Math was a king, like all kings, and when, his daughter, the lady of the land marries he must give way to the husband of her choice. Math didn’t like this idea at all. He prepared a tower in the silver sea off Gwynedd, took the girl to it and locked her in.
Within the tower, he believed, was all she could ever want, but he was wrong. He had forgotten that Arianrhod could see beyond her tower, could see the land and loved it.
‘Brother!’ she cried out to the silver mirror of the sea and sky. ‘Brother, come and help me.’
And he came. Gwydion, master of magic, came
With his own wiles, he entered the tower and she allowed him in. He came to her and loved her.
But Gwydion had his own score to settle with Math. Math had called him to steal the pigs of Pryderi for him and Gwydion had done this with the help of his youngest brother, Gilfaethwy. And Gilfaethwy had fallen in love.
When Math had locked Arianrhod in the tower he had given himself a problem. A king may only be a king by right of the land. A king becomes a king by putting his foot into the stone of the land, the footprint of his forebears, his ancestors and Math, as we know, was determined to be the last ancestor, the elder god. So, without Arianrhod, he no longer had the lady of the land at his side to make him real. But Math was clever. As he could no longer put his foot into the stone of kingship, because he had put Arianrhod away, he found another way. He took a maid, Goewin was her name, and bade her never open herself to any man, and he put his feet into her lap. And so her life was. Unless Math went to war his feet were in the maiden’s lap and so he held onto his kingship.
Until Gilfaethwy fell in love with his maid.
Gwydion laughed. He saw, that through his brother’s lust, was a way to undo Math. He helped Gilfaethwy to the maiden’s bed and Gilfaethwy took her maidenhead.
And Math no longer had a place to put his feet. He could feel his death creeping up on him, he could feel it in his bones.
‘Aya!’ he cried, ‘a maid I must have. Bring me a maid!’
‘Any maid?’ Gwydion asked.
‘A maid! A maid! My kingdom for a maid!’ Math screamed.
‘I’ll hold you to that,’ Gwydion muttered, and he laughed.
He went to the tower and he caused it to spin and spin. When it was spinning so fast it stood still he called to Arianrhod and, through the spinning of the tower, she was able to come out. He brought her to Math, wrapped in his own cloak of illusion, and Math saw a maiden.
‘Art thou a maid?’ he asked her.
And Arianrhod cast down her eyes demurely, ‘I know not but that I am,’ she told him.
‘Come!’ Math cried. ‘Step over my rod.’
And she did. And as she did, a golden child spilled from her skirts onto Math’s floor. And, as she stepped away, a little something fell behind. Quick as a flash, Gwydion scooped it up and hid it in his chest before anyone could see.
Math was aghast. He realised his time was short and he would have to act cleverly if he was to live. He took the little golden boy and led him to the sea. He poured the water on him and cried out, ‘I name thee Dylan son of Wave.’ And the golden child heard him and leapt straight into the sea. So clever Math had taken him from the land.
Fit the 1st
Arianrhod ran back to her tower and set it spinning as Gwydion had showed her, so none could enter, for she was afraid.
On a night, as Gwydion slept, he heard a knocking and a knocking in his chest. He opened it and there, within, was an infant boy reaching up his arms. Gwydion took him, and loved him, and reared him for a year and a day, until he was as tall and strong as a full grown boy.
Arianrhod looked into her silver mirror of the sea and the sky and she saw the boy.
‘He’s mine!’ she said, ‘and he shall have no name and no arms until I give them to him. ‘And Gwydion heard her, and he laughed, for he knew it to be true.
He took and made a boat all out of sea wrack. And out of the weed he made leather and he coloured it like the sun. He took the boy and sailed within sight of the tower, then he put upon them both his cloak of illusion and they began to make shoes, the most beautiful shoes in the world. And Arianrhod saw and she wanted them.
‘How now,’ she called. ‘Wilt thou make me a pair of shoes?’
