Read an Excerpt
The Golden Swan
The Book of Isle, Book Five
By Nancy Springer
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1983 Nancy Springer
All rights reserved.
I am Dair. I am spirit, speaking to you mind to mind, for I know no other way to speak the languages of men. As a man I was a mute because I was born a wolf and stayed so until I was grown—until the day I found Frain.
I had dreamed of him ever since I had seen him on Ylim's loom. It is hard to explain how much he meant to me, this bond brother I had never met. There was something in me that could not forget him. Perhaps it was the wolfwit, which forms attachments for life. Or perhaps it was my father's ardent Laueroc blood. His forebears, the Sun Kings, had been blood brothers and legendary friends, and then there had been his own bond with the god in the grove—or perhaps it was something of the elf in him that would not let me lose sight of the Swan Lord who was coming. Whatever moved me, hardly a day went by that I did not think of the russet-haired youth as I had seen him, afloat on the lonely sea, his destiny somehow mixed in with mine. I wondered and longed for him all that year. I grew restless and took to roaming the downs even as far as the Westwood.
"Wanderlust," Trevyn grumbled. "Dair, you young furbrained fool, would you please be careful? I worry about you when you are out alone." There was still much hard feeling against wolves in Isle. It had been only a few years since the war when evil sorcery had turned them to a horror, and even Trevyn's good magic could not erase that memory.
No one can come near me, I bragged. I go like a shadow on the wind. I was well grown, strong and swift as mountain water.
"Indeed." Trevyn sat back studying me, and for some reason he sighed. He had a human child now, an infant, his legal heir, but always he greeted me with warmth and joy. Truly, I had not meant to go so far from him. But fate had its finger on me. My second snowy winter came and my unrest deepened as the snow.
Sometime after the solstice of that winter I left. The dream of the bond brother was on me, I felt the focus of his coming in the east, and I ran that way to meet him.
I journeyed far faster than any horse. I needed only a coney caught in the snow or a mouse or two and then I was off, padding, night and day, slipping like a slate blue shadow across Isle. For some weeks I went straight as an arrow, straight as arrowflight in silence, until I came to the eastern shore. There on the shingle beach I sat, trying to whiff the smell of destiny in the wind that came across the salt water. Finally I lay down, curling my warm tail over my nose. I lay there for three days.
I was stubbornly waiting. I would not move to hunt for food even though deer ran by within a hundred feet. Snow fell and covered me. Then the clouds drew away and a cold, cold night came. Every star showed, and all the stardark between, and all the warmth of earth seemed to have vanished into that void. There was a looming feeling in the night or in me. I got up and stretched myself for a moment and looked out over the dim ocean, feeling myself tiny in the sight of those twin eyes, sea and sky. There was a steady lapping sound out on the far water that I could not identify. Even my nose told me nothing. All night I sat and watched the dark water and saw nothing. I remembered such dark water from an old woman's loom.
In the morning some instinct sent me northward a little way, and there he lay, naked, the salt spray turning to white rime ice on him.
Frain. The Swan Lord. I did not yet know him by those names, but I knew how important he was to me, and for a horrible moment I thought he was dead. He was lying on the hard, seawashed sand below the high tide ledge, his red hair snarled like wrack, his face far too pale—as pale as sand and snow. But he still breathed, I saw. I lay down right on top of him, trying to warm him with my thick fur, and at that touch a pang of yearning made me howl aloud and the change came on me all in a moment.
It was not of my doing or deciding. These things are often awkward—I might have been of more use to him as a wolf. But it came on me willy-nilly, amid a welter of emotions, compassion—it is the most human of emotions—and longing—I wanted his smile, I had come all this way to meet him, to be his friend, his human friend, it seemed.... Cold is what I remember first. The day was as bitterly cold as the night had been. Cold air and cold snow and sand—my fur was gone. I was practically hairless. How humans were to be pitied, to be always so naked beneath their clothes, so cold! I pitied myself heartily. My limbs shot out, long, and my heart pounded within great broad ribs. My muzzle disappeared. My vision blurred for a moment, then righted itself, and hands waved foolishly in front of my face. I was terrified, startled beyond telling. I sprang up to run off. But my limbs would no longer serve me wolf fashion, and I fell over on my side, thrashing. One foot struck Frain, and he groaned.
I had hurt him. I wanted to howl again.
Instead I quieted myself, gathered my wits a moment. Then I struggled up enough to balance on one front paw—hand. I used the other to tug and shake at him. His only reaction was to swallow. I tugged harder, then managed to sit on my haunches and get both hands free. I grasped him under the shoulders, pushed with my feet and sprawled over backwards, pulling him a little farther from the sea. I wanted to get him out of reach of the tide, though it meant dragging him into the snow. But I was barely able to wriggle out from under him. A few more such efforts and I was exhausted.
