从前，有一位国王在大森林里狩猎，他奋力追赶一头野兽，随从们却没有能跟上他。 天色渐晚，国王停下脚步环顾四周，这才发现自己已经迷了路。 他想从森林里出来，可怎么也找不到路。 这时，国王看见一个不住地点头的老太婆朝他走来，那是个女巫。 "您好，"国王对她说，"您能不能告诉我走出森林的路？""啊，可以，国王陛下，"女巫回答说，"我当然能告诉您，不过有个条件。要是您不答应的话，就永远休想走出森林，您会在森林里饿死的。"
"我有个女儿，长得很美，"老巫婆回答说，"她的美貌无与伦比，做您的妻子绰绰有余。要是您愿意娶她做王后，我就告诉您走出森林的路。"国王忧心如焚，只好答应了女巫的条件。 老巫婆把国王领到她的小屋子里，只见她的女儿正坐在那儿烤火。 女儿接待了国王，那神色好像她早就料到国王会来似的。 国王觉得她长得的确美丽非凡，可是并不喜欢她，一看见她就不由得心惊胆战。 等国王把姑娘抱上了马，老巫婆才把路告诉国王。 国王回到王宫之后，便和姑娘举行了婚礼。
国王曾经有过一次婚姻，他的第一个妻子给他生了七个孩子：六男一女，国王特别疼爱他们。 婚礼之后，国王担心继母虐待孩子，更担心他们受到继母的伤害 ，于是就把他们送进森林中的一座孤零零的古城堡里居住。 城堡位于密林深处，路极其难找，要不是有位女巫送给国王一个奇妙的线团儿，连他自己也休想找到。 只要国王把线团儿在地上往前一抛，线团儿就会自己打开，为国王引路。 国王经常去看望他心爱的孩子们，而王后发现国王经常不在身边，很是好奇，总想弄明白国王独自一个人到森林里干什么去了。 她用大量的金钱收买了国王的随从，这些人就向她泄漏了其中的秘密，还把能引路的线团儿也告诉了她。 从此，王后便心神不宁，直到知道了国王收藏线团儿的地方之后，她才安下心来。 随后，王后用白绸缝了几件小衬衫，她跟母亲学过巫术，就在每件衬衫里缝了一道符咒。 一天，国王骑马狩猎去了，王后便带着这些小衬衫走进森林，用线团儿在前面给她引路。 孩子们远远地看见有人来了，以为是自己亲爱的父亲来看望他们，个个欢天喜地，都跑着去迎接。 就在这时，继母朝他们每人抛过去一件小衬衫。 小衬衫一碰到他们的身体，眨眼之间他们就一个个地变成了天鹅，飞上天空，消失在远方。 王后回到宫中，心花怒放，以为打发了这些继子女。 谁知那个女孩并没有和她的兄长们一快儿跑出来迎接，而王后对此却一无所知。 第二天，国王去看望这几个孩子，发现只有女儿一个人在城堡。 "你哥哥们呢？"国王问道。 "唉，别提了，亲爱的爸爸，"女儿回答说，"他们都走了，只剩下我孤零零一个人啦！"接着，她告诉父亲，她从自己房间的小窗里看见，哥哥们都变成了天鹅，在森林的上空飞走了。 说着她还把羽毛拿出来给父亲看，这些羽毛是他们掉在院子里的，是她拾回来的。 国王悲痛欲绝，却怎么也没有想到，这件伤天害理的事是王后所为。 他担心女儿也被从他身边夺走，就想带她回去，可女儿惧怕继母，恳求国王允许她在林中古堡里再呆一夜。
可怜的姑娘心想："我在这里一天也不能再呆了，我要去寻找哥哥们。"夜幕降临时，她跑出城堡，径直朝密林中走去。 她走了整整一夜，第二天又一刻不停地走了一整天，直到累得筋疲力尽，再也走不动一步了，这才停下了脚步。 就在这时，她看见一间猎人栖身的小屋，便走了进去，发现屋子里有六张小床，可她不敢躺在床上，于是就爬到一张床下，躺在了硬梆梆的地上，准备在那里过夜。 太阳快落山的时候，她忽然听见沙沙的声响，看见六只天鹅从窗口飞了进来。 天鹅们飞落在地上，相互吹着气，吹掉了身上的全部羽毛，接着，它们的天鹅皮也像脱去衬衫一样从身上脱落了。 这时，姑娘再看他们，发现原来是她的几个哥哥。 她喜出望外，急忙从床下爬出来，她的哥哥们一见自己的小妹妹，也异常高兴。 可是，他们高兴的时间却很短。 "你说什么也不能呆在这儿，"他们对小妹妹说，"这可是个强盗出没的地方，要是他们回来发现了你，你就没命啦。""你们难道不能保护我吗？"小妹妹问道。 "不能啊，"他们回答说，"我们每天晚上只有一刻钟的时间可以脱掉天鹅皮，恢复人形，然后我们又要马上变成天鹅的呀。"小妹妹一听哭了起来，边哭边说："难道你们就不能得救吗？""唉，还是不成呵，"他们回答道，"那些条件实在是太苛刻啦！要整整六年啊，你既不许说话，也不许笑出声来，而且在这六年里，你还必须用水马齿草为我们缝六件小衬衫。只要你嘴里漏出一个字，一切努力就前功尽弃啦。"哥哥们话音刚落，一刻钟的时间就到了，他们又变成了天鹅，从窗口飞走了。