‘Aye, lady, if you come and put your foot in my boat.’
And so she came.
Gwydion took her measure and began to make he the golden shoes.
The boy was bored. A wren flew past and, faster than light, he aimed his catapult and hit the bird.
‘Oh my!’ cried Arianrhod, ‘that boy is fair and skilled of hand.’
And Gwydion laughed.
‘Hast named him, sister mine,’ he said, and he dropped the cloak of illusion. ‘Llew Llaw Gyffes he shall be.’
And Arianrhod returned to the safety of her tower.
Fit the 2nd
And Llew grew into a fine man, but he still needed his arms which Arianrhod must give him.
Gwydion took again to them to her tower under the cloak of illusion. Hidden in the mist, he put the illusion of a great army of ships bearing down upon her tower, and himself with the boy in a small ship running away from them. Arianrhod saw them and called down to them to hurry, saying she could use all the help she could get. They landed on her island and she took them in.
‘Here!’ she cried. ‘I am glad for thy help.’ She gave Gwydion a sword and shield, then she took another sword and spear and shield and mail-coat and armed the boy herself.
And Gwydion laughed. He dropped the cloak of illusion and sent the attackers up in smoke. And Arianrhod joined him in his laughter.
‘Hast helped me do two of the needed things to bring this boy to manhood, but how shall we get him a wife? For I see his geas and there is no wife of mortal blood for him within it.’
And Gwydion did not laugh for he knew that it was true.
He went back to Math and said, ‘Thou hast still need of a maid to hold thy feet in the rite of kings but none comes forth.’
And Math glowered at him for his bones ached with age.
And Gwydion put his hand on Math in solicitude. ‘Let us together fashion thee a maid out of the oak flowers and the broom and the meadowsweet.’
And Math’s brow lightened and he helped Gwydion with all his might. They called out to the soul of the Queen of the Night to inspire the body. And she came. And her heart-shaped face was like a flower, and it was like an owl, and so Gwydion whispered that her name was Blodeuwedd. And she heard and smiled upon him for this was true.
Fit the 3rd
Gwydion brought Liew to the court and he saw Blodeuwedd holding Math’s feet in her lap. And she saw him. And his heart was taken, he loved her. And Math, all the gods help him, allowed it for he was feeling the truth of his plight in his bones and knew there was in truth no hope for him. But he knew he would have one last try.
Blodeuwedd knew her work. She delved into Llew’s soul and found it wanting. She knew he had never yet offered himself for the land but only taken from her. He spent his life in pleasure.
‘Husband,’ she said to him one night, in their bed, after their pleasure. ‘Husband, how is that thou may be killed? For it worries me,’ she told him, nuzzling his neck.
‘Why,’ he laughed, ‘I cannot be killed. Or not easily. Indeed it would take great ingenuity to fix all the time and space for me to be killed.’
‘Marry, pray, and how is this?’ she asked him, sitting up.
‘I cannot be killed within or without, not on land, nor water.’
‘Why, that is good,’ Blodeuwedd told him, lying back down and nuzzling him some more.
‘Aye. To kill me, he who would, must make a thatched hut open upon all sides and therein put a bath. If I were to bathe in it then, there would have to be a goat beside the bath and I would step up, one foot upon the side of the bath and the other on the goat. Then, just at that very moment, he would have the chance to kill me. But only if he had a weapon which had been hammered for a year and a day, and only on the sacred nights.’
‘I do not think that is likely,’ Blodeuwedd cast down her eyes and stroked him until he slept.
She went to Gronw, Llew’s tanaiste, and said to him, ‘I have a task for thee, might cost thy life.’
‘That is my geas,’ said the Gronw.
And Blodeuwedd took him into her bed and loved him. And he loved her. In secret, she built the thatched hut, and set within it a bath. Gronw took and made himself a spear, hammering it only on the sacred nights for a year and a day. And then, they were ready.
