Lir was a great lord who ruled the lands of the white hill. His fields were bountiful, his rule prosperous and his people content. Lir and his wife Aodb were happy and they had two beautiful children, a boy and a girl, when Aodb fell pregnant again. This time she bore twins, two fine boys, but in childbirth Aodb was lost and darkness descended upon Lir and his lands. During these dark days the king’s only solace was his children.
Alice stared at the rain streaming down the car’s windscreen and absentmindedly drew patterns on the misted glass. Boxing Day was starting damp and grey and Alice, nursing a bad hangover, felt the weather was reflecting her own life back at her.
How had it gone so wrong?
She’d had such plans for the holidays. This Christmas was going to be perfect. Just this once, everyone was going to be happy.
The presents were wrapped. The fridge was crammed with food and drink. She’d spend far more than she should have, but it was going to be worth it. The little ones were excited and she really thought that she and Bill were happy together.
And then it had all fallen apart.
Bill’s youngest, Tommy, had sulked because she’d bought him the wrong sort of computer game. Katie, all teenage contempt and bile, had just laughed at her attempts to bring them together as a family. And pretty little Sally had just cried all day, longing for her real mummy.
Bill got drunk, fell asleep at the dinner table and, when the rows started, woke up just long enough to say that he was going to the pub.
He didn’t come back.
Aodb had been the ward of the great king of Ireland. The king grieved for her loss and for the sadness it brought to his friend Lir. To raise his spirits, the king suggested that Lir should marry Aoife, the sister of his lost wife. Lir agreed and, for a time happiness returned to the lands of the white hill.
Alice had driven her car to the park on the edge of town. The road curled around a small lake and on the corner there was enough space to pull over and look down across the water to the far shore. She had sat here many times and watched the birds – grebes, ducks, geese and even a heron that swallowed the fish in a single gulp. But she loved the four mute swans best. They built their messy nests around the low island that rose from the middle of the lake and cruised across the water with effortless grace and unshakeable confidence.
But in the first light of the morning the lake was still empty. The sun hadn’t quite risen although the sky in the east, beyond the water, was brightening fast. Only the pattering rain disturbed the surface of the water.
On the far shore, a few minutes earlier, she’s spotted a lone man walking his dog and a fox, wandering home after a night on the prowl, had sauntered past her car.
From behind her she heard a soft snuffling.
Alice made up her mind.
She slipped off the handbrake.
Aoife loved Lir and devoted herself to making him happy. But soon she realised that, while he was kind to her, his greatest affection lay with the children of her dead sister. At first this realisation made her sad but soon the sadness turned to jealousy and in time her jealousy to madness. She took the children to the countryside, determined to kill all four. But, standing over them with her dagger drawn, she found herself unable to strike. Instead, she used magic and condemned the children of Lir to live for 900 years as swans.
As the car juddered and bounced down the bank, Alice watched and felt surprised at how easy it all was. It had been easy to put a few of her sleeping pills in the hot chocolate. Easy to push the car over the edge. And now it was easy to watch as it slipped into the water.
It struck her that there was something jaunty about the way the car bobbed on the surface for a moment before the sudden rush of bubbles seemed to drag it down.
She’d expected someone to try and stop her.
She’d expected more noise.
The man with the dog rushed up, his chocolate covered Labrador straining excitedly on the leash.
“Do you need help?”
Alice shook her head.
“I’ll call the police,” the man said. His dog was whining, trying to get down to the water’s edge.
Alice sat down on a little bench.
It would all be easy now. Bill would be upset, of course, but without the children causing trouble between them, they’d soon settle down. The kids had been the cause of all the friction, she could see that clearly now.
“Is there anyone else in the car?” The man asked.
Alice smiled at him and then stared out at the water, waiting for seven swans to come swimming by.