When the Ribbons Dance
Winter Solstice was coming closer, and with it, snows and colder weather. The sun hid behind clouds that didn’t rain nor snow, just kept the countryside in a dark, deep, dreary funk. A fire kept the home warm and a well-thatched roof kept it dry, but Bronwyn found that Glenys was keeping herself more and more at Efa’s, Efa rarely came to her brother’s hearth, leaving Bronwyn to keep the home clean and to cook the meals. At best, Bronwyn was a barely passable housekeeper and while she appreciated free room and board and had no problem cleaning up after herself, she found herself succumbing to the most retched of diseases – cabin fever.
To add to the bleakness of the mood, Aelhaearn himself was not the congenial and merry host he had been for the previous four weeks. As Bronwyn feared, the moment he guessed Hywel would not reign victorious and take his father’s crown, but rather Cristiant’s sons would, it was if he had given up on life. For him, hope was gone, his mood was a dreary as the weather outside. He moped, was snappish. He complained of her cooking skills, or lack thereof, her inability to keep a decent house. Bronwyn had taken to bundling up and going outside to wander, even if it was just to the remnants of the back garden. Anything to get outside and leave the angry atmosphere. She herself feared she would demand he send her back and in fact was quickly coming to the conclusion that might be best, despite her promise to Meaurig. Madoc was real, he lived, at least for now he lived. In her heart, she no longer needed to prove he existed, much less present a paper backing her findings up. There was nothing academic about what she now knew. She was settled in her heart; this little obsession was over. Madoc lived and existed, and she was fine with that. Did it matter if he became Madoc, the Explorer? Her curiosity was sated. But the niggling scholarly voice in the back of her head continued to pester her.
Did he really become ‘Madoc the Explorer’? Would he return from Pentraeth? If he did return from Pentraeth, would he return wounded? Return on his own two legs? Would he return angry that she didn’t tell him, warn him?
And what of Meaurig? Would he return from Pentraeth? She was under no disillusion of the remote possibility that he’d stayed behind. His place was beside his brother and there was no doubt he had ridden off with Madoc. Would he live? Die? If he lived, would he hate her as well? Aelhaearn told her often the Meaurig had feelings for her. Hell, Madoc had stated that same so-called fact once. If he did have feelings for her, he certainly had a strange way of showing it. Personally, Bronwyn didn’t believe it. The man kept his distance, only acknowledged her during conversation at the table.
Well, he did accompany her anytime she went to town…
And there was that kiss…
And that promise. Was it a desperate plea, a plea from a man who feared he wouldn’t return?
A snowflake landed on Bronwyn’s nose. The drop of wetness jolted her from her thoughts and brought her back to reality. Staying here was becoming difficult at best. This wasn’t her time, her home, her place. ‘
She needed to come up with an alternative plan.
True to Meaurig’s promise, Cynrig the Butcher came by each morning to escort Bronwyn to town, if she needed to go. Initially, she refused the courtesy, however after several days of nowhere to go except the garden, she went if for no other reason, to get out of the cottage and leave Aelhaearn to his morose speculations. She missed the joyful old man and understood why he was so irate, but she wished he would take it out on someone else. Glenys certainly knew the man’s mood swings and was staying away. With the snow and cold, traffic moving in and out of the town had stopped to a crawl. Only messengers on official business or someone with an emergency, determined place to be, were traveling on the road. On her first foray into the village, Bronwyn discovered Meaurig left several stipends for her, including the local tavern. ‘Apparently’, she smirked to herself, ‘he knew Aelhaearn’s mood swings and left provisions.‘
Soon after Meaurig left for his home to gather his knights and bowmen, the assistant to the spinner brought Bronwyn three bolts of wool; green, blue, and red. She recognized the blue bolt; it was the one she was fingering when he interrupted her the day before she left.
