Category Archives: Bardic Corner

The Tale of Lleu, Chapter XII: Beltane

The Tale of Lleu, Chapter XII: Beltane
The Tale of Lleu, Chapter XII: Beltane

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And so the Wheel turns, my friends.

Come, let me tell you a story with no beginning and no end.

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Long have I been telling this tale, and long yet might I go on telling, if you would do me the honor of hearing it, for the Tale of Lleu is the tale of the dance of Earth and Sun and Moon, and its reflections echo in the tale of each of our own lives.

I tell you the story of a Once and Future King, Thriceborn Lord of the Sun and King of Gwynedd, the Lion of Summer, consort of Blodeuwedd, and son of Gwydion and Arianrhod.

It is a tale of trickery, and adversity, and destiny; it is a tale of desire, and betrayal, and death; it is a tale of love, and rebirth, and self-determination. It is a tale, ultimately, of transformation, as we ourselves transform from day to day, throughout our lives and lives to come.

 

Listen, my friends, for this is the last of the story you shall hear from my tired old tongue.

When the little grey wren disappeared, Lleu returned to his castle at Ardudwy, and he ruled both justly and fairly. Many seasons had passed, and many lessons he had learned, since last he sat upon that throne. He gave the land its due honor, and the kingdom of Gwynedd had never before seen such a period of prosperity. Many boons did he bestow upon his people, and he was well-loved for his graciousness.

The ice of winter had retreated, and the frozen wind gave way to warmth and growth, though not a single bloom was yet upon the branches.

One day, as he was wont to do, Lleu Llaw Gyffes was traveling the lands of Gwynedd and Powys, honoring the land and sea that sustained his people at each sun rise and set, and honoring the moon of his Mother in its path across the starlit sky.

falling-owl-feather-30514Near a sacred grove at dawn, he heard the cry of an owl, and looking skyward, he saw its flight. A single feather drifted down through the spring air, and Lleu’s outstretched and clever hand caught it deftly as it fell.

Upon his palm, lay not the feather, but a single flower of the hawthorn.

The owl was gone. The May had come.

 

An eruption of colored blooms upon the trees heralded the coming Summer.

This is the end of my telling, but the end of my tale is ever a new beginning.

Praise be to the Queen of the May and the Sun whose rays are all ablaze!

 

The Tale of Lleu, Chapter XI: Ostara

The Tale of Lleu, Chapter XI: Ostara
The Tale of Lleu, Chapter XI: Ostara

“Lord,” he said to King Math, son of Mathonwy, “it is high time that I received the justice that is due, from the one who has inflicted all this trouble upon me.”

“Aye,” said the King, “he shall have no defense, for your justice lies with him alone. How do you fare in your recovery?”

48aa64d7a408e680a68da5d7c5c28805Said the other, “I fare well Uncle, and I thank you for asking after me. Truth be told, thesooner I receive my justice, the better. The time is now right. The snows melt, and winter shall soon be ended. My body is healed, and I am ready to retake what is by right mine. The sunlight spear is finished. No darkness can now withstand me.”

Gwydion and Math mustered all the might of Gwynedd, and the combined force, with Lleu Llaw Gyffes in the van, made for Ardudwy. But Gronw the Winter King had already departed Muir Y Castell six weeks hence. He had fled soon after Blodeuwedd left him, and retook his seat in Penllyn when word reached him that the Lion was coming.

When Lleu’s army reached Ardudwy, there were waiting for him three envoys from the Winter King. The messengers conveyed a request to Lleu the Lion, offering him whatsoever he wanted in blood-payment from Gronw, for he would pay any price, gold or silver, land or territory, to settle this debt.

But Lleu Llaw Gyffes would not have it.

“You go back, and tell your Master, that I shall not take any gold, nor silver, nor land, nor territory from him. I swear by the Mother, that one price, and one price alone shall satisfy me. Here is the least that I shall accept from Gronw. He must go at the dawn of the day when light and shadow stand in balance, to the place where I stood whence he cast the spear, and I shall then stand where he was. And he shall receive from me the equal of that he has given me. By blood and blood alone, shall blood be repaid. Go and tell him, and be quick about it.”

And so it was, that the message was delivered to the Winter King at Penllyn, and he said “Aye, so it is. I shall have to satisfy him.” 

But he implored of his men, “O loyal noblemen, my war-band, my foster-brothers: Is there one among you who would stand in my place, and receive the Lion’s blow for me?”

“By the Mother, be our names spurned for evermore, there is not one among us who would suffer in your place, Lord. You must go yourself and pay his blood-price.”

And so it was. But for their refusal to endure the taking of a single blow on behalf of their Lord, they were ever after known in the Triads as one of the Three Disloyal Warbands; and from that day to this, the Bards showed them no mercy with their mockery, and indeed, in fulfillment of their promise, their names were spurned until the end of days, such that I shall not dare to speak their names in this sacred hall,

“Aye,” said the Winter King, “then I alone shall have to take it.”

And so it was, that both Lleu and Gronw came to that bank of the River Cynfael at the dawn of the day, when light and shadow stand in balance. The Cauldron and the Goat had already been set. As the morning sun began to break over the horizon, Gronw climbed to the top and set his feet on cauldron’s rim and goat’s back.

But Lleu hesitated, and for what reason he knew not. Gronw at length broke the silence, and implored of the Lion, “Sir, great wrong have I done you, but know that it was done without malice in my heart. No choice did I have in the matter, for it was the warp and the weft of the Mother’s design that I should love Blodeuwedd and strike you down in this very spot. Surely for this, you would allow me a final request, before the deed be done and my  debt repaid.”

“I shall allow such a request,” said Lleu, “but ‘tis my right to grant or to refuse, at my pleasure. Ask of me what you will.”

Gronw pointed to a great flat stone by the riverbank, and asked of Lleu, “Lord,” he said, “By the Mother, I would ask that you allow me to place that stone as a shield between us. Then shall I stand in the appointed place, and receive such as I have given.”

“If you alone can move such a stone as this, I shall grant your request, for it is as you have said it is. By the Mother, I shall not refuse you this, for this too is by her design. I grant you this shield.” replied Lleu, and he smiled.

“Aye,” said Gronw, “The Gods repay you for this kindness.”

