The Fruit of Passion: Chapter 24 – Part I

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Having made full recovery, Rhys and Hoel left the Glass Fortress and ventured back into the mines where many of their companions received them with unabashed relief and joy back in their ranks: their faces split with a wide grin, their arms engulfing them in a tight grip, their words voicing their satisfaction that Trevor and Ellis no longer haunted the place.

Much inquiry was made about that fateful day of the assault, but upon a vow of silence Rhys and Hoel had agreed, so they revealed only what didn’t threaten to expose the secret of their nightly outings.

‘’Let us not speak of this ever again. Worse torment than that I’ve known after all, and I’ve prevailed–twisted blackguard that I am But my brother,’’ Rhys fixed Hoel to his side, his arm draped over the shoulders of the child, ‘’I will have this incident fade from his memory as if a troubling dream of the past, its specter never again to hound him.’’

Silence descended over all upon such revelation, stunned looks and gaping mouths comprising the reactions of some of the miners while alarm coloured the expressions of the coterie of those who had once formed a clucking crowd around Trevor and Ellis, buoying their ruffian ways.

‘’Your brother?’’ cried out Idris, pickaxe and gad halted in a midair motion. ‘’Did I hear you well?’’

Hoel gazed up at Rhys–his mouth quirking in a blissful beam–then at the congregation. ‘’Of a truth. The blood now running in our veins makes us so, more potent through the force of the arts that binds us even beyond the grave.’’

‘’Let this be proof of our ties.’’ Rhys lifted his wrist along with Hoel’s, bringing them to the same level; a crimson, serpent-like mark pulsed upon their flesh, breathing with a life of its own. ‘’Just because they saw no crown on my head, the fools fancied I was without power.’’ Rhys parted his lips in a feral smile, his teeth bared. ‘’Dearly, I’m informed, they paid for their blindness. So now it is known what plight awaits those who might entertain thoughts of similar foolishness.

‘’Of the house of Ariancorn I am and will always be, Chieftain or not. And through the might of my life force and awen so is Hoel and will always be. Such house gives birth to no weaklings. Let it be heard then to the very bowels of the earth this is the way the Ariancorns deal with any foe who dares strike against us.’’

And while in silvery tones he spoke, burning fire flashed in Rhys’ eyes, fixed as they remained on those who had once allied themselves with his now vanquished enemies. And they did not care to hold his stare, for as if in front of the form of a wrathful god who had taken flesh and bone, they averted theirs swiftly, their tongues releasing no words.

If they cannot respect us, they will learn to fear us. At their subjugation to his authority, dark delight blossomed in Rhys who then and only then shifted his attention away from them.

Quite a few of the miners congratulated them for this turn of events, wishing them well, content with Hoel’s good fortune and the mellowing out his presence had brought upon Rhys’ wilder edges.

***

‘’By the wheel of Belenus!’’ Maddox smirked at him as the night fell and everyone retired to the sleeping chambers, the two of them enjoying a moment of quiet after the day’s hard labour, seated as they were at the mouth of a galley. ‘’Aren’t you proud of your achievement? Blast your swagger, Rhys! Prancing around and boasting of your new brother like a peacock fanning out its eye-spotted train. Sweaty and quaking you had them in their tatters. That was a sight to behold.’’

Rhy’ brows darkened; his hands balled into tight fists at his sides. ‘’You cannot know, Maddox. You can never know. The terror that crushed me under its heel when I saw Hoel falling in a heap, writhing like a flopping fish caught on a hook under the effects of the poison.

‘’A child of fire I was born, and yet my whole life I had denied my birthright. For there was a missing piece in me–the spark, the tinder to help me claim my gift. Until Hoel shot into my soul like a falling star full of blaze and set me aflame. If he doesn’t burn, if I don’t burn, if we don’t burn, how can the world birth the ashes of the darkness and breathe into the light?

