The swan girl
Nowadays, everyone knows that swans make the ‘keek-keek’ sound; that’s why the swan is called ‘kyhkyh’ in the Nivkh language. However, a long time ago, all swans were mute.
Back then, a small girl lived in a little seaside village. She loved to play on the beach all day, drawing intricate patterns in the sand with a small stick and making little sand houses.
She also liked watching birds fly over her village like white clouds. The girl would lie down on the sand and follow the birds with her gaze until they disappeared in the distance.
Her mother and father loved the girl very much and lived happily together.
One day, her mother died. The girl and her father grieved for a long time. Then, the father went to a faraway village to find a new mother for his daughter.
He brought back a beautiful woman. She looked at her stepdaughter, measured her with her eyes and said nothing.
As soon as the sun rose, the girl went to the beach to play with the waves. She started making sand houses. An advancing wave would destroy a house, but when the wave retreated, it would give the girl enough time to build a new one. The girl lost track of time playing this exciting game. Noon came, and as the heat of the sun became unbearable, the girl ran home.
Her stepmother was still asleep there. The girl went down to the beach and started playing with the waves again. After a while, she went back home.
Her stepmother had just got up and was already eating delicious yukola. The girl approached her but was ignored by her stepmother. Having eaten a lot of tasty dried fish, she threw the girl a tailbone with just a bit of flesh remaining. The girl ate it, but it just whetted her appetite. The stepmother yawned, turned away from the girl and went back to bed.
From then on, the little girl’s life had been miserable.
Her father was a good hunter. He would bring home a lot of food and then go on a long hunt again.
The stepmother would eat all the tasty bits herself.
Once, the father asked her, “My dear wife, what’s happening? Our daughter has lost a lot of weight. Could it be that she is ill?
“No, she isn’t,” replied the stepmother. “She just runs around all day doing nothing useful, a lazy brat. No matter how much you feed her, she will remain bony because she runs around a lot.”
Autumn came. Birds flocked together and began migrating south.
The father was resting at home. The stepmother brought some delicious yukola from the barn and started slicing it.
As usual, she didn’t give the girl a single bit. The girl started begging for food, but her stepmother ignored her as if she was not there.
“Mother, mother, can I have just a small bit?” said the girl.
“Go away!” replied the stepmother.
“Please, give me just a sliver.”
“Go away! Get off!”
The girl was very hungry, so she extended her hand for food. The stepmother hit her fingers with a knife.
The girl walked out of the house and climbed a small knoll. Her fingers were bleeding, and tears were rolling down her cheeks. The girl was sobbing, “keek-keek, keek-keek”.
A wedge of swans were flying over the bay. They heard the sobbing and landed near the girl. They saw her bleeding and weeped, silently. They kept weeping for a while, and then, all of a sudden, they started crying in a loud voice, “keek-keek, keek-keek, keek-keek.”
The girl’s father heard their voices and stepped out. Seeing the large birds, he ran back inside to grab his bow and arrows.
The swans flapped their wings. And the little girl grew wings, too. She turned into a beautiful swan.
When the man stepped outside, the swans were already high in the sky, with a young bird in their midst.
All the swans were crying, “keek- keek, keek-keek, keek-keek!” But the young bird, she remained silent.
Desperate, the father cried out, “O my daughter, please come back! You will have a good life!” But the only thing he heard in response was the sound of the swans crying “keek- keek, keek-keek, keek-keek.”
The man stood there, motionless, for a long time while the swans flew further and further away and finally disappeared in the distance.
Every spring, swans fly over the village and cry, as if weeping, “keek-keek, keek-keek, keek-keek.”
Only one bird remains silent. And the swans see a man down below, standing upon the knoll.
A long time has passed since then. A stout larch tree has grown where the man used to stand. The larch tree seems to be crying out, its branches spread out like open arms.
And the swans, whether flying north or south, always turn towards the larch tree, descend close to the ground and cry “keek-keek, keek-keek, keek-keek.”
And that’s the end of the story.