swan in fog in front of old buildings
Photo by Simon Berger on Unsplash

Eleven Swans by Kendra Recht

I. The Boy

When you were a boy you sat on your father’s throne, thinking about what it would be like to wear his crown. You held a scepter that was too tall, too gold, too heavy, and you wore a circlet your sister made of dandelions and daisies. Your brothers know their place and they pretend to be knights, playing out their duty to protect you.

Being almost king suits you.

II. The Girl

You are the apple of your father’s eye, the joy of your brother’s hearts. You are a shining white light in the darkness, a dove in a flock of ravens. Your delicate fingers pinch off flowers to tie into chains for your brothers and you ignore the inexplicable impulse to wrap them all in thorns. Everyone says you’re beautiful, and you know that you are. When you look into the mirror and you see your long lashes and full lips and golden curls you know one day every man will fall on his knees and beg to marry you, and every girl will stare daggers at your back. It won’t matter. You’re good and graceful and righteous and kind, and you deserve it all.

III. The Queen

You have a smile of gold, a heart of ice, and eyes that glitter like diamonds. You know your worth. You also know theirs. It’s less than the baby growing inside you.

“You’re just like me,” you say to your stepdaughter as she, horrified, watches her siblings change. “That’s punishment enough.”

IV. The Swans

When you were a boy, you thought about what it would be like to wear your father’s crown. Feathers replace it, soft and heavy on your head. Without a thought you leap from the window, leading your brothers to almost certain death, but your wings open of their own volition. Behind you ten other swans, one by one, pour from the tower into the great blue sky. You mean to cry something, but it comes out as a strangled squawk. You think you hear the queen laughing or maybe your sister crying, but it doesn’t matter now.

V. The Faeries

You find them while walking in the woods one days, the faeries. They’re not beautiful like you’ve been told they are. They’re not like you. You brush your fingers through your long hair and they eye you, transfixed by the way it catches the dying light. They ask why you’re so sad, why you’re crying beside their pond.

“My brothers are no longer my brothers,” you say. “My stepmother has poisoned my father against me.” And you’re afraid, you say, that she’ll poison you for real.

“Run away,” the faeries say, but you’re too used to royal meals and silk gloves and down comforters to entertain the thought of dirt and thorns and tattered dresses.

“I just want my brothers back,” you say. You miss their kindness. You miss the praise they shower upon you. You miss the way they put you on a pedestal, the pedestal you deserve to be put on.

You’re so pretty that the faeries tell you how.

VI. Seven Years

Seven years is a long time to wait for anything. You and your brothers have escaped foxes, hunters, the cold, the rain. You, the swans, remember what it’s like to be able to speak and what it’s like to have hands that grasp and touch — what it’s like to be human. You’d give anything for that. The only crown that matters is your blond hair, and the memory of even that is fading.

You haven’t heard your brothers’ voices in seven years. You haven’t heard your sister’s, either.

VII. The Vow

Six years, eleven months, and thirty days. It’s a long time, but you are pure and you are good, and the faeries believed you could do it. Stay mute for seven years and you’ll save your brothers, the swans. Bite your tongue and they’ll be with you once more. Make a peep and they stay swans forever. Or maybe worse. The faeries weren’t very clear. Why should they be? They knew you could do it. You are good, after all, and you are pure. But you have not been reminded of your grace for a long, long time.

The swans have followed you for years, now, like a patient flock of sheep with bad tempers. They frighten away suitors. They make a mess everywhere and you can’t keep anything clean. Every day that passes by you see less and less of your brothers and more and more of the birds.

You are good, you are beautiful, and you are pure—or maybe that’s just what everyone has told you. You have blackness in your soul, shadowy tendrils creeping up your heart and tightening around your ribcage. Your heart is ice, your smile is gold, your eyes are diamonds, your voice is a match, and you set your swans aflame.


Kendra Recht is a lifelong writer who grew up in Northern New Jersey and is currently based in Quincy, Massachusetts. She earned her BFA in Writing, Literature, and Publishing from Emerson College, and has a virtual graveyard of unfinished novels that might one day reanimate themselves. In her spare time, Kendra can be found drinking entirely too much coffee, falling down Wikipedia rabbit holes, and playing fetch with her cat Lohse.