On one of the highest branches of a birch, a leaf was ready for its final journey. Days ago, it had already empurpled itself completely. In its stunning bright colour, it glowed in the crimson sunrays of evening. The leaf hoped it would make its journey to the ground in that sun, falling like a spark towards the earth. While submerged in its thoughts, a breeze started, tugging at it. For one moment, the leaf hesitated. Should it now leave its branch? It knew this journey would be irrevocable. For another moment, it hung on. Then it gave itself over to the breeze and started to dance in it, on it, and with it. It was the final moment in the leaf’s life, a moment which unified joy, light, and motion.
Étaín Echraide watched a purple leaf being caught in the wind and dancing slowly downwards while glistening like a spark or a tiny star about to hit the drowsing earth. Between the white birches and their bright leaves, she felt as if in a world afire. She was on her way to Cathair Samhradh, the Stronghold of Summer, where she would spend the winter. It had been a good summer, one that had enthralled her with the joy of life. Hunting for game of all kinds, dancing and singing all day and night. She would hold those memories dear. But the time for rest had finally come.
A motion in front of her caught her attention and she slowed her stallion down. Not too early, because only moments later a shadowy figure stormed towards her. While gliding from her horse, she was already drawing her sword and taking her shield off the saddle.
At the moment Étaín’s feet met the ground, her foe’s blade met her shield. She parried and answered with a blow at the opponent’s helmet. Taken off balance, the adversary stepped back and their eyes met for the first time.
Shadows were waging in the man’s eyes, pouring out of them, dimming the spectacle of light and colours of the grove. The leaves under the man’s feet crackled silently when covered instantly by hoar frost. “Your reaction was a tad slow, my dear.”
“But still fast enough for your lousy attack,” Étaín answered.
The man smiled a sad smile. “I’d be better if we would meet more often.”
Étaín nodded. “True, Midir. But we can only meet twice a year.” The meetings always happened, when she returned to the Stronghold of Summer and he left the Stronghold of Winter and then the other way around.
“You know,” Midir began cautiously, “you could stay with me. The Stronghold of Winter is not that bad of a place.”
Étaín shook her head. “I’m certain that place would do me no good. Shadows and cold always threaten to destroy me and at your place are both in abundance.”
The shadows in Midir’s eyes thickened and water seeped out of the ground, turning into ice while darting towards Étaín. She stepped aside. One murmur of her was enough to rip the roots of the birches out of the ground, warding off the icy spears. No matter how fiercely the ice tried, the roots stood their ground. Finally, the autumnal sun proved its power by melting the ice.
After the outburst of warring forces had subsided, Étaín regarded Midir evenly, while a purple leaf danced with strands of her hair. There was warmth in her voice when she spoke again. “Enjoy your time as I enjoyed mine.” With that, she remounted her stallion and rode on, while Midir faded back into shadows.
Delighted with the long dance, the purple leaf made its last turns before it finally touched the earth. Somehow, the meeting it had witnessed bothered it. How could Life and Death be so kind to each other? Perhaps it would learn the answer soon. With grace, it touched the earth at a place where shadows had evaporated only moments before. With its body shining brightly, it covered something that may have been a tear of shadows, if such a thing existed.
Philipp Léon Mattes lives in rural southwestern Germany and after completing an B.A. degree in Anthropology and Modern India at the University of Tübingen, he is now studying English and American Studies and International Literatures at the same university. In his free time he is working as an editor for a publishing house. When Philipp Mattes is not studying or editing, he is reading or writing.
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