The Welsh Valentine.
There’s not much to tell really of my early life. Certainly no one could have predicted what would happen. Princess I was, but one among 24 daughters. In our busy household no one would have said I stood out. Not the prettiest , not the cleverest, not by a long way. Certainly not my father’s favourite. Why, when he had a kingdom to oversee would he even notice another girl, other than to comment on how much I ate or the expense of a new gown. To be fair, my mother kept me out of his way. Our mothers kept us all out of his way.
There was always so much to do anyway. Life wasn’t easy, even for a princess. From my earliest years my first job was to collect the hens eggs and woe betide me if I dropped one. As I grew, I tended cattle and sheep and the pigs and learned my way around the kitchen.
In every family there are times of great sweetness, and there were quarrels. We were no different. Among my sisters I loved some and avoided others. As they reached womanhood, one by one they were committed to marriage. Mostly, though not always, I remember them as obedient and compliant.
Some went far away to live new and possibly strange lives in other lands. Some remained nearby. Some seemed to be happy with the choices made for them. Some wept bitterly, going to their new husbands trembling and wretched. Now and again, a sister would rebel and was beaten or locked up until she realised the futility of her resistance.
Those that moved away might never been seen again, married to warriors, or kings from other lands. There were sisters who stayed nearby, and sisters remaining in our household. Those sisters we watched swell about the waist with their babies, some of whom survived and grew as we had done to work the land and tend to the tasks of living.
My life had certain privileges. I never knew hunger and if I were cold, I could soon find warmth. I was petted and fussed over sometimes and ignored at others. I had no cause to question if I were happy. I did not consider what my future might be, not in the early days. I lived as the hours of the day dictated and the seasons spun around me in their correct orbit. We ate, we prayed, we laughed and we cried and time passed.
It was only when my feelings for Maelon first struck me that I found I had ambition. Just a few years older that I , we had played together as children, but as I stepped onto the threshold of womanhood I saw him for the first time as a man and his beauty overwhelmed me .
I marvelled that I had not seen before that his eyes were the soft hazel of a doe. His hair was fiery red and his mouth seemed to me then in my innocence, the mouth of an angel. He made me laugh with his capering and when he shyly took my hand, he made my heart beat fast like a bird that was captured in the cage of my body.
We met of course, as all lovers will, whenever opportunity presented. Sometimes it was for a moment stolen between chores. Sometimes there could be hours of languid dreaming, our hearts and lips hungry for one another in barn or meadow, or wood.
Did no one notice? Of course they did but we were young and hot-blooded and there are always those with romantic hearts who will commit themselves to complicity to protect what looks like true love.
Of course there must come a time when lovers are discovered by those with less compassion in them and this was inevitably so with us.
People will tell of us summoned to an audience with my father, the King, who ranted and railed against us. They will say that Maelon begged and that I crawled upon my knees before my Lord.
Some of my sisters had married for love. We knew that, and hoped for that blessing, but in my heart I knew, we girls were a commodity and if the match had not been convenient, love would have counted for nothing.
They say that my father the king fixed us with his fury and with a heart hardened against us dismissed us with dire warnings.
The truth is, the king, my father did not meet with us. He was too busy. He simply instructed my mother to instruct me that my marriage was arranged with another and had been for some time. It did not occur to him that I might disobey. It did not concern him to speak with me in person.
Maelon trembled by my side, white-hot with anguish as the women closed him out. The terror of what he might do was all I could think. I took to my heels and I ran.
At first some made to come after me, but they were ordered to leave me be. My mother had seen too many maidens in their petty rebellions to know there was nowhere to run and that I would, before sunset return, if not ready to do my duty, at least resigned to my fate.
I went to the woods. Even in my distress I know not to go too far. Without stick or spear, the boars can be more than a nuisance to a lone girl.
I went to our tree, the tree whose branches had sheltered us and dappled our young bodies in summer with a light so soft and shifting I can recall it even now. I lay down on the moss and curled myself achingly small between the great roots and cried the broken shards of heart out of my sobbing frame.
My greatest fear at that time was that Maelon would be rash, that he would raise his hand to my father and be cut down. In my innocent knowing, I was certain that we would be together. How could a love such as ours end in parting? It was impossible to consider that despite what we had been told, a marriage with some other could ever take place. As long as we lived Maelon and I, we would find a way.
When the angel appeared, I was surprised. Of course, I was. In those far away days men and angels were closer than they are now and people often talked of encounters with them at times of great joy or terrible torment, but I had not met an angel before.
He was the brightest being I have ever seen, and seeing is too simple a word to describe the radiance that fell about me. A silence stilled the insane world and it disappeared , so that we stood together in a place of such magnificence my heart was instantly healed.
When the angel held out the potion of forgetting to me I had only one request, to save Maelon from his own temper, from his own grief. I drank the potion knowing that he would be safe.
Later, upon waking I could not at first recall why I was here huddled in the roots of a tree. Retracing my steps I took the path homeward and there in the courtyard encountered the other miracle.
What a furore met me. It was coming on evening and the sky was streaked with pale pinks , soon to turn to blood reds, but the household were captivated by something they had never seen before. My former love had been turned to a statue of ice, his beauty captured here for all to see for as long as it might take him to thaw and then he would be returned to the good earth as crystal clear water.
I observed as though seeing a stranger. He who had been the most beautiful of all beings could not now compare with the astonishing loveliness of my angel, but I could not bear that he should suffer.
No one was much interested in me. I moved among them and beyond them and took myself to my chamber.
What should I do?
From my window I saw my ice lover and knew I was no longer his love. The angels in his magnificence had shown me true beauty and the truest love and I knew that I could never return to my former longings.
On my knees before the image of the Christ in all his suffering I opened my heart to God and he heard me .
What followed I would have preferred to keep to myself, but so much has been said of three wishes and the striking of bargains that I must now put the record straight.
I begged that Maelon might be restored to life. I knew I no longer loved him as I had done. How could I when the angel filled every part of me with his radiant loveliness.
I asked that all true lovers be given God’s good grace and I asked that I be released from earthly expectations laid upon me by my father. I would not now marry, being heart filled with angelic love that would sustain me all my future days.
There was a little resistance from my father. He would have preferred less fuss and bother but a saintly daughter is a prize too, of a kind. He invested in his soul by presenting my dowry to a northern convent so he might ever after boast of my holiness but never have to face my peculiar defiance in person. The man he had chosen to be my husband was mollified with another sister.
We lived ever after, myself and my beautiful angel lodged in my open heart, on lovely Llanddwyn Island.
He married a cow girl, who they say looks a little like me and she bore him seven children.