The Six Swans (end)
"Who knows where the maid can have come from?" said she; "and not able to speak a word! She is not worthy of a king!"
After a year had passed, and the queen brought her first child into the world, the old woman carried it away and marked the queen's mouth with blood as she lay sleeping. Then she went to the king and declared that his wife was an eater of human flesh.
The king would not believe such a thing and ordered that no one should do her any harm. And the queen went on quietly sewing the shirts and caring for nothing else.
The next time that a fine boy was born, the wicked step-mother used the same deceit, but the king would give no credence to her words, for he said, "She is too tender and good to do any such thing, and if she were only not dumb and could justify herself, then her innocence would be as clear as day."
When for the third time the old woman stole away the new-born child and accused the queen, who was unable to say a word in her defence, the king could do no other but give her up to justice, and she was sentenced to suffer death by fire.
The day on which her sentence was to be carried out was the very last one of the sixth year of the years during which she had neither spoken nor laughed to free her dear brothers from the evil spell. The six shirts were ready, all except one which wanted the left sleeve. And when she was led to the pile of wood, she carried the six shirts on her arm, and when she mounted the pile and the fire was about to be kindled, all at once she cried out aloud, for there were six swans coming flying through the air, and she saw that her deliverance was near, and her heart beat for joy.
The swans came close up to her with rushing wings and stooped round her so that she could throw the shirts over them, and when that had been done, the swan-skins fell off them, and her brothers stood before her in their own bodies quite safe and sound, but as one shirt wanted the left sleeve, so the youngest brother had a swan's wing instead of a left arm.
They embraced and kissed each other, and the queen went up to the king, who looked on full of astonishment, and began to speak to him and to say, "Dearest husband, now I may dare to speak and tell you that I am innocent and have been falsely accused," and she related to him the treachery of the step-mother, who had taken away the three children and hidden them. And she was reconciled to the king with great joy, and the wicked step-mother was bound to the stake on the pile of wood and burnt to ashes.
And the king and queen lived many years with their six brothers in peace and joy.
Next: King Thrushbeard