The tale of a woman’s journey into the wilderness set in a landscape inspired by the wild rivers and mountains of Southern Tasmania.
The lavish illustrations and simple language will appeal to children, however the book is really for an adult audience particularly women.
The story is a metaphor for a soul journey.
Leilitiah. Leilitiah is the name of a mountain in Southern Tasmania and an aboriginal word meaning ocean.
Kammlyn. A young black swan. The name is derived from Celtic mythology. Tamlyn, a walker between worlds.
Merrybones/Bullybones. A Tasmanian Devil, a dual character.
Mooloombi. A boobook owl.
The Forest King. A black swan.
Chapter One - Riverlune
Once in the ebb and flow of days, in a land far away at the end of the Great Ocean, there dwelt a lady beside a river wide and deep, known as the Riverlune. The lady, Leilitiah, was neither young nor old. She lived a simple life in her wooden hut on the riverbank. Leilitiah was very poor; nevertheless she was happy living there in the tall grey-green forest. At the close of day she loved to row out across the Riverlune in her small white boat to gaze at the cloud-covered mountains and the sunset reflected in the dark water.
One calm autumn evening Leilitiah wandered down to where her boat was moored. As she rowed over the tranquil water, a host of black swans came gliding along the river calling softly in their plaintive voices. Just then, behind her, Leilitiah heard someone call her name. Turning, she saw standing white and lightly on the water, a woman pale and beautiful, clad in a mantle of white feathers above which her face shone radiantly.
Her long silvery hair was crowned with stars. All around her the surface of the river shimmered, opalescent as a shell. Knowing at once that she was in the presence of the Lady Moon herself, the astonished Leilitiah shipped her oars and bowed most courteously. The Lady Moon graciously inclined her head saying, “I have a task for thee.” Trembling, Leilitiah addressed her. “Surely I am not worthy, I am no longer youthful and there are now white strands in my dark hair.” “You seem but a child to one such as I,” laughed the moon. “My years are numberless as the stars of heaven. Many days yet lie before you. Come now, cast aside your foolish fears.” “But your ladyship,” protested Leilitiah, “in my youth I went on many journeys and I am weary of travelling. This place is now my home, I don’t wish to leave, you cannot ask it of me.” “Very well” said the Moon smiling gently. Relieved Leilitiah turned quickly and rowed back across the water. When she reached the hut she shut the door firmly, then peered out a window to see if the Moon was still there. She had gone.
The following night Leilitiah rowed out on the river. Once more the swans came gliding towards her. Again she heard her name called and turned to see the Lady Moon beaming at her. “Oh good evening your Ladyship” said Leilitiah a little apprehensively, “is there something else you wish to say to me?” The Moon spoke, “The Forest King lies wounded, while his kingdom suffers. It is within your power to help. You have but to carry to him a token that I shall give you. It is a small thing to ask.” “Hmmm,” Leilitiah thought for a moment. “Are you sure that is all? If the task is so easy anyone could go. Why me? I have found peace here, no more journeys for me. Thank you all the same.” She turned abruptly and began rowing hurriedly away. “Very well,” said the Moon smiling. On reaching the hut Leilitiah shut the door with a bang and hastily drew the curtains.
On the third night, before Leilitiah stepped into her boat she looked up and down the river, just to make sure the moon was not in sight. ‘All clear,’ she thought. But, as she rowed out over the water the swans appeared and again her name was called, this time louder than before. Leilitiah turned, “It’s you again,” she said rudely. “Where were you hiding? What do you want now?” “Leilitiah,” said the Moon gently but firmly, “there is no-one else who can make this journey. Surely you cannot refuse.” Leilitiah sat unsmiling. “I can see that you will give me no rest until I agree,” she replied. “Perhaps I’ll think about it,” she began to waver, “but I won’t go alone.” “Certainly you may take a companion,” answered the moon. “Is there one who is willing to go with you?”
From amongst the flock, one swan greater than the rest glided forward. He was young and tall and of noble bearing, with a fierce bright eye. Bowing to the Moon he spoke, “I am Lord of these dark waters, Chieftan of Swans. I am Kammlyn the son of the Forest King.“
Turning to Leilitiah he continued, “His realm lies at the foot of the White Hart Peak in the wild Hartz Mountains, many days journey from here along the Riverlune. I shall be your guide as far as the Mountain Gateway which marks the border of my lands.” “Thank you my friend”, said Leilitiah, her face softening. She looked up at the Moon. “Very well then” agreed Leilitiah reluctantly. The Lady Moon briefly nodded her head then raised her arm. From a pearl-pale hand fell something small that drifted down to rest on the water. A single feather, gleaming white and curved like the crescent moon. “Take this my token,” said the Lady Moon, “to the Forest King who lies deep in the wilderness like one who is asleep. Seek the Island of Sky in the Water, there you will find him.”
