Once upon a time in the merry land of faeries there lived a king and a queen. They had two daughters, whom the parents doted upon. The eldest daughter was a tall, proud princess Verain. She was a master weaver of glamour and cloth-of-moonlight. Her gift of powerful magic had been given to her on her birthday by her faery godmother. The second daughter was called princess Jessamine, and she was a slender like a willow. She could dance with more grace than any other in the realm, and she was known to have many lovers. She had been blessed with beauty and grace upon her naming day.
The two princesses were vain, selfish creatures who had been pampered far too much by the king and queen. Neither one would submit to becoming married. The proud Verain was cruel to all the faeries who served her, and would kill her ladies-in-waiting at a moment’s irritation. And princess Jessamine had so many lovers that she was regarded unfit to marry any lord or prince of the realm.
Because parents can be blind to their children sometimes, it didn’t dawn unto the king and queen that their two daughters were quite horrible little turds indeed, not until the queen’s own favourite handmaiden left her service because princess Verain had threatened to decapitate her for standing in her light, and a little later the handmaiden had found princess Jessamine having one of her trysts in her own bed.
The queen sent for help from her wise cousin, who was a queen in the neighbouring country. Not many days later, the queen received a visitor, an old crone. The crone was a faery godmother, and revealed the queen that she would be soon pregnant with her third daughter, and she must be named Morelle.
The prophecy became true, and soon the king and queen had a third daughter. Upon her naming, the crone of a godmother gave her the gift of seeing. With this gift Morelle could see past illusion and glamour to the plain and hidden truths.
Morelle grew up to be a small, pale and serious child, and the king and queen became to love her the best of all their children. The little princess Morelle with her quiet words and ways was not a particularily beautiful like her sister Jessamine, nor was she powerful like their sister Verain. She had big and beautiful blue eyes.
Morelle became the heart of their court and family. She reconciled arguments, ran errands for ladies-in-waiting, and helped little kittens who’d climbed trees too high, or lifted baby birds who’d fallen out of their nests.
As she grew older, Morelle came to be more and more influential. She was admired for her sense, her practicality and kindness. She could not be lied to. Morelle was like a light illuminating every dark corner. Her radiance repelled even Jessamine’s ardent lovers, who felt uncomfortable in Morelle’s presence.
Verain then realized, that Morelle was such a sweet, popular and influential princess that the crown of the kingdom might pass over to the smallest sister. And this would not do to the oldest sister, not at all. Verain, jealous of Morelle’s influence, decided it would not do. Together with Jessamine, the sisters started to plot against little princess Morelle, to have her dead as if by accident, drowning in the moat surrounding the castle.
But with her eyes, Morelle could see what was on Verain’s mind as soon as she caught the sister’s eyes over dinner. Aware of the horrible situation she was in, Morelle went to bed distressed that night, pondering her options.
She could go to the king and queen to accuse her older sisters of their clandestine plan against her, but it was uncertain whether the king and queen would believe her. Perhaps they would simply believe that Morelle had thought it all up, for who else could know if Morelle was speaking the truth?
Morelle might also kill her sisters first, before they got her, but the thought was so unnatural to the good little princess that she couldn’t bear to think more of it. And once the night was over, Morelle was decided – she would rather flee for now than cause grief or death to her family. In the morning, she told the king and queen she would leave the castle and go out into the world to find her happiness.
Traveling as a commoner, rather than a princess, Morelle came to a field full of tall wheat, and an old woman standing by the road.
“Please miss, with your young eyes, can you help me find my walking cane? I was walking on the field when I stumbled and lost it there. It is a precious to me, my dead husband carved it for me.”
Morelle only had to glance over the field to find the missing cane. She retrieved the cane with its gold-inlaid handle to the old woman, who thanked Morelle. As a reward for Morelle’s trouble, the old woman gave her a silver locket.
After discovering the little sister’s departure, princess Verain used her power of glamour to weave herself and her sister disguises. Dressed as common hunters, the princesses stole away from the castle one day and went searching for Morelle. Riding with haste, they reached Morelle in a forest, and Morelle recognized them of course with her gift of true seeing. Verain took her bow and shot her sister in the heart. Seeing Morelle fall, Verain and Jessamine turned back.
The arrow had been stopped by the locket given to Morelle by the old woman of the fields. Morelle got back to her feet and continued her journey, now certain that her sisters’ vengeafulness was now sated. She was also troubled that should the king and queen die, the fate of the kingdom would rest on the shoulders of such hateful princesses. But she was young and alone, so she chose not to return home.
Morelle travelled far into the wilderness, until she came upon a lake in the deepest forests, with a black swan swimming in the middle of the lake. As the swan glid closer, Morelle could tell that the swan was no bird at all, but an enchanted prince. The swan spoke to her. “Please miss, kiss me so that I might turn back to myself again. A wicked witch has enchanted me.” Morelle was wary of the swan prince, because she could tell that the prince had been turned into a black swan because he had been a vain and arrogant bully, and that the wicked witch had really done everyone a favour. But Morelle felt sorry for the prince. Besides, he had learned his lesson of humility.
Morelle kissed the swan, and in the blink of an eye a handsome dark prince stood before her. “As a reward, I shall make you my queen, peasant girl. You will have beautiful frocks and eat the finest cream cakes.”
But Morelle declined him kindly. When the Swan-Prince asked her if there was anything else he could do for her, Morelle requested that the prince take her with him to his kingdom, that she might have a roof over her head for a moment on her journey.
Once she was a guest with the Swan-Prince, Morelle was treated as a princess. The prince’s parents were so happy to have their only son back, they adored Morelle and gave her every luxury. With her gift of true seeing, and her friendly manners and kind heart, she became a popular lady in the swan-prince’s court.
In honor of the prince’s return, there was a great masked ball, and Morelle’s sisters were invited as well. Morelle attended, masked of course.
Morelle found her sister Jessamine alone in the garden, weeping with her mask pulled off. Morelle approached her and asked what was troubling Jessamine, who replied. “I weep for my little sister, for I’ve stood by and seen her fall while I did nothing.” And with her true seeing, Morelle could see her sister Jessamine spoke the truth. Morelle took her mask away and embraced Jessamine, whose tears turned from grievous to joyous.
Morelle and Jessamine rejoined the ball together, their masks undone. Verain saw them together, and in a fit of jealousy and rage pulled a dagger from her purse. Just as she was about to plunge the dagger into Morelle’s heart, the Swan-Prince cast the skin of the swan he’d worn himself, and Verain turned into a black swan.
The black swan princess doddered about, then took to wing and flew out through the windows.