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But That's Another Story

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When the celebrations were over and Fionnuala reunited with her prince, her youngest and dearest brother, whose name was Gwyn, was nowhere to be found. Fionnuala searched the palace, asking of everyone she said, in her newfound voice, "Have you seen my brother? Have you seen the boy with a wing for an arm?"

At last, she found him on top of the highest tower in the palace. She had often lingered here, gazing down at the forest that lapped against the foot of the cliffs and the blue mountains in the distance, watching for the first flash of white wings in the sky.

Now her brother stood there, framed against the sunset with his wing flared. He was leaning on his good arm, staring down from the battlements. His black curls, which she had not seen by daylight for so very long, were tangling past his shoulder. His eyes were shadowed, so she could not read his always mercurial mood.

Fionnuala sat on the battlement beside him, ignoring the way the wind tugged eagerly at her hair and cloak. She had been so long without words that she didn't know what to say.

"Gwyn-" she began.

He started speaking quickly, without looking at her, "I flew over a island once, hidden in a valley, where twelve princesses came in secret every night and danced until their shoes were worn through. The lights glittered so brightly against the water, and the music whispered up so high that they could have danced to it on the moon. Then a soldier came, hiding himself like a thief in the night, and they lost their freedom."

He had done that before, distracted her with a nudge or flap of wings when she wept over her swollen hands. She wouldn't stand for it now, though. "Gwyn, your arm-"

"Another time, we came in over the ocean under the light of the moon. A selkie girl was dancing on the shore, hopping from rock to rock on graceful human feet. She paused to wave to us and a man stole her skin away. We cried out to warn her, but she was a creature of the sea, not the air and she could not understand. She was bound to the land as we were bound to our wings."

"Perhaps she escaped," Fionnuala said, heart aching for another trapped girl. "Perhaps she became what she wanted to be again. Gwyn-"

"In the coldest North, there was a man cursed to the form of a bear by day. The girl who loved him tossed their happiness aside in a moment, by lighting a single flame, and he was torn away to marry a monster and be cursed for all his days."

"Perhaps she went after him," Fionnuala said. "Perhaps she loved him enough to fight the monsters and bring him home, cursed or not."

"And once-"

"No," she said, cutting over him, confident of her voice now. "Let me tell you a story. Once there was a princess who had the bravest brothers the world had ever seen, princes every one of them. These princes were cursed with a great and terrible spell, that they would remain in the shape of swans save on the night of the full moon, when they would walk as men again. They could have scattered to the four corners of the world, seeking out a cure for their curse. They could have spent their nights of freedom in any place in the world where their wings could carry them. Instead, they stayed loyal to their sister, comforting and protecting her through all her troubles. And then, when she had the chance to break their curse, she didn't quite succeed. She failed her youngest brother and she's sorry – she's so sorry."

And there, on the tower's edge, between the sky and the ground, she wept, though tears were easier than words after all these years.

After a while, she felt her brother's hand on her shoulder, and looked up to see him gazing down at her, a familiar worry on his face. "Don't cry," he said. "There's no reason to cry."

"I'm sorry," she said again through her tears. "I wanted to save you all. I wanted to find a cure."

"Perhaps I don't need a cure," he said, voice trembling between laughter and apology. "You left me halfway undone. I may never be fully a man again, but there are other choices."

"What do you mean?" she asked, but he was already stepping back onto the battlements, spreading out his arm. The wing plucked at him and she squeaked, "Gwyn! No!"

"Once upon a time," he said, face bright, "there was a one-armed prince who wished to seek his fortune." Then, as she clapped her hands over her mouth in shock, he began to change, his human arm spreading into a white wing as his body folded down. Within moments, there was a swan perched on the grey stone.

"You made me cry!" she protested, indignant.

He snapped his beak at her, in what she knew was a swan's laugh. Then, arching his neck, he stretched his wings and threw himself into the dusk, wings glowing under the first hint of moonlight. As she clung to the side of the tower and watched him go, into his own story, she began to laugh out loud for the first time in seven years.