The Lady Moon then plucked from her head one strand of shining silver hair, allowing it to fall upon the water beside the feather. “You may fasten it about your neck with this. Frail it may seem, but none may break it although there are those who may try to do so.” Leilitiah bent to pick up the feather tied it to the silver hair then fastened it carefully around her throat. When she again lifted her head there was only a glimmering trail on the water where the moon had been.
“Fare thee well,” called a lilting voice. Around them gathered the swans of Riverlune singing a poignant farewell. Lifting his head toward the indigo mountain peaks over which the first stars were beginning to appear, Kammlyn turned southward and glided into the twilight. Behind him, her white boat distinct against the inky water followed Leilitiah.
Chapter Two - To the Mountain Gateway
Together they journeyed for many days up the River Lune; the country becoming wilder and more beautiful as they drew closer to the Hartz Mountains. Yet now and again Lelitiah noticed a group of trees whose leaves were shriveled and yellowing. Some branches were quite leafless. They appeared to be dying. “Tell me Kammlyn,” she asked as they drifted past one such group, “What is wrong with those trees?” “They grieve for the wounded King,” sighed Kammlyn. “Each year there are more such as these.”
At night, on the riverbank Leilitiah lit a small campfire whilst Kammlyn searched in the deeper pools for slender golden fishes that were delicious when roasted on the coals. They slept beneath stately blue gums or thick drooping native cherry trees – Kammlyn balanced on one leg, his head beneath his wing. Leilitiah curled up in her woollen shawl. Always the river sang to them.
Seven days thus went by. The River Lune was now overhung with enormous shaggy tree ferns. These in turn were over shadowed by towering myrtles, their spreading roots green with mosses and lichen, their leafy canopy high above the two travellers. Sometimes across the river wafted the rich honey scent of leatherwood trees and the tea-stained water was starred with their white blossom. The riverbank had become steep, rocky and dripping with moisture. As the day wore on Leilitiah wondered where they would find a campsite in this wild country. She was tiring, but Kammlyn swam along briskly as though anticipating something. He was well ahead when he reached a bend and stopped.
“The Gateway!“ he called triumphantly. Leilitiah rowed up beside him then raised her eyes in wonder. There on either side of the river loomed two immense rocks. Their sides worn smooth by countless floods, rose up sheer out of the water for some ninety feet. Above that height tiny ferns and orchids had managed to cling, giving the impression of tangled damp hair. Like two ancient women they looked. Guardians, they watched over the gateway to the timeless lands of the Wilderness. The river boomed as it gushed between these two sentinels. Within the rush and splash of the water Leilitiah heard deep voices echoing:
“We are children of the ancient stars
We are sisters to the trees
Keepers of the green mantle
We are standing memory
We are standing memory.”
Whilst looking up at the Great Stones it came to Leilitiah with a pang that she must now part with Kammlyn. She felt cold and weary and suddenly sad. Kammlyn seemed to understand and motioned to her to follow him. He led her across the river to some large boulders behind which was a wide stone archway and a tunnel leading into the riverbank. Away from the main current the water was calmer. They glided silently along a smooth stone passageway. Leilitiah had expected darkness, but all around was a soft glow. She could see Kammlyn clearly swimming just ahead of her. Presently they emerged in a wide cavern. Here the light was even lighter. Leilitiah glance up to see the roof hung with countless tiny pale green lights. “Glow worms!” she laughed. Their gentle radiance illuminated a breath-taking sight. Before them opened a lofty chamber carved from living rock. Translucent pillars of white and amber reached from the floor to a high vaulted ceiling festooned with long icicles of stone. Some were fragile and fine as glass, others like heavy golden curtains fold upon fold, created over long eons by slowly dripping water. Leilitiah was overwhelmed by the grandeur of her surroundings. Well she believed that the fairy folk of old might still dwell in such places.