‘Husband,’ Blodeuwedd called. ‘Husband, let’s play a game.’
He came and saw her dressed in a robe which clung to her figure. She smelled of rose leaves and honey.
‘Come play with me,’ she took his hand and led him to the bath. He was all compliance, for she was very lovely. There she washed him and fondled him, and her robe got wet and clung even more tightly to her form. Llew had eyes for nothing but her. He laughed when she brought up the goat and sprang up, putting one foot on the side of the bath and the other upon the beast’s back.
‘Look!’ he cried. ‘No hands!’
At that very moment the spear flashed out of the sun and into his side. Llew screamed. His body slipped from him and he flew up in the shape of his tylwyth, the eagle, and winged his way away from the fateful spot.
Fit the 4th
Llew was gone and Gwydion was lost. He could not see his son anywhere. He hunted, he hunted high and he hunted low. He walked the length and breadth of Gwynedd until, finally, he came upon an empty pigsty and a perplexed swineherd.
‘My pig,’ the swineherd wailed. ‘She is the finest pig in the whole world and I feed her acorns and truffles yet, every morning, she runs out of her sty and however fast I go I cannot keep up with her. I know not where she goes. I am afraid she will leave me.’
Gwydion snuffed the air, he knew that perfume. It was Ceridwen, Arianrhod’s sister.
‘Let me try,’ he said. ‘Tomorrow at sun-up, I will follow her.’
As the sun came up the pig was off, with Gwydion in her wake. He ran and ran and ran until he came up, all standing, at an oak tree by a lake. The light flashed down on him from the mountain of eagles, and he hid his eyes, looking down. There, at his feet, was the pig, snuffling and chuffling, gobbling and slobbering, eating her way through the rotting flesh which fell out of the tree from above her. Gwydion looked up, and up. His sight showed him an eagle in the topmost branches, and the bird had a terrible wound. And Gwydion knew. That was his son. It was his son’s flesh which fell to the ground and which the pig was eating.
Gwydion began to sing. And as he sang so the eagle came down to the centre of the tree. Gwydion sang on, and the eagle stepped down further until he was on the lowest branch of the tree. Gwydion sang on and the eagle came right down and sat in his lap.
‘Come out, my son, come home,’ Gwydion looked into the staring yellow eyes that knew him not. ‘Hast shifted too long and forgotten yourself entirely.’ And Gwydion struck him with his staff, and the eagle shape fell off him, and Llew sat in Gwydion’s lap, all weak and wan.
Gwydion healed his son’s body.
‘I must kill he who killed me,’ Llew told his father. ‘I must take back my death. As long as he stands for me I cannot stand. He holds my geas.’
And so it came about, Llew stood where his tanaiste, Gronw, had stood and the Gronw stood where Llew had stood.
‘I would put a stone between us,’ said the Gronw, a piece of our mother the land.
‘Make it so,’ said Llew.
So Gronw stood, holding the stone that was a piece of the land. And Llew hefted the spear and threw it. It sang through the air, through the stone, and through Gronw’s heart and he fell dead. And Math felt it in his bones.
Gwydion went to Blodeuwedd.
‘Are you satisfied, magician?’ she asked him.
‘I did not know that you would kill him,’ he told her.
‘An’ you had known would you have given me form, asked me to do the job?’
Gwydion looked away, ‘No,’ he said, then, ‘Yes. It must be done. It had to be done.’
‘And what of the boy?’
‘He is a man. He has taken back his own death. And Math can feel it in his bones.’
‘He is a man,’ Blodeuwedd took his hand and set it on her breast, ‘and ready to be a king. And what of you, enchanter?’
Gwydion shook his head.
Blodeuwedd took him, and held him, she surrounded him. He melted within her. As the seed shot out of him her felt her crumble in his hands, felt the softness of feathers, heard the low call of a mating owl. And then there was nothing. He lay face down on the earth, tears pouring down his face.
© Elen Sentier 2017. All rights reserved.