Let me tell you a tale that may be real and may not. It is a tale of a swan and how she moved from one world to another. But it begins with a writers’ insomnia in which she dreamed a dream.
I read of the fate of the children of Lir, and their metamorphosis into swans. I mourned for them, grieving in my heart though I could not understand why. And then I began to dream of a woman who was so like me that it was startling. Her name was Lira, and this is the sad story of her metamorphosis.
It wasn’t long after the devastation of many of the Tuatha De Danaan that they chose a new king to rule over them for they knew they needed a leader. They went to the faery mounds, searching for a king with eyes as dark as night and handsomeness in his features, and they found such a one.
Lira, a proud princess, would not bend her knee to the king. And so the rulers of the Danaan set a curse on her and the one that would one day choose to love her. They plotted so that no man would ever come near her, bribing each journeying knight with their own daughters so they would never reach the castle in which Lira dwelt.
But finally, a man did come to court her, and Lira was delighted for she had grown weary of her isolation and sadness. Within the span of a few months they fell in love and he promised to take her back to his clan and wed her. His king had called him on a journey, but he told Lira he would be back.
He told her he had to go on a journey before he could claim her, but that he would be back by midsummer. She smiled through her tears, and said she would wait for him. She gave him a ring, telling him as long as he wore it he would be safe from all dangers. He thanked her, kissed her hand, and then he left.
The rulers of the Danaan were still set on bringing grief to Lira, and so they did two things: The first was when they met her love (whose name was Gilaspick). They asked him for the ring he wore on his finger, the ring that Lira had given him. They told him it was only needed for a moment to be the last ingredient for the cure of a dying man. He foolishly gave up the ring, though he meant such a gesture out of compassion.
As soon as the ring was out of his possession, a chant rose up from the company he had come upon, and in a moment he found himself in the shape of a wolf, and the company had vanished. Gilaspick tore at his face and limbs, but he could not change the form into which he had been cast, and so he sadly wandered away.
One of the company appeared at the castle of Lira and requested an audience with her, saying he had very sad news for her of Gilaspick. The man was dark-eyed and regal, almost kingly in presence. Lira immediately brought him to the great hall to hear of her love. The Dark King bowed before her then held out the ring, saying that Gilaspick had told him he had no more need of the ring for he was off in pursuit of another woman.
Lira was at once heartbroken at these words and she fell back a step, then slipped into suspicion. “And why have you come to tell me this?” she asked the Dark King.
“My lady, I offer you my faithful hand in marriage, consider me an exchange for the faithless Gilaspick.” He held out the ring to her, and Lira took it, slipping it onto her own finger. She turned the ring over and over as she thought.
Then she looked up to meet the gaze of the Dark King. “No, I will remain here until Gilaspick returns for me as he promised.”
The Dark King hissed angrily. His arm snaked out and grabbed hold of Lira’s slim wrist, yanking the ring from her finger he chanted a single word, then slipped the ring back on. Lira fell back in terror, shaking like a leaf. “Go,” she told him. And with a hateful smile the Dark King vanished.
That night, Lira felt a change come over her. Her neck became long and as white as snow, her arms drew themselves into wings, and her body became small and elegant. She had turned into a swan. With a cry she flew from the covers and out the window into the moon-washed sky.
For months she wandered the world like this, becoming a woman by day and a swan by night. She was caught between two worlds, unable to remain in either one. She felt torn apart, and each transformation was painful to her.
But on midsummer she returned to her castle. All her attendants had abandoned the place when Lira had flown away on that night many months ago, and so the place remained an empty shell of what it had once been. However, there was some comfort in returning and seeing the place in which she had once lived.
Before the sun sank beneath the distant hills, she removed the gold ring from her finger, kissed it lightly, then set it on an overturned cauldron and awaited her metamorphoses. It came, with dreadful regularity it came upon her and she became a swan. As the last beam of golden sunlight was swallowed up by the night, a wolf padded into the room and both gazed upon each other.
When the wolf saw that there was no one in the room but a swan, he left the castle and went on the long trail down to the seashore. Lira flew out the window and followed him, taking up her ring in her beak.
She saw the wolf’s bloody pawprints on the sand, and she knew he had come many miles to return on this midsummer day; and slowly, hope began to rise in her heart. She watched over him through the night, protecting him from the beasts of the night that roamed the seashore after dark. But she was very weary, and at last fell asleep.
When she awakened, it was to a storm. She opened wide her eyes only to find that the wolf was not to be seen. She saw his bloodied pawprints leading down into raging tempest, and she feared the worst. But what can a swan do against such a storm? Nothing. She is merely a creature of beauty and feathers, and not even a heart of gold can battle the elements and win.
Then she saw the wolf’s body, being pulled out to sea while he slept like death itself. And she wondered if this was yet more mischief of those set against her. She flew out over the waves, trying in vain to wrap her wings around him and draw him toward land. At last she collapsed into a faint, and this is when the wolf awakened, for all wolves can sense the dawn coming.
The storm began to quiet, and the wolf saw a fair lady, her face pale with many years of pain and struggle, floating in the water beside him. He gently took her cloak in his jaws and began to swim with her to shore. And as dawn’s first rays stretched across her face, he recognized her and all the love he had held the many long months rose in his heart, and he raised his voice in a triumphant howl.
This startled the lady who awoke and sat up with some terror. But she soon recognized that this wolf had been the one she had tried to save and in turn recognized that he had saved her. She looked deep into his eyes, and saw something there that reminded her of her lost love; it was only a glance and she knew.
She kissed him on his head, and in that moment the curse was broken. He returned to his human shape, his clothes as lordly as they had been when he had set out on his journey. She slipped the ring on his finger, he gathered her in his arms, and in next to no time they were wedded by the nearest priest.
The rest, I will leave to the reader’s imagination.