That night they shared their last meal together. They ate quietly, Leilitiah thinking of the next day when she must travel on alone. Kammlyn watched her, aware perhaps of her thoughts. He broke the silence. “So, my friend, the journey has begun well. Tomorrow I must return to my lands at the mouth of the River Lune. My companions will be waiting. There is a warning I would give you before we part. Not far from here is a deep ravine where dwells a mountain devil named Bullybones who preys upon travellers venturing into the Wilderness. He would covert what you carry if he chanced to hear of it, even though its power would be worthless in his hands. The Moonfeather hangs by an unbreakable thread, but you might be harmed if he tried to steal it from you. Beware! He is deceitful, unpredictable and dangerous when angry. He will stop at nothing to get what he desires.” He paused and looked at her a while in silence. “If you ever become lost, then the stars of the Great Southern Cross may be your beacon.”
Leilitiah slept uneasily during the early part of the night, often turning restlessly. Suddenly a strange sound woke her, a humming chorus as of many birds singing. The chamber was filled with light. A figure stood before her, a woman pale and fair wearing a gown which seemed fashioned from the night sky itself, deepest blue and shimmering with stars. The Lady Moon – for it was she – smiled and spoke: “ Once you pass this point you may not turn back until your task is complete. Beyond this Gateway time runs not as you know it here. Not all things may be as they seem. You must learn to look beyond appearances and listen to the small voice of your heart. You will meet both false friends and true. Whatever the outcome of your journey may be, your life will be forever changed.” The bright vision began to grow dim. “Remember listen to your heart and all will be well.”
The humming chorus lulled to a murmur then faded away altogether. The chamber was once again lit only by the faint green lamps of the glowworms. For the remainder of the night Leilitiah slept soundly.
It was dawn when she awoke. Kammlyn had been out fishing at first light. He now stood at a water-worn stone near the mouth of the cave preening his long flight feathers in preparation for the journey home. Outside a light mist hung over the river through which the morning sky showed, pale blue and clear. A fine day looked likely. For a long moment they regarded each other. Leilitiah’s eyes were full of tears. “Goodbye my friend. The river will feel empty without you,” she said sorrowfully. Kammlyn ruffled his feathers. “If you ever have need of my help, you have only to send a message with one of my feathered kin.” Bowing his handsome head once, he began beating his powerful wings, at first seemingly to run along the surface of the river, then gathering speed he rose into the air. As he reached the treetops he called, “We’ll meet again,” and he was soon lost to sight, hidden by the leafy canopy.
How small and alone Leilitiah now felt. But the mist was beginning to lift and the river sparkled in the sunlight, which raised her spirits a little. She looked up at the Gateway through which she must now pass. Although it appeared formidable, Leilitiah did not feel daunted. Dipping her oars she guided her white boat between the two Ancient Guardians into the Wilderness beyond.
Chapter Three – The Fall
Travelling upstream the going became increasingly difficult as the river narrowed and the current gained in speed. At times the water rushed swiftly across shelves of rock or foamed around sharp, jutting stones. Leilitiah was often forced to clamber out then drag the boat behind her. She was becoming tired and disheartened by her slow progress.
The third day dawned bleak and cold. Rain squalls were frequent all morning and by afternoon heavy rain was falling. Leilitiah wet through and chilled, decided to stop as soon as she could find some protection from the weather. Just then, through the rain on the riverbank ahead she saw a squat black creature sheltering in a hollow tree. But for the bright beady eyes that were watching her intently, she may not have noticed it at all. Leilitiah stopped feeling nervous. The creature stepped forward and smiled widely, showing gleaming white teeth.
“Dear Lady,” it addressed her, continuing to smile all the while. “You do look weary. This forest is well known to me. Perhaps I might be able to assist you. My name is Merrybones.”
Leilitiah hesitated; wanting to trust him, yet there was a whisper of doubt in her heart. She recalled Kamlin’s words of warning. Could this be Bullybones? Surely not. He seemed so friendly and harmless.
“Do you know of a mountain devil here abouts named Bullybones?” She queried him. The animal darted her a quick sidelong glance. “Ah, yes,” he answered somberly, shaking his head, “ a distant cousin of mine, a dangerous fellow indeed. Never fear, you can trust me, he won’t harm you while I am around.” He smiled again and went on, “It would be wiser to camp away from the river at night. Near the top of the ridge is a cave where we can be dry and safe until morning.”