“I don’t understand,” Bronwyn stood in the doorway, looking at the material. It was beautiful, and gloriously woven. There was silvery-gray embroidery on the blue and gold on the red. “I didn’t buy this.” She shrugged, fingering it again, falling in love with the texture between her fingers. “I don’t have any money to even begin to pay for any of this.”
“Lord Meaurig purchased it for you.” The assistant to the weaver smiled hopefully, lifting the heavy folds of fabric. “He thought it would keep you busy while he was away.” She looked at the material with longing. “He must be very taken with you!”
Obviously, the assistant thought Bronwyn was Meaurig’s new squeeze. Feeling sorry for the girl, Bronwyn took the load from her arms. “My sewing skills are abysmal.”
“Efa is an excellent seamstress,” the girl responded. “Glenys, as well.”
Thanking her, Bronwyn shut the door with her heel and walking through the cottage, past the Druid, gently set the material on her bed.
“Meaurig bought that for you?”
“Aye.” Bronwyn returned to the doorway between her room and the main room.
Aelhaearn sat, tapping his pipe with whatever it was he smoked. He lit the weed, a long, thin trail of smoke circling around his head. For a moment, she was reminded of the Gandalf of Tolkien’s lore. “You should take it to Efa. You’ll have something new to wear if Meaurig and Madoc return.” The stress on the word ‘if’ was obvious and it irked Bronwyn.
“I will not alter history!” she spat over her shoulder.
“Hywel will die and we will be under the thumb of Cristiant’s brats! How could it be worse?”
She stopped in her tracks, her back to the old man. How could she explain it? “How could it be worse?” she whispered. “They could die as well.”
“You don’t know if Madoc or Meaurig will live or die?” The old Druid stepped into her room. “You don’t know, do you?”
Bronwyn’s shoulder’s drooped. “No. No I don’t.”
Aelhaearn stared at her, a strange combination of wonder and malice. “You’ve said Madoc is myth.”
“Madoc is legend.”
“Your time knows nothing of Madoc or Meaurig?”
Aelhaearn came close, bearing down on her. “Does his myth and legend sing of his death?”
“Does his myth and legend concern events that have already happened?”
She could see where he was going. “Noooooooooo…”
A slow smile spread across his features. It was the happiest he had been in days. “Good. There is hope.” He reached out to take her hand. “Come. Let’s discuss our next meal.” He led her from the room. “Perhaps we can talk Efa and Glenys to coming over to prepare dinner.”
Bronwyn followed him back into the main room. “Yeah. That would be nice.”
Dual plans were being made for the coming Christmas and Winter Solstice; the Church planning a pageant for Christmas Mass, while the resident pagans – more than just Aelhaearn and Efa – planned a Winter Solstice celebration. Mistletoe sprigs were gathered and pine cones were collected and put in bowls with cinnamon sticks.
“‘Tis so pretty during this time,” Glenys had the blue wool stretch out across the table, making the outlines of a dress for Bronwyn. “And yet the moons following the Winter Solstice until spring, is so dreary and dark.”
“All the festive decorations are down,” Bronwyn agreed. “It’s like the rooms are empty.”
“Dried up,” Efa interjected. “Just like my brother!”
Aelhaearn was stirring something in the cauldron. “If you persist, you will get no honey apple mead!”
“I have some at home,” the old woman sniffed disdainfully. “And mine is better!”
Glenys began to cut the material with a sharp knife. “I hear that across the sea to the east, there are people in the far north, who burn a great log to frighten away the long night. Perhaps, we should do that.”
“And where did you hear such an outlandish idea?”
The teen bowed up. “Arvel’s uncle is a sailor with a group of Hiberno-Norsemen-”
She stiffened and continued. “He says that during the solstice, the Norse burn a large log during the longest night. Sometimes, it lasts for days and they have a great feast.”
Efa laid out the red as Glenys finished. “The talk of you! What nonsense!”
