The Wild Swans

: Boys And Girls Bookshelf


Far away, where the swallows fly when our Winter comes on, lived a King

who had eleven sons, and one daughter named Eliza. The eleven brothers

were Princes, and each went to school with a star on his breast and his

sword by his side. They wrote with pencils of diamond upon slates of

gold, and learned by heart just as well as they read: one could see

directly that t
ey were Princes. Their sister Eliza sat upon a little

stool of plate-glass, and had a picture-book which had been bought for

the value of half a kingdom.

Oh, the children were particularly well off; but it was not always to

remain so.

Their father, who was King of the whole country, married a bad Queen,

who did not love the poor children at all. On the very first day they

could notice this. In the whole palace there was great feasting, and

the children were playing there. Then guests came; but instead of the

children receiving, as they had been accustomed to do, all the spare

cake and all the roasted apples, they only had some sand given them in a

tea-cup, and were told that they might make believe that was something

good. The next week the Queen took the little sister Eliza into the

country, to a peasant and his wife; and but a short time had elapsed

before she told the King so many falsehoods about the poor Princes that

he did not trouble himself any more about them.

"Fly out into the world and get your own living," said the wicked Queen.

"Fly like great birds without a voice."

But she could not make it so bad for them as she had intended, for they

became eleven magnificent wild swans. With a strange cry they flew out

of the palace windows, far over the park and into the wood.

It was yet quite early morning when they came by the place where their

sister Eliza lay asleep in the peasant's room. Here they hovered over

the roof, turned their long necks, and flapped their wings; but no one

heard or saw it. They were obliged to fly on, high up toward the clouds,

far away into the wide world; there they flew into a great dark wood,

which stretched away to the seashore.

Poor little Eliza stood in the peasant's room and played with a green

leaf, for she had no other playthings. And she pricked a hole in the

leaf, and looked through it up at the sun, and it seemed to her that she

saw her brothers' clear eyes; each time the warm sun shone upon her

cheeks she thought of all the kisses they had given her.

Each day passed just like the rest. When the wind swept through the

great rose hedges outside the house, it seemed to whisper to them: "What

can be more beautiful than you?" But the roses shook their heads and

answered "Eliza!" And when the old woman sat in front of her door on

Sunday and read in her hymn-book, the wind turned the leaves and said to

the book: "Who can be more pious than you?" and the hymn-book said,

"Eliza!" And what the rose bushes and the hymn-book said was the simple


When she was 15 years old she was to go home. And when the Queen saw how

beautiful she was, she became spiteful and filled with hatred toward

her. She would have been glad to change her into a wild swan, like her

brothers, but she did not dare to do so at once, because the King wished

to see his daughter.

Early in the morning the Queen went into the bath, which was built of

white marble, and decked with soft cushions and the most splendid

tapestry; and she took three toads and kissed them, and said to the

first: "Sit upon Eliza's head when she comes into the bath, that she may

become as stupid as you. Seat yourself upon her forehead," she said to

the second, "that she may become as ugly as you, and her father may not

know her. Rest on her heart," she whispered to the third, "that she may

receive an evil mind and suffer pain from it."

Then she put the toads into the clear water, which at once assumed a

green color; and calling Eliza, she caused her to undress and step into

the water. And while Eliza dived, one of the toads sat upon her hair,

and the second on her forehead, and the third on her heart; but she did

not seem to notice it; and as soon as she rose, three red poppies were

floating on the water. If the creatures had not been poisonous, and if

the witch had not kissed them, they would have been changed into red

roses. But at any rate they became flowers, because they had rested on

the girl's head, and forehead, and heart. She was too good and innocent

for sorcery to have power over her.

When the wicked Queen saw that, she rubbed Eliza with walnut juice, so

that the girl became dark brown, and smeared a hurtful ointment on her

face, and let her beautiful hair hang in confusion. It was quite

impossible to recognize the pretty Eliza.

When her father saw her he was much shocked and declared this was not

his daughter. No one but the yard dog and the swallows would recognize

her; but they were poor animals who had nothing to say in the matter.

