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Lleu. My son, my golden-haired son, fair of face and strong of arm. That is all you want to hear from me, is it not? There, then. It is done. I can argue with none of it. You are my son, that is true; your hair yellow as your great-uncle's gold and your belt heavy with the very blade I gave you and your hand caught in matrimony with the woman my brother created for you.

You can ask no more of me. Begone now.

What's that? You ask: Why do you hate my uncle?

Why shouldn't I? Oh, when you ask him, he shall spin a tale for you, delicate and fine: I loathe him because he outsmarted me, he shall tell you. I prided myself on my maidenhood above all the other women who sat in Math's court, jeered that no one else could pass his test, and when Gwydion challenged me to live up to my own boasts, you and your brother were born as signs of my dishonesty. He will have told you, what woman would not despise a man who got the better of her?

And you believed him.

My son.

It was never for my own sake that I hated Gwydion, you know, but for Goewin's. Not the Goewin you know, angry and embittered at her lot in life. When I met her, she was blazing and splendid, the king's own foot-holder and guardian to his interests alone. I was vain as a child, you know; proud of my sleek dark hair and my silver coronets and my descent from Don. That only lasted until I met Goewin of the long, long curls, whose eyes glittered with greed for excitement and whose smile curved with humor. I worshipped her, wanted nothing more than to follow in her footsteps, and thanks to my mother's brother, I could dream of such a fate.

I thought myself fortunate, in those days.

Except I wasn't the only one who loved her so. My brother Gilfaethwy longed for her, as well. You do not know Gilfaethwy very well, I think. Heis vain and selfish and has the morals of a viper, but at least he has morals. In my own way I am quite fond of him. It's Gwydion, though, with the silver eyes and absolutely no scruples at all who frightens me. He always has.

In those days I sympathized with Gilfaethwy; in those days I thought I knew all there was to know of impossible love. I was foolish enough to think my commiseration would suffice; I had forgotten that Gwydion, in turn, loved our brother of all people in the world. You have heard of the war with Pryderi; what you have not heard is that it was all a ruse by your uncle, to get his brother into Goewin's bed.

This, out of everything, is my greatest shame: that I was not there to protect her.

I should have been. I was one of those who surrounded her and served her; but on that ill-starred morning, I stood on the ramparts of my uncle's castle with everyone else, eager to catch a glimpse of those creatures Gwydion had described to us. Gilfaethwy would not have done what he did had I been there, I am sure; if his sister's presence was not enough to dissuade him from his wickedness, I would have run for my uncle. If my uncle's presence had not been enough to guarantee Goewin's safety, I would have slid the knife between his ribs myself.

The man who schemed such a ill fate into being: such a man is the uncle you venerate.

He has always been kind to you, you say. Ha! Gwydion does nothing except for his own reasons. And those he has, I assure you, even though they might not be apparent at first.

Listen to me, boy, and I shall tell you of a winter's night I lay by the fire--not alone, if you must know. On such a night were you and your brother brought into being--in the grand hall of my mother's fortress as the snow fell outside. I heard the scrape of antlers against the door, and I dared where others did not to open the grand hall and let in the two great animals that waited outside. There were two of them, a stag and his doe, he well-built and wide-shouldered, and she heavy with child. I shuddered as the stag crossed my path; his eyes were silver. They passed the night in our midst; in the morning they were gone.

I tell you, too, of another night, in summer this time, that I lay by the fire in my uncle's castle. There was a grunt from outside the door, and I dared where others did not to open the gates and let in the two great animals that waited outside. There were two of them, a boar and his sow, he sharp-tusked and muscular, and she heavy with child. I shuddered as the sow crossed my path; her eyes were silver. They passed the night in our midst; in the morning they were gone.

And lastly I tell you of a spring night that I lay by the fire in my own abode. There was a howl from outside the door and I dared where others did not to open the gates and let in the two great animals that waited outside. There were two of them, a wolf and his bitch, he shaggy-furred and wretched, and she heavy with child. I shuddered as the wolf crossed my path; his eyes were silver.

They will have told you, I guess, that it was a punishment of the mind alone, that Gwydion and his brother only perceived themselves to roam the woods as beasts and share in Goewin's shame. Perhaps it was: but I know what I saw, Lleu, and I know that in the years following, a fawn, a piglet, and a wolf-cub were shepherded into Math's care. My brother watched go them with grief in his silver eyes, and no little rage. He has always hated to have that which he considers his own taken from him, and when it is unavoidable, he seeks out replacements as quickly as possible. So take pride in what you are, son of mine: no more than a poor substitute for the beasts born of my brothers' blasphemous coupling.

You rise to leave. I shall not stop you. But wait, you say; before I do, a last question: who was my father? You shall not leave before you know.

Your father. An interesting question. There's been no end of speculation: a visiting prince who forsake me, a scandalous liaison with Gwydion to explain how he knew of my own lost maidenhood, my own helpless passion for Goewin.

He was a soldier. That is all I have to tell you, a disgrace in our family that prides ourselves so on our lineages. He was a soldier of no particular fame or family, of no skill or surpassing talent, of nothing to recommend him but that his smile was as brilliant as Goewin's and that I loved him. He rose early to watch the sun rise, he earned his bread by the sweat on his brow, and he prized his honor more dearly than anyone else I have ever known.

You take pride in that? Well. For the first time I salute you, Lleu Llaw Gaffes. You show more wisdom than anyone else did. Than I did, for that matter.

I quailed, you see, when Gwydion confronted me with the proof of what he'd seen with his own eyes in beast-shape: of how I'd disgraced myself and my legacy. It was enough to make me drive my lover away with the cruelest of my words; he followed my uncle to the wars, where he died as so many others have: needlessly, frightened, and alone.

You have not asked, but I shall answer regardless. Why do I hate you so? And to that I say: do I, my son? Consider this. If I never gave you a wife, your heart would never ache as mine does, over Goewin and Gwydion and the man who fathered you. If I never gave you arms, you would never fall in battle as your father did. If I never gave you my name, you might escape your uncle's influence.

You take my leave. I grant it. You will never see me again, Lleu, and for that I am grateful. But think, my son, on what I have said and make yourself a better king than a puppet in Gwydion's hands. Make yourself a better husband than the boy scarred by Blodeuwedd's spite. Make yourself a better man, one who might please your father rather than your uncle.

Your mother asks no more of you.