The Yellow Fairy Book
The Six Swans
A king was once hunting in a great wood, and he hunted the game so eagerly
that none of his courtiers could follow him. When evening came on he stood still
and looked round him, and he saw that he had quite lost himself. He sought a
way out, but could find none. Then he saw an old woman with a shaking head
coming towards him; but she was a witch.
'Good woman,' he said to her, 'can you not show me the way out of the wood?'
'Oh, certainly, Sir King,' she replied, 'I can quite well do that, but on one
condition, which if you do not fulfil you will never get out of the wood, and will die
'What is the condition?' asked the King.
'I have a daughter,' said the old woman, 'who is so beautiful that she has not her
equal in the world, and is well fitted to be your wife; if you will make her lady-
queen I will show you the way out of the wood.'
The King in his anguish of mind consented, and the old woman led him to her
little house where her daughter was sitting by the fire. She received the King as if
she were expecting him, and he saw that she was certainly very beautiful; but
she did not please him, and he could not look at her without a secret feeling of
horror. As soon as he had lifted the maiden on to his horse the old woman
showed him the way, and the King reached his palace, where the wedding was
The King had already been married once, and had by his first wife seven
children, six boys and one girl, whom he loved more than anything in the world.
And now, because he was afraid that their stepmother might not treat them well
and might do them harm, he put them in a lonely castle that stood in the middle