Italian Popular Tales
by Thomas Crane
ONCE upon a time there was a fisherman who had a wife and many children. Now it happened that the fisherman did not catch any fish for a time and did not know how to support his family. One day he cast his net and drew out a large fish which began to talk: "Let me go and cast in your net again and you will catch as many fish as you wish." The fisherman did so and caught more fish than he remembered to have taken before. But in a few days the fish were gone and the fisherman cast his net again, and again caught the big fish, which said: "I see clearly that I must die, so kill me now, and cut me into pieces. Give half to the king, a piece to your wife, one to your dog, and one to your horse; the bones you will tie to the kitchen rafters; your wife will bear sons, and when anything happens to one of them the fish-bone will sweat drops of blood." The fisherman did as he was told, and in due time his wife gave birth to three sons, the dog to three puppies, and the horse to three colts. The boys grew up and went to school and learned much and prospered. One day the oldest said: "I want to go and see a little of the world," and took one of the dogs, one of the horses, and some money, and set out, after receiving his father's and mother's blessing. He arrived at a forest, and there saw a lion, an eagle, and an ant which had found a dead ass that they wanted to divide among themselves, but could not agree and so were quarrelling. They saw the youth, and called on him to make the division. He was afraid at first, but took heart and gave the lean meat to the eagle, the brains to the ant, and the rest to the lion. They were all satisfied, and the youth continued his way. After he had gone a few steps the animals called him back, and the lion said: "You have settled our dispute, and we wish to reward you; when you wish to become a lion, you have only to say: 'No more a man, a lion, with the strength of a hundred lions!" The eagle said: "When you wish to become an eagle, say: 'No more a man, an eagle, with the strength of a hundred eagles!" The ant, also, gave him power to transform him self into an ant in the same way. The youth thanked them and departed. As he was passing along the shore of the sea, he saw a dog-fish that was out of the water; he put it back into the sea. The fish said: "When you need me, come to the sea and cry: 'Dog-fish, help me!"
The youth continued his way and arrived at a city all hung with mourning. "What is the matter?" The young man asked. "There is here," they told him, "a big cloud (it was a fairy) that every year must have a young girl. This year the lot has fallen on the king's daughter. If they do not give her up, the cloud will throw so many things into the city that we shall all be killed." The youth asked if he could see how the thing went, and they told him he could. The ceremony began with muffled drums and an escort of soldiers; the king and queen in tears accompanied their daughter, who was taken to the top of a mountain, placed in a chair, and left alone. The youth, who had followed them, hid himself behind a bush. Then the cloud came, took the young girl in her lap, took her finger in her mouth, and began to suck her blood. This was what the cloud lived on. The princess remained half dead, like a log, and then the cloud carried her away. The youth, who had seen all this, cried: "No more a man, an eagle, with the strength of a hundred eagles!" Then he became an eagle and flew after the cloud. They arrived at a palace, the doors flew open and the cloud entered and carried the princess up-stairs. The eagle alighted on a tree opposite and saw a large room all full of young girls in bed. When the cloud entered they exclaimed: "Mamma! Here is our mamma!" The poor girls were always in bed, because the fairy half killed them. She put the princess in a bed, and said to the girls: "I am going to leave you for a few days." She went away and left the girls. The youth was near and heard everything; he said: "No more an eagle, an ant, with the force of a hundred ants!" He became an ant, entered the palace unseen, and went to the room where the young girls were. There he resumed his shape, and the girls were astonished at seeing a man appear so suddenly, and one of them said to him: "Take care, there is a fairy here; if she finds you on her return she will kill you." "Do not be troubled," he answered, "for I wish to see about setting you all free." Then he went to the bed of the king's daughter and asked her if she had some token to send her mother. She gave him a ring, and the youth took it and went to the queen, told her where her daughter was, and asked her to send some food to the poor girl. She did so, and the youth retraced his steps, reached the palace, informed the girls, and drew up the food with ropes. He then said to the girls: "When the fairy returns, ask her what you shall do when she dies; thus you will find out how to kill her." Then he hid himself, and when the fairy returned the girls asked her the question; but she answered: "I shall never die." They urged her to tell them, and the next day she took them out on a terrace, and said: "Do you see that mountain far off there? On that mountain is a tigress with seven heads. If you wish me to die, a lion must fight that tigress and tear off all seven of her heads. In her body is an egg, and if any one hits me with it in the middle of my forehead I shall die; but if that egg falls into my hands the tigress will come to life again, resume her seven heads, and I shall live." "Good!" said the young girls; "certainly our mamma can never die." But in their hearts they were discouraged. When the fairy had departed, the youth came forth and