The Black Swan
The whole thing started when I ran away from the manor. After a long voyage on the SUMMER ROSE, I ran and ran, to nowhere or so it seemed. After a while, I was deep, deep in the woods. Gradually, my thoughts of Florence, and Father, and home began to drift away. I plunged into an uneasy slumber. Then came the dream, the dream that changed my world forever.
I felt as though I had only blinked; I opened my eyes to the scenery passing before me. I was running through the forest again, harder this time, and yet I wasn't tired.
All my senses were heightened. I could detect the light scent of pine emanating from surrounding trees, feel the wind flowing over my face, and see the curve of every pebble on the ground. Millions of insects were singing their songs. They grew louder and closer, until I could feel the weight of them pushing me to the ground.
Suddenly, everything went silent and I stopped running. The forest around me had disappeared but I hadn't noticed until then. At my feet was a drop that opened to a small, glittering lake. I saw the moon reflected in the water and gliding over it was a beautiful black swan.
Its feathers were smooth, and black as midnight. The neck was longer than any I had ever seen. But it was the eyes that caught my attention. They were wide and bright green. The swan's green eyes met my blue ones and we stared at each other. For how long I don't know, but I found it difficult to pull my eyes away. The swan then began a strange ritual. It circled around the lake four times and looked at me again.
I am sure this may sound very strange to you but I will tell you exactly what happened next: I jumped into the lake. With my gown washed up above my knees and my hair flying wildly, I dove deep into the lake. All this time, I sensed that the black swan was following closely behind. And then, I blacked out.
When I gained consciousness at last, I was out of the magical lake. My gown was not wet, not even damp. Before me, stood the black swan, the same one that had caused of all my troubles. It appeared to be TALKING to a young woman. Like the swan, she was adorned in the blackest black. Her hair was black, even her eyes were black. In contrast to all this black, her skin was very, very pale. The young woman saw me and walked over.
She stretched her arm out towards me. Her lips moved but no sound came out. There was an awful look of anguish swallowing up her delicate features. Before she came close enough to put her hand on my shoulder, I awoke with a shudder. My eyelids opened to the sun rising just above the horizon. Drenched in cold sweat, I realized I was safe. How could I have known that that was only the beginning of my adventure?
I ran away from home because everything seemed to have gone wrong for me at the manor. After my mother died, father married a wicked woman who wanted to marry me off to my cousin Arnettigo in Florence. Although I loved my father, I could not and would not obey. I stowed away aboard the SUMMER ROSE and fled to France. That was how I came to wander in this strange land.
I started to think about the strange dream again. I usually forget dreams in the morning but this dream of the black swan was as clear in my mind as my recent voyage across the English Channel. Trying to forget, I started to walk. I walked in no particular direction. The woods must end somewhere. I was bound to find a village with people who can help me.
A wolf howled in the far off distance. I shivered from the cold. I closed my weary eyes for only a moment, when suddenly, someone grabbed me from behind and lifted me up into the air. A handkerchief passed under my nose put me to sleep and I was carried off.
I was carried far away from the coast, into a different part of the forest, where there were no happy bird songs, no little squirrels, the trees drooped as if they were sad, and hardly any sunlight got through the dense canopy. It was not a place I wanted to be.
When I awoke I stayed perfectly still, so as not to arouse my captor. I was lying on my stomach on the ground, hands tied behind my back. Slowly I looked up to see my captor's face. You can hardly call a swanâ€™s head a face. Yes, it was the same black swan in my dream! I gasped, not knowing what to make of it all. How I hoped this was one long nightmare and I would wake up in my cozy canopy bed. Alas, it was all too real.
I blinked and the swan disappeared. In its place was an old woman with black eyes. Looking around the room, I saw no one else and thought I might have imagined the swan. And yet it seemed so real. The old woman's eye locked on to mine and she walked towards me. "Hello, Darling. Finally you've awakened. You must be starved, would you like something to eat?" She acted as if nothing extraordinary had happening.