姑娘呢，下定决心不惜付出一切，哪怕是自己的生命，也要救哥哥们。 夜幕降临时，她离开小屋，走进密林深处，爬到一棵树上过了一夜。 第二天早上，她便四处采集水马齿，开始缝衬衫。 她不能和任何人说话，也没心思笑，所以就坐在那里，只顾低着头忙手里的活儿。 她在森林里就这样过了很长一段时间，直到有一天，当地的国王到森林里来打猎，猎手们来到姑娘坐在上面的那棵树跟前。 他们发现了她便大声地跟她打招呼，问她说："你是谁呀？"可她默不作答。 "快下来吧，"他们对她说："我们不会伤害你的。"她听了只是摇了摇头。 他们还是一个劲儿地问这问那，她就把自己的金项链扔给了他们，心想这下他们该满足了吧。 谁知这些家伙还是不肯罢休，于是她又把腰带扔给了他们，可仍然无济于事。 接着，她又把吊袜带和身上所有可有可无的东西都一件件地扔给了他们，最后身上只穿着内衣。 可就是这样，这些猎手还是赖着不走，并且爬到树上把姑娘抱了下来，领到国王面前。 国王问她："你是谁？在树上干什么呢？"可她并不回答。 国王于是用自己会说的每一种语言问她，她却仍然闷不作声。 姑娘异常美丽的容貌打动了国王的心，他深深地爱上了她。 国王把自己的斗篷披在她身上，抱她上了马，让她坐在自己的前面，带着她回到了王宫。 随即，国王吩咐给她穿上五彩缤纷的服装，这样一来，她就越发光彩照人、美若天仙啦，可她就是一语不发。 吃饭的时候，国王让她坐在自己身边。 姑娘举止端庄，彬彬有礼，国王格外喜欢，就喃喃自语道："她就是我心目中的王后，我非她不娶。"几天之后，国王和姑娘结下了百年之好。
谁知国王的母亲刁钻恶毒，对这桩婚事很是不满，常说年轻王后的坏话。 "有谁知道呢，"她说，"这个不会说话的臭丫头是从哪里钻出来的？她根本不配作王后！"转眼一年过去了 ，王后的第一个孩子出生了。 老太婆趁王后睡着了，把孩子给抱走了，还在王后的嘴上涂了一些鲜血。 然后，她到国王面前去诬告王后，说她是吃人的妖怪。 国王听了不肯相信，也不容许谁伤害王后。 可王后呢，对一切都置若罔闻，只是一刻不停地坐着缝衬衫。 第二次，王后又生了一个漂亮的男孩，这个歹毒的婆婆再次故伎重演，国王听了还是不肯相信，他说："她那么虔诚，心地那么善良，不会做出这种事来。要是她会说话，能为自己辩解的话，她的清白无辜就大白于天下啦。"可是，老太婆把第三个刚刚出生的孩子偷走之后，又去诬告王后，王后还是一句为自己辩解的话也没说，国王束手无策，只得把王后交给法庭审理，法庭判决用火刑处死她。
行刑的那天，刚好是她不能说话也不能笑的那六年的最后一天，而且她已经能把亲爱的哥哥们从魔法中解救出来了。 六件衬衫已经缝好，只是最后一件左边还少一只袖子。 在被押往火刑柱的时候，她把那些衬衫搭在胳膊上。 她被推上了火刑柱，木柴即将点燃了。 王后在最后关头环顾四周，恰在这时，空中有六只天鹅朝她飞来。 她心里明白，她就要得救了，她的心激动得欢跳起来。 天鹅掠过长空飞了过来，落在了她的附近，她便把衬衫朝他们扔了过去……天鹅刚一碰着衬衫，身上的天鹅皮立即就脱落了。 她的哥哥们又恢复了人形，个个生龙活虎、英俊标致，他们就站在她的面前，她的小哥哥却少了一只左胳膊，肩上仍然长着一只天鹅翅膀。 兄妹们相互又是拥抱，又是亲吻。 随后，王后走到深受感动的国王面前，开口讲了起来："亲爱的夫君，现在我可以开口说话了，可以向您表明，我是清白无辜的，遭到了诬陷。"接着，她跟国王讲述了老婆婆伤天害理的行径……她偷走了她的三个孩子，把他们藏了起来。 一会儿，孩子们被送到国王面前了，国王心潮澎湃，激动不已。 刁钻恶毒的老婆婆受到了应得的惩罚，被捆绑在火刑柱上烧成了灰烬。 从此以后，国王和王后与她六个哥哥幸福安宁地生活了很多年。
Once on a time a king was hunting in a great wood, and he pursued a wild animal so eagerly that none of his people could follow him. When evening came he stood still, and looking round him he found that he had lost his way; and seeking a path, he found none. Then all at once he saw an old woman with a nodding head coming up to him; and it was a witch.