A day of travelling in the rain made the prospect of dry shelter most enticing. Won to confidence by his charming manner, Leilitiah decided to trust this cheerful fellow, at least for the night. With only a moments hesitation she tied the boat to a tree and started after Merrybones who had already begun climbing the steep slope. Just as he had said, near the top of the ridge was a wide opening in the cliff face. Thankfully, Leilitiah pulled herself up over the last ledge into the dry interior of a shadowy cave. In the already fading light, she saw a scattering of dry bones across the floor and in one corner was a bed made of bracken and dry leaves. A dank musty smell hung in the air, but Leilitiah hardly noticed it, so grateful was she to be out of the rain. Merrybones shook his dripping fur, then immediately declared, “What do you have for us to eat my dear?” From her bag Leilitiah took three yellow apples and a handful of nuts. “Is that all!” grumbled Merrybones, looking disappointed. Quickly he grabbed the two largest apples and most of the nuts. Taken aback by his rudeness, Lelilitiah caught her breath.
“Well, what’s wrong with you?” snapped Merrybones, stuffing the first apple into his mouth. “You can have the rest.” He gobbled down the first apple then grinned at her.
After eating, Leilitiah sat by the mouth of the cave watching the last light over the forest. Merrybones sidled over to her peering at her throat. “That’s a pretty necklace my dear. Mind if I have a closer look?” he said, reaching out with his paw. “Is it valuable?” “Oh yes” answered Leilitiah without thinking. “This is a gift from the Moon. It’s very special indeed.” Merrybones eyes glinted. Instantly she regretted her words. “But I can’t take it off” she added. Merrybones glowered at her. “You don’t trust me do you?” he whined petulantly. He stomped over to the bracken bed, curled up with his back to her and was soon snoring. Leilitiah made herself comfortable in a hollow of the dusty floor, thankful to be dry. Lying in there in the dark she pondered Merrybones behaviour. Perhaps he doesn’t know any better she thought. After all he is used to living alone in the forest. All the same, Leilitiah was a little uneasy. Maybe it would be wise to leave in the morning.
In the morning rain was still falling, grey and heavy. Dark clouds hung low over the dripping trees. Travelling in such weather would be foolish. Leilitiah sighed and resigned herself to remaining in the cave until the rain cleared. During the day Merrybones was restless, pacing up and down across the entrance, often grumbling to himself. Several times he demanded that Leilitiah give him something to eat, growling angrily at her when there was nothing left. The next minute his cheerful smile returned. His changing manner was very unsettling. Leiliitah was beginning to think that it had been a terrible mistake to trust this creature. She resolved to travel on without him as soon as possible.
Abruptly, late in the afternoon, Merrybones stopped his pacing and announced. “I’m going out for a while. Make yourself comfortable, back soon.” Smiling at Leilitiah in his most charming manner, he scampered away.
Perhaps he’s really quite nice she thought, after all, we have been cooped up here all day and he is used to roaming the forest. Relaxing a bit after he had gone, she stretched out on the bracken bed and was beginning to doze when she heard footsteps approaching the cave. Leilitiah looked up. Thinking at first glance that this was Merrybones, she opened her mouth to greet him, and then stopped. The creature entering the cave seemed much larger, his eyes were full of malice and his lip curled in an ugly snarl showing sharp, white fangs.
“Get off my bed!” he roared. Shocked, Leilitiah shrank against the wall in terror. “I’m Bullybones and THIS IS MY CAVE!” he growled at her. “Give me that!” Snatching her bag he rummaged through it. Finding nothing, he threw it angrily across the cave. “You have something of much more value my dear,” snarled Bullybones menacingly, as he advanced, seeming to grow ever larger. “Merrybones where are you?” called Leilitiah despairingly, but no answer came. “You wont see him whilst I’m around,” laughed Bullybones nastily. “Now, hand over that necklace!” he bellowed, pushing his face close to hers. His foul breath filled her nostrils. Then seizing her roughly by the arm, Bullybones grabbed the Moonfeather and gave it a sharp tug. Leilitiah cried out as the silver thread cut into her skin, but the thread remained unbroken. She struggled in his grasp. “Stop! Stop! It won’t come off,” she wept, “not until I reach the Island of Sky in the Water.” “What’s that you said? Sky in the Water?” For a moment Bullybones eyes narrowed and flicked from side to side as his mind worked. “Well now, this is interesting. I’ve heard that a great treasure lies there just waiting to be claimed. I’ve got a better idea,” he said as he shoved her roughly to the floor. “You’re going to take me with you. Now get some sleep, we’re heading off at first light tomorrow.” Leilitiah slumped against the wall at the back of the cave, too frightened to argue. Stationing himself across the entrance, Bullybones laid down his head between his paws. His eyes remained half closed watching Leilitiah. In the dim light before dawn she was shaken awake from her fitful sleep. “Come on get moving,” growled Bullybones, “time to go.”
