Illustrations by JAI Gendall
When Math the Magician was lord over Gwynedd there was a lad living at his court who had no name. His mother, Arianrhod, would neither acknowledge him nor care for him.
Gwydion was the boy's uncle, and he looked after him. Like Math the Magician, Gwydion had magic powers and could turn men into animals and animals into men with a stroke of his wand.
When the boy was four years old Gwydion determined to trick Arianrhod into giving her son a name. He used his magic arts to conjure up a ship and then set sail for the mother's castle. But when she visited the strange ship she could not recognise her kindred because a veil of enchantment covered her eyes.
All at once a wren alighted on the ship's rails, and the boy-with-no-name aimed his spear at the tiny bird and killed it. Arianrhod exclaimed: "This fair lad has indeed a true aim".
Then Gwydion unveiled her eyes and replied: "Now have you named your son - he shall be Llew LLaw Gyffes, which is to say "a fair and able hand". Llew grew into a perfect shot with the spear and arrow, a masterful horseman and the most handsome youth in all of Wales. But such was the jealousy and spite of Arianrhod that she swore he would never have a maiden from the human race to wed.
Gwydion and Llew went to consort with Math the Magician, and Math said: "Let us make him a bride from flowers growing wild in the woods and meadows".They collected together flowers of oak, meadowsweet and broom, and wove from them a fair and beautiful damsel. They called her "Blodeuedd", meaning flowers.
Llew took her for his wife, and established his court at Mur Castell, but no-one asked Blodeuedd whom she wanted to marry. One day, when her husband was visiting Math, Blodeuedd beheld a huntsman riding by, and she offered him the hospitality of the Castle because the night was swiftly coming on.
As soon as Blodeuedd bid her visitor welcome she fell in love with him, for he was a nobleman of great passion and forcefulness - Gronwy the Fair. And Gronwy fell in love with Blodeuedd, looking into her untamed eyes. Straightaway they plotted how they might live together, and Gronwy urged her: "You must discover from your husband how he may be slain since the protection of Gwydion saves him from a mortal man's death".
When Llew returned, Blodeuedd enticed from him the secrets of his death: "The spear that kills me must be one year in the forging, and it must only be worked on during Mass on Sunday. As for myself, I must be standing in a bath-house built on the river-side, with one foot on the bath and one foot on the back of a male goat. Only in this way can I be slain". Immediately, Blodeuedd sent word to her lover, and Gronwy set about making the spear - but only during the service on Sunday.
After one year Blodeuedd went again to her husband: "Perhaps if you showed me the strange manner in which you could meet your death then my mind would be set at ease". With Llew's willingness she had a bath-house built on the bank of the River Cynfael and a herd of goats brought into the field. Then she arranged for Gronwy to hide himself nearby.
No sooner had Llew straddled the distance between bath and goat than Gronwy let loose his spear, and it pierced through his rival. Llew uttered a cry and flew up into the sky as a golden eagle, soaring higher and higher until he disappeared from their view.
Blodeuedd and her lover were free to live together, but when news of the slaying reached Gwydion he travelled far and wide in search of his nephew. At last he found the eagle at the top of a tree, and Gwydion sang to the bird until it came down and settled at his feet. With a touch of his wand he restored Llew to his human self.
Then Llew and his uncle gathered together an army and marched on Mur Castell. Blodeuedd fled towards the mountains but Gwydion caught up with her: "Because of your disloyalty I shall settle on you the life of a bird, but unlike other birds you shall hide from the face of the sun and emerge from the woods to fly at dusk. And if any birds find you during the day, they will disturb your rest and keep you from peace".
The eyes of Blodeuedd grew round like beads, and her red mouth pursed into a thin hooked beak. Soft feathers sprouted from breast and legs, and her toes elongated and curled into piercing talons. Her back became humped, and her hair grew down in a dense golden mantle - the owl lifted its wings and glided away.
Then Llew sent a message to Gronwy the Fair, saying that, for the sake of justice, their roles should be reversed: Gronwy should stand by the Cynfael river and allow Llew to aim a spear at him. Gronwy agreed but he asked for a large stone to be placed between the spearsman and himself since it had been love of a woman that had caused all the trouble.
So a stone was erected in the path of the missile. However, when Llew loosed his spear it shot straight through the slate and killed Gronwy outright.
Llew re-established himself in his castle, and the stone, pierced with the hole, was left standing by the River Cynfael as a reminder to his enemies of the fates of his rival and the Bride of Flowers.
* THE END *
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