The Six Swans
A Stories Aloud adaptation of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale.
He was most definitely lost. How embarrassing! Being the king, one would think he’d know his kingdom well. But he’d been chasing that doe for so many hours, that he really had no idea where he was.
Everywhere he looked, there were trees. In front of him were trees. To the left of him were trees. To the right of him were trees. Behind him… there was an old woman walking towards him, shaking her head.
“Good woman,” he said to her, “can you show me the way out of the wood?”
“Oh, certainly, your highness,” she replied, “I can and I will, on one condition…”
“What is the condition?” asked the king.
“I have a beautiful daughter,” said the old woman, “She is so beautiful that she is suitable to be your queen. If you agree to marry her, I will show you the way out of the wood.”
The king didn’t have a choice! He had to get back to the castle before nightfall or his children would be worried. Now that their mother was gone, he was their only family. So, he said, “Yes, all right, I’ll marry her.”
The old woman led him to her little house where her daughter was sitting by the fire.
“Oh, there you are,” she said, as if she knew they were coming.
She was very beautiful, but king just couldn’t look at her without a feeling of horror. But he kept his word, and, once the old woman had led him back to the castle, he kissed his children goodnight and he started preparing the wedding.
The beautiful woman was to join him at the castle in one week. He just couldn’t think of her being with the children. She may do them some harm. But he hadn’t spoken of them to her, so she had no idea he had seven children!
The night before her arrival, he took all seven of them off into the middle of a forest and left them to live in a lonely tower there. Its location could only be found my magic. The king’s wise-woman had given him a magical thread which would unwind in front of him and show him the way to the tower. Nobody else would be able to find them and they would be safe.
His new wife loved being queen. She would order the servants around and would scold them at the slightest opportunity.
He was glad he had hidden the children. But he missed them so much. They were all alone in the tower and he just couldn’t stand it anymore.
So, one night, he snuck out of the castle and followed the magical thread to the tower. The children were so happy to see him and they looked well. They had a wonderful night and before the king left, he promised to come as often as he could.
After a while, the queen noticed that the king would spend long hours away from the castle and she started to grow curious.
So, she paid a large sum of money to one of the servants. And he told her that the king had children and that he had hidden them in a tower deep in the forest.
When she paid a little more money, he also told her of the magical thread… and where the king kept it.
She immediately went to her room and started sewing white shirts. She wasn’t going to visit the children empty-handed. Oh no! She was going to greet them with a little bit of magic.
She made six shirts, each enchanted with some witch’s magic that her mother had taught her. Then, when the King was fast asleep, she stole his magic thread.
First thing in the morning, she snuck out of the castle and went into the wood. The thread unravelled in front of her, leading her all the way to a large beautiful tower, covered in ivy and flowers.
The children were playing hide and seek. All the boys were finding hiding places in the garden, and the girl was in the tower, counting to four hundred and twenty-two.
As the queen approached, the boys all rushed over to greet the stranger. But as they did, she threw the shirts up in the air and they mysteriously fluttered, one to each boy, and slipped over their heads and onto their bodies.
As the shirts touched the boy’s bodies, each boy became a swan. They were afraid and confused and they all took to wing and flew off together over the trees.
The queen was very pleased with herself. Now the king had no reason to be leaving the castle. She smiled to herself and then followed the thread back to the castle, not thinking at all that there might be one more child.
“Four hundred and twenty-one, four hundred and twenty-two!” The little girl stepped out into the bright day and started to look for her brothers. But they were nowhere to be found. She searched all afternoon and finally decided that they had left her alone.
As she was getting into bed that night, shivering in the loneliness, a beautiful swan flew down and sat on the window of the tower. He spoke to her and explained that he was her brother. Then he told her of the nasty woman and the magic shirts.
The next day, the king came to visit the children, but he only found his daughter, crying on the wall holding a white feather.
“Where are your brothers?” asked the king.
“Gone!” she said, “they were bewitched and turned into swans and now they have flown away, never to return.”
The king was devastated and wondered what witch could have done this deed.
“Come with me to my castle,” he said. “It is not safe here.” But the girl said she preferred to spend one more night in the tower.