‘’I’m sick and tired of wandering amidst the dusk and the gloom. Without purpose or direction. Now I only yearn to burn without end.’’ Rhys leaned back against the hard ridge of stone, crossing his arms in front of his chest. He nodded. ‘’So, yes, let them shrink with dread. Let their sleep be filled with nightmares. That’s the punishment of the profane for coveting the sacred.’’

Maddox let out a low whistle from amongst his teeth. ‘’I had never fully understood the magnitude of your bond with the child until now. You adore him beyond reason. But too much of anything, I always question the wisdom of it.’’

Rhys shrugged. ‘’Well, I don’t. That is how we fae are fashioned by nature. We know not how to be any other way. We simply yield.’’

‘’Have no worries, Chieftain.’’ Maddox clapped him on the shoulder, then rose to his feet. ‘’Should they prick their ears, their friends’ howls as my knout flayed their skin from their back and their demented ramblings still echo off the walls. Indeed, the lessons taught in blood are the hardest to forget.’’

‘’Much as I find pleasure in your company, I best withdraw. I do not wish to leave Hoel alone for long.’’

‘’Of course.’’

Bidding each other good night, they parted to seek their rest.

An excerpt from my mythic fantasy novel currently titled The Fruit of Passion.

Please, share your impressions!!! All constructive feedback is always welcome.

Welsh Mythology: Pwyll’s Sojourn in Annwfn

The Celtic Oltherworld, known as Annwn in the Welsh tradition and mythology, was the abode of the fairies and the dead. Not a compact, unified land, it consisted of various territories conceived as islands in the imagined Celtic reality where no old age or sickness threatened their denizens, food was always abundant and spring/summer always reigned.

Many of these otherwordly domains feature prominently in the Mabinogion. This post focuses on the first part of the first branch, narrating the tale of Pwyll, Princed of Dyfed, his venturing into the realm of Annwn and his lifelong friendship with King Arawn.

Under the influence!

Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

Presented here is a retelling of the story of the time Pwyll of Dyfed spent in Annwfn in the body of Arawn. It is the first part of the story of Pwyll, Prince of Dyfed or Pwyll Pendefig Dyfed, which is the First Branch of the Four Branches of the Mabinogi. It tells how he and Arawn became friends and of his sojourn in Annwfn.

Pwyll of Dyfed

One day as Pwyll, Prince of Dyfed was out hunting in the region of Glyn Cuch his hounds raised a stag. The stag took off at great speed with the hounds hard on its trail and Pwyll spurred his horse forward in pursuit sounding his hunting horn. The stag was moving fast but the hounds were keeping up and he was keeping up with the hounds. In the speed and excitement of the chase…

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Protected: The Fruit of Passion: Chapter 23 – Part I

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Cantre’r Gwaelod: Masculine vs Feminine (Part II)

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Cantre’r y Gwaelod, illustration by Alan Lee

In my previous post, Cantre’r Gwaelod: The Origins of the Legend of the Sunken Kingdom, I delved into a certain aspect of Celtic culture and mythology that revolves around legendary cities and islands that once prospered on land and later sank underground, within lakes or the sea. I specifically focused on the kingdom of Cantre’r Gwaelod, purported to have occupied the bountiful territory between Ramsey Island and Bardsey Island in what is now Cardigan Bay to the west of Wales.

I explored the origins of the myth as well as the symbolism and meaning behind it. As usually, many fables narrate various versions of a main episode. That is also the case with the sunken kingdom of Cantre’r Gwaelod. Two are the most salient versions that refer to it; the first focuses on the male figure of Seithenyn while the second on the female figure of Mererid.

While both share a few common motifs and elements as well as the same denouement, each version holds its own symbolism and ramifications, reflecting distinct perspectives within the same culture. So, let’s compare and contrast the two variants, shall we?

The most well-known form of the legend presents Cantre’r Gwaelod as a low-lying land fortified against the sea by a dyke called Sarn Badrig (“Saint Patrick’s causeway”), with a series of sluice gates opened only at low tide to drain the land.

