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They stood on
the floor and blew at one another, and blew all their feathers off, and
their swan-skin came off like a shirt. Then the maiden recognised her
brothers, and overjoyed she crept out from under the bed. Her brothers
were not less delighted than she to see their little sister again, but
their joy did not last long.
'You cannot stay here,' they said to her. 'This is a den of robbers; if
they were to come here and find you they would kill you.'
'Could you not protect me?' asked the little sister.
'No,' they answered, 'for we can only lay aside our swan skins for a
quarter of an hour every evening. For this time we regain our human
forms, but then we are changed into swans again.'
Then the little sister cried and said, 'Can you not be freed?'
'Oh, no,' they said, 'the conditions are too hard. You must not speak or
laugh for six years, and must make in that time six shirts for us out of
star-flowers. If a single word comes out of your mouth, all your labour
is vain.' And when the brothers had said this the quarter of an hour
came to an end, and they flew away out of the window as swans.
But the maiden had determined to free her brothers even if it should
cost her her life. She left the hut, went into the forest, climbed
a tree, and spent the night there. The next morning she went out,
collected star-flowers, and began to sew. She could speak to no one, and
she had no wish to laugh, so she sat there, looking only at her work.
When she had lived there some time, it happened that the King of the
country was hunting in the forest, and his hunters came to the tree on
which the maiden sat. They called to her and said 'Who are you?'
But she gave no answer.
'Come down to us,' they said, 'we will do you no harm.'
But she shook her head silently. As they pressed her further with
questions, she threw them the golden chain from her neck. But they did
not leave off, and she threw them her girdle, and when this was no use,
her garters, and then her dress. The huntsmen would not leave her alone,
but climbed the tree, lifted the maiden down, and led her to the King.
The King asked, 'Who are you? What are you doing up that tree?'
But she answered nothing.
He asked her in all the languages he knew, but she remained as dumb as
a fish. Because she was so beautiful, however, the King's heart was
touched, and he was seized with a great love for her. He wrapped her up
in his cloak, placed her before him on his horse, and brought her to his
castle. There he had her dressed in rich clothes, and her beauty shone
out as bright as day, but not a word could be drawn from her. He set her
at table by his side, and her modest ways and behaviour pleased him
so much that he said, 'I will marry this maiden and none other in the
world,' and after some days he married her. But the King had a wicked
mother who was displeased with the marriage, and said wicked things of
the young Queen. 'Who knows who this girl is?' she said; 'she cannot
speak, and is not worthy of a king.'
After a year, when the Queen had her first child, the old mother took
it away from her. Then she went to the King and said that the Queen had
killed it. The King would not believe it, and would not allow any harm
to be done her. But she sat quietly sewing at the shirts and troubling
herself about nothing. The next time she had a child the wicked mother
did the same thing, but the King could not make up his mind to believe
her. He said, 'She is too sweet and good to do such a thing as that.
If she were not dumb and could defend herself, her innocence would be
proved.' But when the third child was taken away, and the Queen was
again accused, and could not utter a word in her own defence, the King
was obliged to give her over to the law, which decreed that she must
be burnt to death. When the day came on which the sentence was to be
executed, it was the last day of the six years in which she must not
speak or laugh, and now she had freed her dear brothers from the power
of the enchantment. The six shirts were done; there was only the left
sleeve wanting to the last.
When she was led to the stake, she laid the shirts on her arm, and as
she stood on the pile and the fire was about to be lighted, she looked
around her and saw six swans flying through the air. Then she knew
that her release was at hand and her heart danced for joy. The swans
fluttered round her, and hovered low so that she could throw the shirts
over them. When they had touched them the swan-skins fell off, and her
brothers stood before her living, well and beautiful. Only the youngest
had a swan's wing instead of his left arm. They embraced and kissed
each other, and the Queen went to the King, who was standing by in great
astonishment, and began to speak to him, saying, 'Dearest husband, now
I can speak and tell you openly that I am innocent and have been falsely
She told him of the old woman's deceit, and how she had taken the three
children away and hidden them. Then they were fetched, to the great joy
of the King, and the wicked mother came to no good end.
But the King and the Queen with their six brothers lived many years in
happiness and peace.