(my attempt at an adaptation)

(Disclaimer: The following is an unauthorized and non-profit fanfic/adaptation of a Disney animated Silly Symphonies short of the same name; copyright 1939. The original story, characters, and the Silly Symphonies series are all property of The Walt Disney Co; please support the official release)

(Backstory: I was cleaning out some junk in the attic one day and I stumbled upon some old Disney books I had when I was a kid. One of them was a little golden book version of Disney's "Ugly Duckling" which I loved as a kid. After flipping through it, I went online and watched the original short which I also loved as a kid. Anyway, I decided to try my hand at an adapting it myself into literary format. I realize it would probably go better with pictures but I suck at drawing so we'll just have to make do without.)

One warm spring morning, at the base of an old tree and shaded by the marshy underbrush, a Mother Duck sat patiently atop her nest. Beneath her, safe in their downy crib and gently warmed by their mother, were a clutch of eggs that were almost ready to hatch out what she hoped would be four beautiful baby ducks. Nearby, the Father Duck paced back and forth in a fit of worry, carving a furrow into the ground. It seemed to him that it was taking forever for his children to be born and until then anything could go wrong.

"Are they hatching yet?" he called out.

"No," she answered for what seemed like the hundredth time that morning as he groaned and resumed his pacing with renewed vigor. The Mother Duck ruffled her feathers to better distribute her warmth over the eggs and couldn't see why he was so nervous. After all, she was the one doing all the work. Still, her mate's impatience was becoming contagious; especially since all the other ducks nesting around the marsh had already hatched out their young, leaving her the only one that season still without a brood of her own.

Suddenly, the Mother Duck felt the eggs start to rock back and forth beneath her while tiny scratches could be heard from inside the shells.

"Dear come quick!" she called as she hurried off. "It's time! Get over here!" The Father Duck ran back to the nest and stood by her side as one by one, the eggs cracked open and out tumbled four pudgy little ducklings. Each one had bright little eyes, tiny pink bills, and soft downy feathers that were as yellow as sunshine. The little newborns blinked in the harsh morning light and cried out for their parents as they flapped their baby wings and tried to stand on wobbly legs that could barely hold them up.

"They're perfect," the Father Duck beamed. "But of course they're mine so what else could they be?"

"Come one dears," the Mother Duck called to them. "This way." Struggling to their feet, the four downy little babies slowly climbed out of the nest and with soft little quacks stumbled toward their overjoyed parents. The ducks enfolded their young in their wings and the ducklings happily nuzzled against them before they were let go to wander around the grass and shrubbery surrounding the nest. The proud parents watched as their little newborns began to explore their big new world and decided that once they were strong enough to walk without difficulty, they would take them down to the pond for their first swim.

"Wait a minute!" the Father Duck suddenly quacked. "I thought you said there were only four eggs!"

"That's right there were."

"Then what do you call that?" he asked as he gestured toward the nest. Wondering what could possibly have gotten him so worked up, the Mother Duck peered down into the nest and was taken aback at what lay before her. In one corner, half buried in the eggshells from the other ducklings, was a fifth egg. But this egg was different from the others. Not only had it yet to hatch but it was twice as big as a duck egg should be.

"Did you really lay that that thing?" the Father Duck asked.

"I must have," she shrugged. "How else could it have gotten there?" In truth though, the Mother Duck wasn't sure. Thinking back, she remembered laying only four eggs. And even if she had miscounted, she certainly would have remembered laying something that big. "I suppose that I'll just have to nest it some more," she sighed as she picked out the eggshells. Rolling the big egg into the center, the Mother Duck climbed back onto the nest and settled over it as the Father Duck busied himself with watching over their other young. Minutes turned to hours and still the big egg showed no signs of life. Both parents were growing increasingly impatient, especially when the ducklings began to get hungry and started crying to be fed.

"You might as well leave it," the Father Duck suggested. "It obviously spoiled somehow so there's no sense wasting any more effort. It's a shame but we should really be focusing our efforts on the ducklings that did hatch."

