Albatross and the Storm, The

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The Albatross and the Storm

by Celebras Eleran

It happened long ago, when Phelim's moons were still new in the skies, four wondrous orbs shining gleefully down upon Elanthia. It was a time when the lands seemed full grown, and the races matured. Great cities had been built, with gleaming towers rising up towards the heavens, and magnificent temples were reared in adoration of the gods. Forests tall and thick stretched from ocean to ocean and fields of richest soil were carefully tilled. The peoples were settled, toiling peacefully under the warm sun, celebrating happily under the beautiful harvest moons. Affliction and strife seemed absent for a time, as serenity reigned.

Far above those tranquil realms, Xibar slowly rose in the skies, a striking, vibrant blue against the vast inky curtain of darkness behind. Its sweeping waters, endlessly churning to Elanthia's pull, seemed a smooth sapphire against a black velvet drape. Yet in those waters, life teemed. Fishes more dazzling than the brightest of Elanthia frolicked amid the caverned corals. Turtles aged and immense floated through the sun-filled seas. Dolphins and whales, massive scallops and starfish, all frolicked within the endless ocean.

Eluned took delight in the vast expanse of Xibar's waters, which were now her favorite playground. Drogor, her son, shared in her joy, for in the broad reaches of those seas without end, he was free to toss the waves in unbridled storm. Typhoons he raised, more fierce than the wildest storms of Elanthia, larger than the entire province of Therengia. The skies would darken to the deepest pitch of night under his storm clouds filled with rain. Below the surface, Drogor's sharks were unrivaled for ferocity, if not for size or speed. Drogor also took pleasure in being at his mother's side, without competition for her affections or attention, and on Xibar's watery expanse, Eluned saw no reason to restrain him as upon Elanthia.

Yet Eluned was not altogether happy. The bond between her and her daughter Lemicus was as strong as between any mother and daughter, and so when Eluned took her pleasure in the seas of Xibar, the separation from Lemicus was not easy to bear. Lemicus was tied to the lakes and streams of Elanthia, and took her joy in those meres and brooks that dotted the surface of lush Katamba. The salt of Xibar's water was unpleasant to her, and so not often did she visit her mother there. Of this, Drogor only was pleased, for ever was he jealous of his mother's affections for any but him.

Though Eluned knew that Lemicus would never abide the salt waters of Xibar, she thought long and hard for some way to ease the separation from her daughter. One day Eluned and Lemicus walked together on Elanthia along the shores of a great estuary, where the salt waters of the deep mixed with the fresh running rivers descending from mountains far away. It was a bright day in fall, with crisp leaves starting to drop onto the gently coursing waters, and a gentle breeze began to ripple the surface.

"My daughter," began Eluned slowly, "I know you will never frequent the seas of Xibar at my side, as does Drogor. But is there not some way, perhaps, that you can touch my world there, and ease your mother's sorrow?"

"Good Mother, you know that it is not for want of love that I do not cleave to you there. The clear springs and freshets that ease my soul, and that need my tending, are here on Elanthia, and above on fair Katamba. Xibar is wholly yours, Mother, and appeals to me not. Its taste, its depths, and the beasts that swim there, are not of my design, nor do they have my love. Here I have my joy," she said, turning her gaze upon the sparkling waters that welled inland from the barrier islands, which offered protection from the driving ocean currents. "Here, and from each mouth that pours into these streams. From the smallest mudhole, leagues upon leagues from here, where the tiniest tadpoles swim their lives, to the swift running rivers that crash over rocks and falls to reach this spot, the whole while pushing salmon to leap ever onward towards their breeding shoals. This is why I will never spend long with you upon that moon. I cannot bear the separation from these waters or from those beings that live in them."

Eluned sighed softly, and was silent for some time, taking in the living world that called so strongly to her daughter. "Your love for the high waters is as strong as my own for the deep. Are we then doomed only to meet here, at the borders of our paradises? Where the salt from my depths softly combines with your sweetness?"

Lemicus looked about her once more, before answering her mother. "If I cannot myself stay at your side there, then I shall send with you a reminder of me. I shall give you a brace of my water birds, those I cherish above all else. When you see them frolicking above the water, you shall think of me, you shall hear the calling of my heart in the calling from their throats, and you shall feel me at your side."

Then Lemicus thought carefully on her gift, for prudent choosing was before her. Many birds were her delight, all waterfowl from her lakes and riverbanks. The kingfisher had its stout beak, the mallard its splendid emerald crown. The egret had a most regal bearing, but the loon had its enchanting song. In the end, though, Lemicus turned to the birds that most captured her heart, the swan and the albatross.

