image Yelkouan Spell

There’s nothing new about swings.

They were here long before we started playing on them:

a vine or a low-hanging branch – anything that gives

you that feeling of flying without trying too hard.

Not all swings are the same though.

Some are much, much better than others…

 

monkey swing

 

 

Take Yelkouan’s swing for example,

high up on a mountainside

hanging from an ancient tree.

 

high swing

 

So why on earth is Yelkouan so upset?

 

crying Yelkouan

Well, it all started when something turned up in the

middle of the night,

and left behind a perfect egg at the foot of the ancient

tree.

 

 

finding egg beneath swing

 

For days the egg just sat there,

leaving Yelkouan to guess:

An eagle? A lizard? An owl? A snake?

Or something without a name,

some… terrible mistake?

And when she strolled through the woods at dusk,

there were forms in every rock and fallen branch,

and quick movements in the shadows

at every twist in the path.

 

 

a child in the woods

 

At last a crack appeared in the shell.

Yelkouan crouched behind the tree

and watched as the egg began to hatch.

 

peering at cracking egg

 

 

Then something in the grass was stretching out.

A craning neck, sharp claws, strong teeth.

The flexing of four limbs, the blinking of unglued eyes.

 

Teraun reborn

It bit off flowers and snapped at butterflies.

It flattened the grass and dug holes in the ground.

And then it strolled over to the ancient tree

and did a poo right under her swing!

‘How dare you!’ cried Yelkouan. ‘Enough is enough!’

And she shewed it away down the mountain track,

sent it fleeing into the forest: ‘And never come back!

 

 

chasing off the Teraun

 

 

Things calmed down again with the animal gone.

Wild flowers tangled across the sun-baked rock,

spiders hung their silken webs,

and the Grey Selts scurried through their secret grass

tunnels.

Yelkouan swung on her swing the whole Summer

through,

ignoring every rain cloud that slowly crossed her view.

 

 

Grey Selt summer

And that would’ve been the end of our story,

if it hadn’t come back one cold winter’s morning;

its body covered in blue spots,

a deep gash across its nose.

It sat shivering at the foot of her tree.

‘You came home!’ she whispered.

It was hard to understand her sudden joy,

but it had chosen to come back,

and that made everything alright.

She fed it berries and bathed the wound on its head.

She made a nest of dry grass for it to use as a bed.

And as it curled up, about to sleep

it gave her a look, so clear and so deep

that she gave it her heart forever to keep.

 

 

prodigal Teraun returns wounded

 

Each morning they shared breakfast

as Yelkouan explained the dreams she’d had in the

night.

And though the creature didn’t understand a single

word,

it listened to her voice like the song of a bird.

Each day it got bigger.

It started to hunt the Grey Selts,

eating their bodies whole but leaving their heads.

And in the pile of little bones building up by her tree,

was a Grey Selt skull of exquisite symmetry.

She made of it a necklace and to her surprise she found

the Grey Selt Skull made a beautiful sound.

And whenever she played it, like a flute made of bone,

the creature would look up and come bounding straight

home.

 

Yelkouan plays the Grey Selt Skull

 

 

 

Then, one warm day,

she walked to her swing as usual,

but her friend

was gone.

She blew on the Grey Selt Skull and searched all day.

‘Dear friend! My love no words can tell,

Come back! Come back! To Yelkouan Spell!’

So now you know why the girl was crying:

No matter how special her swing, how wonderful the

view,

her heart was broken, right the way through.

Yelkouan jumped off her swing,

and walked down the mountain track

into the deep, dark forest,

never once looking back.

 

into the woods

She walked for days to find her lost love.

A terrifying screech filled her nights

as the shadow of a beast passed in front of the moon.

But still she kept going, she clung to her hope,

and on the Grey Selt Skull she played a single, sad note.

Then, one evening, to her great surprise,

the woodland mist carried the smell of

heavenly cooking,

and following her nose down into a dell

she came upon a Wood Witch, sat by a fire.