I was very weak. I had not eaten in too long a time for a human, it seemed. And I was cold, shivering, a horrible, strange sensation to me. I felt terribly afraid. I would freeze, we would both freeze, unless I found us help—
I tried to rise on my long hind legs, to walk man fashion. I fell. Again I tried, and again I fell, and again and again. I gave in and tried to go on four legs, but all my speed and grace and strength had left me; I could go no better than a snail. The nearest dwelling might be miles.... Despair washed over me like an incoming tide, and I bowed my head to the ground. This bond brother I had found, I was failing him in every way. I could not carry him to shelter, and I had no longer even any fur to warm him. I had thought that once we were together all things would come to rights, but we were naked, helpless, no better than mewling babes. I whimpered like the babe in its basket back at Laueroc. Then I whined dismally. Finally I raised my head and gave forth with a longdrawn, loud and woebegone howl.
And from the distance an answering shout came.
Trevyn. I should have known he would be anxious, that he would be searching for me, babe or no babe—I should have known. Dear Trevyn. I rose to my knees so that he could see me. He came thundering toward me over the wealds at the head of a half dozen men, looking angry and frightened both at once. When he saw me the look changed to one of astonishment. He brought his horse right up to me, pulling it to a plunging halt.
"Dair?" he cried out. "Dair!"
Thrown off balance, I fell over again. Hot liquid had started down my face at the sight of him. Tears. I would have known what it was if I had thought, but I was appalled by the feeling and by the spasms that had hold of me, the sobs. Trevyn knelt beside me and put his arms around me, folded me into the shelter of his cloak and of his embrace, trying to comfort me.
"Dair," he whispered, "Dair, my son," and he rocked me gently in his arms. "It will be better soon, truly it will."
How did he know what I was feeling, the fear, the pain? But of course he would. He was wise. With some small surprise I saw that he was weeping too. Somehow his tears strengthened me. I straightened, looking for the youth I had found by the sea. The men had already brought him up beside us.
"It is he," Trevyn breathed. "The one—"
We saw in Ylim's web. I know.
Trevyn reached over and felt at him, checking his breathing and pulse.
"He's more than half dead," one of the men said.
"Cover him warmly and get him in all haste to Nemeton. There are doctors there." Trevyn fastened his cloak around me and stood up, helping me up as well, supporting me.
"You are as tall as I," he marveled.
It was true. We were two youths. He was twenty, and I looked about the same—we might have been brothers or comrades. But I might as well have been a child just then.
It hurts, I whimpered, meaning my legs and everything in general. The sounds that left my mouth were mere noises, but Trevyn understood in much the same way that he had always understood.
"I know," he said. "Or I can imagine.... Perhaps I cannot. Try to rest as we ride."
He got me onto his horse, carrying me sideways in the saddle before him. We cantered southward along the shore toward the port city of Nemeton with the men taking turns carrying Frain. I settled into a time of numb endurance measured out in the rhythm of the horses' hooves. A memory floated up from deep mind. Trevyn had carried me like this before, but I had been very young then, still in my first fur.
It was dusk before we made the castle. Frain was taken to a sickchamber amid a tumult of excitement caused by our arrival. Trevyn sat me down in front of a blazing fire and saw to it himself that I ate. Then he put me into the royal bed that the lord of that place had meant for him, and he rubbed my strange, stiff limbs with his warm hands until I was able to sleep. It was the first time I had slept between sheets.
He was sitting by my side when I awoke in the morning.
That one I found? I asked.
"Much the same." Trevyn reached out to touch me, awkwardly, for no reason. "Dair, why did you go away?"
I had to. The call was on me.
"And I did not understand or see what was happening to you. So there you were all alone when you needed me most."
You came when I needed you most, I said. He did not reply, and I lay thinking.
The change, I added—I had to face it alone.
So here I was in human form. But I was not likely to make a very satisfactory human, I sensed. And my bond brother, what of him? All of life seemed in confusion.
I do not want to leave you again, I said to Trevyn. But we both knew I must.CHAPTER 2
Being on two legs was a nuisance. It took me several days just to learn to stand and walk without help. The height made me dizzy and made everything look strange. And there were matters of modesty to be dealt with, where to relieve myself and clothing, which was a constant bother. I wore as little as possible. And eating. Luckily I had been accustomed to cooked meats, so it was only the manner of eating that was strange to me. I could no longer put my face down to a plate on the floor. I had to sit and use a cup and convey the food to my mouth with my hands. No mention was made of knife and fork, for which I was grateful. The hands were clumsy enough. So was the mouth.