The rain had eased overnight and a fresh breeze swept the damp green forest. Impatient to be off, Bullybones pushed Leilitiah ahead of him. At the base of the cliff the boat bobbed lightly on the river. Bullybones untied the mooring rope then knotted it tightly around Leilitiah’s ankle. “Get in” he snorted.
Leilitiah had little choice to do but as he ordered. Bullybones leapt in after her then jerked at the rope and snapped, “Now start rowing! It will be a couple of days journey by boat to the Falls. After that, it’s by foot across the mountains. Go on, let’s get moving!” As Leilitiah turned the boat from the shore, Bullybones settled himself comfortably in the stern. The small boat rode perilously low in the water. The extra weight also made maneuvering difficult.
Bullybones dozed in the rippling river light as Leilitiah pulled at the oars until her shoulders ached and her hands blistered. All the while her thoughts went around and around, seeking a way out of her predicament. Bullybones was unpredictable and quite capable of injuring or killing her if provoked. The escape must be clean, but how? Her chance would come and she must be ready when it did.
For two weary days Leilitiah toiled at the oars. Bullybones had given her no rest nor had any chance of escape presented itself. The dull roar of the Falls grew ever louder. The boat was making no headway against the increasing current. Bullybones seemed to enjoy watching her struggle. Every so often he taunted her cruelly. Finally, as the sun slipped beneath the tree canopy he barked, “Okay, okay, enough of this. We’re getting nowhere. Pull over to the bank. We’ll camp at the top of the cliff then go on by foot tomorrow.”
Leaving the boat and the river behind them they scrambled up the slippery rocks. Leilitiah, in front, skidded twice but quickly regained her foothold. Bullybones; sure-footed in rough country, followed behind. Ten minutes later the river was almost fourty feet beneath them. Leilitiah paused to catch her breath, looking down at the brown torrent. As she did so, a desperate thought came to her. Perhaps this was her moment. There might not be another chance. With a sudden swift movement she leapt sideways and with a wailing cry she fell. Down, down, down into the rain-swollen river below. Bullybones bellowed in impotent rage as Leilitiah was swept beyond his reach.
The river ran deep and swift at the base of the cliff. Leilitiah hit the icy water and sank beneath the surface where the current seized her as she struggled upwards gasping for air. Downstream the river bore her back along the many miles she had travelled, until reaching a fork in the river, she was washed into a smaller stream.
After many miles the rush of water began to ease. The stream became shallower, running along a gravelly bed. Lelitiah was at this time numb with cold and no longer able to swim. She drifted, barely breathing. All of a sudden one of her feet scraped the bottom. Almost unaware of what she was doing, guided by some instinct, she crawled to the bank and collapsed. The sun was high overhead when Leilitiah began to stir. Feeling the warm sun on her back she sighed, believing she was back in her peaceful hut by the River Lune and that the terrifying events of the past night were but a fading dream. Lifting her head, she was dismayed to see around her a landscape of steep bare brown hills strewn with rocky outcrops and the grey-white skeletons of dead trees. “Oh no,” she wept, “What horrible place is this? If only I had listened to Kammlyn’s warning. If only I had listened to my heart.”
Chapter Four – In the Dry Hills
Picking herself up Leilitiah climbed out of the dry riverbed then up a short steep rise which gave her a wider view of the land. The river had carried her so far that the hazy grey coastal forests were in sight and beyond them, the faint blue line of the ocean. The quiet hut by the river mouth called to her. How easy it would be to return to the simple life she had led such a short time ago. She had but to climb a few low hills and cross the button grass plain above the river and she would be there. Leilitiah turned to the south. A great distance away, the White Hart Mountain glittered like a small bright star. Her hand touched the soft feather at her throat. Could she abandon her task? Her destination was further away than ever. The past was gone. If she continued, it must be on foot alone. With a gentle sigh and a last longing glance over her shoulder, Leilitiah turned her back on her old home once more.
Day after day, Leilitiah trudged through the dusty landscape. How dry and barren it was after the leafy green forest and the singing forest. Ravens watched her, sharp-eyed and hungry, from the ghostly trees. Their harsh calls echoed around the stony valleys.
In the middle of the day, when the sun was at its hottest, she rested in the scant shade beside one of the many rocky outcrops. The rocks also gave her temporary relief from the parching Wind that blew as long as the sun was in the sky. At night the Wind ceased, but when the sun sank behind the arid hills, the temperature dropped to freezing point. Leilitiah shivered, wrapped only in her tattered shawl, taking cover where she could find it in a hollow tree or cave. The crumbling stone walls of a once grand house provided her with shelter for the night. Abandoned, now a wind-swept ruin, it offered little comfort.
