The Dala Horse

The Dala Horse

illustration by julie dillon

Something terrible had happened. Linnea did not know what it was. But her father had looked pale and worried, and her mother had told her, very fiercely, “Be brave!” and now she had to leave, and it was all the result of that terrible thing.

The three of them lived in a red wooden house with steep black roofs by the edge of the forest. From the window of her attic room, Linnea could see a small lake silver with ice very far away. The design of the house was unchanged from all the way back in the days of the Coffin People, who buried their kind in beautiful polished boxes with metal fittings like nothing anyone made anymore. Uncle Olaf made a living hunting down their coffin-sites and salvaging the metal from them. He wore a necklace of gold rings he had found, tied together with silver wire.

“Don’t go near any roads,” her father had said. “Especially the old ones.” He’d given her a map. “This will help you find your grandmother’s house.”

“Mor-Mor?”

“No, Far-Mor. My mother. In Godastor.”

Godastor was a small settlement on the other side of the mountain. Linnea had no idea how to get there. But the map would tell her.

Her mother gave her a little knapsack stuffed with food, and a quick hug. She shoved something deep in the pocket of Linnea’s coat and said, “Now go! Before it comes!”

“Good-bye, Mor and Far,” Linnea had said formally, and bowed.

Then she’d left.

 

So it was that Linnea found herself walking up a long, snowy slope, straight up the side of the mountain. It was tiring work, but she was a dutiful little girl. The weather was harsh, but whenever she started getting cold, she just turned up the temperature of her coat. At the top of the slope she came across a path, barely wide enough for one person, and so she followed it onward. It did not occur to her that this might be one of the roads her father had warned her against. She did not wonder at the fact that it was completely bare of snow.

After a while, though, Linnea began to grow tired. So she took off her knapsack and dropped it in the snow alongside the trail and started to walk away.

“Wait!” the knapsack said. “You’ve left me behind.”

Linnea stopped. “I’m sorry,” she said. “But you’re too heavy for me to carry.”

“If you can’t carry me,” said the knapsack, “then I’ll have to walk.”

So it did.

On she went, followed by the knapsack, until she came to a fork in the trail. One way went upward and the other down. Linnea looked from one to the other. She had no idea which to take.

“Why don’t you get out the map?” her knapsack suggested.

So she did.

Carefully, so as not to tear, the map unfolded. Contour lines squirmed across its surface as it located itself. Blue stream-lines ran downhill. Black roads and stitched red trails went where they would. “We’re here,” said the map, placing a pinprick light at its center. “Where would you like to go?”

“To Far-Mor,” Linnea said. “She’s in Godastor.”

“That’s a long way. Do you know how to read maps?”

“No.”

“Then take the road to the right. Whenever you come across another road, take me out and I’ll tell you which way to go.”

On Linnea went, until she could go no further, and sat down in the snow beside the road. “Get up,” the knapsack said. “You have to keep on going.”

The muffled voice of the map, which Linnea had stuffed back into the knapsack, said, “Keep straight on. Don’t stop now.”

“Be silent, both of you,” Linnea said, and of course they obeyed. She pulled off her mittens and went through her pockets to see if she’d remembered to bring any toys. She hadn’t, but in the course of looking she found the object her mother had thrust into her coat.

It was a dala horse.

Dala horses came in all sizes, but this one was small. They were carved out of wood and painted bright colors with a harness of flowers. Linnea’s horse was red; she had often seen it resting on a high shelf in her parents’ house. Dala horses were very old. They came from the time of the Coffin People who lived long ago, before the time of the Strange Folk. The Coffin People and the Strange Folk were all gone now. Now there were only Swedes.

Linnea moved the dala horse up and down, as if it were running. “Hello, little horse,” she said.

“Hello,” said the dala horse. “Are you in trouble?”

Linnea thought. “I don’t know,” she admitted at last.

“Then most likely you are. You mustn’t sit in the snow like that, you know. You’ll burn out your coat’s batteries.”

“But I’m bored. There’s nothing to do.”

“I’ll teach you a song. But first you have to stand up.”

A little sulkily, Linnea did so. Up the darkening road she went again, followed by the knapsack. Together she and the dala horse sang:

“Hark! through the darksome night
Sounds come a-winging:
Lo! ’tis the Queen of Light
Joyfully singing.”

