There was a woman who lived with her family in the heart of a wild and uncanny forest, the last refuge of the arrogant, trickster Fair Folk. One day her six brothers were turned into swans by a sorceress. In order to turn her brothers back into human form, the Fair Folk told the woman that she must go alone into the forest and sew a shirt for each of them. With her bare hands she must weave the fabric from fibers of a plant that causes stinging and swelling when touched. She must not speak until she is done. If she speaks, she will lose her brothers forever. She spends many months alone in the forest working on her task and undergoing many trials.
When this existence overwhelms her, she goes to the water and gets into a boat, letting the voices and currents of the water take her where they will. Close to drowning, she is discovered and rescued by a man from another land. He finds her to be strange and wild, having been living alone in the forest for so long, and not being able to speak. Despite her strangeness, he brings her to his home and becomes her Protector. Along the way, the man has his first encounter with the Fair Folk, beings of the Otherworld.
The man's home is far from the mysterious forest, in a “civilized” land of logic and commerce. While in his home, the woman spends her days in the sewing room with the ladies of the house, they stitching delicate embroidery, she maiming her hands weaving coarse, ugly shirts. Everyone distrusts her and thinks she is crazy, or worse, a witch. The man cannot understand why she does what she does, but he trusts that it is important and so does everything he can to help her complete her task. His love and trust makes the task more bearable. At the edge of her awareness, he and other Allies stand guard over her, protect her and provide her with whatever she needs so that she can continue her work. He offers to do the work for her, but, of course, she is the one that must do it.
When five shirts are finished and the sixth one is nearly complete, the time comes to place them on the swans' necks and return her brothers to human form. At this same moment, the woman is facing her own death. She is about to be burned at the stake, but her focus never wavers from her task. Before she has a chance to put the last shirt on the last brother, she uses her voice to shout a warning to her protector, saving his life. She thinks that, by speaking before her task is completely finished, she has doomed her brothers to be swans forever, but she does what needs to be done in that moment, without hesitating. She did not fail her brothers, however. Somehow, the last shirt had reached the last swan in time and she and her brothers were saved.
Her brothers are in a hurry to return with their sister to the forest, for they are enemies of this land. The woman is now faced a difficult choice: stay in this civilized land with the man that loves and protected her or return to her homeland, the otherworldly forest. She returns to the forest. She soon realizes that she truly loves the man, but knows in her heart that she belongs in the forest. Meanwhile, the man gives up his land and finds his way through the uncanny forest to her. His ability to move through the forest and tell his story from the heart convinces her brothers that he is worthy of their sister. He remains with her in the forest, a man with one foot in each world.
Christy is a doula and Birthing From Within childbirth mentor committed to strengthening families and communities through storytelling/storylistening, meaningful celebration, mindfulness, and reflective work.