they told him all. "Do not be disheartened," he said, and straightway went to the princess' father, asked him for a room, a pan of bread, a barrel of good wine, and a child seven years old. He took all these things and shut himself up in the room, and said to the child: "Do you want to see something, my child? I am going to turn into a lion." Then he turned into a lion, and the child was afraid; but the youth persuaded him that it was only himself after all, and the child fed him, and was no longer frightened. As soon as he had instructed the child, he took all the things and went to the mountain where the tigress was. Then he filled the pan with bread and wine and said to the child: "I am going to become a lion; when I return give me something to eat." Then he became a lion, and went to fight the tigress. Meanwhile the fairy returned home, saying: "Alas! I feel ill!" The young girls said to themselves, in delight: "Good!" The youth fought until night, and tore off one of the tigress' heads; the second day another, and so on until six heads were gone. The fairy kept losing her strength all the time. The youth rested two days before tearing off the last head, and then resumed the fight. At evening the last head was torn off, and the dead tigress disappeared, but the youth was not quick enough to catch the egg, which rolled from her body into the sea and was swallowed by the dog-fish. Then the youth went to the sea: "Dog-fish, help me!" The fish appeared: "What do you want?" "Have you found an egg?" "Yes." "Give it to me," and the fish gave him the egg. He took it and went in search of the fairy, and suddenly appeared before her with the egg in his hand. The fairy wanted him to give her the egg, but he made her first restore all the young girls to health and send them home in handsome carriages. Then the youth took the egg, struck it on the fairy's forehead, and she fell down dead. When the youth saw that she was really dead, he entered a carriage with the king's daughter and drove to the palace. When the king and queen saw their daughter again, they wept for joy, and married her to her deliverer. The wedding took place with great magnificence, and there were great festivities and rejoicings in the city.
A few days after, the husband looked out of the window and saw at the end of the street a dense fog; he said to his wife: "I will go and see what that fog is." So he dressed for the chase and went away with his dog and horse. After he had passed through the mist, he saw a mountain on which were two beautiful ladies. They came to meet him, and invited him to their palace. He accepted and they showed him into a room, and one of the ladies asked: "Would you like to play a game of chess?" "Very well," he answered, and began to play and lost. Then they took him into a gar den where there were many marble statues, and turned him into one, together with his dog and horse. These ladies were sisters of the fairy, and this was the way they avenged her death.
Meanwhile the princess waited and her husband did not return. One morning the father and brothers of the youth found the kitchen ft of blood, which dropped from the fishbone. "Something has happened to him," they said, and the second brother started in search of him with another one of the dogs and horses. He passed by the palace of the princess who was at the window, and those brothers looked so much alike that when she saw him, she thought it was her husband and called him. He entered and she spoke to him of the fog, but he did not under stand her; he let her talk on, however, imagining that his brother was mixed up in that affair. The next morning he arose and went to see the fog with his dog and horse. He passed through the fog, found the mountain and the two ladies, and, to make the story short, the same thing happened to him that happened to his brother, and he became stone. And the queen waited, and in the father's kitchen the bone dropped blood faster than ever.
The third brother too set out with his dog and horse. When he came to the palace, the princess saw him from the window, took him for her husband, and called him in. He entered and she reproved him for having made her wait so long, and spoke of the mist; but he did not understand her and said: "I did not see very clearly what was in the mist, and I wish to go there again." He departed, and when he had passed through the mist he met an old man who said to him: "Where are you going? Take care, your brothers have been turned into statues. You will meet two ladies; if they ask you to play chess with them, here are two pawns, say that you cannot play except with your own pawns. Then make an agreement with them that, if you win, you can do with them what you please; if they win, they can do what they please with you. If you win, and they beg for mercy, command them to restore to life all the stone statues with which the palace is filled, and when they have done so, you can do what you will with these ladies."
The youth thanked the old man, departed, followed his directions, and won. The two ladies begged for their lives, and he granted their prayer on condition of restoring to life all those stone statues. They took a wand, touched the statues, and they became animated; but no sooner were they all restored to life than they fell on the two ladies and cut them into bits no larger than their ears.
Thus the three brothers were reunited. They related their adventures, and returned to the palace. The princess was astonished when she saw them, and did not know which was her husband. But he made himself known, told her that these were his brothers, and they had their parents come there, and they all lived happily together, and thus the story is ended.