"I suppose you're right," she sighed, just as something jumped against her underside. The Mother Duck squawked in alarm and launched off the nest as she looked down and saw that the big egg was now violently shaking and jolting around the interior. The Father Duck ran over to her side and together, they watched in astonishment as it finally cracked open and a head popped out of the top. But this head wasn't small yellow and fluffy like those of their other ducklings. It was big white and fuzzy with a long neck and a bill large enough for a full grown duck. The ugly and oversized hatchling blinked open eyes that were wide and staring as he gazed adoringly up at his shocked parents and opened his huge bill to speak.


The ducks cringed in disgust as his loud and braying cry echoed around them. What kind of a noise was that for a baby duck to make? But the Ugly Duckling was so happy to be born that he didn't even realize their displeasure. He clumsily wiggled out his shell and the ducks saw that his entire body was covered in white fuzz; as if all his feathers had been plucked clean off of him. If that wasn't bad enough; his feet were too big, his wings stuck out to far, his body was lean instead of pudgy, and his tail was just a fuzzy rounded nub. The malformed little duckling stomped around the nest's interior before he jumped out, honked a second time and then noticed the other ducklings who were waddling all around him. He rushed toward them, waggling his featherless tail and wanting to play but the ducklings were just as repulsed by him as their parents and ran to hide behind their mother who herself was too shocked to do anything besides stare. How could such a hideous creature possibly be one of her ducklings? The others were all perfect so how could this one have turned out so wrong? The Father Duck thought something similar as he looked at his brood. Four beautiful fluffy yellow ducklings; and another that was misshapen white and fuzzy. The more he thought about it, the more he realized something wasn't right which made him increasingly angry.

"What's going on here?" he yelled at the Mother Duck. "Why does he look like that?"

"I...I don't know!" she answered.

"What do you mean you don't know? How could you not know? Do you really expect me to to believe this...THING... is any duckling of mine?"

"How dare you!" she yelled. "You know that's not true!"

"Well I think he proves otherwise!" Ugly Duckling meanwhile had no idea his birth was such a harrowing ordeal for his parents. He waddled around the nest site in blissful ignorance; amazed at everything he saw. The world outside of his egg was bigger and more beautiful than he could imagine with lush green plants, warm yellow sunshine, and flowers of every color. Best of all, he had two parents to love him and four brothers and sisters to play with. What more could a little duckling want? The Mother and Father Duck however did not share his sense of wonder and continued to bicker back and forth as to whose fault it was that he turned out to be such a misfit until finally; refusing to accept that such any child so bizarre could possibly have been sired by him and frustrated by his mate's inability to explain otherwise; the Father Duck turned and walked away.

"Well as long as he's around I won't be!" he called over his shoulder. "I hope you enjoy the ugly little monster!"

"Dear, wait a minute!" But the Father Duck had already gone around the bend and vanished from sight.

"Honk!" the Ugly Duckling called up from below. The Mother Duck glared down at him as he waggled his fuzzy tail and beamed up at her as if she were supposed to fawn all over him. Everything had been perfect until he was born and decided to ruin everything. If she had even the slightest idea what lay within that last egg she would have shoved it out of her nest without the slightest hesitation. Especially since the more she looked at him, the more she doubted any duckling so ugly and graceless could possibly be one of hers. As she wondered what to do with him, a butterfly fluttered past the Ugly Duckling's bill and drew his attention away from her. The Mother Duck watched him waddle after it as if he hadn't a care in the world before turning toward the other ducklings, the beautiful yellow ones she knew to be hers, and gathered them together.

"Come along children," she announced. "It's time to take your first swim."

"Quack," they all peeped and followed their mother through the underbrush and down to the pond. If her mate wasn't going to take responsibility for the Ugly Duckling than neither was she. She had her own young to take care of and had wasted enough of her time on him already. Ugly Duckling meanwhile continued to chase after the butterfly until it fluttered up into the sky where he couldn't follow. He watched until it disappeared among the treetops before turning around and to his surprise saw that the others were leaving without him. Where were they all going? And why did his mother not take him as well? As the yellow backs of his siblings vanished into the underbrush, Ugly Duckling decided that he must have been so preoccupied with the butterfly that he hadn't heard the Mother Duck's call to follow her and had been left behind on accident. It never once occurred to him that his mother had intentionally left without him. After all, he was just a baby. He didn't realize how different he was from the other ducklings, how his birth had caused so much distress for his parents, or even that his mother wanted nothing to do with him. He just knew that he didn't want to stay at the nest all by himself with no one to play with so he bound down the path and hurried after them.

