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  1. The Crab Prince
  2. The Peasant Astrologer
  3. Tiller and Flutist

The Crab Prince

There was once a fisherman who never could catch enough fish to buy food for his family. One day though, when he went to pull up his nets, he felt a weight almost too heavy to move, but he tugged and tugged and found a crab so huge that one pair of eyes was not enough to take it all in. "Oh, what a haul at last! Now I can buy food for my children!"

He took the crab home on his back and told his wife to put the pot on the fire, for he would return shortly with food. Then he carried the crab to the king's palace.

"Your Highness," he said to the king, "I've come to see if you will kindly buy this crab from me. My wife has put the pot on the fire, but I have no money to buy anything to go in it."

The king replied, "But what would I do with a crab? Can't you sell it to someone else?"

Just then the king's daughter came in. "Oh, what a fine crab, what a fine crab! Please buy it for me, Papa, please! We'll put it in the fishpond with the mullets and the goldfish."

The king's daughter was fascinated by fish and would sit for hours on the rim of the fishpond in the garden watching the mullets and the goldfish swim about. Her father could refuse her nothing, so he bought the crab. The fisherman put it into the fishpond and got in return a purse of gold coins that would feed his children for a whole month.

The princess never tired of watching the crab and spent all her time by the fishpond. She had become thoroughly familiar with him and his ways, noticing that from noon till three o'clock he always disappeared and went off goodness knows where. One day the king's daughter was there studying her crab, when she heard the doorbell ring. She looked down from her balcony, and there was a poor tramp asking for alms. She threw down a purse of money, but it flew past him into a ditch. The tramp went into the ditch after it, plunged under water, and began to swim. The ditch connected with the king's fishpond by an underground canal which continued on to no telling where. The tramp followed it and came out in a beautiful basin in the middle of a large underground hall that was hung with tapestries and contained a sumptuously laid table.

The tramp stepped from the basin and hid behind the tapestries. At the stroke of noon, up popped a fairy in the middle of the basin, seated on the back of a crab. She and the crab jumped out of the water into the hall, the fairy tapped the crab with her wand, and there emerged from the crab shell a handsome youth. The young man took a seat at the table and the fairy tapped her wand, producing food in the dishes and wine in the bottles.

When the youth had finished eating and drinking, he re-entered the crab shell, which the fairy touched with her wand, and the crab took her onto his back once more, jumped into the basin, and disappeared underwater with her.

Then the tramp came out from behind the tapestries, dove into the water, and swam back to the king's fishpond. The king's daughter was there looking at her fish and, seeing the vagabond's head bob up, she asked, "What are you doing here?"

"Princess," said the tramp, "I have a wonderful thing to tell you." He came out of the pond and told her the whole story.

"Now I understand where the crab goes from noon to three o'clock!" exclaimed the king's daughter. "Fine, tomorrow at noon we shall go together and see."

So the next day they both swam the underground canal from the fishpond to the underground hall and hid behind the tapestries. Exactly at noon, up popped the fairy on the crab's back. She tapped her wand and out stepped the handsome young man from the crab shell and took his place at the table. The princess, who already liked the crab, was charmed with the young man and at once fell in love with him.

Seeing the empty crab shell right there next to her, she hid inside it.

When the youth got back into the shell he found the beautiful maiden there. "What have you done?" he whispered. "If the fairy learns of this, she will put us both to death."

"But I want to free you from the spell!" whispered the king's daughter. "Tell me what I must do."

"Impossible," said the young man. "Only a maiden who loved me enough to die for me could break the spell."

"Maybe I am that maiden," said the princess.

While this conversation was taking place inside the crab shell, the fairy seated herself on the crab's back, and the youth, working the crab claws as usual, carried her through the underground waterways to the open sea, without her suspecting that hidden inside with him was the king's daughter.

After leaving the fairy at her destination, on the way back to the fishpond, the young man - who was a prince - explained to his beloved close beside him in the crab shell what to do to free him. "You must climb up on a rock on shore and play and sing. The fairy is enthralled by music and will emerge from the sea to listen to you and say, 'Play on, lovely maiden, your music is so delightful.' And you will reply, 'I certainly shall, if you give me the flower in your hair.' When you have that flower in your hand, I will be free, since the flower is my life."

