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The Legend of the Seven Swan Princes


     Long ago, in a land much like this one, lived a King who loved and indulged his beautiful children at every opportunity. His seven sons went to school with stars on their breasts and swords at their sides, and wrote with diamond pens on golden tablets. It could be seen at once that they were of royal blood. Their beloved sister, Lisette, sat upon a stool made pearls, turning the leaves of a picture book that had cost half a kingdom. O, these children were happy, though their good mother was no longer living. But that was not to last.
     For soon their father, the King, married a wicked Queen, one who couldn't stand the beautiful children. She made her feelings known on her wedding day, when she gave the children only a little sand in a tea-cup and told them to imagine it was something nice. She then spent the next year telling the King how thoughtless and bad his children could be, until he no longer cared for them at all.
     "Fly away into the wide world," the wicked Queen said to them, and the seven sons were changed into seven beautiful swans, each wearing a golden crown that glinted and shone as they flew gracefully toward the setting sun. She told the King the boys had simply refused to come home and must have been lost in the Great Woods. He was hardly sorry to hear the tale.

     Lisette knew better, and she grieved for her beloved companions. Finally, after a year of her weeping, her father relented, and allowed her one week to search the great wood for her lost brothers. All day she trudged through the Great Woods , peering into the dense green canopy and squinting along the dirt trails for traces of her seven brothers. Exhausted, she lay down in the twilight for a short rest.
     Lisette's slumber was broken by the great rushing sound of many wings, and with eyes of wonder she beheld seven crowned swans coming to rest on her little hillock. The very instant the sun dropped behind the sea, the swans' feathers fell off all at once, revealing her seven brothers to her astonished eyes! They all laughed and cried at this unexpected meeting, and soon had related to each other how cruel their step-mother had been to them all.
     "We seven fly about as wild swans as long as the sun is up in the heavens, but when it has gone down we regain our human form," her eldest brother told her. He went on to tell her that they lived in a land across a sea so vast that it they could only fly over it on the longest day of the year. The reunited family spent the entire night planning how to carry Lisette back with them, deciding to weave a net of willow branches for her to ride upon as they flew across the Vast Sea.
     All day they flew, one brother flying overhead to shade Lisette from the sun. As they flew over the palace of Morgana, Lisette slept quietly and dreamed of a visit from the Fairy Queen.

     "Do you see these stinging nettles that grow only near the cave where your brothers sleep? Such only, and those which are sometimes found in churchyards are required for your task. If you would save your brothers, take these nettles, crush them with you feet and you will obtain yarn. From this yarn you must weave seven long-sleeved shirts and throw them over the wild swans. If you succeed in this, the charm will be broken and your brothers will be returned to you for all time. But know this, sweet Lisette. From the minute you take up this task until it's completion, you must remain utterly silent. No sound must pass your lips, or it will be like a dagger to your brothers' hearts. On your tongue hangs your brothers' lives. Remember this!"

     Lisette awoke to the glimmer of a setting sun, as her brothers gently laid her upon the new land and resumed their human shapes. The tired brothers told Lisette that the Fairy Queen had allowed them to share her dream, and understood the task she would undertake. For many days and nights, Lisette worked without ceasing, glad to aid her brothers, glad to live among them in the wild woods.
     Then one day the King of that far land rode by, surrounded by his hunting party. At once, he fell in love with the lovely, silent maiden and begged her to return to his castle and be his Queen. Unable to object, Lisette wept as she was carried off into the sunset. Over the objections of his Chancellor, the charming mute girl of the forest was made Queen of the country.
     Harvesting nettles from the churchyard at night, Lisette continued to weave the seven shirts she needed for her brothers while falling more deeply in love with her King every day. But the jealous Archbishop espied her nightly visits and hastened to share with the King this final proof of Lisette's sorcery. Greatly saddened, the King declared that the people must judge the Queen in this, and so she was condemned to burn at the stake.
     But Lisette was allowed to bring her precious bundle of shirts and continue weaving the seventh shirt while awaiting her fate in the damp and dreary cell. Her fingers flew as they took her from her cell and escorted her to the block. Just as the executioner took her by the hand, seven wild swans dropped from the sky and surrounded the lovely Queen. Lisette hastily threw the seven shirts over her swans and in their places stood seven handsome Princes, but the youngest of them had a swan's wing in place of one arm, for one sleeve was wanting on that final shirt.

     "Now I may speak!" Lisette cried. "I am innocent!" And she told her tale.

     While the King was saddened by the tale of the brother's troubles, he was quietly proud to learn the lengths of Lisette's devotion and to learn of her sacrifice.


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