Swan

There is a place on the coast of the North Sea in Europe called Fryslân. Centuries before this name was known to the great civilizations of the world, there lived a mother, a father, and a child.

The mother, whose native name meant Rabbit Woman, was an expert herbalist and ceremonialist. Trained in the ancestral ways passed on solely and exclusively by women, she was mentored by some of the most powerful priestesses of her time, even some who never passed on their knowledge, except to her. Yet, she defied these mentors when she fell in love with a man, mated with him, and retreated deep into the forest with him. The forest, fallaciously believed to be haunted, was uninhabited as far as the falcon could fly, and in many places it was surrounded by wetlands and densely overgrown waterways. It proved to be the perfect place to raise a family in safety and solitude.

The father’s native name meant Auroch Heart. Aurochs were the giant wild cattle that roamed ancient Europe, of which he was an excellent hunter. In comparison with his wife, Auroch Heart was an equal expert in hunting, bow-making, fletching, and most importantly sword-making. In those days, a sword in a household was as valuable as a computer would be in households some twenty-four centuries later. Sought after by many clans in lands to the north, where ambitious people multiplied and clogged every inlet with their greed and lust for power, he fled from those who would enslave him for his gifts. There in the forest, he made some of his finest creations, centuries ahead of their time in unparalleled craftsmanship.

Rabbit Woman and Auroch Heart stole away to the forest to raise a family. Nestled deep in the homeland of the tree and water spirits, they built a terp, a raised earthen mound to protect them from flood waters, wild animals, and any mysterious wanderers through the forest. Their modest home on the terp was built from the surrounding trees, but only those that had fallen from wind or other damage. Surrounding the terp they encouraged the growth of tall grasses, making the entire area almost invisible, from even twenty meters away. In the spring, they gave birth to a healthy child, whom they raised with all the wisdom they themselves had been taught. The child’s native name meant Swan.

Swan’s parents held knowledge and wisdom in the two greatest spiritual and technological traditions of the day. Blessed with this exceptional education and a powerful ancestry of intellect and wisdom, Swan grew up to be a formidable citizen of the wilds. She was trained by her father in the keenest hunting skills and practices, as well as combat, both armed and unarmed. Her mother trained her to recognize all the plants of the forest and even those she may never see in lands far away. Together they observed the feelings that different plants would produce in ceremony, how to interact and communicate with those plants, and how they could aid in divination, medicine, and other applications. Swan was always fond of when her mother and her would study medicine songs, the beautiful melodies and harmonies they made together seemed to lift and radiate throughout the woods.

Swan was well-informed about wanderers, travelers, and people in the outside world. On a regular basis she would spend a day traversing the fens and bogs to clandestinely surveil the men who passed along the edges of the forest. They were hunters, yet they were superstitious, and never ventured deep into the forest. Sometimes Swan would approach these men, even stealthily hanging in a tree for hours as the unwitting travelers sat directly beneath her. A few times she teased the young boys who would come out on the missions by walking up right behind them in total silence and suddenly disappearing right as they turned around. Swan’s mother encouraged this activity, as it spooked the living daylights out of young curious minds that might otherwise investigate a little too closely or deeply into the forest.

When she wasn’t tracking men, Swan was at one with the forest and all the creatures that lived within. She knew every animal larger than a frog and how their families were doing. When she hunted, she specifically targeted the most ideal individual: older but healthy animals without whom their group could survive. Every time she pulled back her bow, she made sure she stood at a fair distance, giving the animal a fair chance to escape if the forest willed it to be so. Her mother had taught her this is the honorable way, to respect those you hunt and pray for their children so they may multiply. In this way, the forest was never short of plenty and bounty.

It was Swan’s seventeenth winter when she first explored outside the forest that had sheltered her throughout her childhood. The fens were covered in a few weeks’ snows, and the wetlands were frozen so they could be walked upon by four-legged and two-legged alike. Swan was tracing tracks of wolves along what in summer would have been a small marshy stream, but was now frozen solid.

Her eyes scanned over the tracks with precise attention to detail. She could detect how healthy each member of the pack was by the way they walked and the texture of their paw prints in the snow. Multicolor and ever-changing, Swan’s miraculous hazel eyes gently morphed colors with her moods, even now as she examined the trail. Behind her soft yet androgynously Norse face, golden-brunette hair framed and curved around her visage. On that day, the hood of her white deerskin cloak was down, with its white rabbit fur trim hiding behind Swan’s broad Scandinavian shoulders.

As she stood back up, her size and Valkyrie-like appearance became clear. Standing over six feet in height, people of the day would have said she was descended from giants. Indeed both her parents were unusually tall, yet she only ever compared herself to others when she could get close enough to the young boys on hunting parties. They seemed diminutive to her, another reason they intrigued her so.

Under Swan’s cloak, she wore layers of impossibly light-weight whites and greys, a knee-length white dress and white tights close to her skin. These clothes were of exceptional quality for the time. Her mother’s tailoring skills were bested only by her father’s sword craft. Swan’s feet trod through the snow and over the ice in thickly insulated rabbit skin boots with soles that fell softer than snowflakes. She gradually quickened pace to follow the trail.

