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?”
Said 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.
And 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.
“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…