The Light Through the Trees

The Light Through the Trees The Light Through the Trees

Status: Finished

Genre: Science Fiction


Status: Finished

Genre: Science Fiction


This short story is set in mythical Wales which may or may not had existed. Hedydd is a maiden of fifteen, old enough to join all the other maidens in the selection of the chosen one. She will ensure that there will be good harvest in the following season. But Hedydd has no interst in becoming the chosen one, even after the signs point to her. She rebels and in rebelling learns about herself, and her mother whom she believed hask been dead these many years. Through magic and common sense she finds her freedom and a new life.


This short story is set in mythical Wales which may or may not had existed. Hedydd is a maiden of fifteen, old enough to join all the other maidens in the selection of the chosen one. She will ensure that there will be good harvest in the following season. But Hedydd has no interst in becoming the chosen one, even after the signs point to her. She rebels and in rebelling learns about herself, and her mother whom she believed hask been dead these many years. Through magic and common sense she finds her freedom and a new life.


Submitted: September 12, 2007

A A A | A A A


Submitted: September 12, 2007







"Hedydd, where are you?"

The impatient cry reached the recess behind the hangings where Hedydd was hidden.  She had been there since dawn and intended to stay.

Today was the time of the river choosing.  Every spring the snows melted in the mountains and the great river swelled and burst its banks and flooded the fields.  When the waters receded it left the fields rich and fertile.  To ensure that this miracle happened each spring, a river maiden was chosen to serve the gods of the river.

All the maidens of the village who had reached their fifteenth year assembled before the dwelling of Elystan the chieftain, to await the start of the ceremony of the choosing.  Hedydd the chieftain's eldest daughter was fifteen that spring, but she had no desire to be amongst the waiting girls.  Suddenly the hanging was twitched aside and the sallow, sour face of Lynwen, her stepmother, peered in.

"So there you are," she cried triumphantly.  "Why are you not outside with the others?"

Hedydd glared at her defiantly.  "Because I do not wish to be."

"You have no choice.  You know the laws.  Every maid must attend the choosing.  Think of the honour it will bring to your father if you are the one."

"I don't see it as an honour," Hedydd retorted.  "I do not wish to spend a year and a day walled up in a dank cave at the river's head, alone, and with no one allowed near me.  That poor girl who was chosen last spring was blind when they brought her out into the sunlight."

Lynwen sniffed.  "She served her time well, and earned us a fruitful year and an abundant harvest."

"And what if there is drought this year?  Will the chosen one be blamed and cast out as my mother was."

"Hush, be silent," Lynwen paled.  "You must not speak of your mother.  She brought ill fortune to the village."

Lynwen was exasperated with the girl.  This stepdaughter of hers had always been difficult, not like her own placid, obedient daughters.  Hedydd brooded on things too much, and asked too many questions, She sighed.  It was not easy being a second wife, not when the first still lived in the memories of all who had known her.

"You will obey me, girl," she said, irritation getting the better of her. "I am your mother."

"My father's wife you may well be," said Hedydd, " but you are not my mother."

Lynwen struck her, hard enough to leave the mark of her hand on Hedydd`s smooth cheek.  The girl sprang back, tears stinging her eyes.  But she would not cry, not before Lynwen.  Instead she pushed her stepmother, who staggered back over a stool, and fell sprawling on the floor.  Lynwen rolled about on the rushes wailing.  Then Hedydd recalled that Lynwen was with child.

"Lynwen," she cried.  "I am sorry.  I meant you no harm," she bent down to assist her stepmother to her feet, but Lynwen only screamed louder.

Elystan heard the commotion and rushed in, sword drawn, ready to do battle against an intruder.  He found his wife and eldest daughter squabbling again, and this time it seemed to have gone beyond angry words.  He put away his sword and snorted with disgust.  "Get up, woman," he growled.  "Hedydd help your stepmother."  He stood over them glowering.  Of middle height and stocky, muscular build, Elystan presented a formidable figure.  Both women knew better than to defy him. Lynwen`s wails ceased at once, and she allowed Hedydd to help her to her feet.

"How much longer must I endure conflict beneath my roof?" Elystan demanded.  "I have better things to do than be a buffer between two quarrelling women!"  Lynwen flinched slightly, and retreated a step or two.  Hedydd, however, did not give an inch.  She regarded he father steadily.  As usual, he was unable to look her full in the face.  She grew more like Tangwystle every day.

"Why are you not outside with the others?" he barked at her.

"She refuses to go, Elystan," Lynwen put in.

Suddenly he caught Hedydd by the arm and shook her.  "Do you wish to shame me before the village?" he cried.  Without further preamble, he marched her outside and Hedydd knew it would do no good to protest further.

Gwyrion the ancient one stood in the centre of the village leaning on his staff, his flowing robes and long beard stirred by a cold wind.  The group of girls huddled together eyed him apprehensively.  Gwyrion was greatly respected in the village, but he was feared even more.  Some whispered that it was he who held real power over them, not Elystan the chieftain.