‘Have some soup, dear girl,’ the Wood Witch said.

The Little Owl stared and bobbed its head.

The Squirrel chirped and flicked its tail

as the Wood Witch smiled and sipped her ale.

‘Get warm by the fire. You shouldn’t be out on your

own,

in the owl-dark woods so far from your home!’

 

Wood witch

 

Another screech ripped through the night.

‘What is that?’ asked Yelkouan, a shiver down her

spine.

‘Don’t you know? Why, that is the Teraun!’ the Wood

Witch replied.

‘I hate the Teraun! I wish it was dead!’

The words came out before she knew what she’d said:

a terrible fear, coming not from thought,

that the beast in the sky had killed the friend whom she

sought.

‘You’re not the first to wish the Teraun dead,’

the Wood Witch spoke solemnly,

‘but the Teraun is something you can never escape;

each beat of its wings is tied to our fate.’

Like all Wood Witches, she never answered straight;

a more winding path she preferred to take.

This was her magic, not facts and figures:

the story’s the thing, for the feelings it triggers.

Her voice was her soul, her words her veil,

and so the Wood Witch began to tell an old tale:

 

camp fire story

 

 

‘There was once a poor boy, the youngest of eight,

Who slept in a bed with three of his brothers.

His parents worked hard, always home late,

And the boy fought all night to keep hold of the covers.

He was sent out to sea at the age of sixteen

In pursuit of swordfish all day long.

While scanning the waves his eye grew keen,

While working the nets his arm grew strong.

 

Swordfishing boy

 

And when the war came, he was ready like no other,

Wielding a sword as the warriors of old.

The enemy would flee in search of cover

And of The Swordfisher Knight many a tale was told.

 

Undefeated in battle, the hero of his city,

The Swordfisher Knight had conquered their foe

He was honoured with medals and showered with

money

And wherever he went the crowds would grow.

 

So he built a great mansion in the middle of nowhere

And lived there alone for many a year.

At night he had dozens of rooms now to choose from

No fight for the covers, and no need to share.

 

 

New Mansion

 

 

While hunting in the forest for wild boar and deer

Some news from the woodsmen reached his ear.

The people of his city once more under attack

But this time from above, for the Teraun was back.

 

He picked up the sword he had such skill to wield

And slung over his back the Swordfish Shield.

In search of the Teraun he set sail in his boat

Till he chanced upon its lair on an island remote.

 

They fought all day on the beach of that isle

The Swordfisher Knight using all his old guile.

He would twist and dive and turn and parry

As all the while the dread Teraun did harry.

So quick was the knight to move and strike

While the Swordfish Shield flashed in the sun,

To anyone watching that fearsome fight

The Teraun faced ten men, not one.

 

Teraun attacks ten men, not one

 

But the Teraun itself, such raw animal power,

Was everywhere at once, and everywhere else,

And the Knight felt at times he was fighting himself,

Or that each breath heaved on to his own final hour.

And though his sword a thousand men had slain

And unbeaten in battle he did remain,

The Swordfisher Knight eventually dropped to his

knees.

 

So it would have been only natural and fair

For the beast in its jaw to have crushed him right there.

Yet the Teraun stopped, took flight and returned to its

lair.

The Knight sailed away, wondering what it all meant.

Why had it spared him? What made it relent?

 

Then a terrible storm tore open the skies.

The waves towered over his small wooden boat.

’Twas the Teraun changed form, once again at his

throat!’

 

The Wood Witch’s voice began to work its magic

and Yelkouan in the fire saw the scene so tragic

of thund’rous waves and a tiny craft,

the Swordfisher Knight clinging to the mast.

 

fire boat

 

 

storm boat

 

‘The storm drove him back to the beach of their battle,

A freak wave it was that ran his boat aground,

Its twisting planks did creak, crack and rattle,

As once more on the island his vessel crashed down.