After a momentâ€™s thought, I said, "Who in this miserable world are you? What am I doing here! Untie me and explain, I beg of you!" I glared at this strange woman with the coal black eyes and attempted to get up. My efforts were in vain, for I toppled over and landed on my back, stunned. A look of amusement came over those wondrous eyes. "Oh dear," said the stranger delicately, "You are quite the struggler. Of course you're hungry, and these damp woods don't help. Let us go into my dwellings, and there I shall explain. Do you not agree?"
"Letâ€™s sit down, and I will tell you all I know, little one." The stranger said. I followed reluctantly to a comfortably furnished room and lay down on a couch. The old woman then started to explain, "As you may have figured out, I am a witch." "Are you good or bad?" I asked. Her amazing black eyes sparkled as she answered, "It really depends. If you obey me and stay on my good side, I am the kindest witch in the world." Her eyes darkened as she said, "But, if you happen, JUST BY CHANCE, to get on my bad side...woe be the cursed day you were born." Her white-toothed smile sent shivers up my spine.
I asked meekly, "Do you have anything to do with this swan business?" She cleverly made a cherry cake appear in the air and gave it to me before answering. "My dear, I am the swan." Then she started to eat a piece of chocolate as if we were just having a nice afternoon chat.
But I wasn't about to give up. "Did you give me that dream? If so, what for?" She sighed, and then said, "I am not the witch who invaded your dreams. Her name is Adrillyana, and she is the one you saw in your dream. We turn into black swans when it suits us. So do hundreds of witches, young and old, all around the world. We are called the Company of Swans, and Adrillyana is our leader." Amazed, I asked, "But what do you want me for? And WHY did you send me that dream?"
"Young one, you did not come here by chance. It was fate that led you to this very forest. We see in you a great power that would be an asset to the Company of Swans. I have come to invite you to be a black swan and forever uphold the coven. With you the Company of Swans will come out of the darkness. We will strike fear in the hearts of all mankind!" She become more excited as her speech progressed and by now she was on her feet, restlessly pacing around the tiny kitchen.
"If I'm so important to your cult, why do you treat me so harshly?â€ I asked.
"It was necessary you because you know not of the powers you have. I came to you in a dream and I am holding you captive because I didn't think you would leave the comfort of your every day life unless I forced my way into your consciousness." The girl was stunned.
Her words were sweet and so persuasive, yet they made me feel uncomfortable. Utterly confused, I decided to risk all and dashed towards the door. Unfortunately, it was bolted. Fearful of my fate, I replied with out a second thought, "I will join your club. Only do not harm me!" The woman, whose name I still did not know, said, "I see you are a tad reluctant. Let us strike a bargain."
"The deal is this: I tell you the secret of your hidden powers, and you join the Company of Swans." she smiled sweetly. Inwardly I scoffed at such a bargain, but I pretended to look pleased. But then the swan woman said, "However, before I can tell you about your powers, you must make a dangerous journey."
"To where?" I asked.
She answered, "You must climb over Magic Mountain. On the other side is a land of fantasy: The Land of Lenosh. There, you must persuade Adrillyana's husband, Kazmir, to give you the Golden Ring." Afraid for my safety, I replied by slowly nodding my head.
All of a sudden I was near a huge, snowcapped mountain. In the distance, the black long-necked creature, who had delivered me there, flew until it was no longer visible.
Run! Run as far away as possible! That was the first thought that came to my mind. I came upon a small village and knock on the door of the nearest house. I must have presented a pitiful sight, for the owner, an old woman by the name of Jenna took me in and fed me. I explained everything that had happened to me, and she took pity. She gave me directions to Lenosh and food for my journey.
I followed Jennaâ€™s directions to a village, then another, through a lonely but beautiful forest, past the castle of a wealthy lord, and then to a steep mountain. I sat down to rest, eating a bit of the food Jenna had given me. Then I slept on the soft, wet grass through an uneventful night.
When I woke up, I was not in the place where I slept. A bubble had enveloped me and was slowly carrying me away. Terrified, I tried to scream but no sound came out. With all my strength, I pushed my way out of this bubble and landed on the grass. When I looked up, I gazed upon the most beautiful creature I had ever seen, a unicorn.
I remembered reading a book about unicorns from Father's library. It said unicorns could speak! I walked over to this glorious creature and said, "Pardon me, but do you know where we are?"