Then Gronw took the stone, hefting it mightily in his arms, and placed it before the cauldron and the goat, between himself and the blow to come. He stepped into his place and awaited his fate.

Lleu crossed the river, standing upon the hill as Gronw had done, and cast the spear at him, the blade flashing as it flew, like a ray of brilliant sunlight.

“It is done, then,” said Lleu. “Darkness dies with the Winter.”

The spear struck as true a blow as had ever been struck, in all the stories fit for the Bards to tell. It pierced though the stone, pierced through Gronw’s chest, and broke his back. He was cast from his perch to the ground, and he smote the earth where he fell, such was the force of Lleu’s blow.

3538404570_03629b3e0cAnd there, did Gronw, the King of Winter die, and there, on the banks of the River Cynfael, in Ardudwy, that great stone still stands, to this very day, with a hole straight through it. And that stone, through all the Ages of Man, is still called Llech Gronw, ‘The Stone of Gronw’.

But, my friends, I would have you know that “The Gods repay you for this kindness,” were not the final words of Gronw Pebr, for he, like his brother, was transformed in his death.

In the hole of the Llech Gronw, perched a small bird. It was a grey wren, and had you been there, you might have said that it was the very same bird that Lleu himself had slain on the prow of a boat so long ago, when Gwydion sought that he should have a name by his Mother.

The wren spoke, and Lleu Llaw Gyffes leaned close to the hole in the stone, that he should hear the whispered words.

WinterWren“You think you have won…” said the wren, “But what is light, without darkness? What is sunlight, without the embrace of night? What could you ever be, without me? I am a part of you. You can never defeat me. We are Brothers, eternal. Winter shall return, as shall I.”

And as those words echoed in the fresh spring air, the wren, that he knew was Gronw, disappeared from view.

Friends, if you ever happen to spy a little grey wren perched in a holly tree in the Spring, then you might have seen the King of Winter, waiting for his time to be reborn.

For his part, Lleu Llaw Gyffes, the light of the world and the King of Summer would soon retake his throne, and the flowers that had slept in darkness would blossom again.

But that is another tale, for another time…

The Tale of Lleu, Chapter X: Imbolc

The Tale of Lleu, Chapter X: Imbolc
The Tale of Lleu, Chapter X: Imbolc

“In the darkness, in the silence, is the seed
As it was, as it was, as it was in the beginning
Is the seed
In the darkness, in the silence, there is growth
It is now, it is now, it is now and ever shall be
Beginning now
In the night, in the tumult, there is growth
Without end, without end, whirl without end
Light carries on”

~Robin & Miriam, “Of the Milk and In the Belly”

*** *** ***

Upon his frozen throne in Ardudwy, Gronw sat, ruling a land locked in the darkness of Winter. The moon shone transfixed through the castle window, a sparkling panoply of stars bejeweling the night sky, cold and remote. The ground remained icy and hard, but something was changing, something stirring in the air, and in the Earth.

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Winter King, by caffe berthelius (http://cgcookie.com/profile/caffe.berthelius/)

Blodeuwedd sat close by, and he could tell that she was growing restless. She came and went as she pleased; he afforded her that freedom, and she always returned, but of late her sojourns became longer and more frequent. They stared at each other in silence; the only sound between them the trickle of melting snow. He smiled. She preened her feathers indifferently. No, she would not stay for much longer. She could not, must not. He knew this to be true, and yet, it pained him, for he loved her as much as his Brother. The Winter must soon be leaving, and so must its King.

The owl looked back at her lover, and on ghostly wings she flew to his side, landing lightly upon his resting hand.

“The Lion comes,” she said. “His wounds have been healed by the fire, and by the fire of the forge comes Winter’s doom. Anon must we depart, and each go our ways into the Spring.”

“Aye,” said the Winter King. “Though you leave me with sorrow in your going. I must to my fastness at Penllyn, to await the dawning Sun.”

“We shall see each other again,” said Blodeuwedd. “Neither the Winter nor the Summer last for ever.”

He kissed the bird lightly upon her head, and as an eddying gust of snow, she was gone. A single white feather remained by Gronw’s hand.

*** *** ***

Lleu collapsed into bed after a long day in the forge. His wounds troubled him less now, but hard work was hard work, and the labour of remaking the spear that had slain him was taxing upon his body. No sooner had his head hit the pillow, but he fell fast asleep, and dreamed. He was yet in the very same bed, in the very same room, but something was different. Something in the air had changed.

An owl lands lightly at his window
silent as death
ghost-white wings fluttering at the glass
He stares into its dark eyes
orbs of reflected moonlight
deep as wells
from which he might ne’er escape
Fragmented and paralyzed
suspended on a thread between his world and hers
Talons click impatiently upon the stone
The frosted windows creak open
as if carried on an unseen Winter breeze
He listens as the silence between them
builds to a heart-pounding intensity
Fear and excitement grip him
He slides quietly to the window
the owl whispers to him only “Soon,”
and is gone …

What this portent foretold, Lleu could not know, and he spoke not a word of it to his father or the King. His vigor renewed by sleep and dreams of an owl at his window, the rest of the night until the dawn, he spent at the forge.

*** *** ***

Gronw and his warband soon departed Ardudwy, leaving Lleu’s realm unattended. The frost and ice that had gripped the land were melted ere long. They returned to Penllyn and remained there, but left only three messengers to greet the Summer King when he should arrive.

The Spring was coming, and Blodeuwedd the Owl was gone, to lands and places little known by either Gods or Bards.

It has been said of old, that once let in, if ever an owl should fly from you, it shall carry away with it the luck of your house. Such it was for Gronw the Winter King.

But that is another tale, for another time…

The Tale of Lleu, Chapter IX: Yule

The Tale of Lleu, Chapter IX: Yule
The Tale of Lleu, Chapter IX: Yule

 

 

PART I

PART I:

goewinLong ago, before Gwydion had tricked his sister Arianrhod for the first time, before the birth of Lleu and Dylan, Math the Ancient was King in Gwynedd. As had been prophesied, while Gwynedd was at peace, King Math could only live so long as he had a maiden to hold his feet in her lap while he sat upon the throne. Never could his feet rest upon the earth, or he should surely perish.

The footholder of King Math at the time had been Goewin, with whom Gwydion’s brother, Gilfaethwy, another son of Don, was secretly in love. He had set his heart upon the maiden, and loved her so much, that there was nothing he could do because of her.

