9x12, watercolor and pencil
The tradition of fairies in the Vale of Neath goes a long way back. In his Journey Through Wales (ca. 1191), Gerald of Wales tells the following story, set around Neath and Swansea:
‘The priest Elidyr always maintained that it was he who was the person concerned. When he was a young innocent only twelve years old and learning to read, he ran away one day and hid under the hollow bank of some river or other, for he had had more than enough of the harsh discipline… meted out by his teacher… Two days passed and there he still lay hidden, with nothing at all to eat. Then two tiny men appeared, no bigger than pigmies. “If you will come away with us,” they said,“we will take you to a land where all is playtime and pleasure.”’
So, they led him through an underground tunnel to a beautiful land of meadows and rivers, where the days were dark because the sun did not shine, and the nights pitch-black, for there was neither moon nor stars.
The people there were very tiny, but perfectly formed, fair in complexion, the men with flowing hair. They had horses about as big as greyhounds, and never ate meat nor fish, but lived on junkets. More than anything in the world they hated lies. Elidyr was brought before their king, who handed him over to his son, a child like himself, and they would play together with a golden ball. Elidyr would often return to the upper world to visit his mother, and was never hindered. But one day she asked him to bring back some of the fairies’ gold, and he stole the golden ball. He ran home with it to his mother by his usual route, hotly pursued by the fairies. He tripped over the threshhold, and and as he fell the ball slipped from his hand. The little men at his heels snatched it up, and as they passed Elidyr they spat at him and shouted, “Thief, traitor, false mortal!” The boy was red with shame for what he had done, but was ultimately unable to relocate the entrance to the underground passage. He searched for a year along the overhanging banks of the river, he never found it again.
The boy later became a priest, and whenever the Bishop asked him about the tale, Elidyr would burst into tears. He could still remember the language of the fairies, and when the Bishop related it to Gerald of Wales, he responded that it reminded him of Greek.
If Elidyr was lying to cover his truancy, he was spinning a traditional yarn which he knew could be believed. The underground land of the fairies is found in other early fairytales in Britain as well as Ireland, where the fairies inhabit the sidh or barrow - suggesting that fairies owe at least part of their origin to a cult of the dead.