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Cerridwen Tale

I have heard it said that I live at the bottom of a lake. This is a foolish tale for a foolish time—how should I boil my brews with no fire? Just as well, let none come looking.

Children I had, a boy and a girl, and though twins in the womb together, they could not have been more unalike. The girl, slender as a lily-stem, grew to musical fairness. The boy, though, time did not tame, and daily he grew grimmer and uglier, his voice the creak of a crow.

Now my daughter I did not worry for; her looks made her well-loved. But in this world where beauty is prized, what place will ugliness find? Yet, if one has wisdom, much may be overlooked.

For a year and a day I would tend that brew, cutting the correct herbs at the times told by the constellations. Roots and seeds I ground at the growing moon, clear water I drew in the deep night. I collected and cut and chanted, and stirred and sang and fell silent at the proper times, while the servant boy fed the fire and saw to the simmering. No, it was no small task. But what mother will see her son rejected by the world and not make it right?

Still, I misjudged.

The year was waning as in the garden I gathered the last of the herbs. Then I heard a great crash and a cry, and I knew myself betrayed. The potion had come to its completion, and the three precious drops saved for my son had fallen instead on the serving-boy. Black fury filled me and I set off screaming for the house, murder in my mind. But the boy knows me now, and knows himself, and he is already running, a hare leaping through the thicket. In my anger I become a hound grey as a ghost, and swift as the winter wind I give chase. I follow him through every trick and turn the hunted have, and soon my teeth shall meet in his hide. Of a sudden he springs into a stream, and within its waters changes to a salmon fast as fear. I in my turn am a she-otter, sleek and swift and greedy. My whiskers touch his tail, and he bursts from the water to the sunlight as a sparrow, darting like fire. I follow him then as a hawk, tearing talons reaching, reaching—into a barn he flees, and falling to the harvest-floor he is a wheat-seed, settling among a thousand thousand other grains. Fool! Does he think he is saved? All time is now mine, though I will not need it. Becoming a black hen, I soon find him and swallow him down.

A month or two on, I feel a familiar stirring in my womb. In rage I realize it is not over, and the boy now grows within me. But I will be rid of him. I could kill the babe now, for my anger is still hot. But no, I will wait until the child is born. I would have it know betrayal.

When the brat was born from me, I found myself barren. My murderous will had been emptied out with the blood and the birth. That evening I bound the child in a coracle and let the Sea take him. Whether he die or live, it is no matter to me.


Ch'ang O