A story written by Jane Williams (Published with permission)
Seven swans a-swimming"Hiording. Also sometimes called the "Swansons," this clan are descendants of Hiord and Safeela, a swan maiden. He stole her magical wrap, and so she stayed with him for 7 years, and their children head the main bloodlines of the clan." Or so they say....
They slid down from the sky in a long glide, then stalled hard as they neared the water: feet forward, great wings curved to brake, then easing forwards as they settled onto the surface, seven wakes spreading across the lake, crossing each other in a diamond pattern. To an onlooker, they glided smoothly towards land, no motion visible, and as they glided onto the shore, they changed, blurred, grew taller. The feathers shed themselves into seven white piles on the beach, and seven beautiful young women stepped onto the land. But there was no on-looker. They had made very sure of that before they landed: they knew the tales of ancestors of theirs whose swan robes had been stolen, and had been used to bind them into servitude.
There was no-one watching. Yet.
Safeela wondered, at times, if it was really so hard to be a human for seven years. She rather enjoyed the freedom of having hands to pick berries, the voice to exchange gossip and tell tales. Her older sisters spoke of marriage to a human as the worst of all possible fates, but she wasn't sure: if being a human was so bad, why did their father, and master, keep to his human form? Of course, flying was also fun.... It was a good afternoon. They ate blackberries, swam, enjoying the totally different feel of the water against unfeathered skin, and with arms instead of webbed feet, told tales, wove daisy-chains, did all the things that mute, handless swan maidens could not. And then it was time to return. Seven swan maidens, eldest first, herself last, would pick up their robes and.... change. The intoxicating feeling of the change always drowned the disappointment that it was over.
But this time, six swan robes lay on the beach. Six, not seven: that much they could see at a distance, and when they reached them, they knew. Each robe was as intimately personal to its owner as a body part: that was, after all, what it was. Safeela's robe was missing. She looked around at her sisters, wide-eyed, horrified, needing guidance and the safety of the flock, and met only hostility. No speech. Swans did not speak, but the words in those black, beady eyes did not need speech. "You lost it." "Careless." "Father will be angry - with you." The flock gathered together, but she, a human, was no longer part of it. Wings spread, beat the air - a threat to this outsider, to retreat. She backed away, confused, suddenly lonely, and the great birds took off, wings beating over her head as she cowered under the bushes. Gone - only six silhouettes against the evening sky. She was alone.
She knew the stories. She knew, with deadening inevitability, what would happen next. Man, threats, servitude. She wasn't even surprised when a man stepped out of the woods, though part of her mind noticed that at least he was good-looking. She almost missed his first words: she knew so well what they would be that what he actually said was hard to take in.
"My lady - are you all right?" She couldn't answer: as mute as any swan with the weight of unshed tears. He came closer: slowly, gently, as careful not to frighten her as if she had been a timid bird he was tempting to his hand. "You must be cold. Here, take my cloak." She stared at it, dumbly, as he held it out. She had never worn human clothes before. Her swan robe made her a swan - would this make her human? If so.... she reached out, took it, put it around her shoulders. She was cold, she realised: cold with fright, and shock, and loneliness.
"Now," he said gently, "what happened? I saw the others leave, without you. Do you need help? Shelter for the night?"
That wasn't how the story was supposed to go. She was relieved, but at the same time scared of this step into the utterly unknown. "My robe... you didn't take it?"
"I? No!" His shock seemed genuine: but how would she know, with so little experience of human speech? "Where did you leave it?"
She pointed miserably at the grass where one stray white feather now blew, and he knelt, examined the area carefully. "There's tracks here. An animal took it, I think - look, you can see where it dragged on the ground. We could follow that easily enough, if that's what you want to do?"
She didn't realise, for a moment, that he was asking her permission. No-one had ever done that before. "Yes. Yes, I want... that is, I need.... Father will be so angry, if I don't find it and go home."
"Will he, now?" He stood, took her hand. "Tell me about your father, as we walk."
She barely knew what to say, as she followed him into the woods. Father was just - there. Like the sky, or the mountains, or the lake. You obeyed him without question, because if you didn't - well, just because. She tried to explain, realising as she did so just how little she knew herself.
