museFor what seemed the millionth time she circled the large pond, lost deep in her thoughts.  Her bared feet knew the path and led her path.  The trees were beginning to lose their colored leaves and created a soft cushion for her step upon and the short train of her white dress was the only thing that rustled or made a sound.  Occasionally there was the splash of a swan diving its head into the water after food but none of that disturbed her thoughts.  She no longer noticed how the tangles of branches would bend out of her way as she paced her circle.

Once, once a summer ago, she would be sitting on her rock, dangling her feet in her pond, appreciating the beauty that surrounded her.  An underground stream fed and was fed from the bottom of the pond keeping the water fresh and clear, stocked with the silver darting fish that the swans fed from.  The trees grew close to drink from the fresh magical water, causing them to grow stronger and taller, creating the canopy overhead that the sun had to filter through on even the brightest summer day.  She would reach down and sweep her hand through the water, wetting the bell sleeve of her gown, and release enough of her magic to let trees have enough of the magical water to last through the winter.  In the colder autumns she would push extra in just in case it was cold enough for the water to freeze over.  Her pond never. would.

She would catch a glimpse of her face, blond hair held back by woven flowers that grew there falling around her shoulders.  Her blue sky eye would be transitioning to a shimmering silver, the first of the changes and one of the things that marked her as the princess.  That and her size once the change was complete.  The she would lean back, happy and calm, enjoying the sounds of the woods around her and the water trickling and softly splashing against the few rocks in her pond.  She only had to wait for her flock to come home.

But that was before he’d found her pond.  In all the time she’d been changing into a swan and leading them south for the winter, no one had ever found them.  Somehow he had.  At first she used her magic on him to convince him it was a dream but he came back.  Again and again, with eyes warm like her beloved summers when he and her flock could take their human forms, hand that were rough from work but gentle when they touched her.  No other had ever dared touched the Princess Swan of Hidden Pond.  Finally he kissed her and the heat and passion he made her feel fully awakened her human side.

Now as she paced, waiting for him, waiting to tell him goodbye for the season, she understood why some of her swans were so sad in a moment she had always felt so grand and pure.  Swans mate for life and some were leaving a loved one behind for a season as she was about to do.

She was so lost in her thoughts of confusion and sorrow over leaving, she didn’t hear him come behind and wrap his arms around her waist.  She gasped and smiled despite everything else she was feeling and leaned back into the strong arms and chest she’d come to covet the summer.  It somehow made her feel better and worse.

“Is it time?” he asked without turning her to face him.

Unable to face him, she nodded and said, “It is.”  She extended her hand to the pond which had become full of her flock as she paced.  “I will be back though I you wait for me.”  She added the last in desperation.  Most humans did not, could not see any future in it but she believed and hoped he would be different like some of the others, that he possessed that “love conquers all” gene.

She turned to face him, drowning in his eyes as she could see him doing the same until she was drowning in his kisses.  I was a longing kiss but did not feel like good-bye.  “I will be here when you come back,” he whispered, his forehead touching hers, his eyes closed.

The Princess stepped back from his embrace and allowed the change that had been pulling on her and she’d been denying take her.  He’d seen her as both swan and human and knew her by her eyes among the others, but he’d never seen the change.  He’d always thought it would be painful but she slid from one form to another as gracefully as she did everything.  With a last look she joined her fellows in the water and a few commanding calls later, the pond erupted in water and shimmering white feathers as the flew upward through the branches and disappeared.

He gathered her dress and promised himself that he would return everyday that winter allowed it if only to ease the pain of the part of him that had just flown away.

Then, one day as he stood by her lake, looking over it, thinking of the warm days that had been so full instead of the stark trees and chilly air, a silver eyed swan swam towards him.