Once upon a time and over the hills far away there lived a man of about thirty summers who, being orphaned at twelve, had spent much of his life travelling and finding work and shelter where he could. His name was Gwylym.
On the day that we join his journey he had come upon a beautiful orchard, just as the daylight began to fade. He decided to stay there for the night and rest. The orchard was on a hillside above a broad sweep of pasture and he sat for a while looking down, his eyes travelling across the curve of the land until in the distance he saw a bridge that spanned a small river and lead to a small castle. The evening sun tipped its many turrets and spires with pink and lilac. He decided to take the road across the bridge to the castle on the morrow, in the hope of finding a little work that might suit his skills.
He was awoken early by the dawn chorus, the air full of twittering and chirrups, but one voice rang out nearby and above them all, the persistent song of a Blackbird. In a half doze the young man listened to the voice and was convinced that the bird was trying to converse with him. He lay in his state of half-sleep, that place that always seems to hover between two worlds, and listened.
”Take apples. Eats, eat!” chirped the bird, ending with a shrill note.
”Take apples. Eats, eat! Take the perfect one, keep, keep!”
”Take the perfect apple. Pocket it. Pocket it!”
The bird repeated these phrases again and again between other messages the young man could not decipher. The bird made so many shrill cries that soon the traveller became fully awake and being hungry he did as he was bid. He considered the fact that this orchard was not wild and that the eating of the apples might be considered a theft but as he was hungry and had no other food but a crust he compromised and ate only a few. He hoped he might find some honest way to earn a meal at the castle.
In the centre of the orchard he discovered a tree a little larger and older than the rest. Hanging from a low branch was an apple so beautiful that it seemed to glow. Gwylym hardly dare touch it, yet he felt sure that it was the apple the blackbird told him to keep. He hesitated, unsure. Gwylym always did his best to be honest but choices are not always easy. He sat down to think. The blackbird appeared on the branch. It turned its bright eye upon him and nodded.
Gwylym looked at the bird wondering. Nothing is always as it seems. He felt instinctively that there was more to this bird than met the eye and wondered if it was to be trusted. This might be a trap. But Gwylym’s instincts and insights were generally good and he saw no harm in the eye of the bird or its demeanour. He smiled at the blackbird and stood up and gently plucked the apple from the tree. It looked very juicy and appealing. He was very tempted to take a bite but he put it in his pocket as he had been told.
Gwylym had no idea what all this meant and there was nothing to do but continue his journey. He slung his pack on his back and walked down the hill and crossed the river. He thought he saw the blackbird fly up to the battlements as he approached the castle. The drawbridge was raised and he couldn’t enter.
Up above on the battlements, out of his sight, a lady looked down on him. She had long dark hair that flew about in the wind and wore a dress of apple green. She narrowed her green eyes as she watched Gwylym and a blackbird came to rest upon her shoulder. The bird hopped down and a tall man appeared beside her wearing a long dark cloak clasped with a brooch like a birds wing. He put his arm around his Lady and called to a nearby guard to drop the drawbridge and go out and invite the young man they saw there to enter.
”I would like you to test this man,” the Lord said to his Lady, ”Along with the other six applicants who await us. I saw something in him. We need a judge who is a stranger in these lands and though all of these men are new comers, as is he, we need to look deeper into their characters rather than at their qualifications and connections.”
The Lady nodded, ”I will have them look in my mirror, my Lord.”
Gwylym was somewhat surprised to see the drawbridge lowered and an ornately dressed guard come out to greet him. The guards message that he had been invited inside for an interview with the Lord and Lady surprised him even more but he was glad to be welcomed and followed the guard to an antechamber that was richly decorated with tapestries of all kinds of birds and animals.
Six men were in the room, all finely dressed. Some looked very wealthy and some very studious. Some sat and spoke in low voices or fiddled with scrolls whilst other strolled about impatiently. Each of them bore a gift in his hand. Gwylym was puzzled as to why he found himself in such fine company, being rather shabbily dressed himself. It slightly alarmed him. He caught a few words here and there and realised that he was to be interviewed for the role of a Judge, for which he was not at all qualified. As he waited he decided he had better let this fact be known as soon as he had the opportunity. He would ask if they needed any carpenter or smith.
At that moment the anti-room doors were flung open wide and they were beckoned in to the inner chamber. The Lord walked forward to greet them. The Lady sat on a chair beside a mirror, covered over with a cloth of fine lace.
The Lord was most welcoming.
”Present yourselves to my Lady” he said, as he perched himself on the arm of a chair, where he sat idly swinging one leg. ”I am for the present only here to observe these proceedings.”
Each of the men approached the Lady and bowed and presented her with a gift. The gifts were very fine indeed and included jewels and finely crafted ornaments and a wondrously worked leather bound book on the tenets of the Law.
When Gwylym’s turn came he flushed with embarrassment. He stepped forward.
”My Lady I think there has been a huge mistake. I am a man only skilled with my hands. I have no legal qualifications or experience. I am sorry that I am taking up your time so unnecessarily.”
The Lady smiled. ”You speak well nonetheless” she said. ”Keep your place. You have a gift for me?”