"My good woman," said he, "can you show me the way out of the wood?"
"Oh yes, my lord king," answered she, "certainly I can; but I must make a condition, and if you do not fulfil it, you will never get out of the wood again, but die there of hunger."
"What is the condition?" asked the king.
"I have a daughter," said the old woman, "who is as fair as any in the world, and if you will take her for your bride, and make her queen, I will show you the way out of the wood."
The king consented, because of the difficulty he was in, and the old woman led him into her little house, and there her daughter was sitting by the fire. She received the king just as if she had been expecting him, and though he saw that she was very beautiful, she did not please him, and he could not look at her without an inward shudder. Nevertheless, he took the maiden before him on his horse, and the old woman showed him the way, and soon he was in his royal castle again, where the wedding was held.
The king had been married before, and his first wife had left seven children, six boys and one girl, whom he loved better than all the world, and as he was afraid the step-mother might not behave well to them, and perhaps would do them some mischief, he took them to a lonely castle standing in the middle of a wood. There they remained hidden, for the road to it was so hard to find that the king himself could not have found it, had it not been for a clew of yarn, possessing wonderful properties, that a wise woman had given him; when he threw it down before him, it unrolled itself and showed him the way.
And the king went so often to see his dear children, that the queen was displeased at his absence; and she became curious and wanted to know what he went out into the wood for so often alone. She bribed his servants with much money, and they showed her the secret, and told her of the clew of yam, which alone could point out the way; then she gave herself no rest until she had found out where the king kept the clew, and then she made some little white silk shirts, and sewed a charm in each, as she had learned witchcraft of her mother. And once when the king had ridden, to the hunt, she took the little shirts and went into the wood, and the clew of yarn showed her the way. The children seeing some one in the distance, thought it was their dear father coming to see them, and came jumping for joy to meet him. Then the wicked queen threw over each one of the little shirts, and as soon as the shirts touched their bodies, they were changed into swans, and flew away through the wood. So the queen went home very pleased to think she had got rid of her stepchildren; but the maiden had not run out with her brothers, and so the queen knew nothing about her. The next day the king went to see his children, but he found nobody but his daughter.
"Where are thy brothers?" asked the king.
"Ah, dear father," answered she, "they are gone away and have left me behind," and then she told him how she had seen from her window her brothers in the guise of swans fly away through the wood, and she showed him the feathers which they had let fall in the courtyard, and which she had picked up. The king was grieved, but he never dreamt that it was the queen who had done this wicked deed, and as he feared lest the maiden also should be stolen away from him, he wished to take her away with him. But she was afraid of the step-mother, and begged the king to let her remain one more night in the castle in the wood.
Then she said to herself, "I must stay here no longer, but go and seek for my brothers." And when the night came, she fled away and went straight into the wood. She went on all that night and the next day, until she could go no longer for weariness. At last she saw a rude hut, and she went in and found a room with six little beds in it; she did not dare to lie down in one, but she crept under one and lay on the hard boards and wished for night. When it was near the time of sun-setting she heard a rustling sound, and saw six swans come flying in at the window. They alighted on the ground, and blew at one another until they had blown all their feathers off, and then they stripped off their swan-skin as if it had been a shirt. And the maiden looked at them and knew them for her brothers, and was very glad, and crept from under the bed. The brothers were not less glad when their sister appeared, but their joy did not last long.