His color, his face, and his demeanor were wasting away from his love of her, until he could hardly be recognized. But the footholder of the King must ever remain a maiden, and so it seemed that she would forever be out of Gilfaethwy’s reach. In order to help his brother in this plight, Gwydion devised a plan to make Goewin available to him.

Gwydion went before the King, and told him of a new sort of animal that had come into the south of their land, a beast whose meat was sweeter by far than that of the oxen they had become accustomed to eating. Pigs, they were called, and they had been a gift to the kings of Dyved from Arawn, the Grey Lord of Annwn.

In order to secure the pigs, Gwydion travelled in disguise to the land of Dyved, and met with the King there, Pryderi, son of Pwyll and Rhiannon. But Pryderi refused to give him the pigs.

For, he said “The pigs were a gift to my father from the Grey Lord of Annwn, and I must honor their agreement. I may neither give them freely, nor may I sell them for any money, until they have bred twice their number. Such was the pact between our lands.”

But Gwydion was already steps ahead of the less cunning King of Dyved.

He told the King, “Lord, I can free you from this bargain. Do not give me the pigs tonight, but do not refuse them to me either. On the morrow I shall show you a wonder far better, that you might exchange them for.”

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That night, Gwydion performed his arts, and began to make his magick in secret. From a multitude of toadstools, he conjured forth twelve great dappled steeds with golden saddles and golden bridles, and twelve wondrous greyhounds, with twelve golden collars and twelve braided gold leashes. Indeed, wherever there should have been iron on the animals, there was gold. And with the horses, there were yet twelve golden lances and twelve golden shields.

In the morn, Pryderi could naught but accept Gwydion’s offer, for this was truly a fantastic wonderment before him. Truly, he could exchange the pigs for something far greater in value. And so did Gwydion trick Pryderi into trading away the prized boars of Annwn that Arawn had given as a gift to his father Pwyll. Gwydion made great haste back to the fastness of Gwynedd, for not but a day later, all the treasures had turned back to mushrooms and fungus.

As a result of Gwydion’s trickery, the kingdoms of Gwynedd and Dyved were soon embroiled in war, leaving a great many dead. The realm no longer at peace, King Math no longer needed his footmaiden, and while he was away at war, Gilfaethwy violated her.

250px-Gwydion_Conquers_PryderiDuring the war, Pryderi, the King of Dyved, fell to Gwydion in single combat, a noble duel to end the war and prevent more slaughter. But of course, Gwydion did not fight fair. He used all his wiles of trickery and magick to win the day. As he lay dying on the field of battle, Pryderi’s last breath was a curse that would haunt Gwydion for the rest of his days.

“By the Mother, I curse you, Gwydion, son of Don. I curse you, blood, and flesh, and spirit! May your flesh be eaten by the very swine that you have stolen! May you suffer by your own treacherous deeds!”

And with those words on his lips, the King of Dyved was no more. The war at an end, Math returned to Gwynedd and soon discovered what had become of his footholder.

Goewin said to him, “Lord, you must seek another maiden’s lap to go under your feet, for I am no longer.”

“What is the explanation of this?” said the King.

And she explained to him what had been done to her by Gwydion and Gilfaethwy.

“Aye,” said the King, “This is what I shall do. First I shall get justice for you, and that done, I shall get justice for myself,” he continued. “And as for you, Lady, I shall take you as my wife, if you will have me, and I shall give all the power of my country into your hands.”

And so it was done, that King Math was married to Goewin straightaway. When this was done, he summoned his nephews to his castle. For their crimes against Goewin and the King, and for the war that they had started, Gwydion and his brother suffered three long years of punishments.

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King Math struck the brothers with his staff, and Gwydion transformed into a stag, while Gilfaethwy turned into a hind. He told them to return in a year, and so they did.

At the end of the year, both stag and hind returned to the King, with a young fawn trailing behind them. The King touched the fawn with his staff, and it turned into a boy.

Again Math struck his nephews with his staff, and Gwydion transformed into a sow, while Gilfaethwy turned into a wild boar. He told them to return in a year, and so they did.

At the end of the year, both sow and boar returned to the King, with a young piglet trailing behind them. The King touched the piglet with his staff, and it turned into a boy.

Again Math struck his nephews with his staff, and this time Gwydion transformed into a wolf, while Gilfaethwy turned into a she-wolf. He told them to return in a year, and so they did.

At the end of the year, both wolf and she-wolf returned to the King, this time with a young wolf cub trailing behind them. The King touched the wolf cub with his staff, and it turned into a boy.

Math the Ancient said, “These three boys are yours. Three sons of Gilfaethwy and Gwydion the False, Three Warriors True.”

Again Math struck his nephews with his staff, and both Gwydion and Gilfaethwy returned to their natural forms. King Math looked at the two of them, and declared “You two have suffered enough for your insult to Goewin and myself. Now, go take a bath and wash this filth from yourselves.”

King Math would straight away require a new footmaiden, and Gwydion would soon be up to his old tricks by recommending his sister Arianrhod. But, my friends, this is not the tale you’ve come to hear, for you’ve already heard this one. You want to know what has become of Lleu Llaw Gyffes, and you shall hear of it.

Quite soon…

 

 

PART II

PART II:

Now is the time for a different tale…

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When Lleu disappeared, Gwydion could tell that Gronw Pebr had taken the appearance and place of Lleu. But despite their combined magicks, neither Gwydion nor Math could find Lleu anywhere. For Lleu was no longer a man, but had become an eagle, and flown off when pierced by the magic spear cast by Gronw. His mind had become that of the eagle. But Gwydion did not yet know this.

To search for Lleu, Gwydion travelled in the guise of a minstrel or bard, as he had done before when he wished to travel the land freely, and without being recognized. This provided a number of advantages, for it was an unwritten Law of the Ancient Harmonies that travelling musicians be given food and shelter wherever they go. In exchange, the host would receive entertainment, and news of events and fashions from the places the musicians had travelled.

Gwydion searched the lands of Gwynedd and Powys, through the Autumn, to Midwinter. His search was slow, for he left no stone unturned. No bush was too small to be searched by his druidsight. He paid special attention to the birds, and other flying creatures, for the Druids of that day taught that the souls of the departed often took the form of flying things, to aid in their travels on the winds.

