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A boy and his father remember the Elder Days. Rated General Audiences.
The hams and pans and bones still hung from the rafters, but the lucky feather was gone.
The boy remembered the stories from the fierce winter nights, when the village would huddle together outside and their frozen breath would hang in a cloud above them, and his father would stand by the cackling flames. Washed in orange light, he would sing songs of the great mariners of old, fair and fell and immortal.
“They have not forgotten us,” he used to say. “When times grow dark and our need grows great, they will rise from the ocean in white boats carved as swans. They cannot die, for they are as gods; no Viking blade could even dent their armour, and they will fight with us until the seas and rivers run red with Danish blood.”
So he had said when Northumbria fell, and again when the Danes took East Anglia. The lucky golden feather had hung from their rafters all the while.
“Its power holds,” his father would say, stroking it as reverently as a relic.
“It gets in my way,” his mother would retort. “What bird has feathers that size?”
He remembered once, in the cool gloom of morning, his father whispering that the feather had been a gift from the Lord of the Eagles – a gift to a mariner whose ship now sailed in the stars.
“He was the greatest seaman who ever lived – he could sail through the air as easily as you or I sail into the bay.” The whisper dropped. “That’s how he slew the Dark Wyrm. He sailed up into the night and drove the prow of his ship into the beast’s filthy black heart.”
“Why did he give the feather to you?”
“He didn’t. He gave it to his son, who gave it to his son after him, and so on.” A hand on his shoulder, a proud smile. “He’s our ancestor, that great sailor of the stars. That’s how I know the Elves will come back to us. They will not abandon their kin.”
“Hush now. Your mother mustn’t know I’ve told you. She thinks it’s a pile of old nonsense.”
But the Elves had not come, and every day tales of fresh horror trickled into the village – Lindisfarne monks burned alive, Mercian babies beheaded and fed to wolves the size of horses, corpses rising from the grave and roaming the moors at night. Now the feather had vanished, and his father’s tuneless whistling could not be heard in the yard, and the boy knew.
“He has gone to find the Elves,” he murmured.
And now he understood why his father had refused ale the previous night, why he had clutched at his arm, why he had whispered in his ear, “Look after your mother.” A whiskery kiss – a farewell. “Ælfwine.”
“Gods watch you, Father,” he said to the space where the feather should be. “I will follow when I may.”
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