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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental. Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 

The Six Swans - 3. Una's Children

Una's son and daughter, and the sons of King Edwin's chief minister.

Una did not know, when she entrusted the care of her father, King Edwin, to the chief minister, that the chief minister was a cousin of the witch of the forest, and a powerful sorcerer in his own right. With subtle potions he kept the king sleepy and weak at all times, not just during the monthly transformation. He ruled the kingdom in all but name, and thought to take the title of king as well.

The minister had two sons and hired a tutor to see to their education. The tutor set pens before them and said, "Now I will teach you to write. Pick up the pens." The boys picked up the pens with their left hands. With his stick, the tutor struck them on the left hand, saying, "The left hand is the hand of evil, the hand of the Devil. You will not handle a pen with your left hand. You will write with your right hand."

So the two brothers learned to write with their right hands. But the younger son, Dymon, practiced writing with his left hand whenever the tutor was not watching, which the elder son, Zir, did not dare to do. Zir’s handwriting was beautiful and Dymon's was plain; but everything Zir wrote was a lie, and everything Dymon wrote was the truth.

The minister decided to test their education by commanding them to show how well they wrote. "Write an essay on how well you love me," he instructed the youths. "Twenty-five words or less."

Zir wrote, "Your life, father, is more precious to me than my own, more precious than all jewels, gold, and lands in the world." The minister was well pleased with this response.

Dymon wrote, "I love you neither more nor less than a son should. I love you like bread loves salt." The minister was not pleased with this answer. "What kind of answer is this? Cold and ungrateful, and then nonsensical. I had thought to divide this kingdom and give you half. Now you shall have none of it. Leave here at once; you are no longer my son."

So Dymon left home, took the traveling name Clay, and became a raftsman and ferryman on the river. As he poled he sang this song:

I'd sell my hat, I'd sell my coat,

To buy myself a little flat boat.

Down the river we will float,

Come bibble in the boo shy lorie.

Shule, shule, shule a rune,

Shule a rack a shack, shule a tycoon,

Down the river, night and noon,

Come bibble in the boo shy lorie.

********

Now Una's two children, whom the old witch had given to peasants, grew up with no suspicion of their parentage. One was a boy the peasants named Zwolfus, and one a girl, named Zwika. When Zwika was fourteen years old, the old witch visited her as she was tending geese.

"Such a plain sight, a girl driving geese," the old witch said to her. "Who would suspect that you are the daughter of a King and a Queen, and heir to your choice of two kingdoms?"

"My mother and father are good honest people, but certainly not a Queen and a King," the girl replied, trying not to seem too interested.

"Here the truth is hidden from you," the witch said, "but in the kingdom to the east of the forest you would soon find out who you really are."

Zwika did not reply and let the witch go on her way. By the next morning she had decided to go to the kingdom in the east. She entrusted her geese to her brother Zwolfus, telling him nothing of what the witch had said; but Zwolfus had seen the two talking.

Walking east, Zwika soon came to the river with its ferry manned by the minister's younger son. Even before she could see his face clearly, she heard his song, and thought, "That is someone I could love, if my fate did not lie elsewhere." When he reached the shore, they looked at each other in silence, then looked away. Clay thought, "What would my father think, if I loved a peasant girl?" And Zwika thought, "What would my royal parents think, if their daughter loved a simple ferryman?"

By the time they reached the farther shore, they were singing the ferryman's song together. Clay said, "Maybe you will pass back this way again." Zwika said, "Maybe I will." But she continued walking deep into the forest, where she was soon lost.

As darkness fell, she saw the light of a fire ahead. Walking to it, she found a woman chanting by it. Zwika asked her, "Why are you chanting like that?" and the woman replied, "Words are power." And so began Zwika's apprenticeship to her own mother in the practice of witchcraft.

Her brother Zwolfus, meanwhile, went to the old witch and demanded to know what she had said to Zwika which had caused her to leave. The old witch ignored his question, saying instead, "Zwolfus. Poor Zwolfus, ill-fated Zwolfus. You will be the death of your father. Yes, it's true. Your father will die at your hands." Stunned, Zwolfus decided never to return home; instead, he drove his geese to the king's palace and became a servant of the royal household.