“Actually, she is right.” Bronwyn defended the girl, coaxing a smile from her. “There are many traditions during the longest night. What Glenys speaks of is the Yule Log, celebrated in the Scandinavian Countries and the kingdom of Germany-”
“What festivals do your people keep and adhere to, Bronwyn?” Glenys held the cut blue cloth to the woman it was being made for, making sure there was plenty of room. Satisfied of the fit, she laid the cut blue material on top of the red bolt and Efa began to mark the outlines.
Bronwyn inhaled. “Where I come from, we celebrate Christmas, or Christ’s Mass, but it seems my culture has robbed it of its original sentiment and replaced it with a huge merchandising ploy.”
For not the first time, the archaeologist sighed, before smiling sadly. “A merchandising ploy. Rather than celebrating the holiday for the reason it was created – celebrating Christ’s birth, celebrating family and time spent with them; instead it’s become about how much money we spend on things, how grandiose we seem to others. It’s all about the money.” She suddenly remembered the last Christmas gift her ex-husband gave her – a beautiful pair of emerald earrings. She found out about his affair two weeks later and a week after that, discovered he’d bought the earrings on her credit card and a similar pair of ruby earrings for his mistress, so in short, she’d paid for her own Christmas gift as well as his girlfriend’s.
Lucky for her, the jewelry store allowed her to return the earrings. They didn’t want to until she pointed out her card was used fraudulently. She gave them Royce’s contact information in order to collect on the ruby earrings.
Come to think of it, that was when her divorce turned extremely ugly.
“Bronwyn?” She snapped out of her reverie. Glenys was looking at her, eyebrows raised. “You miss your family, don’t you?”
Bronwyn looked around, realizing she was the center of attention from the small group of people. “My parents are dead. I miss them, but I would miss them anyway. I do not miss my ex husband. I…” she thought of Ashley. “I have a friend who has been my friend since I was young, but she has her own life now.” She did. Married and a toddler, Ashley’s life was very different. The last time she saw Ashley was at her wedding. Their lives were moving in different directions and had been for some time. Communication was relegated to emails, the occasional phone call or Skype. Facebook likes. Ashley had been a good friend to her. Really. In thinking back, it seemed that Ashley did a lot of listening while Bronwyn gripped and whined and cried. She bent over backwards trying to help, find her a job stateside while she grieved the loss of her parents and the destruction of her marriage. She brightened, trying to lighten the mood and change the subject. “Why don’t we plan to burn a Yule log just after the Winter Solstice? We’ll go out and find the biggest log we can, several in fact. We’ll have a feast, have Aelhaearn brew some of his finest ale and honey mead. We’ll have a feast, roast something, bake up a lot of sweets and honeyed bread! We’ll invite our friends, Father Iospeh?” She stroked the material just cut. “We can dress in our finery.” She nudged Glenys. “You can invite your young man. Arvel?”
Aelhaearn had been sitting at the side bench, near the fire. He pulled out a long pipe, and tapping something into it, took a long stick near his chair and lit it from the hearth. He set fire to the weed within his pipe and puffed until the smoke rose from it. “A feast is something we could all use. I think the Robber of Graves has made an excellent suggestion and we should plan fete of it! And aye,” with this he nodded to Glenys, “bring Arvel around. It is long past time I had a chat with him.”
“Don’t,” he wagged a finger at her, “Grandfather me!” He drew in on his pipe. “’Tis too long past for that boy to announce his intentions. ‘Tis too long past the time you should tend to your own hearth!” Glenys opened her mouth, but the old man cut her off. “Do not argue.”
Glenys turned to Efa but her anwes mawr shook her head. “Do not come to me to intervene. He is right. As much as I love you, you cannot stay with me forever.”
“But you’ve never married!”
