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Weaving Sky Ribbons

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Goewin sat on the stone floor in the rushes with the dogs. Arianrhod's uncle, King Math, moved his long hairy toes in her lap. Goewin flinched, but did not move. She could not move. The king would die if he didn't have his feet in a virgin's lap. Goewin was that lucky virgin, except when the king went to war.

"If he's so powerful," Arianrhod asked her brothers, "why doesn't he break the tynged that's on him."

Arianrhod's brother, Gilfaethwy, had his face in his hand and sighed. "Because she is the most beautiful maiden in all the land."

Arianrhod turned away from Gilfaethwy and directed her questions to her older brother, Gwydion, "Why don't we switch between two virgins or three or twenty?"

Gwydion's smile was like a mountain peak in the mist. "If any of them lost their virginity, surely that woman would conceal it, and our Uncle would place his feet in her lap and die."

"Then why don't we use children or make a girl from a flower or…" Arianrhod spat on the floor, "my spit in the rushes is more hidden from view. The poor girl has to shit and piss in a pot. She has to sleep with our uncle's feet in her lap. The only time she has any peace is when he goes to war."

"We are too peaceful a people," sighed Gilfaethwy.

"Fear not, brother," Gwydion patted Gilfaethwy's hand.

Arianrhod looked at Gilfaethwy. She looked at the way Gwydion stroked his chin looking at Gilfaethwy. She looked at Goewin sitting miserable on the floor. She thought she knew where this was headed.

It was especially clear to her when Gwydion told their Uncle about magic pigs, when they weren't called swine, that were small, tasty, and from the realm of the dead. Naturally, her uncle had to have these swine, which naturally Gwydion took care to acquire. Naturally this led to a war.

Uncle Math lifted his large feet and flexed his hairy toes. Geowin stood up slowly and stretched her back. Uncle Math put on his shoes and went to go fight for some pigs.

Arianrhod went back to her own castle, Caer Arianrhold, to give Gilfaethwy the opportunity to woo Geowin without his sister there. She said to Gwydion, "You should go too," with a gesture at their mumbling brother.

Gwydion smiled as cool as a mountain peak in winter. "No, I'll stay to see that he does not lose his nerve."

Arianrhod shook her head and left. She knew one thing. She did not want Goewin's fate. Actually, she knew many things, but that was the first of them at that moment.

Arianrhod went to the grove where their mother lived and presented her problem. She said, "What shall I do?"

"Do?" said her mother, caressing the breast of a white dove, "there is only one cure for this fate. Put aside virtue without being wed, or wed in haste before the war is over. But I put this tynged on you. If you do the first, it will mean you'll be no man's wife, and the children you'll have of it will give you no joy. If you do the second, you'll have a husband who will give you less joy than the children would have. The choice is yours."

Arianrhod gritted her teeth. It galled her to think she'd have to simply give her virtue away to save herself from her fate, for she certainly was not going to take up a husband that she'd hate.

But then she thought about Gilfaethwy and relaxed. It was very unlikely he could seduce Geowin from her duty in so short a time. It would take three more wars at least. Anything could happen in the course of three more wars.

She was there at her Uncle's court when the army returned victorious in their battle for pigs. She was there when her Uncle went to put his feet in Goewin's lap.

Goewin stood behind a chair. Her back was to the wall. She shook as she said that she could not serve Uncle anymore since Gilfaethwy and Gwydion had used her as a wife in Uncle Math's own bed.

Arianrhod stood very still where she was pouring beer in the returning victor's cups. She saw the surprise on Gwydion's face and knew that he had expected Goewin to say nothing. Swift as a swallow came the thought that if Goewin had kept her shame a secret a moment more, Uncle Math would have died and Gwydion would have been King with no dishonour to his name.

Her second thought was more than anything, she did not want Goewin's fate.

Uncle Math drew Goewin to his side and declared he'd make the most beautiful maid in the country his Queen.

With his magic staff, Uncle Math turned Gwydion into a stag and Gilfaethwy into a doe, and the women drove the two from the court.

Uncle Math turned to Anianhod's new aunt and said, "I'm sorry my Queen, but I can stay no longer than the wedding night. I must go to war until Gwydion's punishment is finished and he can choose the new virgin for my feet."

Goewin said, very softly, soft as snow, "Of course, my King, until your closest councillor is returned to your side."

Arianrhod watched them climb the stairs to where the King's chamber was. She left the court and went into the woods following her brother's well thrashed trail.

When she found them, she said, "Why did you do it? Why didn't you seduce her?"

The stag didn't look back at her with Gwydion's too clever eyes. Gilfaethwy did not say anything. The doe ate grass and pissed while the stag rutted into her.