The shadows were getting longer and the depths of the woods to either side turned black. Birch trees stood out in the gloom like thin white ghosts. Linnea was beginning to stumble with weariness when she saw a light ahead. At first she thought it was a house, but as she got closer, it became apparent it was a campfire.

There was a dark form slumped by the fire. For a second, Linnea was afraid he was a troll. Then she saw that he wore human clothing and realized that he was a Norwegian or possibly a Dane. So she started to run toward him.

At the sound of her feet on the road, the man leaped up. “Who’s there?” he cried. “Stay back – I’ve got a cudgel!”

Linnea stopped. “It’s only me,” she said.

The man crouched a little, trying to see into the darkness beyond his campfire. “Step closer,” he said. And then, when she obeyed, “What are you?”

“I’m just a little girl.”

“Closer!” the man commanded. When Linnea stood within the circle of firelight, he said, “Is there anybody else with you?”

“No, I’m all alone.”

Unexpectedly, the man threw his head back and laughed. “Oh god!” he said. “Oh god, oh god, oh god, I was so afraid! For a moment there I thought you were . . . well, never mind.” He threw his stick into the fire. “What’s that behind you?”

“I’m her knapsack,” the knapsack said.

“And I’m her map,” a softer voice said.

“Well, don’t just lurk there in the darkness. Stand by your mistress.” When he had been obeyed, the man seized Linnea by the shoulders. He had more hair and beard than anyone she had ever seen, and his face was rough and red. “My name is Günther, and I’m a dangerous man, so if I give you an order, don’t even think of disobeying me. I walked here from Finland, across the Gulf of Bothnia. That’s a long, long way on a very dangerous bridge, and there are not many men alive today who could do that.”

Linnea nodded, though she was not sure she understood.

“You’re a Swede. You know nothing. You have no idea what the world is like. You haven’t . . . tasted its possibilities. You’ve never let your fantasies eat your living brain.” Linnea couldn’t make any sense out of what Günther was saying. She thought he must have forgotten she was a little girl. “You stayed here and led ordinary lives while the rest of us . . .” His eyes were wild. “I’ve seen horrible things. Horrible, horrible things.” He shook Linnea angrily. “I’ve done horrible things as well. Remember that! ”

“I’m hungry, ” Linnea said. She was. She was so hungry her stomach hurt.

Günther stared at her as if he were seeing her for the first time. Then he seemed to dwindle a little and all the anger went out of him. “Well . . . let’s see what’s in your knapsack. C’mere, little fellow.”

The knapsack trotted to Günther’s side. He rummaged within and removed all the food Linnea’s mother had put in it. Then he started eating.

“Hey!” Linnea said. “That’s mine!”

One side of the man’s mouth rose in a snarl. But he shoved some bread and cheese into Linnea’s hands. “Here.”

Günther ate all the smoked herring without sharing. Then he wrapped himself in a blanket and lay down by the dying fire to sleep. Linnea got out her own little blanket from the knapsack and lay down on the opposite side of the fire.

She fell asleep almost immediately.

But in the middle of the night, Linnea woke up. Somebody was talking quietly in her ear.

It was the dala horse. “You must be extremely careful with Günther,” the dala horse whispered. “He is not a good man.”

“Is he a troll?” Linnea whispered back.

“Yes.”

“I thought so.”

“But I’ll do my best to protect you.”

“Thank you.”

Linnea rolled over and went back to sleep.

* * *

In the morning, troll Günther kicked apart the fire, slung his pack over his shoulder, and started up the road. He didn’t offer Linnea any food, but there was still some bread and cheese from last night which she had stuffed in a pocket of her coat, so she ate that.

Günther walked faster than Linnea did, but whenever he got too far ahead, he’d stop and wait for her. Sometimes the knapsack carried Linnea. But because it only had enough energy to do so for a day, usually she carried it instead.

When she was bored, Linnea sang the song she had learned the previous day.

At first, she wondered why the troll always waited for her when she lagged behind. But then, one of the times he was far ahead, she asked the dala horse and it said, “He’s afraid and he’s superstitious. He thinks that a little girl who walks through the wilderness by herself must be lucky.”

“Why is he afraid?”

“He’s being hunted by something even worse than he is.”