The swan was the most bewitching, its graceful neck curving elegantly towards the demure head. No wasteful sound issued from its throat. Without the slightest pretense or show, it commanded the attention and awe of any who should be near, yet the swan merely paddled on with its silent stroke beneath the surface, placid and content. Where the swan's serenity mirrored the smooth lakes upon which it rested, the albatross was the very image of the rushing streams of the highlands it called home. Like those torrents that dash against the granite stones as they tumble noisily downwards, pure, clear and bracing cold, the albatross was sheer strength against the blustery churning winds, and its clarion call carried across the tumult. With its clean lines, smooth and muscular, the powerful bird was fashioned to brave the water's chill and the wind's bite. Indeed, the albatross was the very first bird which Lemicus conceived, whereas the swan was the very last.

Long she pondered those two beloved birds, but in the end it was the power of the albatross which tipped the scale. The heaving swell of the open ocean, and the unchecked wrath of Drogor demanded the bravest of her fresh-water birds. Lemicus knew as well that her choice would be tested by the birds of the sea which flocked to Xibar. The raucous gulls would not lightly be challenged in their feeding grounds. So Lemicus turned to her favorite bird of old, the hardy albatross, and she gave it even a portion of her own magic. With Eluned's aide, they carried a single mating pair to Xibar, nestled in the folds of their raiment, and once there they strengthened the two albatrosses and transformed them into true seabirds. Mother and daughter nurtured the pair as they adjusted to the change in waters, the taste of new foods and the absence of land. With the enchantment of both goddesses, the albatrosses hardened and grew stronger, hale enough to live and prosper without the care of Lemicus. Finally, Lemicus withdrew from Xibar once more, with heavy heart at parting from her mother, but with eased pain in the gift she left behind. As Eluned watched her daughter leave, a smile crossed her lips, for the laughing albatrosses were nearby, flying close to one another through the wind. Sinking beneath the waves, Eluned was already contemplating how to provide the pair with a mating ground on the back of an aged sea-turtle.

Thus the separation of mother and daughter passed a little easier now, and as time went by the first albatross egg arrived. From it grew a strong, young male bird, larger than either of its parents. Its sleek white body feathers gleamed in the flickering sunlight reflected off the ocean waves, while its wings were traced coal-grey. A thick powerful neck would help it fly through the fiercest storms. The magic of Eluned and Lemicus was truly realized in the offspring of that mating pair, for the young which they were to produce were truly seabirds, for whom land would be a foreign thought. As the young bird passed its first year, more eggs arrived, the beginnings of future flocks.

Not everyone took joy in the new seabirds, however. As ever before, Drogor's jealousy began to rise. Even on Xibar now, he though furiously, Eluned's care and devotion was somehow being turned towards Lemicus, not him. The albatrosses became the focus of his anger. First, he raised the storms of the sea against them. Stronger than any storms he had ever raised on Elanthia, with winds whipping violently, rain and waves slashing through the air, Drogor sent these storms at the albatrosses. To no avail he hurled his anger at them, for the magic that coursed through their blood now made them impervious to his stormy wrath, and the young male bird was too strong to be taken by those winds. With his immense wingspan, he rode out the storm, flying before its terror.

After the storms dwindled away, Drogor attacked from below. If he could not beat them in the air, he thought, he would destroy their hatching grounds from the water. The great sea turtles that Eluned bade rise and float, allowing their immense backs to be the solid nesting grounds for the albatross, drifted unaware through the warm seas. Towards them Drogor sent his greatest sharks of the deep. The placid turtles would not have survived, for even their protective shells were no match for the piercing teeth of the sharks. Yet the course of the sharks was marked by other creatures of the deep, and before they could attack the sea turtles, the sharks were stopped by Eluned's dolphins. Faster than any shark, the dolphins circled around them, darting in an out when an opening presented itself and smashing their stout noses into the sharks' sides, snapping and cracking the great beasts' ribs. Before long, whales arrived to help. Not even the most fearless shark chose to match tooth against tooth with the great orca, and so this second attack was beaten back, and the albatrosses remained the barb in Drogor's side.

Drogor then contrived his most wicked plan to strike back at the birds that angered him so. He thought to himself, if he could not harm the albatrosses of Xibar, strengthened as they were by the enchantments of Lemicus and Eluned, then perhaps he could take his revenge upon Elanthia's birds. Smaller and weaker, they could never withstand the full force of Drogor's wrath unleashed. So he waited, harboring his power and biding his time. Finally a day came when Eluned was in the deepest depths of Xibar, carving out a vast sunken grotto, and Lemicus was busy dancing among waterfalls on the far side of Katamba beneath the starry skies. Drogor began his attack.

