the muse apprentice guild
--expanding the canon into the 21st century




WORK
BY CASTOR BAYLEY

THE TRAIL TO MULLACH MOR

The modest dwelling rising dark from the bare plain, set against the lighter evening sky colored her as a bronze hued and dusky temptress. The raging, foaming sea, the dark, thundery sky, the boat's flag whipping in the wind all gave a strong impression of the stormy weather.
They walked along the beach, he and her; he strolling casually along as an old man on a summer strut, she lifting her skirts up above her knees, dancing through the waves, laughing as free and joyous as a child at the fair; the poetry of peasant life. The gusting wind swirling through her loose hair and flying sand which stuck to her wet body kept his want for her Celtic love in a pitching heat.
The distance was empty except for bare, wintry trees and the silhouette of a peasant with a spade. The people of the land, the people of their mutual relations. And looking at her amidst these surroundings kept him in a state of perpetual amazement. For although she was of them she remained distinct, apart, separate from them, for unlike them she was possessed of neither a peasant's coarse, flat face, low forehead, or thick lips. Nor was she possessed of the exaggerated rough features. For she was all and everything of a quiet nature, smooth as a hushed breeze, warm as a caressing sunset, an aura of ardor that bespoke of god's greatest angelic creatures; perfection in the female form. And it was in this way he saw her, how he responded to her, how he remained forever and always in her power.
So much beauty was here for the imbuement. The simplicity and sobriety of a peasant churchyard, where for centuries the peasants had been laid to rest among the fields in which they rooted when alive. The ruined church tower that in time would be demolished. All holding a form of restrained dejection, expressive of the declining influence of robust life. And juxtaposed against this tableau of death and desecration the thriving fecundity of the woman he loved, ripe as a harvest moon, an enchanted segue into glorious life everlasting. Such tender visions had awaked in him the dark and tragic surrounded by the swirling colors of the earth, an awareness he was inspired to because of her solidarity, the abundance of her vivid youth contrasted against the waste and ruin around her, the final descent of a downtrodden class.
He loved her so much, in such a way, that pain was never far from the surface. Without her he would surely die; of this he was certain. And how he came to this place of weak-kneed love he could not comprehend. All he knew was that he had been transformed from a self-sustaining young man into a needy, dependent creature, devoid of form but for her presence. Yet he did not wish his life any other way.
On their charmed walk he launched into earnest soliloquy as one bewitched:
"Oh, Vanora, Vanora, Celtic goddess from the Highland pass. Long were the days of perpetual gloom before your love arrived to save me, longer were the nights that threatened to smother my breath in its dark recesses. Yet no matter how the weighted night conspired, I always survived to see the days. But never in all my days of a wandering nomad have I been so blessed. Promise you will stay by me always as I most humbly do in return, and I will forever be your willing slave and servant.
As a symbol of this new life, I dedicate the native rowan tree, its blossoming branches alive against a blue sky. This I surrender to you, the tree that blooms early in these regions, announcing the coming spring as early as February. If not for your love a winter unending would be mine. When I envisage the rowan tree from this day forward with its corymbs of white flowers and flush of regal berries, I will be reminded of the serenity of your embrace, the amber warmth that is your love. And as the thaw of spring, as surely as the sun blazing its brilliant heat upon my shivering frame, I will thenceforth be renewed, replenished, made again whole, for the ineffable miracle that is you. Oh Vanora, I am yours, yours, most gentle of masters."
Vanora cared for him, indeed she did; yet unlike him she was not committed beyond straying. Young and vibrant as she was for all her rash and youthful years a pragmatic sense of life's wanting had been imbued in her. More was to be gained from a life cast wide than one cast narrow. And while she felt a certain mannered love for Finlay, she also held a love in store for another; Johann, a man more to her season. Of this she would fain make known to Finlay, his soul was too fragile. Being a woman of gentility as she was, no indiscretion would shadow the light of her days; the night alone would know of her adventures. She possessed no want of envenoming Finlay.
Life ought to be a struggle of desire toward adventures whose nobility will fertilize the soul- A L Rowse.
The next evening she and Johann were to meet in Bealach Garden; the garden of the sweethearts. Next to Beag Abhainn Field, the Garden was considered the most grand. When Johann spoke to her in his native idiom, "Der himmel ist blau, wie ich ohne sie sind," she was moved to heights unimaginable. And to this she would respond in gleeful manner, "Meine augen sind so naß wie der ozean, wenn sie verlassen." The joy, the joy, the indescribable and peerless joy contained in such divine discourse!
She was sure what she felt at such moments was something beyond classic and mortal love, beside herself as she was in delight.
It is that deep, spiritual affection that is as pure as it is perfect. It dictates and pervades great works of art like those of Shakespeare and Michelangelo…It is in this century misunderstood, so much misunderstood that it may be described as the "Love that dare not speak its name." - Oscar Wilde
The flowers on the rowan trees had turned white, signaling the trees were near producing, ready to swell resplendent with their distinctive orange-red berries. The white flower clusters gave off a strong musk, a scent believed more powerful than any aphrodisiac in the world. Witness to these glories was Johann and Vanora, possessed of a love that dare not speak its name. And where would these mysteries lead a woman from the narrow river glade and a man from the Rhine? Only the waning evening could tell, the face of the night sky glistening with diamonds, the burgeoning spring already swirling its warm currents across enchanted buddleia fields…
Vanora, maiden from the narrow river glade, felt a conflict of numerous and sundry emotions unfamiliar to her as they were terrifying. When Vanora looks at Johan her tongue will not move, a subtle fire burns under her skin, her eyes no longer see, her ears ring, she breaks into a sweat, she trembles, she is as pale as death which seems so near. Yet despite these seemingly insurmountable obstacles she knew the time must come when she would speak her heart. Gathering her courage as a lamb before the lion she poured herself out through her words.
"Johan, I must speak. A depth of emotion do I hold for you, a wealth of the greatest gifts I have to give; my heart, my soul, my devotion. I await only a proof, the certain knowledge that the object of my affections shares my sentiments. And to this I beseech you Johan. Tell me true. Do you feel love for me, as I do for you?"
Johan looked deep into her eyes and spoke slowly as if to avoid running adrift.
"What can be said to such claims? The territory I find myself in is unfamiliar. Do I love you, you ask? I do not know how to respond."
This response caught Vanora by stunned surprise. So sure she was he would answer in kind to herself. As if in a dream state, she spoke.
"Do not know, Johan? Do not know? I…I…"
Her face flushed pale as if to faint but she stood solid and sure. Then her hands rose to her face and cupped it gingerly, as a mother to her bundling babe. And momentarily, the ducts of her tears were loosed, as she could restrain herself no longer.
Johan watched her helplessly then reached for her, gathering her into his arms.
"I am sorry for whatever fault of mine has caused your sorrow. But I truly do not know of love as you speak. Would that I could reclaim my words and reverse the hands of cruel time. Yet as Life can only be understood backwards; it must be lived forwards. With the moon as my witness if my love would be claimed for one alone, it would surely be for one such as you. And as certain as I am of this, of my feelings at the moment I remain unsure. Love is the state in which one sees things most decidedly, as they are not. Is this not so? How then can my sight maintain its clarity? Perhaps therein the answer lies."
Now Vanora began afresh her sorrow filled tears as she pushed Johan away.
"I feel so foolish, " she whispered between sobs, "humiliated. A most shameful moment for a woman of such tender years."
Johan seized the moment and reached for her again.
"Come, dear one. Let us sit beneath the stars and ponder their beauty."
Hesitantly, slowly, she took his hand and followed. Johan appeared so penitent, so caring. Perhaps she had misunderstood his intent.