Arriving at the trail's end, the Mother Duck stood on the bank and waited as her ducklings clustered around her legs, unwilling to get any closer to the pond than they already were. Reluctantly, but knowing it was for their own good, she shoved them all in at once where they splashed and quacked in panic until they found out that water didn't hurt. And once they realized they could float they quickly began to enjoy themselves. Pleased to see that they were all good swimmers, the Mother Duck waded in alongside them and led them out onto the pond just as Ugly Duckling came running up to the water's edge.

"Honk!" he called out. The Mother Duck glanced over her shoulder and grimaced at the sight of him. Luckily, as with her own young, the Ugly Duckling was hesitant to jump into the water on his own which meant that he wouldn't be able to follow them anymore. Ignoring his incessant cries for her to come get him, the Mother Duck quacked for her ducklings to follow and they continued along their way.

Ugly Duckling honked as loud as he could but still the Mother Duck didn't come back for him. She must have been too far away for her to hear him. As he watched his family fade into the distance, he knew that if he didn't do something he'd never catch up to them. Taking a deep breath for courage; Ugly Duckling ran back up the path, turned, sped forward, and jumped into the water. He landed with a splash and briefly sank toward the bottom, but he kicked his legs and flapped his wings as hard as he could and bobbed back to the surface where he leveled off like he had seen the others do. Once he found his balance, he idly floated for a moment before paddling his webbed feet to propel himself forward. He soon found that swimming not only came natural to him, but was fun too and quickly set off to catch up with the others.

As she swam along with her ducklings, the Mother Duck gradually began to feel better. The ugly little pest who had caused her so much grief was (as far as she knew) stranded on the bank behind them where he couldn't bother her anymore. With luck, he'd get lost on his way back to the nest and she wouldn't have to deal with him anymore. Dipping her tail into the water, the Mother Duck invited her babies to climb onto her back. They had a big day ahead of them and it wouldn't do to tire them out too early. Such well-behaved ducklings I have, she thought with pride as she watched them climb single file onto her back and sit in a neat little row. Nothing at all like that ugly little troublemaker.

"Honk!" someone called out. Following their initial cringe, the ducks all turned and stared in shock as the Ugly Duckling came paddling up behind them, waggling his tail and sporting that same oblivious grin of his. The Mother Duck scowled with disgust and couldn't believe that any child could possibly be so thick headed as to not realize he was unwelcome.

"Honk honk!" he called out as he swam up behind her, wanting to ride as well. Ignoring him, the Mother Duck turned away and tried to put some distance between them. But the Ugly Duckling still failed to take the hint and continued to swim after her, all the while calling for her to stop and let him get on as well until finally, to her shock and horror, he leapt out of the water and onto her tail, startling the other ducklings so much that they all tumbled off her back at once. "Honk Honk!" he cheerfully cried as the Mother Duck couldn't believe the gall he had; riding on her back as if he were one of her own babies.

"Get off!" she yelled as she flapped her wing and swatted him off, sending him flying off of her back to splash headfirst into the pond.
As he disappeared below the surface, the Mother Duck gathered her babies together and hurried them onward. If they were lucky, they could lose him before he regained his bearings.

As he bobbed sputtering back to the surface, Ugly Duckling shook the water out of his wyes and saw that the others were swimming away even faster than before. He didn't understand what he had done wrong or why his mother had scolded him so harshly. He just wanted to ride on her back like the others were doing so why did she get so mad? Maybe she was only able to carry four ducklings on her back at once and it was just too much to carry a fifth one. If so then he was at fault for being so selfish. Deciding that he should try to be more considerate in the future, Ugly Duckling hurried after the others just in time to see the Mother Duck vanish into into a clump of cattails along the far bank.

With a quick glance behind her to make sure Ugly Duckling hadn't followed them into the reeds, the Mother Duck lowered her tail back into the water and the ducklings promptly slid off. Here was the perfect spot for her babies to eat and play with lots of insects for them to chase after and plenty of duckweed to fill their little tummies with. Best of all, the water was too shallow and the reeds too high and dense for any predator below or above water to sneak in and snatch one of them up.