Meanwhile the crab had reached the fishpond, and he let the king's daughter out of the shell.

The tramp had swum back by himself and, finding no princess, saw himself in serious trouble. But the maiden emerged from the fishpond, thanked him, and gave him a handsome reward. Then she went to her father and told him she wanted to study music and singing. The king, who never refused her anything, sent for the finest musicians and singers to give her lessons.

As soon as she had learned music, the daughter said to the king, "Papa, I want to go and play my violin on a rock by the sea."

"On a rock by the sea? Have you lost your mind?" But, as usual, he gave in to her and let her go with eight maids of honour, all dressed in white. Also, as a precaution, he had her followed at a distance by a few armed soldiers to serve as guards.

Seated on a rock, with her eight maids of honour in white dresses on eight rocks around her, the king's daughter played her violin. From the waves rose the fairy. "How beautifully you play!" she said. "Play on, play on, it delights me so to hear you!"

The king's daughter said, "Yes, I shall, if you give me that flower you are wearing in your hair. I love flowers."

"I will give it to you if you can fetch it from where I throw it."

So the princess started to play and sing. When the song was over, she said, "And now give me the flower."

"Here you are," said the fairy, and threw it as far as she could out to sea.

The princess dove into the sea and swam toward the flower floating on the waves. "Princess, princess! Help! Help!" screamed the eight maids of honour standing up on the rocks, with their white veils billowing in the wind. But the princess swam on and on, disappearing in the waves and coming back up; she was beginning to doubt whether she would reach the flower, when a big wave swept it right into her hand.

In that instant she heard a voice beneath her, saying, "You have given me back my life, and will be my bride. Now don't be afraid. I am under you and will carry you to shore. But say nothing of this, not even to your father. I must go and tell my parents, and within twenty-four hours I'll come and ask your parents for your hand in marriage."

"Yes, yes, I understand," was all she could answer, for she was out of breath a long time while the crab underwater carried her to shore.

So when she got back home, all the princess told the king was that she had enjoyed herself immensely.

The next day at three o'clock there was a roll of drums, a flourish of trumpets, a prancing of horses, and in walked a senior servant, saying the son of his king asked for an audience.

The prince put the customary request to the king for the princess's hand and then told the whole story. The king was somewhat taken aback, for he had been in the dark about everything. He sent for his daughter. She came running in and threw herself into the prince's arms, exclaiming, "This is my bridegroom, this is my bridegroom!"

The king realized there was nothing to do but conclude the marriage as soon as possible.

[Venice, from Calvino]


Tiller and Flutist

There was once a youth named Joseph Ciufolo. He played the flute when he wasn't tilling the soil. One day he was dancing through the fields and playing his flute to relax awhile from all his digging, when he suddenly spied a corpse lying on the ground beneath a swarm of flies. He put down his flute, walked up to the body, shooed the flies away, and covered the dead man with green boughs. Returning to the spot where he had left his hoe, he saw that the hoe had gone to work by itself and already dug up half the field for him. From that day on, Joseph Ciufolo was the happiest tiller alive: he would dig until he got tired, then take his flute out of his pocket while the hoe went on digging by itself.

But Joseph Ciufolo worked for a stepfather who bore him no love and wished to turn him out of the house. In the beginning the man said Joseph was a good worker but lazy; next he said Joseph dug a whole lot but badly. Joseph Ciufolo therefore took his flute and left home.

He went around to all the landowners, but none of them would give him any work. Finally he met an old beggar, and asked him for work to keep body and soul together.

"Come along with me," said the beggar, "and we will share alms." So Joseph Ciufolo started going around with the beggar and singing:

"Succour us, please,
please succour us!"

Everybody gave alms to the old man, but to Joseph Ciufolo they all said, "What's a young man like you doing out begging? Why don't you work for a living?"

"Nobody will hire me," replied Joseph Ciufolo.

"That's what you say. There's the king with so many untilled fields that he's offering good wages to anyone willing to cultivate them."

