The stranger faced me, eyes twinkling and, grinning a broad grin showing all his teeth, said “Buy me a drink and I’ll tell you about the black swan”
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all! Emily x
The Legend of The Black Swan
For the first time in this certain month on this very day, London had disappeared from sight. The usual visible walkways and paths were shrouded in a thick and dense fog, making every corner invisible in a yellow mist and blinding every wonderer. It was not as if people were not use to such a veil, but it did make travelling up the cobbled streets and busy roads a difficult struggle.
The smell of fires roaring and burning coal and woods filled what little air that was left and the scent snagged onto clothes and faces and clung on, some who breathed in the odour coughed and spluttered, catching in their throats and making breathing uncomfortable and tight.
All around, people stumbled, tripping over their feet, arms outstretched, clutching at the yellow substance, some were shouting odd phrases, trying to warn each other of their presences and few were holding handkerchiefs to their mouths and noses, not wanting to breathe in the poison that was floating in the atmosphere like a ghost bearing down on all the Londoners.
After nearly getting barged into by a tall gentleman with a black top hat and almost getting pushing into the road where many pony and traps travelled up and down to different destinations, I myself was taken to warning other people I was also in the thicket of the bustling crowds, most people desperately looking for a way out of the shroud and trying to get to a place they were unlikely to reach in a short space of time.
I was imprisoned in a London Particular. The worst of all London fogs, the haze created by the burning coals from down in chambers or cellars, the smoke rising to street level which was now damp with rain, the water gushing out of the grey block above my head, drenching my brown jacket and black hat.
I am an artist. I travel around the country, sometimes other countries, to find some spectacular view, scene or even famous people once in a while, and painted to my hearts content. It was a very pleasant job, even though it meant that I had to leave England and my family behind for a few weeks, maybe a few months so my services could be provided.
I was not brought up in London and my family and I lived in the outskirts of the big and busy city, in a small and cosy cottage. It wasn’t much, but at least it was home for me and my 2 sons.
Unfortunately for me, this was the first time I had gone through a London Particular and I have never felt so confined, bodies pushing in on me and my sight blinded by mist. These others went walking through as if it were normal and there was me, the little young child staring at adult legs, lost, uncomfortable and, to tell you the truth, a little worried.
A door, which was quite near to me on the right-hand side, of one of the many side shops and houses opened, I could hear the creaking of wood and the whine of rusty hinges. “You a bit lost sunny Jim?” a voice travelled through the bleakness and yellow mist. I couldn’t answer for as I opened my mouth to reply, a rush of smoke flew into my already sore throat and mouth making me cough uncontrollably. “Come on in son” the voice said loudly as other passers by were making a racket.
By the dim candle flame of the street lamp which only illuminated only about a pinprick of sight, I saw the open door and a man standing next to it, leaning on the old oak, his hand clutching the iron handle and his other hand on the doorframe. As I looked up, I saw above his head the sign “The Cheques”. I nodded, even though he would not see this, pushed past a porky gentleman with a bowler hat and went past the man into the building.
A warm rush of air greeted me and my vision suddenly returned as I stepped over the threshold of what looked like a tavern. A long table stretched across most of the room, chairs dotted around it and there were some lone tables and chairs, some occupied by men and a few women and the others empty and lonely. Behind the long bar were dozens upon dozens of bottles, all containing alcoholic beverages and spirits. Under these were about 50-70 glasses, clean and sparkling, ready to be filled with liquid delights.
“You seem to be a little out of place here sir” the man, who I presumed was the tavern owner, commented, indicating that I should follow him to the table. He then lifted a hatch up so that he was standing behind the bar, a smile on his face. “A good drink of whiskey would do you some good. On the house” and he grabbed a medium sized glass and began to fill it up with the amber substance.
“I’m not from around these parts” I replied, accepting the glass from him with a smile and a nod of the head “I come from the outskirts. You heard of Potters Bar?” The man stroked his chin and small goatee thoughtfully “I recon I have sir” he said, noticing an empty, lone wine glass, took it and began to clean it out using a damp cloth. “You get men from all around coming in here”
I nodded once more and took a sip of the whiskey, the drink burning the back of my throat but feeling very pleasurable. “Do you mind if I can take a seat in the corner?” I asked him, gesturing to an area on the far left which was rather dim but a perfect place for me to sit. “Of course you may sir” he cried loudly and heartily “If you need anything, just give me a bell”
I thanked him gratefully, stood up with my drink, wondered over to the table which I noticed was rather dusty and unused and sat down on the comfortable chair. I leaned back in it, happy to be out of the chaos that was the main street and being in peace and quiet. Then, an idea struck me and, being the artist that I am, took out a pencil and piece of paper and began to sketch.
