Writephoto: Swan women

An excerpt from my latest WIP, because it’s swans. Not Fionnual, Conn, Aodh and Fiachra, but the swan women from the story of Midir and Étaín. For Sue Vincent’s Thursday photo prompt.

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They stowed their belongings beneath the sleeping bench in the guest hall, and Höfmund offered to show Oisín the wonders of Utgard.

“There’s a while before the night meal. We’ve time to walk around the walls and watch the sun go down on the lake. It stretches due west and the setting sun turns it to gold.”

He led the way to the wooden stair that climbed to the stone wall and the walkway along it. Oisín followed reluctantly. The lake was unnervingly familiar, reminding him of the dark side of the man who had been his friend, the madness of the bard and his unceasing search for something he could not have. It reminded him too much of himself. Höfmund stretched out a hand and pointed, his finger moving in a slow arc from east to west.

“All of this is the land of the Ettings, lakes, mountains, forests and pastures. It’s good land, even if winter comes earlier here than at Thrymheimr and lasts longer.”

The last rays of the sun slipped beneath a bank of cloud hanging low along the horizon and flooded the lake water with golden light. It was beautiful, but fleeting. They watched until the sun declined and the cloud thickened. The gold faded, sunk beneath the surface of the lake, and the landscape darkened. Water birds called as they settled for the night, a melancholy sound. In the last moments, before dusk deepened to night, the air vibrated with the beating of wings, broad powerful wings, and the dim light was full of the ghostly forms of swans circling, flying lower then landing with noisy splashing on the lake in the shelter of the sedge.

Oisín felt no surprise; he had recognised the place, though he thought he had left it behind in another world. Despite the sadness that crept into his bones, sadness for the swan women, for Caer Ibormeith, and her haunting, and also for himself, hope brushed his face, feather-soft and he heard once more the sweet voices of women singing.

“Do they have a story, these swans?” he asked Höfmund, half expecting he would say, there are no swans. Höfmund raised his eyebrows in surprise.

“Them there? I reckon they’re just swans. There’s no stories about them among the Ettings that I know of. No doubt the men of Asgard would say they’re the swan women who gather up the souls of dead warriors.” He shrugged. “I don’t see no battlefield here though.”

Höfmund saw a flock of swans, nothing more magical or sinister. Perhaps that’s all they were. As the last of the light faded, so did the swans and their imagined singing.

#writephoto: The world afterwards

For Sue Vincent’s #writephoto prompt.

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We have longed for this for so long. The weeks turned to months, and now that the restrictions are finally lifted and the army has left the streets in a cloud of dust, we pour out into the familiar silence, and we have forgotten how to show our emotion. No one sings or shouts, or embraces strangers with joy. Sparrows flutter and garden songbirds flash with coloured wings. Grass has begun to grow between the paving stones; the river laps and washes banks lush with marsh flowers.

It hasn’t taken long to discover there is nothing left in the food shops, no petrol in the pumps. The shops that were forced to close are empty, no stock, no staff, no orders. I walk, like many people, following the river to the ocean. It isn’t far, though for months it might as well have been in another galaxy. Soon the rioting will begin, the destruction, because too many have no idea of how to build, but for the moment, in this brief interlude of adjustment to the world of afterwards, there is quiet.

I walk to the beach, the long straight beach that stretches parallel with the waves and the ranks of clouds that layer the sky with hues of red. The waves roll with a sigh and a hiss, licking away at the land, sucking it back into the cradle of the ocean. I wonder if the water will eventually reclaim all the land.

Dolphins and seals, porpoises break and dive. Birds call. We watch the sunset because there seems nothing else or better to do. Tomorrow it will start, the end, and the dolphins will laugh. The birds won’t care either. They will sing as they have always done whether we listen or not.

#writephoto: Stone

For Sue Vincent’s photo prompt.

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Once the ring of stones had been unbroken. The stones had been one, created to act as one, perform the same function for the same people. But times changed, the people scattered, their beliefs fragmented. For centuries the stones held firm, bound by thousands of years of tradition until one broke away, taking retribution with her.

The lapping of flames and the screams of the dying, the crying of children, the pouring of blood into the grass tore her from her roots. She would no longer be bound to the deep earth but would appear and disappear, never resting, never looked for and never remaining. She appeared after tragedies, wars, preventable catastrophes, and she brought fire, flood, storm and vengeance.

She brought fire to the big house on the hill, and for a while, she could be seen through the charred timbers and broken walls, standing gaunt and black on the ridge overlooking the town. When she left, the prints of her stony, fiery steps remained, and no crops, no plants, no bramble weeds ever disturbed the sacred ground of her passing.

Tactics

For Sonya’s Three Line Tales prompt.

photo by Michal Vrba via Unsplash

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There is something about the sight of children absorbed in a tactical game of skill, wits and intelligence that gives me the creeps.

I imagine them later, older, sitting together again, but this time around a conference table in a boardroom.

Older, the tactics refined and put to other uses, children who never acted the maggot at school plot with cold, dispassionate moves the fate of millions.