When the king had left, the little girl packed a bag with bread and water and she set out into the forest to search for her brothers.
She walked all day, and just before she fell over with weariness, she spied a little hut amongst the trees. She crept inside and, seeing some beds, lay down to sleep.
But just as the sun dipped behind the trees and the forest became dark, she was awoken by a great noise. The door of the hut swung open and in waddled six beautiful swans. She sat upright in the bed and pulled the covers up to her nose. She watched in silence as the swans took deep breaths and blew on one another, loosening their feathers, and revealing their true identities.
“My brothers!” she cried.
These swans were her brothers and they were so glad to see her. They hugged each other and danced. But the joy didn’t last long.
“You can’t stay here,” they said to her. “This is a den of robbers; if they were to find you, they would kill you.”
“But you could protect me!” she said.
“No,” they answered, “We are only boys for fifteen minutes every evening. For the rest of the day and night, we are swans and would not be able to protect you.”
Then the little sister was so sorry for them that she cried, “Can you not be freed from this spell?”
“There is one way,” they said, “but it is too difficult for anyone.”
“Tell me how,” she demanded.
They said: “You must not speak or laugh for six years. And in that time, you must make six shirts for us out of star-flowers. If you were to utter a single word, you would have to start again.”
Then, the boys all started to turn back into swans as their fifteen minutes were over. They flapped their wings and flew out of the hut, leaving a white feather behind.
She walked over and picked it up. She now knew what she had to do.
She spent the day collecting as many star-flowers as she could carry. Then she climbed a tree, made a comfortable little house, and she started sewing. She sewed and sewed and sewed. She lived in the tree, only climbing down for food and water.
But one day, a king from another kingdom came past and saw her sewing in the tree.
“Hello, there!” he called.
But she did not call back.
“Who are you?” he said.
But she gave no answer.
So, the king climbed up the tree to meet her. He thought she was so beautiful and lovely that he decided to marry her!
She went with him to the castle where she was given anything she wanted. She wore rich clothes, and ate fine food and she looked lovelier than ever. But she never spoke a word. She spent all her days sewing shirts out of star-flowers.
But the king had a wicked mother, who didn’t think a woman who couldn’t speak was good enough for her son, the king.
So, when the new queen gave birth to her first child, the wicked mother snuck in the room and took the child away.
Then she told her son that the queen had killed the baby. He was devastated to lose his child, but didn’t think that his wife could have killed it.
After a year, she had their second child, and once again the wicked mother stole it away and told her son that his queen had killed it. The King just couldn’t believe it!
But when the queen had their third child and it, too, disappeared, the king could not help suspecting his beautiful wife.
She could not say anything in her defence and so the king was obliged to hand her over to the law.
It was decided that she should be put to death by burning her on a fire. Even when she sat in prison, waiting for her sentence, she continued to sew the shirts for her brothers. She was so close now; it had been nearly six years that she had been silent and sewing.
The day of her sentence was the very last day of the six years. And when she went into the square, she carried the shirts with her. She had completed five of them, with the sixth one just missing a sleeve.
She climbed onto the pile and watched the sky as the fire was lit below her.
Just then, far off in the distance, up against the bright blue sky, flew six white swans. They rushed down into the village and hovered around her so that she could throw the shirts onto them.
As soon as the shirts touched their bodies, their feathers loosened and started to fall off.
The crowd stood amazed as these beautiful swans turned into young men. Only one of them still had a wing, as his shirt was missing a sleeve.
The spell was broken! And the boys didn’t hesitate to put out the fire and to free her from her sentence. After they had hugged and cried, she rushed over to her astonished husband and said.
“My darling husband, now I can speak to you. I could not for all those years as I held myself in silence to break the spell bound on my brothers. But now they are free and I can say: I am innocent and I love you.”
The king was overjoyed. He loved his wife and was glad she was innocent. But it soon became obvious that if she hadn’t killed the children, then it was his mother who had stolen them.
She was summoned and, in her defeat, she led the king to where she had hidden his three children.
So, the king and his queen, her brothers, and their three children all lived happily at the castle for ever after.
This is the story of the six swans.