 

The Knight remembered no more of the storm,

Waking to find himself in the cradle of his boat.

He felt the sun shining upon his body,

But he could not move, for his body was broke.

Each time he closed his eyes he knew not how long he

had slept

For seconds… or hours… or days to forget

And each time he opened them, the same scene it

would be:

The broken mast, the sky, and the gently lapping sea.

 

 

Until, that is, something remarkable happened…

 

 

pine mast

Roots coiled round the splintered planks and bound the

broken hull

Waking the wide-eyed Knight whose senses had been

dull.

 

The mast of the boat, like a sapling in Spring,

Stretched forth its limbs as to the sun it would sing,

Sprouted buds that burst and stems that grew,

Branches reached out to the endless blue.

 

He could do nothing but watch with joy in his eyes

As the mast of his boat burst into new life.

A great canopy of pine gave shade from the sun

And the incense of resin about him was hung.

 

A wind swayed the branches,

Put the boat in motion.

Over sand and pebbles

It slipped back to the ocean.

 

Thus it was that the Swordfisher Knight,

Only ever overcome in that one single fight,

Was carried away by wind and sea.

And the rest is left

To mystery.’ 

 

Her tale finished, the Wood Witch fell silent.

Yelkouan had watched the story unfold in the dance of

the flames,

where now embers glowed in the charred remains.

And on her face its warm radiance she felt

as on sleep’s peaceful sea her thought was melt.

 

funeral boat

 

Next day Yelkouan opened her eyes

to see a pile of ash where the fire had been

and the Wood Witch gone.

The Grey Squirrel chirped at Yelkouan,

then hopped off with the girl hurrying behind.

She followed the Grey Squirrel over streams and

boughs,

until they arrived at a Mired Mansion, completely

overgrown;

with ivy half hidden, a Swordfish in stone.

The Grey Squirrel glanced back to check she was there,

then hopped through the door and up the stair.

Now Yelkouan, not wanting to be left all alone,

stepped over the threshold of the Knight’s old home.

There were leaves on the floor and webs on the ceiling,

the plaster had crumbled, the brickwork revealing,

and at the top of the stairs they came to a room

full of cloaks, pointed hats and a dusty old broom.

 

 

Entrance to Mired Mansion

 

But the Grey Squirrel didn’t stop. It chirped some more

so Yelkouan followed down the dim corridor

to a room with a basin, a guitar and a bed

where she kicked off her shoes and laid down her head.

She stretched out her arms and rested her feet

and without even trying she was fast asleep.

Later that night, footsteps came up the stairs.

A young boy pushed open the door

and was shocked to find someone lying there,

on his very own bed, curled up and asleep,

a strange young girl he was yet to meet.

 

sleeping Yelkouan discovered by Kubilaye

 

Next morning she washed at the basin, but something

wasn’t right.

The guitar had gone. Taken in the night!

She hurried back along the corridor, down the grand

staircase,

past tapestries and portraits, huge curtains of lace,

through cobwebbed rooms and passages between,

the most splendid of mansions it must once have been.

Quite lost, she came to a doorway wide and tall,

the grand entrance to the Buddleia Hall.

Yelkouan stood there, not believing her eyes,

for the roof had collapsed: it was open to the skies.

And in the middle of that sun-drenched stage

stood the Wood Witch, two men, and a boy of her age;

while all around, even growing from the walls,

sweet-smelling flowers did butterflies enthral.

They all turned to face her now. She froze on the spot.

‘Come over, Yelkouan, the tea is still hot!’

It was the Wood Witch who spoke, in a voice warm and

kind.

‘We’ve been expecting you, my girl. Did you have a good

sleep?’

 

 

Buddleia Hall

 

Shuffling forward she saw the guitar in the boy’s hand.

‘I didn’t mean to sleep here,’ she said. ‘I was so tired, I

could hardly stand.’

But the boy didn’t respond, he lowered his head.

Since they’d found him in the woods, not a word had he

said.

