Thindelina, or The Three Swans
It was once there were three sisters. The youngest was Thindelina and she bore the brunt of her sisters' cruelty and bad temper.
She was a lovely girl with a most pleasant disposition. She got along with everyone. This upset her sisters, especially the oldest one, greatly.
The oldest sister, Wrenda, thought it a great joke to scare Thindelina and make her cry. She did it almost every day.
"Thindy! Thindy! Carried off by the windy! Never seen again-dy!" And she laughed and laughed at the thought of the young girl being carried away forever.
The middle sister liked to get along with everyone, but found it trying. Because it was important to get along with Wrenda most of all, she joined in the cruelty and tormented her baby sister for fun.
One day Thindelina ran way to cry by herself underneath a great oak tree in the centre of forest. She sat down between its great gnarled roots and leaned back against the thick rough bark of the venerable tree's trunk.
An elf, disturbed by her crying, popped out of hole at the oak's base.
"Stop making that infernal racket," the elf demanded. "Can't you see I need my sleep?"
The girl sniffed hard and rubbed her eyes. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to harm your sleep."
"Never mind. Never mind." said the elf hopping about on one foot. "At least my foot's still sleeping."
He stopped hopping and began stomping. "Wake up. Wake up you silly thing." And he stomped and stomped until he wore a path in the moss.
"Now see what I've done. What I'd done do you see? A path in the moss from disturbing my sleep."
Thindelina rubbed her eyes some more and sniffed a few more times.
"Well, what've you got to say for yourself? Say anything for yourself, have you?"
"No." She didn't know what else to say. She'd already apologized. She'd learned if you had nothing to say you should get about not saying it.
"Not surprising. Not at all. Dull as a child we say," he glared up fixing his gaze on her eyes.
He threw himself on the ground in front of her. "Why do you come to my tree? Do you want something from me?"
The girl told the elf why she was at his tree and apologized once again for good measure.
"That's good. That's good. You've got some manners for a child, and a human one at that. You've awakened most of me from a sound sleep and I'd like to get back to it. What do you need to leave?"
She didn't understand what the little green fellow meant and said so.
He picked up an acorn shell and balanced it on his head.
"What do you mean what do I mean? Are you silly as well as dull? Put an acorn on your head. Then you'll understand."
She did as the elf said, but the small shell got lost in her thick blond curls.
"What to do with you? The girl can't wear an acorn shell without losing it. There's no reasoning with you. None at all. Do you need me to give you a present so you'll leave?"
Thindelina felt more lost with the conversation that she'd ever felt at the cruel hands of her sisters. She decided to not think about the question. It was too confusing. Instead she said, "Yes."
"Now we're going somewhere. Going somewhere finally," said the elf.
He jumped up on one of the oak roots and shook a finger at her.
"If you want to be happy this is what you'll do. You want to be happy do you?"
"Oh, yes, cried the girl.
"Thank you, said the elf. "If you are happy, then you won't be crying at my oak. I won't have that again. Not again. Not again. I won't have you crying here again."
"Three swans swim on a pond. Each has black feet but only one has a black beak. Get the shortest tail feather from the swan and put it in your hair. When a poor boy says hello you must give it to him."
The girl had an awful time with the directive.
She found many ponds with swans. One pond had too many, yet another too few, and the third pond had the right number but their beaks were black and only one had black feet.
"This is impossible," cried the girl.
"It's only impossible if you let it," came a voice behind her.
She turned to see a roan-coated fox lounging by the side of the path.
"We're you there all along, fox?"
"You walked right by me with out so much as a How-do-you -do," said the fox.
"I'm sorry," said the girl. As she said it she realized she's been saying she was sorry to every creature she'd met since she left home.
I must be the sorriest person ever, she thought.
"How do you do?"
"Better than you it would seem," said the fox who set about licking a paw as though he were all alone.
"What is so impossible?"
So the girl told the fox what the elf had said.
"I see," said the fox. "How does this make you happy?"
"I don't know," admitted the girl. "The elf told me. I believed him."
"Oh, my dear," said the fox in his smoothest voice. "I think the elf was trying to get rid of you. How about if I help you instead?"
"Why should you help me?" Thindelina was surprised at her tone and wanted immediately to apologize.
She was about to do just that when the fox said, "Bring me a swan for my dinner and I will grant you anything you want."
This did not seem right to the girl. A feather was one thing. A swan could get by. Granting a wish she hadn't even decided on wasn't worth it.
"No," said the girl. She was surprised by her firmness. She had never said no to anyone even her sisters when they were cruel to her.
"Suit yourself," said the fox who went back to licking his paw.
The girl continued walking through the forest until she came to a small clearing with a pond in the middle. Three swans glided over the surface of the water barely breaking a ripple.
The water was so clear she could see right to the bottom, and she could see they all had black feet.
She drew closer and closer until she was at the water's edge. The swans swam by her. Their feathers were immaculate, their necks held high in a majestic arch, and their eyes closed as though they were sleeping.
Of the three only the last swan had a black beak.
"If I can get a feather a poor boy will say 'hello,' she remembered.
She reached out as far as she could and tried to grasped a tail feather. But it was too far and she tumbled into the water.
The swans flapped their wings and chattered from the commotion. The last swan dived down toward the girl. He grabbed the arm of her dress in his beak and hauled her to shore.
She sputtered and panted and coughed.
"Are you all right, child?" asked the swan. "You've taken a terrible tumble."
"Thank you for saving me, swan."
The other two drew closer to the shore and asked her why she'd fallen into the pond.
The girl was embarrassed to admit she was trying to steal a feather. She done nothing but get into trouble since she'd run away to cry. Now she'd never get a chance to have a poor boy say hello so she could be happy.
She told her story and apologized over and over to the swan and thanked him again for saving her.
"I would give you as tail feather freely, child, but it won't do you a lick of good. The elf was lying to you to get rid of you. Poor boys will say hello to any they chose with no need of a feather to entice them. Is this what you really want?"
"No," said the girl
"What do you want?"
No one had ever asked her what she wanted, not even the elf, really. She had to think about it for a moment. But when she did her answer came right away.
"I want to be free of my sisters torment every day."
She told them about the threat of being carried away by the wind and how she feared it was true. She heard it every day. Their parents did not correct her sisters so it must be so.
The swans turn their delicate necks away from the girl to confer in privacy.
When they turned back the third swan said, "We will help you. Go home and wait for us. When your sisters torment you about the wind say this: Wind, wind, sail me away. I won't stay another day."
She made her way home. Her parents were happy to see her at first, but they were busy so left her in the charge of her older sisters.
No sooner were the parents about their work when the two older girls began their awful teasing.
Instead of crying Thumbelina stood her ground. She looked at her sisters and then at the sky and said what the swan told her to say.
The two sisters laughed at her, but soon three swans appeared above them. They glided down to where the girls were standing.
The lead swan reached out a wing. He picked Thindelina up and drew her to his side.
"You've time to say your good-byes if you like."
But the girl remained quiet.
The swans circled around once about the two girls and then flew away never to be seen again.
When the parents came in from their chores they asked their daughters about Thindelina.
"Did she run off crying again?" asked their mother.
"No," the girls said. "The wind came up and carried her off."
"Well," said the mother. "You warned her."
The swans carried Thindelina away to their favourite pond deep in the forest.
She was cared for and happy all her days.
She never saw her sisters again and never once in all her life did she fear the wind would carry her away.