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.
They flew for hours and days. They flew in a formation headed by Elise and Leopold. They headed north, where their mother was. Though they no longer had any way to speak to her. Only Elise had retained some human form, but she had lost her ability to speak as a human. They could speak to each other as swans they found, but not one of them had retained human speech.
They sheltered along lakes and ponds. Elise remained hidden, protected and fed by her brothers and Leopold. They lamented their fate, and could only conceive their mother would be able to help them.
“How will she know us?” Fritz asked.
“By Leopold,” Elise mused. “And I can still write.”
No rescue was to come however. On their third day of travel a mighty storm came down from the north. They were swept up by its colossal winds and thrown to the east. They landed on an unknown shore along a small sea. The land was much more arid than their homeland’s, and full of strange wildlife. They had no idea where they were.
They made a home in a cave for they could do nothing else. A year or more passed of this passive resignation. They all spoke of returning to their splendid estate with its luxurious baths and endless feasts. They spoke of flaying their stepfather. Yet the problem remained; they must become human again.
In time Elise came across an old woman fishing along the sea. She had been bathing in a small cove and this was apparently the woman’s favored fishing spot. She called Elise “aspara” and seemed to want to converse in a language the girl didn’t recognize. She wrote a sentence in the sand identifying herself as Elise, daughter of the Herzogin, sister of the twelve swans.
“Ah, Alemannic.” The woman mused. She nodded and in a broken but understandable rendition began to converse in Elise’s language.
“You are far then from where you’re from.” She sighed.
“Who are you?” Elise wrote.
“I am Azra, daughter of Mohammed, of the Darzi clan. We’re tailors, and we served the former and now current satrap. Lucky for you I married an Alemannic musician once, and that our prince kept many people at his court, including my husband and my peoples.” She nodded firmly.
“Fate.” Elise scrawled.
“Kismet,” Azra agreed.
Elise wrote their sad tale in the sand and took up nearly the whole shore. Azra followed her steps as she read along. She would shake her head, groan and gasp at the descriptions. At the end she fell silent for many minutes. She at last looked up at Elise.
“I am moved by your tale child, and would like to help you. I can take you to the princess, even though I am now retired. She may choose to help you if it pleases her. She has the resources to do so.”
Elise hugged the old woman and thank her a hundred times. That night she told her brothers she was going to leave with Azra the next morning to go to the capital of this region.
“Take Leopold with you, and we will fly overhead.” Gilbert said.
Before her appearance before the princess Azra had Elise bathed and dressed in one of her daughter’s old clothes. She was given a vermillion tunic with an ochre girdle and billowy white trousers. Like the other women her head was covered by a veil. Elise felt more comfortable with her features somewhat obscured through her beak still peeked out.
Azra’s family was strangely nonplussed by the sight of a half human bird and a winged tiger. They marveled, but it was more the admiration one has for a lovely music box than something as frightening as unnatural beasts. When they reached the capital after a journey of three days Elise began to understand their complacency.
Many fantastic beasts walked along the marble walkways. There were elephants of every color, unbelievably tall animals of orange and brown, and two headed goats and cows. There were automatons that put the one of her mother to shame. They moved with exceptional grace and spoke as sweetly as songbirds. They moved eyes of emerald, sapphire, and amber as one walked past.
There were flying vehicles whose wings eclipsed the sun. Many more moved on wheels and feet, pattering down the walkways with great speed. Their steam engines whirred and grinded as they passed in a fury.
When her veil fell back as she stared in amazement at the cobalt underbelly of an airship Elise was stared at. She was not stopped however and left to walk on her way when she pulled her veil back up.
“Are there others like me and Leopold here?” She wrote on a piece of paper and handed it to Azra.
“Not quite. I have not ever seen an organic being like you.” Azra informed her. She shrugged. “I think most of these people think you’re steam powered.”
Elise fell silent at the thought and stroked Leopold’s head.
They were allowed their appointment with the princess after some hours waiting in the antechamber. It was only after the day’s business was finished the princess would hear charity cases. Through the window Elise could spy twelve swans.
The court was as lavish as one would expect with such a magnificent city. The tile was of lapis lazuli, and the throne was of carved jasper, rife with filigree and lions heads. The cushions were stacked high. The princess was dressed sumptuously in crimson silk and golden embroidery. Her golden crown reached towards heaven. Her heavy singular brow raised as the winged tiger and swan maiden approached.
Elise was surprised she was perhaps only a few years older than herself.
Azra motioned for Elise to follow her in a full bow that put her face on the floor. They sat on their knees to address the princess. Azra and the princess conversed in their language for many minutes. At Azra’s urging Elise removed her veil to much murmuring from the court. Elise glanced and saw her brothers peering down through the high windows. She pulled on Leopold’s ear and he sat by her.
The princess slipped off her throne and approached Elise. She tensed but met the dark eyes of the princess. The woman gently touched her cheek, running a feather through her dusky fingers. She looked away and Elise exhaled. She said something to Azra that made her smile.
“She says she will take you on as a court engineer.” Azra informed her. Elise blinked. “You will learn all the sciences. You will have to find your own cure for your brothers because it doesn’t exist here yet. She had a secluded garden in which they may stay. In exchange you must remain at her court for five years.”
Elise nodded at this decree and bowed to her savior. She gave thanks in her own language. She raised her teary eyes to her brothers and in the tongue of a swan told them they were saved.