Joseph Ciufolo went to the king's fields and took the old man whose alms he had been sharing. The fields had never been worked by anyone. Joseph Ciufolo dug them up, sowed them, weeded them, then harvested the crops. Whenever he wearied of reaping he would play his flute; and once he was weary of playing, he would sing:

"Sickle so brisk, sickle so grey,
swing along as in my hands,
in just that way!"

Hearing the singing, the princess looked out the window. She saw Joseph Ciufolo and fell in love with him. But she was a princess, and he a tiller, so the king would never let them get one another. Therefore they decided to run away together.

They married in secret and fled at night in a boat. They were already on the high seas, when Joseph Ciufolo remembered the beggar. He said to his beloved, "We must fetch the old man, for he shared his alms with me. I can't go off and leave him like that."

At that moment they saw the old soul coming up behind the boat, walking with ease on the water. Reaching the boat, he said, "We agreed to divide everything we had, and I always shared with you everything I own. Now you have the king's daughter and must give half of her to me." At that he handed Joseph Ciufolo a knife to cut his bride in half.

Joseph Ciufolo took the knife with a trembling hand. "You are right," he said, "you are perfectly right." He was on the point of cutting his bride in two, when she wept, "Have I nothing to say in this?" At that the old man stopped Joseph.

"Stop! I knew you were a just man. I was the dead man that you covered with green boughs. Go in peace, and may you two be happy."

The old man walked away. The boat came to an island rich in all good things, with a lovely palace ready for the newlyweds.

[Abruzzo. Retold]


The Peasant Astrologer

A king had lost a precious ring. He looked all over for it, but nowhere was it to be found. He issued a proclamation stating that the astrologer who could tell him where it was would be rich for the rest of his life.

Now there was a peasant by the name of Gambara. He was penniless and could neither read nor write. "Would it be so hard to play the astrologer?" he wondered. "I think I'll try." So he went to the king.

The king took him at his word, and shut him up in a room to study. There was nothing in the room but a bed and a table with a great big astrology book on it, and paper, pen, and ink. Gambara sat down at the table and began leafing through the book without understanding a word. Every now and then he made marks on the paper with the pen. As he didn't know how to write, he produced some very strange marks there, and the servants bringing him his lunch and his dinner got the idea he was an extremely wise astrologer.

Those servants had been the ones who stole the ring. With their guilty conscience, they imagined from the knowing looks Gambara gave them whenever they went in that he suspected them, although the astrologer was only trying to look like an authority in his field. Fearful of being found out, they couldn't bow and scrape enough. "Yes, honorable astrologer! Your least wishes are orders, honorable astrologer!" and so on.

Gambara, who was no astrologer but a peasant and therefore cunning, suspected right away the servants knew something about the ring. So he set a trap for them.

One day, at the hour they brought in his lunch, he hid under the bed. The head servant came in and found no one in the room. Under the bed Gambara said in a loud voice, "That's one of them!" The servant put the dish down and withdrew in fright.

The second servant came in and heard a voice that seemed to come from underground. "That's two of them!" He too ran off.

Then the third came in. "That's three of them!"

The servants talked things over. "We have been found out, and if the astrologer accuses us to the king, we are done for."

So they decided to go to the astrologer and confess their theft. "We are poor men," they began. "If you tell the king what you have learned, we are lost. Please take this purse of gold pieces in it and don't betray us."

Gambara took the purse and replied, "I won't betray you if you do as I say. Take the ring and make that turkey out in the farmyard swallow it. Then leave the rest to me."

Next day Gambara went to the king and said that he thought he knew where the ring was.

"Where is it?"

"In a turkey - that one." He pointed at it.

They cut the turkey open and discovered the ring. The king heaped riches on the astrologer and honoured him with a banquet attended by all the counts, marquis, barons, and grandees in the kingdom.

Among the many dishes served was a platter of gamberi, crayfish. Crayfish were unknown to that country. Those served at the banquet were a present from the king of another country. It was the first time people here had seen them.

"Since you are so wise," said the king to the peasant, "you must know what is on the platter here under the lid."

The poor soul mumbled to himself, "Ah, Gambara, Gambara, you're done for at last."

"Bravo!" said the king, who didn't know the peasant's real name. "You guessed it, the name is gamberi! You're the greatest astrologer in the world."



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