Then poor Eliza wept, and thought of her eleven brothers who were all

away. Sorrowfully she crept out of the castle, and walked all day over

field and moor till she came into the great wood. She did not know

whither she wished to go, only she felt very downcast and longed for her

brothers: they had certainly been, like herself, thrust forth into the

world, and she would seek for them and find them.

She had been only a short time in the wood when the night fell; she

quite lost the path, therefore she lay down upon the soft moss, prayed

her evening prayer, and leaned her head against the stump of a tree.

Deep silence reigned around, the air was mild, and in the grass and in

the moss gleamed like a green fire hundreds of glow-worms; when she

lightly touched one of the twigs with her hand, the shining insects fell

down upon her like shooting stars.

The whole night long she dreamed of her brothers. They were children

again playing together, writing with their diamond pencils upon their

golden slates, and looking at the beautiful picture-book which had cost

half a kingdom. But on the slates they were not writing as they had been

accustomed to do, lines and letters, but the brave deeds they had done,

and all they had seen and experienced; and in the picture-book

everything was alive--the birds sang, and the people went out of the

book and spoke with Eliza and her brothers. But when the leaf was

turned, they jumped back again directly, so that there should be no


When she awoke the sun was already standing high. She could certainly

not see it, for the lofty trees spread their branches far and wide above

her. But the rays played there above like a gauzy veil, there was a

fragrance from the fresh verdure, and the birds almost perched upon her

shoulders. She heard the splashing of water; it was from a number of

springs all flowing into a lake which had the most delightful sandy

bottom. It was surrounded by thick growing bushes, but at one part the

stags had made a large opening, and here Eliza went down to the water.

The lake was so clear, that if the wind had not stirred the branches and

the bushes, so that they moved, one would have thought they were painted

upon the depths of the lake, so clearly was every leaf mirrored, whether

the sun shone upon it or whether it lay in shadow.

When Eliza saw her own face she was terrified--so brown and ugly was

she; but when she wetted her little hand and rubbed her eyes and her

forehead, the white skin gleamed forth again. Then she undressed and

went down into the fresh water; a more beautiful King's daughter than

she was could not be found in the world. And when she had dressed

herself again and plaited her long hair, she went to the bubbling

spring, drank out of the hollow of her hand, and then wandered far

into the wood, not knowing whither she went. She thought of her dear

brothers, and thought that Heaven would certainly not forsake her. It is

God who lets the wild apples grow, to satisfy the hunger. He showed her

a wild apple tree, with the boughs bending under the weight of the

fruit. Here she took her midday meal, placing props under the boughs,

and then went into the darkest part of the forest. There it was so still

that she could hear her own footsteps, as well as the rustling of every

dry leaf which bent under her feet. Not one bird was to be seen, not one

ray of sunlight could find its way through the great dark boughs of the

trees; the lofty trunks stood so close together that when she looked

before her it appeared as though she were surrounded by sets of palings

one behind the other.

The night came on quite dark. Not a single glow-worm now gleamed in the

grass. Sorrowfully she lay down to sleep. Then it seemed to her as if

the branches of the trees parted above her head, and mild eyes of angels

looked down upon her from on high.

When the morning came, she did not know if it had really been so or if

she had dreamed it.

She went a few steps forward, and then she met an old woman with berries

in her basket, and the old woman gave her a few of them. Eliza asked the

dame if she had not seen eleven Princes riding through the wood.

"No," replied the old woman, "but yesterday I saw eleven swans swimming

in the river close by, with golden crowns on their heads."

And she led Eliza a short distance farther, to a declivity, and at the

foot of the slope a little river wound its way. The trees on its margin

stretched their long leafy branches across toward each other, and where

their natural growth would not allow them to come together, the roots

had been torn out of the ground, and hung, intermingled with the

branches, over the water.

Eliza said farewell to the old woman, and went beside the river to the

place where the stream flowed out to the great open ocean.

