Once upon a time, in a land bordered by a lush, dark wood, there ruled the kind but simple king, Gwirion. Fortunately for his kingdom his young queen, Bywyd was as sharp as he was dull. She advised him in all matters of state, and benevolently attended concerned citizens and visiting dignitaries alike, always with a graceful nod to her husband and a quiet “May it please your Majesty.” So it was that they ruled in peace for many years troubled only by the lack of Ysbryd-ane – an heir to carry on the divine dragon blood of Gwirion’s ancestors.
When Bywyd found herself full with child at last she rejoiced that their kingdom would be secured, their rule assuredly peaceful for the rest of their lives. And when the child was born, with raven black hair so dark against eyes as blue as lightning and skin as pale as snow, they called her Eirwyn and raised her to understand the five aspects of the dragon that she must must ever personify to rule her people.
Before her sixth birthday, Eirwyn was already tired of the dusty words she had learned by rote.
“Eirwyn! What is mercy, to a Queen?”
Bywyd called to her across the sparse practice field, wooden sword in one hand, other hand held tight behind her back. Eirwyn’s pose mirrored her mother’s, her stubby arms affecting the position of warrior. She scrunched up her nose and shouted back, tracking Bywyd’s motions and countering carefully, the tip of her own wood sword following Bywyd without hesitation.
“Mercy is the greatest gift Ysbryde-ane can give. I must never be cruel for cruelty’s sake. I must never take life carelessly.” Here she paused to parry her mother’s strike, wooden blades glancing off each other as they both fell back to safer positions. Bywyd nodded once, brown eyes shining with the fierce love Eirwyn always saw there when she dared to look.
“And tell me of strength, little one.”
Lightning fast, Bywyd threw herself across the packed chalk and brought her sword down on Eirwyn. The girl dodged sideways and hit the ground hard. On her feet again in a flash, Eirwyn rushed her mother delivering two swift taps to Bywyd’s hip, before dancing away again.
“Strength is a heavy gift to carry. I must never balk from the hard path, when it is the right one. I must never doubt that I can bear all things with time and effort.”
Eirwyn darted forward delivering two more quick strikes, driving Bywyd backwards.
“And fortitude is of course essential. I must push myself to my limits without fear. I must never be lazy or half-assed in any of my endeavours.”
Bywyd gasped a laugh and held her ground easily, abruptly ending Eirwyn’s advance. Her eyes flashed with warm scandalised humour. Eirwyn paused a moment, letting her sword point drop toward the ground, her grip loosening. Her mother did the same, the hand from behind her back coming to rest on her hip.
“And who taught you that interpretation, my little dragonling? If those songs are what the King’s hunters think appropriate for my daughter to be learning before even her first hunt, perhaps your father should speak to them. I would hate to find all your memory for song and tale filled up with those rude verses.”
Eirwyn smiled mischievously, only ducking her head for a moment to show her deference. Bywyd winked at her then tucked her back behind her back. Whip quick, Eirwyn shot forward to lay her fifth and final strike before Bywyd had finished raising her sword. The wooden tip of Eirwyn’s sword caught in the loose fabric of her mother’s training skirt and Bywyd knocked the sword away with a sharp strike from her own. She had Eirwyn pinned to the ground in a moment, her long black braids turning white from the chalky earth, and tapped the girl softly five times with the pommel of her sword.
“I must have the dragon’s cunning, to turn any situation to my advantage.”
Eirwyn coughed the words and shrugged apologetically.
“And you must have the wisdom to know when you are beaten. There will always be someone better than you no matter what you choose to persue. That just means you must try harder and listen better to learn the lessons your life is trying to teach you.”
Bywyd stood and offered her free hand to Eirwyn, pulling the girl to her feet.
“Now what other naughty rhymes have our good hunters taught you?”