Swan Song by Caroline Sidney is our other January Contest Winner! Congratulations! Her story is short at only 4400 words yet her character, Odette speaks in an amazingly unique voice. It is such a great retelling of a woman kidnapped yet finding power in life outside of her medieval culture and situation. Based on Swan Lake, the ballet, Caroline has created a sense of urgency in her story as readers feel a looming choice or conflict with this happily empowered woman.
Caroline is a native of southeastern Kentucky, where she lives with her husband, three cats, two dogs, and plants in various stages of dying. She enjoys irreverent cross-stitching, baking, and good storytelling in all forms. Find her at @carolineesidney on Twitter. Her poems, “Night Creatures,” “Traveling by Lightning,” and “Wind Chimes” were published in The Write Launch in January 2020.
This following story will be featured in our 2020 collection of short stories. If you'd like to still enter a dark retelling of a folktale, myth or fairy tale there is still time. Whether short story, art or poetry, you can submit for our upcoming collection in paperback and ebook. Or enter our short sci fi contest too.
"If I become a swan again, it will be
with power I find myself."
My old name meant “little song,” and I always hated that. It’s the name version of an older woman patting you on the head when you’re too old to have to put up with such touches but still young enough to be patronized in that particular way. I want to scream at them. I am not a child to be patted. I am not a song to be enjoyed. I am not Such A Nice Girl with Beautiful Hair.
I actually liked my hair, which is all that kept me from taking my sewing scissors to it in my old life. But I don’t need to scream as much now that I’m allowed to. Now that my bird-like voice is my reality and not some inane attempt at poetry. Now that my battle cry is closer to a goose’s than a lark’s. Listen to this “little song,” ladies. Pat my head and call me beautiful. I dare you.
Swans bite, which is one of my favorite parts of my transformation.
Another prince comes, more determined than the last two but never as determined as the first. I beg the baron to just make our land impossible to find, but part of the fun of it for him is being found. He likes to play the villain. He likes the notoriety it gains him in certain sorcerers’ minds. It gains him enough fame to keep his prices high, and as he reminds me, maintaining a magical kingdom and seven enchanted maidens isn’t cheap. Especially when we have a taste for the rare and beautiful, he reminded me with a smirk.
I know he’s talking about the grimoire he hunted down for me last month, but I am
unrepentant. I’ve never been more in love before than I am with that book. I glare at him in the moonlight, thinking of the other transformations I’ve mastered lately. Frogs are another classic. I transform into my swan form, honk in his face, and leave a wet turd by his feet before I flap off for a paddle in the lake with my sisters.
Certain things can be expressed better in this form, especially since they tried their best to teach me to express nothing as a human girl. The baron laughs, and his rich voice rolls over me with mirth. I might laugh with him if I weren’t a swan now, just because I could. I swing wildly from emotion to emotion these days, and I
love that. I love all the things that are forbidden to beautiful princesses but aren’t forbidden to beautiful enchanted princesses who are never going home.
Above all, I love the magic I’ve learned these past seven years.
The first time I was transformed, I was frightened. Who wouldn’t be? Some of the girls never quite get over it, and we always let them be rescued. True love’s kiss is the best lie sorcerers ever invented. Even the powerful need to set up loopholes sometimes, or be trapped forever with weepy saps that make your life a drag.
The second time, I paid attention. It hurts when your bones begin to reshape you into something new, but it is also utterly fascinating. It’s magic.
And I wanted it more than I had ever wanted anything. So much that I thought maybe I hadn’t actually ever wanted anything before. I still don’t know if that’s true or not. My previous life seems like a faded tapestry. Someone set it on fire, maybe, but then I got to hang a new one in that spot. Something different, with brighter colors.
The hero from that old tapestry was a bit of a problem. Something dull and tiresome that escaped into my new colorful world, like a smudge of dirt against golden thread. Siegfried. A dumb name. I imagined spending the rest my life saying that name and felt tears prickle at the thought of such dullness. It sounded like becoming a woman who would enjoy embroidering pillows for him to
ignore, or maybe even to use but also drool on in his sleep. It sounded like a woman who would never be allowed to go for long rides through the forest, who would have to sit primly in a chair with her legs closed for the rest of her life, who would always have to worry about the health of her reproductive organs and never her mental health.
Siegfried thought he was my hero, but he had no idea in that tiny brain of his that coming home with him after this adventure would kill me faster than anything. He thought I was in danger here, when this place is the safest place for someone who turned out to be an enchanted beast at heart, as well. The only thing you can do with a swan you bring home is eat it and then stuff it. I refused to be consumed.
I refused to relinquish my skies.
So the baron and I concocted a plan. We had her consent, of course. With her beautiful, waving hair the color of white gold and cerulean eyes, she was as enchanting as she was already enchanted. Not that I’m shabby, but she had an otherworldliness to her that I either lack entirely or have lost in this lake. Her name was Evelyn, but I gladly gave her mine. It wasn’t even a thing to
hesitate about. When Siegfried laid eyes on us first, we were swans drifting on the waters, waiting for the kiss of the moon. We put a tiny golden crown around Evelyn-now-Odette’s neck, so he would know right away which one to pay attention to. Stupid, stupid man.
And to spout such trite to her when she transformed, about how she was even more beautiful than he remembered. With my memories, she did a good show of being the enchanted me. Long lost childhood sweethearts, separated by an evil sorcerer and all that. Evelyn gladly gave away all her past – the creepy uncle, the absent parents, the tiny, poor kingdom that didn’t even survive the year she was
with us. Her uncle had sold it to the highest bidder as soon as she was gone. So Evelyn really had nothing to lose, and she wanted something of her own to possess. I was glad to give her what little I had left, trade it for a new name and a new life.
The baron threatened, and pretended, and generally put on a good show while the rest of us shrank into the background. And do you know, that asshole Siegfried never once considered freeing the other swan maidens? He had his Swan Queen, and that’s all that mattered. I stood in the back row with my new black hair and pretended to be happy for them, while I seethed.
We’ve played this bit of theater a few times over the years since, and every rescuer so far has been just as narrow-sighted. None of them look twice at anyone but their preferred set of ovaries. It infuriates me. It doesn’t matter that most of us don’t want to be rescued; it’s the principle of the thing. Sometimes I think I would go home with the first one that proved me wrong and tried to rescue all of us, but I know I wouldn’t last long. I might enjoy being his sorceress, I muse, instead of his
wife. His sorceress could give him so much more than sons and fame, and he might not make her pay with the sky. But no one had ever offered.
The baron calls me back over to the shore. He tells me he trusts me to handle the prince and protect the others, and I am filled with pride and pleasure. He’s heading out on another trip and doesn’t see any reason to delay just because someone new is poking around. I transform back into a woman, clothing myself as I go in black pants and a long black suit coat that is shirt-length in the front, dress-length in the back. My dark hair sweeps itself into a braided crown with black feathers tucked into it behind my ears. The baron grins at me. I have a flair for the
dramatic, which is part of why we get along so well. He of all people understands it. He nods at me, the image of a sorceress who might keep maidens captive as swans, and hands me the reins of his protection spells. Then he transforms into a small hawk and flies away.
I turn. Face my sister-charges and call them close.....I decide to reveal myself to before the moon rises, curious what breed of hero-to-be we’ve
drawn this time. I step right in front of his hiding place before I drop the shadows and silence, and revel a little in his startled yeep and the way he falls flat on his back.
“What brings you here?” I ask.
Read the end of the story in our upcoming collection!