The whole glorious sea lay before the young girl's eyes, but not one

sail appeared on its surface, and not a boat was to be seen. How was she

to proceed? She looked at the innumerable little pebbles on the shore;

the water had worn them all round. Glass, ironstones, everything that

was there had received its shape from the water, which was much softer

than even her delicate hand.

"It rolls on unweariedly, and thus what is hard becomes smooth. I will

be just as unwearied. Thanks for your lesson, you clear rolling waves;

my heart tells me that one day you will lead me to my dear brothers."

On the foam-covered sea-grass lay eleven white swan feathers, which she

collected into a bunch. Drops of water were upon them--whether they were

dewdrops or tears nobody could tell. Solitary it was there on the

strand, but she did not feel it, for the sea showed continual

changes--more in a few hours than the lovely lakes can produce in a

whole year. Then a great black cloud came. It seemed as if the sea would

say: "I can look angry, too." And then the wind blew, and the waves

turned their white side outward. But when the clouds gleamed red and the

winds slept, the sea looked like a rose-leaf; sometimes it became green,

sometimes white. But however quietly it might rest, there was still a

slight motion on the shore; the water rose gently like the breast of a

sleeping child.

When the sun was just about to set, Eliza saw eleven wild swans, with

crowns on their heads, flying toward the land: they swept along one

after the other, so that they looked like a long white band. Then Eliza

descended the slope and hid herself behind a bush. The swans alighted

near her and flapped their great white wings.

As soon as the sun had disappeared beneath the water, the swan's

feathers fell off, and eleven handsome Princes, Eliza's brothers, stood

there. She uttered a loud cry, for although they were greatly altered,

she knew and felt that it must be they. And she sprang into their arms

and called them by their names; and the Princes felt supremely happy

when they saw their little sister again; and they knew her, though she

was now tall and beautiful. They smiled and wept; and soon they

understood how cruel their stepmother had been to them all.

"We brothers," said the eldest, "fly about as wild swans as long as the

sun is in the sky, but directly it sinks down we receive our human form

again. Therefore we must always take care that we have a resting-place

for our feet when the sun sets; for if at that moment we were flying up

toward the clouds, we should sink down into the deep as men. We do not

dwell here: there lies a land just as fair as this beyond the sea. But

the way thither is long; we must cross the great sea, and on our path

there is no island where we could pass the night, only a little rock

stands forth in the midst of the waves; it is just large enough that we

can rest upon it close to each other. If the sea is rough, the foam

spurts far over us, but we thank God for the rock. There we pass the

night in our human form: but for this rock we could never visit our

beloved native land, for we require two of the longest days in the year

for our journey.

"Only once in each year is it granted to us to visit our home. For

eleven days we may stay here and fly over the great wood, from whence we

can see the palace in which we were born and in which our father lives,

and the high church tower, beneath whose shade our mother lies buried.

Here it seems to us as though the bushes and trees were our relatives;

here the wild horses career across the steppe, as we have seen them do

in our childhood; here the charcoal-burner sings the old songs to which

we danced as children; here is our fatherland; hither we feel ourselves

drawn, and here we have found you, our dear little sister. Two days more

we may stay here; then we must away across the sea to a glorious land,

but which is not our native land. How can we bear you away? for we have

neither ship nor boat."

"In what way can I release you?" asked the sister; and they conversed

nearly the whole night, slumbering only for a few hours.

She was awakened by the rustling of the swans' wings above her head. Her

brothers were again enchanted, and they flew in wide circles and at last

far away; but one of them, the youngest, remained behind, and the swan

laid his head in her lap, and she stroked his wings; and the whole day

they remained together. Toward evening the others came back, and when

the sun had gone down they stood there in their own shapes, and one of

them said:

"To-morrow we fly far away from here, and cannot come back until a whole

year has gone by. But we cannot leave you thus! Have you courage to come

with us? My arm is strong enough to carry you in the wood; and should

not all our wings be strong enough to fly with you over the sea?"

"Yes, take me with you," said Eliza.

