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.

Screenshot 2020-06-18 at 18.34.10

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.