This is what she heard when she was a baby:
(She was less than two, she knows this; how she knows, how she remembers, is something she cannot explain.)
The voice, the rich, low voice. The voice that wasn’t her mother but gave just as much comfort, like a warm blanket of sound vibrating from the arms that held her safe.
And the words she remembers. Remembers, because she heard them again and again, when she was able to crawl, able to walk, able to speak and repeat them to herself.
Once upon a time, the old, worn, and beloved words began.
There was a young man, a man named Kilhwch, son to Kilydd. The syllables spilled from the air, from the arms holding her, from everywhere. His mother was Goleuddydd, the Daylight One. But her light, one day, went out, and Kilhwch had a new mother. The new mother brought only darkness into his life, and the daylight slowly faded. All that was left was spite and malice.
And later, when she was old enough to walk and talk and argue, she would argue with her mother, and imagine that this mother was a usurper, like in the tale that echoed through her; that the daylight was her real mother and she was a changeling, a foundling, an orphan. One who would someday find where she belonged.
Your destiny, the new mother told Kilhwch, is never to find a wife until you find her of the White Track, Olwen, the daughter of Hawthorn the Giant King. And the moment she said it, it was so.
So Kilhwch had no choice but to set out to King Arthur’s court, seeking help with his impossible quest. For none knew of Olwen, nor where to find her; not Kai or Bedwyr, not Gwalchmai or Geraint.
And she dreamed of her own quest, without knowing what she sought. Just that she did seek; nothing, and everything.
But they bravely journeyed until they did find the Giant King, Yspaddaden Pencawr. With him was Olwen, his daughter, as fair as nature herself ever was—the golden of grasses, the bright eyes of the hawk, the whiteness of the swan, the redness of the rose. Where she walked, white flowers sprang up, and not only white, but the purple heather, the golden buttercup, the humble daisy, the saucy foxglove. But the white flowers marked her step, her light, dancing step, and so she was called Olwen, of the White Track.
That’s you, the voice said, the words warming her like the sun coming through the window behind, making the speaker just a dark shadow, a memory. You’re Olwen, little one.
And Kilhwch did love her, as she did him. But her father, the giant, bade him complete many impossible tasks, a lifetime’s worth. If Kilhwch succeeded at all of them, the giant’s life would be forfeit and Olwen would be free to marry. It hardly seemed possible, but he would try. And with the help of Arthur and the others of his brave company, they recovered the most magical of artifacts, defeated the fiercest of enemies, spoke to the oldest of the beasts, and conquered the treacherous black witch. The giant had no choice but to admit his defeat. That night Kilhwch and Olwen wed, and of course they were happy until the end of their days.
One day that will happen to you, Olwen fach. You’ll be happy until the end of your days. Let’s start now, shall we?
And those arms would sweep her up, into the air, till she was flying in a haze of sunlight, giddy with excitement yet still knowing she was safe.
One day, she thought. One day she would be as beautiful as Olwen, and as brave and determined as Kilhwch; because as far as she could tell, he really had all the fun in the story.
So much for my second contribution to Flickr Fiction Friday, inspired by this photo by Ozyman. I was imagining a sort of prologue to my young adult novel, which I'm just starting to do another major revision of. Of course, it already has a prologue, so I'll have to figure out somewhere else to put this... Chris, Elimare, Teaandcakes, Littlegoat and The Gurrier are also Flickr Fiction-ing this week. Click on the links to read their versions.