Far ahead, Russell the fox stopped for a rest. A swan! A whole swan, and he had taken it himself, and carried it all this way. He must be even stronger than he'd thought, it seemed as light as a feather. Awkward, though, being so big, and it kept dragging.... he put the bird down, examined it more carefully for a better way of carrying it than simply pulling it by the neck. And, a short while later, left, his tail between his legs.
"Is that it?" The pile of white feathers on the ground looked so forlorn. She could feel it calling to her, wanting to take her back to her old entrapment - what was she thinking? Back home, safe, with her sisters.
"Yes." Such a small word, impossible to carry all that meaning.
"And when you put it on, you turn into a swan, and fly away?" There was nothing but awe and wonder in his voice, none of the greed she'd been warned about.
"Yes, but..." Why this strange reluctance to do just that? "But not here. The trees are too close, I won't be able to take off."
"Of course, I should have thought of that. Back to the lake, then?"
By the time they reached the shore again, it was dark, and she was very tired, and limping. She had never walked so far on human feet before, but it had felt good, walking with him, talking, his hand supporting her towards the end. She was still reluctant to change, leave, return home, but it had to be done.
"Safeela." He was holding out a fine gold chain. "You wouldn't be able to wear a ring, in your swan form, but this... it was my mother's, once. A token, no more. If your father is angry with you - I will come for you, I promise."
She took it, unsure of the meaning, but sure that whatever it was, she wanted it. "Don't anger Father. You won't even be able to reach his stead, don't try."
"I'll manage it. If you need me, I'll manage it."
It was a week later when he came: one of the worst weeks of her young life. The chain had been taken from her within moments of her homecoming, then her every fault derided, her stupidity lamented, by father and sisters. She had known what would happen, it was inevitable, there was no point in questioning it. Now she stood quietly behind her elders, as she had been told. But Hiord was there, his very presence a breath of fresh air. He had not done the inevitable before. Perhaps he would escape the inevitable now, somehow.
"So, warrior. It is rare enough for my daughters to bring a hero to my attention: for one to seek me out himself is almost unheard of. Almost, but not quite. You know what I will demand of you?"
"In principle, yes, else I would not be here. I ask for your daughter's hand in marriage. Tell me what quest I must undertake, what monster I must slay, to be worthy."
"I slay my own monsters." The single cold dark eye was almost amused. "A simple question for you, no more. All you have to do is answer truthfully. You seek my daughter's hand. I have many daughters. Which one do you seek? Point her out."
As they had been ordered, the seven white swans walked forward, the first, and eldest, wearing a thin gold chain around her neck. Seven white swans, identical to human eyes. She saw Hiord's eyes go to the chain around her eldest sister's neck, and despaired. And then he frowned, and looked more carefully at each of them. "The last. Safeela, the youngest - who still limps from her long walk through the forest. That is who I would wed." She had almost forgotten the pain in her feet, forgotten that she was limping: but he had not.
"That is correct. I have given my word, and so you may take my daughter - for seven years, only. At the end of seven years, you must give her back her swan robe, and she will be free to fly home. Swear it - and do not break your oath."
Safeela was working in the garden, the new baby safely in the care of his older sisters, the toddler solemnly helping her by inspecting every pebble, when Hiord came out to her, carrying her old robe, and for a moment she did not understand.
"It's time, love. Seven years. I promised, and it shall be done. I give you back your swan robe. You are free."
She took it from him, as she did every morning. "It doesn't feel like seven years."
He put an arm around her. "Seven children. Seven fields under the plough. I've kept track, love - that's not an oath I would break."
"And so... I must fly home?"
He nodded. "That was the promise I made."
"I made no such promise." Seven years ago it had not occurred to her that the choice might have been hers to make. She had changed, in seven years, but the inevitable was still inevitable, he knew it as well as she did. She swung the robe around her, over her ordinary clothes, with the ease of long practice. White wings stretched, beat, as she climbed into the upper air. The cold, unforgiving North Wind blew from the mountains and the lake. She circled, looking down at the stead below. "I must go..... home?"
Feathers blew up dust from the vegetable garden as she landed. He was still standing where she had left him, smiling slightly.
"Our promise is kept, Hiord. This is my home."