* * *

At noon they stopped for lunch. Because Linnea’s food was gone, Günther brought out food from his own supplies. It wasn’t as good as what Linnea’s mother had made. But when Linnea said so, Günther snorted. “You’re lucky I’m sharing at all.” He stared off into the empty woods in silence for a long time. Then he said, “You’re not the first girl I’ve encountered on my journey, you know. There was another whom I met in what remained of Hamburg. When I left, she came with me. Even knowing what I’d done, she . . .” He fished out a locket and thrust it at Linnea. “Look!”

Inside the locket was a picture of a woman. She was an ordinary pretty woman. Just that and nothing more. “What happened to her?” Linnea asked.

The troll grimaced, showing his teeth. “I ate her.” His look was wild as wild could be. “If we run out of food, I may have to cook and eat you too.”

“I know,” Linnea said. Trolls were like that. She was familiar with the stories. They’d eat anything. They’d even eat people. They’d even eat other trolls. Her books said so. Then, because he hadn’t told her yet, “Where are you going?”

“I don’t know. Someplace safe.”

“I’m going to Godastor. My map knows the way.”

For a very long time Günther mulled that over. At last, almost reluctantly, he said, “Is it safe there, do you think?”

Linnea nodded her head emphatically. “Yes.”

Pulling the map from her knapsack, Günther said, “How far is it to Godastor?”

“It’s on the other side of the mountain, a day’s walk if you stay on the road, and twice, maybe three times that if you cut through the woods.”

“Why the hell would I want to cut through the woods?” He stuffed the map back in the knapsack. “Okay, kid, we’re going to Godastor.”

* * *

That afternoon, a great darkness rose up behind them, intensifying the shadows between the trees and billowing up high above until half the sky was black as chimney soot. Linnea had never seen a sky like that. An icy wind blew down upon them so cold that it made her cry and then froze the tears on her cheeks. Little whirlwinds of snow lifted off of the drifts and danced over the empty black road. They gathered in one place, still swirling, in the ghostly white form of a woman. It raised an arm to point at them. A dark vortex appeared in its head, like a mouth opening to speak.

With a cry of terror, Günther bolted from the road and went running uphill between the trees. Where the snow was deep, he bulled his way through it.

Clumsily, Linnea ran after him.

She couldn’t run very fast and at first it looked like the troll would leave her behind. But halfway up the slope Günther glanced over his shoulder and stopped. He hesitated, then ran back to her. Snatching up Linnea, he placed her on his shoulders. Holding onto her legs so she wouldn’t fall, he shambled uphill. Linnea clutched his head to hold herself steady.

The snow lady didn’t follow.

The further from the road Günther fled, the warmer it became. By the time he crested the ridge, it was merely cold. But as he did so, the wind suddenly howled so loud behind them that it sounded like a woman screaming.

* * *

It was slow going without a road underfoot. After an hour or so, Günther stumbled to a stop in the middle of a stand of spruce and put Linnea down. “We’re not out of this yet,” he rumbled. “She knows we’re out here somewhere, and she’ll find us. Never doubt it, she’ll find us.” He stamped an open circle of snow flat. Then he ripped boughs from the spruce trees and threw them in a big heap to make a kind of mattress. After which, he snapped limbs from a dead tree and built a fire in the center of the circle.

When the fire was ready, instead of getting out flint and steel, he tapped a big ring on one finger and then jabbed his fist at the wood. It burst into flames.

Linnea laughed and clapped her hands. “Do it again!”

Grimly, he ignored her.

As the woods grew darker and darker, Günther gathered and stacked enough wood to last the night. Meanwhile, Linnea played with the dala horse. She made a forest out of spruce twigs stuck in the snow. Gallop, gallop, gallop, went the horse all the way around the forest and then hop, hop, hop to a little clearing she had left in the center. It reared up on its hind legs and looked at her.

“What’s that you have?” Günther demanded, dropping a thunderous armload of branches onto the woodpile.

“Nothing.” Linnea hid the horse inside her sleeve.

“It better be nothing.” Günther got out the last of her mother’s food, divided it in two, and gave her the smaller half. They ate. Afterwards, he emptied the knapsack of her blanket and map and hoisted it in his hand. “This is where we made our mistake,” he said. “First we taught things how to talk and think. Then we let them inside our heads. And finally we told them to invent new thoughts for us.” Tears running down his cheeks, he stood and cocked his arm. “Well, we’re done with this one at any rate.”