"All right children," she announced. "You go and have fun, but be sure to stay together and don't leave the reeds until I call for you."

"Quack," the ducklings peeped as they swam off to explore the reeds, dipping their beaks into the floating duckweed and racing after the many mosquitoes that buzzed overhead. Departing to the exterior, the Mother Duck upended in search of her own food, which left her completely unaware of Ugly Duckling as he paddled into the cattails in search of them.

"Honk!" he cried out as he saw the other ducklings playing and eating amidst the shelter of the reeds. But as soon as they saw him approach, their games ended as they all scattered and hid. Ugly Duckling couldn't understand. Why didn't his brothers and sisters want to play with him? He tried to approach them, but as soon as he came near any of them they would immediately flee quacking in dismay and in search of a new hiding place. It wasn't long before Ugly Duckling was racing from one end of the cattails to the other in pursuit of his siblings, loudly honking for them to stop running away and play with him.

As she emerged from underwater with a mouthful of krill, the Mother duck heard her babies crying for help and flew back into the reeds to save them. But instead of a predator trying to make a meal out of them, what she found was the Ugly Duckling once again harassing her ducklings. With the last of her patience worn away, the Mother Duck dashed across the reeds and nipped at his stubby tail as hard as she could. Ugly Duckling yelped in pain and tried to flee, but the Mother Duck continued to nip at his tail, back and head as she chased him out of the reeds and up on to the bank where she cornered him against the base of an old tree.

"Will you go away!" she yelled as she towered over him. "You're not my duckling and even if you are I don't want you! You're ugly, clumsy, you can't even quack, and you've done nothing but cause me grief from the moment you hatched! So just go away and don't ever come near me again!" Ugly Duckling shrank trembling against the tree from the cold fury in her eyes until she finally turned away from him and returned to the pond. Now he was really confused. How could his mother say that she didn't want him? And why did she call him ugly? Waddling toward the water's edge, Ugly Duckling looked down and honked in alarm as he ran to hide behind the tree. Peeking out from behind a root, he saw that the hideous creature in the pond hadn't emerged to chase him so he timidly crept back for a second look. He peered down and there was the same malformed face he had seen before staring back at him, only now he noticed that its features were rippling with the surface of the water. As he bent down for a closer look, the creature mimicked him exactly, and he realized to his horror that what he was staring at was his own reflection.

Ugly Duckling couldn't believe how unlike the other ducklings he actually was. It wasn't just that he was big, white, and fuzzy instead of small, yellow, and downy like they were. His neck was too long, his eyes too wide, his bill too big even for his bulbous head, and his body was entirely the wrong shape. His mother was right. He was ugly. No wonder the other ducklings didn't want to play with him. As it finally dawned on Ugly Duckling that the Mother Duck had intentionally been trying to leave him behind from the moment he hatched, he looked up and saw that she and the other ducklings were already swimming off without him.

"Honk," he sniffled, begging her to come back for him. He didn't mean to be born so ugly. But the Mother Duck just turned and glared at him over her shoulder.

"Be quiet!" she scolded. "Just go away and find someone else to bother someone you ugly gawk!" Around her, the other ducklings quacked for him to go away as well and Ugly Duckling knew that it was pointless to try and follow them anymore. He was an ugly duckling and his mother hated him for it. "Well?" she asked. "What are you waiting for?"

With tears silently rolling off his bill, Ugly Duckling turned away from the pond and the baneful eye of his mother as he waddled toward the scrub growing just past the bank. He looked back a final time, saw that she and the other ducklings had already vanished from sight, and set off alone through the marsh. The tall grass and shrubbery cast shadows all around him and the world that had seemed so wondrous and beautiful when he had hatched was now dark and lonely. After all, if his own mother didn't want him around than how could anyone else? Where was he supposed to go? Who was going to take care of him? It was all too much for a little duckling to think about so he stopped to rest beneath the shade of a bush; one ugly duckling who nobody loved or wanted and all alone in the world.

"Tweet tweet!" someone called from above. "Tweet tweet tweet!" Ugly Duckling looked up and saw a nest secured in the limbs of the bush, just like the one he had hatched in but much smaller. And in the nest, something was chirping and singing beautifully. His curiosity piqued, Ugly Duckling climbed up the bush and out onto the branch where he saw four baby Blackbirds sitting in the nest. They were small and frail looking with brown fuzz instead of feathers, pointed beaks, and tiny necks that could barely hold up the heads mounted on top of them. And when they saw him standing on their branch, they bobbed and chirped as if happy to see him. Encouraged by their greeting, he waggled his tail and waddled down the branch towards them.


