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The Big Poor People

They rose up into the air and flew away and out of sight into the sky. Then the King and his people, and Lir and his people, went back to their castles, and they never saw the four white swans again.

"The four white swans flew to Loch Derg, and there for many years they swam on the lake, and fed and slept among the rushes along the shores. In the summer the lake was pleasant and cool, the air was clear and mild, the sky was blue, and the sun was bright and beautiful. Then Fair-shoulder and her brothers forgot that they were unhappy. They sang songs to one another and scarcely remembered that they had ever been anything but swans, swimming on this peaceful water. But when the winter came and the ice was all around, and the wind from the north blew the snow against them, so that it froze among their feathers and they could scarcely move, they were so stiff and so cold—then they remembered how happy they had been in their father's castle. They could not sing now—not even sad songs. They only longed to have their human shape again and to be back in their old home.

"But after many, many years more had passed they ceased to wish for home. They had been swans so long now that it did not seem to them that they had ever been anything else. When the winter came again and again and again, and the days of chilling storm and the nights of freezing darkness were upon them, the poor brothers longed for nothing but the end of it all. The thought of the old castle hall, with its bright fires and its feasts and its music of minstrels and its dances and its games, was only another pain to them, and they wished only to die and to leave their sorrows.

"Then they crowded close together, to be as warm as they could, and Fair-shoulder tried to spread her wings over her brothers, to keep the storm from them. She tried to comfort them, and she told them again and again the story that she had heard from the people who stood by the lake to hear them sing, the story that the King had told, that, after many hundreds of years, strange men should come across the sea to Erin—men with shaven heads; that they should build houses and set up tables in the east ends of their houses, and that they should ring bells; and when the swans should hear the first sound of those bells they should have their human shape again, and then they should be happy forever.

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