When Hedydd joined them they set off in single file behind Gwyrion into the woods.  The rest of the villagers brought up the rear. They halted in a clearing where one huge tree stood alone.  No one knew how old the tree was, not even Gwyrion, and he was older than time.  That it had magical properties was without doubt.  Unlike the other trees, it showed none of the early signs of spring.  It was bare and seemingly dead.  But they knew that when the one t destined to be the river maiden, touched it, the tree would burst into white blossom.  For generations beyond memory this was how the river maiden was chosen.

Slowly, Gwyrion led each reluctant girl to the tree.  A trembling hand was extended to touch the gnarled trunk.  When the old tree remained barren, their sighs of relief were audible.

Hedydd had managed to place herself at the very end of the line of girls.  But it was of no avail.  Gwyrion made his stately way to her.  He towered over her, his strange pale eyes blazing in his gaunt face.  She threw her father a desperate look, but he glanced away.  Gwyrion`s thin, strong hand closed about hers, and she was drawn inexorably to the tree.

She stared blankly ahead of her, seeing the rough texture of the bark, but refusing to touch it.  She heard Gwyrion`s furious, "you cannot escape your destiny, Hedydd," whispered in her ear.

She shook her head.  Quickly, Gwyrion grasped her hand and forced it hard against the tree`s uneven surface.  Hedydd gasped and closed her eyes.  She would not look.  She would not.  Then she heard Gwyrion`s quick intake of breath, and felt his spare frame tremble.  "Behold!" he cried shakily, "the tree blooms."

There was a collective moan of awe from the watchers, and the over-powering sweet scent of blossom was all about them.  Hedydd opened her eyes and looked up to see the tree in all the glory of its miraculous white flowering.  Even as she looked, fat buds appeared along the branches and opened into flowers.  Beside her, Gwyrion seemed shaken, and even more insubstantial than usual, if that were possible.

"The river maiden is chosen," he announced softly.  The villagers murmured with relief.  Hedydd felt as if she had been turned to stone. The crowd melted slowly back through the trees, and she was alone in the clearing with Gwyrion, and the blossoming tree.  Suddenly rational thought returned to her numbed brain, and she fell on her knees before the old man, clutching at a handful of his robe.

"Please, Gwyrion.  I beg of you, do not ask this of me."

"You can not escape it, Hedydd.  You are chosen."

The spirit of protest drained from her.  It was hopeless, she knew.  What could a mere girl to against Gwyrion`s all-powerful magic?

The old man sensed her capitulation and, not ungentle, lifted her to her feet.  "You must come with me.  There is much you have to prepare for."  Gwyrion led her out of the clearing and along a narrow path overgrown with tangled brambles and dead ferns.  Above them the bare branches of the trees rattled together in the strengthening wind.  Hedydd`s head drooped forlornly and her feet dragged.  Although she had never been there, she knew this path led to the isolated hut that was Gwyrion`s lair.  She had little curiosity about it, as she would have had once.  She was no longer Hedydd, proud daughter of Elystan the chieftain.  Now she belonged to the elements that ruled their lives and destinies.

Suddenly the old man moaned and staggered.  He stopped so abruptly that Hedydd almost stumbled into him.  He muttered and stared at the path ahead.  Before him blocking his way, stood a woman.  At first Hedydd believed she had imagined her.  Then the woman came closer, and Hedydd saw that she was very real.  Vibrant and sturdy, the woman had dark-red hair hanging straight to her waist, and dark eyes that fixed upon Gwyrion with fierce intensity.

"Greetings, Gwyrion," she murmured, and her voice was like the rattling of the branches above their heads.  "Where are you taking my child?"

Gwyrion struggled to regain his composure.  He lifted his silver-white head and cried with authority, "Step aside, Tangwystle.  You have no business here.  You were banished from this village a long time ago.  What happens to Hedydd is no concern of yours."

"I have come for my daughter, old man," Tangwystle said holding her ground.

"She is not yours to claim.  Hedydd is chosen.  She is the river maiden.  Go, Tangwystle, before you bring us more ill fortune."

"You old fool, " Tangwystle hissed. "I have come to claim my daughter.  You will not do to her what you did to me."

"She is not as you were," Gwyrion spat with contempt.  "Hedydd is chaste.  You were a false maiden."

"There was no disgrace, she replied calmly.  "I was Elystan`s lawful wife."

"Your union was not sanctioned by me."

Hedydd listened to the exchange between Gwyrion and Tangwystle, her mind reeling in disbelief.  This stranger was her mother?  But she had always believed that her mother had died, abandoned by the villagers to the mercy of the mountains.  Then Tangwystle looked at her directly for the first time.  "Come with me, my child," she said.

Confused, Hedydd glanced quickly from Tangwystle to the old man and back again.

"Stay," Gwyrion commanded, and barred her way with his staff.

