Aodhan’s Last Breath

Aodhan was the last Irish crannóg dweller. He lived on a manmade island on Lough-Na-Cranagh on the northern coast of Ireland. His family had lived there for countless generations, protected by its stone walls and the waters of the lough.

They were all gone now, and his island home was slipping into ruin.

The White Plague had massacred his extended family, taking them one by one. Within a matter of months, he was alone on the island. For some reason, the Old Gods had overlooked him. Aodhan was wise enough not to question the whims of the Old Gods. They had their reasons.

Life was good, however. The lough was rich with fish, and the nearby shores provided Aodhan with everything he could ask for; apart from human companionship.

He had become an outcast from society.

It hadn’t taken long for the nearby settlements to hear about the death of the Crannóg dwellers, and since then, Aodhan had become shunned. They believed him to be cursed. Some of the local fishermen had even gone as far as to throw stones at him while he was gathering reeds along the shore.

One dawn, while he was fishing in the early morning, Aodhan heard the sound of singing. A female voice slipped through the mist. So sweet was the sound that Aodhan knew that it must be the goddess, Boann, singing to the nearby family of swans.

Crouching low in his coracle, he paddled silently closer, hoping to catch a glimpse of the goddess for she was fabled to be beautiful beyond words.

The sound of his paddle in the water sounded loud to his ears in the silence of the morning; even the birds had stopped their morning chorus to listen to the goddess’s song.

The goddess was singing in the native tongue of the people of Ireland, but the crannóg dwellers, like most of Ireland’s island clans, had never converted to the new tongue of the invaders, and they still spoke fluent Gaelic. The goddess’s song, however, was an ancient song. Even Aodhan struggled with some of the words. He understood enough, however, to know that her song was one of love.

Between one verse and the next, the song ended. For a moment all was silent on the water, and Aodhan strained to peer through the mist, hoping to still catch a glimpse of the deity.

“Who hides there amongst the reeds?” a female voice demanded. Her voice was as soft as doeskin, and yet it held a hint of anger within it that was not to be ignored.

In a panic, Aodhan crouched even lower in the boat. He knew enough about the fickleness of the Old Gods to know that his life was now in great peril.

“Come out!” she demanded, her tone sharper now. “I can sense your presence!”

“Forgive me, Goddess! I meant no wrong. I was only casting my nets in search of eels …” he pleaded. Lifting his paddle, he pushed the coracle forward, keeping his eyes averted. It was said that a man could go blind if he looked directly into the eyes of one of the Old Gods.

In moments he could see her naked feet and the hem of her dress. She was floating on the waters of the lough, perched on nothing more than some water lilies.

His eyes, with a will of their own, hungered to see more of her. Despite his best efforts, his head tilted and he found himself entranced by her beauty.

“What’s your name, mortal?”

“Aodhan Ó Corraidhín,” Aodhan replied.

“Do you know the penalty for looking upon my visage, mortal?” she demanded.

Aodhan was too enthralled to respond at first, but the flash of anger in her eyes was enough to force the word from his lips, “D-death!”

“Aye, death, and yet you risk it all?”

“I do,” he answered, feeling a little bolder. “I have nothing else to lose. My clan have all perished, and I’m the last of the Crannóg dwellers. Sometime soon, the White Plague must surely claim me, too.”

Her face softened. “You were not destined for the Otherworld, Aodhan. However, a price must be paid.”

Aodhan nodded and rose to his feet. He would go willingly to his death. “So be it, but might I be so bold as to ask for a farewell kiss?”

The goddess raised her eyebrows in surprise. “You’re a bold one, indeed!”

Aodhan shrugged. He was a dead man anyway. What did he have to lose?

To his surprise, the goddess broke into a smile and motioned his craft forward. Barely able to breath, he could only watch as the small boat slid through the lilies and stopped before the floating goddess.

“Such a waste,” she murmured. Raising her hands to his face, she leaned forward and kissed him.

It was not a chaste kiss, like the one Deirdre Ó Daimhín had given him a few years ago This kiss was hot and filled with passion, a kiss that sent fire into his loins and made his head swoon.

Then, the lips vanished, and so did Aodhan’s coracle.

He plunged into the bitterly cold water as if his feet were encumbered with a mill stone.

The water wasn’t deep here, but it was deep enough. Aodhan thrashed about in surprise. His limbs became entangled by water plants, and soon, he was struggling to hold his last breath.

Despite being a good swimmer, Aodhan found himself drowning. When he could hold his breath no longer, he finally accepted his fate and released the air from his lungs.

Lying at the bottom of the lough, he watched the bubbles of his life rising towards the surface, and in those final moments of life, he smiled.

He had kissed a goddess.

Not many people could claim that.

For a time, maybe seconds, maybe years, his mind drifted, and then, as if in a dream, he felt a hand reached down and drag him to the surface.

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