He looked up and inspected me closely. Then he said, "How strange of you not to know. This is the magical pond, Kartosh. Down, down, deep in the lake, is the kingdom of water nymphs. You were almost taken captive by their magic bubble. You were lucky to escape. Many a beautiful maidens have never been seen again when they wander near this pond." He went back to eating grass, then said, "Long ago humans threw land nymphs into the water as sacrifice to the hungry water monster. When a brave knight finally killed the monster, the nymphs had become too accustomed to living in water to return to land. However, they take young maidens to avenge their mistreatment from the humans."
My whole body went cold. To think I was almost sentenced to the chill water for all eternity.
I continued my journey with the Unicorn as my companion. When we reached a clearing, my new friend said, â€œThis is as far as I can go. This path will lead you to Duke Bernardâ€™s castle. The Duke is a powerful man; he may be able to help you.â€
I thanked the Unicorn and started down the path. When I arrived at the castle, I explained my situation and asked the Duke for help. Not only did the Duke scoffed at my plea for help, he suggested that if I wanted to stay I would have to work as a scullery maid. I asked if he can protect me against witches. Duke Bernard laughed and answered â€œof course.â€ Thus I became a servant in a haughty French Lordâ€™s kitchen.
It was hard work. I scrubbed the floors and even washed my masterâ€™s feet. I had no friends because the other servants didnâ€™t like me. Yet I was content, knowing that no harm would come to me as long as I have this powerful French lord's protection. Work seemed such a small price to pay! Then one day I discovered my magical powers.
It happened when I was washing dishes. I had taken a dislike to the cook who always slapped me for no reason. Just as I was drying the last dish, she walked in. I braced myself for the beating, closed my eyes, and I wished her dead. Strangely, the beating never came. I opened my eyes to see the cook lying on the floor in front of me. Her eyes were still open but she wasnâ€™t moving. I placed my hands over my mouth trying to muffle my screams.
My cries brought several servants rushing into the room. When Duke Bernard entered the kitchen, all hands pointed to me as the culprit. I started to run. I ran out of the kitchen and out of the castle. I heard footsteps of men pursuing me but I didnâ€™t look back. When I stopped hearing footsteps, I stopped and collapsed on the grass. I was safe but once again I was on the run.
How had I committed murder without knowing it? Then it hit me. I must have magic powers. I could wish for things and they would come true! I concentrated on a clean dress and good food but nothing happened. Then, I wished for a thunderstorm over the castle. I heard thunder off in the distance and smiled. Following a hunch, I wished for several more bad things and they all came true!
Suddenly I wasn't smiling anymore. My magic only allows me to cast wicked spells. Thus I vowed never to use my magic again.
I hadn't noticed my surroundings until then. I looked around and saw a girl my own age! Her dress was in rags. Her hair was matted and greasy, and her body filthy. Yet despite these things, she was very beautiful. And she was reading! Perhaps she too was a once-wealthy maiden like me.
I approached this girl and introduced myself. She smiled, "I'm English also! My name is Valerie. I am a peasant from the village Larshire."
â€œWhere did you learn how to read?â€ I asked inquisitively.
She frowned irritably. â€œPlease donâ€™t ask so many questions about me. Letâ€™s just be Charlotte and Valerie and put our unhappy past behind us.â€
Happy to have finally found a friend, I agreed to accept her as the peasant she claimed to be. She generously shared her small cottage with me. As she took off her coat, I noticed on her back several welts from a whip. Poorly hidden all over the cottage were jewels. There were jewels of all shape and sizes everywhere.
I confronted my friend. â€œAre you a thief?â€ I asked.
With tears in her eyes, Valerie thrust a diamond necklace into my hands. â€œI beg of you. Please do not reveal my secret to the villagers. I am the youngest daughter of King Henry VII of England. I was sent into exile for my safety during the war for succession. These jewels are all I have.â€
I put my arms around the Princess of England and she cried on my shoulder until she fell asleep.
That evening, I had yet another strange dream. Valerie and I were running through the forest. In a clearing surrounded by willow trees, we saw my friend the Unicorn. The poor creature was wearing a necklace of thorns around its neck. Terrified, he was kicking at an unseen force holding him in place. I was furious at my friend's torment and rushed over to help him.
