Aarne–Thompson type 451: the brothers who were turned into birds by Erin Hardee

Six swans swimming.

She sits, stitching.

They don't say thank you anymore.

They did at the beginning,

Their voices still hoarse and squawking,

Newly come from human throats

No longer feathered but still

Swaggering, arrogant, preening.

One arm

Left, still shining, white,

Pinion, contour, bastard wing.

They ask her why she didn't finish.

The shirts were made of nettles.

But all that mattered was how they stung to wear

In those brief moments before the change.

What does one do with six princes,

Seven years as birds, their manners forgotten.

They squabble, fly south in the winter

Leaving her in colder climes.

How will he find a queen?

If only you had finished in time.

Still she sits, silent, stitching.


Erin Hardee is an American transplant who has called Scotland her home for the last 14 years. Primarily a novelist, she writes speculative fiction under the pen name MK Hardy with her cowriter and wife. She is an alumni of the Pitch Wars mentorship programme and now mentors aspiring queer authors in the QueeryFest programme.

Author's note

As an ecologist by training and a science communicator by trade, I have always been particularly fascinated with the way humans love to classify and label information. The urge to divide things and put them into increasingly smaller boxes seems to be entrenched deep within us, possibly as a survival mechanism leftover from having to make quick judgments about what's safe and what might harm us. The tendency even extends to things like folk stories and mythologies, which is why I love reading the Aarne–Thompson–Uther Index for inspiration for my poems. 'The Maiden Who Seeks Her Brothers' has many iterations in folklore all across the world; the theme specifically resonated with me as it speaks to the sacrifices and assumptions made between women and the rest of society, which we still haven't escaped in the modern world.