The Princess and the Swans

The story goes that in a land beyond the Cerulean Sea an old, widowed king fell under the spell of a wicked sorceress who convinced him to remarry her. When the new queen was with child, she turned the king’s eleven sons into swans forced them to fly away, securing her child, which she knew to be a boy, to become king. The king was devastated at the disappearance of his sons and poured all of his love and affection on his daughter, Valetta. The queen was furious and tried to bewitch her, but her purity was too strong, so the queen tried to have her killed. The swans rescued Valetta from the attack and flew her away. The old king died from heartache and his land turned to sand. The queen took the throne and ruled over a desert.

The swans flew Valetta across the sea to a green and verdant land of sidhe and fey folk. There she met a sidhe queen with golden hair who told her she could save her brothers. She would have to travel around the lands to gather stinging nettles from around the graves of fallen heroes and knit them into shirts which would allow the swans to regain their human shapes. For the duration of her task, she would have to take a vow of silence; speaking one word would forever condemn her brothers to remain swans.

Valetta began her task and she travelled around finding the graves of heroes and clearing it of nettles, painfully blistering her hands from the stings. Never once did she utter a sound. And dutifully she spent her evenings knitting the gathered nettles into shirts.

One day a young king found Valetta clearing his father’s grave of nettles as he came to pay his respects. He fell in love with her and offered her a room in his castle where she could continue her knitting. Eventually he asked for her hand in marriage and she accepted. The priest who was the perform the ceremony was convinced that Valetta was a witch, but the young king did not believe him.

One night, when Valetta was almost done with the last shirt, she ran out of nettles and was forced to go to a nearby graveyard to collect more. The priest followed her and noticed that the necrophages refused to approach her. He took their fear of her purity as evidence of her guilt and ordered her to be put on trail for witchcraft.

Because Valleta could not speak in her own defence, she was sentenced to death by burning at the stake. While awaiting her punishment she continued to knit the last shirt. She continued knitting even as she was lead away to be executed, determined to continue up to the last moments of her life.

The executioner lit the fire and it began to spread around her. The swans swooped in and tried to lift her from the fire. Desperate, she threw the shirts over the swans. Her brothers returned to her human forms, all except Alban, the youngest, who had a swan’s wing instead of an arm, due to the shirt not having been completed.

Valetta was now able to speak the truth but she choked on the smoke and lost consciousness. Instead, her brothers explained her innocence. As they did so, the fire around the stake extinguished and flowers suddenly bloomed from the charred wood. The king plucked one of the flowers, a lily, and placed it on Valetta’s chest, reviving her.

They were married soon after. Each of the brothers went to found their own families, including young Alban. His swan wing made him feel like he did not belong and he was overcome with melancholy. One day, he was visited by a queen with golden hair, who invited him to come with her to join the sidhe.

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