He’d lost his mother to the Teraun while still a small

child.

They’d found him all alone, half starved and half wild,

and although since then many years had now passed,

the trauma he’d suffered, it continued to last.

‘I’ll have some tea and then I’ll be on my way,’

said Yelkouan, feeling unable to stay.

‘Nonsense dear girl! If you’re searching the woods

there’s no better place:

the Mired Mansion will make the perfect base!’

It was the Wood Witch who confidently spoke,

pointing to the man with the staff of oak:

‘Each week, with Tohba here, you’ll search a new

region.

He’ll give you protection, for the dangers are legion.’

And so it was decided:

Yelkouan would stay in the Mired Mansion until she

found the creature she so missed.

That night they had a party to welcome their new guest.

The boy named Kubilaye (‘KOO-bill-eye’) played the

piano,

while Pudstitch the Cook had them all laughing

with his weird and wonderful dancing.

To begin with Yelkouan was too shy to dance,

but the musical rhythm began to take over,

and all her troubles were briefly lifted

with the shapes she made and the air she sifted.

Thus it was that the Buddleia Hall,

for polite society designed and intended,

was at last the scene of a wild kind of Ball,

the paintwork now peeling, the ceiling wide rended,

the guests dodging weeds with their barefoot tread,

the Swordfisher Knight, their host long dead.

 

 

candlelit revelry

 

Each week from then on, Tohba took Yelkouan through

new stretches of land.

They navigated rivers, climbed many a peak,

in landscapes diverse, her lost friend to seek.

And wherever they went, however remote,

on the Grey Selt Skull she blew a single, sad note.

‘Dear friend! My love no words can tell,

Come back! Come back! To Yelkouan Spell!

As for Tohba, well, he could see the sadness

that Yelkouan carried,

and he feared she would never see her love again

(if in the Teraun’s jaws it had met its end).

So whenever they talked, through the wilderness

ranging,

he would explain how life was constantly changing.

‘These woods seem so ancient they were here forever,

yet all things over time they change like the weather.

This very spot has seen rivers of fire, sheets of ice five

trees deep.

There was even a time, if here we did meet,

we’d be sitting on the ocean bed,

great sea creatures swimming overhead.

For nothing in this world stands still for long:

Change is its secret and Change is its song.’

 

 

Ocean Forest

 

So if Yelkouan saw something that caught her delight,

she thought now of what it was and would become

and how change ruled everything that’s under the sun.

Little chicks in the nest, naked and blind,

covered in blue spots which in time they would find,

erupt as feathers, colourful and bright,

to lift them from the nest in the glory of flight.

‘Life’s too short to dwell on the past,’ said Tohba to his

companion and friend,

‘All things begin somewhere and all beginnings are an

end.

Then don’t mourn the caterpillar, it does not die:

It returns reorganised as a butterfly.’

And true to his talk, as if to illustrate the theory,

the winds became chill and Summer grew weary.

The trees turned their colours through flame and

fading fruit,

old odours of the earth as mist rose from root

and fleshy mushrooms grouped in memories upon the

forest floor.

 

 

Mushroom memories

 

Yelkouan missed her old home, the carefree days on

her swing,

but to give up on her love was too painful a thing.

And despite Tohba’s philosophy, his sensible reasons,

his talk of insects and the changing seasons,

one day, while sat on a fallen tree, she could bear it no

longer:

‘I hate the Teraun. I wish it was dead!’

Unlike the Wood Witch, Tohba had no story to tell.

He just looked at her squarely and said:

‘So be it! Let’s capture the beast! We’ll build a trap!’

‘Don’t be ridiculous Tohba, it can’t be as easy as that!

I’d have more chance of lifting you above my head

than catching the Teraun with those talons dread!’

Tohba gestured with his hand: ‘Move down a bit. Shift

along!’

And as she did so, the tree, like a see-saw, dropped at

her end,

while Tohba smiled down at his wide-eyed, young

friend.

