A mean Old Witch surprised 10 brothers who were robbing her favorite, raspberry bushes.
“Away with you!!” The Old Witch shouted swinging her broom in a wide, sweeping gesture towards the 10 brothers. Poking the air with her broom handle she walked slowly at The Brothers who were packed together and backed up to the lake with no path of escape!
It was just then that the smallest whispered nervously, “We need wings”.
“Why, yes! You do need wings!” The Mean Old Witch laughed (startling everyone!) then catching each Brother’s eyes she said, “Fly Away!”Then added, “Go now! Get out of my garden!” Within seconds all 10 brothers lifted off into the sky on strong, white wings!.“Now SHOO!!”, the mean Old Witch yelled, sweeping the 10 White Swans away with her broom.
A small sparrow, hiding nearby, saw what just happened and swooped down to snatch a straw from the Mean Old Witch’s broom and quickly flew away after the 10 White Swans.
The brothers were the same inside and remembered what happened with the Mean Old Witch and being taken over by these great, white wings. They looked around at each other not recognizing who was who. Seeing only other swans all anxious to go home.
”What is this ruckus?” Sister yelled as she came through the threshold. (A solid, wooden spoon in her hand!) She was greeted by the sight of 10 White Swans racing toward her! Honking all at once! “Where did you come from? What are you here for?” Sister eagerly questioned. “Your’s is certainly an important matter!.” One of the 10 White Swans stepped forward, unchallenged. It tried to gesture who they were and what had happened with the mean Old Witch. But his new wings were awkward and his voice was unable to tell her the tale. So they just stared blankly at each other!
In the sudden silence the tiny sparrow few up with the single straw it had plucked from the mean Old Witch’s broom. Sister looked at the piece of straw and looked up at all 10 of the eager White Swans. Suddenly she knew the truth. “You are my 10 brothers turned to swans by some Witchcraft?”
“Yes!” They all began honking again at once.
“Then I must leave at once for the Mean Old Witch and beg to learn a cure for this feathered spell!”
After a short journey, and a very long wait the Mean Old Witch finally agreed to see Sister who was led to the same garden where the boys had been caught at the blackberry bushes.
“I know what you want!” the Mean Old Witch snarled.” What makes you think I will give it to you?”
“ I will pay you with my work.” Sister said, “I am young but I am very skilled at knitting.”
“ A skill useless to me!” said the Mean Old Witch. “No! Wait! Let me think… YES! I do need something from you. I want you to knit 10 shirts. One for each of your thieving brothers. When those pesky white birds are covered with these shirts the spell will be broken and swans no more they’ll be.” Sister was so relieved by the Mean Old Witch’s easy demand that she hinted at a smile as she turned to go, thinking, “I can knit up 10 shirts in a week!”
The Mean Old Witch had just seen her frightened face change to hope. She stopped speaking for a moment. Then she added cruelly, “…and since this thievery is about my raspberries you will knit each shirt from the raspberry branches.” Sister’s head dropped. There was no question she would do this to save her brothers. “I will work slowly.” She thought, and use care handling the sharp thorny branches and then, letting my hands heal between each shirt.”
Watching her thoughts the Mean Old Witch added, …and my 10 shirts must be completed by the next full moon midnight, or all remains as it is!”
Sister shared the story of today’s visit with The 10 Swan Brothers. (They could hear but could not talk.) They each knew they would remain 10 White Swans forever without their Sister’s sacrifice. Which it was decided was the only possible path. Sister went each day to gather raspberry branches and then she’d knit furiously at night. It was just hours before Sister’s hands were bleeding from the prick of raspberry thorns and she hadn’t even finished one shirt yet,
The 10 White Swans perched helplessly near Sister as she worked on the crude, cursed shirts.
Pained swans’ eyes watched as she let the thorns rip at her young hands and fingers! Her brothers flew above her as she visited the raspberry bushes, day after day, and carried back the thin, thorny branches. The full moon was coming fast and she had only 9 shirts done completely. 10 White Swans never left her as she worked frantically on the last shirt. As evening fell on the full moon… still Sister knitted! She had one last sleeve to finish. They all heard the bells toll 11:00 pm still Sister knitted on the sleeve as the moments quickly slid towards 12: pm.
Appearing in a thin, sulphury vapor the Mean Old Witch suddenly appeared in the garden. “Midnight’s toll approaches, she called out, “You there! Child!” Is my delivery ready?”( Sister wanted to take her bloody, swollen, thorn-torn fingers and put them before the witch’s runny eyes and say, “Could a child do this?”)
As Sister gathered the pile of finished shirts. She suddenly thought of the final shirt that she was still knitting! The one with an unfinished sleeve. “I will be one shirt sleeve short! Sister panicked! Maybe she won’t notice., I’ll put it near the bottom. “To what purpose are these painfully-crafted, thorny shirts to you?” Sister dared to ask the Mean Old Witch.
“They are nothing to me but everything to you.” The thorny shirts must be put one each on your precious flock. Just as the clock strikes midnight! Not before, not after! Only while the bell tolls 12 times! Only then will the ‘Swan Spell’ be lifted.” The old Witch smirked.
When the clocktower bell tolled once, Sister, her arms full of thorny shirts, raced towards the White Swans. Dressing a swan, (even a willing one) is no easy trick but by 9 gongs into the midnight bells, Sister had all 10 White Swans covered in their thorny, raspberry-branch shirts. Actually, they were all covered except one Swan who was wearing the shirt with the unfinished sleeve. The last shirt sleeve that she had worked feverously was finally finished. The shirt was done but for the sleeve. “But where is that final sleeve? I just finished it and set it down for a moment… But where? She couldn’t remember. “Maybe there was still time to sew it on?
That was 9 gongs before midnight. “Just three more gongs and it begins! Maybe I can pin the sleeve on somehow surely that would count for something?” If I could only just find it. All 10 brother/swans were herded down near the raspberry bushes when the final midnight toll….tolled and the spell began to ease its thorny grasp. The brothers choked on the smoke as the White Swans’ Wings burned away from their human bodies.
“I’ll have a word with you. Look, child! ” Said the Mean Old Witch taking Sister’s attention. “See? Right there where part of my order seems to be missing. Sister knew at once it was about the unfinished sleeve of that last, thorny shirt. She should have known she couldn’t hide it!
The Mean Old Witch pulled at something from under her heavy cloak and out came the missing prickly, raspberry-branch, shirt sleeve. (She had picked it up from where Sister had briefly laid it down.) ”I paid for 10 complete shirts. She twirled yarn between her fingers looking dazzled by the thorny sleeve. “It is a pretty thing. I think I’ll keep it. A Sleeve for a Sleeve!” She cackled hilariously and vanished off into a smelly, cloud of exhaust.
“A sleeve for a sleeve!” What does it mean? Sister panicked and ran at her brothers who were gathered around the eldest. The brothers parted and Sister gasped out loud. There was her eldest brother same as ever except where his left arm (left uncovered by the missing sleeve) should have been, was a great white swan’s wing. Sister reheard the Mean Old Witch’s final words, “A Sleeve for a Sleeve!” #