Now King Lazio, after his wife left to take up the practice of witchcraft, called himself a widower; but he would not marry again. He sent all of Una's brothers back to their kingdom, except the youngest, Benjamin, who still had a swan's wing in place of his left arm; and in Benjamin he placed all his love and trust. Presuming his children dead, Lazio made Benjamin his sole heir. Everyone else at the royal court treated Benjamin courteously but coldly, fearing him and suspecting him of witchcraft. So despite the love of the king, Benjamin's life was lonely.

Seeing Zwolfus's geese one day in the courtyard, Benjamin began talking softly to them; and they crowded around him, rubbing their heads against his legs. Zwolfus said in surprise, "They hiss at every other stranger they meet." Benjamin raised his wing and said, "Maybe I am not such a stranger to them. They remind me of my brothers when my brothers were swans." Such a statement required explanation; and by the time the explanation was finished, Zwolfus and Benjamin were friends.

Lazio did not approve of their friendship. He preferred to be Benjamin's only friend. Accusing Benjamin of neglecting him, he watched Benjamin more and smiled less. He almost entirely stopped talking to Benjamin, except to complain that they never talked together anymore.

Feeling that he was in a cage whose bars were growing ever closer, Benjamin decided to escape. One night he slipped out of the palace and ran to the woods in the east. He soon found his sister. Explaining King Lazio’s jealousy to her as Zwika sat nearby and listened, he asked his sister's advice.

"You have become everything to the king, and that is too much," she said. "He has lost me, his wife; and he has lost our little son and daughter, whom the witch gave to peasants. It would be better if Lazio could make those children his heirs, but we can never find them now."

Zwika said, "I had always heard that King Lazio’s children were dead. But if they were given to peasants--"

Benjamin looked at Zwika in surprise, and said, "You look so much like my sister at that age."

Zwika said, "Your friend Zwolfus is my brother. And the old witch told me that the peasants who raised me are not my real parents, but that I am the daughter of a King and a Queen, and heir to my choice of two kingdoms."

So they realized that Zwika had apprenticed herself to her own mother. As he left, Benjamin looked sadly at his sister, and said, "You said you would never be silent again. If a witch casts a spell in the woods and no one hears, has she broken her silence?"

Benjamin hurried back to tell the king that Zwolfus was his lost son, and that he should not be jealous of him, but give him the love that was his due.

In the few days Benjamin was gone from the palace, Lazio searched everywhere for him. In a rage, he accused Zwolfus of murdering Benjamin. Zwolfus escaped from the king into a tower of the palace, but the king pursued him. At the top of the tower, under the open sky, they struggled. The king fell from the top of the tower to the stone paving beneath. When Benjamin returned, the king had been dead only hours. In accordance with the king's decrees, Benjamin became the new king; and he declared Zwolfus his heir.

Clay's song is based on the folk song "Butternut Hill" or "Buttermilk Hill" (recorded by Peter, Paul and Mary as "Gone the Rainbow"), which is a descendant or cousin of the Irish song "Siúil a rún."

Next: the battle for Edwin's kingdom, and what happened afterward.

Copyright © 2022 Refugium; All Rights Reserved.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental. Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 
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Did you snuck in a little King Lear to the mix this story is made up  from?

The minister decided to test their education by commanding them to show how well they wrote. "Write an essay on how well you love me," he instructed the youths. "Twenty-five words or less."

Dymon wrote, "I love you neither more nor less than a son should. I love you like bread loves salt." The minister was not pleased with this answer. "What kind of answer is this? Cold and ungrateful, and then nonsensical. I had thought to divide this kingdom and give you half. Now you shall have none of it. Leave here at once; you are no longer my son."

 

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This chapter dipped into the Oedipus cycle. If you include the whole cycle, the final chapter will a bloody one.

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2 hours ago, frosenblum said:

This chapter dipped into the Oedipus cycle. If you include the whole cycle, the final chapter will a bloody one.

"Oh boy -- right again." --Laurie Anderson

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