Forty days had sped their chilly course in the high-piled snow since the merry morn when the Earth in her love had brought the infant Sun from her blessed womb, and now, on February's eve, we were gathered together again in the cheery glow of the great log fire. Coll, Liz and Judy, Joe and Kathy had arrived a few days previously for they travelled from afar, and who might tell when the Ice Queen dance on the distant road or the North Wind pile the snow and close it? Merian and Idris were come at midday, and now as the last light was fading behind the grey trees, Elen, Huw, Gwen and Owen hammered on the door amd were let in with a swirl of snow and wind.
Idris rose and went into another room. The big cauldron stood now in the hearth and a smell arose from its depths that called in the most ancient tongue of all. The minutes passed. They were only minutes but they stepped with frozen feet and played the guile of hours; and the wind hurled his fury at the door.
Peaceful and deeply contented was the aspect of Rhona as she lifted the lid, and stirred in the cauldron with the long-handled spoon. Her gown was of brown, as the Earth is brown where the spade has lifted the soil or the plough has turned the furrough in the field, and she wore a girdle of beads that chinked and clinked about her as she moved. Three hundred and sixty-six was their number and their colours green and brown, and the arc of green beads and the arc of brown were blended in a subtle fashion, in forest tones and shades of dusky earth; and one in all that girdle gleamed in shining black.
She spread a white cloth upon the floor, and a board in the middle of it, and loaves of bread upon the board, and then she stood back a little, in the shadows, in the soft shadows, and her breast spoke of warmth and her eyes spoke of love. "Welcome, my People," she said, "welcome to my hearth and my joy. Him now I shall show you, blessed child of my womb, whose head shall bear the crown of Summer and whose hands shall forge the Summer's days." And she turned and went to the room wherein Idris had gone long before. A moment passed, and then the shadows about her gave her passage and she came again among us, and at her side the tall figure of Idris. A light he bore in his hand, and his dress was of fiery orange and gold. Full of joy were her words:
" Behold my beloved son
Who is grown so fiery strong! "
And we all spoke to together:
" Pahh is come! Pahh is welcome! "
He moved round the room, lighting lamp after lamp at the walls and music rose in our midst proclaiming the might of the Sun, and soon the room was full of light. And Rhona had lifted the lid of the cauldron and her ladle was scooping out piping hot stew to tip into the bowls that were stacked in the hearth to warm, and we were passing them round and helping ourselves to great chunks of bread from the loaves in our midst, and there was more to come, until at last with full bellies we cleared the things away and drew together and sat ourselves in a ring. We talked of the plans for the year to come, and when all was said that anyone might say without another saying it was more than enough, we put away talking and lent eager ear to the story tellers. Some had winter tales they'd found in books and some had found them in their own souls, and a stirring tale it was that Idris told of the young warrior Sun and the might of the winter gods.
When Idris had told his story we sat in the quiet a while and watched the shadows on the walls tell it all over again, and the flames in the fire seemed to leap brighter and it might be that we saw, in the falling ash, the footsteps of warriors and the marks of a battle fought. And the stars in the northern sky that night looked down on the dreams of heroes.
The zenith sky was clear next morning and a cutting wind blew from the north, yet though the Sun had come out of the hills a half hour previously, the sky in the south-east remained grey and dark. And the wind had been at work in the snow, sweeping and scouring in the fields and filling the hedges, and here and there dropping great armfuls where the eddies fought in the train of the blast and fell exhausted by the way. The wind veered and threatened sleet and the sky took on a darker shade, and of a sudden there was a burst of noise as the hailstones slashed against the window pane and came tumbling down the chimney and bounced on the grass, but in a moment it was over, and again the sky hung sullen grey.
Rhona was calm and full of peace as ever and her gown was brown as the earth that awaits the scattered seed. And here was Idris, his eyes sparkling, caring nought for the wiles of the weather, and his very stance seeming to throw out a challenge to the grey clouds and the cold. Fiery gold and orange were his clothes. Now the door was opened and we stepped out into the wind and over the ice-hard ground, and Pahh was with the Wilderness and we in their train.