Although the nights were bitterly cold, the clear night sky was woven with stars. Amongst the myriad stars, four shone out brighter than the rest. From these four points of the Southern Cross Leilitiah set her path. How long she wandered in that desolate land, how many moons had waxed and waned, she knew not, knowing only that her task was not yet complete, that the journey must go on. Nor had the Moon, the White Lady of Dreams spoken to her again. Leilitiah felt utterly forsaken. Step by step she headed south once more. At first Leilitiah shrank from the incessant Wind, gradually however, she became accustomed to his exuberant spirit. After a while she welcomed his blustering arrival each day, carrying in his boundless robe an infinite array of songs and stories, for had he not travelled to all places? Leaping around her he whispered and sang of the rolling salt sea and winged ships; of glittering towered cities where there lived more people than trees; of sinuous deep green rivers bordered by forgotten fields where ancient tribes once trod; of grey stone mountains that touched the clouds; lands covered in perpetual ice and snow; hot lands of dazzling sunshine and dense jungles filled with creatures marvelous and strange; suffering lands, broken by war and weeping and small neglected corners where exquisite flowers bloomed unseen by any save he. Then the Wind was off, flying dust-covered over the dry hills. Unpredictable though he was, always he returned, bringing wrapped in his folds, a thousand memories. Loveliest of all, faint on the hem of the Wind as he passed before the night, came swan voices calling over the Riverlune at dusk. No longer did Leilitiah feel lonely, for she had found a travelling companion. Now she walked with the Wind.
One morning as Leilitiah awoke, just before dawn, a sharp scent wafted past on the early breeze; the unmistakable tang of gum leaves. There were no trees in sight, but she was certain that they could not be far away. Ahead rose a high hill. From the summit she would be able to see for miles. Leaping up she ran towards it.
Leilitiah was near the top when the first rays of sunlight gleaned across the hill. At the summit, panting with the effort of climbing, she sat down to catch her breath. A wooded valley flowed down from her feet. Far below lay a tranquil lake, all the beauty of the sky shining down upon it. At its centre was a small island. On the far side of the lake, fair as the Morning Star stood the pointed snow-covered peak of the White Hart Mountain. So still was the water it appeared that a piece of the sky had fallen to earth. Mirrored birds flew beneath the limpid surface, yet the Mountain and the encircling hills clad in blue-green forest, cast no reflection at all. For many minutes Leilitiah gazed entranced by its strange luminous beauty. She had no doubt that this was Lake Sky in the Water. Then as the sun touched the quiet trees and the birds of the forest began their dawn chorus, Leilitiah stepped lightly down the hill into a greener world.
Chapter Five – Lake Sky in the Water
Upon reaching the shore, Leilitiah knelt to scoop up some of the water in her hand. Icy cold, it was pure and clear as an emerald. Stripping off her travel-stained clothing she dived in. Like a song, the water flowed over her tired body. All the dust and stones of the dry hills washed from her thoughts as she slipped through the translucent green depths. For a long time she swam, then floated on the surface. Her hair drifted on the water behind her, a shadowy wave.
After rinsing her clothes then draping them on a bush to dry, Leilitiah sat on a rock in the morning sunlight watching the flawless reflections. Coming out of her reverie some time later, she pulled on her still damp clothing and set off along the shoreline. Leilitiah wandered along the shore for what seemed like hours, yet the White Hart Peak remained as remote as ever. She realized that the Lake was much vaster than she had imagined and that the distance to the Island was far too great for her to swim. Beginning to despair Leilitiah sat down beneath a wattle tree covered in golden blossom. “Have I come so far only to fail now?” she thought. Overwhelmed by hopelessness her tears began to fall.
“Who are you? Who are you?” came a voice from the tree. “Why do you weep so sorrowfully?” Looking up, it appeared to Lelitiah that one of the branches had opened two enormous golden eyes that were regarding her with an unblinking gaze. “You woke me with your wailing” said the Owl not unkindly. “I am Mooloolooloombi. Who are you?” “Most pleased to meet you Mmmm….” Leilitiah hestitated, blushing scarlet. “You may call me Mooloombi,” said the Owl regally, “most of my friends do”. “Oh wise bird” sniffed Leilitiah after introducing herself; if this is Lake Sky in the Water then I must reach that far Island, yet I know not how. I cannot swim so far.” “The King’s Island! Might I ask for what reason?” queried Mooloombi. “Our wounded King lies there. None but the twelve Kingfishers who serve him may set foot upon it.” “I bring the King a gift from the Moon,” replied Leilitiah shyly. “Hoo, hoo, so you are the messenger we have been waiting for. You’re not quite what we expected you know,” said Mooloombi, looking her up and down, her doubtful expression on her tawny face. “Hmmm, I am sure her Ladyship knows what is best. We must give this matter some thought.”