The whole night they were occupied in weaving a net of the pliable

willow bark and tough reeds; and it was great and strong. On this net

Eliza lay down; and when the sun rose, and her brothers were changed

into wild swans, they seized the net with their beaks, and flew with

their beloved sister, who was still asleep, high up toward the clouds.

The sunbeams fell exactly upon her face, so one of the swans flew over

her head, that his broad wings might overshadow her.

They were far away from the shore when Eliza awoke: she was still

dreaming, so strange did it appear to her to be carried high through the

air and over the sea. By her side lay a branch with beautiful ripe

berries and a bundle of sweet-tasting roots. The youngest of the

brothers had collected them and placed them there for her. She smiled at

him thankfully, for she recognized him; he it was who flew over her and

shaded her with his wings.

They were so high that the greatest ship they descried beneath them

seemed like a white sea-gull lying upon the waters. A great cloud stood

behind them--it was a perfect mountain; and upon it Eliza saw her own

shadow and those of the eleven swans; there they flew on, gigantic in

size. Here was a picture, a more splendid one than she had ever yet

seen. But as the sun rose higher and the cloud was left farther behind

them, the floating shadowy images vanished away.

The whole day they flew onward through the air, like a whirring arrow,

but their flight was slower than it was wont to be, for they had their

sister to carry. Bad weather came on; the evening drew near; Eliza

looked anxiously at the setting sun, for the lonely rock in the ocean

could not be seen. It seemed to her as if the swans beat the air more

strongly with their wings. Alas! she was the cause that they did not

advance fast enough. When the sun went down, they must become men and

fall into the sea and drown. Then she prayed a prayer from the depths of

her heart; but still she could descry no rock. The dark clouds came

nearer in a great black threatening body rolling forward like a mass of

lead, and the lightning burst forth, flash upon flash.

Now the sun just touched the margin of the sea. Eliza's heart trembled.

Then the swans darted downward, so swiftly that she thought they were

falling, but they paused again. The sun was half hidden below the water.

And now for the first time she saw the little rock beneath her, and it

looked no larger than a seal might look, thrusting his head forth from

the water. The sun sank very fast; at last it appeared only like a star;

and then her foot touched the firm land. The sun was extinguished like

the last spark in a piece of burned paper; her brothers were standing

around her, arm in arm, but there was not more than just enough room for

her and for them. The sea beat against the rock and went over her like

fine rain; the sky glowed in continual fire, and peal on peal the

thunder rolled; but sister and brothers held each other by the hand and

sang psalms, from which they gained comfort and courage.

In the morning twilight the air was pure and calm. As soon as the sun

rose the swans flew away with Eliza from the island. The sea still ran

high, and when they soared up aloft, from their high position the white

foam on the dark green waves looked like millions of white swans

swimming upon the water.

When the sun mounted higher, Eliza saw before her, half floating in the

air, a mountainous country with shining masses of ice on its water, and

in the midst of it rose a castle, apparently a mile long, with row above

row of elegant columns, while beneath waved the palm woods and bright

flowers as large as mill-wheels. She asked if this was the country to

which they were bound, but the swans shook their heads, for what she

beheld was the gorgeous, everchanging palace of Fata Morgana, and into

this they might bring no human being. As Eliza gazed at it, mountains,

woods, and castle fell down, and twenty proud churches, all nearly

alike, with high towers and pointed windows, stood before them. She

fancied she heard the organs sounding, but it was the sea she heard.

When she was quite near the churches they changed to a fleet sailing

beneath her, but when she looked down it was only a sea mist gliding

over the ocean. Thus she had a continual change before her eyes, till at

last she saw the real land to which they were bound. There arose the

most glorious blue mountains, with cedar forests, cities, and palaces.

Long before the sun went down she sat on the rock, in front of a great

cave overgrown with delicate green trailing plants looking like

embroidered carpets.

"Now we shall see what you will dream of here to-night," said the

youngest brother; and he showed her to her bed-chamber.

"Heaven grant that I may dream of a way to release you," she replied.