‘It’s like magic!’ she cried. ‘You must be three times my

weight!’

‘Well, if it’s magic, then there’s no other so great!

It’s gravity that keeps the universe in motion;

it needs no ritual, no wizard’s potion.

The laws that shape the world and every grain of sand:

That’s the ultimate magic, and ours to understand!’

 

 

Pivotal laws

‘And can we catch the Teraun using these laws?’

‘It’ll take time, but oh yes, there’s certainly a way!

Using pulleys and levers we could make a cage

big enough to hold ten Terauns in all their rage!

You see, if you comprehend maths and can harness

physics,

you hold the key to nature: Power beyond limits!’

So they found a clearing ringed by trees of great age

where they began construction of the vast wooden cage.

And at the opening on top they prepared a web with

weights hung

such that a single rope cut and the trap would be

sprung.

Above all else, what pleased Yelkouan most,

was the gratifying thought she was avenging a ghost:

the ghost of her lost love, and of Kubilaye’s mother,

and of the Swordfisher Knight that ancient other.

All the cruelty in the world – it was the Teraun at fault!

And with this great cage she would bring it to a halt!

 

 

Constructing the Cage

 

Yelkouan pleaded with the boy to come help with the

trap:

‘Come on Kubilaye, it’s time to fight back!

It took the ones we love… even your desire to speak!

To accept all that seems so terribly weak.

That scourge in the sky on harmless creatures thrives,

and as for you and I, well it’s ruined our lives!’

She never got an answer from the silent boy.

And when their eyes met, instead of pain and regret

there was a dancing light she couldn’t forget

like the glint of rare mineral, some secret of life,

a strange thing indeed for one who’d seen so much

strife.

There was something about him she felt she could trust

and each morning she woke it was to him that she

rushed;

to tell him of the dream she’d had that night

just as she’d told the hatchling with the eyes so bright.

Yet while no word from that wild beast had she

expected,

she longed to hear her name in the boy’s voice

reflected.

What was his secret? How were his thoughts contained?

Like an unfinished puzzle, one piece remained.

So she waited one evening, in a dark alcove hidden,

for the boy’s footfalls with their familiar rhythm.

Then she followed him down corridor and up dark stair

till, to her surprise, he got up on a chair,

climbed out of the window into freezing night air.

Yelkouan crept to the window and got the most

incredible shock,

for Kubilaye was perched there on the highest rooftop,

and above his head the Teraun writhed in mid air

as Kubilaye played guitar where no other would dare.

To the Teraun and the stars, the small boy played

the harmony haunting of a wild serenade.

The Teraun contorted and twisted in loops

sucking tiles off the roof with breathtaking swoops.

 

 

Teraun ecstatic

 

When Kubilaye stopped playing the beast quickly

fled.

Yelkouan to her room threw herself on the bed;

but the music and movement were stronger than

sleep,

for there was something about Kubilaye which made

her heart leap.

As for the Teraun, she looked forward more than ever,

to the day it was captured,

and to the ground firmly tethered.

Late Spring, that day finally came.

‘Our trap is ready!’ Tohba boomed. ‘Our work is done!’

‘And this is the bait whose bleating cries

will draw the Teraun down from the skies.’

Saying this he led into the trap a frightened goat

and tied it to a post from the collar round its throat.

The Wood Witch handed Tohba a shining sword:

‘With this weapon, once owned by the Swordfisher

Knight,

will you cut the key rope, in memory of his fight!’

 

 

Trap complete

 

Then they gathered round (all except Kubilaye, who

refused to take part),

and waited for nightfall from the cover of trees.

The hours passed slowly till just after first light

When, over the treetops, came a terrible sight.

The Teraun was flying towards them, intent on the

bleating goat.

Tohba raised the sword, ready to spring the trap.

And it was just then that Yelkouan saw Kubilaye

running to the goat!

