and dance... and dance...
Farmers abandoned their plows and danced in the fields. Shepherds cavorted among their flocks. Women left off scrubbing and baking and weaving to leap, stomp and twirl like frenzied dervishes. People danced until their shoes turned to rags and their feet were blistered and raw. Some people fainted from exhaustion. Others dissolved into puddles of perspiration. "Stop!" they pleaded. "Enough now!" they entreated. But the harp playing went on...and on...until one day the faeries in disgust took back their gift.
When the man, whose name was Morgan, lost his harp-playing privileges, all the villagers were greatly relieved -- all that is except for Ariana, the miller's daughter, and she wept copiously and secretly for days on end.
Ariana, you see, like most Welsh villagers had been given a sobriquet which, in her case, was Ari-the-Ungainly because, from the time she could toddle, the poor girl couldn't walk into a room without tripping over the door sill and it was impossible to keep track of the number of spinning wheels she'd knocked over or the number of milk pails she'd upset. All by accident, of course.
Now, when she came into maturity, Ariana wasn't a bad-looking lass. Except for a bit too much padding about the hips, she had a shapely body and her face was fair with widely-spaced dreamy-looking eyes as blue as cornflowers. Only a rich man could afford to marry her, though, because she broke more things than the average peasant could afford to replace. Eventually a rich man did marry her but he was twenty years her senior with a face as ugly and full of lumps as the back of a common toad.
Ariana did her best to keep up the image of a devoted wife but late at night and especially when the moon was full and bright, she would steal out of bed and, standing in that cold lunar stream, cry her eyes out over the loss of Morgan's harp.
Because, you see, it was only when Morgan played his harp that Ariana had dared to dance -- well, she couldn't help it now could she? What was truly astonishing though was that Ariana's dancing had not been heavy and clumsy as you might except. There was no stomping on toes, no bumping or tripping or colliding. In truth, it was only when doing the bidding of Morgan's harp that Ariana had felt completely and effortlessly in control of her movements and at the same time light-hearted and giddy with enchantment.
It Truth be told, it was dancing to Morgan's faery harp that gave the poor girl the only real happiness she'd ever known.
"Oh, come now," you'll say. "Wouldn't the faeries by now have taken pity and sent one of their own to play the magic harp for poor Ariana?"
Well, if that's what you're thinking, you don't know faeries very well. The thoughts and feelings of the Little Folk have evolved on a different plane from ours. Nor do they appreciate humankind for haven't we driven them underground into mountain caves and into the hearts of our darkest forests? When faeries bestow their gifts on humans, it is usually more out of curiosity than in a spirit of pity or generosity.
The single exception to this is human children, especially uncommonly watchful children, the type who keep their own counsel and like to venture off alone. The faeries call such children moon-born and are drawn to them as if they were some lost kin of their own born, by accident, into the human world.
Well, it turns out Ariana and her rich ugly husband (who was given the sobriquet Evan-with-Warts) produced five healthy children -- all boys. Four of them took after their father in most ways but the fifth and last, a boy named Elidorus, was unlike either of his parents with the sole exception that he had his mother's big dreamy-looking blue eyes.
Now, Ariana took great pleasure in her youngest child and the two would spend hours together laughing and whispering while fashioning floral crowns and constructing tiny houses from pebbles, twigs and clumps of moss. And this Ariana could do, though she could never thread a needle without pricking herself or make bread without dropping the dough before ever it reached the oven door.
"You're making a proper sissy of the boy," Ariana's husband always said but Ariana paid him no mind because, by now, Even-with-Warts was too feeble and sickly to wield a stout branch or a leather strap to the backside of an errant child.
Sometimes Elidorus would wander off on his own over the hills and into the forests and be gone for days on end. "Where were you?" his father would croak in a rasping, old man's voice, and his brothers would scowl and repeat louder and more clearly, "Where were you?" Then Elidorus would glance at his mother who would be sitting somewhere out of sight of the others and smiling ever so slightly. "Just over the hills and through the woods," Elidorus would reply casually.
When Elidorus was twelve, his father died and soon after that his two oldest brothers took off on their own to seek their fortune. Then Elidorus himself disappeared. At first, Ariana expected him to return as he always had, smelling of gorse and pine needles and smiling his secretive smile.
But weeks went by, then months, and Elidorus did not return.
"He has made a good supper for the bears and the wolves," his brothers insisted, but Ariana shook her head. "I think not," she said quietly.
Years passed and Ariana's two remaining sons got married and moved away. Ariana spent most of her days in the garden murmuring to herself and braiding twigs and grass blades into crowns and tiaras. On nights when the moon was full, she followed its silver path over the hills and down into the forest, returning the next morning with new lines of sorrow etched into her once comely face.
At last, Ariana grew too old and frail to wander off in the moonlight or even to visit the garden. Mostly she lay in her bed, thinking and dreaming. A loyal servant brought her cups of tea and broth which she sipped occasionally but mostly left untouched.
One night the moon rose bigger and brighter than usual, and Ariana feeling its light upon her, turned toward it as she lay in her bed. "I have lost all that I loved," she thought, "and now I am ready to meet my maker."
As the old woman closed her eyes, she felt a slight touch on her shoulder. "Mother," a soft voice whispered, "Mother, it is Elidorus, your son, come to see you and -- look you! -- I've brought a gift."
Slowly, with painful deliberation, Ariana turned away from the window and toward the voice, scarcely daring to hope -- but yes, there he was, her beloved Elidorus, unchanged since the day he left, and in his hands was an ornately-fashioned harp, all brilliant with silver light just like the moon's.
"Shall I play for you you, Mother?" the boy asked.
"Yes, please," Ariana whispered.
So the boy, Elidorus, lifted up his hand and stroked and plunked the silver strings and soon Ariana rose up out of her bed, out of her ruined body and danced...