We rejoin out two heroes in Germany where they come face to face with a forgotten foe. A foe they once overcame but, alas, the sands of time have shifted and the same enemy reappears with such vigor that it is as though they've never seen such a creature before.
It was a good three months ago now out brave boys first encountered the white beast of the water. In the great state of Royal Leamington Spa the paddling pair embarked on their very first days of training. They're aim was to come to terms with a canoe, a fine craft that would carry them to where they are today, learn its curves, its balance and its glide in preparation for the great expedition they now undertake. Yet on the watercourses of the Great British Isles they found quite another distraction. The pair met Great British swans, the queen's birds, white stallions that puffed their feathers out in anger at the sight of a grotesque canoe splashing towards their territory. The swans would open up their wide wing span and beat the water frightening our two canoeists and sending them into a frenzy. But, as is common with such wildlife, time passed and the boys became accustomed to the creatures learning that the water was a space to be shared. British swans and British boys lived in harmony with little more than a nasty look cast here and there between the two species.
It goes without saying, of course, that the empty watercourses of France were a relief. Even though our strapping lads had overcome the common sight of a white giant on the river, their total absence in the French valleys was pleasing. The Queen's bird had no place in France, they were shunned along with all royalty during the late 1700s, and as they dipped their paddles in the shimmering water the canoeists would whisper 'vive la revolution' in the superstitious hope the good luck would continue. But before long or, indeed, after a great deal of time, the boys found themselves canoeing along the German border and then into the heart of the country through thick forests on dark rivers.
Now our boys in buoyancy aids are back in swan country and the season is ill timed for canoeing. The swans have young signets, a dirty grey colour just as one would remember from the tale of the ugly duckling, and they swim together in families, coasting along the river. The parents remain protective and are not at all pleased by the sight of our boys paddling in their direction. These German swans have a sharp efficiency the British swans lack. They swim straight in the direction of the canoe to make their point clear from the start, 'this is my river'. Unnerved by the intimidating white bulk that surges towards them, out two heroes navigate a wide arch around the creatures. Not scared, of course, the boys are merely risk averse and steer clear of the bird they've heard so much about.
The white ghost of the river Main, a natural battleship on these historic waters. The word 'Swan' derives from the latin 'Swainus', meaning "white cloaked killer". Its neck is twice as strong as it is beautiful, and by gosh is its neck beautiful. It bows its head low then swoops it upward, flexing its muscles and displaying its full size. The German swan is, unfortunately, yet to master the skill of camouflage, attempting to hide in amongst brown ducks half its size. Yet what it lacks in camouflage it makes up for with webbed feet that undoubtedly hide retracted talons ready to wound any enemy that comes within reach. This wild creature that no one dare tame lurks quietly in the night and hisses frantically at our canoeists in the morning.
Our two waterway warriors, filthy and well travelled, sleep an uneasy sleep at night. They know of the rabid stray dogs that wander in Romania, the riverside rats that scurry in Serbia, but here they lie in a true centre of danger. The true life-threat they face on their travels circles silently on the water outside, gleaming white in the August moonlight, Swainus is waiting.