Once upon a time, there lived a little girl named Eliza, who was the King’s only little princess. The Queen had passed away when Eliza was born, however she had a kind father and eleven older brothers to look after her. When her brothers left for school, Eliza looked at lovely picture books, or enjoyed swallows swoop past. She could not have been happier.
Then, one bitterly cold winter season, the King married once again. His new spouse was tall and stylish, and everyone applauded her. But she had a dark secret. The new Queen was a witch!
The Queen disliked the King’s kids, and she determined to get rid of them. She spent her days alone inside the palace, patting her warty pet toads, and daydreaming up spiteful spells.
A week later, the princes came palace from school to find the Queen blocking their way. “You’re not wanted here, ” she shouted. “Fly away just like wild swans! “
The horrified princes started to sprout white feathers. One by one, they changed into swans and flew out to sea. The Queen went inside and informed the King the princes had run away. Now there was just Eliza…
The Queen didn’t dare cast one more spell in case the King grew skeptical. But , as the many years passed, Eliza grew so gorgeous that the Queen could bear her envy no more. One night, she secretly dropped her toads directly into Eliza’s bath and whispered some magic words.
Eliza was too good to be captivated by such an wicked spell. When she entered into the bath tub, the toads turned into flowers. Their red petals floated gently on the water.
The Queen was mad. She needed a new strategy.
When Eliza finished her shower, the Queen made her sit down, away from the mirror. Then she easily wiped Eliza’s face with walnut juice, and tangled her tresses while pretending to brush it.
Now Eliza looked not like her beautiful self. Her father did not even identify her. “Who let this crazy creature in? ” he yelled. “Take it away! ” The guards tried to catch her.
Eliza slipped between them and ran outside the palace, sobbing. She ran to the forest to hide.
Eliza came through the forest till she found a lake. She knelt down and cleaned her face with the cool, fresh water.
As the sun set, Eliza searched around to find out where she might spend the night. Something in the long distance captured her eye. A group of swans was flying over the trees.
They shook their wings and, to Eliza’s astonishment, in place of swans, her brothers stood before her. Eliza was overjoyed. When they had all finished hugging, Prince Julian shared with her exactly what had happened.
“The Queen’s spell converted us into swans, ” he explained, “but we become human again during the night. Tomorrow, we must fly back to our new home. ” “I’m coming with you, ” Eliza decided.
Eliza and her brothers spent all night weaving a net of rushes, so the swans could carry her. As the sun rose, the swans lifted Eliza into the air and they flew far over the seashore.
As dusk fell, they landed. Yet again, the swans shed their feathers. “This is our home now, ” Julian told Eliza, showing her a cave carpeted with soft, green grass.
In the dream, a lovely fairy made an appearance just before her. “Eliza, ” she said. “You can save your brothers from the Queen’s spell. You must make each one a shirt of nettles. When they wear the shirts, the spell will be broken. “
“But you must make the shirts in silence, ” the fairy warned. “If you discuss a word before the spell is ended, your brothers will die. ” Eliza reached out to touch a nettle. It stung her fingers — and she got up.
The following day, Eliza set to work. She plucked huge bags of nettles, and began to weave them together. They stung her fingers, but she didn’t make a noise.
By evening, her fingers were covered in blisters, but Eliza did not mind. She had almost completed the first shirt.
When the princes saw her weaving, they knew what Eliza was trying to do. They thanked her, but she could not reply. Prince Jasper wept to see her fingers. Wherever his tears touched her skin, it healed immediately.
The very next day, Eliza set off to pick some more nettles, and halted in an overgrown churchyard. “What is your name? ” called a voice from behind her.
Eliza spun around, to see a good looking king looking at her. “What are you doing inside my grounds? ” the King asked her. “And why are you picking nettles? ” But Eliza could not reply.
“She can’t talk, ” the King realized. “Come back to my palace, ” he said softly, “and I’ll take care of you. ” Eliza shook her head, but it was no good. The King led her through his backyards and into his huge palace.
In a short time, the King was in love with the strange, quiet girl. When she spent throughout the day weaving nettles, he offered her soft gloves to cover her blistered fingers. And his kindness made Eliza love him in return. Soon the King had made up his mind. “Will you marry me? ” he asked Eliza. She smiled and nodded.
The King summoned his Archbishop. “I’m engaged and getting married, ” he told him. The Archbishop threw up his hands in horror. He thought Eliza must have been a witch. “You barely know the girl! ” he cried. “I don’t care, ” said the King. “I’ll marry her anyway. “
Meanwhile, Eliza wove busily. By the previous night the wedding ceremony, she had made ten shirts. “I’ll complete the last one tonight, ” she thought cheerfully.
As she began the final shirt, she noticed she required more nettles. “I’ll just need to go and pick some, ” she decided.
Outside, it was so dark she could hardly see the graveyard. She shivered. “There’s no such thing as ghouls or ghosts! ” she told herself fearlessly.
The Archbishop was still awake, worrying about the wedding ceremony. He saw Eliza slip out and decided to follow her. “Only a witch would pick nettles at midnight, ” he told himself.
When Eliza began roaming among the tombstones, he decided he had witnessed enough.
“Stop, witch! ” he cried. His shout brought the palace guards running. On his orders, they arrested Eliza and threw her into jail.
The next day, rather than wedding, there was a trial. Eliza was brought before the judge in chains. “I saw her picking nettles in the graveyard at nighttime, ” the Archbishop cried. “She must be a witch! “
“Well, what do you say to that? ” the judge questioned Eliza. But she wouldn’t speak to defend herself.
The judge frowned. “The girl is a witch. She will be executed tomorrow. ” The King was heartbroken, but there was clearly nothing he could do.
Eliza was placed into a small imprisonment cell and her shirts were thrown in after her. “I’d almost finished them, ” she thought anxiously, “but now I will never ever see my brothers yet again! ” She felt complete miserable.
All of a sudden, something fluttered against the window. Eliza looked up – and noticed Jasper looking back at her. She held up the shirts so Jasper could see them. He bowed his head and then travelled away.
“I should not give up, ” Eliza told herself. She spent all night weaving cloth the last shirt. At dawn, there was just one sleeve left to make. And then she ran out of nettles.
Minutes later, there was a bang on the door. The guards had come to take her away. They led her outside, still clutching the shirts.
A huge crowd had gathered to see the execution. Before it could start, there was a shocked murmur and people started pointing at the sky. Eleven white swans were traveling closer and closer.
The swans swooped down. One by one, they swept past Eliza, so she could toss the shirts over them. The crowd gasped.
There was a twinkling in the air after which, rather than the swans, eleven young men stood next to Eliza.
“Oh Jasper, ” cried Eliza, “you’ve still got a swan’s wing! ” “I don’t mind, ” he reacted, giving her a big, feathery hug.
Then the King spoke. “I don’t know what’s happening here, ” he said, “but perhaps you can explaine to me at the wedding feast… “
“… if you still want to marry me? ” he continued, turning shyly to Eliza. “Oh yes! ” said Eliza, smiling. “And there will not be any witches at this wedding ceremony – I promise. “
At the same time, Eliza’s chains changed into white flowers and fell to the ground. The spell was finally broken — and Eliza could speak. Then they lived happily ever after.