With that the Owl closed her eyes and once more became a part of the tree. Then she began to hum a haunting tune. Leilitiah waited patiently. It was dusk when Mooloombi opened her eyes. “I’ve been to visit my feathered friends,” she said in her melodious voice. “We have a plan. Now you must rest.”
Weary, Leilitiah curled up at the foot of the golden wattle. Whilst she slept Mooloombi watched over her singing a lullaby.
“The Owls’ Lullaby”
All things have their shadow
this side of the sun,
O fear not the dark tho’
the night be long.
The Great Stars are ringing
a song of the Dawn,
All is but a dream
this side of the Moon.
Morning broke, crisp and bright. Leilitiah felt renewed, the arduous days of travel forgotten. The high twittering voices of a family of blue wrens greeted her. “We bring you feathers,” they chirped. At Leilitiah’s feet they placed a pile of tiny feathers, soft brown and iridescent blue. Bowing quickly they flittered away.
Throughout the day Leilitiah was visited by different birds, each carrying a few feathers. First to come were small bush birds, the honeyeaters, spotted pardalotes and thornbills, flycatchers and fantails, warblers whistlers and robins, flame and rose-breasted. Then came flocks of jewel-bright parrots and rosellas; emerald, turquoise, ruby-red and golden, screeching and whirling through the trees. Black currawongs swooped in across the treetops caroling as they flew. Shy violet-eyed bowerbirds hopped quietly from the undergrowth; then came prancing lyrebirds, fierce-eyed hunters with sharp talons and long-winged grey wanderers from the sea. The pile of multi-hued feathers, all the colours of forest and flower, ocean and cloud grew steadily.
Later that afternoon, Leilitiah saw high on the grey sky, a shadow flying far off. Nearer and nearer it came till the great bird began to descend in lessening circles toward the Lake. Stretching a long neck and beating powerful wings, the bird landed on the water close to the shore. “Kammlyn!” cried Leilitiah joyfully running to the waters edge. “Hello my friend,” he bowed. “I come to bring you this, but I cannot stay.” From his left wing Kammlyn plucked a strong black flight feather which he placed in her hand. “This is truly a kingly gift. I shall use it well.” She thanked him, her eyes shining. Leilitiah watched as Kammlyn sped across the water gathering speed till he lifted once more into the sky. “I wish you well on your journey,” he called as his great wings bore him away. Wistfully Leilitiah gazed at the empty sky then turning, she glanced down at the glassy surface of the Lake, there she saw her reflection. Her long hair once dark was completely silver-white. “Oh,” she murmured, “the journey has been long indeed. Nevertheless, here is fitting thread for the gift of the birds.”
Carrying Kammlyn’s feather with care, Leilitiah returned to the wattle tree. There she plucked from her head two long silver strands which she tied at each end of the feather. This she suspended from a branch of the tree. Plucking yet another hair, Leilitiah picked up a small feather from the soft pile beside her and tied that to the hair. One by one she attached each feather to a single hair, weaving the strands together as she worked. Day became night as she wove, there beneath the golden tree. Many days passed, still Leilitiah continued her weaving.
The whirling of many wings broke the silence of the sky one morning. Leilitiah raised her head to see a cloud of swifts turning above her. “Winter comes, Winter comes,” they whistled low as one at a time like curved boomerangs they dived past leaving behind their offering of feathers. The flock gathered, growing in size until late in the afternoon at an invisible signal, it swept away to the north. Leilitiah went on with her weaving.
Days went by, then weeks. Autumn passed and the nights grew longer and colder. Still Leilitiah wove. How many times the sun dawned and shone and set, she knew not, but slowly, her work took shape. Strand by strand, feather by feather, a sail of shimmering hues grew beneath her nimble fingers, light as air yet strong as the wind. All the while Mooloombi watched and sang. Mid Winter was approaching. The wonderful sail was almost complete. Leilitiah now needed a light boat to carry her over the waters. Along the shore she gathered reeds that she dried in the sun then tied together in bundles. These she lashed together with strong vines from the forest. Lastly Leilitiah fitted a tall slender mast made from tea-tree to hold the feather sail. On Mid Winter’s Night at the turning of the year she would set sail.
