Happy Sunday everyone. I know it’s the end of the weekend and you are all staring down the barrel of a full week of work, but fear not, I have another collaboration to cheer you up. For this collaboration, I have had the honour of working with the incredibly talented Elise Mahan. Elise is an artist and an educator from California, USA. Her paintings and process have evolved from her research of astronomy, natural history, art history, the environment and her work with children. She creates her paintings using a range of materials such as gouache, watercolor, ink, pencil, graphite, metallic pigments, and collage elements. Through her work, she examines the connections between natural history and symbolism and how they relate to one another within art and within our society. I am absolutely in love with her art. Her images have a surreal and dream like quality and they make me think of the myths and legends I heard as a child. With that in mind, and inspired by her body of work, I have written a short story which I think reflects the ethereal quality of her work. In turn, she has created one of her stunning images, inspired by my story. If you like Elise’s work as much as me, you can check out her shop here, and her Instagram here.
Her name was Branwen, the daughter of Conol, the Chieftain of the Eastern tribe. Her hair was the colour of Raven’s wings, her eyes a whirl of blue and green, an ocean in a storm. She was renowned throughout the lands for her beauty, and it was said her smile could end a war…or begin one.
His name was Cian, the son of Eoin the leader of the Western McManus clan, and the next in line to rule his people. He was as opposite in looks from Branwen as he was in place. His hair was of sand and sun, and his eyes were dark, like burnished wood and damp earth. He would know only forbidden love.
They were never meant to meet, except in battle, but fate had other plans. When both ventured too far from their homes, seeking answers to questions as yet unknown, and becoming separated from their fellow travellers, they came upon each other in a cave as both sought shelter from the rains. They were unaware they were enemies, having not yet been schooled in the art of hate by their peers, and so they simply saw a fellow traveller, weary from the journey.
They spoke and laughed, and shared each other’s offerings, him sipping cool water from Branwen’s flagon, and her tasting the bread he carried, roughly torn in two. They never shared last names. They never mentioned from whence they had come. It was simple and pleasant and uncomplicated by divisions as yet unknown to them. They parted with a smile and the promise to meet again in one week hence.
And so, it came to be, that every week they would find one another in that cave, and share their stories and questions about the adulthood which stretched ahead of them and seemed to burden them with fears and worries they were unprepared for. Over time, they shared more than stories. An embrace, a kiss. Dear readers, they fell in love.
But just as fate had designed to bring their hearts together, it conspired to tear them apart. When the patience of elders grew thin, and suspicions mounted, they were followed and discovered, and dragged away from each other’s outstretched arms under threat of blade and bloodshed. Heartache knows no bounds when two people in love are parted against their will.
There is no power greater on earth, than that of love. When two souls are separated, they will overcome any obstacle to reunite once more. Despite admonishment, anger and derision at their foolish choice, they were undeterred. They knew nothing of the battles fought before their birth, or the feuds and vendettas raised by each family against the other, they knew only the smell of each other’s hair, and the taste of lips against their own. Nothing could change how they felt for one another, and nothing would stop them finding each other once more.
They ran away. They ran from their families, their tribes and their homes. They ran from people telling them who to hate and more importantly who to love. They ran towards each other, towards their cave, not knowing what they would do once they were reunited and no longer caring. But fate, she is cruel. She gives with one hand and takes with the other. Branwen and Cian would never reach each other in this life. Both would die alone, with the other as their final thought.
The snow storm grew with the intensity of each tribe’s fury. River’s stopped and became solid with ice and the moon, afraid to watch, hid from view behind dark thick clouds. Not even the stars came out, and the thick forest was darker than it had ever been before. Branwen, eager to reach her love, became lost in the inky black of the trees. She climbed to higher ground, hoping she would find herself again, but instead found only death as she slipped and fell into the shadows below. At that moment, Cian, who had almost reached the cave, felt a sharp and sudden pain within him, and he knew within his heart that she was gone. Unable to live without her, he threw himself on his blade painting the pure winter snow red with his blood.
All of a sudden, and without explanation, everything became silent. The snow stopped, the animals quieted, the winds ceased and nothing could be heard but the weeping of the Gods. They had watched these lives unfold with curiosity at first, and then hope, as love it seemed could indeed conquer all. But human lives are so fragile, so short, and seemingly love, for all of its power and might, could not traverse death. It is said, that Anu, the Celtic Goddess of life and Mother Earth herself, became particularly despondent at the deaths of these two souls. She took their bodies, and turned them from flesh into something new, something as untouched and as pure as their love had been. Branwen, with her black hair, became the night sky, and Cian, with his dark eyes, became the very earth itself. And so, every evening, as the sun falls, they would find each other once again along the horizon, just where the earth meets the sky. Together forever.