“Do you wish to live alone all of your life, girl?” The girl hung her head. “I thought not. Have you finished marking the red? Good. We’ll do a fuller skirt on the green. There is more of it.” Bronwyn wandered over, determined to aid in some way. The dresses were hers, so she wanted to appear useful. Quietly, she told them about the different cultural practices of the winter season from around the world. The Christmas Tree, the Yule Log, gifts, Hanukkah, mistletoe. She told them about a great musician who wrote an oratorio and a song so glorious, a king stood for it.
Aelhaearn sat in the corner, out of the way, watching them while smoking his pipe. She shared so much, but hid more.
But he was hiding things as well. After all, he hadn’t specifically asked for a warrior.
He had asked for someone much different than what he told Meurig.
Christ’s Mass was a beautiful event. Bronwyn hadn’t been to mass in ages and she had forgotten the beautiful pageantry that went along with it. She figured that the only person beside Father Ioseph who understood the Latin Liturgy in the large chapel, was herself and it almost brought her to tears.
She missed her parents. She missed Ashley. And she found herself missing Meaurig. She prayed fervently that he and Madoc returned.
She told Aelhaearn that she went to appease the old priest, but the truth was she was searching for something, some connection to her childhood, or a connection to this new life. Aelhaearn retorted he had never appeased anyone, not even his mother, for any reason and the two old men still got along reasonably well.
But he knew she was restless and he didn’t blame her.
In the early afternoon, just after Christ’s Mass, Aelhaearn and Bronwyn went into the woods just behind Aelhaearn’s cottage to hunt for a suitable Yule log. She was still dressed in her Christmas finery, a white double linen shift with a red wool overdress. It opened at her thighs, showing off the gold threaded black-worked white beneath. One woman at the service told Bronwyn that even that sour-faced queen of Owain’s would be jealous of Efa’s obvious handiwork. The compliment made Bronwyn blush. Mindful of the mud and muck, Bronwyn lifted her skirts and tip-toed around the edges of the beaten path.
“What are you looking for again?”
Bronwyn was looking around bushes. “We are looking for a large log, one that has been down awhile and is mostly dried out.” She jumped a puddle. “One that will burn a long, long time.”
Aelhaearn mimicked her movements, still spry at his age. “You have done this Yule Log tradition before?”
“No.” She shrugged and continued on, seeing something interested beyond the path. She hike her skirts higher. “My best friend Ashley’s family burned a Yule log. My family normally went over to their home to celebrate.” Suddenly, she was overwhelmed by the imaginary scent of fresh baked apple pie. Ashley’s home life was very different from Bronwyn’s. Ashley’s mom was a stay-at-home mom, Christmas was an all out decorating affair. Ashley joked about how her mom went to the mall and hobby stores, armed with a sketch pad and pencil. She then made all the decorations. Their kitchen was a wondrous place, full of smells and food; everything Bronwyn’s family kitchen wasn’t. There were times growing up, Bronwyn was jealous of Ashley for this reason, but it never lasted long, especially when there was a dig and Ashley had to stay home and go to boring school, where Bronwyn was ‘too smart for her own good’, while Bronwyn learned of things most children never experienced.
She weaved further from the path, calling back to Aelhaearn. “Do you see me?”
“Yes! I have found mistletoe and some berries, very good for decorating.” She heard the bushes rustling. “Your sleep has been restless as of late.”
Bronwyn moved further into the woods. Ah! There! The perfect log! Taking a small knife Efa had loaned her, she notched the tree nearby and began to work her way back to Aelhaearn and the path. Cynrig and his sons would retrieve it. “Yes.”
“You’ve called out for Meaurig.” His voice sounded as if he was moving further away. “Anything I should know?”
She notched another tree. “Well if you must, I’ve been dreaming of Meaurig since before I came here. For months, before I came here.” She stopped short of telling him they were more intense. She nicked the last tree before stepping out on the path. “Don’t tell him. His ego is big enough.”
She looked in both directions. “Aelhaearn?”
There was a sharp pain to the back of her head and then it all went black.
anwes mawr – great aunt
Taid – Grandfather