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One night, Gwydion stayed at a farm near Maenor Penardd, the place of the battle between the peoples of Gwynedd and Dyved for the Pigs of Pryderi, which Gwydion had stolen so long ago. This farm had on it a great black sow that would not eat with the other animals. Rather, it would run away each morning to return at sunset. Yet, she and her piglets seemed well fed.

In the wee hours of the morning, before the darkest night of the year had yet ended, Gwydion followed the sow to the base of an old oak tree, where she began to eat.

It was by the River Cynfael, the same stream where Pryderi had died by Gwydion’s hand. The last words of that fallen King of Dyved echoed in his mind, and the vengeance of that dying curse was hard upon Gwydion; for high in the oak, perched an eagle, looking not at all well. Pieces of its decaying flesh dropped to the ground, and became the pig’s meal.

This, Gwydion now realized, was the true cost of the Pigs of Pryderi, and of twisting the Skein of Fate that Arianrhod had woven for her son. None may escape the weft and the warp of her designs, neither by trickery, nor by magick.

IMG_1387No punishment of Math, no count of years in the form of a stag, a sow, or a wolf, could possibly compare to the anguish that Gwydion now felt, at seeing that hungry sow beneath the oak, Pryderi’s curse come home to roost; all so his brother could pursue the fool’s errand of Goewin’s bed. All magick has its cost, and this was too much for him to bear.

When Gwydion had at last overcome his grief, he began to sing an englyn to the bird on high, that he knew was Lleu.

 

Derwen a dyf rhhwng dau lyn
Yn cysgodi’n dywyll awyr a glyn
Oni ddywedaf i gelwydd
O flodau Lleu y mae hyn
Oak that grows between two wells
You darken the sky, you shade the dells
Unless I speak not the truth, here lies the harm
The scattered flesh of Lleu

…The bird was drawn to the sound of his father’s voice, and it flew down to a lower branch…

Derwen a dyf mewn maes uchhel
Nis gwlychh glaw, nis tawdd gwres
Cynhaliodd ugain dawn
Ar ei brif, Lleu Llaw Gyffes
Oak that grows on a lofty plain
Unburnt by fire, unwet by rain
Nourished by storms with twenty charms
Sure-handed Lleu

…hearing the sound of that name stirred forgotten memories in the bird, and he flew down to the lowest branch of the tree…

Derwen a dyf dan lechwedd
Noddfa tywysog hardd
Oni ddywedaf i gelwydd
Fe ddaw Lleu i’m hharffed
Oak that grows beneath the steep
Noblest of the princes keep
Unless I speak not the truth, then from your arms
And into mine, will fall Lleu

…and as Gwydion finished singing the last verse of his spell, the eagle fell as a stone from the tree, and into the arms of his father. Gwydion’s tears fell like rivers upon the bird, washing away the eagle’s blood onto the snow.

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Arianrhod, who had long been watching Gwydion’s search, finally found love and acceptance for her son, and she blessed all the moons of his life.

“I now name you, of my own will, Lleu Llaw Gyffes,” she said, and she reached her hand down, and placed a cold blue star from the winter sky upon the eagle’s brow. Before them, the bird transformed back into the wounded body of their son, and the spear blade, which had remained in Lleu’s body since Gronw struck his terrible blow, fell from the wound and shattered upon the icy ground.

Together they returned to Math’s castle at Caer Dathyl. Their trek was slow, for the snow was deep, and Lleu’s wounds pained him deeply. When they arrived, Lleu retired to his bedchamber, and the druids were summoned to heal him. To comfort Lleu as he recovered through the cold and dark nights ahead, Gwydion gathered from the forest Nine Woods, and he built a fire in the hearth to warm him.

The light of the world had been reborn, but even with the combined magicks of Math and Gwydion, the healing was long, for the wounds were grievous, and it was some time before Lleu Llaw Gyffes would be fit to retake his throne, or to take his vengeance upon the Winter King.

But that is another tale, for another time.

 

(A great deal of this Chapter was derived and inspired from Hugin the Bard’s song “An Oak Grows,” from his album Bardic Tales from the Mabinogion, which is unfortunately out of print and unavailable. Lyrics of Gwydion’s englyn are from “Gwydion’s Song to Lleu,” by Arthur Hinds of Emerald Rose, from their album Archives of Ages to Come, which is thankfully NOT out of print, and available in its entirety on iTunes.)

 

The Tale of Lleu, Chapter VIII: Samhain

The Tale of Lleu, Chapter VIII: Samhain
The Tale of Lleu, Chapter VIII: Samhain

tumblr_lwfdcgugjc1qgmve6o1_500When Blodeuwedd heard that Gwydion was coming in search of vengeance for the death of Lleu, she took with her an accompaniment of her maidens and left Ardudwy, crossing the River Cynfael and fleeing with them into the mountains.

So fearful was their haste that they could not but face backwards as they fled, and thus did they pay poor attention to where they were going. Unawares, they fell into a lake high up in the foothills, and all were drowned to a woman, except for Blodeuwedd herself.

After a long pursuit through the chill night, where in her flight, Blodeuwedd left a trail of white flowers that now marks the Milky Way, Gwydion caught up to Blodeuwedd, and captured her.

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Gwydion said, “I shall not slay you, Blodeuwedd. And yet, I shall do you worse. I shall turn you into a bird, but from this moment on, you shall not while the Winter lasts show your face in the light of day. To the night that you have doomed the Earth, you shall be thus confined, and it shall be in the nature of other birds to attack you, and drive you out from wherever they may find you, until light has returned again to the land. You will not lose your name, you will always be known as Blodeuwedd.”

These words, spoken by Gwydion, were words of power, and before him, Blodeuwedd changed from a beautiful woman into the form of an owl. And to this day, in fulfillment of Gwydion’s promise, owls are still called “Blodeuwedd” in the land of Wales.

But, my friends, things are not ever quite so simple as all of that. We have heard the words of Gwydion, and of Math, we have heard the words of Arianrhod and of Gronw.

Let us now hear from Blodeuwedd, and know the truth of matters.

The Druids called it a curse
When I shed my flower-flesh to grow feathers
When the sunlight bled from my broom-colored hair
Transforming my eyes to golden orbs
Huge as the Harvest moon, hungry to swallow the sky.