Some sudden pang of sympathy had brought him to its

rescue, not realizing that the Teraun already had them

in its sights.

‘No!’ cried Yelkouan.

Tohba, seeing the situation, brought down his

sword upon the rope,

closing the roof of the trap before the Teraun

could enter and kill all within.

But even as the sword was dropping, the Teraun,

a beast of singular cunning, had spied Yelkouan

running across open ground.

It swerved from the cage and swooped suddenly upon

the girl.

With a jolt she found her feet lifted clean off the

ground,

her struggling body by great talons bound.

Her eyes met with Kubilaye’s who to her aid now ran,

and in a voice loud and clear he cried: ‘YELKOUAN!’

 

 

Yelkouan captured

 

 

But there was no stopping the Teraun now it had its

prey.

It circled the Mired Mansion then powered away,

returning to its lair, the mountains in the distance,

holding her so tight, no use in resistance.

‘So this is how it ends,’ she thought without fear.

She neither cried out for help nor shed a tear,

for the voice in her head was growing loud and strong,

her own voice singing her own sad song:

‘My friend! My love no words can tell,

Come back! Come back! To Yelkouan Spell!’

Then on the Grey Selt Skull, for one last time,

she filled the sky with a note sublime.

 

Yelkouan and Teraun fly together

 

On hearing that sound, the Teraun it faltered,

turning to the North, its course quite altered;

just as Swallows head back to the place of their birth

or foxes take cover in familiar earth.

With Yelkouan in its talons it finally arrived

at a ledge on a mountain where an old tree survived.

And perching there it let her go from its grip

as if into small pieces the girl it would rip.

Yet far from violence, it lowered its head in submission

and there was a scar, which, from its position,

Yelkouan recognised from long before

and then she caught sight of the old swing on the floor.

‘The Teraun? My lost love? Can it really be true?

That what I sought all along was actually you?

So you weren’t ill at all, just beginning to change:

those blue spots on your body that I thought so strange,

erupted as feathers that took you to the skies,

Invisible to me your magnificent disguise!’

Then, like a mother, she gently kissed its giant head

and the beast was away on wings wide spread

taking with it her sadness, which to rest now was laid,

for the Teraun was wild, could not be delayed.

Yelkouan sank to her knees watching the Teraun

depart.

She was alive and well and there was joy in her heart.

All alone once again, full of golden new hopes

she picked up the swing and re-tied the ropes,

using knots she had learned from Tohba, her friend,

she swung high on her swing, the whole world to mend.

 

 

a goodbye kiss

 

And when that day ended, back in her old home,

she laid down on her bed to rest her tired bones.

But the window was open, the full moon brightly shone,

a sweet scent floated in, she knew not where from.

In the depths of the forest where birds move with care

and undiscovered plants grow feathery tall,

there’s a dead tree hung with woodbine there

where soft-winged moths for nectar compete,

drawn in from afar by that perfume sweet

which speaks of the future, of worlds yet to come,

of loves incandescent, one name on her tongue.

She steps out of bed and from her window high

she whispers the word, ‘Kubilaye’.

 

 

Mystical origin

 

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5 comments

  1. Oh how wonderful…I would fill the walls of my home with your illustrations…what an artist you are…my favourite was the Grey Selt skull flute charcoal but I loved them all. I used to read so many books to my children when they were younger – the longer, the better. They would have LOVED this one. How I miss reading to them…Thank you for a fine read…

    Liked by 1 person

    • ThankYOU Patti – It’s great to get to hear when people have enjoyed something. I am especially heartened when you say the longer, the better. I was beginning to think people had lost their appetite for stories in the age of tweets and memes. You’re right – reading to children is one of the great joys of life (the girl with the Grey Selt Skull is my daughter! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow I really enjoyed this, such a beautiful story! This is the kind of story I would have loved as a child but I loved it even now as an adult. You’re illustrations are absolutely wonderful as well and really brought the story to life even more!

    Liked by 1 person

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