This anticipated question had been worrying Gwylym. He had nothing of value in his pouch. All he could offer to a Lady was the apple in his pocket. He dare not part with the tools of his trade.
”I ask your forgiveness again my Lady for I have nothing to offer you but this apple and even that does not fully belong to me for it is from your own orchards. I have only carried it here. Perhaps it may refresh you.”
The Lady took the apple, glanced at her husband with a smile, and nodded to Gwylym. ”The apply will suffice.”
She turned to the assembled men.
”Gentlemen,” she said ”We have looked closely at all your experience and qualifications. We are eager to find a truly fair judge of our peoples. Please keep this matter of fairness and balance in mind. I have no questions to ask you but I ask each of you in turn to look in the mirror that stands beside me”
With that she pulled away the lace cloth and there stood a most unusual mirror set in an iron frame of blackbirds in flight, there wings overlapping each other.
The Lady gestured for the first man to step forward. His manner was relaxed as he stepped forward but when he looked in the mirror he took a sharp breath and stood transfixed. He put his hand to his face.
”This is not me,” he said. ”I don’t recognise this face though I see it is my own hand that touches it in the reflection. This is some magic to deceive me.”
”I assure you this is no deception,” said the Lord ”You may leave the chamber.”
The man could not hide his irritation as he swept from the room.
The reaction of the next man was much the same and the third said,
”This mirror is seriously distorted, twisted and fogged. I cannot see myself clearly.”
The Lady stood behind him and looked over his shoulder, ”You see my face Sir?” she said.
”Yes, my Lady,” he replied, ”I see your face clearly. If I may be permitted to say so you look just a little older and wiser in your reflection and with a clear beauty but my own face is distorted and unclear to me, if this be my face at all, which I doubt. I am greatly puzzled by this mirror.”
”You may leave with our thanks” said the Lord ”and be welcome to dine at our table later. At that time we will announce our choice to all.”
The man looked a little more hopeful and left the room.
The fourth man admitted to recognising his own face and claimed that the mirror was flawed. He was thanked and dismissed politely.
All took their turn with similar results. The Lady beckoned Gwylym forward.
Gwylym saw not his usual reflection but an image that seemed to him to go far deeper, a reflection of his inner being perhaps.
”What do you see Gwylym?” asked the Lady, noticing that he looked with great concentration but no bewilderment.
”I see that this mirror is not flawed,” Gwylym answered. ”It is crystal clear. It is me who is flawed and the mirror reflects this. Where there are distortions to my face, not revealed by any other mirror, I recognise each distortion as my own.”
”Explain them to me,” said the Lady, with an encouraging smile, and stood behind him to look. The Lord shifted on the arm of the chair and leaned forward to see.
Gwylym peered at himself closely.
”There is a darkening, a shadow, at the side of my left eye. I think that’s a blow I struck someone in unjustified anger. The line that runs to the right of my mouth are all the unkind words I now regret. My right eye looks far more closed than the other and that’s the lies I told and the secrets I kept to keep myself out of troubles instead of being totally honest.”
The Lord nodded, ”Go on. What more?”
”I have stolen when hungry, my Lord,” said Gwylym ”More than once. I see this written on my face too. And envy I suppressed.”
”Something more,” said the Lord. ”Speak out without fear. I see something else in this mirror, something you are trying to hide.”
Gwylym looked in his own eyes and mouth searching for something other than the one thing he presently didn’t want to admit. The Lord sighed.
”Come, come, speak up,” he smiled.
”My Lord. I am very attracted to your Lady who stands so close behind me.”
The Lord laughed, ”Yes, I see it. But what man would not be. You are forgiven whole heartedly. I would like to appoint you the Judge of this land, for a man who can see himself clearly can also see others and having flaws himself can be trusted to judge as fairly as is possible.”
‘’But my Lord,’’ Gwylym protested, ‘’I know nothing of the Law. I am a simple man. Please, if you will, give me some task so that I may serve you with skills I have.’’
‘’You will find that you are perfectly suited to the role Sir, for I see this in the mirror too and as to the Laws of our land they are really quite simple and are designed to protect and defend human virtues. You need not spend your days amongst dusty tomes I assure you. I will help and guide you if a case is more complex and you request it but it is you who will make the judgements and I will trust you that they be fair.’’
Gwylym felt reassured but not entirely convinced. He had begun to like this Lord and Lady and felt happy to do his best to serve them and so he inclined his head and said, ‘’I will do my best to be a fair Judge, my Lord.’’
The Lady smiled, ‘’that is all we ask. Come now let us dine and drink a cup to your future. ’’
Gwylym was the Judge in those lands for many years after and as his wisdom and experience increased he became known amongst the people as Gwylym the Wise and Gwylym the Fair. He married a talented seamstress and had six children. On Fridays, when the Court was closed, they always visited the orchards and Gwylym often made furniture while he pondered a difficult case. Those pieces that survive to this day are all marked by a hidden blackbird. He never saw the Mirror again but he did notice that the Lord and Lady kept themselves very much to themselves and seemed to age very little.
Gwylym was of a great age when he died and his passing was much grieved by the Lord and Lady and the people.