Though not seabirds themselves, the albatrosses of Elanthia were never far from the sea, their windswept highland homes most often found on rugged, turf-covered lands within leagues of the sea cliffs. So Drogor flung his whole might into the wind and rain of his ocean storms, sending tidal waves crashing over the cliffs, and hurricanes blowing inland. Never before had Elanthia seen such dreadful destruction, for never before had Drogor been free to loose his tempests without Eluned or Lemicus striving against him. The peoples of Elanthia huddled inside their strongest dwellings, unable to face the terrible storms, yet Drogor wasted not sending his force against their cities. His one aim, for he knew he had but the one opportunity, was to rid Elanthia of Lemicus's precious albatross. Seven hours his storms raged without ceasing. Seven hours was daylight hidden from the world by Drogor's chaos. When finally it was over, there was not an albatross to be found. Their nests were destroyed, and each bird had been blown far out to sea to perish and sink into the ocean, there to be devoured by greedy sharks.

When Lemicus finally heard the cries of her beloved birds she raced to Elanthia, but was too late. All had been lost. Drogor had fled, escaping to some unknown deep ocean cavern. Though the storms had subsided, the races of Elanthia now feared the mournful keening that was Lemicus's lament. Such a cry of anguish, it was heard as far away as Xibar, carried on the winds.

There, aloft over the endless oceans, the pair of albatrosses wept, for they heard in the cry of Lemicus the death knell of their kind on Elanthia. Nuzzling one another in comfort, they glanced upon the young chicks taking their first flights below them, and saw in the distance their first born, still youthful, rising high above the waves effortlessly. They knew that they must make the attempt. They must return somehow to the place they had been born, and start again. They would fly the empty space between the moon and Elanthia, trusting to the magical protection of Lemicus and Eluned, and hope beyond hope to bring life again to the empty breeding grounds. Knowing they might never return alive, they took one last loving look at their children, whom they knew would survive without them now, and then beat their wings strongly, carrying themselves ever upwards. Without looking back, they climbed above the clouds, the great vastness of Elanthia growing huge before them. Had they looked back, they might have noted that their first born had espied their flight, and was following them close behind, his curiosity and love for them too strong to allow them to leave alone.

Whether it was the magic that was within them, or merely the urgency of their mission carrying them onward, the three birds flew like the wind, crossing the great divide between moon and planet. They descended towards Elanthia, towards the highlands that once was their home, but now was a wasteland of windtossed turf. There they found Lemicus weeping, and they alit at her feet. Through the tears she smiled at them, this devoted pair of birds and their first-born, that traversed space to ease her pain. Lemicus spoke to them, and knew why they had come. The love-joined couple would start life again on Elanthia, as they had already begun it on Xibar.

After a time, the two birds turned from the scene of destruction and flew to the very edge of the sea cliffs, and there built their nest. Their first-born journeyed far and wide across the oceans of Elanthia, but always came upon a distant shore, which confused him. Gone was the endless ocean of his birth, replaced now by the broken, interrupted seas. His heart saddened, but he would not leave his parents yet. When his first siblings hatched in the nest, he returned to be at their side. His parents looked on proudly, but the new hatchlings were like the first-born, strong and large. Like those hatched on Xibar, these were a new breed of Albatross, made to live on the open ocean, with long wings to withstand the buffeting sea winds. Never more would an inland albatross be hatched. Never more would the albatross of Lemicus live over the freshwater streams of the highlands. Only rarely would any on land glimpse the seabirds at all.

When the new hatchlings could fly, the first-born taught them the ways of the sea, and drew them far out over the oceans, where forever they would spend their lives. Once his lessons were taught, though, the he became sad and restless, yearning for the unending oceans of Xibar. Finally, taking leave of his mother and father, he soared higher and higher, until Elanthia grew dim below him. Yet though he saw blue Xibar grow near, the first-born was suddenly struck by the immense expanse of space, black and empty, stretching forever. He turned aside from Xibar, and instead flew deeper into the darkness. "Here is the most endless of all oceans", he thought. "Perhaps I shall fly here for a time, before I return to the waters of my youth."

Seeing his flight, Lemicus was saddened and wistful, for here was the greatest ever of her birds. The most brave, the most powerful, the largest albatross was flying away from her, to explore the far reaches of the dark ocean of night. The albatrosses of Elanthia were still hers, but rarely would she ever see them, flying as they do now far out to sea. Only when they return to the rocky headlands for mating can she sit amongst them. The mated pair that risked everything to bring albatrosses back to Elanthia, began to fly near Lemicus constantly, never straying from her side unless upon some mission for her. Some say that Lemicus even poured more of her magic into those two birds, such that they still live today, gliding beside her, and have even learned to speak the tongues of the land. Still, Lemicus's thoughts often stray to that one brave albatross, still soaring across the night sky. She asked good Phelim to provide a light to always guide it, and so Phelim cast twenty-one twinkling stars over its broad, outstretched wings, to help it always see its way, and so those below might sometimes glimpse its flight. One can only wonder now, when the first-born will ever tire of the unending reaches, and return to the salted spray and the crashing of the waves.