She sighed and left them to their fates.

Arianrhod went to avoid hers.

She went to the sea and threw mistletoe berries to bob on the waves. Soon, a great blue-green face with long flowing white hair rose above the waves.

She said, "Give me the power of the waves, and I'll lie with you here in the surf from now till the sunsets."

"Agreed." The sea came in wave and washed over her. She gasped at the cold slap of its embrace.

She said, "What is your name?"

"I have none." The sea rolled back, only to lap her again with salty foam. "I have a thousand." She lay back into the cold sand and resolved to never name any child that came of this.

When she went to complain to her mother, her mother laughed. "It's your own fault for not getting a name before you lay down with the sea. I'm just surprised you chose the sea. Many a maid swims in the sea and comes out of the water still a maid."

Arianrhod gave up on comfort from her mother and went back to her castle, Caer Arianrhold. True to the sea's word, she had the power of the waves. She snapped her fingers and cold sea water crashed. It was less useful than she could have hoped, as she was also drenched.

She waited, but no bitter child came of it.

Gwydion and Gilfaethwy had a fawn.

Math turned Gilfaethwy into a boar and Gwydion into a sow, which given Gwydion's clever plan, was at least fitting.

Still, when she went to ask Gwydion for his advice, he was too busy squealing while Gilfaethwy rutted within him. He was also shitting and eating acorns. There was no wisdom to be had there.

She took on the form of a beautiful widow with black curls. She went to where her brother, Gofannon, laboured in his smithy.

She said, "Give me a weapon that cannot fail, and I will have sex with you."

Her brother didn't know her. He laughed. "You must be jesting, woman."

She unlaced her kirtle and showed him her breasts. "I assure you, I am very serious."

Gofannon lifted her up onto his anvil and when she complained that he was taking too long preparing her. He said, "The secret to making a powerful weapon is you must respect the steel."

It was warm in the smithy. Soon she discarded her clothes. She gasped, "I have been well prepared."

"Not yet," said Gofannon, "I take pride in my work."

When she was fairly weeping with readiness, Gofannon set to steady thrusting. He said, "The secret to a making a powerful weapon is the evenness of your strokes."

After they were done singing like rung steel, she said, "Now give me my weapon."

He said, "Not yet. The secret to a powerful weapon is that you must be certain that the steel is well quenched before you begin to fold it again."

"Again!" said Arianrhod. "How many times does it take?"

"A thousand times ten," said Gofannon. While this was a pleasurable prospect, it was one Arianrhod did not have time for.

Arianrhod slid off the anvil. "That price is too high."

"More the shame on you for not defining the limit before we began," said Gofannon.

Arianrhod resolved that any child she had of this coupling would never have a weapon, but from her hand. A weapon that be no more forthcoming than the weapon Gofannon owed her.

All the more so when she went to complain to her mother, who said, "All the more shame to you for not getting an agreement before you began."

She gave up on getting sympathy from her mother.

She went to her castle, but no child was forthcoming.

Although, Gwydion gave birth to a piglet.

Uncle Math turned Gwydion into a wolf and Gilfaethwy into his bitch, and had them chased into the woods.

She went to where they were in the woods and asked Gwydion, "Do you think it's enough?"

Gwydion did not answer. He was too busy rutting with Gilfaethwy, who whined and yelped as Gwydion bit into Gilfaethwy's neck.

Anrianhod went to the court of her Uncle Math, and she saw Goewin sitting silent and beautiful waiting for Uncle Math to return from his current war. The men of the court were all around her. Goewin started at shadows. She trembled like a deer frozen in a wood, hoping not to be seen. She settled back into her throne, as if it were a sty that would prevent the boar from coming near her. The men seemed like nothing so much as dogs after a bitch in heat.

Goewin was a woman.

Women do not go into heat.

Arianrhod snapped her fingers and the water of an ice cold wave from the sea washed over them. Everyone was drenched. While they were in disarray, Arianrhod said, "Let's get us both into dry clothes."

It was no accident that Arianrhod dressed Goewin in Arianrhod's clothes and put on Goewin's as her own.

Arianrhod said, "Come with me to my castle, and I will see you are dressed in warm clothing. You can watch how I weave ribbons for the sky."

Goewin nodded, but did not say anything. She was quiet and trembled in Arianrhod's cloak. While Arianrhod snapped at the men of King Math's court from deep in Goewin's cloak as they left, "Leave us! I am going to the home of my niece where I will be safe from cold waves."

Goewin didn't speak while Arianrhod wove ribbons of light to decorate the night sky. She kept her head bowed and was quiet. She would not give the servants commands, but always looked to Arianrhod.