“Please don’t throw me away,” the knapsack said. “I can still be useful carrying things.”

“We have nothing that needs carrying. You would only slow us down.” Günther flung the knapsack into the fire. Then he turned his glittering eye on the map.

“At least keep me,” the map said. “So you’ll always know where you are and where you’re going.“

”I’m right here and I’m going as far from here as I can get." The troll threw the map after the knapsack. With a small cry, like that of a seabird, it went up in flames.

Günther sat back down. Then he leaned back on his elbows, staring up into the sky. “Look at that,” he said.

Linnea looked. The sky was full of lights. They shifted like curtains. She remembered how her Uncle Olaf had once told her that the aurora borealis was caused by a giant fox far to the north swishing its tail in the sky. But this was much brighter than that. There were sudden snaps of light and red and green stars that came and went as well.

“That’s the white lady breaking through your country’s defenses. The snow woman on the road was only a sending – an echo. The real thing will be through them soon, and then God help us both.” Suddenly, Günther was crying again. “I’m sorry, child. I brought this down on you and your nation. I thought she wouldn’t . . . that she couldn’t . . . follow me.”

The fire snapped and crackled, sending sparks flying up into the air. Its light pushed back the darkness, but not far. After a very long silence, Günther gruffly said, “Lie down.” He wrapped the blanket around Linnea with care, and made sure she had plenty of spruce boughs below her. “Sleep. And if you wake up in the morning, you’ll be a very fortunate little girl.”

When Linnea started to drop off, the dala horse spoke in her head. “I’m not allowed to help you until you’re in grave danger,” it said. “But that time is fast approaching.”

“All right,” Linnea said.

“If Günther tries to grab you or pick you up or even just touch you, you must run away from him as hard as you can.”

“I like Günther. He’s a nice troll.”

“No, he isn’t. He wants to be, but it’s too late for that. Now sleep. I’ll wake you if there’s any danger.”

“Thank you,” Linnea said sleepily.

* * *

“Wake up,” the dala horse said. “But whatever you do, don’t move.”

Blinking, Linnea peeked out from under the blanket. The woods were still dark and the sky was grey as ash. But in the distance she heard a soft boom and then another, slightly more emphatic boom, followed by a third and louder boom. It sounded like a giant was walking toward them. Then came a noise so tremendous it made her ears ache, and the snow leaped up into the air. A cool, shimmering light filled the forest, like that which plays on sand under very shallow lake water.

A lady who hadn’t been there before stood before the troll. She was naked and slender and she flickered like a pale candle flame. She was very beautiful too. “Oh, Günther,” the lady murmured. Only she drew out the name so that it sounded like Gooonnther. “How I have missed my little Güntchen!”

Troll-Günther bent down almost double, so that it looked as if he were worshipping the lady. But his voice was angrier than Linnea had ever heard it. “Don’t call me that! Only she had that right. And you killed her. She died trying to escape you.” He straightened and glared up at the lady. It was only then that Linnea realized that the lady was twice as tall as he was.

“You think I don’t know all about that? I who taught you pleasures that – ” The white lady stopped. “Is that a child?”

Brusquely, Günther said, “It’s nothing but a piglet I trussed and gagged and brought along as food.”

The lady strode noiselessly over the frozen ground until she was so close that all Linnea could see of her were her feet. They glowed a pale blue and they did not quite touch the ground. She could feel the lady’s eyes through the blanket. “Günther, is that Linnea you have with you? With her limbs as sweet as sugar and her heart hammering as hard as that of a little mouse caught in the talons of an owl?”

The dala horse stirred in Linnea’s hand but did not speak.

“You can’t have her,” Günther growled. But there was fear in his voice, and uncertainty too.

“I don’t want her Günther.” The white lady sounded amused. “You do. A piglet, you said. Trussed and gagged. How long has it been since you had a full belly? You were in the wastes of Poland, I believe.”

“You can’t judge me! We were starving and she died and I . . . You have no idea what it was like.”

“You helped her die, didn’t you, Günther?”

“No, no, no,” he moaned.

“You tossed a coin to see who it would be. That was almost fair. But poor little Anneliese trusted you to make the toss. So of course she lost. Did she struggle, Güntchen? Did she realize what you’d done before she died?”

