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…
Take Yelkouan’s swing for example,
high up on a mountainside
hanging from an ancient tree.
So why on earth is Yelkouan so upset?
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
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.
At last a crack appeared in the shell.
Yelkouan crouched behind the tree
and watched as the egg began to hatch.
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.
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!’
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
Yelkouan swung on her swing the whole Summer
ignoring every rain cloud that slowly crossed her view.
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.
Each morning they shared breakfast
as Yelkouan explained the dreams she’d had in the
And though the creature didn’t understand a single
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
Then, one warm day,
she walked to her swing as usual,
but her friend
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
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.
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
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
in the owl-dark woods so far from your home!’
Another screech ripped through the night.
‘What is that?’ asked Yelkouan, a shiver down her
‘Don’t you know? Why, that is the Teraun!’ the Wood
‘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
‘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:
‘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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
‘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
For seconds… or hours… or days to forget
And each time he opened them, the same scene it
The broken mast, the sky, and the gently lapping sea.
Until, that is, something remarkable happened…
Roots coiled round the splintered planks and bound the
Waking the wide-eyed Knight whose senses had been
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
Her tale finished, the Wood Witch fell silent.
Yelkouan had watched the story unfold in the dance of
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.
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
until they arrived at a Mired Mansion, completely
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.
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.
Next morning she washed at the basin, but something
The guitar had gone. Taken in the night!
She hurried back along the corridor, down the grand
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
‘We’ve been expecting you, my girl. Did you have a good
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
He’d lost his mother to the Teraun while still a small
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
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
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.
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
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
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.’
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
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
old odours of the earth as mist rose from root
and fleshy mushrooms grouped in memories upon the
Yelkouan missed her old home, the carefree days on
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
‘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
And as she did so, the tree, like a see-saw, dropped at
while Tohba smiled down at his wide-eyed, young
‘It’s like magic!’ she cried. ‘You must be three times my
‘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!’
‘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
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
such that a single rope cut and the trap would be
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!
Yelkouan pleaded with the boy to come help with the
‘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
There was something about him she felt she could trust
and each morning she woke it was to him that she
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
she longed to hear her name in the boy’s voice
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
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.
When Kubilaye stopped playing the beast quickly
Yelkouan to her room threw herself on the bed;
but the music and movement were stronger than
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
will you cut the key rope, in memory of his fight!’
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
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
With a jolt she found her feet lifted clean off the
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!’
But there was no stopping the Teraun now it had its
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.
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
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.
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’.