The next morning Vanora was awakened by the sound of the Cacallie birds about for their early spring performance. She watched the male birds puff out their feathers and show off their fantails, making the noisy and strange mating sounds of clicks, pops, wheezing and gurgling. How wonderful and instructive was nature in these developed rituals as the males performed their song and dance, from time to time jumping into the air, all in an effort to attract the females. The moment froze in time as one of sibylline import.
"Johan, look! The first birds of spring!"
She felt for him next to her but her hand was met only by solitary and cold depression in the thick grass.
"Johan?!"
When she turned for her eyes to see what her heart told her could not be true, she felt the earth beneath her pull away in a rush of panic. He was gone. Clearly long ago. Leaving under cover of passion spent while she drifted securely in her dreams.
The shock was overwhelming, leaving her numb to her senses. She rose and searched about her, thinking she would find him in hiding, having a prank. But when her search came away empty, she made her way back home, following a path as automatic as it was sorrowful.

Dark days that followed arrived with a crack and thunder as the Highland rains washed away the remains of winter, setting a backdrop for the official entry of spring. The gray and dreary storm clouds hovered pensive and close to the ground, hugging the peasant shacks and moors as in a paternal embrace. The colorful birds of spring remained out of sight, eternally patient as nature commanded.
To all of this Vanora was immune, lost as she was in a somber state of forlorn. Since that night in the garden, Johan had seemingly vanished. And as she felt him daily growing dimmer her heart ached as she never thought possible.
Finlay had called on her four times since. But each time she excused herself his attentions by claiming infirmity. He looked rightly concerned. She was all but dead inside. When he spoke to her, she heard his voice as if at great distance, coming across a rocky, lonely, and barren landscape; Vox Clematis.
"Having is not as satisfying a thing as wanting," he consoled.
She heard, she understood, yet she also knew few things were as satisfying as good old-fashioned justice. You live and learn. At any rate, you live. And if you're going through Hell, keep going.
Subsequent to the painful episodes of her recent past, she had come to believe she had no soul, no interior life; but the truth was that she no longer had access to it.
An inexorable moment was fast approaching, though she knew not what, a defining moment that would forever change her world. The mean of valor lies between the extremes of cowardice and rashness. While Johan had proved wanting of valor, she believed his cowardice as wanting of naught.
The cold evening beckoned her presence so she heeded and ventured forth into the quiet and still blackness. A woman alone in these desolate territories was an undertaking fraught with dangers. Yet onward she went, immune it seemed to these details.
When she found herself wandering without aim along the moors of Kildonan, she sensed a deep purgation of her soul, a divine purpose to her actions; a reckoning. As she reached the summit, she knew; the Sgian Dubh would not be her redeemer: the cliffs of Mullach Mor
 would cleanse her.
        Distraught and worn from her travels, she kneeled atop the dark cold mountaintop and using a fragmented stone etched her tale into the cragged mountain face:
        I Vanora of Kildonan, daughter of Ian son of Beatrice, do here bequeath my final testament. Being spurned, defiled, and then abandoned by one Johan of Dannenberg has left me with a desolate spirit wanting of chastening. I hereby surrender my life to the sea.
As record of this journey the faithful scribes of history would pen the tragic footnote:
The bonnie Vanora of Kildonan, daughter of Ian son of Beatrice, when wronged by the Dark Angel Johan of Dannenberg, jumped from the cliffs of Mullach Mor into the sea. By the placing of this cenotaphic cairn at the spot her feet last kissed the earth, she is remembered warmly as an epic Highlander.