"Move your lips," Trevyn would say to me gently from time to time. "They are shaped like mine now. Make speech."
"Awaaa," I would say, or perhaps "Rawawarrr." I could manage nothing more. Trevyn would repeat a simple word to me, "meat" or "water," trying to help me. But I could not be helped. I had missed learning something that human young learn while I was a wolf.
For that first week, while I was struggling with human form, the stranger I had found lay abed and did not fully come to himself. He could be roused and given wine and bread and broth, so he grew no weaker. He talked. But he talked only to himself, his dreams or shadows on the wall, and in a language no one could understand. He did not know where he was, the doctors said.
As soon as I could walk the distance I went with Trevyn to see him.
He sat propped up on pillows, his hair bright and fine as feathers against the white linen, his crippled left arm beside him and the other folded across his chest. A doctor and servants stood by his bedside shaking their heads. The stranger youth was talking steadily to no one at all. His voice ran like a river between walls, behind weirs, calm, forceful, controlled. He might have been addressing a council. Trevyn sat beside him and listened, frowning.
"I thought I knew every language of the overseas lands," he said, "but this one is new to me."
The youth talked through the afternoon and into the night. The doctor could neither soothe him into slumber nor rouse him to sense. Trevyn kept his seat, trying for some kind of understanding. It was very hard to hear emotion in that level voice. A few times there might have been a hint of anger or plea. And as dark fell I thought I began to hear weariness. No—more than weariness.
"What is it, Dair?" Trevyn asked me. "You have instincts for many things. What do you think ails him?"
Trevyn nodded and turned to the physician. "Let us try the little yellow flower," he said.
It was called Veran's Crown or Elfin Gold. It had come back to Isle with the other things of wonder, and it grew everywhere, but it was used only with greatest reverence and in cases of sore need, for it was a powerful balm. None was yet in bloom so early in the season, but some was always kept dried in jars. A single dried plant was brought to Trevyn along with steaming water. He whispered the blessing, crushed the tiny thing and dropped it into the water. The sweet green smell of it filled the room, the very smell of peace.
Suddenly I felt that I was a wolf again, a pup, romping by Trevyn's side without a notion of anything except joy and without a care in the world—I could have wept for knowing it would never again be so, but at the same time the memory gave me a feeling of utter gladness. I could almost believe that those days had come back to stay. Those springtime days—the stranger had quieted, seeming to listen for a sound only he could hear. Suddenly he sat straight up and turned to the shadowy figure by his bedside—the light was very low, so as not to trouble him.
"Tirell?" he asked, or rather, he begged. His voice was no longer steady—it shook with emotion.
"Nay," said Trevyn gently, "it is I, Trevyn, King of Isle."
I brought a candle closer so they could see each other. The red-haired youth looked up in confusion.
"Tirell is King of Vale," he said in a dialect we could understand, a mixed mongrel language called Traders-tongue. He stared at Trevyn. "Where—I thought I heard Tirell."
"It is the balm," Trevyn told him. "We had to give it to you to—comfort you. It has taken you back to a place of peace, perhaps the home where you were loved as a child."
"Yes—though in truth it was none too peaceful." The youth sank back on his pillows with a sigh, and when he spoke he had found calm again, it must have been second nature to him. "My name is Frain," he said. "If this place has a king, I dare say it is not Ogygia."
"I have never heard it called by that name." Trevyn raised his brows. "We call it Isle. How did you come here, Frain?"
"In a leaky coracle."
We saw you, I said. Frain heard it as a growl. He was not one of the special few who remembered, who could understand me. He gave me a startled, mistrustful look, such as the castlefolk often did.
"That is Dair," Trevyn said. "He who found you by the sea."
"I owe him my thanks, then." Frain looked at me doubtfully and did not offer the thanks he said he owed.
"We found no coracle," Trevyn added after a moment.
"It leaked, and then it sank," Frain said in a matter-of-fact way. "I am not much of a sailor, and I had not carried enough food, either. Your Majesty, I am ravenous."
"We will get you food. Call me Trevyn."
"I can't. Anyone can see you are a True King."
The doctor bustled out to see about the food, and Trevyn sat smiling at Frain in amusement and growing affection. There was an air of fine, gallant bravery about Frain, and yet a modesty as well, so marked that it was almost shyness. An odd blend. I felt my heart go out to him for the oddity of him—well, it had gone out to him before I knew him.
"Why, then," said Trevyn, "call me Lord."
"Thank you, my lord. My brother, Tirell—he is a True King too."
Excerpted from The Golden Swan by Nancy Springer. Copyright © 1983 Nancy Springer. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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