~The Swan Maiden~
No, no, no! you thought urgently and flapped your wings as hard as you could. The humans would be coming soon. You couldn't wait any longer, but you couldn't risk exposing yourself to mortal eyes. Hurry! But it was too late.
"Well, look what we have here!" a male human's voice said. "It's a swan!"
A human! you gasped and struggled even harder, but the more you struggled, the harder the net wound around your wings. It was hopeless. You were stuck.
"Easy, little thing," the man said and bent down to examine your pitiful state.
Go ahead, you thought bitterly. Kill me. The moment I die, I'll be reunited with Odin. It will make my escape brief and short-lived. You waited for the man to finish your off with a snap of your neck, but to your surprise, he began to carefully loosen up the thread that bound your legs and wings together.
The man chuckled. Now that you had calmed down, you were able to get a good look at him. Judging by his clothing, he was most likely a soldier from the army. You blinked. Surely a soldier couldn't have the sort of pity that would have bothered to set you free. If so, he must have been a foolish soldier. Valhalla would have no place for someone as soft-hearted as him. You made a mental note to remember his bright blue eyes and upright, sandy-blonde hair for the future. But
"What, did you think I was seriously going to let you go?" the soldier laughed. "You're a fine bird, and my brothers could use something as beautiful as you to cheer them up."
No! you thought horrified. There was no time for you, an immortal being, to be wasting with humans let alone becoming anyone's pet. The very thought of becoming as such made you flap your wings and jab your jet-black beak at the soldier's eyes.
"Easy now," the man chuckled and held you down by your neck so you hung limply from being suspended in the air. "I'm not going to hurt you. I'll treat you very nicely. That, I promise."
Terrific, you thought miserably as the soldier took you to his home.
All the while, the soldier was talking to you about all sorts of things. From what you had heard, he went through a great ordeal of hardships and sadness. You wondered how such a man could sound so cheerful even after all that he had endured.
"You see, __________ (that was the name the mortal had given you), when the plague came and got our parents, it was up to me to take care of my younger brothers as the oldestwell, technically we're not brothers, but we treat each other as such."
You said nothing, as you were in the form of a swan so the soldier whose name was "Mathias" continued to speak.
"My younger brother, Berwald, who is a few months younger than me, took off with my second youngest brother, Tino," Mathias told you. "They wanted to make something of themselves and find their own place in the world so they just up and left one day. It's been real quiet without TinoBerwald didn't speak very much." The soldier burst out laughing and looked at you with his hypnotic blue eyes.
Such blue eyes
you thought in amazement. For a brief momentand just a brief momentyou had thought that perhaps it would be nice to be able to serve him in the realm of Valhalla if you could see his bright smile and his lovely blue orbs. But the moment was still brief as you remembered the position you were in.
"Look at me, ___________," Mathias chuckled. "I'm talking to a swan of all things."
That you are, mortal, you thought.
"My other brothers, Emil and Lukas
They're sick. I'm afraid they don't have much longer to live, and since I have to find a way to make ends meet, I signed up to become a soldier. It's really busy work, and the little guys never have anyone but each other to play with, so I thought I'd bring you to show them." Despite the sullen mood, he managed to smile. "I hope they don't mind that I didn't bring them that much to eat. I'm sure they'll forget all about their hunger when they see something as gorgeous as you, though."
Something tugged at your swan body's heart. This soldier was a fool, but he was honest and hard-working. There was something fascinating about this Mathias person that found you wanting to stay even if that meant delaying your quest a little longer. A battle would be coming soon. You decided that you would visit Mathias' little brothers and leave when the battle came.
"Lukas! Emil!" Mathias called cheerfully into his humble hut. "I've got a present for you!"
You craned your bound neck to see a pair of small boys run over to their big brother in anticipation. Mathias was right about them forgetting about their hunger despite how thin they were. When they set their eyes on your magnificent feathers and elegant neck, they began to squeal with delight.
"You brought a swan, Mathias!" the smaller brother exclaimed jumping up and down excitedly. With his dull violet eyes, you guessed that he must have been Emil.
"Can I hold it?" the boy with the soft blonde hair and cerulean eyes who you assumed to be Lukas asked.
"Sure, you can," Mathias grinned and carefully handed you over to Lukas. You had been expecting to lose a few feathers from the children's grabby hands, but Lukas caressed you ever so gently as a mother would caress her first newborn. Emil, too, didn't make any fierce movements; instead, he stroked you on your glossy white neck with a tender motion that made you sleepy with satisfaction.
"I named her ____________," Mathias said to his brothers. "You can play with her while I'm gone, okay?"
"Okay, Mathias!" Lukas and Emil smiled. "Thank you!"
"Sure thing, boys," the Danish soldier chuckled and watched his brothers continue to stroke you with heartfelt affection.
