‘Oh! heavy-hearted am i!
Tuoni has taken my son’ – River of Tuoni (Amberian Dawn)

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Kielo stood at the bank of the River Tuoni, uneven breaths expelling cold steam into the air. Behind her were dark trees, partially obscuring the moon. The full moon was a blessing as her lamp had extinguished when she fell on a root branch inside the forest. Her only source of illumination. She had come as far as the edges of the uncharted forest of Tuonela, searching for her son. How many times had she warned him? Do not venture out when its late. Why couldn’t he understand that he was her only child? She and Pasi had tried to have children for a very long time. And just as they were about to give up, he came into their lives. Olavi. Heir of his ancestors. She sighed. She was going to give him a good hiding with her belt when she found him. Eight year old boys shouldn’t give their parents grief!

Watching the still river in trepidation, she remembered the  rumours about this river. Those who went in never came out. Those who went in to swim always drowned.
What was she to do?
“Olavi!” she screamed into the unnaturally silent night.
The sound of wind picking up the haunting cry of a mother looking for her lost child, was her only answer.
Her eyes prickled with tears of frustration. She wiped her eyes angrily. Crying wasn’t going to solve anything. She needed her wit about her. The wind blew across her thin dress, causing her to shiver. She shouldn’t have been too hasty; at least she should have taken a cloak with her. With a wry smile, she imagined what Pasi would say should he see her state. ‘Hasty, impatient, stubborn woman!’ he would have huffed under his breath, removing his own cloak to cover her. She rubbed her bony arms quickly for warmth. Temporarily satisfied, she knotted her belt firmly across her waist. Pushing her blond hair off her face, she cupped her mouth.
“Olavi!!!!!!!!!!!!”
She waited for a few seconds and sighed.
She had no choice.

The fear for her child overshadowed her fear for Tuoni. She had to cross to the other side. No boats ever traipsed the river. “My rotten luck!” She tested the water with one foot. “Cold.” she muttered, mentally readying herself. She picked up a log of wood she had used on her way into the forest as defence and with the sense of false bravado, she waded into the black death-land river. Her chattering teeth and water parting, disturbed the silence. Suddenly, she wondered if any reptiles lives inside the river. She had never heard of any. ‘Well that doesn’t mean there isn’t any Kielo! If only Pasi was here..’ she mused. Occasionally wrenching her feet away from the clinging hands of underwater plants that wrapped themselves around her ankle, she trod on. What if a snake bit her? Or a man-eating fish? She shuddered. “Paska! You’re being silly Kielo. Come on, move! No time!”

She went on, stopping momentarily to catch her breath. Half way through and her belted waist was completely submerged.
Movement.
She heard something trouble the water. Her heart thumped, and slowly, she stopped, stick raised.
The moon barely illuminated the creature, preceded by its thrashing sounds, making a beeline towards her.  Her mind wildly grabbed at ideas, painting scary pictures of what animal was coming towards her. She was petrified.
The thudding of her heart was loud enough to burst her eardrums. Self preservation kicked in and in her haste to turn towards the shore, she tripped and the icy depths swallowed her.
“Ach! Hitto! Stupid! Clumsy Kielo! Typical!”
She regained her footing,  cursing and shaking, water dripping from hair matted to her face. Her stick! She slapped her head in disgust. Totally defenceless!

She wiped off water from her face quickly, turning to face the danger. It had been behind her, sitting quietly, watching her. A duck? No. Not a duck. She looked closer at the bird, amazed. A swan. A black swan. She had never seen one in all her two scores and ten years of living. “Watched me make a fool of myself didn’t you? Almost had a heart attack for a bird? Typical Kielo!” The bird was quiet. What did she expect? For it to talk to her? She hit her ears hard to unblock her ears..and perhaps, her brain. Expelling a shaky breath, she gently reached her hand to stroke its ebony feathers. It felt real enough. “I don’t suppose you know where Olavi went would you?” she said to it, smiling wryly. Her smile froze. Did the swan nod? “Did you nod?” she asked stupidly. She watched the long neck lower slightly. Her mouth hung open, the sudden ruffling of the swan’s wings bringing her back to the present. It turned away from her, its beak, pointing to the shore and without a pause, made its way off. She closely followed it, wondering if she was being silly or if she had lost her mind.

