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11/04/2003 - 5:50 p.m.

The Swan

This is this week's No Shame piece. This one's a fairy tale that I wrote simply because I wanted to. It's not really No Shame material, but I wanted something to read for this one, and this is all I have at the moment.

Oh, and to whoever it is that's put the links up on the webpage, hi, who are you? I don't mind, and if you'd rather copy them and put them on the site properly, that'd be OK too.

Without further delay, then:

The Swan

A long time ago, before the bluebells forgot their ringing, two sisters lived in a house by the river. At the close of every day, when the weather was fine, it was their habit to sit by the river and talk. One summer, the elder sister fell ill and remained in her bed for many weeks. The younger girl, loathe to break their tradition, still sat on the riverbank in the late afternoons, but alone the girl raised her voice in songs of the river, so her sister might hear from the house.

One day, a young man happened through the part of the woods in which the sisters lived. As he was drinking he heard, carried on the river, over the music of the water, the sound of a girl’s singing. Almost at once the young man desired to know to whom the voice belonged and set off down the riverbank as though under a spell.

At length he came upon the younger sister singing to herself. As soon as he saw her, he was smitten. This girl, he decided, must be his wife. Cautiously, he approached her and as she came to the end of her song, bid her good evening. Quite soon, the pair was engaged in spirited conversation that lasted until the sun began to set. It was then that the girl bid the young man good evening, and he asked if he might return to her the following evening. With a smile, she said that he might and both parted with merry hearts.

For three days, the pair met by the river, and for three days the elder sister lay sick in her bed and heard their voices. When the girl bid the young man good night and entered the house, the invalid asked why she had given up her songs. The younger sister explained how the young man had appeared suddenly three days ago and they had struck up an acquaintance. The elder warned her sister that she must be wary of strange young men who appear from nowhere. The younger sister protested that one had only to see him to understand how good he was. Considering that the illness was passing, the two decided that the next day the elder girl would sit at the window the following evening when the young man arrived. Then she would see for herself.

The next day, when the young man arrived at the river, the elder sister sat unseen inside the house at the window. Something struck her to be familiar about this handsome, well mannered man, but she could not place it. As she watched the pair, it became easy to see that they were deeply in love.

It must have been something about the illness that allowed the evil little beast to creep into the elder sister's breast. Once inside, he tied a sharp metal band round her heart to make it cold and hard with jealousy for her sister. After this, the creature had only one more task to complete, and so climbed up and sat upon the girl's shoulder, just under her ear, into which he whispered foul, dark thoughts. As the young man made a graceful bow of departure, the little beast's job was finished, and he hopped down from the girl's shoulder, to make mischeif in other places.

Finally, the day came that the elder sister was well enough to return to her usual tasks, and when the young man arrived, he found her sitting with her sister upon the riverbank. All through that afternoon, the elder sister was charmed by the young man. He, however, paid her little mind, wanting only to hear the voice of the younger sister, which he so loved. The girl agreed and in the midst of a pretty love song, the whispered words of the creature came back to the elder sister. She said nothing, but it is certain that the band 'round her heart tightened a little more in her breast.

The following day, as the two sisters walked beside the river, the youngest began to sing quietly to herself the love song she had sang the previous day. The elder girl quite suddenly gave the younger a push into the river. The poor girl was quiet unable to swim, and the water was rather deep and very cold. She begged that her sister please help her to get out again, but the elder girl simply stood on the bank and shook her head. The younger girl implored her help, and promised to give her elder anything that she desired, if only she would lend her hand. The elder girl found her chance and told the younger she would only help her if she gave the hand of the young man to her. This, however, the young girl would not do, and so was swept away on the current of the water. The elder smiled as she returned to the house, the band inside her breast tightening another notch.

The body of the younger sister floated down the river to the place it emptied out into a large pool. Coming to rest upon the banks of the pool, a curious thing happened: the body of the young girl was turned into a golden white swan. Rather puzzled, but pleased at the occurrence, the swan passed away its days swimming 'round the pool, until one day when the king's royal huntsman passed by the pool.

There is nothing that kings like so much to eat as swan; and the huntsman was well aware of this. He also knew that that evening the marriage of the prince was to take place, and so was determined to return with the swan at all costs. And so it happened that, before it knew what had happened, the swan was snatched up and carried off to the castle.

That evening, the whole wedding party praised the elegant meal and by the end, not a morsel of the unfortunate swan remained but the bones. In the kitchen, the bones, along with all the other remains of the wedding feast, were taken out to be thrown in the ash heap. As the scullery maid was about to dump the whole lot, a penniless minstrel happened by and chanced to see the swan’s white breastbone sticking out of the pile. He asked the maid if he might have the bone to make a harp of, for it is hard work being a minstrel without an instrument. That evening, and for several evenings following, the minstrel toiled over his harp. He took much care over the instrument, and as the last string was fitted, he set it upon the table to admire his work. As soon as his hand pulled away, the harp began to play alone. The astonished minstrel was even more surprised to hear that, rather than simply playing like a harp, the instrument actually sang with the voice of a young girl.

Word spread far and wide of the harp that played without the touch of a hand, and soon the minstrel was asked to play at the castle. That evening, with a special bow towards the prince with his newly married princess, the minstrel set the harp down, and it began to sing a song of the murder of a young girl who’s sister would not save her life for the sake of a man. Hearing the song, the princess felt a pain in her breast as the metal band around her heart became tighter and tighter, and the young prince cried out that he recognised the voice of his love, who had mysteriously died only a short while ago. At that moment, a very peculiar thing happened: suddenly upon the table there sat no longer a harp, but the younger sister. The prince looked upon the girl, and suddenly understood what had happened; he turned in anger towards the elder sister, but as he did so, the band in the girl’s breast squeezed so tightly that it disappeared entirely, and she dropped dead upon the floor.

A short time later, the prince and the younger sister were married, and every morning she sang to him in her sweet, clear voice, and they lived happily ever after, to the end of their days.

�From the Shire, down the Anduin, to Mordor

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