"Mathias doesn't play with us that much anymore," Lukas said while he was feeding you a handful of grasses. "Emil gets sick very easily, too. I'm worried about him." He looked over to the cot where Emil was sleeping. He had been wheezing and breaking out in a cold sweat ever since you had arrived at the humans' hut, but he had tried his best to play with you whenever he could. Being the stronger of the two, Lukas had done all that he could to take care of you and his little brother while Mathias was away, but it wouldn't be long before their sickness claimed the both of them.
You remained still as Lukas petted your head and bit his chapped lips together. Then, suddenly, he wrapped his small, frail arms around your feathered body and took you outside.
Where are you taking me, Lukas? you wondered.
He ended up not taking you too farjust around the back to where there was a small pond for you to swim in. You wondered if Lukas had meant to free you, but there was something else he had been planning.
Even though you were immortal, you could still feel pain. When Lukas brandished a small knife from behind his back, you faltered a little and tried to back up to the pond, but then, you reminded yourself that once your life ended, you would finally be reunited with your master, Odin, in Valhalla.
So this is how I go
you thought waiting for the knife to sink into your fragile swam form. As you waited for your mortal swan life to end, the knife trembled in Lukas' hand.
He's hesitant, you thought. Then, you were reminded of all those times Emil would smile just to be able to gaze upon your snow-white feathers and stroke your soft down. Lukas had even split what little time he had left in this realm to take care of you and feed you and talk to you when Emil and Mathias weren't able to.
You blinked. Could it be that he has developed sentimentality for me?
Your question was answered when the knife dropped from Lukas' shaky hand and onto the cold, hard ground. With his slew of complicated emotions leaving him a quivering mess, you walked over to the trembling boy and nuzzled his cheek with your long slender neck to comfort him.
Lukas began to sob: tears streamed down his cheeks and hiccups popped out of his frail cavity as he gave you a warm hug around your main body.
"Oh, ____________..." he sniffed. "What am I g-g-going to do? If Emil doesn't get something t-to eat
" He hiccupped as he tried not to think about the worst. "Mathias is doing the best he can, and I can't k-kill y-you. I feel so weak!"
That's because you are ill and mortal, you thought. The poor boy was at his wits' end. It wouldn't be long, before he, too, would pass on. Just then, you heard a soft voice coming from the hut.
"Lukas? Where's ___________? I want to see her." It was Emil. He was awake.
Lukas wiped away his tears and carried you back to the hut. "I'm coming, Emil," he said. You put up no resistance as he carried you further and further away from the knife that he had dropped.
Lukas had not mentioned anything to Mathias about wanting to kill you to feed Emilperhaps he was afraid that Mathias would consider killing you, too. You remained silent, of course, and continued to observe this family's actions from your perspective as an immortal being in the form of a swan.
Tonight was the night before the great battle. Many soldiers would be slain, and it would be your job to guide the brave and fallen to Valhalla along with your sisters. Sick or not, you would have to leave this family that had loved you as their own petmaybe even to the point where you could have strangely been dubbed a silent family member.
Emil's condition was worsening. Lukas wasn't faring too well, either. They would be passing on sooner or later. Who knew? Even if Mathias had survived this battle, he would be without a cause. You had not even observed enough of his bravery to decide whether or not he could go to Valhalla if he was going to be slain in battle.
This family was going to meet their end soon.
"Lukas, take care of your brother while I'm gone, okay?" Mathias said to his little brother as he prepared for his trek to join his comrades in battle.
"Yes, Mathias," Lukas nodded. You noticed that his voice was growing weaker, but at this point, there was nothing Mathias could do about it.
"Well, then, I'll see you when I get back," Mathias said in a low voice and stepped out of his hut.
"Farewell, brother," Lukas called hoarsely after his big brother. Emil was too weak to even open his eyes.
You had been asleep in the pond when the sound of armor and boots clinking against the rough earth awoke you. Mathias was leaving. It would only be courteous to see him off one last time before you left, too, so you paddled your way out of the pond and waddled onto the shoreline to greet Mathias one final time.
"Hey, ___________," he said bending down to stroke you. "Are you going to say goodbye to me, too?"
Yes, you thought nodding your head as if to answer his question.
"I appreciate it, _____________," Mathias smiled sadly and gazed into your dark eyes. "I'm going to miss you. You know, I think that because of you, Lukas and Emil have been much happier. They've been smiling a lot more, too. It's nice to see them so happy. I'm very grateful for bringing you here, _____________."
I have been grateful for the opportunity you have given me to spend time with humans, you thought. You tapped Mathias's forehead lightly with your beak to acknowledge his feelings.
"Emil and Lukas
" he murmured. "They're not going to make it
I'm sorry, Mathias, you thought. During your short time with them, you had picked up several feelings from these mortalssome happy, some sad, but they were all precious and perfectly human. You never knew why such things had escaped your watchful eyes in the first place. There was a special magic hidden in this pitiful family, so much so that you actually hoped for them. Yes. Hope. They had taught you how to hope.
Tears began to flood from Mathias' eyes. The tears magnified the blue color his irises gave off, but it wasn't the sort of sight you wanted to see. You wanted to see him happy. You wanted to see Emil have the strength to smile again and Lukas to be able to have the energy to tease his brothers to bring some laughter into the stale atmosphere of his dying family. You hoped for them. You wished for them. You wished
How could I have forgotten? you asked yourself. In your swan form, you had forgotten a few things, but never did you think you could forget something as important as that.
