Saturday, 17 July 2010

#fridayflash Too Close to the Sun

This week's #fridayflash is dedicated to the Our Lady's School Storytelling Club a fine bunch of young storytellers and creative writers led by their inspiring deputy headteacher Mr Edwards-Grundy. This year we've been listening to Greek and Roman myths. The children have then mapped the key points of the story and learnt how to tell them to each other. Here's my version of one of the stories we spent a lot of time on. With many thanks to everyone in the group for their hard work and fabulous creativity. It's such a pleasure to help out.

The sun is high in the sky. It is too far away to see Apollo with his fiery chariot and his flaming horses. Icarus sighs. He wishes he was up there in the heavens, soaring in freedom, not trapped in this tiny tower room with his father. Why did Daedalus have to upset the king so? They should be honoured guests down below where the guards flash red, white and blue as they march up and down the courtyard; gardeners water the olive trees and orange groves; the queen's women shimmer gold and silver on their morning walks. Instead Icarus is forced to watch from the window, as he gathers feathers the birds leave behind on the ledge. His father is collecting them for some strange reason that he has yet to explain. But Icarus is an obedient boy, he picks up the morning offering and brings it back to Daedalus without question.

"Thanks son." His father is crouched in the corner, his back to the grey stone wall. He is sewing feathers together in what looks like an enormous cape. He adds the last few to the bottom and then sits back satisfied. He stands up and lays it on a table next to three others. "Now come here." He picks up a candle and lights it, letting the wax drip from the wick, and build in pools on the base of the candle. "This is going to hurt a bit." He pours molten wax on Icarus's right shoulder, down his arm, and the centre of his back. Icarus yelps with pain.  His father ignores him but quickly picks up one of the feather capes and sticks it onto the wax. The wax hardens and the cape clings to Icarus' back. It is itchy and heavy. Daedalus repeats the procedure on the other side.

"Now do you see?" he says. Icarus moves his arms up and down with wonder. His father has fashioned wings that fan out as he moves his limbs. He helps Daedalus fix his pair and they move towards the window.

"Two pieces of advice before we go," says Daedalus in a stern voice. Icarus nods, but he is only half listening. The ground looks a long way down. Can he trust his father's contraptions to work? He drags his attention back. "Aim for the middle of the sky. Fly too low, and the sea water will spray on your wings, weighing them down, dragging you into the water. Fly too high, and the sun will melt the wax. Did you hear what I said?"

"Not too  high, not to low. Got it."

"Good luck,"  His father pushes him to the edge. "Go, fly. Be free." He shoves him off. Icarus falls forward and sees the ground rushing towards him. The soldiers look up from their marching and scatter at the sight of the boy hurtling in their direction. The gardeners drop their watering cans. The women put their hands over their mouths in horror.

"Spread your wings, Icarus. Spread your wings." Just in time Icarus hears his father's words and spreads his arms out. At once the air currents lift him up. He flaps harder and moves higher, leaving the shouting, open- mouthed guards and astonished women behind. Daedalus dives off the tower to join him. Father and son swoop over the palace, out across the fields towards the sea.

After months confined to the tiny turret, the sheer expanse of sky and sea is a marvel. Icarus thrills to feel fresh air on his face, to be able to stretch his arms and legs. He soars and plunges through the sky. He is young. He is alive. He is free. He laughs with delight.

"Save your energy son," says Daedalus in warning, "It's a long way to go."

Icarus just laughs and leaps above his father's head. The sea stretches ahead of them for miles. The coastline is invisible. Daedalus has a point. The boy flaps his wings and settles into a rhythm. Gradually, Icarus finds his arms beginning to get heavy. A breeze builds up, and he floats for a while. But this brief respite does not last and soon his stiff limbs are forced to move again. On and on they fly, no land in sight, just patches of sea mist, which begins to thicken around them. The air becomes dank and chilly. Icarus shivers. He flies a little higher in an effort to keep warm. The mist swirls about them. He loses sight of his father. Cold drips through his bones. Where is Daedalus? How far now? Perhaps if he can rise above the cloud he can see where he's going. He flies higher, and higher. At last he emerges from the cloud into a blue sky glowing in sunlight. His veins flood with heat, restoring his energy. The coast is approaching. Below him, some distance away he can see his father beating a steady path with his wings. He sighs with relief.

Icarus laughs and soars upwards. He forgets his father's warning. He is drawn towards the smouldering orange sun above him.  Higher, higher and higher he flies. Now he is close enough to see the wheels of Apollo's chariot, the blazing eyes of the horses. He can even see Apollo's gold curly hair and bronzed skin, the concentration on his face as he whips his beasts along, straining in the heat of the fire-ball behind him. Icarus feels his cheeks sizzle and burn. And  something else -  a drip of liquid running down his arm. Then another, and another. Suddenly, he remembers his father's warning. Feathers are falling off him as his wings begin to peel off his body. In terror, he throws himself down, away from the melting heat of the sun. But it is too late. The wax is running over his skin, the wings are falling apart. He hurtles down through the sky, through the sea mist. He calls for his father, but Daedalus is too far to help. The terrified boy plunges down, down, down until he hits the water and is swallowed up by the deep blue waves.

Daedalus flies back to the spot, hoping against hope to see his son's face, an arm, a finger even. The water rises and falls, but there is no sign of the boy. At last, Daedalus feels his wings droop, and he knows if he is to survive, he must fly on to the shore.

He lands on the beach, and stands looking back towards the island. The waves lap at his feet. Across the horizon he can see Apollo's chariot reaching the end of its daily journey. A gull calls out over the darkening sky.  Suddenly he sees a mass floating in the water. His heart leaps for a moment. Then the waves shift and he realises it is simply pieces of broken wings bobbing in the tide. A wave crashes on the beach leaving behind bubbles of sandy foam. And something else. Daedalus stoops to pick it up and sighs.

This is all that is left: a small brown feather, caked in sea foam and marked with spots of red wax.


Sulci Collective said...

I think the Icarus tale is one of my all time favourite myths. I usually slip it into a novel somewhere and in some shape.

Many thanks for presenting it here. Your workshops sound like a fine creative hub to take part in.

marc nash

Lou Freshwater said...

Well done. Also one of my favorite myths. A whole lotta wisdom -- which I clearly should have followed more often -- going on here.

I'm really glad you have such a supportive writing environment.

Virginia Moffatt said...

Thanks folks.

It's actually a class I help out with for primary school kids. They're amazing...

Anonymous said...

Beautiful, intimate retelling. It's one of my favorites, too.

And your class with the kids sounds like wonderful fun.

John Wiswell said...

This is beautiful, Virginia. Even if it wasn't based on mythology (I adore myths), it would make a cracking Fantasy flash. Thank you for sharing it.

Laura Eno said...

This is a favorite of mine. You tell it smoothly and bring life and personality to the characters without straying from the myth.

Icy Sedgwick said...

This is beautifully written. Really encapsulates the whole myth, and gives Icarus more of a voice than he usually gets. Well done!