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The swan's gift

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Anton was a husbandman living with his wife, Rubina, and their seven children on the edge of the forest. He was a tireless worker and they lived happily. But one spring the rains did not fall and the wheat died in the fields.

When winter came, the family’s provisions became increasingly scarce. Soon Anton’s shoulders were hunched with concern and Rubina’s healthy face had languished. Even their children stopped singing, laughing and dancing because they were hungry.

Every day the man went hunting, but always returned without firing a shot. And every day the woman would add water to the onion soup until there was no soup left. When Anton saw his family crying with hunger, he also felt like crying. But he took the gun and set off into the woods, though it was dark night.

I had to find something to eat, bird or rabbit. But in the black branches there were no birds and no rabbits could be glimpsed in the frosty woods. Only Anton’s footprints were visible. At one point it reached a hill. He knew he didn’t have much strength left: his feet were freezing and he could barely breathe. He paused to rest at the top, scanning the snow for animal tracks.

Desperate, he was about to leave when he saw a lake that had not yet completely frozen. In the center of the lake swam a swan of such beauty that the man could not look away from him. Its straight white feathers gleamed in the dark water, and as Anton watched the swan seemed to grow.

Suddenly the man began to salivate at the thought of the animal’s succulent roast meat. I could see the faces of the children shining again as they sat at the table to eat. He raised his gun and aimed the barrel. He put his finger on the trigger. The swan seemed to be looking at him, waiting to hear the shot that would kill him. But Anton lowered the gun. The swan was the most wonderful creature he had ever seen! Watching him, he saw the animal fanning its wings, as if to embrace the night. Anton closed his eyes and thought of his family. And again he raised his weapon.

It seemed like hours had passed. The feathers on the swan’s chest moved with every beat of his heart and the man felt his own heart beating. He lifted his tired wet feet, took a few strides, and dropped to his knees.

“I can’t,” he confessed.

– And why not? Asked a voice, soft as feathers fluttering in the breeze.

– Because I can’t kill the beauty. If I kill this swan, my family has to eat for one or two meals. But then we will be hungry again and his death will have been in vain.

Anton was too tired to be surprised to be talking to the swan or the wind. He was also too tired to return home. He dropped his head in pity for the family. With a shout the swan lifted its wings, rose from the lake and flew around the man. Water began to fall from the wing feathers. When the water touched the snow, it turned to crystals that shone in the moonlight. Anton took one and saw that it was harder than ice but not melting in the heat of his hand.

– A diamond! He exclaimed.

He quickly picked up all the diamonds lying in a circle around him. He filled his pockets and headed for a neighboring village.

He no longer felt tired. It was no longer cold. He woke up the innkeeper with a shout.

– I need food.

“Your crops have been damaged,” the innkeeper said. – Everyone knows you have no money.

– I have a diamond.

“And where would I get a poor woman like you a diamond?” Scoffed the man.

– Let me in, I’ll explain it to you.

The innkeeper served him cold pheasant and sweet pies while Anton told him what had happened. The innkeeper’s wife got him a sled with roasted chickens, cheese, onions, and turnips. Then they said goodbye to him and went looking for the magic swan.

Rubina opened the door to her husband.

– Did you find any game? Mischa passed out.

– No, I didn’t find it, but I brought this. And showed him the contents of the sleigh.

– How did you do it? Asked Rubina.

In response, Anton scattered the diamonds on the table.

– So now you thief! Exclaimed the woman.

– No, I didn’t steal it.

And she told him what had happened to the swan and how it had given her the diamonds.

Although it was nighttime, Anton and Rubina woke up the children and all sat at the table eating slowly, savoring the taste of food and the wonderful sensation of a full stomach. Rubina’s dark eyes sparkled as she filled the children’s bowls. Anton regained his strength and his sons sighed with contentment as they returned to their beds. Anton, Rubina and their children prospered because they knew how to use diamonds wisely. And many went in search of the magic swan. But no one else ever found him…

Sometimes, when Anton was alone in the woods, the image of the swan came to mind: he saw again the brightness of its feathers, the coral tone of its beak and the magnificent carriage of its wings as it glided silently across the sky. Brenda Seabrooke The Swan’s Gift London, Walker Books, 1995 (Translation and Adaptation)

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