Over the frozen ground we went, at times borne up by the frozen soil, at times trampling through mud and broken ice; and she took him to an area of cultivated ground that stretched before us in brown ridges and white snowy hollows, in bare stones and frozen soil. To the bare hard soil and the freezing stones of her broad earthen bosom she cast her wistful eye and her voice laid the plea of her heart to the wind:
" As thou, O Pahh, be the son of Pahh
And my children hunger at my breast,
Dost thou make these stones to be bread? "
And he said to her:
" Even as I love thee, Mabh,
For thee and all thy children
Shall these stones yield thee roots
And golden corn and sweet fruits in all abundance. "
And we all said together:
" Hail to thee, Pahh! "
Well pleased she was with the words he spoke her and her hair swirled wild about her face. And she took him then through the wind and the scattered hail and through the field of Rhaeadr, over the ice-encrusted stream into Dwy Nant, and through the orchard to the ring of stones. At the east of the sacred ring they stood and she had another boon to ask:
" As thou, O Pahh, be the son of Pahh,
And rise out of the east on thy highway,
Wilt thou with a willing heart run thy course
And cast thyself down in the west? "
And the rune he spoke her was of all the love he bore her:
" As I leave thine arms of a morning
To stride the blue roads for thee,
Even so shall thine arms be my welcome in the west. "
And we spoke again to the Fiery One:
" Hail to thee, Pahh! "
If pleased she was with the first pledge he gave her, better pleased she was with two. But a third she would have as her eyes sparkled bright, and she took him to the south of the ring where his radiance shines the fiercest, and said to him:
" Here, O Fiery-eyed, at the uttermost height of thy road
Thou seest beneath thee all the lands of my wilderness
And all the children who suckle at my breast.
As thou, O Pahh, be the son of Pahh,
Thou thou shalt be Lord of all these if thou worship me. "
And all the will he had was for the brown-bodied Queen before him, for her and, aye, for all she loved in the deeps of her heart and all she cherished in the tenderness of her breast. To the Queen who stood before him he spoke the rune she longed to hear:
" Over all, beloved Mabh, thou art dear to me,
And all for thee and those whom thou dost love
Shall my feet tread the blue road and
My hand wield the golden spear. "
With loud acclaim we spoke in joy:
" Hail to thee, Pahh!
Hail, thrice mighty Sun! "
And she took him in her arms and kissed his lips, and straightway went down on one knee and took from her bundle the golden crown and bore it up in her hands. As he knelt on one knee before her, she placed the crown on his head and said to him:
" A leader of men thou shalt be, O Pahh. "
And he stood up then before her. She bent again to the grass and took up the golden spear and placed it in his hand and said:
" Deft be thy hand; first be thy will! "
And he said:
" What e'er I will, what e'er I do,
My will, my hand, shall serve thee, Earth,
And all thou lovest. "
The clouds in the heavens split and the golden rays streamed full and strong to the Earth. Our hearts swelled in awe and we went into the ring with the Earth-mother and a great song burst from our lips:
Fiery, fierce and free: (3) Summer fair and fine.
Proud the Sun adore thee, Yield thou fruits abundant,
Born to stride in glory, We, on thee encumbent,
Blazing gold for thee. Hail bright son of thine.
Wax more strong, more mighty, Keen his fire and keener;
Gleam the spear he'll wield; Beats his heart for thee.
Wrought that he delight thee, Green thou'lt grow and greener,
Forest, fen and field. Lovelier more to be.
None shall claim him holden; (4) Mighty, yet more mighty
Ever cleave he thine, He shall stride above.
Golden and more golden, E'er for thee more brightly
Radiant more to shine: Blaze his fiery love.
Stand o'er snow-topped mountain, Father of thy forest,
Stride o'er dewy dale. Wide his seed his sown,
Gush thy spring and fountain; E'er for thee, O Goddess,
Grow thy verdant vale. Thee, and all thine own.
All the time we sang the Sun strode round the circle.
Joy was the shape of the Brown Queen's heart but a wild mood and fey came on her and she danced in the ring, a twisting whirling dance, and Merian slipped in and was dancing too, front to front and back to back like a mirror, and edging to the northern rim of stones. Never the twain touched hand to hand or tip of finger to finger's tip till all at once the one part of the image doffed her cloak and gave it to the other. And the Ice Queen stood on the northern rim and Rhona was among us, and perilous and all alluring the Ice Queen beckoned. Huw went forward and cast his clothes at the boundary, and white as the Ice Queen stood Jack Frost before her, all a glitter and a sparkle. And they danced away and the sky grew dark. Hailstones dashed from the darkening sky and turned to snow.
To the south of the ring the Fiery One stood and there he came in among us, and out at the northern stone, and mighty he stood in the vast white field, his red cloak about him, the golden crown upon his head and the gleaming spear held high in his hand. Northward he strode and we too set our feet where the feet of the Mighty One trod.
