CREATIVE PROJECT BY SMRITI GHILDIYAL (’22)
Literary Art (Short Story)
An Interpretation of The Mabinogion
Medieval Romance: Magic and the Supernatural (YHU2309)
The first thing she remembers is feeling her feet. It felt strange, she’s never had feet before. She feels a rustling, something soft, she can’t quite see yet. A delicate feeling, like if she were to move just a bit more, she could destroy everything. Not that she could move – none of it is in her control, none of it will ever be. She feels a pair of hands, not hers, working their way up – with every inch a new feeling coursing through. She was never a child, but she feels like she is growing just like one. Slowly gaining consciousness, learning and evolving. She doesn’t really understand what’s going on, but it is not as though she can question it, not quite yet at least. She focuses on the feeling instead. Something tangible, not exactly comprehensible but maybe she could make sense of it, given time. A second set of hands joins the first, nimbly weaving its fingers through her hair or maybe the hands are weaving her hair. She isn’t sure. She has never been sure before. The hands feel masculine though she does not know how she knows this.
There’s a difference between the two sets. The first one is determined, working fast and with a purpose – there is no pleasure in the art, just a desired outcome. The magic is a little stronger – at least what she thinks is magic – the feeling is well-worn and precise. A sense of experience and wisdom emerges through every bout of careful energy that courses into her legs. She can sense the apathy, the clear sense of duty. Though the magic manifesting through the second set of hands is nearly identical, there’s a marked difference in the way the work – taking their time, savouring every new petal. There is something lascivious about the way these hands move across their masterpiece – her body. They work their way down slower – the magic less experienced, more brash, constantly returning back to completed areas to fix their mistakes. They linger uncomfortably on her chest, much longer than is proper. She tries to move them away, but her hands are unfinished, almost intentionally, as though the hands understand her intentions. This is not their first experience in impropriety. She feels everything. The pain and humiliation of the body these hands have besmirched. The tears and anguish. It shrivels something inside her. She can’t imagine not having a similar fate. She already lacks power over her body. The hands move on.
She feels everything. The rustling of the flowers – a different kind of daintiness to each of them – the oak, the most delicate despite coming from the strongest plant. It feels like a prophecy. She is meant to be beautiful. That is her purpose, it is clear. She could neither have a different purpose, nor want to. It’s her gift of gratitude for their craft. The delicate bean blossom is put gently between her thighs – a jolt of energy passing through her as every sensation gradually becomes more salient. Both sets of hands finally reach her face, each working on either half. She can feel the rest of her body, every curve, every plane, every corrected imperfection. She can hear muffled sounds – conversation. She can’t make out the words, but she can feel the emotions rolling off them in waves. There’s anger. At some grave injustice. It’s more muted in the older hands while the agitation emanating from the younger is pervasive enough to invade her whole body. She feels agitated, though she isn’t sure if any of these feelings are her own. There’s satisfaction. Because of her. Because of the outcome. She will serve well. The satisfaction is complemented by hubris and an overwhelming feeling of conceit. They get to play god. If they can do it once they can do it again. They finish fashioning her face and the finer details. Now is what matters. The final task. She hears a muffled sound, like air filling a vacuum and then a louder, less muffled sound. She feels air on her face. With every passing second, sounds get clearer and her vision isn’t cloudy anymore. She sees the hands. Well, not just hands. Two men, looking at her expectantly. She is not sure what to say. She remains silent.
“Blodeuwedd,” the younger man gestures towards her.
She looks back, eyes blinking in confusion.
“Your name. It’s Blodeuwedd.”
“Blodeuwedd,” the word tastes foreign in her mouth, her tongue struggle to form the syllables.
“Let us take you to your husband, my nephew, Lleu Llaw Gyffes.”
She follows them slowly, placing one foot in front of the other – her ankles still too delicate to stand the full brunt of her weight. Her fate feels sealed. She feels a bout of indignation rising up – the indignation quashed by an obedience, the source of which she does not recognise. She looks to her left to see the younger man observing her fervently and suddenly she feels the obedience overwhelm every other emotion. She tries to grasp some amount of control – grappling with the foreign control on her mind. It is exhausting but she manages to steal back the helm. Triumphant, she forces what few words she can, out of her lips, “Could I know the names of my escorts?” She feels furiousness roiling in the younger man’s soul but before he can grab back control, the older man answers her.
