altar, quietly saying the morning prayers, asking the Almighty for direction. Should I go to Camelot with Emrys or should I stay in Ceredigion? My mind reeled with the possibilities.
Then in the quiet of the chapel, I had a moment of clarity. I am sometimes given to having visions or dreams; glimpses into the future, or the past. These visions are rarely wrong, but they never happen on demand.
I was walking in a funeral procession. The mourners were dressed in noble finery. I could not see who they were mourning until we arrived at the graveyard. I looked as they lowered King Emrys into the grave, tossing flowers on the body. I sang a lament for him, and then the vision ended. I knew what I had to do.

I caught King Emrys and Elffin as we left the chapel.
“King Emrys,” I said, kneeling, “I pledge myself to your service.”
The king smiled, took my hand, and raised me to my feet.
“Rise, Taliesin, Chief Bard of Britain.”

Taliesin is a character in the epic graphic novel Legend of the Sword Bearer. You can read the first chapter of Legend of the Sword Bearer at LEGENDS AND SONGS – Legend of the Sword Bearer.

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