“I had a strange and wondrous dream,” Julianne told her mother upon waking. “In it met a beautiful swan who was unable to fly because it was tangled in yarn. As I collected and balled the yarn the swan became free and flew off into the sky. As it circled overhead the swan said it was a prince caught in an evil spell and he begged me to come free him, then he flew off to who-knows-where.”
“If there’s anyone who can make sense of such things it would be your aunties,” said Julianne’s mother.
“But they’ve each married cannibals!” Julianne cried. “Surely you wouldn’t send me to risk my life simply to learn the message of a dream?”
“Darling one, they’re omnivores, not cannibals. You know that everyone in the world isn’t vegetarian like we are.”
So Julianne packed herself off to visit her aunties in turn, beginning first with Auntie Sun. As she related her dream Auntie Sun sat and rocked with her eyes closed, imagining the scene as is was described to her.
“Yes, yes,” said Auntie Sun, “I can see why this dream left such a strong impression on you. I can only explain part of the dream to you, my sisters will have to explain the rest, but you have to be sure this is really what you want.”
“I do, I do!” said Julianne.
Then Auntie Sun hands Julianne a necklace with a golden ring hanging from it.
“The swan is indeed a prince, that much is clear from the dream. He did not seek you out but he was grateful you found him, and so he shall be if you seek him out now. This golden ring will help you gain access to him.”
Julianne was grateful for her auntie’s help and skipped off to see her Auntie Moon. She told Auntie Moon of her dream and of Auntie’s Sun’s interpretation of the dream.
“Very well,” said Auntie Moon, “I suspect that you like what you heard and wish to hear more? That’s what you have come to me?”
“I do, I do!” said Julianne.
“Very well. The swan-prince of your dream is indeed entangled, bound by a spell of words, but he agreed to the terms of this spell without giving it much thought. If you continue to seek him out the prince will understand the true weight of this spell and will be released. That is all I can tell you, child.”
With this Auntie Moon gave Julianne a bracelet full of green emeralds. “This will help you to weaken the spell, but I must warn you that you put yourself in danger if you proceed. My other sister will explain it to you no doubt.”
Julianne didn’t care about danger. She had reimagined the swan-prince in her mind over and over to the point where he would be worth any risk she might have to undertake. She anxiously went to her Auntie Star and related her dream, as well as the interpretations by her sisters Sun and Moon, and grunted in response.
“My foolish sisters have done you a disservice be filling you head with romantic notions,” Auntie Star said. “This dream is a warning, for you and your swan prince, and no good can come from all this.”
“But Auntie Moon said that my prince is indeed entangled in a spell, and Auntie Sun said he would be grateful that I should find him. Are you saying they weren’t telling the truth?”
“Child, you aren’t seeing the clear picture here. The swan in your dream was grateful, and you did release him, but you yourself said he flew off without you.”
“But clearly he couldn’t stay with me in the dream because he was still bound by the spell in real life. Only his spirit in the shape of a swan could come and show me what was necessary for me to see. Now, what is this danger that Auntie Moon spoke of?”
“There are guardians at the gate of the prince’s palace. Every kingdom has guardians at the gate.”
“Fierce monsters, like dragons and lions?” said Julianne.
“They make take that shape in your mind, but I promise you nothing more than ugly men. You will need to get past them, and when you do is when you will face your greatest danger. That is when you will meet the one who has cast the spell over your prince and as bound him in place. But beware, she will not be what you expect, and in fact you will doubt everything my sisters and I have told you. Nonetheless, she will help you get near enough to the prince that you may undo the spell. Once free, however, the prince will do as he did in the dream and fly off without you.”
“Impossible! Auntie, if everything else turns out to be as you and your sisters have said it then in the end the prince will be mine. Now, what do you have to help me get past the guardians?”
With a weary sigh Auntie Star gave a basket full of stinking cheeses and savory pies made with organ meats. Julianne found the meal revolting but understood the power it would have in attracting the guardians.
“You will see when I return, Auntie Star, that I was right and you were wrong.”
“I hope so, child, for if I am right you will never return.”
Undaunted, Julianne headed off toward the castle on the mountain where Auntie Star said she would find the swan-prince. As she neared the front gate she saw two very large guards whose faces had been scarred and ruined from many a battle. She set out a small blanket like a picnic and unpacked the meats and cheeses and then retreated to a hiding place. In time the guards smelled the food and went to investigate. Satisfied no one was around they presumed it had been set for them through some sort of magic and set in to eating. While they ate Julianne silently crept away and entered the unguarded castle.
Wandering the grounds of the castle Julianne was surveying the palace to determine where the prince might be located when she was stopped by the most beautiful woman she had ever seen.
“Are you lost, dear?” the woman said.
“I have traveled far, following instructions from a dream, and have come to free one who is bound by a spell.”