This idea that had just taken over my mind had been bugging me for the past few days. Ever since I had been to London, I had asked around about local suspicions or stories as I thought it would be a great idea to draw based off a tale of fantasy. But, to every person I went to, they told me about the same tale, the same fiction and gave me the same answer.
The Black Swan.
I not being a Londoner had never heard of such a story, it intrigued me to the point were to everyone I asked, I always wanted to know the tale. But, to my unfortunate dismay, no one could really give me any more about The Black Swan. All they told me was that the Swan had taken flight across the sky on a winter night, the full pale moon rising and a small boy gripping onto the swans sleek and black feather wings.
It was rather frustrating as I wanted to know more, understand about The Black Swan, how it could have come to pass a boy could have flown across the night sky on its back, how the pair even came to meet. I wanted the full story and, all I had for now, was the ending.
The door creaked loudly once more and a rush of air swept into the tavern, making a couple of heads turn and a cold rush pass my legs. I heard the heavy oak bang shut and a man stepped into view. He was rather tall, wore a travelling cloak with the hood still up, hiding him from everyone else and a simple bag was slung around his shoulders and rested on his back.
He looked up from the wooden flooring, walked up to the bar, his big black boot clumping, making wet footprints on the ground, and took a unoccupied seat which was right in front of the tavern owner, his arms folded, his smile visible.
The tavern owner turned and boomed “Well, nice to see you again here sir”. The hooded gentleman looked up at the kind, red-cheeked face and replied “As it is to see you”. His voice was calm, friendly and upper-class but, sounded so...strange and different. The tavern owner scratched the back of his mousey brown hair and asked “What will you have?” The hooded man pulled his hood down reviling a shock of black untidy hair, said with a nod “The usual” and stood up.
I had been watching the stranger as he entered to the point when he rose out of his seat. That was when I decided to go back to my art work, a simple quick drawing; maybe an idea would come to make it a spectacular masterpiece. But, without much of an idea about The Swan, I couldn’t get any sort of revelation to make it a painting I could be proud of.
I heard a sound above me and I looked up to see the hooded man, mouth stretched from ear to ear, drink in hand and other hand on the table. “Evening my good sir” he said politely. I had not expected this new person to come over, but nevertheless, I smiled “Evening to you” I said warmly and offered the seat on the other side of the table. He bowed his head and sat down, smile still on his face.
“Ghastly weather don’t you say?” he stated, taking a swig of the beverage he had. I nodded, taking a gulp of my own “First time I have actually been in a London Particular. It makes me want to go back to my cottage in the small village I am from” I mumbled. He sighed and leaned forward.
“Well, I’m not really too familiar with the streets around here either”
“Oh? Where do you reside then sir?”
“Not near here. Let’s just say it’s a distant land”
“Ah. Are you here on business? I’m sorry, I sound incredible nosey”
“Not a problem my dear man. Alas no, I am here to see a good friend of mine. I am travelling through here to get to my destination, St Albans”
“That’s quite close to my place of residence. I too am heading for home after I have finished my work”
I tilted my head to show the piece of paper and sharp pencil on the table before me and muttered “If only I could get more inspiration”. The man leaned forward in his seat to see my half-drawn swan and, with surprise in his tone, said “That’s a very good piece”. I thanked him, only half-heartedly, picking up the paper and staring into its depths “If only I knew more of the swan”.
The man’s ears pricked up a little and, draining his glass in one, twisted his head around the paper and said “What swan?” I looked up at him and shrugged “The Black Swan, The only kind of tale these people tell me of but barely know anything about it as much as I do. Some have said there had been a poem written about it but, I can not remember such rhymes-”
“Keep those black wings folded until the time is right
To find the one whom it may steal
A soul from its place of birth
Must keep its secrets untold until the wrongs are right
The only one it could deceive, he serves his time
Flying with The Black Swan”
I glanced into the man’s eyes which were light brown in colour, my mouth open in a little “o” shape at the sweet melody, the woven words and the way the man spoke them in a gentle and soft tone. “That’s a beautiful poem” I whispered, slightly awestruck.
He looked down at my shocked face and chuckled “Aye it is. And not many people do know of it”. He shifted his glass away from him and crossed his arms again on the wood “A more sweet and warm-heartening tale is the story of The Black Swan. The fantasy that men, women and children know none of, the fictional story that captures a heart yet people do not remember an inch of”
I gave him a confused face, frowning, head tipped to the side like a curious child, eyes burning into his and hanging off of his words. Could he, this man from further lands that I have knowledge of, know the tale that I seek to know? “What do you mean sir?” I asked him, my hands open and raised and shoulders tense. The stranger faced me, eyes twinkling and, grinning a broad grin showing all his teeth, said
“Buy me a drink and I’ll tell you about the black swan”