They got to shore safely and she crawled to solid ground, glad to be out. “So what next?” she asked the swan, wringing water off her dress as she got to her feet. She started in shock, fear in her eyes as she watched the swan morph. Its feet stretched and feathers molted, falling off to reveal white skin. Horror further twisted her face as she saw the new form of the swan.
It was a human child in a foetal position.
He got up, shaking its head to remove water out of blond hair and she caught a glimpse of his face.
Her breath caught in her throat. “Olavi!”
He turned at the mention of his name, his eyes dancing merrily. He ran to meet her, throwing his arms around her waist.
She whimpered, tears spilling from her eyes as she gathered him into her arms.
“Mama”
“Olavi…”

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Pasi held the damp cloth to her head, cooling her off as she writhed on the bed, eyeballs roving wildly in closed eyelids.
“Kielo…” he whispered gently, baritone shaky with tears.
She had been like this for almost an hour.
He had come back from work to see her lying on the kitchen floor, unconscious. Dropping his bag of tools, he carried her into their room. She was burning up with fever, thin limbs writhing on the sheets. He wondered at her roving eyeballs. What was she seeing? Where was she? Would she come back? He held her hand and kissed it.
“God, please help her” he whispered. He sighed, wondering how long before the doctor came. He had sent someone to fetch him. He checked the clock on the wall. 9.16pm. Ten minutes had passed already. “Please hurry Dr. Pekke” he murmured to himself. His eyes caught his reflection in their bedroom mirror that was lined with pictures. An old, weak man stared back at him. The whole of his sixty-years, showing in the dull yellow lighted room. With a heavy sigh, he looked back at his wife of thirty years. They’ve been together for so long; through good and bad times. He couldn’t lose her; not after Olavi.

He was watching President  Mauno Koivisto debate on the idea of European Union membership in the living room when he heard Kielo’s scream. He jumped off the sofa, spilling his lager in his haste. “Kielo! Mikä on se! What is it?” He ran  out to the front yard where she was talking to the neighbour’s kids. 
“Kielo! What happened?” she turned and the lost look in her eyes chilled him. Olavi. He quickly locked the doors, hurrying up to catch up with her as she ran. The closer they got to Laajoki, the more he became afraid. He couldn’t think it.  There was a crowd gathered at the bank of the river and instincts directed her towards them. “Move!” she shrilled in a high voice, trying to get through. He didn’t follow her. Something had caught his eye. A rubber toy, lying discarded. Olavi’s rubber white swan. Ignoring the heart wrenching cries from Kielo’s direction, he picked up it up, tears obscuring his vision. He felt an arm pat his back and looked up into the eyes of his friend Janus. “Hän hukkua.”  He drowned. He walked up to his wife, bent over the body of Olly. He pulled her up gently, ignoring her struggles to pull free. “Kielo” he whispered. She lost her will to fight. She collected the toy he handed her, drawing it to her breast. Head bowed, He lifted his son to his chest…

Had it really been a year since it happened? He sighed. She had taken the death harder. Sorrow ate at her core, till she looked like the shadow of her former self; frail, sickly. He nursed and showed her love, but it just wasn’t enough. He wasn’t Olly.

Her breathing changed; became faster.
“Kielo?”
With a sudden movement, as if jolted, she jerked from the bed, eyes open, arms outstretched. A single cry emanated from her lips before she slowly faded.
He checked her pulse.
Nothing.
She was dead.
He fell to his knees, cupping the face of his wife and without restraint, let out a huge wail, her last words ringing in his ears.
“Olavi…”

Lopussa.

*In Finnish mythology, Tuoni was the god of the Tuonela (Underworld).*
This post was inspired by a song, River of Tuorin by Amberian Dawn. People unafraid of Metal can check it out! 🙂