“Well, then! You should meet my husband, the prince, and tell him of your mission! He will be most astonished!”
Julianne hadn’t thought to wonder if the prince was married and now realized that the beautiful woman, a princess is ever there was one, had been the one that placed the spell over the prince. As they entered the throne room the prince sat up when he saw Julianne enter with his wife.
“Husband, this child has come claiming to have followed instructions from a dream. It is just as you said!”
Julianne was taken aback. The prince had dreamed of her arrival and told his wife? What hadn’t her Auntie’s told her this would be the case, or that the prince was married and that his wife’s spell was surely her beauty? She wanted to escape, to run away, but she had come this far and couldn’t do so without being rude to the prince.
“It is true!” the prince said. “I dreamed a maiden would come and speak to me of having met in a dream, but I fear I don’t understand the rest of it. In the dream you were as you are but I was a large bird and could not understand what you said.”
“A swan, your highness. You were a swan, and…” Julianne was unsure how much to disclose in front of the prince’s wife. “And I could not understand you as well.” A strange welling of guilt caught in Julianne’s throat. She had never lied before, and now she was sure that lying might possibly bring about the dangers she had been warned of. She noticed the princess couldn’t remove her eyes from the emerald bracelet so she removed it.
“In my dream I was to give you this gift. I know not why, but the dream hasn’t led me astray thus far…”
Julianne handed the princess the bracelet and was thanked with a warm embrace.
“It is the most exquisite thing I have ever seen! And to think I feared what you might be when my husband told me of his dream.”
“What was it you feared, your highness?”
“That you had come to steal my prince from me!”
And though they all laughed at such a thought, Julianne’s heart broke inside at the realization that she had been foolish to ignore her Auntie Star, foolish to think a dream like that had only one interpretation.
That night they feasted and Julianne played the part of a gracious guest, promising herself that she would stay a reasonable length of time and then beg her leave in a way that didn’t seem suspicious. As the night wore on the princess insisted Julianne spend the night. While she lay in her bed truing to decide whether or not to leave at first light before everyone else woke up, or to make a more dignified exit later in the morning, Julianne jumped as a secret door of her room opened and the prince entered.
“You and I both know there is more to the dream than we would ever admit in public,” the prince said as he sat on the edge of Julianne’s bed.
“I… I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
The prince reached over and pulled out the necklace with the ring on it from beneath her dressing gown.
“Why else would you be wearing this,” the prince said. “In my dream you came to the palace with this ring intended as a wedding band.”
“Impossible,” Julianne said. “You are already married, and to the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.”
“Yes, but what is beauty compared with the power of a dream that comes true? There is a reason the fates have brought us together like this, and I have to believe this is a powerful magic that supercedes all others.”
Julianne took a breath in an attempt to harness her fear. She smiled and patted the prince’s hand.
“I have a plan” said Julianne. “In the morning you shall offer to take me on a walk and we will use that opportunity to run off together.”
The prince smiled and leaned in for a kiss but Julianne turned away.
“Very well, my sweet Julianne. Until the morrow when we shall be free to fly off together.”
As soon as the prince left Julianne made herself ready to escape the palace and return home under the cover of night. She made it past the sleeping guards at the gate and was about to enter the forest when the princess stepped out from the shadows of the trees.
“I had feared you might not come,” said the princess. “In my dream it wasn’t clear whether or not you would.”
“I don’t understand, your highness.”
“I, too, had a dream. I had a dream that my faithless husband had paid a call on an unsuspecting maiden in her bedchamber and had charmed her into running off together. In exchange she would give me a bracelet of emerald jewels and I was to be satisfied that a fair deal had been struck. I suspect that the dream you shared with my husband had a similar variation on that scheme. But unlike my husband, you and I have chosen not to accept our fanciful dreams as die-cast fate. I suspect this has something to do with the strength of our womanly character.”
Julianne fell to her knees and began to cry. “I’ve been so foolish,” she said. “Please forgive me.”
The princess handed Julianne back the emerald bracelet and begged her to rise. “Further along the trail you will find one of my footmen with a horse. He will accompany you to safety wherever you wish go. If necessary he is prepared to negotiate a fair trade on the value of that bracelet so that you may begin your life anew and in some comfort. He is instructed to stay as long as you need him and to come to me if you should ever require further assistance. And should you find happiness and a husband you are more than welcome to return here for a visit.”
Though it was unheard of to do so Julianne gave the princess a warm embrace and left without another word. She found the footman as promised and together they proceeded to a small village where he was able to acquire a small farm and a fair bit of coin in exchange for the bracelet. The footman stayed on to help Julianne run the farm and they eventually were married. For the rest of their lives Julianne and the princess – and later, queen – exchanged letters to one another and became close friends, though they never saw each other again.
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