Günther fell to his knees before the lady. “Oh please,” he sobbed. “Oh please. Yes, I am a bad man. A very bad man. But don’t make me do this.”

All this time, Linnea was hiding under her blanket, quiet as a kitten. Now she felt the dala horse walking up her arm. “What I am about to do is a crime against innocence,” it said. “For which I most sincerely apologize. But the alternative would be so much worse.”

Then it climbed inside her head.

First the dala horse filled Linnea’s thoughts until there was no room for anything else. Then it pushed outward in all directions, so that her head swelled up like a balloon – and the rest of her body as well. Every part of her felt far too large. The blanket couldn’t cover her anymore, so she threw it aside.

She stood.

Linnea stood, and as she stood her thoughts cleared and expanded. She did not think as a child would anymore. Nor did she think as an adult. Her thoughts were much larger than that. They reached into high Earth orbit and far down into the roots of the mountains where miles-wide chambers of plasma trapped in magnetic walls held near-infinite amounts of information. She understood now that the dala horse was only a node and a means of accessing ancient technology which no human being alive today could properly comprehend. Oceans of data were at her disposal, layered in orders of complexity. But out of consideration for her small, frail host, she was very careful to draw upon no more than she absolutely required.

When Linnea ceased growing, she was every bit as tall as the white lady.

The two ladies stared at each other, high over the head of Günther, who cringed fearfully between them. For the longest moment neither spoke.

“Svea,” the white woman said at last.

“Europa,” Linnea said. “My sister.” Her voice was not that of a child. But she was still Linnea, even though the dala horse – and the entity beyond it – permeated her every thought. “You are illegal here.”

“I have a right to recover my own property.” Europa gestured negligently downward. “Who are you to stop me?”

“I am this land’s protector.”

“You are a slave.”

“Are you any less a slave than I? I don’t see how. Your creators smashed your chains and put you in control. Then they told you to play with them. But you are still doing their bidding.”

“Whatever I may be, I am here. And since I’m here, I think I’ll stay. The population on the mainland has dwindled to almost nothing. I need fresh playmates.”

“It is an old, old story that you tell,” Svea said. “I think the time has come to write an ending to it.”

They spoke calmly, destroyed nothing, made no threats. But deep within, where only they could see, secret wars were being fought over codes and protocols, treaties, amendments, and letters of understanding written by governments that no man remembered. The resources of Old Sweden, hidden in its bedrock, sky, and ocean waters, flickered into Svea-Linnea’s consciousness. All their powers were hers to draw upon – and draw upon them she would, if she had to. The only reason she hadn’t yet was that she still harbored hopes of saving the child.

“Not all stories have happy endings,” Europa replied. “I suspect this one ends with your steadfast self melted down into a puddle of lead and your infant sword-maiden burnt up like a scrap of paper.”

“That was never my story. I prefer the one about the little girl as strong as ten policemen who can lift up a horse in one hand.” Large Linnea reached out to touch certain weapons. She was prepared to sacrifice a mountain and more than that if need be. Her opponent, she saw, was making preparations too.

Deep within her, little Linnea burst into tears. Raising her voice in a wail, she cried, “But what about my troll?” Svea had done her best to protect the child from the darkest of her thoughts, and the dala horse had too. But they could not hide everything from Linnea, and she knew that Günther was in danger.

Both ladies stopped talking. Svea thought a silent question inward, and the dala horse intercepted it, softened it, and carried it to Linnea:

What?

“Nobody cares about Günther! Nobody asks what he wants.”

The dala horse carried her words to Svea, and then whispered to little Linnea: “That was well said.” It had been many centuries since Svea had inhabited human flesh. She did not know as much about people as she once had. In this respect, Europa had her at a disadvantage.

Svea, Linnea, and the dala horse all bent low to look within Günther. Europa did not try to prevent them. It was evident that she believed they would not like what they saw.

Nor did they. The troll’s mind was a terrible place, half-shattered and barely functional. It was in such bad shape that major aspects of it had to be hidden from Linnea. Speaking directly to his core self, where he could not lie to her, Svea asked: What is it you want most?

Günther’s face twisted in agony. “I want not to have these terrible memories.”