Valerie pushed me to the ground and reached the unicorn first. She held the gentle creatureâ€™s horn with both hands and began to pull. She torn the horn right off its magnificent head. My poor unicorn friend rolled on the ground in misery. Valerie held the bloody horn in her hand and began to laugh.
I awoke with my mouth open in a silent scream. I looked over at Valerie; she had a satisfied smile on her face. I grabbed my clothes and ran out of the cottage.
I followed a narrow path, humming to myself. Suddenly, I heard singing in the distance.
The invisible singer kept repeating, "Come hither, come hither." As if in a trance, I began to walk.
Other voices joined the singer. Guided by an invisible hand, I walked around the clearing four times. The voices got louder. "COME, COME, YOU ARE ALMOST THERE!" A strong gust of wind knocked toppled me. The invisible whirlwind lifted me into the air. Around and around I went into the funnel of the tornado.
Suddenly, it was silent. I awoke expecting to be bound and gagged again, yet I was not. I was in a large glass building. Its walls were glass. Its ceiling was glass. In the middle of this vast room, there sat a small glass spiral staircase. I shouted, â€œHello.â€ My voice echoed and just hung in the air, as if it was laughing at me.
I heard a voice behind me saying, â€œThe jewels, use the jewels.â€ Remembering Valerieâ€™s jewels, I took out the necklace she gave me and put it around my neck. Â People and objects began to appear. The room is no longer empty. I saw before me Valerie, Jenna, the old woman who started me on this journey, Adrillyana, leader of the Swans, and many other black swans milling about the room.
They were all chanting, â€œTHE ROSE! THE ROSE! GIVE ME THE ROSE!â€ Adrillyana walked towards me. Just as in my first dream, she reached out to touch my shoulder. I avoided her hand and quickly ran up the glass staircase. â€œYEARTSO!â€ she yelled and the staircase disappeared beneath me. I fell on the hard floor.
â€œNow, my dear, come with us.â€ Adrillyana took my hand and led me towards the other Swans. â€œI hope you are ready to join us, FOR YOUR OWN GOOD!â€ She gestured towards a number of skeletons leaning against the wall of the water well. â€œMy followers have worked hard to bring you to me. Think of the power, the riches, eternal life. You can have it all by joining us.â€
Still, I shook my head. â€œNo, this I cannot do.â€
"SO BE IT!" said Adrillyana. The other sorceresses raised their hands and pointed their index fingers towards me. Their fingertips began to glow. As they close in around me, I heard my motherâ€™s beautiful voice whispering to me.
â€œMy dear Charlotte, remember the song. Go to the well.â€ A rose, red as blood, fell on my lap. I remembered the song in the forest, â€œTHERE IS A ROSE TO BREAK THE SPELL. THROW IT IN THE VERY DEEP WELL.â€
By this time, fingertips emitting scarlet light had me almost surrounded. I dodged fingers trying to touch me and ran towards the well. Blocking my way was a tall, handsome man with jet-black hair and a black outfit. â€œMy wife tells me you have come for this.â€ He said as he held out his hand. On his palm was a single golden ring. He must have been Kazmir, Adrillyanaâ€™s husband, ready to help me fulfill the last condition of my test.
â€œGive me the rose, Charlotte.â€ Kazmir demanded. I wrestled the rose away from him. Five swans swooped in and knocked me to the ground. While the swans held me down, Kazmir continued to scuffle with me for my rose. It all seemed hopeless. In one final act of defiance, I threw the rose high up into the air and prayed that it would find its way into the well.
The whole glass building was suddenly illuminated in a blinding blue light. Loud BOOOOMMMSSS were heard. Screams were heard from every direction. It seemed like the end of the world.
Everything became still as night. There was no longer a glass building, nor a well, nor another creature besides me. Only, far in the distance, more than one hundred black swans flew across the horizon, in their true form. As quickly as they had come, they were gone. Gone forever.
I walked for days and days. Finally I came to the seaport. I looked for work so I can earn enough money to return to England. But, I met your grandfather and settled down in this town.
Aimee: Grand-mÃ¨re, tell me again how you met grand-pÃ¨re.
All right my child, but we better start walking back. Your mother will start to worry about us.