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An old Faroese fairy tale - seen through the eyes of a Chinese artist
Issue Date: 9/8/2017
Item No.: PPS000917
The Seven Swans
Once upon a time there was a husband and wife who had eight children, seven boys and a girl. The wife died and her husband mourned her, but like most widowed men he remarried and had a daughter with his second wife.
But as the children grew older, the stepmother
became so cruel to them, that the man began to worry and did not want to have
them in the house. He, therefore, dug into a hill and made a chamber where he
put his children. His lock to the chamber was a golden apple: when he rolled it
upwards the hillside opened and when he rolled it downwards the hillside closed
again. He visited his children every night and brought them food. He kept the
apple in a locked coffer and kept the key to it around his neck.
The woman became suspicious. Her husband was away every night and she noticed that food was missing in the pantry. She questioned him insistently but received no answers.
Using sorcery she turned her daughter into a feather – for she was also a witch – and put it in her husband’s cap.
When night fell he went to the hill as usual, and the feather in his cap observed all his doings closely. When he came back home, his wife took the feather and turned it back into her daughter. She asked her closely about the whereabouts of the father, and the daughter told her everything.
When the man was asleep, the old hag stole the key to the coffer from his neck and took the golden apple. She then made her way to the hill with plenty of food for the children. The hillside opened when she rolled the golden apple upwards. She went in, pretended to be kind to the children and gave them food. The boys sat down at once to eat, but the girl did not want anything.
The old hag gave each of the boys a shirt to wear, and when they put them on they turned into swans and flew away. She wanted to give her stepdaughter a shift dress, but the girl refused, she wanted neither food nor clothes from the woman and asked her to leave her alone. Yes, she would be left alone, the old hag said, more alone than she ever would care for. She then went out, locked the hill and threw the golden apple into the sea.
The girl became very sad. She sat down and cried, poor thing. She wondered how to get out but did not really want to live after what had happened to her brothers.
When the father went to visit his children in the hill, he discovered that the golden apple was gone. He was grief-stricken, for he thought that now they would starve. He knew that it was their stepmother who had taken the apple and thrown it away.
The girl in the hill ate the food that her father had brought until nothing was left. She then began to dig herself out of the hill with a knife she had. It took a long time, but at last she managed to get out.
She walked far and long and finally came to a house where a childless couple lived. They received her warmly, and she told them all that had happened and how sad it was that her brothers had been turned into swans by their stepmother.
The kind people said that she was welcome to stay with them, and so she did. But no one ever saw her laugh or play.
One day when she was out walking, she met a pastor and began to lament bitterly, telling him about her misfortune.
The pastor said that he knew how she could turn her brothers back into humans again, but he doubted that she would be able to heed his advice in all details.
She implored him to tell her, for she was willing to try everything.
The pastor then told her to sew seven shirts, one for each of her brothers. She must use a thread as fine as a spider’s thread and she must not utter one word until all the shirts were finished. This would take a long time.
She sat down to sew and although she worked very hard, each shirt took one year to make.
The girl was exceptionally beautiful, and there was no shortage of suitors - but no one could get a word out of her, so all of them went back home empty-handed. Some thought she was mute, for she never uttered a word.
When six years had passed, none other than the
Prince himself arrived to woo her. People thought that she might speak to him,
if she at all was able to talk. But not even the Prince could get her to utter
Now the stepmother had heard of her doings and whereabouts. She immediately began to practice her evil deeds and started a rumour that the girl was mad and full of sorcery. The Prince talked about taking the girl away by force; but the stepmother felt this was not enough - she had to be burned because she would not answer his questions. That such a person as the Prince himself should seek her hand in marriage was too great an honour for her.
At first the Prince made excuses for her, but the stepmother was eager and slandered her for so long that he finally believed that the girl really was out of her mind, and ordered that she be burned at the stake.
Men were sent to seize the girl and take her to the pyre – but at the very moment when she was to be tied to the pyre, seven swans came flying. The girl took the shirts from the chest and threw them to the swans. All of the shirts were finished, except one which was still missing one sleeve. The swans put on their shirts and all became human again - but one of them had a wing instead of an arm because one shirtsleeve had not been finished.
Now when the girl could speak again, she told about all the evil things the stepmother had done to her and her brothers.
The Prince then ordered the stepmother and her daughter to be burned at the stake, and so they were.
But the other girl was made a princess and
later she became a queen.
From: FAROESE TALES AND LEGENDS by Jakob Jakobsen, Copenhagen 1898 - 1901