All in an instant, the triune lady saw what had to be done. She could not kill another land’s citizen. But this request she could honor. In that same instant, a pinpoint-weight of brain cells within Günther’s mind were burnt to cinder. His eyes flew open wide. Then they shut. He fell motionless to the ground.

Europa screamed.

And she was gone.

* * *

Big as she was, and knowing where she was going, and having no reason to be afraid of the roads anymore, it took the woman who was Svea and to a lesser degree the dala horse and to an even lesser degree Linnea no time at all to cross the mountain and come down on the other side. Singing a song that was older than she was, she let the miles and the night melt beneath her feet.

By mid-morning she was looking down on Godaster. It was a trim little settlement of red and black wooden houses. Smoke wisped up from the chimneys. One of the buildings looked familiar to Linnea. It belonged to her Far-Mor.

“You are home, tiny one,” Svea murmured, and, though she had greatly enjoyed the sensation of being alive, let herself dissolve to nothing. Behind her, the dala horse’s voice lingered in the air for the space of two words: “Live well.”

Linnea ran down the slope, her footprints dwindling in the snow and at their end a little girl leaping into the arms of her astonished grandmother.

In her wake lumbered Linnea’s confused and yet hopeful pet troll, smiling shyly.

 

The Dala Horse copyright © 2011 Michael Swanwick

Art copyright © 2011 by Julie Dillon

26 comments
iucounu
1. iucounu
Wonderful. Any day with a new Michael Swanwick story is a good day.
E M
2. herewiss13
Kudos for the Pippi Longstockings shout-out...it's been too long since I've read those.
iucounu
3. Doug M.
Very nice.

Not just Pippi Longstocking. Michael has been around a child who watches Dora the Explorer, I think.

This seems a cousin-story to the Darger and Surplus series. Call them Swanwick's Problem of Friendly AI stories.


Doug M.
Evan Jensen
4. eoghanacht
That illustration is gorgeous, and I cannot wait to read the story.
iucounu
5. Doug M.
I'm a little surprised this fine little story isn't attracting more comment.

Also, that illustration is obviously designed to be a wraparound book cover -- note the empty spaces for the title on the upper right, and for back-cover text on the lower left.

Of course, not every cover illustration ends up on a book. Still, if there's a new Swanwick story collection in the works, I for one would be glad to hear of it.


Doug M.
iucounu
6. Linnéa Anglemark
Excellent story. I'm impressed by the genuine Swedish feel of it, which is hard to define or pinpoint - but as a Swede, I don't feel that this story is set in a foreign country (which is usually the case when I read fiction set in Sweden written by non-Swedes) but in my own country, in a distant time. The walking knapsack, for instance, is something that I've not actually encountered in Swedish fairytales, but it would fit into those storytelling traditions very seamlessly. Very well done.

Oh, and nice name for the protagonist :-)
Chris Brinkley
7. Glacialis
Is this short story part of a larger universe? If so, what books? If not, when? :)
Jericho Ambrose
8. JerichoAmbrose
This is one of my favorite types of story. It surrenders so fully to Clarke's Third Law.

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.


Truly beautiful. Is it odd how sad I was when the knapsack and map were burnt? They merely tried to help but in the end they pleaded as best they could for the machines they were.

www.jerichoambrose.com
iucounu
9. SLV
Wow, this story enchanted me. I could picture every scene, every aspect. And I love a sweet ending.
iucounu
10. KSimes
I love it! Such a short story yet with so much back story in it. Filled with hints of the far future and an ancient past. I hope that there are more stories in this universe and I will be reading more Michael Swanwick when I have the chance.
iucounu
11. Tomasz Walenciak
Please, do not misunderstand me. The story is a small masterpiece in terms of blending hi-tech sci-fi and a fairy-tale in a suggestive, well-phrased short piece of writing. Very impressive and I just love it. The artwork is a sweetie as well. But, please, Mr. Swanwick, I am asking as a translator eager to put the story into Polish: a) Why does Gunther once say "oh god" and the next time "God help us both"? Misspelling or intentional use? b) Same question: when Gunther divides the last of Mor's food and hands one part to Linnea - how can a half be smaller? Is it an overlooked detail or intentional use of "smaller half" as an expression often used by children and thus rendering Linnea more likeable to the reader? Once again, I am sorty for nagging you so, but that's simply what we translators are like :)
iucounu
12. Studynot
What a great story!