And this thought possessed her mightily, and she prayed ardently for

help; yes, even in her sleep she continued to pray. Then it seemed to

her as if she were flying high in the air to the cloudy palace of Fata

Morgana; and the fairy came out to meet her, beautiful and radiant; and

yet the fairy was quite like the old woman who had given her the berries

in the wood, and had told her of the swans with golden crowns on their


"Your brothers can be released," said she. "But have you courage and

perseverance? Certainly, water is softer than your delicate hands, and

yet it changes the shape of stones but it feels not the pain that your

fingers will feel; it has no heart, and cannot suffer the agony and

torment you will have to endure. Do you see the stinging nettle which I

hold in my hand? Many of the same kind grow around the cave in which you

sleep: those only, and those that grow upon churchyard graves, are

serviceable, remember that. Those you must pluck, though they will burn

your hands into blisters. Break these nettles to pieces with your feet,

and you will have flax; of this you must plait and weave eleven shirts

of mail with long sleeves: throw these over the eleven swans, and the

charm will be broken. But recollect well, from the moment you begin this

work until it is finished, even though it should take years to

accomplish, you must not speak. The first word you utter will pierce

your brothers' hearts like a deadly dagger. Their lives hang on your

tongue. Remember all this!"

And she touched her hand with the nettle; it was like a burning fire,

and Eliza awoke with the smart. It was broad daylight; and close by the

spot where she had slept lay a nettle like the one she had seen in her

dream. She fell upon her knees and prayed gratefully, and went forth

from the cave to begin her work.

With her delicate hands she groped among the ugly nettles. These stung

like fire, burning great blisters on her arms and hands; but she thought

she would bear it gladly if she could only release her dear brothers.

Then she bruised every nettle with her bare feet and plaited the green


When the sun had set her brothers came, and they were frightened when

they found her dumb. They thought it was some new sorcery of their

wicked stepmother's; but when they saw her hands, they understood what

she was doing for their sake, and the youngest brother wept. And where

his tears dropped she felt no more pain and the burning blisters


She passed the night at her work, for she could not sleep till she had

delivered her dear brothers. The whole of the following day, while the

swans were away, she sat in solitude, but never had time flown so

quickly with her as now. One shirt of mail was already finished, and

now she began the second.

Then a hunting horn sounded among the hills, and she was struck with

fear. The noise came nearer and nearer; she heard the barking dogs, and

timidly she fled into the cave, bound into a bundle the nettles she had

collected and prepared, and sat upon the bundle.

Immediately a great dog came bounding out of the ravine, and then

another, and another: they barked loudly, ran back, and then came again.

Only a few minutes had gone before all the huntsmen stood before the

cave, and the handsomest of them was the King of the country. He came

forward to Eliza, for he had never seen a more beautiful maiden.

"How did you come hither, you delightful child?" he asked.

Eliza shook her head, for she might not speak--it would cost her

brothers their deliverance and their lives. And she hid her hands under

her apron, so that the King might not see what she was suffering.

"Come with me," said he. "You cannot stop here. If you are as good as

you are beautiful, I will dress you in velvet and silk, and place the

golden crown on your head, and you shall dwell in my richest castle, and


And then he lifted her on his horse. She wept and wrung her hands; but

the King said:

"I only wish for your happiness: one day you will thank me for this."

And then he galloped away among the mountains with her on his horse, and

the hunters galloped at their heels.

When the sun went down, the fair regal city lay before them, with its

churches and cupolas; and the King led her into the castle, where great

fountains plashed in the lofty marble halls, and where walls and

ceilings were covered with glorious pictures. But she had no eyes for

all this--she only wept and mourned. Passively she let the women put

royal robes upon her, and weave pearls in her hair, and draw dainty

gloves over her blistered fingers.

When she stood there in full array, she was dazzlingly beautiful, so

that the Court bowed deeper than ever. And the King chose her for his

bride, although the archbishop shook his head and whispered that the

beauteous fresh maid was certainly a witch, who blinded the eyes and led

astray the heart of the King.

