Do you know the story of Sorcha and Baird?
When the world was young and dark - the Gods walked these barren lands in silence. Mighty Woten ignored the parched earth and watched the other realms from his throne while the world spun without light or life. Yet his daughter, Sorcha loved the dead land with a fiery fury that could not be contained.
And so, as she reached her majority she sat before her father and begged; give me this dead land as my own. I love it.
No, Woten replied, you are my brightest gem; to give you such dust would be an insult. Think of something else, my daughter. Anything but this. And so she said that she would think. In the blink of an eye, aeons passed, and she came to him again.
Give me the dead land, Father, Sorcha pleaded, I wish for nothing else. But Woten would not be convinced.
I will give you a realm here, in the land of the Gods. Rivers of mead and honey and milk, land that never tires. Trees that bear the sweetest fruits and whisper truths.
But Sorcha wanted this land. This dark and stony land without a whisper of breath, and so she thought. The wheels of her bright, luminous mind turned and turned until she said,
Then I wish to travel and see all the realms have to offer. When I return, I will give you my answer.
With a cloak of fine fabric, woven from the hair of Wotens own sheep, and boots that would lead her home upon request, Sorcha left the broad hall of Woten, and turned herself to the universe. First, she visited the giants and wondered at their mossy faces. Their green and brown hides, painted with blue. They spoke in quiet thunder and told her that she would always be welcome with them, but that the world of the air was better suited to her flighty nature.
In the real of air, Sorcha floated, ungainly, for the creatures in it spoke in a tongue that could not be contained and their bodies changed with every breath. They pushed her gently to the world of water, where the Wonders live in the deep blue darkness, and there she saw such beauty and horror that she wept. Below the silver flittings of slim bodies, she saw the bottom, and the wide, red eye that opened there before it slid into the darkness, dragging the very base of the realms with it. So, holding tight to the tail of a passing spirit, she let herself be pulled away, knowing this place was not for her.
The spirit was not kind, for it resented Woten and his might, and knew that his bright daughter, made of the stuff of the realm of light, would show too much of the depths to her father. It led her to a deep cave and pushed her through into a vicious current that led down, down, down into the realm of fire where nothing was hidden. The water rose in steam from Sorchas hair and skin and cloak as she passed over the burning embers and liquid fire to parched black ground that reminded her of our own dark world, and she began to see the lines between each realm.
Water breeds life, but has no light, she thought; it is cold and gloomy. Fire kills life, but brings heat. The giants, made of stone and piled with earth move in aeons, but the air and its spirits have no form. They move and change quicker than a passing thought.
They have no balance. They work for no-one but themselves, she thought, but what wonders they could make together. All this she thought as she skirted the fiery heart of the realm and down, down, down to another forgotten place.
Here the Fair-Folk lived in solitude. Unseen by Woten, unruled by his fist, for their mother, Meb, was mighty in her own way. By the gate to the final realm, the forgotten realm, a young man who was as pale as Sorcha was golden sat on a jutting rock and whispered to the glowing life that crept under its base.
And where does Sorcha intend to bring her light, the man asked, his eyes bright,
Wherever I am welcome, she said, I have no grudge against your mother. It was true, for she had never met Meb and Woten spoke only of her willful disobedience, which Sorcha had come to believe was no crime.
Then you are very welcome here, he said and opened the gate with a wave of his hand. But he didn't tell her his name, instead he told her stories. Stories of how this forgotten realm came to be, for unlike Woten, Meb could not make her world change with a word. She laboured, for fleeting moments and countless ages, to make seeds.
And when those seeds grew, he said, they became not what she wanted, but what they had always been. They wore their fated life and grew into it without coercion. Each one, he told her, was a rare and wonderful thing.
And you? Sorcha asked, for the magic of the realm did not sway her in the same way that his voice did. He did not speak, at first, as if he had not heard her, then smiled,
I am what I am, he said,
And your name? She asked, but he only walked on, deeper into a place where the elder trees grew tall, holding up the roof of the realm with branches that were thick enough to hold war halls and temples.
Names, he told her, are sacred to us. We don't share them as easily as your people. You can call me Song, for now. A song for Sorcha.
And he was a song; he danced with the spirits and they danced in turn. He spoke about the secrets of his world as if they were commonplace, and the world bent to meet him. Sorcha had no power here, and neither did Woten, and so her cloak began to fray and her boots turned and turned her feet to find home before their power drained and they became nothing more than leather and when she came to face Meb, it was as a tired traveller.