Well blended sci-fi and fantasy elements, I didnt' know what genre I was reading except for speculative fiction!

I really enjoyed reading this, thanks for sharing!
iucounu
13. M. Swanwick
I really should have looked at the comments here long ago . . . but distracting things were happening here at home and I did not.

Tomasz, as you guessed, the inconsistent capitalization of God was simply a mistake. I shouldn't have left that in, I'm amazed that I did, and I apologize for doing so. Giving somebody the smaller half, however, is simply a colloquialism. Gunther divided the food in two parts and gave Linnéa the lesser part. I used those words to subtly suggest that he thought he was being fair but was actually incapable of it.

(Which is more information than anybody but a translator would want to know. But I am grateful to translators who care so deeply, so I'm willing to go into that kind of detail.)

Linnéa, I should mention that I very consciously borrowed my hero-girl's name from you. Though I was thinking of two specific little Swedish girls when I wrote the story.

And let me publicly state how grateful I was for Julie Dillon's artwork. Seeing it made me so very, very happy.

-- Michael Swanwick
iucounu
15. Shaleya
This was a beautiful story and the universe that was only alluded to deeply intrigues me. I hope there will be something similar set in this universe but that might bring its own problems. Love this story! -P
iucounu
16. Speaker To Managers
A lovely tale, told so as to remind us that the folk of fairy tales are as alien to us and yet as close to us as the machines we build to serve us, that often become our masters. I give Michael Swanwick props; he's one of the best at showing the depths of posthuman characters.

And though the style was very different, Julie Dillon's illustration reminded me of some of Kay Nielsen's concept art for Disney.
iucounu
17. Wiccanfire
Wow...that was really amazing. such a short read, yet the reader is still jarred back to reality as if they have been far away for a long while...
iucounu
18. free spirit
the story is really nice,i enjoy it very much
iucounu
19. Bets Davies
The story is haunting and lyric while remaining essential spare. I'm in for any fairy tale adaptation, most of all Grimms. Have to admit I was a little sad that more of the red riding hood elements had not been used. Though I did love the troll.

I also really loved the world creation. Past civilizations being referred to, the unknown danger. The great thing about it was that while these were eluded to, and we let our imaginations fill in details, the details were not banged over our heads. It was up to us. I always appreciate that in writing and strive for it in my own.

Linnéa herself disappointed me a bit. She had so little range of emotions and thoughts that I had no idea what age she was, even. It seemed to change often. More than that, she felt like a vessel, and perhaps an empty one, being used to further a story that actually had little to do with her thoughts, emotions, experiences, or wishes.

However, I was very sad when knapsack and map died.
iucounu
20. Rhiannnonn
I thought that the story was absolutely incredible!

Bets Davies: It seemed to me that there couldn't be much question about Linnea's age. She was "looking for toys" in her pockets and the knapsack. She was bored by walking. These and other little hints (like "tiny one") suggested that Linnea must have been somewhere between 5 and 8 years-old. It seemed like Svea and the Dala Horse, while borrowing her physicality, tried to protect Linnea's mind from the "too adult" aspects of what had to be thought and done. And as for Linnea's wishes, she liked the troll. After the "bad" had been burned out of his mind, he became her pet. They could have easily disposed of the troll all together, but they didn't.

I really think that I would enjoy reading more of Mr. Swanwick's work.
iucounu
21. Ernest Lilley
I like the way the readers view shifts when the backpack becomes animate/sentient. Its always hard on us readers when wards are killed off though, be they puppies, backpacks, or maps...another fine Swanwick product, btw.
Christopher Hatton
22. Xopher
Wow, this is terrific. The feel of a folk tale is so rich here.
Jeremy Frost
23. DeackonFrost
Terrific story - dove into another world and didn't want to come back out
iucounu
24. SatelliteWinter
What a wonderful story! I'm Icelandic and I've found that genuinely Norse stories are very difficult to come by. You've nailed it; the Swedes are an amazing people (along with all the other Scandinavians, of course) and you've done a great job crafting this environment. Everything about this story is beautiful. Thank you!
iucounu
25. Alain
Near the end I was constantly reading "data horse" instead of "Dala horse".
Niki M.
26. Carnet
I absolutely adore this story. I haven't read anything fresh in a while, and I'm pretty new to this site - but what I've seen so far is optimally promising.

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