"You must not stay here," said they to her; "this is a robbers' haunt, and if they were to come and find you here, they would kill you."
"And cannot you defend me?" asked the little sister.
"No," answered they, "for we can only get rid of our swan-skins and keep our human shape every evening for a quarter of an hour, but after that we must be changed again into swans." Their sister wept at hearing this, and said, "Can nothing be done to set you free?"
"Oh no," answered they, "the work would be too hard for you. For six whole years you would be obliged never to speak or laugh, and make during that time six little shirts out of aster-flowers. If you were to let fall a single word before the work was ended, all would be of no good." And just as the brothers had finished telling her this, the quarter of an hour came to an end, and they changed into swans and flew out of the window.
But the maiden made up her mind to set her brothers free, even though it should cost her her life. She left the hut, and going into the middle of the wood, she climbed a tree, and there passed the night. The next morning she set to work and gathered asters and began sewing them together: as for speaking, there was no one to speak to, and as for laughing, she had no mind to it; so she sat on and looked at nothing but her work. When she had been going on like this for a long time, it happened that the king of that country went a-hunting in the wood, and some of his huntsmen came up to the tree in which the maiden sat. They called out to her, saying, "Who art thou?" But she gave no answer. "Come down," cried they; "we will do thee no harm." But she only shook her head. And when they tormented her further with questions she threw down to them her gold necklace, hoping they would be content with that. But they would not leave off, so she threw down to them her girdle, and when that was no good, her garters, and one after another everything she had on and could possibly spare, until she had nothing left but her smock. But all was no good, the huntsmen would not be put off any longer, and they climbed the tree, carried the maiden off, and brought her to the king.
The king asked, "Who art thou? What wert thou doing in the tree?" But she answered nothing. He spoke to her in all the languages he knew, but she remained dumb: but, being very beautiful, the king inclined to her, and he felt a great love rise up in his heart towards her; and casting his mantle round her, he put her before him on his horse and brought her to his castle. Then he caused rich clothing to be put upon her, and her beauty shone as bright as the morning, but no word would she utter. He seated her by his side at table, and her modesty and gentle mien so pleased him, that he said, "This maiden I choose for wife, and no other in all the world," and accordingly after a few days they were married.
But the king had a wicked mother, who was displeased with the marriage, and spoke ill of the young queen. "Who knows where the maid can have come from?" said she, "and not able to speak a word! She is not worthy of a king!" After a year had passed, and the queen brought her first child into the world, the old woman carried it away, and marked the queen's mouth with blood as she lay sleeping. Then she went to the king and declared that his wife was an eater of human flesh. The king would not believe such a thing, and ordered that no one should do her any harm. And the queen went on quietly sewing the shirts and caring for nothing else. The next time that a fine boy was born, the wicked step-mother used the same deceit, but the king would give no credence to her words, for he said, "She is too tender and good to do any such thing, and if she were only not dumb, and could justify herself, then her innocence would be as clear as day." When for the third time the old woman stole away the new-born child and accused the queen, who was unable to say a word in her defence, the king could do no other but give her up to justice, and she was sentenced to suffer death by fire.
The day on which her sentence was to be carried out was the very last one of the sixth year of the years during which she had neither spoken nor laughed, to free her dear brothers from the evil spell. The six shirts were ready, all except one which wanted the left sleeve. And when she was led to the pile of wood, she carried the six shirts on her arm, and when she mounted the pile and the fire was about to be kindled, all at once she cried out aloud, for there were six swans coming flying through the air; and she saw that her deliverance was near, and her heart beat for joy.
The swans came close up to her with rushing wings, and stooped round her, so that she could throw the shirts over them; and when that had been done the swanskins fell off them, and her brothers stood before her in their own bodies quite safe and sound; but as one shirt wanted the left sleeve, so the youngest brother had a swan's wing instead of a left arm. They embraced and kissed each other, and the queen went up to the king, who looked on full of astonishment, and began to speak to him and to say, "Dearest husband, now I may dare to speak and tell you that I am innocent, and have been falsely accused," and she related to him the treachery of the step-mother, who had taken away the three children and hidden them. And she was reconciled to the king with great joy, and the wicked step-mother was bound to the stake on the pile of wood and burnt to ashes. And the king and queen lived many years with their six brothers in peace and joy.