It was said that the swan maidens made the best wine.
It was said that the lovely women with the feathered cloaks, the red-heads with the blue eyes and the hard fingernails that were really claws, that they felt no pain.
And not only did they feel no pain, but they had the best feet for trampling the spiny grapes that grew in the highlands, the best hands, long-fingered and slender, for plucking the skins for the finest sweet wines, the strongest arms and backs for carrying the fruit and working the presses.
It was said, too, that the tears of a swan maiden were the sweetest additive you could put in the wine, that their faint saltiness was surpassed only by a single drop of their blood added to a keg, that their suffering transformed a vintage from ordinary to extraordinary as nothing else could.
Much of this was lies. The swan maidens felt pain like anyone else. Their backs were not strong, save in their swan-forms. Their fingers were long, it was true, but they tended to be clumsy.
And all this only added to the tears added to the wine: and that, the tears and the blood, that was true. Which was why the crafty vinters of the highlands spread those other lies, and why they would, on the first clear day of Spring, stalk the banks of every lake in the mountains for the swan-maidens, to steal their cloaks, to force those maids to live with them and make their wine.
They would escape, of course, they always did. But the daughters they left behind would, some day, find cloaks of their own, and the cycle would begin anew.
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