It was Imbolc when first I saw Rhiannon Goch - Rhiannon the Red - named for the flame of her hair and the fire that was in her. The snow lay thick that year and we struggled up to the Druid's Ring that crowned the hill above the village. We were warm enough when the fire was blazing and, after the hymn to Bel, I sought her out. I had braided my hair and, although my warrior's scars were still fresh upon my cheeks and arms, I felt myself the man.
But when I fell into her green eyes, my tongue grew thick and all the clever things I'd thought to say had fled. She looked at me, head to one side like a blackbird. Her cloak was of rich wool, the colour of cloud-cast shadows on a summer meadow, a garland of mistletoe bound her brow. She smiled at me. Simple it is to tell. A brief, little smile; but summer came to me in that moment and winter melted away. Oh, you may say it was the heat of the fire or the sweet, strong mead but I say it was her smile that warmed me then.
We went together to the feast. The ram went uncomplaining to the knife and the druid pronounced the omens good that year. This I already knew. Rhiannon touched my arm as we talked and, for once, I didn't get drunk with the other warriors. Thus and thus, it was, I fell in love.
"Will you dance with me? I hear the harps and cymbals."
I rose and crossed the trodden grass and stepped with her round the Beltane staff. The fire blazed bright and fierce, dancing in her eyes, green as a cat's. The night was soft and mild for the wind had died with the setting sun. We drew apart a space into the druid's wood. I cast my cloak and drew her down to me.
"Come to me now."
Ivory breasts reflected moon and firelight. I tasted the sweet mead within her kiss and entered her. Was there ever such a joyous ploughing? I spent and spent again; her legs clasped my back, mastering my thrusting. She reared like an unbroken colt under me and keened; a woman's song to greet the rising moon.
"Are you Aisling, then, come for me? Will you lead me to Tir na n'og, lost, like Ossian?"
"No," she smiled, "I'm just a girl in love."
Twice more we slipped aside that night and tested her soft furrow with my iron plough. My seed had dried upon her thigh. She danced a little stiffly at the end. I didn't taste the bounty of the feast; my mouth was full of her, also my heart. I promised then that we would jump the broom. She laughed at me. I knew that she was pleased although she gave no answer.
When dawn came she hastened thence with her father. I went with mine to set the wedding day.
The fire was lit, the harvest promised fair. My Rhiannon, clad in white robes, awaited me. The older warriors led me forth. We made our vows; her voice was all light music, mine was harsh and strained. We sacrificed to Dagda and to Cern and also to the Lady of the Hearth. The bard sang the wedding hymn and all joined in. My father tried a speech but fell down drunk. The bridal dance was wild and many slipped away, to try another measure in the dark.
I danced with my red treasure and a score besides. The night seemed all too short. I ate too much. No mead could fuddle me, besotted as I was with her. We walked the hill together, arms entwined. We didn't heed the raucous calls that followed us to our door.
I'd built our hut of withies; fresh rushes for the floor, skins for the bed. I gave her then my bride-gift, a bronze clasp, worked in the West, an arm ring of electrum and a cloak, the colours of the mountain in its plaid. She put them all aside and smiled.
"It's you I want."
We came together then. Her hair was copper-red against white skin. I covered every part of her with kisses, pausing only where the fire burned brightest. Her sighing voice above me was a song.
"From this day I'll drink no mead no sweet," I swore a lover's oath.
"Then I must brew you beer," she said.
A wet time we had of it. A wind sprung out of the west brought sheeting rain. The fire for Bel spluttered and hissed. We wore our thickest cloaks of oiled wool. Only the druid went naked; the clay in his hair a sticky mess and white rivulets trickled down his gaunt cheeks. Leaves snowed thick about us. The trees would be stripped for winter by the week's end.
Still, we managed to dance, splashing through the puddles and muddied to the knee. All started to laugh. We must have looked a sight! Like cats caught in a storm. The wind parted the tatterdemalion clouds long enough to show the new moon. The druid said it was a good omen after all. No one slipped away that night. The mead and beer flowed and warmed us. She said the raindrops in my hair were pearls in the firelight.
The feast was short and I was glad to find the shelter of our hut. We shed dripping clothes upon the floor and pranced, pink and gold and naked, in the dim glow of the rush light. I fussed about her like a shepherd at lambing although her belly had not grown so great as yet. She said I made too much of it. Women bore children - had since time began - there was no mystery to it. What other folk had done concerned me naught. For I would have a son come Imbolc. This babe was ours, a witness to our love.
This story was workshopped at the FishTank.
© 2003, smilodon