Those so-called wizards tearing at the ground
My spirit ripped from embracing earth
Motherless, conjured for human lust,
Bound in flawless, soul-less petal-flesh
Married to the Sun
Without the sweet green mercy of shade,
Without the dignity of my own roots.

He crushed the slender stalks of my limbs
Blistered with kisses my dewy petal-tender skin
There was no illusion of passion, no futile cries
From a throat so recently innocent of breath,
Remembering only the taste of rain and air.

Yet somehow the Moon heard and came to me,
Cool and smooth, a lover, a healer
Pouring over me her silver elixir,
Renewing my roots, re-forming my thorns
In the chilling wind she whispered, “Do not despair!”

“They cannot hurt you.
They see only the vegetable flesh of their own creation,
Not the mind and magic lurking beneath the skin.
Bloom, my child, release your seducing perfume
Let my foolish son believe
That you revolve around him.

There is one among them who will set you free
Gnarled and brown, brother to the hard winter oaks
Go to him and work your revenge
And when the time comes, I will come for you.”

And yes, I know you have heard this part of the story.
How the young flower-bride conspired
For her almost immortal husband to be slain
The struggle as old as time – the young Lord of Summer
Betrayed by beauty he thought conquered –
Falls to the wily Winter Lord’s spear.
And in one year and a day, rise to slay his slayer
Perpetual battle, the cycle of the Seasons.

Yes, the story is true in all but its ending –
It was not a wizard’s spell that gave me wings,
Not the druid’s retribution that gave me swift, inevitable claws.
It was the moon in my roots
Transmuting the illusion of woman’s flesh to silver feathers
Ironic petals so delicately framing this avian face.
Is it any wonder that I love her,
Riding her skies in the wind of December
Far above the mortal world and its battles and schemes?

No, it was no curse, that I who dined on maiden’s morsels
Fed to me from golden plates by besotted kings
Now revel in the scent of mouse-blood,
Small bones crunching under musty fur,
Taste of mushrooms and humus,
The nocturnal stories of life underground.

You know this when you marvel at my sweeping shadow,
When you shiver at the sound of my ecstatic cry
Floating high and white in the sky like snow
The silver shudder of moonlight transmuted into sound.

You will know this and more if you dare
To brave the winter winds of your human soul
To look into the mirror of my sulfur-colored eyes
And meet the fierce and hungry spirit
Behind my fair flower face.

tumblr_mg0c0q7NKm1ric16wo1_500Little did Gwydion know, that in spite of all his mastery of the Three Magicks, it was not he who changed Blodeuwedd’s form, but she herself. For now, the time was right for Blodeuwedd to transcend the form that had been chosen for her by eager men, and to become, for a time, as harsh as the Winter she created, to fulfill the weave and the weft that Arianrhod had spun long ago. We have seen the hard price of escaping her Fate by trickery and magick, now we see the reward of embracing Arianrhod’s pattern.

As the moon flashes in Blodeuwedd’s owl eyes, reflected are the changes of the seasons, for within the heart of Blodeuwedd lies the Spirit of the Earth.

Blodeuwedd, like the Earth, must for a while abide in the frozen night of Winter, until an ancient curse is fulfilled, and the sunlight is rekindled with a song.

But that is another tale, for another time.

(I cannot thank Mare enough for contributing her poem to this Sabbat’s chapter of the Tale of Lleu. I am eternally grateful for her very enlightening perspective.)

The Tale of Lleu, Chapter VII: Mabon

The Tale of Lleu, Chapter VII: Mabon
The Tale of Lleu, Chapter VII: Mabon

8138455835_4cb6501836_m Where we last left Blodeuwedd, she had just received word from Gronw Pebr that he had finished work on the only weapon that could possibly slay the young Lion.

Blodeuwedd spoke to Lleu. “I have been wondering how what you told me could possibly be true. Would you show me how it is possible to stand on the edge of a cauldron and on the back of a goat, if I prepare it for you?”

“I will show you.” he replied.

Then she sent word to Gronw and told him to wait in ambush behind the hill at the bank of the river Cynfael, which is now known as Brynn Kyfegr. She would bring the Lion to him.

Blodeuwedd arranged for all the goats in the cantref to be obtained and herded together, and she brought them to the place by the riverbank opposite the hill. The largest of these goats she lashed to the Cauldron, and above its rim she made a roof of sticks and thatch.

The next day she said to Lleu “I have prepared the Cauldron and the Goat. Will you now show me how this can be done?”

Let us look,” said Lleu, and they went to the place where Blodeuwedd had prepared his coming doom.

“Will you go into the bath?” she asked, as innocently as she could manage.

“Gladly,” he replied. Still suspecting nothing, he went into the Cauldron, and bathed. Gronw the Hunter waited patiently for his moment to strike. LLEU

When Lleu Llaw Gyffes emerged from his bath, he placed one foot on the edge of the Cauldron and the other upon the back of the Goat, demonstrating for his wife what he had described. Immediately Gronw Pebr rose from behind the hill and threw the spear mightily, striking Lleu in the side. The head of the spear disappeared into his body, and the haft shattered with a crash like thunder. math2

Lleu gave a terrible scream at the grievous wound, and in a flash like lightning, he disappeared. Blodeuwedd collapsed upon the earth, lamenting her deeds. As she raised her face to the darkening twilight sky, she saw an eagle on the wing against the sunset. The bird was bleeding terribly, and wherever its blood touched the earth, bright red flowers sprouted and withered in an instant. At long last, the sun passed into the West, and so too did the eagle vanish from sight.

As soon as the eagle had disappeared, Gronw and Blodeuwedd made for the court, and that night, they slept together, but Blodeuwedd was inconsolable, for she knew the significance of what she had done, and she knew that Gwydion would be coming for her soon.

The next day, Gronw arose and subdued Ardudwy, and ruled over the land so that both Ardudwy and Penllyn were as one under his iron hand.

Thus, the Lion of Summer was betrayed by the Maiden of Autumn. Poised upon the Balance, with one foot on the Cauldron and the other on the Goat, he was transformed into an Eagle by the spear of the Hunter. Indeed, there is a riddle here that perhaps only the Bards can answer.

lleu transformed into an eagleGronw Pebr had taken the place of Lleu. He had taken his wife, taken his life, and taken his throne. The Triad of Thefts complete, Gronw the Winter King now took on the form and appearance of Lleu, and darkness ruled in the place of light.