But the King gave no ear to this, but ordered that the music should

sound, and the costliest dishes should be served, and the most beautiful

maidens should dance before them. And she was led through fragrant

gardens into gorgeous halls; but never a smile came upon her lips or

shone in her eyes; there she stood, a picture of grief. Then the King

opened a little chamber close by, where she was to sleep. This chamber

was decked with splendid green tapestry, and completely resembled the

cave in which she had been. On the floor lay the bundle of flax which

she had prepared from the nettles, and under the ceiling hung the shirt

of mail she had completed. All these things one of the huntsmen had

brought with him as curiosities.

"Here you may dream yourself back in your former home," said the King.

"Here is the work which occupied you there, and now, in the midst of all

your splendor, it will amuse you to think of that time."

When Eliza saw this that lay so near her heart, a smile played round her

mouth and the crimson blood came back into her cheeks. She thought of

her brothers' deliverance, and kissed the King's hand; and he pressed

her to his heart, and caused the marriage feast to be announced by all

the church bells. The beautiful dumb girl out of the wood became the

Queen of the country.

Then the archbishop whispered evil words into the King's ear, but they

did not sink into the King's heart. The marriage was to take place; the

archbishop himself was obliged to place the crown on her head, and with

wicked spite he pressed the narrow circlet so tightly upon her brow that

it pained her. But a heavier ring lay close around her heart--sorrow for

her brothers; she did not feel the bodily pain. Her mouth was dumb, for

a single word would cost her brothers their lives, but her eyes glowed

with love for the kind, handsome King, who did everything to rejoice

her. She loved him with her whole heart, more and more every day. Oh,

that she had been able to confide in him and to tell him of her grief;

but she was compelled to be dumb, and to finish her work in silence.

Therefore at night she crept away from his side, and went quietly into

the little chamber which was decorated like the cave, and wove one shirt

of mail after another. But when she began the seventh she found that she

had no flax left.

She knew that in the churchyard nettles were growing that she could use;

but she must pluck them herself, and how was she to go out there unseen?

"Oh, what is the pain in my fingers to the torment my heart endures?"

thought she. "I must venture it, and help will not be denied me!"

With a trembling heart, as though the deed she purposed doing had been

evil, she crept into the garden in the moonlight night, and went through

the lanes and through the deserted streets to the churchyard. There, on

one of the broadest tombstones she saw sitting a circle of lamias. These

hideous wretches took off their ragged garments, as if they were going

to bathe; then with their skinny fingers they clawed open the fresh

graves, and with fiendish greed they snatched up the corpses and ate the

flesh. Eliza was obliged to pass close by them and they fastened their

evil glances upon her; but she prayed silently, and collected the

burning nettles, and carried them into the castle.

Only one person had seen her, and that was the archbishop. He was awake

while others slept. Now he felt sure his opinion was correct, that all

was not as it should be with the Queen; she was a witch.

In secret he told the King what he had seen and what he feared; and when

the hard words came from his tongue, the pictures of saints in the

cathedral shook their heads, as though they could have said: "It is

not so! Eliza is innocent!" But the archbishop interpreted this

differently--he thought they were bearing witness against her, and

shaking their heads at her sinfulness. Then two heavy tears rolled down

the King's cheeks; he went home with doubt in his heart, and at night

pretended to be asleep; but no real sleep came upon his eyes, for he

noticed that Eliza got up. Every night she did this, and each time he

followed her silently, and saw how she disappeared from her chamber.

From day to day his face became darker. Eliza saw it, but did not

understand the reason; but it frightened her--and what did she not

suffer in her heart for her brothers? Her hot tears flowed upon the

royal velvet and purple; they lay there like sparkling diamonds, and all

who saw the splendor wished they were Queens. In the meantime she had

almost finished her work. Only one shirt of mail was still to be

completed, but she had no flax left, and not a single nettle. Once more,

for the last time, therefore, she must go to the churchyard, only to

pluck a few handfuls. She thought with terror of this solitary wandering

and of the horrible lamias, but her will was firm as her trust in


Eliza went on, but the King and the archbishop followed her. They saw

her vanish into the churchyard through the wicket gate; and when they

drew near, the lamias were sitting upon the gravestones as Eliza had

seen them; and the King turned aside, for he fancied her among them,

whose head had rested against his breast that very evening.

