Fflewddur’s harp

The bard did not answer. For a long moment he held the harp lovingly in his hands and gently touched the strings, then with a quick motion raised the beautiful instrument and smashed it across his knee.

Taran cried out in anguish as the wood shattered into splinters and the harp strings tore loose with a discordant burst of sound. Fflewddur let the broken fragments drop from his hands.

“Burn it,” he said. “It is wood well-seasoned.”

Taran seized the bard by the shoulders. “What have you done?” he sobbed. “Gallant, foolish Fflam! You have destroyed your harp for the sake of a moment’s warmth. We need a greater fire than this wood can ever give us.”

Doli, however, had quickly taken flint from his pouch and had struck a spark into the pitiful heap of splinters. Instantly, the wood blazed up and sudden warmth poured over the companions. Taran stared amazed at the rising flames. The bits of wood seemed hardly to be consumed, yet the fire burned all the more brightly. Gurgi stirred and raised his head. His teeth had ceased their chattering and color was returning to his frost-pinched face. Eilonwy, too, sat up and looked about her as though waking from a dream. At a glance she understood what fuel the bard had offered, and tears sprang to her eyes.

“Don’t give it a second thought,” cried Fflewddur. “The truth of the matter is that I’m delighted to be rid of it. I could never really play the thing, and it was more a burden than anything else. Great Belin, I feel light as a feather without it. Believe me, I was never meant to be a bard in the first place, so all is for the best.”

In the depths of the flame several harp strings split in two and a puff of sparks flew into the air.

“But it gives a foul smoke,̦” Fflewddur muttered, though the fire was burning clear and brilliant. “It makes my eyes water horribly.”

The flames had now spread to all the fragments, and as the harp strings blazed a melody sprang suddenly from the heart of the fire. Louder and more beautiful it grew, and the strains of music filled the air, echoing endlessly among the crags. Dying, the harp seemed to be pouring forth all the songs ever played upon it, and the sound shimmered like the fire.

All night the harp sang, and its melodies were of joy, sorrow, love, and valor. The fire never abated, and little by little new life and strength returned to the companions. And as the notes soared upward a wind rose from the south, parting the falling snow like a curtain and flooding the hills with warmth. Only at dawn did the flame sink into glowing embers and the voice of the harp fall silent. The storm had ended, the crags glistened with melting snow.

Wordless and wondering, the companions left their shelter. Fflewddur lingered behind for a moment. Of the harp, nothing remained but a single string, the one unbreakable string which Gwydion had given the bard long ago. Fflewddur knelt and drew it from the ashes. In the heat of the fire the harp string had twisted and coiled around itself, but it glittered like pure gold.

—Lloyd Alexander, The High King

I have come to a parting of the ways in my own life, and nearly all that was dear to me is now lost. It seems to me that I am no more now than a broken harp, and all I can do is play what songs I can until my fire goes out. I will share them with you, my friends, as long and as well as I can. May the night be a long one, and the flames burn bright.


  1. Andrew Brew says

    Oh, my. This doesn’t sound good. God’s blessing be on you, Tom. You are in my prayers.

    • It doesn’t feel good, either. I do not want to betray any confidences by sharing details in public, but I am coping the best I can, and at present that means working very hard to finish as much writing as possible. However, I can say that my physical health is not in danger. Most of my present difficulties are social, emotional, and moral.

      • Andrew Brew says

        If there is anything more specific I might be able to do privately, please sing out. I suppose as Bloglord you have my e-mail address.

  2. Wendy S. Delmater says

    YOU are the unbreakable string.

  3. Oh dear. May God keep you very close.

  4. Mary Catelli says

    Praying for you.


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