A story written by Unknown (CC Share-Alike 3.0 License)
The Turning of the Year
Dark Season came, bringing with it cold and thick snowdrifts. Most people stayed home, but Perendal and Iskallos were out in the woods, hunting for furs. Winter brought the thickest, richest fur, and Odda Mulemother would pay well. Perendal found the remains of a camp -- not theirs, and not, he believed, belonging to any of the other clans who hunted in the Wilds.
As the snow melted and Dark Season turned to Storm Season, Mikhil Arkellsson was hard at work preparing for the great Orlanthi holy day One Day, which celebrate the birth of the god from the sacred body of Kero Fin. Since it was his first high holy day, Mikhil was concerned that everything be perfect, from the quality of the sacrifices to the singing of the hymns.
In the western part of the tula, at Intigarn Lambasson's stead, a visitor arrived. Taralos Hardensson was the charming son of a thane of the Zethnoring clan, who was visiting relatives at Red Cow Meadow. He praised Intigarn's bravery, attempted to charm Brenna, and was politely interested in Kalf's exploits. Kalf was puzzled about the young man's purpose in visiting such a distant acquaintance during the heavy rains of Storm Season, but he noticed that his sister seemed to like the handsome Zethnoring. His other sister rolled her eyes.
Kalf and his mother discussed the visitor, and Brenna spoke disapprovingly about him. Kalf offered to check him out. Intigarn seemed pleased by the young man's good manners.
Barntadus Korlmarsson, a merchant, arrived in the tula with a load of dried Caladraland peppers and other delicacies. He was accompanied by his daughter Theya Barntadusdotter, a young Vingan spearmaiden, and a worn-out old pack pony named Dum-Dum.
The celebration of One Day was a success, and the temple priests immediately began madly preparing for the rites of Sacred Time.
Sacred Time went well, although Korol Kite confided to Mikhil that the priests were still confused by the omens of the previous year's Sacred Time.
Perendal discovered a shattered tree marked with Air runes, and speculated that it was part of some unknown Sacred Time ritual. He showed it to Iskallos, who was as confused as he was.
Perendal returned home one evening to find his aunt and uncle nervous. Kuldev had not returned home. Perendal and Boltar went to look for him. As they approached the riverbank, Perendal heard a faint, wordless song. Boltar began to act uncomfortable, so Perendal told him to wait and approached the reeds at the water's edge. There he found Kuldev, watching through the reeds as three strangers explored the riverbank in the gathering dusk. Perendal recognized them by their colouring as members of the ruling family of the Hiording clan. They searched and searched but failed to find whatever it was they were looking for. Perendal sent Kuldev to fetch Boltar, then began to search in the water on his bank of the river. However, the intruders heard him moving around, clambered into their boat, and rowed away.
Once they were gone, Perendal asked Boltar and Kuldev to help him look. They finally pulled up a mostly rotted old fishing net, thick with mud. Perendal untangled it, and within it he found a single white feather, which seemed to catch the light oddly. He felt as though the song were coming from it. The quill was pierced, so he put it on a piece of thread and hung it about his neck. When he showed it to Iskallos, the old Ormalayan told him that he thought it might be a spirit charm, but wasn't sure. Perendal resolved to take it to Mikhil, who knew all about magic, and ask him.
Meanwhile, Ingomar Ingolfsson approached Kalf and told him to prepare for a journey. Marlesta Harbardsdotter was going to the Queen Day celebrations at the Hiording clan's Ernalda temple. She had served as a priestess there when she was married into the Hiordings, and was on good terms with the clan. The chief insisted that a weaponthane accompany her, and Ingomar told Kalf that they were going. he suggested that the trip would be a milk run.
Mikhil examined the feather and decided that it was divine in some way and might come from some kind of magical animal. They agreed that the feather resembled a swan feather. Mikhil suggested that he could help Perendal consult the Flint Slinger, Left-Stone Shouter, who might know more. Perendal, with Iskallos's permission, agreed to accompany Mikhil to the Hiording tula, and they joined the party preparing to leave.
Also accompanying the group were two young shepherds to take care of the animals for sacrifice, as well as Katla Aslaksdotter, a young Ernaldan making her first trip to the temple.
