Image courtesy of Patrik Linderstam on Unsplash

Gather ‘round, children, gather ‘round, and I shall tell you the way of the world and how it came to be.

At the eastern edge of the world stands a golden tower with a roof of pure crystal and a bright blue door. And this tower is so tall that, should you stand at its highest window, you could see all the way across the world to the far western edge, where the land drops away into an endless sea. And there at the western boundary of the world stands another tower, but this one is silver and obsidian and its door is deepest red.

Every morning, the Maid of the Day climbs the winding stairs of the eastern tower, ‘round and ‘round and ’round to the very top. Her eyes are all the colors of the daytime sky, and her skin is the rich black of the warm earth, and her hair is a gold so bright that it illuminates the entire world. And every morning, when she reaches the top of the eastern tower, she climbs upon the back of a great dragon whose scales are the stars and whose breath is the wind itself.

Setting off from the eastern edge of the world, they fly across the sky, racing higher and higher. The golden hair of the Maid warms the earth and the dragon’s laughter drives the clouds before them. And then down they fly, down and down to the tower at the far western edge of the world where the land drops away into an endless sea.

The Maid of the Day climbs down from the dragon, kisses him in gratitude, and sends him back into the heavens. Without the light of the Maid’s hair to hide them, his scales which are the stars become visible, sparkling white and red and blue and green.

As the dragon flies away, the Maid begins her descent down the winding stairs of the western tower, ‘round and ‘round and ’round to the very bottom. There she is met by the Lord of Silence and Shadows who takes the Maid of the Day by the hand and escorts her through the underworld.

As they walk, her golden hair illuminates the caverns and hollows and grottos of the Lord’s dark realm. And the souls of the ancestors gather ‘round, singing and dancing in the warmth of her light. And the Maid laughs, celebrating with them.

And in those moments when she laughs, the Lord of Silence and Shadows knows his own quiet joy.

And so uncounted years pass, age upon age. With the passage of each year, the love of the Lord for the Maid grows. As does her love for him.

“Beloved,” the Maid said, “I would have you join me forever in the land above. I would have you ride with me across the heavens upon the back of the dragon and watch the people as they walk and hunt, and the deer as they leap, and the fish as they swim. But I know that you cannot, for the realm of the ancestors is yours to rule, and I would not have you abandon your duty.”

“Sweet Maid,” the Lord said, “I would have you join me forever in my land beneath the earth. I would have you with me as we explore the cavern of dreams, feast in the garden of eternity, and converse with the great dragon which is the foundation of the world. But I know that you cannot, for the world above could not live without you, and I would not have you abandon your duty.”

And they both wept, and the Maid was still crying when she emerged at the height of the eastern tower.

“Fair Maid,” the dragon asked, “why do you weep so?”

The Maid told him of her love for the Lord of Silence and Shadows, and of the Lord’s love for her, in turn. And how they both grieved that they could never be together forever.

“You speak true, Maid of the Day,” the dragon said, and his great tail wove side to side through the sky, scattering clouds. “But perhaps there might be a way for you each to carry a token of the other’s love.”

“Tell me, dragon!”

“When we reach the western tower, take one of my scales. Descend the winding stairs, down and down and down, to the realm of the Lord of Silence and Shadows. Walk with him, as you do, bringing joy and light to the souls of the ancestors. And when you reach the end of your journey, take my scale and cut off your hair. Weave it into a great braid, a wreath, and give it to the Lord. By its light, the land beneath the earth shall ever know joy, and your Lord shall know always of your love.”

“And my Lord? How shall I carry a token of his love?”

“Have the Lord gather the silence and shadows of his realm. Have him take these into his hands and form them into a necklace of black jewels. These you shall wear forever, and so you shall know always of his love.”

And so it came to pass. The Maid of the Day kissed the dragon in gratitude, and then descended the stairs of the western tower. She cut her beautiful, golden hair with a scale of the dragon. She wove her hair into a braid, a shining wreath, which the Lord of Silence and Shadows set high above his realm; and from there its light shown, bringing warmth and joy to all the ancestors.

And the Lord himself, in turn, gathered silence and shadows from every cavern, every grotto, every dark lake and river of his realm. He gathered them all and formed them into a necklace of black jewels, and hung them over the heart of his beloved.

When the Maid of the Day climbed back to the top of her tower on the far eastern edge of the world, the dragon was waiting for her. And, though her hair still shone, its light and warmth were not as strong as they had been. And so rain turned to snow, and some of the animals slept, and the people built fires to gather ‘round and tell stories, just as I am telling you a story now. But that is not the end of the tale. Through the year, the shining hair of the Maid of the Day grew and grew and grew, until it glowed warm and bright again. The snow turned to rain, and the animals awoke, and the people left their fires to walk and hunt once again. And the Maid cut her hair again with the dragon’s scale and wove a braided wreath for her beloved to hang above his realm.

And the Lord, too, gathered the silence and shadows of the underworld to create a new necklace for the Maid. For her shining light slowly wore the necklace away; a necklace which we can see, sometimes, if we look ever so carefully, as jewels of darkness within her light.

Season upon season, year upon year, age upon age, the world re-shaped by the love of the Maid and her Lord.

And now, children, you know how it came to be.

[Rebecca Buchanan is the editor of the Pagan literary ezine, Eternal Haunted Summer. A complete list of her published poems, short stories, and essays can be found there.]