He needed this song once, and crafted it once—crafted it carefully, and used it carefully, and well.
"Oak that grows between two lakes;
Darkening gently sky and glen
Unless I tell a lie,
From the flowers of Llew are these."
He never expected to need it more than once, to call his sister's son down again, from another high tree, another wound.
"Oak that grows in upland ground,
Rain wets it not, heat burns it not
It contained twenty gifts
It bears in its branches Llew of the Skillful Hand."
His voice comes smooth as honey, smooth as a king's mantle, though he himself is rough with worry, and with wondering. Is this some fate Arianrhod has wrought, some latter vengeance against the son whose birth was her shame?
"Oak that grows beneath the slope
Shelter of a fair prince
Unless I tell a lie
Llew will come to my lap."
His nephew cocks his head, finally, bird-bright eye and flutter of wing. The wound Llew bears is not physical this time; Gwydion can see no bloodied breast, no tattered feathers. But it is a real wound nonetheless. He holds out his arm and waits, and after a moment, Llew Llaw Gyffes throws himself from branch to air and sails with wings outspread, flares on the cold night air in a flurry of blown wingstrokes and settles his claws on Gwydion's bracer. Soon he will be a man again, fair-haired and fair-eyed and strange, but for now he is an eagle again, and an eagle's clear animal eyes meet Gwydion's.
In the distance, an owl calls, and calls again, and then is silent.
In the darkness of the lush summer forest he runs and runs, and the weight of his antlers growing on his brow means that autumn is coming: the season of challenge, of rut, of breeding.
But it is not time yet for that, and now there is no urgency. There is not the urgency of the mating-season, nor the urgency of the fading wood when the leaves grow scarcer and hunger gnaws. Now there is plenty, and the dappled darkness is dark because of a thousand thousand leaves, the light filtering imperfectly through their shade, and through the thin fingers of the tree's branches and twigs.
He runs, and his mate (his brother, Gilfaethwy) runs beside him, and the only thought he has that is still human is Gilfaethwy's name, sure as blood pounding.
"You never asked me for aid," Arianrhod said. "So I never gave it."
His sister is beautiful now as she ever was, the moon's silver wheel: pale skin, dark hair, eyes a mystery of depth. It is impossible to believe cruelty of her when she stands in the redgold firelight and yet takes nothing of their hue, but remains herself, white and blue and black. But she has been cruel. She would have denied Llew his name, his arms, his wife. She would have denied him that which made him human and a man, for no greater crime than that he embodied her own shame, and it is only by Gwydion's interference that Llew is a man and not unmanned by his own mother's plotting.
(A man and yet—and yet sometimes not: brighter than a mortal man and yet less bright, an eagle's eye, a lion's hand—and sometimes when he is deep in his cups and without defenses Llew makes Gwydion think of his own sons, He Who Deers and He Who Boars and He Who Wolfs, who he has scarcely seen since they dropped in deer-shape and boar-shape and wolf-shape from his brother's loins. They are Math's if they are anyone's, just as Llew is his.)
"I do not need your help," he tells his sister, though it is a lie. "You bore him and want nothing more of him, so say nothing more. It is mine to sort, if sorting is needed."
"It is," Arianrhod agrees, and there is kinship in her voice, and sympathy, and warmth, and yet also—always also—malice. "You made the woman for him. It is yours to decide what is to be done."
You cursed him to have no mortal wife, he would say, except what Arianrhod says is true: he made Blodeuwedd for Llew, and on him lies the responsibility for that working.
Gilfaethwy has always done as he pleased, with little thought to consequence. Even now he seems unfazed even when he sees any of the three children to which he gave birth, reminder of his crime and its punishment. He has always been laughing, brilliant, careless of others—save sometimes, sometimes, for Gwydion.
Still, it is Gilfaethwy who says, to the darkened sky shot with stars, "Eagles don't fly at night."
"True," Gwydion says.
"Llew never took the eagle's shape before," Gilfaethwy goes on, thoughtful, "and now twice since the moon was full?"
Three times, Gwydion thinks, but he only nods.
Then Gilfaethwy grins, wild and amused, as though unconcerned: "You must've done your job well."
"Too well," Gwydion says, rueful. "Would that I had returned her to broom and oak-flower and meadowsweet when I was done."
"You would rather have your nephew mooning over a pile of flowers?" Gilfaethwy's smile always had the bright edge of a wolf's, even before, but now looking at him Gwydion can see the she-wolf's hunting grin, the pale alert eyes, and in him he can feel the wolf rising up in answer.
A lie: it does not take the memory of wolves to rouse longing in him.
"I would rather he had never been touched by this desire in the first place," Gwydion says. He does not say the word love, and he knows all to well why he shies from that word.
"Ah, well," Gilfaethwy says. "We are all of us weak," and he laughs. He may be thinking of Goewin, but Gwydion sees the elegant movement of the deer when he rises, the gathering muscles, the liquid smoothness of the leap.
