THE WILD SWANS
AR 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 they 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
teacup, 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
But she could not make it so bad for them as she had
intended, for they became eleven magnificent white
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 truth.
When she was fifteen 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
Then she put the toads into the clear water, which at
once assumed a green color, and, calling Eliza, 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
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 the tree. Deep silence
reigned around, the air was mild, and in the grass and
in the moss gleamed like a green fire hundreds of
glowworms; 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 plashing 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
into the wood, not knowing whither she went. She
thought of her dear brothers, and knew that Heaven
would certainly not forsake her. It is God who lets the
wild apples grow to satisfy the hungry. 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. Oh, here was a solitude such as she had never
The night came on quite dark. Not a single glowworm 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 one another, 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 no one sail appeared upon 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, iron,
stones—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 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
As soon as the sun had disappeared beneath the water
the swans' 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 but just large enough for us to rest
upon it close to one another. 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, 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
"In what way can I release you?" asked the sister; and
they conversed nearly the whole night, only slumbering
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.
"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-smelling roots. The youngest of the
brothers had collected them and placed them in 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 small rain; the sky glowed in
continual fire, and peal on peal the thunder rolled;
but sister and brothers held one another by the hand
and sang psalms, from which they gained comfort and
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 the white foam 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
ever-changing 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 bedchamber.
"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 heads.
"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
service-  able—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 [should be brothers' instead of
brother's] 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 woke 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 flax.
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 vanished.
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
 then another and another; they barked loudly, ran back,
and then came again. Only a few minutes had passed
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
"How did you come hither, you delightful child?" he
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 in 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
When she stood there in full array she was dazzingly
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 that 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
"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 was to become the queen of the
Then the Archbishop whispered evil words into the
King's ear, but they did not sink into the King's
heart. The marriage would 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 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?
"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
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, and thus she had
bewitched the King and the whole people.
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 quiet 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
 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 mean time 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 Providence.
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 tombstone 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
"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 a swan's
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
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
continued her work.
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. An old horse drew
the cart on which she sat. They had put upon her a
garment of coarse sack-cloth. 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 pieces!"
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, terrified.
"That is a sign from Heaven! She is certainly
innocent!" whispered many. But they did not dare to say
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
 "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
brothers' arms, such an effect had suspense, anguish,
and pain had upon her.
"Yes, 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 fagot 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 arose 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 went such a marriage procession as
no king had ever seen.