Mid Winter’s Day arrived, still grey and overcast. All the day Leilitiah busied herself attaching the feather sail and adjusting the vines that held the sail. Just at sunset a gentle breeze began to blow across the Lake. Feeling the Wind on her cheek Leilitiah pushed the fragile craft away from the shore. As the breeze caught the feather sail, she leapt aboard, trusting the Wind to carry her. Mooloombi followed on silent wings. Over the dark water the wind blew the small craft. So peaceful was the sighing of the wind and the rocking of the little boat that Leilitiah began to nod. Soon she drifted off to sleep as the Wind carried her and Mooloombi sang her sonorous lullaby. Above, on her starry track, walked the Moon.
Chapter Six – Meeting the King
Leilitiah awoke lying in the boat some hours later. A low cloud hung over the water. The first radiance of dawn glowed in the sky. Sitting up, she saw through the mist, the windswept trees of the Island as the boat drifted shoreward. As the mist rose Leilitiah stepped ashore. At that moment she looked down at her threadbare clothing, her hand flew to her head; nothing remained of her beautiful hair but short stubble of growth. How could she appear before a King looking so worn and bedraggled? Hastily seizing the beautiful feather sail from the mast, Leilitiah draped it around herself. It covered her from head to toe. Dressed thus, in all the hues of the forest and flower, ocean and cloud, she walked forward to meet the King.
Lying upon the grass Leilitiah saw a great black swan. The feathers about his head were grey with age, his left wing, which lay at an awkward angle, was bone white and withered. Perched in a circle around him were twelve azure kingfishers. Her footfall on the grass caused the King to open his eyes and look around. “What spirit are you, in your feathers so wondrous fair? I have never seen your like,” he said startled. “I am but a humble messenger Sire,” bowed Leilitiah. “I bring you a gift from the Moon.” “From where do you come? How did you reach this place? Few venture so far. Surely you have a name?” the King questioned her. “I am Leilitiah, my task was only to carry this token,” she answered.
Stepping forward she placed the gleaming curved moon feather on the faded wing. At once the colour began to deepen, soon becoming a glossy black. However, the long flight feathers remained white, a characteristic retained by all black swans to this day. The King stood and flexed the wing that had for so long lain useless.
Leilitiah, her task complete, turned to go, hoping not to be noticed, but as she did so the feather sail caught on a bush and slipped from her shoulders. She fled, ashamed that the King should see her poor rags and ruined hair.
“Wait!” commanded the King. “Surely you are the Queen for whom I have waited so long.”
Not knowing whether to laugh or cry at such foolish words, Leilitiah ran until she reached the water’s edge. She stretched forth her arm to reach the boat and saw not flesh but feathers there. Astonished, she looked down at her reflection in the shallow water. Lo! A beautiful black swan gazed back at her. “I am a swan” she cried, “a bird of sky and water!”
Unfolding her wings she leapt joyously into the morning sky. The King took flight with her, their wings flashing black and white as they rose. Leilitiah too carried white flight feathers a symbol of her sacrificed hair.
Rejoicing in the dawn they rose catching up between them the feather sail. Up, up they flew, behind them streamed the wondrous feather sail, its splendor rippling out on the bright air. On and on they flew over the Land. Beneath them the grieving trees put forth new leaves in celebration. The dry hills became green again as here and there on the barren slopes, tiny new trees pushed out of the Earth and water began to flow again along dry empty creek beds.
And so they flew, until all the Land remembered its forgotten song. As the sun set and the first stars began to appear, Leilitiah and the King turned and flew southward. Higher and higher they soared until only the flashing of their white wing feathers could be seen against the darkening sky.
Chapter Seven – The Stars
There in the Southern Sky you may see them still, flying ever southward, the King and Leilitiah, Queen of the South. Always two of the first stars in the evening sky they point toward the Southern Cross.
And the magnificent feather sail, the gift of the birds, what became of it? On clear winter nights above the Land far away at the end of the Great Ocean there it hangs, suspended on the stars, the glimmering veils of light known as the Southern Aurora.
About the Author
Jane is a multidisciplinary artist from Australia, who in addition to writing is also an illustrator, a painter and a skilled harpist. You can discover Jane’s artwork on Artzine.
She is currently working on the final illustrations of the series Sky in the Water, and looking for publishers interested in publishing her story. For publishing enquiries, please contact us on [email protected].