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The Twelve Wild Ducks

She began to build up the fire.

Soon she heard something flapping and whirling in the air, and she slipped behind the door. Twelve ducks approached the doorway of the little house, but as soon as they crossed the threshold they become young men, each one dressed as a prince.

"Oh, how nice and warm it is here!" said the youngest prince. "Who would have been so kind as to build the fire?"

"Yes, who?" they all echoed, and they searched until they found the lassie behind the door.

She threw her arms around their necks and said, "I'm your little sister! I''ve traveled for three years seeking you. If I could do anything to set you free, I'd give my life!"

All the brothers looked at one another. They sighed, and sadly shook their heads.

"There is a way, but it is too hard," said the eldest prince.

"Oh, do tell me, please!" said the Princess. "Whatever must be done, I will do it."

She begged and pleaded until finally the eldest brother said, "Very well then, if you must know the way, then this is it: You must pick thistledown, and you must card it, and spin it, and weave it into cloth. From the cloth you must make twelve shirts, one for each of us. But the entire time while you work on that, you must neither talk, nor laugh, nor weep. If you can do this, we will be set free!"

"Wherever shall I ever get enough thistledown for so many shirts?" asked the sister.

"Well, that's the hardest part of all," said the youngest brother with a sigh. "You must go to the witches' moor at midnight and gather it there." Big tears stood in his eyes. "And you must go alone. All alone."

The sister said nothing, and nodded her head. When midnight came and the moon was high in the sky, she kissed her brothers goodbye and went to the great, wide moor where the witches lived. A great crop of thistles stood there, all nodding in the breeze, while the thistledown atop the plant floated and glistened through the moonbeams.

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