Fisher Girl did not want to leave the swan girl alone that night, but she knew her family group were starting to become suspicious. There had been whispers. Runner had pointed out that Fisher Girl was bringing back less fish but was away for much longer. Fisher Girl’s mother had started to suggest that maybe she had lost her touch at spearfishing and would be more useful taking care of the youngsters.
So Fisher Girl went back to the fire. She sat with her family as the moon rose in the sky. She waited – it felt like an age – until they each began to drift to sleep. Finally, when she was sure she was the only one awake, she padded on quiet feet away from the fire towards the lakeside.
The swans were already there by the time she reached it. They had shed their feathers and were dancing once more, filled with joy, and among them danced the swan girl. She looked more joyful than she had for a very long time, and Fisher Girl watched, and her heart broke at the sight of her. She watched all night, until the sun began to rise, and the swan women made their way to the feathers piled on the shore. And as they went, the young swan girl clutched each of their hands, and sobbed, and cried, and they cried too, and so did Fisher Girl, knowing that she had caused their pain. And they finally left their sister on the shore and swam as swans back to the centre of the lake, and as they did, Fisher Girl heard a terrible sound, a sound that made the hair on the back of her neck stand up –
A whooping cry, and there, bursting from reeds around the lakeshore came flying spears, and arrows, and the swans took off in a great panic of white feathers. It was Fisher Girl’s family. She realised with horror that she must not have been as careful as she had thought, because there was Runner, grinning like a fool. “So this is your secret!” he was saying. “Were you going to keep them all for yourself?”
He must have followed her, and brought her family with him, to hunt the swans.
“Stop!” Fisher Girl was saying, “you don’t know what you’re doing!”
But the swans were long gone, flying into the rising sun, their wingbeats resonating with a panic they never normally sounded, and the swan girl had disappeared into the reeds.
They did not catch a single swan that morning, and slowly, the hunters returned to the fireside. Fisher Girl waited until they were all gone. Then she searched the reeds for the girl.
She found her eventually, curled in the deepest part of the reeds, as if she were trying to become a part of the lake herself.
“Don’t cry,” said Fisher Girl. “Everything will be all right. I’ll help you. I’m your friend.”
But the swan girl would not listen to her.
Until finally she raised her yellow eyes and said clearly, “They will never come back.”
Fisher Girl had never heard her speak like this before. And she knew what she needed to do.
“Come with me,” she said.
She took the girl by the hand and led her to the tree. She reached into its dark hollow heart and pulled from it the swan feathers. They were as glistening white as they had been the night she had stolen them. She put them in the girl’s hands.
And finally Fisher Girl looked at her properly. “I should never have done it,” she said. “But I was so lonely. And I wanted you to be my friend.”
The girl’s yellow eyes filled with joy. She held her feathers tight. And suddenly she’d pulled away from Fisher Girl and she was running down to the lakeshore. She pulled on her feathers. She became a swan once more. She skidded across the surface of the lake, took off, and flew into the rising sun, to join her sisters.
Fisher Girl watched her go.
A few days later, it was her turn to leave. Her family needed to move to higher ground before the winter storms swallowed this land once more. She knew she would not see the swan girl again. But she could remember her. In the long winter months, huddled around her family’s fire, surrounded by the little ones, she would steal a few moments for herself by closing her eyes and imagining moonlight on white feathers, and imagining herself dancing with the swans, in the summer nights, by the lake.
Because this story does have a happy ending, despite everything. The swans eventually came back to this place. Tredelerch takes its name from the Welsh word for swan – alarch. And as you know, Fisher Girl is still here, too, perched above the water, ready to strike a fish. And perhaps now, when darkness falls, the swans on the water swim for the shore, and take off their feathers, and dance, and maybe it’s been so long, that all is forgiven, and Fisher Girl can join with them, and she can dance too.