White Shadow

“Gwen! “Gwenhwyfar!”

The voice whispered in her ear again. It sounded of leaves, spring leaves, just bursting into bud. She shivered although there was no wind. This was the third day she had heard the voice and now, other stirrings were growing in her mind.

What was that? She saw the dark walls again and saw the Lion man, her father, coming across the courtyard.

“Come, little shadow, soon it will be time.”

And Gwenhwyfar had gone to him. Up and up they climbed, up the stair within the tower, up and up until they came out under the stars.

“Look” he said.

And she looked. The world seemed round like a table from up here. Round like a map. Round and flat and spread out all around her.

“See” he said.

And she saw the land, glimmering in the darkling light of the Earth-stars.

“This is yours” he said. “Choose carefully, little shadow, who you will have to love, for he who loves you holds this land in the palm of his hand for you, for us, for all things. Choose carefully, little shadow.

Thud a! Thud a! Thud a! Hooves! Strong, light, sharp, heavy. Hooves striking the Earth, coming up the path through the Enchanted Forest.

“Quick!” he said. And all in a moment there was a battle raging about the tower, about the castle. Blood, cries, fighting, dying. Gwenhwyfar looked down from the high place and watched. The tower began to spin, slowly, so that she saw the battle from all sides.

Thud a! Thud a! Thud a! Hooves! Strong, light, sharp, heavy. Hooves striking the Earth, coming up the path through the Enchanted Forest. Nearer now. And then she heard the sword cry out as it came to light out of the scabbard.

At first, all she could see was the twisting sparks as the sword wove the pattern of death among the battle. Like a living snake of fire. And then he was there. All in white. The sun of Winter shining on his brow.

He looked up, saw her, and for a moment the weaving snake of death-fire stood still in his hand flowing upwards like a torch.

Her eyes found his, sliding in through his soul and stripping his body. Winter, ice, the fiery sun shining on the mountain top, crisp and hard. He was the one. Slowly she let go of his eyes and watched him shake his head. A phantom warrior sprang at him, in the instant he came back into his own reality and slew the creature.

He was at the gate.

Gwenhwyfar blinked and was standing beside the portcullis.

“Open!” she cried and the gnomes grinned at her, pulling the ropes the while.

His white horse shied as he came through the gates. The horse could see the gnomes for what they were. The man saw only well dressed servitors.

Gwenhwyfar reached up her hand and drew him down from the great white horse. The horse was calm now, he could see her and see her, he knew who she was.

“Come!” she said. And the man came with her.

The gnomes took the horse. Gwenhwyfar turned quickly.

“He is not for you to eat!” she told them sharply. But all the man heard was instructions to feed and water and comb the weary beast.

Inside, in the great hall, she sat the man down upon a heather bed all rustling with the cover of white silk. She took his boots and leathers, giving them to the gnomes who crowded round to see the monster, the man from another place. But all he saw was pretty demoiselles all clad in silk and lace.

Gwenhwyfar took the silver bowl and wiped his face, washed his body and feet. She took the alabaster jar and perfumed him with the frankincense and myrrh. She wrapped him in the white robe of the dead.

Later he watched as the cauldron gave out the food each one liked best. He took his meat and sopped his bread. The winter wine was sour yet strangely sweet. He watched as the serving maids changed form before his weary eyes, becoming gnome like, their hands and fingers stretching, stretching to twice the length. Their heads growing, bodies shrinking.

She touched his arm. The demoiselles had never changed. His dreaming eyes came back to focus on her.

“To bed” she said.

And her father led the way down twisting halls and spiral stairs deep within the castle.

Within the bed his mind spun out into the stars as his body plunged deeper and deeper within her earth. She was singing.

Darkness gave way and morning peered over the sill where she sat feeding a raven on her wrist.

“Come” she said.

In the great hall the Lion man, her father stood beside the great table.

“Will you take her?” he asked.

“I would have her all the days of my life” the man replied.

“Then take her. And take too this table for it is her dowry.”

And they went together through the paths of the Enchanted Forest and the table with them.

 

Here. Now. Here in her tower in the Middle Earth, she looked down on the land. Fat it was, and pregnant with the summer corn.