In the autumn forest the leaves crackle beneath his hooves. There are many like him, but he is the strongest—bristle-maned, heavy-tusked, solid as stone with muscle. There are many like him, but he defeats all comers. Their tusks tear his flanks, they rise up on their stubby hindlegs to beat at him with their hooves but he does not give in. Always in his mind is his mate, the boar sow, and though his thoughts have no words, only images, sensations, desires, a sound rings in his skull: Gilfaethwy. He has no idea what it means, and yet still does.
It is clear Llew has not slept; his bright eyes are shadowed, his motions slowed. Still he spars better than most men, most mortal men. His brother—his twin, in a sense—was a sea-spirit; Llew is a spirit of . . . what?
"I will be displeased to have put so much effort into undoing your mother's treachery," he says, lightly, "if after you wear yourself to nothing."
"I would be sorry to be unworthy of your attention," Llew counters, and his smile is cocky—almost a shadow of Gilfaethwy's smile—in a way that says that he knows full well he is no disappointment, and has never been.
"Be wary," he says, after a moment, because it would be beneath both Llew and himself to say Be careful, and he is not in any kind of physical danger from the owl, the woman, Blodeuwedd. But still he is in danger . . .
By night, by the fire, he leaves the window open. Outside he can hear the call of the owl—now low and haunting, now high, almost like a woman's scream—which is right and proper for nighttime. There are many owls here. It need not be that it is —
In answer he hears the cry of an eagle, a hard sound like a blade unsheathing, and that is not right. Eagles do not fly by night. Eagles are creatures of the bright day, sunlight and clear air, flying not silent on silent wings to stalk the night but brilliant and visible, death falling from above.
"Again," Gilfaethwy says, his voice low, half-amused. His body stretches before the fire in what looks like animal pleasure, hair falling in his face and his eyes shuttered low with contentment. They have eaten well and drunk well, and it is the latter that makes Gwydion think of skin warmed by fire, of the fall of his hair.
It is not even that it would be wrong, to lie with one's own brother; but he cannot read Gilfaethwy now. Always before he could, and now he cannot, and it unnerves him, makes him unwilling to tip his own hand. Gilfaethwy might feel as he does, or not; might stand by his side—might use it against him. It would be simpler if that fear did not make this all the more irresistible.
"Again," he agrees. "There is nothing else to do for him."
In the cold of the winter forest the air is clear and brutal in his panting throat. He does not pause—he can smell the deer who will be his prey, the fevered lather of the deer's skin, her blood, her terror. His mate has wounded her already, and now there is no more to do but to pursue her until the blood runs out of her and she drops. Red blood spots the white snow, red blood drips from his she-wolf's muzzle, blood and warmth and life in the world that is sleeping, dead as iron beneath the snow.
He does not need to look sideways to see his bitch; he can smell the heavy scent of her damp fur, her breath on the air, and he knows she is there, keeping pace with his footfalls. And when they bring down the deer and feed, and he howls to tell all the packs around them that this is his kill, lost in the howl will be sound he does not know: Gilfaethwy.
"She is not a woman worthy of you," he says to Llew. "She is not a woman, Llew. I made her with my own hands. She is flowers given breath and a woman's shape, and now an owl's shape, but she never was a woman. Not truly."
"Which," Llew says, "is why she was mine. I cannot have a woman born of man and woman." His eyes were clear and cold. "Can I?"
Gwydion says nothing.
"My mother's curse is strong," Llew says. "If you would have broken it, you could have. Is that not true?"
Arianrhod is beautiful and cool, but in shame and fury she is a forge-fire, and in that fire she crafts magic that even Gwydion cannot unmake. "It is true," he says. "But it is not right that you should wear yourself to a shadow, fly at night after an owl who was flowers and who was never a woman at all."
"Still," Llew says. "She is the only woman for me. And an owl and an eagle are no worse-matched a pair than Flowers and Sure Hand. Or—" and oh, he has never been cruel before, but in this moment he is truly his mother's son, bright where she is dark but sharp all the same "—brothers who have been but are no longer a hind and a stag, a sow and a boar, a bitch and a wolf."
Gwydion will find an answer. He always has. It is his gift. But for now, he has none but the even gaze from which even Llew must look away.
In the spring forest his hands are human when he gathers flowers: oak and broom and meadowsweet. The magic says: this flower and not another, this branch, this one hiding beneath a leaf, these warmed by sun, these cooled by shadow. He does not question.
She is beautiful, when he is done. He has succeeded at that, at least. And when the magic is finished with her her chest rises and falls, her eyes open; like a real woman born of flesh and not of flowers she sits up leaning on one hand, rubs her eyes, pushes back her hair.
Unlike a newborn human child she can stand from the beginning; her eyes are clear with understanding; she can understand his words, and speak. She bids him for a name. He calls her Blodeuwedd, and if she recognizes the wordplay there she does not react to it.
He will remember later that flowers are not only sweetness but also poison, and that they have no loyalty to those who recognize their beauty. But for now he sees only that his magic has made a lover for his kin, and if there is any bittersweetness in his mind, it is that this is perhaps not the first time transformation has done that.
He cannot read Gilfaethwy's smile. He knows that the wounds Llew bears now cannot be bound with bandages, treated with an ointment. But still he knows that it is true when he sings, "Llew will come to my lap," and there is as much hope as sorrow in the fact that he hears the eagle's wings clear on the still night air.