But look! There, in the distance, just ahead! There, where the snow was thick and swirling! Two figures danced in the whiteness, whirling, flashing in a strange ethereal beauty, dressed all in white and silver and the colour of the gleaming ice. Wild was the dance, like a whirlwind, swooping like the hard-driven snow. The ice and the snow and the frost had come of form and the Ice Queen whirled and her dance was wild and the North Wind was one with her wildness. Fast she twisted in her silver-white gown and her crown of icicles was like a silver fire upon her head, and the Snow King, all in white and silver as the Silver Queen, and a crown of snow upon his head, and round and round they spun. All a flash and a glitter was the icy necklace at the ice-cold neck of the Northern Queen, and all a sparkle and a gleam the girdle at her ice-cold waist. Flashing like the cold winter stars in the northern sky were the icy bangles at her ice-cold wrists. And she danced with the North Wind and he with his Queen and the snow and the wind was all one with the dance. Oh but it was lovely! Awesome it was and beautiful, and all the hills danced in the swirling snow, but deadly it was in its cold, alluring in its fascination, a peril too long to behold.
The Golden Warrior strides to the north, but Jack Frost would mock him and taunt him, but for all he mocks him, he speaks not the fiery name. The Sun advances and the Frost Giant comes not so far southward as before he came, and the Ice Queen has stopped her wild and whirling dancing, for a warrior of a different kind she sees before her.
The Ice: Who comes, so boldly, in a fiery blaze of red and gold?
Who comes, with gleaming spear and golden crown upon his
head? A warrior thou art, and bright thy gaze and fierce thy fiery
eye. Proud and strong thou art. Mighty is the hand that wields the
spear. Ho now! proud Sun, where goest thou? To my northern lands?
Beware! for thy blazing fire shall find a bane in the grip of my
ice-cold hands. Shall I freeze thy heart and take thy spear and
crown of gold and lock them in a palace of ice? See now! I take
my crown if ice and cast it before thee on thy path, and at the cold
of it we shall see if thy bright golden flames shall flicker and
die. And my ice-gems I'll cast before thee, and let the freezing
touch of them quench thy proud and blazing fire.
Cold defiance is the way of her, and pride the shape of her ice-cold breast. A Warrior Queen she stands, athwart the path of Summer, but a Warrior red and true shall she meet! She gathers the icicles of her crown and hurls them at the fire he set before her; she plucks the ice-crystal bracelets from her cold bare arms and hurls them at his fiery will. But deft the hand that bears the spear and he comands them: "Melt before her! Melt, thou frozen jewels! Turn to rivers in the land!" And she stands before him as the crown of Winter lies at his feet, proud and unbowed for a Warrior Queen, and a Warrior Queen she will ever be.
The Ice: What! Dost thou dare to challenge me! Dost thou set
thy golden spear against the sparkling crown of Winter
and the gleaming gems of ice? Thou dost, O Mighty Sun, and they
melt before thy fiery rays.
A wistful look is come into her proud and beautiful face and she runs her fingers down her snowy dress.
The Sun: Old thou art, O Queen of Ice, old as the hills and the
timeless snows; hard thy heart as the frozen lake and
cold thine eyes as the winter stars. But younger yet than Spring
thou art, and all in thy land shall adore thee.
The Lady: Otherwise now is the feel of my snowy gown beneath my
hands, moist and soft and flowing .....
And the Warrior Queen casts her snowy gown aside and stands in the wind, exultant in her beauty, a maiden wrought with longing and with passion wild and strong. And when the North Wind sees her in her nakedness, and her snowy dress and her ice-wrought gems cast aside, he turns his back and departs for a season to the north.
Northward strides the Fiery One; straight the path he treads. And northward dances the Maiden, but hers is a wayward step, a dancing, playful, darting step, now here, no there in the lightly falling snow. She stoops in her nakedness among the hailstones and she searches with her eager fingers the little wisps of green and the mosses at her feet. Oh, but there's green, wispy and flimsy, where the wind and the snow have played and frisked away. Up again she darts away. Now she has donned a green and flowing gown, diaphanous as the mosses that haunt the banks of the stream. The snow has stopped falling for a while and she spins in her passion, round and round in the snowy hollows and her feet tread the hailstones as with the whirlwind himself she dances. Far and wide her green gown spreads about her. Now she stops ... and stoops to the grasses at her feet, and her passion takes her, and away she is again to chase the wind.
And the Sun marches on and we all come northward back to the house, and the green-clad Maiden dances all about us and we're happy. For the Sun has set his will against the Storm Gods, and the love call of the Goddess is heard in every ditch and stream where, in her green and filmy gown, by moss and filmy fern, she dances the oldest dance of all.