"Tweet tweet! Tweet tweet tweet tweet!"

Unlike the ducks, the little Blackbirds didn't seem to mind how he looked at all. They even seemed to like him. And if they liked him then so would their mother. Maybe she'd like him so much that she'd want to become his new mother. The thought buoyed Ugly Duckling's sense of hope and he climbed in alongside them. It was cramped in the nest as well as a little crowded, but the chicks didn't seem to mind. They snuggled around him for warmth and the Ugly Duckling was as happy as he ever was.

Suddenly, the chicks started to chirp and squirm excitedly around him. Ugly Duckling looked up and saw that the Mother Blackbird was flying towards the nest with a freshly caught worm in her beak. His stomach grumbled at the sight and he realized he hadn't eaten anything since hatching. Alighting on the end of the branch and oblivious to the extra mouth in her nest, the Mother Blackbird hopped towards her chicks who shoved past each other in hopes of getting the first bite. But as soon as she was close enough to give it to them; Ugly Duckling reached up and ate the entire worm in one gulp.

The Mother Blackbird was furious. Not only did she have a trespasser in her nest but he had stolen her babies' lunch. "Get out!" she squawked as she threw herself against the intruder and slapped him with her wings. "Get out get out!" Ugly Duckling honked in alarm as he jumped out of the nest and down to the ground where he ran back to the pond as fast as his legs could carry him. But the Mother Blackbird wasn't about to let him off so easily and flew after him, viciously pecking at his head and body with her sharp beak. Ugly Duckling cried out in pain and futilely tried to shield himself with his wings, but the Mother Blackbird continued to assault him until he finally dove into the water and swam far out onto the pond. "Go on get out of here!" he heard her call out behind him. "And don't ever show your face around my nest again you ugly pest!"

Out on the pond, Ugly Duckling hid in a clump of reeds until he was certain that the Mother Blackbird wasn't chasing after him anymore. He was sore all over and when he looked as his reflection saw that he was covered in scratches from her beak. He looked even uglier than before. Once he was certain that it was safe to do so, Ugly Duckling emerged from his hiding place and paddled along the bank. All around him, the water was chocked with wide green lily pads, many of which were capped with flowers in various shades of pink, red, and white. But the beauty of it all was lost on Ugly Duckling who now felt more alone than ever. His mother didn't want him and no other birds wanted to be his mother either. And to make it worse he was still hungry. Dipping his beak as he swam along, Ugly Duckling scooped up some of the duckweed floating around him. It didn't taste quite as good as the worm had, but at least it filled him up. He bent down for another mouthful and suddenly felt something bump against him. Looking up, he back paddled in alarm as he found himself face to face with a beautiful blue and green feathered duck with a bright red head floating all by itself in the middle of the lily patch. Ugly Duckling waited but the Red-headed Duck didn't chase him off, tell him to go away, or even get mad at him for bumping into it. Instead it seemed to be smiling at him so he cautiously paddled closer.


Unlike the Mother Duck, the Red-headed Duck didn't even get mad when he honked at him so he waggled his fuzzy tail in greeting and swam up to it.

"Honk, honk!" he called again. But although the Red-headed Duck continued to smile at him, it never answered. Was it unable to talk? Was that why it was here all by itself? Maybe because of that the Red-headed Duck's family had cast him out, just like his own had cast him out for being ugly. If so, then they could be each others' family. Ugly Duckling nuzzled his head against its breast and to his delight it didn't swim off or push him away. He was so happy to finally have a friend that he didn't notice how cold and hard the Red-headed Duck felt. What he didn't understand was that his new friend wasn't really a duck at all. It was just a wooden decoy used by hunters to lure real ducks into an ambush.