"But I do not wish to be the river maiden," Hedydd protested.

"You do not have to be," Tangwystle whispered.  "Not if you come with me."

"Do not head her," Gwyrion warned.  "She brought disaster to our land, famine and pestilence and a fever that raged throughout the countryside.  Many died."

Tangwystle gave him an almost pitying smile.  "Senile old fool.  Those things had nothing to do with me.  How can a girl, little more than a child have control over such things?  Those things you speak of were acts of nature.  It had nothing to do with the fact that I was with child when you worked your trickery on that tree."

Gwyrion bristled with rage.  "You know nothing of such things.  You are but a woman.  How can you know more than I?  My knowledge is as vast and ancient as the stars."

"Your knowledge, Gwyrion," she responded, " is a sham.  Like your magic."  She plunged her hand into the pouch hanging from her girdle, and drew out a handful of what looked like dried shriveled leaves.  "This is your magic!"  Tangwystle cast the contents of her hand into Gwyrion`s face.  "I know of the fungus you cultivate about your hovel.  I know of its properties.  It has the power to make people believe what you want them to believe, see what you want them to see."

Gwyrion made a little choking sound and his face was ashen."For fifteen summers and winters I have lived with the mountain people," Tangwystle continued.  "It was they who taught me the truth of things.  I know about the potion that can be brewed from  the fungus.  The potion that you add to the well water the night before the ceremony."

"You lie," Gwyrion gasped swaying unsteadily on his feet.

"No, it is you who are the liar," Tangwystle cried and strode forward to wrench the staff from Gwyrion`s hand and fling it away into the undergrowth.  She thrust him aside, and the old man rumpled to the ground with a pathetic cry.

"Come Hedydd."

Hedydd grasped Tangwystle`s proffered hand and allowed herself to be led away.  "Where are we going?" she asked  nervously, half-running to keep pace with Tangwystle`s long strides.

"To the village.  To your father's hall.  He and I have some old scores to settle."

In Elystan`s hall they were about their mid-day meal.  When the door suddenly opened  on a gust of cold air, smoke from the hearth blew about, stinging their eyes and making them cough.

Lynwen saw Tangwystle first and jumped from her seat, eyes wide with fear.  Elystan glanced up from his meat and gaped.  "Tangwystle?" he gasped hoarsely.

"Greetings, Elystan," Tangwystle replied, pleasantly enough.  Everyone had stopped eating now and stared at the newcomers in silence.

"How have you come here, you are dead?" Elystan said standing up and pushing his chair back.

"That is no matter," Tangwystle said.  "I have come for my daughter,"

"You can not have her.  She has been chosen."

Tangwystle shrugged and smiled.  "But I do have her."  She drew Hedydd gently to her side.  "Look at her Elystan, see how fair she is.  How could you stand by and see her consigned to such a cruel fate?"

Elystan`s eyes flickered nervously.  "I-I have no power over Gwyrion and his magic."

"Gwyrion is an old man, who for generations has held the people in thrall with his trickery."

There was a cry from Lynwen.  "Elystan, she speaks blasphemy.  We will be cursed and perish."

"So this is the creature you put in my place," Tangwystile said contemptuously. "I pray she has been a good mother to my daughter all these years."

Lynwen flushed and fell back into her chair silently.

"You should have perished in the mountains," Elystan muttered angrily.

"I would have, if it had not been for the mountain people.  They came to my aid and sheltered me."

Tangwystle drew closer to Elystan.  "Why did you not defend me, Elystan?  You  did not come to my aid."

Elystan could not meet her glance.  "How could I?  You were the chosen one, and you were proved false."

"Nonsense!" Tangwystle cried.  "I was your lawful wife, which she can never be."  She pointed a finger at the cowering Lynwen.  "As for Gwyrion`s magic, when you see him next, quiz him about the potions he brews and puts in the well water."

She turned to Hedydd again.  "It is your choice, Hedydd.  You can stay here and be walled up for a year and a day, or you can come with me to the mountains.  I live with a good man, and I have found contentment there.  You have brothers and a sister you do not know.  It is your decision."

Hedydd glanced slowly from Elystan to Lynwen and then back to Tangwystle.  "I will come with you."

Tangwystle smiled.  "Come with me then."  She faced her husband once more.  "You will not perish.  Gwyrion`s magic is a sham.  No one can control the elements.  Nature cannot be contained.  You must make your own destiny."

* * *

Deep in the woodlands, Gwyrion huddled in his dwelling aware for the first time of the burden of age he carried.  Much had happened.  Things had changed.  It had begun when he had stumbled and spilled the potion the night before.  It had been impossible to brew more in time.  Yet he had to go through with the ceremony.  When Hedydd had touched the tree, for the first time in eons there had been no trickery in it.  The tree had blossomed in truth. Hedydd possessed the true magic.  Just as her mother had.  But she would go into the mountains with Tangwystle, of that he was sure, and perhaps never know the great power she possessed.












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