and excerpt from
Ard Righ: A Celtic Tale- Book 1
Plans were made, Caerleon was readied. Once again, the people gathered themselves to the City of the Legions at the summons of their High King: there was to be a wedding. Arthur, Ard Righ of Briton, was to marry Gwenhwyfar, Princess of Camelaird. The people busied themselves with the details, reveling in the sheer delight of such a phenomenal event. There hadn’t been a royal wedding in Briton for several generations, as the tenure of the Ard Righ was often short-lived and not very conducive to marriage.
The designated day dawned bright and clear. As the sun crested the horizon, Myrddin and Arthur stood alone at the top of the parapet, their breaths puffing out before them in the chilled morning air.
“We greet the dawn, according to the old ways,” Myrddin said raising his arms high as if he would embrace the lightening sky.
Arthur yawned. “Ironic, isn’t it? Today I’m to be married in the Roman tradition, with a Christian service, and yet here we stand starting that very same day with a ritual of the old ways.”
“It’s important to cover all our potential bases, Arthur.” Myrddin was pulling several ceremonial items out from his voluminous feather cloak. “We honor the Good God in many ways, my boy. Both the Christian face, through Jesu the Christ and your Romano-Christian wedding; and the face of the pantheon, through our everyday ceremonies and through the ancient ceremony you and your queen will undertake when Meurig and the rest of your family get back.”
“I know, Myrddin, and believe me, I do respect both the old and the new ways.” Arthur rubbed his hands together and stomped his feet in an effort to warm himself. “I just wish the old ways could be observed at a warmer time of the day.”
As the sun rose higher, it melted the frost of the night and created a thin white line of light on the edge of the world. Myrddin struck a flame and set it to the tip of a willow wand, raising it high above his head. “We welcome Lugh, the Lord of the Sun. We beg you to shine your blessings down upon us on this day of Arthur's wedding.” Myrddin waved the flaming willow branch above his head, saluting each of the four directions.
Arthur watched. He respected the ancient ways, but he rarely participated in them. When Myrddin finished, the sun had broken the plane to reach long, golden fingers across the land. Arthur felt its warming energy immediately. He breathed in the crisp air. “Ah! It’s good to be alive on mornings such as this!”
“Indeed it is, Arthur.” Myrddin dropped into a squat next to Arthur. “Today is a most auspicious day for you, my boy. Today you solidify your base of influence by marrying the daughter of King Leodegrance of Camelaird. You’ll have a solid base of power guarding your western borders.”
Arthur laughed, a rich baritone sound that belied his youthful age. “Leave it to you, wise one, to find the political side of this day.”
Myrddin smiled. “And of course, there’s the Princess Gwenhwyfar, a most beautiful bonus to the advance of your power base.”
“There is that.”
“Well, it’s true. Gwen is a beautiful woman, or haven’t you noticed, my boy?” Myrddin raised one eyebrow in a disconcerting way.
“You’re twisting my words, Uncle.”
Myrddin stood and stretched. “Then don’t leave words dangling to be twisted.”
All around them the caer was coming to life. Inside, great and small fires were lit in firepits that lined the walls of the kitchens. Whole oxen would be roasted, turned slowly over gigantic spits. Several sheep were to be slaughtered, as well as pigs, ducks, chickens, grouse, and many other would-be foods.
New molds were broken, and large wheels of cheese were wheeled into the great hall where they waited on the sideboard to be sliced for the wedding banquet. Huge vats of ale and wine and beer and mead were set into place, surrounded by scores of ornate goblets that would be dunked into the preferred beverage.
Fresh rushes had been cut and were now being strewn across the floors, giving the place the heady smell of earth and grain. Newly soaked torches were put into place, fixed into sconces that lined the walls of the great hall.
The entire population of the caer was up and about before the sun reached two fingers into the morning sky. The courtyard was bustling as the freeholders from the surrounding fields, living in the protective shadows of Caerleon, entered the front gate to get a good spot for the wedding that was to take place later in the morning.
Shortly before noon, Arthur, Myrddin, Lancelot, Lamorak, and a token honor guard rode to the keep where the Princess Gwenhwyfar and her family were staying, awaiting the start of the wedding.
As the groom’s party approached the stout oak doors, Myrddin stepped forward and knocked soundly on the door with his wooden staff.
The knock was greeted with silence. Myrddin repeated it.
Out of the silence burst a voice from behind the door, a decidedly female voice. “Who is knocking on my door, with timing that is less than poor?” Silence.
Myrddin smiled, knowing his role well. He removed his harp from a satchel he’d slung over his shoulder. Taking his time, he tuned the instrument carefully, feeling the tension building on both sides of the door. When he had the harp properly calibrated, he closed his eyes and sang:
“The timing of our visit here
“To win the heart of one so dear
“Is written gently on our hearts
“A perfect day to make a start—”
Myrddin smiled at his companions as they waited for a reply, softly stroking the strings of his harp as he waited for the prescribed response.
Several moments passed. Arthur felt his throat constrict with nervous energy. Just as he was about to pound the door again, a lilting response drifted through from the other side:
“A noise I hear outside my door,
“I wonder who the noise is for?
“And wondering, I pause to think of
“Why you stand upon my brink?”
Myrddin picked up the cadence of the verse on the harp, and responded:
“We seek the one who’s tall and fair,
“With jade-green eyes and golden hair.
“From Camelaird our lady came,
“Open now and end this game—”
The men pounded Myrddin on the back at his response, congratulating him on his cleverness. Before too many congratulations were spread, the response cooled them as quickly as a sudden downpour on a cooking fire:
“The one you seek is here for sure
“But cannot face the open door.
“Try again some other day;
“Leave us be and go away—”
Myrddin’s fingers plucked at the strings of the harp in a staccato rhythm to match the heartbeat of the company as it increased in its intensity with the negation of their plea.
“The game is up, the bride-price paid,
“A groom awaits his loving maid’.
“Unlock your heart and let us pass,
“Before the sun too high does pass—”
Again the men smiled and congratulated each other on the vigor and swiftness of the reply. Myrddin spoke as a bard for everyman, and though the words he spoke were spoken out of a long-standing tradition, the bard made the words feel as if they were crafted for the specific bride and bridegroom.
Myrddin stopped the harp with a suddenness that left the room ringing with silence. He nodded to Arthur, who sang the final part of the ritual in a haunting, a-capello voice:
“I am Arthur, come to call
“Stout of heart behind this wall.
“Gwenhwyfar my bride to be,
“Open shuttered door to me—”
With that the great door was flung open. There stood Gwenhwyfar, dressed for the coming ceremony. The men stared in awe as she stepped across the threshold, beautiful as the first day of Spring.