Take stock of what you have harvested by the Summer’s light, my friends. Take stock of what you have gained, and what you have left behind, and of all that you are thankful for. Winter is coming. Look to the warmth of friends and family, look to the warmth of the hearth and home. Let the love and light of the Summer King live in your hearts and guide you through the long nights ahead.

This is not the end of the Summer King’s story, not by any means, for the world should not be forever cast in darkness and cold. But that is another tale, for another time.

The Tale of Lleu, Chapter VI: Lughnasadh

The Tale of Lleu, Chapter VI: Lughnasadh
The Tale of Lleu, Chapter VI: Lughnasadh

One day, Lleu Llaw Gyffes set out to Caer Dathyl to visit Math the Ancient, and his kin. While he was gone, Blodeuwedd was walking about the gardens of Muir-Y-Castell with her ladies, when they heard in the distance the sound of a hunt.

Soon the huntsmen rode by.

“Send a page,” she said “To enquire whose hunt this is.”

The page returned to say, “This is the hunt of Gronw Pebr, the Lord of Penllyn.”

“Indeed,” said Blodeuwedd “This chieftain will speak ill of us if he departs and we have not invited him in.”

Messengers were sent to invite him and he accepted courteously.

When they had exchanged courtesies they all sat down to feast. Blodeuwedd looked on Gronw and in that moment loved him. He looked upon her and the same thought filled him so that they could not hide it.

220px-Blodeuwedd_and_GronwBlodeuwedd was a heart a wild creature, made from the flesh and spirit of the Earth itself, and she lamented at being a kept woman, a treasured possession, placed on a shelf and locked away in Lleu’s castle while the Lion was free to wander where he may. For so long, she had been lonely, unappreciated, and taken for granted by her husband. The spirit of wildness in Gronw called to her heart, and in turn Blodeuwedd’s wild spirit called to Gronw.

That first night he spoke to her of love and she to him. As Gronw rose to depart the next morning, she begged him to stay one more night.

That second night they spoke again of their love and he said “There is nothing else we can do but you must find out in what manner your husband can be killed.”

On the third night she again begged him again to stay. “At your insistence I will not go.” he said.

The next day she did not hinder his departing. As he left he admonished her “Think of what I have told you. Speak to him under the disguise of love and concern and find out how he can be brought to death.”

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That night Lleu returned and there was feasting and merriment. Later, as he and his wife prepared for bed, Lleu spoke. “What ails thee, Blodeuwedd? All night you have hardly spoken and you seem despondent.”

“I have been thinking of late of the thing that is not spoken of. How my life would be ever sorrowful if you were taken before me.”

“May the Gods reward you for your concern for me,” he replied “But I am not so easily slain.”

“For the sake of my peace,” she said, “Tell me then how you might be slain.” 

Lleu, who himself had been sheltered by Gwydion from the harshness of the world, suspected no ill intent from Blodeuwedd, the woman of flowers, who had been made only for him. Innocently, he revealed his secret to her, and it would be his undoing.

 “Gladly,” said Lleu “My stepfather and the King put wards around me to protect me, and this is the only way I can be slain. It must be by a spear. The spear must be a year in the forming, and naught but at night and during the dark of the moon.”

“Is this certain?” asked Blodeuwedd.

“It is certain,” he said “And I can neither be slain within a house, nor without, nor can I be slain either on horseback or on foot.”

“How then can you be slain?” she asked.

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“This way alone,” he said, “By making a bath for me in a Cauldron, by the south side of the River Cynfael. By putting a roof over the cauldron and thatching it tightly. Then a goat must be brought to the north side of the cauldron. Only by placing one foot on the goat’s back and the other at the edge of the cauldron, and facing East. Then, in that place, and in that place alone, can I be slain.”

“Then it will be easy to avoid your death,” said Blodeuwedd.

“Indeed, it shall,” said Lleu, “I have been well seen to.”

The next morn, Blodeuwedd sent word to Gronw Pebr, and he began his labor upon the spear, working the forge only when the moon was dark. When a year had gone by and the spear had been forged, he sent a messenger to Blodeuwedd.

The doom of Lleu Llaw Gyffes, and the dying of the light would come soon, but that is another tale, for another time.

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The Tale of Lleu, Chapter V: Litha

The Tale of Lleu, Chapter V: Litha
The Tale of Lleu, Chapter V: Litha

hopeless-romanticAnd so, by his marriage to Blodeuwedd, Lleu Llaw Gyffes would become a man at last. The day dawned, and each were prepared in all finery to be wed to the other, Earth and Sun, joined as one. Deep in the wildwood was a sacred grove, and there they were married, a bond which no fate of Arianrhod could ever break, or so thought Gwydion.

King Math the Ancient, great-uncle to the groom, raised a glass of the finest mead, saying;

“As Lord and King of the Realm of Gwynedd, I bestow upon this union of Lleu Llaw Gyffes, the Lion With A Steady Hand, and his wife, Blodeuwedd, the Maiden of Flowers, dominion over the finest three cantrefs in all the land, that of Dinodig, and of Eifionydd, and of Ardudwy, and of the palace of Muir-Y-Castell, to reign there forever as King and Queen of Summer’s Light. May the warmth of summer be forever upon your faces and in your hearth and hearts!”

Many other gifts were given Lleu and Blodeuwedd, from all those in attendence, and a great merry celebration was had by all. There was feasting and dancing, and drink flowed like fountains.

But before it was time for bride and groom to grant boons to their subject, there came thrice the rapping of a cane upon the ground. Before them bent and stooped an old woman, wrapped in tatters, her face covered by shadow.

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“I bring a gift for the young lad and his bride,” croaked the hooded crone. “Do they accept my offering, on this happy day?”

“We do, and graciously so!” replied the young Lleu.

“Then mind you listen carefully,” she said, “For mine is the gift of Prophecy that I bring you today!”

The crowd sat in stunned silence, listening intently to her ominous words. From the folds of her rags, she produced a stack of cards, wrinkled with time and use. Her yellow nails grasped a card, and hands shaking, she laid it upon the earth.

 

“The Great Magickian,”  she croaked, and more cards fell.

“And his son!”

“The fairest maiden!”

“Joined as one!”

tumblr_mbmg4lEwb81r1hfd1o1_500“But alas, the Wheel of Fortune turns!”

