Photo courtesy Sue Vincent
After a long and tiring hike, I stopped for a little breather in a small but beautiful grove. The sun was shining in its full glory, and the chirping of colorful birds of various shapes and sizes soon lulled me to sleep.
Flitting in and out of a fitful slumber, I suddenly thought I heard a voice speak up in my ear, “Help!”
Attributing it to a dream, I ignored it, but the voice became more insistent, and was now joined by two other voices, “Help us, help us please.”
I woke up with a start. “That was a pretty weird dream,” I thought to myself.
But then, I heard them again, the voices. I looked around suspiciously, but there was not a living soul in sight.
But the voices just would not stop.
Afraid that I was about to go mad, I got up and started investigating the surrounding areas.
It was then that I saw it. An ominous looking slab of stone, with a large iron bell on top, and sketches of three swans in its centre. It looked like a shrine of some kind, but to no God that I had ever heard of.
But, most importantly, no sign of any living being in distress.
I was just about to give up the search when I heard the voices again, much louder this time. “Thank God you finally found us,” said the three voices in unison. “I have?” I asked aloud hesitatingly, for I could not for the life of me locate the source of the voices.
“Of course, we are the three swans in this shrine,” said the voices.
“Don’t be silly,” I said in my most practical tone, “Pictures or stones can’t speak.”
“Oh really,” the voices piped in, “So how come we are talking to you?”
That had me stumped, for I really could not see anyone else there at all.
The voices now continued, “We are three sisters, three princesses, the only daughters of the Swan King. Our father is the guardian of a vast hoard of pearls that have been collected by swans over generations. Centuries ago, a wicked witch imprisoned us by deceit and tried to force us to reveal the secret location of the pearls, but we refused. So now, we are trapped here, till the time we agree to do her bidding.”
By the time they ended their stories, they had broken down completely and all three sisters were now crying plaintively. As I sat listening to their story, I felt my resolve strengthening. I knew I had to do something to get them out of the stone slab.
“How can I help you,” I asked them with steely determination.
“Well,” said the eldest sister, “you will have to kill the wicked witch, and then ring this bell three times, and the curse will lift automatically.”
That put a slight dent in my steely determination and strong resolve.
” I will have to…WHAT?” I cried out.
The middle sister now spoke up, “Don’t worry, it is not as difficult as you think. The witch is old and brittle. One swing of your sword and she will lose her head.”
“But I don’t have a sword,” I replied, pointing out a potential source of spanner in the works.
“Then just use your walking stick to bash her head in,” said the youngest sister, “she would be asleep in her home right now, just a couple of miles from here.”
I gulped nervously, but then, called upon my legendary strong resolve and steely determination to back me up one more time.
And then, I set off to kill the wicked witch.
I will not bore you with the gory details of the actual encounter, primarily because the wicked witch died of a heart attack as soon as she heard my knock on her door. Her nerves would have been frayed beyond repair indeed.
I quickly rushed back to the shrine, and without much ado, rang the bell once, twice, thrice.
And lo and behold, the chalk figures of swans disappeared from the shrine, and standing before me were three of the most graceful, most exquisite, most beautiful swans that you would have ever seen.
They bowed their heads before me, and in one voice, said, “Thank you for rescuing us, O kind traveler, if you need any boon, ask, and our father will be more than delighted to give it to you.”
“How about the hoard of pearls,” I said as I threw a sack over the three of them and bound them tight. “The witch had the right idea, but she stupidly tried to get you to reveal the treasure’s location. I will just send your father parts of your bodies every day till he breaks down and gives me the treasure himself. So, who should I start with? Whom does he love the most?”