It begins as follows:
Not so very long ago but before you were born, an idle lordling went riding through one of the great forests that sweep across the Isles. You may guess which forest, and which man, but I will not tell you.
He was riding fast and to no clear purpose, for he was young and careless of his responsibilities. None of the stories his mother had told him of men vanished into the wilderness or returned changed beyond recognition could teach him caution. He might even have sung as he went, for his heart was unburdened that day as it never would be again…
You can read the rest at Beneath Ceaseless Skies (along with Jonathan Louis Duckworth’s delightful “Venturing” which, while a very different story in a very different voice, is also about forests and the stories met in them).
I had a lot of fun with this story, from spinning it out of the sorts of tales I grew up loving, to finding out what I could get away with not doing, to discovering a voice for the (not quite neutral) narrator.
It grew from all sorts of gathered fascinations, and particular narrative shapes and patterns, from the world (or the feeling of a world) in a larger story I’m perpetually trying to wrangle, and from reading variant forms of ballads in the Child Ballads.
The first draft, for all its length, unspooled itself quickly and clearly, but not cleanly. Particular thanks go to Aimee Smith, CSE Cooney, Shastra Deo, Madeleine Dale, Sarah Day, James Halford, Angela Slatter and Kim Wilkins for their input at various points in the (somewhat lengthy) process of making it work and sound right, and to Scott H Andrews of Beneath Ceaseless Skies for his thoughtful and educational editorial hand.
Here is a very old illustration which sprang from some of the same fascinations.
And while there are no swans in the story, there are textiles, so here’s a slightly more recent (but still rather old) fairy-tale fibre-art illustration.