As she crept quietly along the path, her bow, quiver, and sword bobbed gently up and down on her back with her movements. The woods were impossibly silent that day. Trees enveloped the background in the distance, with a canopy of brown branches giving way to a grey veiled backdrop of overcast sky. Occasionally a few snowflakes would pass in view as if the weather could not make up its mind. The ground cover was mildly populated by bushes, brambles, grasses, clumps of snow-covered ferns, and the larger macroscopic undulating rises and falls in the landscape made by the network of waterways that led toward the ocean.

It was toward the ocean that the wolves’ path led Swan. This fact puzzled her, and her curiosity quickened her pace. Wolves rarely ventured to the beach outside the forest and fens. The tidal marshes had little cover and few prey, poor hunting grounds for any large predator. Swan reached the opening as the trees of the fens gave way to wetlands. She had only been out this far a few times in her life, to do ceremony with her mother by the ocean. Peering down at the trail of snowy footprints, she witnessed the pack’s trace turn away from the ocean and back into the forest. It seemed they were hunting a scent and it ran cold here with the heavy salty air and unfrozen marshes.

Swan blocked the low winter sun now peeking under the overcast sky on the horizon’s edge, as she gazed north toward the ocean. She sensed something. It was an intuitive sensation, like that she had learned in meditation with her mother. It was that feeling of immanence, a great event in time about to unfold. Swan braced her senses, listening intently and looking intently. She slowly turned her back to the sun and faced the woods as she realized it was coming.

A great wind in the distance roared through the forest to the south. Birds could be seen fleeing its path as it seemed to be skimming the surface of the treetops and heading directly north toward her location. The sound increased as it approached her not just because of its increasing proximity, but also because it began to sheer off the top branches of trees. Its altitude was descending. Still she had no visual on the object. It was as if it was invisible.

This invisible something was now rending whole halves of trees off their trunks as it plunged through the forest at an intense speed that was decreasing only slightly due to the massive friction an immovable forest causes to an immense unstoppable object. Each moment seemed an eternity to Swan, but it was definitely going to surface with the beach head directly where she was standing.

With the last second of opportunity, she dove down the small dune she was on. The invisible something obliterated the dune in an instant, shattered the layers of ice on the frozen stream just beyond it, sent massive waves of water spewing forth to what must have been its port and starboard, and somehow miraculously came to a whiplash stop just on the very edge of the beach. Waves crashed up against the invisible object as smoke emanated from what seemed to be an equatorial line in the object.

From the smoke and waves, Swan estimated the invisible something was a round oblong stone-like object maybe three meters long and two meters high and wide. From a distance she observed it for any movement. Seeing nothing, she stealthily closed the distance between her and the object.

With her right hand on her sheathed sword behind her, she stooped in the grasses on the leading edge of the last sandy hill before the beach. She was about to move forward again when the invisible something suddenly made a sputtering noise like a sick animal having a fit, and then it… Swan didn’t have words for what it did next. It was as if it collapsed in on itself into nothingness. Though it was invisible, it caused a distortion of the light moving through and around it, like heat waves on a beach horizon in summer. And then it just winked out of existence. There was no sound or smoke, and the indentation that the object had left in the sand was now filling with seawater as the waves moved in. It just… vanished.

What was this enigmatic object? Swan moved closer to investigate. She took a long stick to poke it where the object had been. The stick found only air and emptiness, and when she pressed the indentation, it found only compressed sand. It was almost certainly no longer there, and aside from moving sand, water and some ice, it had little impact or interaction with the environment.

She could still pick up a whiff of the smoky scent that lingered. It was strangely metallic, like some of the rarer ores her father worked with in his shop. Sometimes he would tell of the far off places such metals came from and how, through nearly secretive trading with locals, he was able to get them in such seclusion. Swan’s parents had contacts on the outside. Perhaps this object came from those far off places.

Swan examined the perimeter of what was now a filling seawater pool. As she moved her head close to the sand, a glint of light sparkled between her and the sunset resting on the horizon. It was a reflection of something metallic and nearly microscopic. Swan kept her eye firmly on the glint and approached it with her face nearly touching the cold sand.

It was a small hexagonal piece of metal no bigger than a grain of sand itself and far thinner. It almost resembled a snowflake, though it was clearly a highly polished metal. It barely rested on the surrounding grains of sand and seemed as if it could easily fall into the pile for its sheer thinness.

With face and head motionless, Swan unsheathed her knife, a gift from her father a couple years earlier, of singular construction at which weapon smiths centuries later would still marvel. Gently inserting her knife in the sand well beneath the metallic object, she lifted it up. Sand cascaded off the sides of the blade as she kept the metallic snowflake centered in view. In perfect stillness, Swan switched the knife to her left hand as she grabbed a stalk of grass with her right. Brushing away individual grains of sand like an adept archaeologist, she gradually isolated the incredibly minute metal object, now laying on the cold metal of her knife.