Luckily for Ugly Duckling, the decoy's owners weren't around at the moment. Up onto the decoy's back he jumped which made it rock back and forth in the water. Ugly Duckling thought that his friend wanted to play so he bounced up and down on the decoy's tail which made it rock even more. Ugly Duckling honked with glee as he had a wonderful ride and then dove into the water with a splash. Being an ugly duckling wasn't so bad now that he had found a friend to play with. Climbing back up onto the decoy, he waddled up its back to nuzzle against its head and neck before climbing up to stand on its bill so he could jump off and make an even bigger splash. As he did, the decoy came off balance and tilted so far forward that he slipped and fell into the water. Ugly Duckling popped back to the surface and wondered why his new friend had thrown him off when the decoy tilted forward a second time and whacked him on the head with its hard wooden bill.

The impact knocked the sense right out of Ugly Duckling and he sank all the way down to the murky bottom of the pond. His body felt like jelly and he almost drowned but he fought his way back to the surface and weakly dragged himself onto shore. His head was throbbing with pain and the whole world was spinning around him. He looked back and saw that the decoy who he thought wanted to be his friend was still swaying menacingly in the water, daring him so come back so it could hit him again.

Ugly Duckling sniffled as he struggled to his feet and stumbled along the bank. Everyone hated him and it was his own fault for being so ugly. Tears once again filled his eyes and rolled of his beak as he stopped to look at his reflection in the pond. He stared at his huge bill and bulbous head that now sported a big red bump on top, his long neck, and a body that was lean, large, and fuzzy instead of small, plump, and fluffy. If he had been born beautiful like the other ducklings than his mother would have loved him and never would have thrown him out. Unable the stand the sight of himself, he fled from the image into the tall grass where he threw himself to the ground and began to cry. Tears rolled off his face and down his bill as he buried his face in his wings, his despair and loneliness washing over him as his entire body shook with great honking sobs that echoed around him. But even though he was hidden from sight, Ugly Duckling cried so hard and so loud that it wasn't long before someone heard and came looking for him.

"Honk!" The sound forced itself though his tears and Ugly Duckling looked up in mid-sob.

"Honk, honk!" What was making that noise? Whatever it was it sounded as though it was right outside the grassy curtain he had hidden behind. With tears still streaming down his face, Ugly Duckling rose to his feet and crept towards where the sound had come from. As he peered out, the glare of the afternoon sun briefly blinded him as he looked down and couldn't believe what he saw.

Just past the scrub was a shallow ledge that overlooked the pond. And in the water beneath the ledge were four white and fuzzy creatures who looked just like him. The all had long necks with bulbous heads, large eyes, and big wide bills. Ugly Duckling stepped out from behind the rushes and they eagerly swam closer; waggling their nubby tails and cheerfully honking for him to come play with them.

"Honk! Honk, Honk honk! Honk honk!"

"Honk!" he answered back as he dove off the ledge to join them, the cool water soothing the bump on his head and washing the tears from his face. Ugly Duckling bobbed back to the surface and with his new friends cheerfully chased and splashed each other all over their little corner of the pond. He didn't know how there could be so many ducklings that looked like him or where they had all come from, but he was so grateful to finally have friends who wanted to play with him that he didn't even care. But when it was finally time for Ugly Duckling's turn to be it, the others suddenly swam off and he once again found himself all alone.

As he watched them leave, Ugly Duckling looked up and stared wide eyed at what he saw. In the water before him was a great female swan. And she was the most beautiful bird he had ever seen. She was twice as tall as the Mother Duck with pure white feathers, a long neck that curled into an elegant bend, and great frilled wings that arched over her back. And in the water around her, his new friends were happily honking and nuzzling against her neck and wings. Ugly Duckling felt his heart sink as he watched and realized what he thought were ducklings were actually her cygnets. They all looked so happy as they clustered around her and the Mother Swan was so beautiful and he wanted so badly to swim up and be close to her as well, but he knew that someone as lovely as her would never allow it.

"Oh!" she cried out as she finally noticed him. "Where did you come from?" More ashamed of his appearance than ever before, Ugly Duckling lowered his head and sadly swam away. The cygnets paddled after him and honked for him to stay but he knew he couldn't. He didn't belong with them anymore than he did with his own family. He was an ugly duckling that nobody loved or wanted and he had to leave before their mother chased him off like all the others.