#writephoto: Ocean

I’m not this far on yet, but it’s helpful to sketch out a scene when inspiration strikes. Thanks Sue again 🙂 This snippet of WIP was suggested by Sue Vincent’s #writephoto prompt.

 

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Jon raced beneath the dark trees that towered above him, creating a tunnel where no light reached the leafy floor. He was almost out of breath before the tunnel ended in a pale circle, not bright daylight, but more shadow, the shadow of the mountain that leaned away from the forest. Not a glade, but a mountain pasture, high and cold, swept up to a coll between two jagged pillars of rock. The sky was clear. Tide’s out, he thought with relief. He refused to believe in the fairy stories of ghost birds and flying water demons, but he was quite prepared for something nasty to roll in with the tide.

The sky was clear and icy blue, and the short grass was green, true grass green. His heart swelled and he discovered he was still capable of running. He remembered with a jolt that Halli had spent at least one night alone up here without even Hrolf for company. Even? The swelling of his heart became a pang, and he wondered if Hrolf was the final tribute, and would his loss be enough to allow both of them to pass.

He slowed as he reached the col. There was no path, not even a goat track. The grass was sparse, and loose stones slid beneath his feet. The breeze gusted through the col bringing with it the overwhelming scent of the ocean. He hesitated between the stone pillars on either hand, his breath stopped by the sight of the golden water stretching as far as he could see. The blue of the sky was suffused with gold too, a veil that drifted and shifted as it rolled closer.

The tide was turning. He’d soon see what truth there was in the stories. But even more than at the sight of the open sea and the potential terror of the approaching mists, his heart pounded with the fear that Halli might not be there. From the rocks above, a pair of puffins squabbled, a gull swooped in a gale of laughter, and a voice called out.

“Jónsi! What kept you?”

He almost imitated the gull and laughed aloud. She had waited for him! Then came the question he didn’t know how he would answer.

“Where’s Hrolf?”

#writephoto: Tidelands

For Sue Vincent’s #writephoto prompt.

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Rags of mist scattered, and a crow bird landed in a heap of ragged feathers at the edge of the clearing. Jon picked up a stone and aimed at the bird. Hrolf growled and Halli looked bemused.

“What’s the maggot pie done to you? It’s half-blind and ancient.”

“They’re bad luck when they’re on their own,” he replied sheepishly but he lowered his hand all the same.

Wise. Bird knows.

“Does it know how to get out of here? Oh, I forgot. Birds can fly, can’t they?”

The magpie tilted its head on one side and opened its beak. It clacked its tongue in a series of hoarse calls, the familiar unmusical utterings of all magpies, but the images that fluttered behind Jon’s eyes made him blink at their brightness. How long was it since he had seen colours, real colours dense enough to draw a finger through and paint with? Blues shading from blue-black through turquoise to the palest of china blues streaked across his vision, pink-purple-violet cupped in tender green, haloed in gold and nasturtium orange. The bird tilted its head the other way. A milky eye peered at him.

Jónsi be listening.

Hrolf was watching him, his ears slightly raised. The bird’s tongue clacked again and he saw waves, a rolling green swell. His vision skimmed the wavetips, and a shoreline grew on the horizon, a forest fringe, hills, but before them rose a line of black cliffs, where the vision broke like impotent waves. The bird sight fluttered again and again, each time repulsed. Jon’s heart sank.

“It’s there. Just over the horizon. But I can’t reach it. It won’t let me in.”

In a rage, he threw the stone across the clearing and into the barely seen trees that huddled about its edge. In the silence that followed the rustle of its flight through the dripping leaves, they all heard the plop of a stone hitting distant water, the slap of a wave against rock.

Halli got to her feet and looked down at Jon with the expression she wore when he had done something particularly stupid.

“If we’re looking for the ocean, we could try that way.”

The magpie gathered its ragged feathers together, leapt into flight and beat its way into the mist. Hrolf barked. Jon knew he was laughing.

#photopromptpoetry: S.O.S.

I had the honour to be chosen poet of the week for Colleen Chesebro’s photo prompt last month. The prize was to be able to choose this month’s image. This one is by Susan Cipriano from Pixabay

trees

Trees link

ocean sky and

blue water, branching wide,

rooting deep where bird-fish skim-swim

skywards

or rootwards delve. Leaves wave, kelp-green

flags, pleading. Can you see

their reflections

calling?

Three Line Tales: The mystic

For Sonya’s three line tales prompt.

photo by Rikki Austin via Unsplash

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Miranda had taken up her place in the centre of the henge on a campstool to keep her robes off the damp grass, facing the east and the rising sun, when dawn was still only a paling of the darkness along the horizon.

The air was in movement with the faint presence of ancient lives that still vibrated in the holy place, and she was certain that this sunrise would reveal the arcane mysteries of the stone circle.

She held her breath as the first cold rays shot across the hillside and probed the entrance stones to touch her dew-damp feet then her knees, only letting it out in a gasp of disappointment when thick cloud smothered the sun and a light rain began to fall.