How Hywel spent his Spring

Hywel (pronounced “howl”) is my wizard character in Andrew’s Ars Magica campaign. On a recent foray, he and another wizard rescued a faerie trapped in a hill. The faerie offered a season’s worth of training to the other wizard, and the faerie’s wife offered a season’s worth of training to my wizard. I wanted Hywel to learn Faerie Lore, the ways of the faeries, and in a poor attempt to describe the events, I wrote the following:

“Greetings, dear Lady,” said the Welsh wizard Hywel, bowing so low that his collar near scrapped the glen’s grassy floor. “Mindful of your invitation I have arrived this equinox to spend the next ninety days in your company, to learn your ways, meet your vassals, and enjoy your feasts.” Raising back to his near-giant height, Hywel stood insouciant, waiting for the Good Lady’s reply.

The assembled faeries stopped their twittering chatter, their cutlery-rattling, and the rustling of feet clad in doe-skin slippers, and parted to give their liege a clear view of the grinning intruder. The Lady of the Wood, faerie queen of the ephemeral folk, mistress of the seasons, and wife of the Lord of the Wild Hunt, graciously stood from her polished rosewood chair and extended her thin-fingered hand in greeting and welcome.

“Fair Hywel, enchanter and friend and rescuer of my Wild Lord, greetings.” The Lady took a small step forward, to which the febrile Hywel strode across the glen in four great strides to come to his knee before her, grasping her delicate elven hand with his rude mitt and placing blistered lips against her dimpled knuckles. He remained at knee as the Lady continued. “Be welcome and merry, for glad am I that you have accepted my invitation to spend this spring season at court. To feet, beautiful youth, and meet my company.”

The faerie queen’s company tittered at the Lady’s platitude, for Hywel exhibited neither pulchritude nor magnificence. Stoop-backed and nearly seven feet tall, his boney, gangly form was mercifully hidden beneath his brat, a long wool cloak without hood or sleeves favored by his Irish cousins. His head dangled atop his neck like an overripe gourd, with bulbous cheeks and unshaven chin. Yet the Lady led him through the company as if he were a lithe knight clad in shimmering mail, and if she noticed his stumbling feet or shuffling gait she displayed no evidence of the observation.

“This are my nobles and ignobles,” she intoned, pointing out sprites in velvet hats, plumb pixies holding goblets of plum-colored wine, sentient birches, frowning boggarts, hi-jinxing goblins, hobgoblins, and nobgoblins, and a hedgehog wearing a jester’s cap. “Fair dames and damsels all, coupled with trim gentlemen and clean-limbed youths. The brightest of my court.”

“Come, fair beasts and kind faeries,” she spoke, “come meet young Hwyel.”

Time sped as Hywel frolicked with the court, wining and dining and dancing and winching at bad puns, retold riddles, and perpetual pranks. Minutes became hours became days, and as Aprils’ sweet showers quenched March’s thirst, and as the field’s young shoots reached energetically towards the sun, Hywel learned the ways of the Lady’s people. He rode salmon with the wooden-legged Sailor of the River Avon and at midnight, under a pale-gray moon, picked mistletoe from the oaks of Warleigh Wood. He sipped buttermilk left on the window sills of Bath Abbey by the deacon’s wife, and helped the Ghost-Walker of Fosse Way find his lost shoe. And at all times he was accompanied by the Lady, from the moment he closed his weary eye to the second it blinked open again, awake and bound with the sleepy-seeds of faerie dreams.

One day, sitting in a grassy meadow under a warm breeze, having just gathered morels and chestnuts for lunch, the Lady asked Hywel of his romantic attachments, past and present, which shocked the young wizard and provoked a blush and a gasp.

“Is there a fair maid to whom your affections drift,” said the Lady.

“But no, milady” replied young Hywel. “We wizards are too busy for such frivolity,” he preened. “Beset with decanters and potions, unguents and scripts, I have no time to explore that road.”

The perceptive Lady noticed Hywel’s discomfort and continued her questioning.

“So you have never been distracted from your studies? No fluttering laugh, no batted eye, no whisk of satin skirt has pulled you from dusty tome?”

