The Six Swans (cont.)
When it was near the time of sun-setting, she heard a rustling sound and saw six swans come flying in at the window. They alighted on the ground and blew at one another until they had blown all their feathers off, and then they stripped off their swan-skin as if it had been a shirt. And the maiden looked at them and knew them for her brothers, and was very glad, and crept from under the bed. The brothers were not less glad when their sister appeared, but their joy did not last long.
"You must not stay here," said they to her; "this is a robbers' haunt, and if they were to come and find you here, they would kill you."
"And cannot you defend me?" asked the little sister.
"No," answered they, "for we can only get rid of our swan-skins and keep our human shape every evening for a quarter of an hour, but after that we must be changed again into swans."
Their sister wept at hearing this, and said, "Can nothing be done to set you free?"
"Oh no," answered they, "the work would be too hard for you. For six whole years you would be obliged never to speak or laugh, and make during that time six little shirts out of aster-flowers. If you were to let fall a single word before the work was ended, all would be of no good."
And just as the brothers had finished telling her this, the quarter of an hour came to an end, and they changed into swans and flew out of the window.
But the maiden made up her mind to set her brothers free, even though it should cost her her life. She left the hut and, going into the middle of the wood, she climbed a tree, and there passed the night. The next morning she set to work and gathered asters and began sewing them together; as for speaking, there was no one to speak to, and as for laughing, she had no mind to it; so she sat on and looked at nothing but her work.
When she had been going on like this for a long time, it happened that the king of that country went a-hunting in the wood, and some of his huntsmen came up to the tree in which the maiden sat. They called out to her, saying, "Who art thou?"
But she gave no answer.
"Come down," cried they; "we will do thee no harm."
But she only shook her head.
And when they tormented her further with questions, she threw down to them her gold necklace, hoping they would be content with that. But they would not leave off, so she threw down to them her girdle, and when that was no good, her garters, and one after another everything she had on and could possibly spare, until she had nothing left but her smock.
But all was no good; the huntsmen would not be put off any longer, and they climbed the tree, carried the maiden off, and brought her to the king.
The king asked, "Who art thou? What wert thou doing in the tree?" But she answered nothing.
He spoke to her in all the languages he knew, but she remained dumb, but, being very beautiful, the king inclined to her, and he felt a great love rise up in his heart towards her, and, casting his mantle round her, he put her before him on his horse and brought her to his castle.
Then he caused rich clothing to be put upon her, and her beauty shone as bright as the morning, but no word would she utter. He seated her by his side at table, and her modesty and gentle mien so pleased him, that he said, "This maiden I choose for wife, and no other in all the world," and accordingly, after a few days, they were married.
Next: The Six Swans (end)