"Mathias," you spoke.
The teary-eyed soldier gasped and moved away from you.
"WhatWho are you?!" he cried in surprise as your form began to glow and transform into a magnificent winged woman that was both intimidating and beautiful at the same time.
"I'm __________, the swan that you had released from the net," you said in your normal speaking voice. It felt strange to be able to speak again.
" Mathias began to babble. "Y-You're a Valkyrie!"
"Yes," you nodded. "Mathias, I wanted to thank you before I left."
Mathias goggled at your true form. Aside your large white wings, you didn't resemble a swan in the slightest.
"Th-Thank me?" he managed to say. "Why would someone as glorious as you want to thank someone like me?"
"Because you and your brothers have taught me many things that I could have never hoped to learn when in the form of a Valkyrie," you answered in a clear voice. "I have learned how to feel joy, sorrow, desperation, and hope because of you. I have been introduced to your never-ending dedication for your brothers, and because of that, Mathias, I have learned what love is."
Mathias' entire body remained frozen as you walked over and gave him a hug much like the way he and brothers would do for you when you had been a swan.
"This is why I thank you, Mathias," you said. "Your brothers included. In addition to teaching me these feelings, you have also captured my heart."
I have?" Mathias asked with his face still frozen.
"Yes, Mathias," you chuckled. To the ears of humans, it sounded like the delicate ringing of bells or ice crystals clattering together when broken. "And there is a rule among my sisters and me that comes into play when you have captured a swan maidenor a Valkyriesuch as myself: if you should managed to grab ahold of us, we will grant you a wish."
"Yes," you nodded. "I will grant you any wish you would like, but you only get one so choose wisely."
" Mathias didn't even need to think about it. "I wish that Emil and Lukas will have a bright future, that they will survive and become strong for me."
"Is that what your heart truly desires?" you asked.
The Danish soldier scratched the back of his head sheepishly. "Well, there are other things that I would wish for now that I've seen how beautiful you are
" he admitted. You chuckled. This man's cheery spirit was something that always amused you.
"But, yes, that's what my heart desires the most," he finally said.
"Then it is done." With a blinding light enveloping you, Mathias wasn't able to see what was happening. When he felt your arms leave his side, he began to panic and wave his hands around looking for your familiar warmth.
"Wait!" he cried. "Where are you going?!"
"There is a battle coming, Mathias," your voice said. "You have to go to it, don't you? Do not worry about Emil and Lukas. They will be fine now."
"____________! Another thing!"
"Yes?" You were still listening.
"Thank you!" He meant it with every fiber of his soul. His dedication and loyalty would not go unrewarded.
"You're welcome, Mathias," you smiled from above as you heard the calls of your sisters beckoning you to join them. "We will meet again. I promise you that."
And with that, you vanished completely from Mathias' view as though nothing had happened at all. The wind still blew, the air was still cold, and the water remained undisturbed. You were gone.
Mathias was exhausted. Even though the wind had nipped at his skin and the snow fell on the battlefield, he could still smell the blood from the fallen warriors. He was falling short of his swings, too. The further the battle progressed, the heavier his axe seemed to get and the blurrier his vision became. He had been wounded a few times, too, and it wouldn't be long before he joined his fallen comrades on the red-stained snowy ground.
Suddenly, he felt something hot run through the side of his torso. For a brief second, he welcomed the warmth; it was too cold and frigid on the battlefield, but it didn't take long for him to find out that he had actually been stabbed clean through the gut. This was his final straw. He would never be able to see Lukas and Emil again now. He wouldn't come home to see them smiling and telling him about how many handfuls of grass _________ had eaten.
She had promised that Lukas and Emil would have a future. They would live. His wish had been granted.
I'm tired, he thought as his body went limp, and something hot and wet sputtered out of his mouth from his internal injury. His eyes had closed before he even hit the ground.
The sound of bells
It wasn't a hallucination, was it?
He recognized that voice. He had only heard it once before setting off, but its sound rang as true as the bells he could hear from above.
The Valkyrie held out her hand waiting for him to take it.
"Mathias, it's time to go. Everyone is waiting for you. Take my hand."
Mathias took ____________'s hand. As he was lifted off his feet, he was surprised at how light his body felt, like he was floating on air. His bones and muscles didn't ache anymore, and he suddenly felt full of energy and anticipation as if something amazing were about to happen.
"You fought very bravely, Mathias," __________ smiled as she led him and a handful of others towards the sound of the bells.
"Where are we going?" he asked.
"Valhalla," the Valkyrie answered. "It's the land where the fallen souls of brave and loyal warriors such as yourself go."
"Oh. And Emil and Lukas are fine?"
"Yes, they are," you said. "We will be able to watch them when we arrive to our destination."
"That's good," Mathias smiled with relief. He paused. "_____________?"