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Main > Native American folktales > Fairy tale "The Red Swan"

The Red Swan

They were to shoot no other beast or bird than such as each was in the habit of killing.

They set out on different paths. Maidwa, the youngest, had not gone far before he saw a bear, an animal he was not to kill, by the agreement. He, however, followed him closely, and driving an arrow through and through him, he brought him to the ground.

Although contrary to the engagement with his brothers, Maidwa commenced skinning him, when suddenly something red tinged the air all around him. He rubbed his eyes, thinking he was perhaps deceived; but rub as hard as he would, the red hue still crimsoned the air, and tinged every object that he looked on—the tree-tops, the river that flowed, and the deer that glided away along the edge of the forest—with its delicate splendor.

As he stood musing on this fairy spectacle, a strange noise came to his ear from a distance. At first it seemed like a human voice. After following the sound he reached the shore of a lake. Floating at a distance upon its waters sat a most beautiful Red Swan, whose plumage glittered in the sun, and when it lifted up its neck, it uttered the peculiar tone he had heard. He was within long bow-shot, and, drawing the arrow to his ear, he took a careful aim and discharged the shaft. It took no effect. The beautiful bird sat proudly on the water, still pouring forth its peculiar chant, and still spreading the radiance of its plumage far and wide, and lighting up the whole world, beneath the eye of Maidwa, with its ruby splendors.

He shot again and again, till his quiver was empty, for he longed to possess so glorious a creature. Still the swan did not spread its wings to fly, but, circling round and round, stretched its long neck and dipped its bill into the water, as if indifferent to mortal shafts.

Maidwa ran home, and bringing all the arrows in the lodge, shot them away. He then stood with his bow dropped at his side, lost in wonder, gazing at the beautiful bird.

While standing thus, with a heart beating more and more eagerly every moment for the possession of this fair swan, Maidwa remembered the saying of his elder brother, that in their deceased father's medicine-sack were three magic arrows; but his brother had not told Maidwa that their father, on his death-bed, which he alone had attended, had especially bequeathed the arrows to his youngest son, Maidwa, from whom they had been wrongfully kept.

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