“I am Math fab Mathowny, the king of this realm – Gwynedd. This is my nephew, the son of Don, Gwydion,” he has kindly eyes, putting Blodeuwedd at ease.
“Why am I here?”
“Do not ask questions that have already been answered. You have been made to serve as a wife to Lleu Llaw Gyffes. You have the noblest of purposes. You will be responsible for breaking the curse put on your husband by his mother Arianhrod. Bask in pride for your life’s value knows no end.”
She closes her eyes.
The next time she feels is when she lays her eyes on him – Gronw Pebyr, he informs her. It’s an overwhelming emotion, nothing like she’s ever felt before, especially not with Lleu. For his part, he seems to be overcome by the same emotions. She knows it is wrong. She’s learned it from the whispers of the ladies in waiting – furiously discussing the lives and loves of other royals. But when he tells her that the emotion they feel is love, she can’t wait to learn about this feeling. They lay together at night and she feels so much. She feels one set of hands working their way gently – casting a different sort of magic, but with the same outcome – building her up, breathing life into her. There aren’t many words, but she can feel the emotions rolling off him in waves. There’s want. An urgency, like this is the only moment they will get. There’s wonder. At her beauty, but it’s not just that – there’s something deeper than just carnal desire. Love, as he informed her. It’s almost intoxicating. It’s like, for once, she has been made for herself and not anyone else. She has control. Her body is hers and she is free to do with it as she pleases. It’s a kind of freedom. One that she is not willing to let go. The next day, as he prepares to depart, beside herself with emotion, she calls, “You will not go away from me tonight.” The next night is different. There’s still the urgency. To find answers. To continue their dalliance. To grasp tightly to the only thing she has sincerely felt since the day she was made. The plan is insidious, and most certainly evil. Affectionate nagging is what she calls it. Reconnaissance is what others would call it should they get wind of her plan. Even when he falls to Gronw Pebyr’s spear, she feels nothing. No remorse. All she feels is relief and a sense of liberty, uncommon in the life of a damosel.
The last time she feels is when fear overcomes her and her maidens, running for their lives, making for a court that resides in the clouds. Too slow, the younger set of hands catch up to her. Gwydion, she remembers. She shuts her eyes. Her body, yet again, vulnerable to this set of hands. She expects the feeling of helplessness from her first night to rise up but all she feels is pride. Pride that she defied her purpose. Pride that she served as more than just Lleu Llaw Gyffes’ wife. Pride that she will never she trapped again. If dying is what it takes, so be it. Wordlessly, she waits. Gwydion seems to understand her, “I will not kill you Blodeuwedd. It is my fault, I did not do better in your creation. You could have never known any better.” A sinking feeling starts rising, working its way to pure hysteria. She feels like she is drowning. Gwydion looks in satisfaction while the fear she lacked crashes over her like a wave, “No, what I am going to do is going to be even worse in your eyes. Like Lleu, I shall release you in the shape of a bird. Like the shame you have wrought him, you too will feel the humiliation – unable to ever show your face in the light of day. You will be despised by your kind. Never will you lose the name we gave you, Blodeuwedd.” This time, there are words, but she can feel no emotion in his voice – cold and calculated. She blinks and suddenly everything is much too large. The light is much too bright. She feels an unmistakable urge to hide. She feels trapped. She flaps her wings helplessly. The wind takes her. Free like a bird, is what they say. So why doesn’t she feel free?
I decided to write from Blodeuwedd’s point of view to explore the concept of feminine agency. I thought it was a lot more pertinent to her story, as she had been created for the sole purpose of serving a man. She lacks an agency over her body and her destiny. The only time she is able to take it back is when she lays with Gronw Pebyr – which plays into the theme of love as a form of liberation for women in medieval literature.
[Featured Image] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blodeuwedd