EVENAIVE - SWANSONG - PART 1

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by evenaive

 

Unlike you, the malformations though standing on hind legs like men seem to have no reason. They snipe and snarl at one another in the half-light, their howls echoing through the night like the sound of bedlam.

Holding out the unfamiliar clawed fingers before you in horror you sense madness could grip your mind too. You flinch as a canine whimper escapes from your mouth followed by a compulsion to bay in agony along with the pitiful creatures about you. The shreds of man within rise up and urge you to run. Turning your back you lumber awkwardly on alien feet away from the creatures towards a flickering light that catches your eye. It dances further ahead and into a thicket, you follow on. Suddenly it stops. You stop. All is quiet as the tiny light pulsates and grows steadily. It shines so brightly that nothing else can be seen. Then it vanishes and you hear a voice, gentle and rhythmic like a burbling brook.

'Sit my friend and let me heal you.'

Still blinded by the intense light you crumple awkwardly to the leafy floor and feel fingers as delicate as moth wings cup your face. 'My tears break curses, let me cry for you', and with these words hot water droplets land steadily upon your forehead and trickle to your chin. A tingling spreads throughout your twisted body and you sleep.

You sit up eyes blurry from sleep yet feeling more peaceful and rested upon waking than you have ever known. Remembering what is past you start to your feet. 'Easy friend', says a distantly familiar voice. 'You are whole again, don't fear anything here.'

Looking down you see feet, a man's feet. No claws, no fur. Gingerly your shaking hands reach for your face and only meet with skin and stubble, and you remember the tears of another as your own fall in their place.

You face the voice and for the first time see your saviour. Tall and slender, a soft glowing form with a gown of the most emerald green that matches the eyes of the serenest face. Dark braids entwined with leaves and flowers frame the elf's beauty but cannot steal from it. She holds out her hand, smiling. 'Come let me take you to Swansong, my city. We can discover your purpose there Christopher.'

'Is that my name?' You whisper as you reach for the fingers as delicate as moth wings. You recall falling from dream into dream and knit eyebrows together with worry that you had not realised you did not know your own name, who you are, where you come from. You had merely existed. As if reading your mind the elf calls over her shoulder as she walks on,' My name is Cotton Swan you are Christopher and together we will find out. The elders are waiting for us.'

Walking was easy whilst holding Cotton's hand, she never let go and you both seemed light as feathers. The trees whispered gently and the branches seemed to bend and bow with reverence as she slipped between them.

Very little time seemed to pass as great distances were covered through the immense forest. You could easily enjoy the fauna and watch the tiny beasts paying no heed to direction or being wary of trappings beneath your feet. Sometimes you thought you spied fleeting figures through the foliage but as Cotton showed no unease you could not either.

 

Then she stopped.  

Puzzled you looked about; there was no city, no town, no village, not even a house? A huge river that seemed impassable roared before you and a towering waterfall crashed into it. Cotton released your hand and bade you follow, heading toward the waterfall. Approaching the bottom of the furious cascade you could see huge stepping stones laid into the river bed and leading right into the downpour! You would be crushed!

Gingerly you hopped from stone to stone meeting Cotton on the last safe one. Spray that sparkled with sunlight and elf-light showered over her, damping face and hair as she faced the giant wall of water. She stepped forward and fearful for her you touched her arm. 'Hush', she pressed fingers to her lips and smiled then closing green eyes she raised her arms high. Her voice become huge and commanding, it echoed around the valley as she spoke a word foreign to your ears.

Silence, everything seemed to stop.

Then with a sound so mighty you thought the whole world was being rent in two the waterfall parted like a flowing curtain and a vast passage could be seen beyond. The entrance to the passage was protected by a shimmering gate, like mother of pearl. Cotton skipped over the last stones to solid ground and beckoned you hastily to follow. As your feet left the last smooth rock the watery curtain cascaded behind you and daylight was no more.

The way was now lit by the shimmering gates and flickering lanterns from the passageway beyond. Cotton pulled a pendant from her neck and pressed it against some invisible lock unseen by your eyes and the gates opened. Her laughter rang loud and clearly as she hurried through. ‘Quickly Christopher, I have missed home!'

'Wait!' you cry and you pick up speed to reach her as she disappears around a bend.

 

The passageway was long and twisted left to right, then right to left. Cotton was always just that little too far in front  to be seen but her laughter echoing through the tunnels let you know that she was still running ahead. It was reassuring, for to be alone in them would have unnerved even the bravest of men. The flickering light of the lanterns made shadows leap alive on the walls and flitting moths appeared as demons with giant dark wings ready to envelop.  Your own footsteps echoed all around sounding like the tread of a thousand others feet.

