Part II: Caer Dydd
What's in a name? Gwernin Kyuarwyd am I, Gwernin Story-Teller. So have I said before. And yet I practice all the bardic arts, to the extent of my ability - poetry and song and harping, as well as story-telling and the recitation of lore. So why do I call myself Gwernin Kyuarwyd, and not Gwernin Fardd, Gwernin the Bard?
Modesty, perhaps. Or a stronger regard for the truth than some display. But mostly for another reason, of which I intend to tell you today. But first let me return to Deheubarth, and the May Day festival at Caer Dydd which I mentioned in the first chapter of these adventures.
Nowadays I often find, looking back, that years and journeys blend together, so I can no longer be sure as to which time or place many of my memories belong. One day on the road is much like many another, within the usual gamut of heat and cold, dust and mud, sun and rain and snow; one rough lodging much like the next. Even the faces blend together over the years, various and individual though they all are: bright with interest in my performance, or dull with boredom; young or old, sober or drunken, ill or well. But at the time of which I speak, I was still new to the road and to my trade, and every day was an adventure, every night a fresh excitement as I stretched my growing abilities. So it was with Caer Dydd, my first big festival. Every detail of it is still clear in my mind, bright as a newly-opened flower, not only for its own sake, but also for what came after...
Whether because of its position on the coast of south Cymru, or because there had already been people living there when the Romans came, the settlement at Caer Dydd had fared better than Caerllion, having been taken over by the local chief as a strong point rather than being left to fall to ruin. Some of the buildings had been maintained, and it was there, on the last night before Beltane, that a story-telling contest was held (for as you may know, many tales should only to be told in the dark half of the year, between Samhain and Beltane). There, too, it was that I competed in contest for the first time. I remember the flickering firelight on the roughly plastered walls and blackened roof-beams of the hall, and on the watching faces of my audience, glinting on here a fine shoulder-brooch, and there a gilded bracelet, as the owners moved. I remember the sound of rain on the roof-tiles, and the barking of dogs outside the hall, and the smoke from the central hearth-fire that eddied now and then into my face and stung my eyes. I remember the listening silence of the crowd, broken now and then by a cough or the scrape of a bench, and the beating excitement in me, half fear and half exaltation, as I told my tale before so many, weaving with all my skill a net a words to catch and hold their interest...
I wish I could say that I won that contest, but I am sworn to keep to truth in these chronicles (so near as truth may be known, for often it seems to me to change with the observer). No, I did not win, but my performance was well received, and toasted afterwards by one of local lords, who gave me a ring-brooch from his own shoulder in token of his approval. A simple thing, it was, but pleasant, made of good bronze, with a red enamel design covering the two terminals of the ring and the base of the pin. It had been fashioned at his own town of Dinas Powys, half a day's journey to the south and west from Caer Dydd. I wonder now, looking back, if it was not my own Powys speech, and my choice of a tale told often in my home country, that commended me to him as much as my expertise. However that may be, it was my first such moment of recognition, and shines the brighter in my memory because of it. Though I've since had many finer jewels, I still keep that brooch as a talisman. Worth is not always measured in weight of gold.
I was thinking myself, then, a very proper bard by the time the festival ended and we prepared to set out on our travels again. Westward the two of us were going, toward Dyfed, following the Romans' good paved road that runs straight as a arrow from Caer Dydd to Caer Myrddin. As one often does, we fell in with a number of folk who were also heading that way, on their way home from the festival. What with the bright spring morning, and my recent moment of triumph, I was in high spirits, and kept the company entertained as we went with jokes and riddles and snatches of story.
Most of them dropped away from us as the day went on, turning off to north or south toward their homes, until at last when afternoon was fading into evening there was none left but myself, and my traveling companion Ieuan, and one gray old man. I had not talked much with him earlier, being taken up with my own brilliance, but now I turned my attention to him for lack of any other audience (Ieuan being a silent type on the road, and not likely to be impressed with me anyway).
"And where are you bound, master?" I asked him as we drew near to the village of Y Bont Faen, where the Romans' stone bridge spans the little river Thaw.
"To Caer Myrddin, near which I live." His speech was that of an educated man, despite his shabby tunic and faded brown cloak, and I looked at him with more interest.
"We also are bound that way." I smiled. "Perhaps we can travel together and keep each other company." "Perhaps." I thought he looked a little amused. "What is your name, young master?"
"Gwernin Fardd am I," said I, feeling very splendid, "and I come from fair Pengwern in Powys, where Cynan Garwyn holds his court on the banks of Severn River."
"Oh," said he, "it's a bard you are, is it? You look full young for such distinction."
"Why - why, perhaps I am." I was rather taken aback by this challenge. "But I will grow older."
"And wiser?" The glint of amusement in his dark eyes was very marked now. "Discourse to me, then, O bard, of your wisdom. Why is stone hard, and why is a thorn sharp? What is as hard as a stone, and as salty as salt?"
"Why - I do not know," I had to admit, for the riddle was unfamiliar to me. "That is-"
"Yes?" Then, when I made no further reply, "What is as sweet as honey? What rides on the gale? Why is the nose ridged? Why is a wheel round?"
Deeply troubled, I said, "I do not know."
His smile had reached his mouth, and glinted through his grey beard - and yet I think it was of triumph without malice. "Until you know the names of verse-forms," he said very softly, "the name of rimiad, the name of ramiad , until you can name the nine elements by the aid of your seven senses, then I think, Gwernin, that you should keep silent, for whatever else you may be, you are not a bard."
"No, master, you are right." I sighed. "I am plain Gwernin Kyuarwyd, and nothing more."
"That is honestly said, at any rate." Then, when I continued down-cast and silent, he added, "Don't be so discouraged, youngster. By admitting what you don't know, you have made a first step toward wisdom."
I smiled despite myself. "A first step on a long road! Master, if we should travel together, might you be so generous as to share a little, a very little of your knowledge with me?"
"So. A second step already. Yes, Gwernin, I will." I thanked him earnestly, and he nodded. "But I think that must wait until tomorrow, for look, here we are at the bridge, and the sun is setting." And it was so.
Seven days we traveled together, and I learned much from the stranger, who called himself Emrys. We parted at last at the bridge outside Caer Myrddin, we going on into the town to seek our fortune, and he off up the valley toward his homestead, at the foot of a hill which I suppose is named for the town itself, being called Bryn Myrddin<...
But that is a story for another day.