All she had been doing was going to feed the ducks. Nothing dangerous or dumb just something she did every morning when she had time. She took her trencher of brown bread and fed the ducks in the duck pond. (In olden times most people didn’t use plates they used pieces of bread for plates and then ate their plates or trenchers.) She loved the ducks and she thought they loved her but maybe they just loved the bread but they always got excited and ran to greet her when she came. She liked that someone liked to see her coming and most of her animal friends always did.
The geese didn’t but then they didn’t really like anyone not even the goose girl that minded them. They had their own pond and area near the entrance to the village because they also were the guards of the village. They were louder and meaner than any dog. Aisling didn’t like them and they didn’t like her. They always came running and hissing at her. She decided she’d stick to the ducks with their soft quacks and their softer feathers.
As she got to the pond she noticed some huge white birds that had no business being in the duck pond. They were a swan and her two almost grown cygnets. The cygnets weren’t very beautiful yet like their mother. They were still covered in a haze of dark grey as well as the white feathers they would have in a few weeks. They just looked dirty.
The mother was so beautiful Aisling decided they must be as nice as the ducks and when the mother came up for some bread with the rest of the ducks, she bit Aisling. She ripped open Aisling’s hand for no reason at all! She had the bread so it wasn’t greed. Aisling was now bleeding heavily from two of her fingers. How mean! And it hurt so much.
Aisling raced to the healer to get her hand bound up. She hadn’t meant any harm. She was just doing what she loved to do and she’d gotten bit! That was just wrong and she started to be afraid. What if those nasty birds stayed? Those were her duck friends and she couldn’t visit them if those scary big swans were there. They were almost as big as she was! They may have been pretty but they were mean.
Aisling sat nursing her hand and scowling and still crying a little. They had been working on animal symbols for weeks now and she decided that the symbolism for swans was all wrong. Whoever thought swan symbolism had never, ever, ever met a swan when they thought that up. Swans were supposed to be symbols of beauty and inspiration for poets and they were supposed to have lovely singing voices. They weren’t supposed to be mean, nasty, scary birds!
She felt someone sit down beside her and looked up. It was the Chief Druid settling his robe around himself.
“What happened?” He asked taking Aisling’s bandaged hand in his lap, somehow it felt better just because he held it gently.
“There are some nasty, mean, ugly, big swans down in the duck pond. I went to feed my friends, the ducks, and the mama swan bit me and I wasn’t even doing anything. ” Aisling started to cry harder. It was so unfair. She wanted to do a nice thing and that big bird had spoiled it. “They tell us swans are meant to symbolize beauty and grace and inspiration but they are all wrong!”
“Funny thing about symbols. You have to make some meanings up for yourself. Sometimes they come with a meaning that is only a meaning for you and no one else. That’s so when you see it again you get reminded to do something.”
“oh,” Aisling said. “Symbols can have other symbols.” She stopped crying and started to think. Something the Chief Druid knew she would do.
“So, what do you think swans will mean to you?”
Aisling thought a while, “Fear and maybe pain?” She looked up at the Chief Druid.
“And what have you learned about fear and pain?”
“That it’s best to face them or things get bigger and scarier.” Aisling said looking thoughtful.
The Chief Druid stood up and took her good hand. “So what do we need to do?”
“Go back down and feed my friends, the ducks and maybe the swans?” Aisling asked and was sure she didn't want the answer to be "yes".
“I think it’s enough to feed your friends at the moment.”
They got some more bread from the kitchens and went back down to the duck pond. This time the ducks came running first and the swans stayed at the far side of the pond. The Chief Druid and Aisling fed the ducks and Aisling let out the breath she had been holding in fear of getting bit again. She didn’t notice the mama swan heading for her until it was too late and she froze in terror.
“Aisling,” The Chief Druid said sternly. “Breathe deeply and look at her. Hold your hand flat this time. Don’t curl your fingers up at all and stay still.”
The swan came slower this time and Aisling put her hand out even more slowly and made sure it was as flat as she could make it. The swan grabbed the bread and headed off back off to the water gulping the bread.
“Oh! She didn’t hurt me!”
“I think she mistook your fingers for fat, pink worms last time.” The Chief Druid laughed. “What did you learn?” He asked.
“That maybe sometimes things seem scarier than they really are. And that if you have help it’s not as scary?”
The Chief Druid nodded, “Very good, anything else?”
“Now the swan means something only to me and that next time I see a swan I should ask myself if I’m afraid of anything I need to face. And that it’s okay to have help?”
“I think that’s pretty good for today.”
And the two friends fed the ducks until all the bread was gone and walked back into the village