‘The Road to the Lime Kilns’ is taken from the manuscripts of Iolo Morganwg (Edward Williams, 1747-1826), and is retold by Rob Mimpriss.
While the themes of a young man seeking his fortune, and of the rewards for devotion and good conduct, are common in fairy tales, the theme of a servant’s career brought to an end by jealousy and dishonesty recalls the Biblical story of Joseph in Egypt. In addition to this, his master’s conversation with the lime burners suggests the same internationalist view as is apparent in Iolo Morganwg’s story, The Cloak of Kings’ Beards, and is slightly altered to make the resonance more apparent.
The Road to the Lime Kilns
Talhaiarn the poet had a son named Tanwyn, and this son had been raised by his father in the love of mankind and the service of God, in every honourable attainment and every beneficial skill. This lad, arriving at man’s estate, felt a yearning to leave his father’s house, and to seek out his destiny in the world, so his father kissed him and gave him his blessing, with these few parting words of advice: ‘My son Tanwyn, my only beloved son, I have given you all knowledge and training and instruction, and I have neither land to house you nor gold to speed you on your way. Therefore, travel where you will under the guidance of God, and remember only these words of advice: never wish on another what you would not wish on yourself; never take the new road where the old road is still passable; and never pass by a place where a man of God is preaching, without stopping to listen to him.’
So Tanwyn left, and after travelling for some days, he came to a long and even strand, and remembering his father’s words, he wrote these words in the sand with his staff: He who wishes ill on another, on him may that ill fall. As he was doing so, the lord of that country came by with his retinue, saw the clarity and beauty of his writing in the sand, and reined in his horse to speak to him.
‘Is it you who wrote in the sand,’ he asked, ‘and what are you doing here?’
‘It was I,’ replied Tanwyn, ‘and I am going into the world to earn my livelihood, wherever God leads me, and however I can.’
‘Then you are the man for me,’ said the lord. ‘Will you come and be the steward of my household and my estate, and receive whatever wage you will?’
‘I will,’ said Tanwyn, ‘but as for my wage, I will accept whatever my peers judge is my worth when my labour is done.’ So Tanwyn became the lord’s steward, yet so prudently did he manage his household, and so wisely did he govern his lands, that over time the master came to feel less honoured than the man, and the seeds of bitterness and envy took root within him.
At that time the lord was laying a new road through his estate, and since lime kilns had been built where the earth was being dug, he set out one day to visit the lime burners. ‘There is a traitor living among us,’ he told them. ‘He is plotting with foreign powers to invade our country, to depose its rulers and plunder its wealth, and if he has his way, then so many foreigners will swarm over our land that you will not even have room to grow food.’ The lime burners swore their enmity to this traitor, vowing that if ever they should learn who he was, they would not hesitate to kill him. Then the lord warned them that this traitor was coming to see them, bringing gold and mead as the price of their treachery, and once he had extracted their oath to grasp him and hurl him into the burning kiln, he left them.
The lord returned to his court, and summoned Tanwyn to give him these orders. ‘I have hired lime burners to help laying down a new road, and it is time to give them their pay. Start at once along the new road, without stopping to speak or listen to anyone, and pay them in gold for the work they have done, with ale and mead as gratuity.’ Tanwyn took mead and ale from his master’s cellars, and gold from his treasury, but as he set out, he remembered his father’s parting words, and set out towards the lime kilns along the old road, not the new. On his way, he passed a house where an old man was preaching God’s word, and remembering again his father’s injunctions, he stopped to listen to him.
He stayed so long that the lord concluded he must be dead, and resolved to hear the lime burners’ report and pay them for their silence. He took a bag of gold, and set out along the new road, but because the shift had changed, and the lime burners on duty had never seen him before, they set upon him as the traitor their companions had warned them of, and threw him into the burning kiln, where he was burnt to death. Not long afterwards, Tanwyn reached the kiln, bearing gold and silver and gifts of mead.