Lady of Annuvin
Summary: A brief look at the life of Achren, haughty Queen of Prydain, and her last moments.
Disclaimer: I don't own Mr. Lloyd Alexander's Prydain Chronicles. But I wish I did.
Achren never acted. Oh, she told falsehoods when necessary, smiled when she would rather have frowned, punished those she would rather have embraced. But to play a role unnatural to her? Inconceivable. She was the wily enchantress, she was the vengeful tyrant, the power-hungry schemer, the half-mad lover, even the humble scullery maid. She was the protective mother. She was also despair personified. Gwydion, at least, knew this part of her existed. But she never acted.
Had she not a heart like any other woman? When she first met Arawn it beat twice as fast and made her feel things of which she had never dreamed. And when she took Arawn for her consort her heart sang.
But any heart that knows joy is doomed to know anguish as well.
Achren's heart bled and nearly broke when she gave birth to a child already dead. Her heart completely shattered when Arawn, the man she loved and trusted so well, took advantage of her weakened and grief-stricken state to overthrow her and proclaim himself Death Lord of Annuvin.
For a long time thereafter Achren trusted no one, and devoted the shattered remains of her heart to Arawn's downfall. One night, when the moon was waxing in a velvety sky, she came across a young enchantress with a baby girl in held to her chest. Achren was no fool, and could instantly see the enchantress for what she really was: a Queen of the Royal line of Caer Colur. How easy it would be, Achren thought, to control that young woman's enormous magical inheritance, and through her rise to power once more.
But the longer she thought about it the more she realized she no longer had the strength to control the enchantress. Her powers had been steadily diminishing since her defeat at Arawn's hands, and now little remained to her. Then her thoughts turned to the baby girl, and something - perhaps the memories of an infant lying still and cold - prompted her to choose the child over the mother. And so she stole the baby princess away.
Achren did not pretend to love the golden-haired Princess Eilonwy as she would her own child, but in moments of weakness, when memories of past ages washed over her, she would peek into Eilonwy's room and silently promise her the world, if only she would not betray her.
So many times she had made that promise, to no end. She gave the world to Arawn, and offered it to Gwydion, to Eilonwy, and to the boy, Taran, who stole Eilonwy away. To each she gave a fragment of her heart. To each she shared a small glimpse of her story. And none of it, none at all, had been an act.
Every motherly word spoken had been sincere; did they believe it to be a lie when the bewitched Eilonwy ran to her for protection? Did they believe she meant to restore Caer Colur and make Eilonwy Queen only for personal gain? That the golden-haired princess was merely a tool in her eyes?
No… Lord Gwydion had seen the truth. He knew she would rather die than lose Eilonwy again, and he knew it was because of more than just a bid for power. He knew, for he denied her her death when only a few years ago he would willingly have destroyed her. Yes, Gwydion had seen that revoltingly good part of her heart, pitied her (to Achren's shame and disgust), and told her that, should her path lead to Caer Dallben, she would not be turned away.
He told her to seek life.
Those words haunted Achren on chilly nights when she had naught but her black robes and her yearning for an end. They dogged her footsteps as she trudged through lands that, at another time, might have been part of her domain. And they were in her heart when she found herself before Caer Dallben.
The silver-haired Queen was not acting when she spent her days cooking and cleaning like a common servant. She had lost her iron crown and all but the most base of her arts; she did not seek a realm greater than that of her scullery. And yet, although she rarely spoke to or even looked at Eilonwy orthe bumbling Prince Rhun when they arrived at Caer Dallben, she was gratified to learn from their wary glances they sent her way that no one on Mona had forgotten her powers.
Achren spoke only the truth when she said she meant Lord Gwydion no harm and bore him no ill will. For indeed, how had he wronged her? He had only thwarted her plans at every turn, coldly refused her when she offered herself and everything she had, and then denied her the blessed relief of death. How could she possibly resent him for that, as though he could be held responsible for the anguish held in the shards of her heart?
…No, in truth she bore him no ill will. All of her schemes and hatred and burning desires had faded to resignation; the only desire left to her was to destroy Arawn. For this cause she and Gwydion were reconciled as they could be for nothing else. Achren, even when fighting alongside the people who had been her sworn enemies, was not acting out a part: in every movement and thought, to the very end, she was sincere.
Achren knows her death is upon her when she feels Arawn's serpent fangs leave her throat to strike instead at something else. She hears the sound of a sword as it deals a final blow and knows Arawn has been slain. Eilonwy screams. The dear, scatter-brained girl… Achren will miss her.
Strong but gentle hands lift Achren's upper body and cradle her as the remorseful voice of Gwydion softly speaks her name. Her eyes search blindly for him, but her vision has become mottled, and all she can distinguish is the outline of his face. So soon? The thought flits through her mind. Has the poison worked so quickly? She struggles for the strength to speak.
"Have I not kept my oath, Gwydion? Is the Lord of Annuvin slain?" Yes, she the true Lord of Annuvin is slain, and her consort along with her. Achren's lips twitch in appreciation of the irony, and she wonders if any of the others will recognize her smile. "It is good. My death comes easily upon me."
There is more she wishes to say - a final farewell to Eilonwy and Gwydion, a last triumphant word to the corpse of the treacherous Arawn - but she knows her strength is gone even as she opens her mouth in an attempt to speak once more. Her final thoughts are of reflection. She concludes that she does not regret her decision to seek life, though it lasted but a little while.