The ruler Gwyddno Garanhir (”Long-shank), owner of a magical humper (mwys) which multiplied whatever food one placed in it, was said to have his seat in Caer Wyddno, the capital of Cantre’r Gwaelod. A guardian by the name of Seithenyn was in charge of the dyke. An infamous drunkand and carouser, one day he neglected his duties. Having forgotten all about the dyke, the sea swept through the open floodgates, ruining the entire city.

However, amongst the earliest forms is the one contained in the Black Book of Carmarthen, in which the land bears the name of Maes Gwyddno, translated in English as the Plain of GwyddnoIn this version Mererid, the well-maiden, negligent of her charge, allowed the well to overflow, which resulted in the land being swallowed by floods.

Said version refers to the following poem included in the Black Book of Carmarthen. By reading closely its verses (I’ve presented both the Welsh original and its English translation), it becomes patently clear how the attitudes diverge regarding Seithenyn and Mererid.

Seithenhin sawde allan.
Ac edrychuirde varanres
Mor. maes guitnev rytoes.
Boed emendiceid y morvin
Aehellygaut guydi cvin.
Finaun wenestir mor terruin.
Boed emendiceid y vachteith.
Ae. golligaut guydi gueith.
Finaun wenestir mor diffeith
Diaspad vererid y ar vann caer.
Hid ar duu y dodir.
Gnaud guydi traha trangc hir.
Diaspad mererid. y ar van kaer
Hetiv. hid ar duu y dadoluch.
Gnaud guydi traha attreguch.
Diaspad mererid am gorchiut
Heno. ac nihaut gorllut
G. g. traha tramguit.
Diaspad mererid y ar gwinev
Kadir keadaul duv ae gorev.
Gnaud guydi gormot eissev.
Diaspad mererid. am kymhell
Heno y urth nyistauell.
Gnaud guydi traha trangc pell.
Bet seithenhin synhuir vann
Rug kaer kenedir a glan.
Mor maurhidic a kinran.

***

Seithenhin, stand thou forth,
And behold the billowy rows;
The sea has covered the plain of Gwydneu.

Accursed be the damsel,
Who, after the wailing,
Let loose the Fountain of Venus, the raging deep.

Accursed be the maiden,
Who, after the conflict, let loose
The fountain of Venus, the desolating sea.

A great cry from the roaring sea arises above the summit of the rampart,
To-day even to God does the supplication come!
Common after excess there ensues restraint.

A cry from the roaring sea overpowers me this night,
And it is not easy to relieve me;
Common after excess succeeds adversity.

A cry from the roaring sea comes upon the winds;
The mighty and beneficent God has caused it!
Common after excess is want.

A cry from the roaring sea
Impels me from my resting-place this night;
Common after excess is far-extending destruction.

The grave of Seithenhin the weak-minded
Between Caer Cenedir and the shore
Of the great sea and Cinran.

Upon reading the poem, one is easily led to the assumption that Mererid is the cause behind the flood that swept over the kingdom of Cantre’r Gwaelod. However, such an assumption is subverted in the last stanza where the blame shifts entirely to Seithenyn who’s critisized as weak-minded.

But if the male figure paints a negative picture as an incompetent, careless boozer, then what exactly is the role assigned to the female figure? Mererid, (whose name means ”pearl”) the poem concludes, isn’t a blameworthy offender but a lady whose office as cup-bearer and keeper of the well has been violated. A recurring motif in many Celtic tales is that pertaining to wells that flood a large patch of land due to an offence committed against the well-keeper.

The guardians of these wells are unfailingly female. In the poem, emphasis is placed on that fact that Mererid is a maiden (morvin) and on another verse she’s referred to as ”machteih”, which means she holds an important position in the royal court.

The notion of maidenhead or virginity and the role of protectress has born a close association in many cultures. Ancient cities and kingdoms often enjoyed the safety of boundaries, both through physical and magical means. Egresses and gateways through walls needed to be physically sealed tight. However, magical entrances required magic in order to open and shut.