On the first night, they stayed with a thane of the Hiording clan who lived in the west of the tula. Marlesta talked to Mikhil, asking him questions about his teaching and about mythology. She seemed slightly perturbed to find out the name of his mother. Theya joined Ingomar and his warriors around the fire. The grizzled old veterans greated her with amused courtesy.
On the second day, heavy rain forced the group to take shelter in a small cottage. It proved to be occupied by Durevkar Durevkarsson, a traveling entertainer, his wife and partner, Kelna the Beautiful, and their apprentice, Serkara the Not Bad. The young men were quick to notice that Serkara was rather more than not bad looking.
Orlaront Three Horses expressed an interest in a puppet show, and offered to share his food with the entertainers. They were happy to oblige. While the show was on, Marlesta fumed with impatience at the weather. Mikhil went outside to sit naked and commune with the storm. However, he quickly began to feel that it was the work of one of the bad winds. He summoned an air being, but it proved to be hostile and mischievous. He recognized the work of Gagarth, the outlaw god of the whirlwind. Peering into the storm, he saw dark shapes moving around the barn where they had stowed Dum-Dum and the animals for sacrifice. Someone was stealing the cattle!
Mikhil banged on the door to alert the others and rushed toward the men who were making away with the cattle. They were ragged and poor-looking, armed with spears, axes, clubs and knives. Several had bright patches of scar tissue where they had slashed their clan tattoos. He tried to frighten them away, but one of them thumped him with a club.
Perendal rushed out next and slung a stone at one of the Gagarthi, felling him. Looking over at the other side of the stead, he saw five more Gagarthi, more heavily armed, sneaking along the fence. He called out to the others.
Mikhil, deciding to change tack, summoned a gust of wind to fling the club-armed Gagarthi away from him. He flew away and crashed into the trees. The other Gagarthi by the barn began to back away.
Kalf rushed out of the house and, not waiting for Ingomar and the others, charged the leading Gagarthi who was coming around the fence. He plowed into him , smashing his spear into his shield and knocking him off his feet. Ingomar, Orlyg, Illugi, and Orlaront came out of the cottage after him, grabbing their spears, swords, and axes.
Over by the barn, a whirlwind began to manifest from the direction of the treeline. As it got closer, Mikhil could see that it was carrying a man with wild hair whose clan tattoos were covered with new tattoos of the Disorder rune. The Gagarthi roared with anger as he saw Mikhil. "Helamakt!" he cried. "Thunder Brother!"
Ingomar and his men ran toward the fence. Illugi and Orlyg ran around to cut off the advance of the Gagarthi, while Ingomar and Orlaront ran to attack the rearmost ones across the fence. Theya emerged from the house, picking up her spear and shield. Perendal ran back in to fetch his.
The Gagarthi was staring at Mikhil with eyes wide, the wind whipping around him. He cast his spear and shield to the ground. "Cowardly dog! Come and fight me -- no spears, no shields, just wind against wind, you goat-eating stickpicker!" Mikhil summoned his wind to surround him and the two rose into the air, battering at each other. The Gagarthi's whirlwind was more powerful than Mikhil's Killer Rain Gale, and the young god-talker found himself struck by a rock scooped up by the cyclone and thrown onto the roof of the barn. The Gagarthi flew toward him, blaspheming against Orlanth. Enraged, Mikhil struck back, blinding his foe with hailstones and then searing him with a lightning bolt. He flew off, trailing smoke from a singed beard.
Meanwhile, Kalf struggled with his first opponent but finally speared him.
Perendal and Theya rushed in to help the warriors, and when the Gagarthi saw they were outnumbered, they all turned and ran. Kalf then charged after one of the fleeing enemy, who knocked him down. Kalf grabbed him, and the fight went to the ground. Kalf was nearly overcome, but eventually overpowered his foe and beat him senseless.
As the dust cleared, Perendal and the shepherds went to round up the panicked animals. Mikhil tended Perendal's wounds. Kalf and Orlyg were too badly hurt to treat right there. Eventually, they got their possessions together and headed on for the Hiording chief's stead. Ingomar gave Kalf a captured helmet.
The group arrived at the Hiording chief's hall and told their story. The chief was very concerned and summoned his champion, who reinforced the patrols at the western edge of the tula. Perendal recognized two of the Hiordings he had seen searching the river as the younger son and daughter of the chief. The chief appeared to be in poor health.