You finally slowed to a walk, clutching your side and gasping for each breath. Cotton’s laughter was gone and you feared a trick but then the light began to alter and you pressed on. On you went as the brightness grew, outshining the lantern light and diminishing the shadows. Sunlight poured in through the opening ahead and you picked up pace to reach the exit of the giant wormhole.

 

You shielded your eyes to protect them from the brilliant sunshine and felt cool grass beneath your feet. Bird song filled the air, music to your ears. Cotton stood a little way ahead as if transfixed by something. Slowly you approached her and she turned to face you, reaching for your hand “Isn’t it magnificent”, she gasped.

The passage had exited onto the side of a high grassy hill covered in a myriad of wildflowers, from this vantage point you followed Cotton’s gaze expecting to see a city of splendour. Lying at the bottom of the incline at some distance was a village, ramshackle and empty. Beyond that the land looked barren and scorched and seemed to stretch forever, on and on to the horizon. Your silence caused Cotton to turn to you once again and she laughed merrily as she witnessed the puzzlement etched into your brow. “I forget so easily!” and whispering magic she kissed each of your eyelids. Your heart could not help but miss a beat with each soft touch and you left them closed for a moment to remember that little bit longer.

“Now, see, friend” came a sweet whisper in your ear and you looked again. Gone were the village and the waste and in its stead was a land of such magnitude and majesty that you could not imagine there was another place reflecting its glory in all the earth.  What once had been barren now appeared lush and fertile. Patchworks of fields and meadows decorated with dingles and dells, and richly embroidered with the blue of rivers and streams. But the city, Swan song, stood white and proud in the midst. Spires and domes starched against the indigo sky commanded awe whilst the colourful bustle of a market in the square bade a welcome.

“I...don’t understand!” escaped from you as you shook your head and rubbed your weary eyes.

“It is merely magic, a cloak or a shield if you like. It protects us from those who would seek to harm us. There are dark ones in this world who when they cast their eyes upon beauty wish to possess it for they do not have nor can create their own. They take and devour that beauty till it is lost, then move on to seek loveliness afresh or live forever in their own darkness. But come that is not our worry for today, we can eat and rest and you can find yourself!”

Together you make your way down the hill and your heart feels lighter the closer you get to the city walls. You can hear the sounds of city life escaping from within, and it is the sound of happiness. Vibrant music accompanied by the voices of bards melodic and sweet sails over the stonework, the call of traders selling wares, children hooting and running from mothers scolding and the heavy chime of cowbells. Though so weary you hasten to be inside.

There are no gates to bar the way as you step through the wide arch into Swansong and are immediately met by an army of elf children swamping Cotton in delight. They call to her, tugging at her gown and gushing with excitement. Some tug at your shirt hem and look up at you with solemn and shy curiosity. Unaccustomed by children of any race you smile awkwardly down and try to disentangle yourself from the mass of writhing elfins. Cotton stops and waves them all away happily promising stories and tales of her travels that evening if they leave you be for now. They cheer and scatter in different directions across the square and back to their own mischief. You give a wry smile and for the first time in a long time feel the beginnings of a laugh in your stomach.

At the far end of the square are grand steps, they span a moat and upon the waters of the moat gliding with heads bowed in regal ceremony are huge swans that in standing must be bigger than a man!  As you begin to climb the steps they slowly lift their heads and watch your ascent silently. You try to hold the gaze of one yet quickly turn your eyes away as it feels like he knows all the answers, to which you do not even know the questions. Instead you marvel at the parade of statues adorning the way, every kind of magical creature in joyous dance. Before you know it you have reached a grand door, wrought with gold and encrusted with emeralds. Cotton merely touches it lightly with a hand and it opens.

Within stands a man, taller than Cotton, yet with the same dark hair and the same emerald eyes. He also is attired in green but a tabard of white falls from his shoulders and you note mysterious words stitched into it. He smiles kindly and holds out his arms in welcome and Cotton runs immediately into them whilst calling out “Father!”

You remain awkward at the threshold while father and daughter embrace warmly until you are remembered again. Cotton lifts her head from her father’s shoulder and opens her mouth to speak, but her father hushes her and steps forward. “I am Adhamh, and you Christopher are a most welcome guest here at Swansong, I and the elders have been waiting for you, we were not sure when you would come or how but it seems that my little Cotton Swan has found you.” Adhamh smiles affectionately at his daughter.

Before you can even think to answer, Adhamh once again speaks, “ I see that you are weary, don’t trouble yourself with anything now, we have prepared a chamber for you, so bathe, rest, eat and sleep for there is much to come.

© evenaive 2011

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