There they remained hidden, for the road to it was so hard to find that the king himself could not have found it, had it not been for a clew of yarn, possessing wonderful properties, that a wise woman had given him; when he threw it down before him, it unrolled itself and showed him the way. And she hid her hands under her apron, so that the king might not see how she was suffering. Illustration by A King gets lost in a forest, and an old woman helps him, on the condition that he marry her beautiful daughter. They alighted on the ground, and blew at one another until they had blown all their feathers off, and then they stripped off their swan-skin as if it had been a shirt. Then the king opened the door of a little bedroom where she was to sleep. The six shirts were ready, all except one which wanted the left sleeve. The swans came close up to her with rushing wings, and stooped round her, so that she could throw the shirts over them; and when that had been done the swanskins fell off them, and her brothers stood before her in their own bodies quite safe and sound; but as one shirt wanted the left sleeve, so the youngest brother had a swan's wing instead of a left arm.
Day by day his brow became darker, and Eliza saw it, and although she did not understand the reason, it alarmed her and made her heart tremble for her brothers. But however quietly its white glassy surface rested, there was still a motion on the shore, as its waves rose and fell like the breast of a sleeping child. They are both artists and strive to perfect themselves when performing; both are committed to the highest degree. The light of hundreds of glow-worms shone amidst the grass and the moss, like green fire; and if she touched a twig with her hand, ever so lightly, the brilliant insects fell down around her, like shooting-stars. They saw her vanish through the wicket gate into the churchyard, and when they came nearer they saw the ghouls sitting on the tombstone, as Eliza had seen them, and the king turned away his head, for he thought she was with them—she whose head had rested on his breast that very evening. Eliza asked her if she had not seen eleven princes riding through the forest.
They were far from the land when Eliza awoke. Patiently she allowed the women to array her in royal robes, to weave pearls in her hair, and draw soft gloves over her blistered fingers. Break them to pieces with your hands and feet and they will become material for weaving. Therefore at night she crept away into her little chamber, which had been decked out to look like the cave, and quickly wove one coat after another. As soon as she had dressed herself again and tied up her long hair, she went to the bubbling stream and drank some water out of her hand.
Just then, and by this time the sun was half hidden by the waves, she caught sight of the rock just below them. Bushes grew thickly round the lake, and at one spot, where an opening had been made by a deer, Eliza went down to the water, which was clear and reflected like a mirror. The sea dashed against the rock, and covered them with spray. The night was very dark. They believed it to be some new sorcery of their wicked step-mother. He advanced towards her, for he had never seen a more beautiful maiden.
True, water is softer than your own delicate hands, and yet it polishes stones into shapes; it feels no pain as your fingers would feel, it has no soul, and cannot suffer such agony and torment as you will have to endure. She even fancied she could hear organ music, but it was the music of the murmuring sea. These you must gather even while they burn blisters on your hands. She asked if this was the land they were going to. It will amuse you now in the midst of all this splendor to think of that time. The young Queen gives birth to two other children, but twice again the mother-in-law hides them away and falsely claims that she has killed and eaten her babies.
Then they flapped their large wings, and the crowd drew on one side in alarm. Then the archbishop arrived, to be with her during her last hours, as he had promised the king. There was but just room enough for them, and not the smallest space to spare. When she was fifteen she returned home, but because she was so beautiful the witch-queen became full of hatred toward her. And this thought took such hold upon her mind that she prayed for help, and even in her sleep she continued to pray. When the sun set they would change to men, fall into the sea, and be drowned.
As the sun rose higher, Eliza saw before her, floating in the air, a range of mountains covered with ice and snow. But she shook her head, and begged him, by looks and gestures, not to stay; for in this night she knew she must finish her task, otherwise all her pain and tears and sleepless nights would have been suffered in vain. Thanks for your lesson, bright rolling waves, my heart tells me you will one day lead me to my dear brothers. Her every movement and expression on her face is carefully controlled and beautifully acted. The next day the king went to see his children, but he found nobody but his daughter.
Still, she had hope, for her job was almost finished and her brothers had come. Her lovely hair hung loose on her shoulders, her cheeks were white, her lips moved silently while her fingers still worked at the weaving. In the picture book, too, everything was living. By her side lay a branch full of beautiful ripe berries and a bundle of delicious roots. She heard water rippling from a number of springs, all flowing in a lake with golden sands.