The one bearing the title of ”Pontifex Maximus” initially suggested someone skilled at guarding and sealing protective boundaries. The purpose of the institution of the Vestal Virgins in ancient Rome was the city’s protection and welfare, the role of a virgin deity assigned to these priestesses. The same concept can actually be traced in the ancient Greek world. The virgin Athene offered her divine protection to the city of Athens. The city of Troy is seen to be protected in a similar fashion in Homer’s Iliad. As the huge wooden horse enters the city, the seer Cassandra loosens her girdle in a gesture symbolic of the disruption of the city’s magical protection.

It appears that in Celtic tradition similar protective powers were bestowed upon the well maidens. In the Celtic imagined reality, and not only, wells, lakes, rivers and various bodies of water were regarded as portals leading to the Otherwold. If the portals were neglected, the steady flow of the life-giving waters would be disturbed and lead to a deluge. The loss of virginity of the well-maiden, either though the maiden’s own choice or through her violation, would yield the same results.

However, Mererid also holds the office of cup-bearer, just like the goddess Rosmerta and the virgin Veleda who prophesized for her Germanic tribe, the Bucteri.

Three are Rosmerta’s emblems: the cup, the ladle and the bucket. The first functions as a symbol of cornucopia, indicating the richness of the feast. The Gauls had her figure associated with at least one sacred spring. While the religious element might have been relegated to the point of oblivion, there’s another element that slams to the forefront.

The cup-bearing and office-holding maiden is a figure intimately linked to water. Water can turn out to have both positive and negative connotations. It can both signify destruction and fertility. The fertility of the land and the fertility of the woman is a theme frequently found in Celtic tradition as is the case with characters like Guinevere and Rhiannon.

If maidenhead implies protection, the loss of it leads to the absence of protection. On the other hand, sexual awakening carries the possibility of ferility, therefore the well-maiden taking on an active sexual role becomes a woman who brings forth plenty. Something which is further emphasized by the existence of the cup as a symbol of copiousness.

But how do all these apply to Mererid? As a well-maiden, she’s been assigned to guard the flow of the well, but it is also her responsibility to hold the cup of plenty. We cannot know for certain whether Mererid had an active role in her sexual initiation or whether she suffered a physical violation. Whatever the case, though, the loss of her protection brought forth the deluge.

However, there lies the possibility of another, more positive interpretation: the overflow of the blessed waters resulting in the fertility of the land, and all that cloaked under the guise of a disastrous inundation. In the poem, the meaning of the word ”cwyn” has been presented as both ”feast” and ”complaint”. How are we to interpret the word’s polysemy? Are we supposed to believe Mererid expressed her complaints over her violation or are we to believe her proffered cup as a feast carries other implications, associated with free sexual choice and fertility? Was she a victim of rape or did she choose to give away her virginity and willingly release the flood?

Arriving to a certain conclusion seems an impossibility as the poem states nothing in an open manner. One might wonder as to whom belongs the voice that narrates the events leading to the inundation. In the first stanza, the narrator is addressing Seithenyn, calling to him to stand forth and inspect the destruction of the kingdom. Could this be the voice of Mererid, castigating Seithenyn for the disaster his actions have wreaked? While a definite answer cannot be provided, such thought shouldn’t be excluded from the realm of possibility.

The following stanzas, however, present a shift in the narrator who is possibly Seithenyn himself, pondering on his own role in the kingdom’s submersion and accepting his own responsibility for this outcome.

What I, as a reader, find most remarkable in the poem is the way the figures of Seithenyn and Mererid are portrayed: the first as a lousy guard, totally devoid of substance and depth and the second as a larger than life character, an intermediate between human and goddess, full of compexities.

Could the underlying theme of the poem be the dichotomy between death/impotence as espoused by the male and life/sexual agency as espoused by the female? Could Seithenyn’s inebriation function as a metaphor for male weakness and sterility while Mererid’s conscious release of the torrents function as metaphor for female potency and erotic volition?

Whatever the poem’s intended message, I regard Mererid as an empowering model for women. A maiden in possession of great power who awakens to it through the relishing of her own sacred sexuality in order to bring forth life and prosperity.