The Hiordings were surprised to see that Perendal had a feather, and asked him politely to tell them about his ancestry. He told them about the Voskandoring origin story. They told him that a divination had told them to collect the feathers.
Kalf went to the Ernalda temple with Orlyg, where his wounds were tended by a healer, Bereva Tofisdotter. She gave him a bath in the hot springs and massaged his pulled muscle, prompting jealous growls from Perendal, whose injuries had been treated by a naked man with a straggly beard rather than a young and gentle Ernaldan.
Mikhil went to the Orlanth shrine where he gossiped with the priest. He slept there, Kalf slept in the chief's hall, and Perendal shifted for himself.
The three guests attended the festival. Mikhil noticed that the Hiording youth were dressing in their best clothes, knowing that there would be Ernaldan pilgrims visiting from many clans. The Hiordings in general seemed well-dressed and punctilious about their appearance.
The opening ceremonies were well-attended, and all three were impressed by the ceremonial guard of Babeester Gor axemaidens. After a short prayer, lay worshippers of Ernalda and all the men returned to the stead for the fair.
Perendal and Kalf introduced themselves to Left-Stone Shouter, a lesser air god embodied in a standing stone at the Orlanth temple. It related several Orlanthi legends in exchange for small offerings. He also told them that the feather was from a cloak that allowed its wearer to turn into a swan, among other magical powers. It had been acquired by the Hiordings a long time ago, but lost, and now a divination said it was needed again.
Perendal went in search of Kera, who had wandered off, and ran into her being petted by a young woman who greeted him amiably. She introduced herself as Yandassa. She looked at Perendal and said "but you're not an alynx." He agreed that he was not an alynx. "In fact, you don't know what you are." Perendal agreed with this as well. They discussed heritage and identity, as well as alynxes. Yandassa rolled up her sleeves, revealing a tattoo of the Yinkin rune. Perendal said that he wasn't sure of who he was because he kept learning new things about his past. She asked him "is that really who you are?" Eventually she excused herself.
Kalf went looking for some girls to impress. He told them the story of his cattle raid, and how he stole a Lonisi horse. Three young men from the Lonisi clan heard this, and one confronted him. They argued a little, exchanging insults.
"Is this Harbarding trying to impress you by being a horse thief?"
"I suppose you could complain about being a horse-loser if you'd prefer. But I wanted the best horse, so I knew where to go."
"Maybe Lonisi horses are a little too good for you. Did you get those bruises falling off like a sack of turnips?"
"I got these bruises beating a Gagarthi with my bare hands -- he fled after I speared the first one."
"Running after him on foot like a Venderi! Maybe a horse is too much for you. You want something slower, like an ox."
"You put an ox and a horse together and you see who wins."*
* The Lonisi clan are known as the "pony" clan; the Harbardings are the "ox" clan.
The fight was separated, but Kalf had impressed the onlookers.
A feast was held, followed by a dance. Perendal kept to himself. Kalf, still admired following his confrontation with the Lonisi, flirted with a Hiording girl, and after several dances they disappeared beyond the circle of firelight to get to know each other better. Mikhil told the story of his fight with the Gagarthi, but it was not as dramatic in the retelling. The person who was most impressed was Theya, who had witnessed the actual fight itself. They talked and flirted until late.
The next morning, most of the revellers looked the worse for wear except for the Hiording champion, who was calm and untroubled. Marlesta had the party stay around for another day to complete any further business. Durevkar stayed at the stead to perform for another few days. Barntadus and Theya continued on eastward.
Perendal spoke to the Hiordings, who said that it would be an act of great friendship to give them the feather. He gave it to them. In return, they gifted him with a new set of clothes -- a fine linen shirt, a warm brown wool tunic with embroidered plant designs at the collar, hem and cuffs, a tough leather jerkin, a pair of wool trousers, sturdy leather boots with motion runes on the tops, a dark wool cloak with a hood and deep inside pockets, and a stout leather belt with a bronze buckle. For the first time in his life, Perendal was well-dressed!
The party set out west again and, after two days' uneventful travel, returned to Harbardsstead. It was Wilds Day of Fertility Week, called Clover Day, in Sea Season, year 7 of Byrgaros Harbardsson.