Author’s Note: I wrote this story for a darling friend, inspired by a simply ethereal picture taken of her. Elen verch Phellip is one of my dearest friends and a consummate inspiration to me. This piece was intended to do her as much honor as may be, for all the love, kindness, and heart-good she has given me.
It was a beautiful night. The Caernarfon half-moon was bright, clouds nowhere to be seen, and the spring stars were scattered out and bright, like silvered chalk against a black cat’s coat. In the light from the house doorway, one could see her, outlined in nighttime shadow as she stacked pieces of wood in her bucket. Her long hair, left loose to be lifted in cafuné by the wind, caught the light and one could almost believe it to be living fire breathed from the throat of the red dragon of Wales itself. When seen by daylight, her fiery red hair set off her woodbine skin and bright eyes, an ethereal combination that caused many of the children in the village to whisper that she was fey-touched and hang about her apron asking for wishes.
She would merely smile, sometimes benevolently and sometimes wryly, and remind the children that the Tylwyth Teg were often far more interested in taking little ones for changelings than granting wishes. So they had best mind their manners to all, for you never know who is simply mortal and who might be fey in disguise, the cunning in her smile sometimes sending them scattering with a chorus of giggling squeals and screams.
She was a woman most capable. She took no rubbish from anyone, gaffer or matron, master or maid, and those who would dare try would often find themselves in a battle of wit and fierceness and woefully unarmed. Sometimes mothers sent their girls to her to learn particular skills which had perhaps gone to grass in their line, bringing a new layer of life to busy hands and quick minds.
The men called her a mage. The women, more correctly, called her a Firebringer. Not just physical fire but the metaphysical. The fire that burned within, lit in your soul upon the day of your birth. She was the one you called to rekindle your spirit. No one rightly knew just how it was accomplished or even recalled specifics when all was said and done. Women would remember that she came and sat with them and had a cup of tea or brought some of her dandelion jam of an afternoon. Men would recollect her skilled hand threshing and sifting the chaff from the wheat alongside them for a day. More than that, though, one never seemed able to educe. All they knew was that she was able to spark that light of life within again, even if that spark were just enough to get them through the next struggle. And, sometimes, that was all that was needed.
Tanwen, they called her. Fire. A given name, a gifted name for the woman who shared her gifts.