“From Summer’s Light, to darkness.”

“For even when the Sun is at it’s greatest, it must then decline!”

“I see a Great Tower!”

“And false expectations!”

“Ah, here it is. Deceit! Which no marriage can survive!”

“At last…”

“DEATH! DEATH!”

13_Death_originalGwydion and Math both stood, and the men-at-arms were called for.

“Enough! We have heard quite enough of your wizened words and false prophecy, old woman! Men, seize her! Get you gone, crone!” cried Gwydion.

As the guards moved close to remove the woman, she brought her cane down and smote the ground with a flash.

Naught remained where she had stood, but her final words echoed in the empty air;

“I bear one final gift of prophecy. One final gift, from the Mother Forgotten! I bear the gift! In the brightest light does the seed of darkness germinate. I bear it! I yield it! I name it! Gronw!”

This is not the end of the story, by any means. Oh, it is but another beginning. But that is another tale, for another time!

The Tale of Lleu, Chapter IV: Beltane

The Tale of Lleu, Chapter IV: Beltane
The Tale of Lleu, Chapter IV: Beltane

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So great was the shame that Arianrhod felt at her brother for tricking her a second time, that she removed herself from the sight of the living world, and none but the dead in Annwn ever again saw her face. She said;

“You are a wicked man, brother! How could you do this to me? A shame upon you, and a shame upon me for being tricked again, by the brother I once loved above all things! You’ve left me no other choice. This final destiny I lay upon you, Lleu Llaw Gyffes! I swear by the Mother, that you shall NEVER know the love and embrace of a mortal woman, born of the race of this Earth! This is my FINAL vow to you!”

Gwydion and Lleu left the castle, though Gwydion’s heart was filled with wrath at Arianrhod for her treatment of the young Lion. Gwydion loved the boy as his own, and he swore a solemn oath that he would find a way to help Llew overcome the dire fate that Arianrhod had cast upon him.

However, this problem stumped even Gwydion, for Arianrhod’s magick was as powerful as his own. So, they went to the court of his uncle, King Math the Ancient, whose magick was the most powerful in the land. There, Gwydion told Math of all that had befallen and of Arianrhod’s final curse upon the boy, and he begged his uncle to help.

Math and Gwydion took counsel together. With the young Lion, they went out deep into the wildwood, and cast their Circle in the presence of the Spirits of the Earth and the Spirit of the May. They gathered to them the blossoms of nine magickal flowers, and laid their fragrant blooms upon the green Earth. Then, with powerful enchantments, they called forth the May, to breathe life into what they had made.

blodeuweddAnd standing there before them was the most beautiful maiden ever seen by man. They named her Blodeuwedd. Flower Face was her name, a woman born not of woman, but of magick and of Nine Blossoms, her fate to be wed to the man born of magick and of Nine Woods.

Thus did Lleu Llaw Gyffes, the Lion With The Steady Hand, the light of the world, come to know the love and embrace of a woman, born not of the race of the Earth, but of magick and the blossoms of the forest. For the cunning of Math and Gwydion, Arianrhod’s curse had been doomed to fail, and Lleu’s fate had been twisted. He would soon be joined as one with the spirit of the Earth, and thus fulfill his destiny; But that is another tale, for another time.

The Tale of Lleu, Chapter III: Ostara

The Tale of Lleu, Chapter III: Ostara
The Tale of Lleu, Chapter III: Ostara

1363348855546797Having been shamed by her brother Gwydion, and tricked by his clever wiles into giving her son a name, Arianrhod was incensed, and passed a second doom upon the boy;

“This destiny I lay upon you, Lleu Llaw Gyffes. You shall never receive the weapons of manhood, and thus shall you never be a man, and never sit upon the throne as King, unless those weapons are placed upon you by your mother. This I vow!”

And of course, the look in her eye showed that she had no intention of doing so. Gwydion and Lleu departed from Caer Arianrhod, and went to Dinas Dinllef. There, Gwydion cared for Lleu, and raised him well. He grew rapidly, and Gwydion taught him both horse and weaponry. He taught him courtly behavior, and also the secrets of the Three Magicks.

Lleu grew to be perfect in strength, features, and stature. The time came when Lleu became despondent, for he needed to bear the weapons of manhood to be welcome among the courts of men.

One day Gwydion called for Lleu and told him that they would go on a journey.

“But I bid you, my son, that you put on a cheerful face.”

“That I will,” said the boy.

They journeyed towards the castle of Arianrhod. As they approached the gates they placed a glamour upon themselves, so that they appeared as two youths, though Gwydion appeared to be the more serious of the two. Gwydion hailed the guard;

“Porter! Go in and say that here are two Bards from Morgannwg.”

They were welcomed in most heartily, as was the custom in those days, and both Gwydion and Lleu sat down to a sumptuous feast. When the meal had ended Gwydion entertained the hall with news and stories. Gwydion was an excellent storyteller, and a most merry time was had by all.

A chamber was prepared for them and they went to their ease. In the early dawn Gwydion called to him all his magick, and all his power, and by the time the day had fully dawned there arose an uproar throughout the land. Shouts and trumpet calls alarmed the castle and soon there came a great pounding upon the door. Arianrhod was there, rousing the Bards to wakefulness.

“Ah! Good men! Evil has come upon us,” she said.clontarf

Gwydion replied; “Yes, we have heard the trumpets and the shouts. What do they mean?”

“We cannot see the ocean for the many ships that sail towards us with great speed! What are we to do?” implored Arianrhod.

To this, Gwydion said;” Lady, there is nothing to do save to shut up the castle, and let us defend it as best we may.”

“Will you aid in this defense?” she asked.

“Indeed, we shall, my Lady. But we are without arms.”

“Arms I have in plenty,” replied Arianrhod.

Soon Arianrhod reappeared with her maids, and suits of armor and weapons for the two men.

“Lady, I know my business. Would you equip this stripling while I, with the aid of your maidens, attire myself?”

“I will do so gladly,” replied Arianrhod.

Soon all were ready for the battle.

“I have finished. Your companion is ready,” said Arianrhod.

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Gwydion replied; “I too am finished. We may now take off our arms, for we need them not.”

“Why? There is an army about my castle!” exclaimed Arianrhod.