She sat there for a moment, contemplating and analyzing the object. It seemed like it could be the fragment of something larger. It reminded her of the tiny specs of metal that littered the floor of her father’s metal workshop sometimes. But her intuition was speaking again. It was something more powerful. It seemed to radiate a sensation of power that far surpassed anything one thousand times its size.

Swan held out her blade with her left hand, extending her right underneath it. She turned the blade and let the object fall into her hand. And as it daintily connected with her hand, reality began to twist around her…

Only a few times in her life had she felt like this, like some of the most powerful medicines she and her mother had experienced in ceremony. Her spirit body seemed to twist in multiple turns, and her mind flipped over on itself like a Möbius strip threading through a Klein bottle which then julienned themselves into bands of light radiating in every direction.

It seemed impossible that just touching an object could have such an effect. Swan was unsure what was happening, but her training at least gave her some frame of reference within which to work with this. In a seemingly extradimensional realm, she prayed and called for guidance as her essence sped across ethereal spacescapes which she could scarcely comprehend.

And things slowed. The massive intake of sensory input subsided and reality quickly resurfaced. Swan’s spirit body returned to its usual form, and her physical sensation gradually returned. Arms, legs, body, sounds, sight… It was dark, and she sat on an impossibly smooth stone floor of some kind. It was cold. Everything was. She put her hood up and rewrapped her clothes snugly around her. As she did so, she verified she still had weapons: sword, bow, quiver of arrows, and knife.

Swan’s eyes adjusted to the room’s darkness, and varying shades of dark and darker began to contrast with each other, giving way to definition. This seemed to be a room in some building. It was expertly built with incredibly straight lines everywhere, a marvel to Swan’s primitive eyes. To her right was what might be a window opening, though it was covered with a translucent ice-like substance, diffusing the light that entered the room, of which little entered. The building must have been adjacent to yet another building that blocked most of the light.

Behind her and level with the ground was a faint crack of light at the bottom edge of the wall. This wall was different than the others and may have been some kind of massive door. It appeared to be a kind of corrugated metal whereas the other walls seemed to be of a white painted wood or some similar substance unknown to her (drywall). Surrounding the perimeter of the room were various metallic odds and ends, the likes of which Swan had never seen. It was as if this was some masterful blacksmith’s shop. Many of the objects hung from the walls on hooks, while others seemed to be stored in flat metal boxes that were stacked inside another specially made metal box. There seemed to be every imaginable shape and manner of tool in this room.

She wondered what they might be for as she stood up and went to walk across the room. But she was abruptly stopped less than a foot away as she walked into and was obstructed by an invisible object, the invisible object. Swan brushed her hands across the smooth surface of the object. It was metallic for sure and definitely the object she had previously encountered. She sniffed the air, catching a significant trace of the smoky scent from before, as well as many other strange and troublesome dirt particles that harshly entered her airways. She coughed. The air was foul here.

She needed a way out of this room. Spotting what looked like a more human-sized doorway to her left, she decided to examine it. It was white and made again of an unknown material (like many things there). It seemed metallic in texture, but somewhat bone-like. Swan had never encountered plastic and had no similar concept in her time and age.

Nevertheless, she noticed a metallic piece at about waist height on the door. It was almost flat along the surface of the door, but Swan decided just to see what happened if she touched it. The door suddenly opened, revealing a brief hallway leading to another largish room (about the size of the garage).

Swan took her chance and walked through the door, hoping it would not close on her. It didn’t and gracefully closed after she crossed through. She looked back at it in amazement, attempting to gauge if some animal might be behind the mechanism. The door has a squirrel-like personality to its movement.

The brief hallway was in fact a kitchenette (an unfamiliar term to Swan of course), filled with more metallic boxes that did not seem to hold tools unlike the previous room. One of the metallic boxes seemed to be actively humming. Swan touched it, and it was cold. The others made no noise. ‘Perplexing,’ Swan thought to herself.

There was another little room to the right, but it had no light at all. Swan might investigate later, but to the left, the main room opened up. It was a modest apartment, but Swan’s eyes continued to marvel in amazement at the precision construction of the room. The white drywall was masterfully smooth and flat, wooden bamboo floors perfectly polished, and grass mats intricately woven. A tiny flame sat on top of an animal fat stick (a candle) on one end of the room.

At the other end of the room, sat an old man in plainish clothes, meditating deeply as he faced out the front window where more light was coming in, though it did not seem natural, almost as if like the aurora Swan had seen from time to time in the north. Her mother had told her many stories of the aurora, and of the mystical traveling towns of spirits to the north.

The old man’s eyes were closed, and he was apparently undisturbed by Swan’s presence. She tread lightly and decided to sit on the opposite side of the room, waiting patiently. She closed her eyes and meditated along with him. Perhaps the spirit realm might be a more appropriate place to meet him…

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About Ora Uzel

Ora lives in her secret lair on an underwater plateau in central Lake Michigan.
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One Response to Swan

  1. Pink Skully Spotted Eagle says:

    indeed

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