But the old Queen was pleased with her humility; when she smiled, her ageless face creased and shifted, showing layer and layers beneath the fine and fair mask she wore. In this realm, there were no ages; Sorcha was given a room to herself. Wide and bright with light that came from nowhere and everywhere.
She dined with Meb and Song four times, and then turned her feet to leave, but could not find the way. Every winding corridor led her to Song, and he told her stories. And eventually, they danced, and after a time he gave her a gift; his name.
As in bard; a teller of stories. He was made of stories, and she of light, and they went together like water and fire, making steam together, and she knew what she wanted.
Queen Meb was happy to give her blessings, and bound their wrists with a cord grown from a seed of her own labour. Stronger than the bonds of fate, it held them together as they travelled once more through the dark and the fire and the water, through the air until they walked among the giants and climbed their hard faces to reach the light once more.
In his might hall, on a throne of light and brilliant colour, Woten turned his face to greet them and asked who she had brought to his hall. Baird, the Bard, Sorcha told her father, who dances with the spirits and tells stories of the secret places hidden from his view. She knew what she wanted, now, she told him and it was a small thing.
She wanted to leave once more, and this time for good. She was in her majority, and wanted to live with the Fair Folk. To learn their secrets and forget the machinations of the Gods. Of all the realms, she said, the one he could not touch or see was the fairest. She did not want to rule, only to be. To be with Baird and make stories and steam.
No, Woten told her, she was his daughter. His brightest gem. She could not take her light with her, she must choose something else. Think on it, he said, and Baird will return to his Mother after a meal.
But they were already bound, Sorcha told Woten and showed him the cord that bound them together. I want nothing else but your blessing. I am leaving, and I will not return. Woten's wrath was huge; he called upon his brothers and sisters and their children to break the cord and remove Baird. He called on the creatures. The giants, though they were reluctant, had to bow to the will of the Gods and use their strength, but the cord could not be broken.
The spirits of the air did not care for the machinations of the Gods but agreed nonetheless. Though they slipped between the threads, they could not loosen the cord. The deep water spirits could not wash the cord away from Sorcha or Baird. Finally, the creatures of fire and coal tried to burn it. The cord would not be broken, for it was born of the seed of labour, and had a will of its own. It was exactly as fate had intended it to be, and though he summoned Meb, Woten knew what her answer would be.
She sent a rabbit, a bodach that could slip between worlds to tell Woten that she would not be summoned. That she was not at his call, and neither was her cord. If he did not want Sorcha as she was, the rabbit told him, then he could return her to Meb, who would bless and welcome her to live in peace with Baird and their people.
Woten broke the rabbit against the floor and told Sorcha he would give her the gift she had wanted all along; she could have the dead land as he own, and have Baird, too, for he could not be separated from her. They would watch the dead land, he told her, and never touch it, or each other. That was her gift; the gift for a disobedient and ungrateful daughter.
He took them to the dead land and showed them their kindom then hung them from the sky with that barren land between them. The cord held; even the sky over this barren land could not pull it apart. Not even the countless ages that were to come could fray it.
The death of the rabbit sent ripples through the realms, and the answering cry from queen Meb echoed back. The giants were the first; they were moved by Sorcha and Bairds plight and left their rocky realm to sit in the barren lands under them. Though they were tall and proud, they could not pluck the couple from the sky. Instead, they spoke kindly to them, and Baird the Bard told them stories to pass to Sorcha.
The spirits of the air flowed freely from place to place, and so they passed through in their own time and way. They took the stories from the giants and brought them with them wherever they went.
Though Woten could create and destroy, he could not persuade or grow; that was the power of Meb. She gathered the seeds of her labour and walked through the realm of fire, swam through the realm of water, and gathered the spirits with her as she did. Settling on the dead earth, she felt how rich it was and knew it was a place to grow in.
Shine, she said, tell Sorcha to let her light shine. And the air carried it to the giants, and the Giants told Sorcha to let out the light, the essence of herself.
She did, and it was bright and warm, flooding the land, showing its potential. As she saw the peaks and troughs of the land, Meb bade the spirits to settle where they wished. To create their own realms here, and they did. Water settled deep, and fire settled deeper, air filled the space between the land and the giants and Sorcha. And Baird, who whispered to the waver and made it ebb and flow with sorrow.
And Meb planted her seeds.
And Sorcha, who was named for her light, gave them what they needed to grow. In her brightness, she illuminated the world for Baird. And showed him to the world that grew below.
Sun and moon, they spun around the world intended to be their punishment, made from their steam and light, woven by stories... and it was beautiful.