Hywel shifted uncomfortably, unaccustomed to the press of the Lady’s verbal tilting.

“Is that to say that you have never known a woman’s touch? A lover’s touch?”

“Nay, good queen, such things are unknown to me.” Sweat dripped from Hywel’s brow.

“Is it your Christian baptism that keeps you pure, young Sir?”

“Again, nay, milady,” said Hywel. “I am not baptized, for I was bastard born and taken into a magician’s servitude as a babe.”

“An unbaptized virgin,” said the Lady, her voice rising almost to the point of exclamation. “Is it because your preference to runt lies up other lanes, and you would rather mount a stag than a doe?”

“Nay again, fair queen,” said red-faced Hywel, loosening the brat ever looped round his neck, his discomfort obvious. “Forsooth my queen, I am ignorant in all the ways of love.”

“Come young Hywel,” she rose and he followed, “for there is someone you must meet.”

The blades of grass barely bent under the Lady’s delicate soles, and almost screamed in protest under Hywel’s unwashed feet, as the two left the breezy meadow and entered the wood, cloaked in the soft hue of the afternoon’s sun. Past elm and hazel, over hills and under boughs, the Lady and her charge entered a clearing, pierced in two by a clear brook. In the shallows stood a maid, her saffron skirt hitch high above her slender, white ankles. Bending forward to splash water on her long neck, the maid rose when the pair entered the clearing, and curtsied after recognizing her lady liege.

“This is Deirdre,” said the Lady, “my washer woman and vassal, friend and confidant.” Deirdre stood and smoothed her skirt, which clung to her wet calves. “This is our secret place,” said the faerie queen, “where we can come unnoticed by prying eyes and piercing gaze, where secrets reign and inhibitions are freed and forgot.” Holding Hywel’s hand the queen pulled the gangly wizard forward a step, then two. Deirdre, as if previously commissioned in some predetermined escapade, crossed to the middle of the stream.

Hywel’s heart thumped loud in his throat, like a trebuchet’s boulder ricocheting off the redoubt of Carrickfergus. His eyes were affixed on Deirdre, her round hips and swell of breasts, her sleek forearms and dimpled cheeks. His hand left the queens as he continued on toward the brook and its mistress, unconsciously closing the gap between her and him. The maid came to the edge of the stream and stopped, leaning forward with puckering lips, red as a rose and flush with excitement.

“Kiss her, young Hywel.” The queens’ voice drifted to the wizard as if trapped in some far away dream. He did not need encouragement, locked as he was in the preparatory stages of his first kiss. He approached. He puckered.

Had he been experienced, had he not been locked in a wizard’s laboratory and excluded from the regular ebb and flow of life’s events, his first kiss might have been his last. As his face neared Deirdre’s, as he felt her soft breath on his cheek, he kept his eyes open instead of closing them as one used to love’s passions might. And in doing so he noticed the rapid change from female to fiend, from moist-lipped maiden to sharp-toothed monster. In an instant the girl was gone, replaced by a giant, angry-eyed pike, raised up high on tail fin, mouth agape to snatch and swallow the love-struck wizard. Hywel flinched, narrowly avoiding the gargantuan pike’s mouth as it snapped close.

Thwarted and defiant the pike snapped again at Hywel, who fell and landed on his ass with a thump. He kicked backward, propelling himself across the grass away from the snapping pike, who could not leave the stream. The pike voiced its disappointment with a loud shriek before diving underwater, disappearing in a stream that should not have been able to hold a creature of that size.

Wild eyed Hywel looked at the Lady, whose sangfroid stood unperturbed and unruffled.

“There is much to learn about the ways of faeries,” she remonstrated, “and not all is morels and maidens and croquette and courtly languor. I have enjoyed out spring together, young Hywel, but the solstice has arrived and you must depart.”

The Lady bowed, and as Hywel scrambled to his feet to return the courtesy she was gone, vanished like a candle blown out in the dark. The wood suddenly seemed gloomy, the creek sluggish, and Hywel wondered if he knew the way home. Bundling his brat about his shoulders, he trudged from the glen, looking back only once. Did he look for the pike, or the maiden?

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