"And where do you think you're going?" Ugly Duckling looked behind him and was shocked to see the Mother Swan had swum after him as well. He attempted to flee but her young had blocked his path and were now pushing him back towards their mother who stretched out her great wings and closed them around him. Ugly Duckling honked in terror and flailed with all his might to get away, but the Mother Swan's hold on him remained firm as she gently pulled him close and cradled him against her snowy breast.

"There there," she whispered as she stroked him with her neck and nuzzled her beak against his face and the bump on his head. "You poor little dear. I'm so sorry for everything. If I had known, I would have come for you without delay. But you don't have to be alone anymore. I'm here now and it's time to come home." Ugly Duckling stared up at the Mother Swan but still didn't understand. Why was someone like her being so kind to him? Didn't she see how ugly he was? And why was her presence so familiar and comforting to him?

It was almost as if she was his mother.

"Honk?" he timidly asked.

"Yes my little one," she answered. "And I'm so glad I found you." He was a cygnet? And she wanted him? And didn't think he was ugly at all? Ugly Duckling smiled up at the Mother Swan and pushed deeper into her embrace. It had never once occurred to him that the reason he didn't look like the other ducklings was simply because he wasn't one. And the Mother Swan was so warm and soft and her wings so secure and welcoming around him that all his hurt inside and out faded away.

"Honk," he joyfully cried as he buried his face in her snowy feathers, "Honk, honk, honk." And not once did she scold, hit, or shove him away.

Finally, the late afternoon sun began to descend toward the horizon and the Little Swan who was no longer an ugly duckling swam along his real mother and siblings as she led them all home. No longer ashamed of how he looked, he held his head high and carried himself with pride until a familiar sound drifted to him from across the pond.

"Quack, quack!"

He stopped to look and there along the bank, accompanied by her ducklings, was the Mother Duck. She and the ducklings saw him as well and their bills dropped open in shock at the company he was now in. As they stared at each other across the water, the ducks exchanged glances and whispered to each other before the Mother Duck called out to him.

"There you are! Where have you been? Don't you realize how worried I was when I realized you were missing? But you're safe and sound so all is forgiven. Just come back over here and we can all go home together. Isn't that right children?" Around her, the ducklings flapped their wings and quacked for him to come over and play with them. "Well what are you waiting for?" she asked. "Don't you want to come home and be with your family?" But despite their efforts to coax him into coming over, the Little Swan made no effort to come closer. As the Mother Swan and the other cygnets realized he had fallen behind, they swam back to get him when the scene the ducks were making over on the bank caught their attention and they stopped to watch as well.

"Little one," his mother asked, "are those friends of yours?" The Little Swan didn't answer and continued to stare at the ducks. The Mother Duck didn't want him as her baby and her young had refused to play with him because they thought he was an ugly duckling but now wanted him because they realized he was a swan. The other cygnets however had come looking for him when they heard him crying and wanted to play with him as soon as they saw him while the Mother Swan had recognized him as one of hers even though he hadn't hatched in her nest along with her other young. As he looked down at his own reflection, that of a cygnet and not a duckling, he made up his mind and turned his back on the ducks as he swam up to the Mother Swan to snuggle against her side. Her gaze shifted between him and the ducks and though she could guess what their relationship was she decided not to press the issue. Instead, she honked to her cygnets that it was time to leave and with the Little Swan still among them, continued on their way.

"Well!" the Mother Duck quacked. "Not only ugly but ungrateful as well! And after all the work I put into hatching him! Well I hope you enjoy raising such an ill-mannered child!" The Mother Swan snapped her neck around and glared at the Mother Duck, but the Little Swan laid his wing on hers and her fury ebbed. Just because she called him those things didn't mean that he was. After all, his family didn't think of him that way and that was good enough for him. Nor did he bear the Mother Duck any ill feelings. He actually felt sorry for her. Once he would have liked to have been accepted by her as one of her ducklings. But he wasn't and it was better for them both this way.

Besides he realized now that she was petty, shallow, and capricious. And if he did go back to be raised by her then he might grow up to be the same.

As they swam into the sunset, the Mother Swan looked down at her lost little cygnet with pride. She loved all of her babies, but she could sense a strength in this one that could only be earned through trial and suffering. She had no doubt that he would grow up to be a fine swan, one that would someday become King of the Marsh. But for now, it was time to take him home where he could grow up safe and loved like all little birds deserved.