Part 4

Eagle Rider

As the otter-girl came to a halt, she heard a great cry and a shriek and there plunging down from the moonlit sky came death on wings – a huge eagle, on the back of which rode a man clad all in armour. It seemed to her that the eagle’s cry was saying over and over again “how did you come to me? how did you come to me?”

Panic rose in the little otter’s chest but she remembered what the twrch trwyth had told her. She shouted at the top of her voice the number of steps it had taken her to travel there. So, after three, tell him your number, too! 1-2-3… —

And the cry of the eagle was silent and down it swooped and landed before her and the man on its back gazed gravely at her.

“It seems you have been advised well. Why did you seek to speak to me?”

“I have been spelled by the witch of the park. If I cannot find a way to break the spell by sunrise, I will be a stone otter on the animal wall forever. Please, do you know how to break her spell?”

The man on the eagle was quiet for some time. The huge eagle shifted from clawed foot to clawed foot and the little otter wisely kept out of the way of its beak. She did not want to end up being eaten before she could break the spell.

Finally, the man spoke. “Up to her old tricks again, I see. The witch of the park is both a blessing and a curse. She keeps this place safe, but many, like you, have fallen foul of her magic.”

“Is there anything that I can do?” the otter-girl asked, feeling hopeless.

“I have been in this place for thousands of years,” said the man. “When I came here, there was no castle, no town, but a low-lying wetland, all bog and bush and briar, nothing more. It was a wild land then, a land of lawlessness. This was when the old gods were worshipped, and the people who walked the land knew the power of the earth below their feet, and cared for it well. I have been here so long that I have watched men dig deep in the soil and find riches there. I have flown over the mountains and seen them black with coal. I have watched this city grow larger and richer by the day, and people come from far and wide to make it their home. I am so old that I can feel each and every one of their stories, and I know how important they are to this place. But I do not know how to break the witch’s spell.”

The otter-girl’s heart sank. Was this it, then? Was she doomed to be a stone otter forever, sat on the animal wall, watching other people walk past, watching them live their lives while she could not move an inch?

“There is one, however, who is older even than I.”

A spark of hope glimmered in the little otter’s heart.

“Go to the ring of flowers and walk around it three times. And then follow your nose. Follow it to the furthest sculpture in the park, one that has almost fallen into disrepair. It’s there you will get your answer.”

Bute park trail: part 4