Pagan Pride

THE INNUNDATION

And so I wandered lost into the wilderness, oh, my soul, what great light was lost then! Never had I been so alone, my darkness was inpenetrable and the images of the past fused with the future in great firery gouts. And were this ever so? Indeed, indeed . . . here is one:

There was once a time in the Islands of the mighty that the sacred bond between the king and the land (and hence the goddess) was affirmed each year in ceremony. (Would that it be affirmed at all in these days of darkness). Each year it was custom that the king should carry from the sacred well a single cup of water down to the sea and, in a symbolic handfasting with the waves, empty the cup into the ocean thus marking the joining of the king, the land and the goddess.

And it was the price Elfin, son of king Gwyddno Garanhir in the lands of Cant'r Gwaelod, was in deep mourning for the loss of his wife - another tale too long for telling here. Elfin was all but inconsolable for a long time but, as life cannot long leave such men to such fates, he came in time to cast about for a woman again and his eye fell upon a maid named Meroe. Meroe was dark haired, quick and fair but Elfin's gaze was born more of desire than ever it was of love. Now it happened that the old priestess of the goddess whose charge it was to care for the sacred well had also recently died and it had been her final wish that none other than Meroe should continue in the task. Greatly this vexed Elfin since in those times the duties of the guardian of the well were foremost to the goddess but by custom included the satisfaction of weary travellers and those benighted upon the road. Also it was custom that the king too should lie with her before the cup ceremony as affirmation of his, and thus the land's, virility. Elfin took to solitude and in his wanderings was gone often for days at a time, many whispered that he had gone often to the well posing as a traveller that he might claim knowledge of Meroe. Now this in itself bore no ill but for the fact that his desire clouded the symbology of such a coupling and ever did his desire grow stronger for such whisperings were no less than the truth of it. So when Gwyddno came to beg the cup of water to perform the ceremony and he went, as was custom, into Meroe's hut with her she told him of his son's behaviour and the old man felt unable, for love of Elfin, to lie with the woman as custom dictated. He emerged from the hut with an ill look upon his face but nevertheless bore the cup down towards the seas at Mor Hafren. As he came down to the beach through crowds of his cheering subjects (for it was a joyous ceremony) a storm began to blow up and a few whispered that this (not knowing what had passed - or, more properly, had not passed between the king and Meroe) was because the king's own son, Prince Elfin, had not come to see the ceremony. In his foolishness and pride - though who are we to judge the very king of the land? - Gwyddno decided to brazen it out with the goddess and procede with the ritual as if there were no difficulties. All who know her know that the goddess is unguilable and she is pitiless with those that betray her within their hearts and thus she whipped up the winds to boil the sea as he entered, still bearing the cup, in nakedness as the ceremony dictates. Gwyddno was struck full in the chest by a huge rolling breaker and disappeared beneath the waves never again to be seen by a living man. The stunned crowds made their silent way back up the beach as the storm subsided but they were soon overtaken by the lone figure that had watched the events from the cliffhead and had made its way down to the shore where it picked something up from the retreating surf. So it was that prince Elfin came among them bearing the cup his father had carried from the well to the sea and though his face was pale he wore no expression.

Elfin shouldered the responsibilities of kingship but it was with dispassion that he carried out the duties of the crown and barely did he take notice of the plight of the peoples of Cant'r Gwaelod for in that year following the loss of Gwyddno Garanhir ill fortune befell them, the crops failed and the harvests were ruined with bad weather. Many people became sick and more than was usual died though all were cold and hungry that winter.

As spring approached Elfin's cousin, Seithenin, came from his post as Warden of the Dyke and he brought to his new king advice. Seithenin had been fiercely loyal to Gwyddno but he felt no such loyalty to Elfin and sought to fan the flames of discontent among the people on the one hand while advising Elfin on the other. Now Seithenin may well have ursurped Elfin as king - and many would have thought that well - but Seithenin liked too much the goblet at his board and he too - ah is it not always so? - felt desire for the woman Meroe. Although Elfin's desire led him to wrong it was as nothing compared to Seithenin who one night, in a drunked stupor, came to Meroe and demanded the satisfaction of a traveller. When she refused he raped her then in fear that he should be uncovered he killed her and took flight. This caused great anger from the goddess for her servants are well favoured by her and Meroe had been faithful to her indeed. That night a huge and violent storm blew up and news came to Elfin, the knig, that the sea wall had been breached and nothing now stood between his country and the angry ocean of the goddess' rage. Elfin sent for the goddess' own priestess Meroe but when his men came to the little hut by the well they found her still and lifeless body where Seithenin, in his cowardice, had left it. In mortal fear, for it seemed to them that she was killed by her own hand, they filled the cup from the well of the goddess and carried it to king Elfin. By now the sea wall was breached in many places and the lands of Cant'r Gwaelod were filling with water faster than they could be emptied of people. Elfin knew what he had to do for he was king and thus charged to intercede between the land, the people and the goddess so he took the cup and walked out from the hall of his fathers and was seen alive no more by living man.

Many perished in the great innundation though some escaped inland to higher ground and thereafter suffered great hardships as they wandered starving and weary through the lands. A few days later the bloated body of their last king, Elfin ap Gwyddno, was washed up on the shores of Mor Hafren but few wept for they perceived the floods were of born of his betrayal of the goddess, like his father's before him, and that it was his guilt that led him to make the sacrifice of his life for the people. None knew that the hand of Seithenin was behind the betrayal and all thought ill of Elfin and Gwyddno, one for his desire over love for a woman and the other for his love of his son over his goddess.

Of Seithenin nothing was ever seen again, they presumed him drowned with the rest and terrible though his crime was he had broken no bond held in trust for the people for his was not that trust of the goddess to break. If he had died in that flood then he had for certain escaped a worse fate had any discovered what he had done for indeed his actions had not gone wholly unseen. Oh no, not unseen for the very man who had carried back the cup to Elfin having found Meroe's body was none other than that greatest of bard's, Taliesin, though still was he a boy and not come yet into his powers. Taliesin loved both Gwyddno and Elfin greatly but it was many years before he looked into the enchanted mirror and saw the true events of those last days of Elfin of Cant'r Gwaelod. Sore hurt was he to have found them then and often it is the bane of men indeed that in seeking for truth they so often find sorrow.

And that is how I first met Taliesin, greatest of bards of these islands, for it was in the mirror of sleep that I saw him myself these many centuries later, standing on the clifftops overlooking Mor Hafren as he made this song:

"Seithenin stand forth with open hand,
Behold the billowing waves and despair,
For the seas have covered Gwyddno's land

Let maiden, Meroe, remembered be
Who after conflict loosed the fountain
Of her goddess, released the desolate sea.

May her cry rise heavenward if faint
For today even the gods will not hear
As so common after excess comes restraint.

And may that cry come now to me
For hard I am to be relieved
As so common after excess comes adversity.

Let her cry be bourne by the winds a a seed
For the Lady goddess herself most surely sent it
As so common after excess come want and need.

The roaring sea impels still more instruction
To teach me more with still no rest
As so common after excess comes destruction.

And so between Caer Cenedir and this shore
Lies the grave of weak and cruel Seithenin
Lost beneath the great sea evermore."

Thus did I see in my dream the duty of the bard discharged though not forgot for he had witnessed, he had acted, he had considered and only then recorded. But greater still was this duty to himself for he had learned and now this lesson he hasd taught to me with this dream:

Desire must be but a shadow in the twilight of love, for the other way around brings only desolation.

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