[Image description: Clipart of a swan on water]
The Herzogin remarries. The new Herzog is something of a mad scientist as he turns his twelve sons into genetically altered swans and his stepdaughter into a swan hybrid. The siblings are cast into a far off land where they find shelter at the court of foreign princess. The princess will give the resources to allow the sister to transform herself and brothers, but things become even more complicated when the princess falls in love with the swan maiden.
In a time different than our own, but not in a place far away, a sister lived with her twelve older brothers. Their mother was the Herzogin of their region. She had won the people’s respect in battle, and kept it by being a fair and kind ruler. As such she assured her children to be heirs of the seat, given from the Kaiserin herself.
They had the most splendid estate to live on. There was a library of bejeweled books that reached from floor to ceiling in a rain. There was a menagerie of friendly tigers, peacocks, and elephants. Within the children’s quarters were automatons that spoke and danced when wound by their key. They lived in splendor and wanted for nothing.
The only sadness in their life was that their father had died only a few months after the birth of the youngest daughter. He had been taken by an unfortunate accident regarding a steam-powered carriage. As her sons grew the Herzogin speculated the boys were in want of a father figure. She sent out into the kingdom a challenge; whoever could create the greatest wonder would marry the Herzogin and be the stepfather of her children.
Her contest was answered readily. For not only was the Herzogin wealthy and well respected, she was lovely. Men from the regions and those near and far crowded the estate gates with their potential dowries.
One crafted an automaton that not only had the silky locks and ample bust of the Herzogin but also her melodious voice and coy glance. The wax machine warbled with the skill of an operatic baritone. A great contender!
Another man displayed a most wondrous steamcraft. It replicated a peacock with its gorgeous tail and cobalt wings. It could hold the entire family of fifteen within its bejeweled body. Unfortunately upon its test flight it crashed into the pond and reminded the Herzogin of the demise of her first husband.
Finally there was a man of little wealth. He had no noble name nor recognition. As the Herzogin was an egalitarian woman she allowed him to display his ware. From a silver case he produced nothing but an emerald vial and a syringe. He asked for a tiger cub. Beneath the eyes of hundreds he pierced its breast with the needle and injected his serum into the helpless animal.
The daughter, Elise, was troubled by this cruelty.
“Stop!” she cried out when it was already too late. The cub contorted in pain and struck at his tormentor’s face. The man dropped the hurting animal and Elise ran to scoop him up. As she approached the furry bundle however suddenly two white wings sprouted. Looking down in horror she watched the cub give a few clumsy flaps of his wings. With a tiny new the wings at last caught the wind and the cub was in the air.
The Herzogin gave an appreciative cry. Elise felt her stomach turn. Her oldest brother Gilbert put his hand on her shoulder and looked up at the cub crawling on the roof with a frown.
“Can it be used on human beings?” Was their mother’s first question. The man nodded. And with that affirmation the sibling’s fates were sealed.
Their mother envisioned an army of bear-men and swift, flying archers. Her ardor for her new husband could not be measured. Elise tended to the cub, now “Leopold” in wary withdraw. Her brothers also anxiously paced the halls.
“Charlatan,” Gilbert snorted.
“Quack,” pronounced the sixth son, Franz.
“Monster-maker,” sneered the seventh, twin of the sixth, Fritz.
“He will never be our father,” they all promised.
Their wishes however were not considered. They all began to realize their idyllic paradise had been the whim of their mother alone. If they wished to remain on these golden shores they must kowtow. Of all the children only the first four, Gilbert, Johann, Wilhelm, and Ansgar were of the age of majority. Nevertheless their departure would leave the younger nine alone and undefended.
Their stepfather had seen the children’s distrust and dislike of him. It was a mutual feeling. After all how could he thrive when there were so many claimants for the family wealth? How could his own children grow in such a crowded garden?
He waited until the Herzogin had left for the Capital for the yearly meeting of the nobles with the Kaiserin. In her absence he created a pretext by letting Gilbert’s prized horse loose into the woods. The hothead inevitably confronted him about his negligence. When he was grabbed by his jacket by his stepson he slammed a syringe into the man’s arm.
Gilbert dropped him immediately and fell back. He wrenched the syringe out with a gasp. His eyes became wide and he swallowed. The Herzog could only smirk at his horrified look.
“What did you do?” The great oaf gulped.
“I was only defending my life.”
“What did you do?!” Gilbert snarled.
“It’s a deadly virus. You’ll be dead in 12 hours.” His stepson’s face blanched. The Herzog smiled slowly. “I already injected all your siblings. It was only you who needed to be distracted!”
“You-!” Gilbert lunged with hands reaching for the Herzog’s throat. The man ducked, by mere millimeters. His stepson would kill him easily if he was not careful.
“Only I have the antidote!” He informed the lummox with a sneer. That gave the fool pause. He reached into his jacket and withdrew a document. “Sign this, and you may have it.”
Gilbert staggered but he grasped the paper. He read it quickly. “You want me to sign over my inheritance?!”
“Tick-tock, the longer you dally, the faster your siblings die.” The Herzog pressed. Gilbert groaned but signed the paper. He was given the antidote.
Twelve vials full of the same serum he had injected the oldest with. The Herzog lightly stepped after Gilbert’s clamorous steps with his hands behind his back. He heard yelling and footsteps quickly coming towards him. Ansgar was running down the stairs from the children’s quarters. He drew his sword when his stepfather came into sight.
“You bastard-!” He thundered. He raised his sword. It fell from his grip as his arms contorted and elongated. Snowy white feathers sprouted from his skin. His neck twisted and his cry became a swan’s honk.
The bird circled in confusion in his shed clothes and sword. The Herzog passed him with a sweeping step. The estate was filled with the scream of swans. He did appreciate the sinuous transformation of bird to man. As he had predicted this transformation was complete, not the faulty hybrid of tiger and swan.
He hummed to himself as he came across the embattled Gilbert, surrounded by his shrieking avian brothers. He was fighting his metamorphosis. His wings struggled to hold the last vial, he was crying out through a swan’s beak. The Herzog paused, why was there one vial left?
“Elise!” Gilbert desperately squawked.
The Herzog turned in the direction of the cry. The girl was standing in the doorway, her eyes wide as she soaked in the horror before her. The tiger was standing behind in a similar confusion. Elise’s mouth opened as Gilbert reached for her, but she moved it without sound. Her voice had been taken from her. The Herzog reached down for the last bottle the same moment the oldest became fully a swan.
They all had to be transformed! If he left even one to tell the story this would all be for naught. He stepped towards the girl with the intent of injecting her. Gilbert the swan latched onto his ankle and pulled back on his pants. In a second at least ten swans attacked him, pecking and flapping their wings.
They struggled for a minute as the Herzog tried to shake at least those who had a hold of his arms. There was a crash, the girl had thrown a chair through a window. She was getting ready to escape. She was turned towards the tiger who had spread his great white wings.
“No!” He desperately threw the last vial. Elise turned at the sound of his voice and took the serum to her face. She fell back with a cry, covering her face with her hands. The tiger snarled and the swans abated. The Herzog fell back as he saw the beast ready to pounce on him. Elise grabbed one wing however and hoisted herself up onto his back. She peered up over the tiger’s back.
She no longer had hair but white feathers. She no longer had a nose or mouth but a black beak. She gave the morose honk of a swan. The Herzog exhaled, she too had been transformed. The girl threw herself over the tiger’s back and urged him to escape through the window. The swans lingered for a few more seconds but one by one they followed their sister’s escape.
There was no more they could do.