It irritated Arianrhod. She said, "You are a Queen. You should behave like one."

"I am wife," Goewin spoke so softly Arianrhod could hardly hear her, "who was a maid in whose lap a king once placed his feet," tears rolled down Goewin's cheeks. "That king now is my husband who places other things there to wash away my shame. To my shame, I've had no child of him yet."

Arianrhod burst out. "If I have a son, may he be no husband to any woman of any race yet living. If a daughter, then no man's wife."

Goewin burst into tears. Arianrhod felt tears on her own face and held Goewin. She rocked her in her arms and took her into her own room. She held her through the night and she held her through the day. She whispered, "It does not have to be like that. There can be pleasure in it."

"I do not believe you," said Goewin.

Arianrhod rested her forehead against Goewin's. "I know."

From that day, they spent every moment in each other's company. Arianrhod came to know the shades of Goewin's quiet. When it meant joy and when it meant fear. She came to know Goewin's steadfast determination to follow the path set for her.

She saw it when Uncle Math swept through the castle from one raid to the next, saying, "You're pardon, my Queen, but war must continue until Gwydion returns to advise me."

She saw it in Goewin's downcast eyes. "Of course, my King."

After he left, Arianrhod kissed Goewin softly on the forehead. She said, "It does not have to be like that. There can be pleasure in it."

"I do not believe you," said Goewin.

Arianrhod held Goewin close and said, "I know." Arianrhod gathered her courage and whispered, "Come with me to the loom and we'll weave light for the sky." She had Goewin sit in the chair before the loom. Arianrhod sat behind her. She placed her hand over Goewin's and showed her how to move the shuttle.

Goewin gasped as light spiraled out into the sky, but she moved the shuttle too quickly. Arianrhod said, "Slower. Softer. This is delicate work." She pressed aside Goewin's braids and kissed her neck. Goewin leaned into that kiss. Her hand at the loom grew softer and more sure.

She wove long languid loops that glowed in the sky, while Arianrhod unlaced her kirtle and brushed soft fingers over what was there. Goewin sighed and gasped. After she cried out, she said, "Oh, it's finished."

"No," said Arianrhod. She moved to sit on the floor in front of Goewin. "We can weave as many ribbons of light in the sky as we wish." She lifted Goewin's skirts and laid a kiss to Geowin's knee. She brushed her fingers higher still. Above her head, she felt Goewin shudder as she moved the shuttle move through the loom.

When Goewin cried out again, she wept. "And now it is over."

Arianrhod laughed. "You are a poor student," and set to teaching her again.

Goewin required much education. She didn't even know how to kiss the shuttle, but Arianrhod taught her.

In the time they lived together, they did not go to see Arianrhod's mother in her grove. There was no need for it.

Then word came that Uncle Math had declared Gwydion and Gilfaethwy had learned their lesson, and replaced them to their places of honour at his court. That Gwydion had suggested Arianrhod for the honour of holding their uncle's feet.

Arianrhod put her hand in Goewin's, who had grown cold silent again. Goewin wept. She said, "We must tell your uncle, my husband. For by what we've done, you are no longer a maid."

"Nothing we have done had rendered me other than a maid," said Arianrhod. She kept thinking, if not I, then another, who will lie in their bed while my uncle attempts put a child in her.

She resolved to say nothing. She resolved to smile as her uncle put his long hair toes in her lap.

But her Uncle Math glared at her under bushy brows. He asked her if she was a maid. She smiled and said, "I know not," with a long look at Goewin, "Lord, other than I am."

Her uncle wanted her to jump over his staff to prove her innocence. She looked at her brother, Gwydion, who was smiling as cold as a mountain.

She smiled back and thought, "I saw you rutting three times in the woods," and jumped over the staff.

She gave birth compressed to an instant. It was quite as painful as she'd heard. She gritted her teeth and headed for the door as the afterbirth of her deeds slid to the rushes.

She heard Gwydion call out, "My Lord, your wife should go with her. Perhaps with more careful watching, her future virtue can be maintained."

She looked back at her brother, who smiled as cool as a mountain, with the clear blob of Arianrhod's shame in his hands. She looked at Gilfaethwy miserably standing next to their three children. She looked at her uncle who didn't seem to realize that he'd have few sons from a wife living in his niece's castle. He was holding Arianrhod's blond baby and cooing at it.

Arianrhod wished him well with the price of her freedom.

Goewin's arm wrapped around her. Arianrhod heard her whisper, "I am sorry. That was my fault."

"I do not see how." Arianrhod kissed her forehead. She took Goewin's hand in her own. "Let's go home to weave ribbons for the sky. Someone still needs much practice."

They went.

They are practicing still.