“Gwen! “Gwenhwyfar!”

The voice whispered in her ear again. It sounded of leaves, spring leaves, just bursting into bud. She shivered although there was no wind. This was the third day she had heard the voice and now, other stirrings were growing in her mind.

Quietly she went down and down the stairs. Quietly she took her palfrey and set out through the castle gates. And none saw her for there was nothing to see except the white shadow as it flickered on the gate post and who would notice that?

The golden palfrey knew his way. She sang the path out into the forest and his hooves made no mark of where they had been.

Deeper and deeper within the heart of the Greenwood they went. The leaves whispered to her, the branches leaned down and stroked her hair, the roots moved carefully so that her horse would not trip.

“Caaark!”

He was there. On the branch ahead where the path turned. Gwenhwyfar smiled.

Turning the corner, the path bellied out into a wide glade. A fountain stood, a column of silver light striking upwards to the sky. A cup lay beside the water.

The palfrey stopped and Gwenhwyfar slid down from his back. She made her way to the fountain, filled the cup and drank. The water sparkled round her lips and down her throat. She had not felt this alive since she had left her father’s house.

“Gwen! Gwenhwyfar!”

The voice whispered in her ear again. But now the sound of leaves was closer, she could feel warm breath upon her cheek, smell the scent of new mown grass. But she would not turn.

“Gwenhwyfar!” he said again. And now she turned.

Bright Summer stood beside her. Red hair standing out like the corona around the sun. His eyes were green as leaves, as snake skin, full of golden sunlight.

“What is it that you most desire?” he asked her.

“To choose.” She said. “To choose my own way.”

“The land is fat and full of honey. Is this not to your liking?”

“The land is fat, indeed,” she said. “And lies lazing in the sun. It has forgotten me.”

“Come then!” he cried.

 

The king woke in his silken bed, alone. This was the third morning she had been gone from him. Where was she? The May was on the trees, heavy perfume, pulling at his mind. Where was she?

Down in the stables his horse waited, tossing his head, calling to his master to come and quickly. The king rode out.

The path was hidden before him and yet he knew the way. Glimmer of light flashed out among the ferns and always the May blossom drew him on. He followed on the scent like a hound.

His horse took him around the corner down the left hand path. Deeper and deeper into the forest they went.

He came upon the glade before he knew. The fountain stood up like a great spear, shining out rainbow arcs like a great pavilion. He slid down from his horse.

The golden cup lay beside the fountain pool. Slowly he stretched out his hand for it. And then drew back. What did he wish to see? He reached again and once again his hand shuddered and checked. The scent of May was heavy on his mind.

He shut his eyes and reached for the cup. This time his fingers closed around the cold silky stem. He filled it with water and drank quickly.

The skies opened. Thunder rolled and a hail of may blossom swept around his head. He opened his eyes and fell back, staring up into the hollow pits of the White Mare’s eyes. The horse’s skull grinned down at him. He blinked and it was gone.

He blinked again and then he saw her. Standing proud beside the fountain, the red warrior of the Sun beside her.

“Gwenhwyfar?” he asked.

She nodded.

The red warrior came forward showing arms, sword, spear, club. The king touched the sword. The red man smiled.

They fought as the sun rose up the sky. Higher and higher it came and the red man’s powers with it. The king was pressed back.

The sun slid slowly down the sky, the shadows grew and the king drank in their power as he stood his ground within them. The red man fell back.

The time of the two lights came, sun stood beside the moon above the trees and both shed their light upon the fountain.

Gwenhwyfar came. She brought the cup and gave it to the red man’s lips but he signed her to offer it to the king. The men’s eyes locked, a smile passed between them. The king drank and offered the cup to his opponent. They shared the living waters.

“What would you now?” he asked the red man.

“What would you too?” he asked him back.

They turned to Gwenhwyfar.

“While the leaves are on the trees I would be with the sun. But as they fall away I will come back into the castle.” She told them both.

Sadly the king remounted on his horse and followed the path back into he world. He knew that he would have the sun upon the land to keep him mindful of her until the leaves fell.

 

The White Shadow by Elen Sentier. © Elen Sentier 2000. All Rights Reserved.

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