Once long ago there lived an enchanter who, under the burden of his tremendous power, had grown cruel and vengeful. Over the years of his magically-extended life, the sorcerer proposed marriage to twelve different maidens.
Each was beautiful, each was charming... and each in turn refused the cold, quiet enchanter. Now his castle lay hidden on a craggy mountain overlooking an isolated lake, and almost the only pleasure he took from life was regarding this lake.
Wild, shadowed by trees and hanging moss, and silvered over every night by the moon's touch, the water's shadowy depths held a mysterious fascination for him. So when the first maiden refused him, he took his revenge in a wickedly appropriate fashion:
He transformed her into a graceful white swan, permitting her to regain her true shape from sunset to sunrise only.
Each maiden in turn, one by one, he added to the troupe of swan-maidens. On the twelfth and most beautiful maiden he pronounced an even more potent curse: she could keep some hope of winning back her human form if she found love...
but should the man prove untrue, she would be doomed to remain a voiceless swan forever.
This last victim became the queen of the swan-maids, and for more years than this poor storyteller could recount, she presided over the sad change each sunrise, as human arms became fluttering wings.
Now in this land there was a prince whose mother had despaired of ever finding a bride. Princesses and court ladies held no charm for him; all he cared for was the hunt.
One afternoon he set out to test a new bow he'd been given, and was led by his hounds into a part of the wood he had never before seen. Lost, he wandered for hours.
And as the sun sank over the horizon he saw a flock of wild swans wheeling overhead. He followed them in their flight to the hidden lake, and took aim as the last swan descended. But then a wonder occurred...
before his marvelling eyes the swans became women, and spoke with women's voices sadly amongst themselves. He lowered his bow and crept forward, smitten by the fairest and sweetest-spoken of the swan-maids: the Swan Queen, the White Swan.
And as these things always happen, the White Swan fell just as madly in love with him as he with her, and she recounted to him the enchanter's curse.
The prince swore a mighty oath to her, that all his life he should love her alone, and marry no other.
Then, ecstatic and enthralled, he returned to the palace to tell his mother that he had chosen a bride. But as he entered the great hall, he discovered a ball in process...the Queen had invited eligible royal maids from far and wide.
Unmoved by the parade of beauties he eagerly awaited the end of the ball, to make his announcement. And then there was a fanfare of trumpets. The herald cried the arrival of an unknown knight and his daughter.
The knight and his daughter slowly descended the staircase, seizing the prince's attention...for surely this was his new love! The same rapturous beauty, the same exquisite grace...
save that this woman wore a gown as black as night, and gazed at him as she danced with a vivacity and a fierceness he had not remembered.
If she had won his heart before, she did so anew, seducing him with every movement. Triumphant, he knelt to her and offered her his heart and his kingdom.
A flash of lightning crackled overhead! The knight began to laugh, and threw off his disguise, revealing himself the evil enchanter. And the woman by his side? Not the White Swan at all, but the Black:
Some there were who called her the sorcerer's daughter, gotten who knows how. Some said she was his familiar, witched into human form.
And some, a very few, claimed she was nothing mortal at all, only an embodiment of the enchanter's dark powers.
However it was with her, it was clear that the prince had broken his oath and brought the curse down on his love. He rushed to the lake, only to find the distraught maiden surrounded by her sister swans, preparing to throw herself into the lake.
The two wept in each others' arms...and then, in the moonlight, fell together into the water's depths.
Now whether the pair's love was strong enough to defy magic, as lore has it, or whether the sorcerer simply hadn't planned for the breaking of the curse in such a manner, the power of the potent spell rebounded against its maker.
The enchanter died, and the remaining swan-maidens found themselves fully human once again. The prince and the swan-queen became a tragic tale well-beloved in the land, even years after the sorcerer's castle crumbled...if it ever stood. And the Black Swan? If the ensorcelled maids regained their freedom, perhaps she did as well. Then again, who can say for sure? The tale is done...blessed be.