Just then, the glamour faded, the invading army became naught but the trees of the forest, and the musicians became Gwydion and the young Lleu. Gwydion thanked his sister for bestowing upon her son the weapons of Manhood. Arianrhod was not pleased.

And thus, with much help from the sly Gwydion, Lleu Llaw Gyffes, the Lion With The Steady Hand, the light of the world, did gain the arms of Manhood. Arianrhod would have one final doom to lay upon her son, but that is another tale, for another time.

The Tale of Lleu, Chapter II: Imbolc

The Tale of Lleu, Chapter II: Imbolc
The Tale of Lleu, Chapter II: Imbolc

Arianrhod’s son, the boy whom Gwydion had grown in his magick trunk, was reared at court until he was four, by which time he appeared as though he were a lad of eight.

Gwydion took the boy with him to the castle of Arianrhod.

When they arrived, she said; “Welcome, my dear brother. Who is this boy that follows you?”

“He is your son, my sister.”

Arianrhod was not pleased. Her embarrassment at the court of King Math still stung her pride deeply.

“O Brother! Why do you shame me so? Do you truly seek my dishonor?”

“There is no dishonor in raising such a boy,” said Gwydion.

“What then, is this child’s name?” replied Arianrhod.

“As yet, the child has no name.”

Arianrhod said, “Then this is the destiny I lay upon him. The child shall have no name until he is given one by his mother. This I vow!”\

The look in Arianrhod’s eyes showed that she had no intention of doing so. Gwydion left the castle of Arianrhod in anger and returned to Caer Dathyl where he and the nameless lad stayed the night. But Gwydion, being very clever, still had a trick or two up his sleeve.

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The next day he took the boy to walk on the seashore by Aber Menai. There he saw some sedges and seaweed. With his magick and skill, he turned them into a boat. Then out of sticks and sedges, he made a bountiful amount of leather and colored it, so that no one had ever seen leather more beautiful. Then he made a sail and took his little boat to port in the castle of Arianrhod.

He put a glamour on himself and the boy, so that none might recognize them. Then he sat in the boat and began to stitch shoes out of the leather. Upon seeing them in the boat, Arianrhod asked of her ladies-in-waiting;

“What men are those in yonder boat?”

 Her ladies-in-waiting replied, “They are cordwainers, m’lady.”

“Then desire the cordwainer that he make shoes for me,” commanded Arianrhod.

But when the ladies spoke to Gwydion-in-disguise, he answered them;

“Nay. I will not make shoes for the Lady until she allows me to measure her foot myself.”

So Arianrhod went down to the port and saw Gwydion, though she knew him not.

She said, “Good day to you. Are you now able to make shoes for me?”

“With the right measure before me, I may indeed,” replied Gwydion.

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Just then, a small wren landed on the prow of the boat. Picking up a small stone the boy threw it and knocked the wren off its perch. Observing the child’s long yellow hair and good aim, Arianrhod declared;

“The little Lion has a steady hand.”

Then Gwydion rose, and the glamour about him and the boy faded, and the boat and shoe-leather returned again to naught but sticks and seaweed.

Gwydion said, “You have named your son well, sister. From this time forth the boy’s name shall be thus, ‘Lleu Llaw Gyffes’ the lion with a sure hand.”

Arianrhod was not pleased, and she said;

“Again you dishonor me, brother! Is this how you will thrive? How could you be so cruel?”

 Gwydion replied, “It was your cruelty to the boy that brought me to this deed. But there is no dishonor in naming your own son.”

And thus, with a little help from his uncle Gwydion, Lleu Llaw Gyffes had overcome his fate and passed the first Trial of Manhood, being named by his mother. However, in her shame, Arianrhod would not make matters so easy for them. But that is another tale, for another time.

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The Tale of Lleu, Chapter I: Yule

The Tale of Lleu, Chapter I: Yule
The Tale of Lleu, Chapter I: Yule

Once, long ago, King Math, son of Mathonwy and brother of Don, was Lord in Gwynedd. As it was in those days, Math needed a maiden to be his companion and to hold his feet in the place where he dwelt, which was called Caer Dathyl. As his previous foot holder could no longer provide this service, Math sought the advice of the magickian Gwydion. The wise Gwydion gave him counsel and said;

“Seek Arianrhod, your niece, your sister’s daughter, to be your footholder and companion.”

Math sent word to Arianrhod in her castle of glass, hidden within Snowdon. When she arrived at Caer Dathyl, he said to her;

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“Arianrhod, daughter-of-my-sister, are you yet a maiden, that you might hold my feet?”

“I know not other, than that I am,” replied Arianrhod.

King Math took up his magick staff, bent it, and laid it upon the ground. He said to Arianrhod;

“Step over this staff, that your claim of maidenhood might be tested, for if I have no maiden to hold my feet, I shall surely perish.”

As Arianrhod stepped over the staff, a small child came from her. At the crying of the child, Arianrhod made haste for the door in shame. Math looked down at the yellow haired child before him and said;

“Dylan shall be his name.”

Later, Dylan saw the sea and with irresistible longing in his heart, he jumped in and took on its nature, as should be, for his father was Manawyddan. Beneath him, no wave ever broke, and the sea was his home from that day forth. Dylan would become the father of the strange race of Selkies, but that is yet another story.

But Arianrhod did not know that she had borne two. As she fled, so another form had appeared, but before anyone could take notice, Gwydion picked him up and swiftly covered the child with a scarf of velvet.

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Gwydion had secreted away the second infant in his scarf, away from the notice of Arianrhod and the court of Math, for it was yet far too early for the child to be born. He took the child and raised him for a time in a special trunk at the foot of his bed that he had constructed just for that purpose, using his magick, and chants, and herbs, to keep the boy alive. Gwydion was very clever, and had used his magick to make the trunk from nine different woods of the forest.

At the end of a year, when the proper time had come at last for his birth, Gwydion took the child out of the trunk. A boy, now one year old, with tousled blonde hair, he yet seemed as large as a two year old might have been. Both Gwydion and the boy were immediately enchanted one with the other, and from that time forth was there a love between them, as father and son. Gwydion ceremoniously took apart the magick trunk at the foot of his bed, and burned all the pieces, that his secret should not be discovered until the proper moment.

Thus, under the cover of darkness, was light born into the world. There is much more to the child’s story, but that is another tale, for another time.