"The people must condemn her," said he.

And the people condemned her to suffer death by fire.

Out of the gorgeous regal halls she was led into a dark damp cell, where

the wind whistled through the grated window; instead of velvet and silk

they gave her the bundle of nettles which she had collected: on this she

could lay her head; and the hard burning coats of mail which she had

woven were to be her coverlet. But nothing could have been given her

that she liked better. She resumed her work and prayed. Without, the

street boys were singing jeering songs about her, and not a soul

comforted her with a kind word.

But toward evening there came the whirring of swans' wings close by the

grating--it was the youngest of her brothers. He had found his sister,

and she sobbed aloud with joy, though she knew that the approaching

night would probably be the last she had to live. But now the work was

almost finished, and her brothers were here.

Now came the archbishop, to stay with her in her last hour, for he had

promised the King to do so. And she shook her head, and with looks and

gestures she begged him to depart, for in this night she must finish her

work, or else all would be in vain, all her tears, her pain, and her

sleepless nights. The archbishop withdrew, uttering evil words against

her; but poor Eliza knew she was innocent, and diligently continued her


The little mice ran about the floor; they dragged the nettles to her

feet, to help as well as they could; and a thrush sat outside the

grating of the window, and sang to her the whole night long, as sweetly

as possible, to keep up her courage.

It was still twilight; not till an hour afterward would the sun rise.

And the eleven brothers stood at the castle gate, and demanded to be

brought before the King. That could not be, they were told, for it was

still almost night; the King was asleep, and might not be disturbed.

They begged, they threatened, and the sentries came, yes, even the King

himself came out, and asked what was the meaning of this. At that moment

the sun rose and no more were the brothers to be seen, but eleven wild

swans flew away over the castle.

All the people came flocking out at the town gate, for they wanted to

see the witch burned. The old horse drew the cart on which she sat. They

had put upon her a garment of coarse sackcloth. Her lovely hair hung

loose about her beautiful head; her cheeks were as pale as death; and

her lips moved silently, while her fingers were engaged with the green

flax. Even on the way to death she did not interrupt the work she had

begun; the ten shirts of mail lay at her feet, and she wrought at the

eleventh. The mob derided her.

"Look at the red witch, how she mutters! She has no hymn-book in her

hand; no, there she sits with her ugly sorcery--tear it in a thousand


And they all pressed upon her, and wanted to tear up the shirts of mail.

Then eleven wild swans came flying up, and sat round about her on the

cart, and beat with their wings; and the mob gave way before them,


"That is a sign from heaven! She is certainly innocent!" whispered many.

But they did not dare to say it aloud.

Now the executioner seized her by the hand; then she hastily threw the

eleven shirts over the swans, and immediately eleven handsome Princes

stood there. But the youngest had a swan's wing instead of an arm, for a

sleeve was wanting to his shirt--she had not quite finished it.

"Now I may speak!" she said. "I am innocent!"

And the people who saw what happened bowed before her as before a saint;

but she sank lifeless into her brother's arms, such an effect had

suspense, anguish, and pain upon her.

"Indeed, she is innocent," said the eldest brother.

And now he told everything that had taken place; and while he spoke a

fragrance arose as of millions of roses, for every piece of faggot in

the pile had taken root and was sending forth shoots; and a fragrant

hedge stood there, tall and great, covered with red roses, and at the

top a flower, white and shining, gleaming like a star. This flower the

King plucked and placed in Eliza's bosom; and she awoke with peace and

happiness in her heart.

And all the church bells rang of themselves, and the birds came in great

flocks. And back to the castle such a marriage procession was held as no

King had ever seen.