The walls of the city of Venice are the sea and her roof the sky, and there is no scarcity of anything that life in a great city demands.
In this rich and magnificent city there lived in former days a merchant named Dimitrio, a good and trustworthy man of upright life. He desired offspring greatly. Therefore he took to wife a fair and graceful girl named Polissena. He loved her as dearly as ever man loved woman, and also took care to let her have lots of things for her pleasure.
One day Dimitrio determined to go by ship with a cargo of goods for Cyprus, and, when he had got ready his apparel and stocked the house with provisions and everything that was needed, he left his dear wife Polissena with a fair and buxom serving-maid to keep her company, and set sail.
After he left Polissena went on living luxuriously and indulged herself with delicacies, but before very long she found she was unable to endure the pricks of amorous appetite any longer. Then she cast her eyes on the parish priest and became hotly enamoured of him. The priest on his part, young, lively, and well-favoured, came at last to divine the meaning of the glances Polissena cast towards him out of the corner of her eye, and, seeing that she was gifted with a lovely face and a graceful shape and had all the charms men desire in a woman, he soon began to return her amorous looks. Thus love grew up between them, and many days had not passed before Polissena brought the young man privily into the house. Thus, for many months they secretly enjoyed the delights of love in close embraces and sweet kisses.
Now when Dimitrio had been some time in Cyprus, and had made there a reasonable profit on his goods, he sailed back to Venice. Having disembarked, he went to his home and to his dear Polissena. She burst into tears as soon as she saw him, and when he asked her why, she replied,
"I weep because of some bad news which came to me. I have also feared some terrible misadventure should have overtaken you. But now I cannot keep back tears of joy."
The simple Dimitrio believed that the tears and sighs of Polissena sprang from warm and constant love for him and never suspected that she was saying in her heart, "Would that he had been drowned at sea! For then I might the more safely and readily take my pleasure with my lover who loves me so well."
Before a month had passed Dimitrio had to set out on his travels again. Polissena was filled with joy for it and sent word to her lover, who went secretly to her as soon as Dimitrio had left. But the comings and goings of the priest could not be kept secret enough to escape for long the eye of a certain Manusso, a friend of Dimitrio, who lived just opposite. Manusso held Dimitrio in high esteem for being a pleasant companion and ever ready to do a friendly service. He grew very suspicious of his young neighbour, and kept a sharp watch over her.
He came to see that with a given sign at a certain hour, the door would always be opened to the priest, and that after this the lovers would frolick with less circumspection than prudence demanded. He decided that the secret affair should not be brought to light so as to stir up a scandal, but await the return of Dimitrio.
When Dimitrio was ready to return home, he took ship and sailed back to Venice with a favourable breeze. There he disembarked and went straight to his own house and knocked at the door, arousing the servant who let him in. And when Polissenta heard her husband had returned, she came downstairs, took him in her arms and embraced and kissed him.
Dimitrio was weary and worn out by the sea voyage, so he he went to bed without taking any food, and slept soundly all night through. When full daylight had come, Dimitrii woke up, took out a little box and drew a few ornamental trinkets of no small value out of it, and gave them to his wife.
Shortly after Dimitrio found it fit to go into Apulia to buy oil and other merchandise. He told his wife, and began to make ready for his journey. She kissed him and asked him to tarry yet a few days longer with her; but all the while what she wanted was to take her pleasure in the arms of her lover.
Now Manusso, who had often espied the priest courting Polissena and doing some other things which it is not seemly to mention, felt that he would be working his friend a wrong if he should not now let him know all that he had seen. Therefore he determined, come what might, to tell him all. So he invited Dimitrio to dinner one day, and said to him as they sat at table,
"Dimitrio, my friend, if I am not mistaken, I have always been very fond of you, and shall ever be so, so long as there is breath in my body. If you would not take it ill, I could tell you of certain matters, but I fear to speak and thereby disturb you. Nevertheless, if you will take it circumspectly and prudently, you will not let your anger get the mastery over you."
"Don't you know,"' answered Dimitrio, "that you may say to me anything you please?"
Manusso answered, "I have seen another man slay your honour and your good name."
"Say it clearly," said Dimitrio, "and do not beat about the bush with ambiguous words."
"Do you wish me to tell it you briefly?" asked Manusso; "then listen and hear patiently what I have to say. Your wife Polissena that you hold so dear, sleeps every night with a priest when you are away, and takes her pleasure with him."
"How can this be possible," said Dimitrio. "If I were to behold this thing with my own eyes I would hardly believe it even then."
"If you are wise, as I believe are," said Manusso, "if there is any reason in you, you will not shut your eyes. I will let you see with your eyes and touch with your hands all that I have told you. Then you may be convinced."
"Then," said Dimitrio, "I shall do whatever you tell me to in order to let you show me all you have said."
Manusso replied, "Take care to keep your secret and put a good face on the matter, otherwise you may ruin the whole plot. When next you have to go abroad, make believe to set sail, but instead of quitting Venice come to my lodgings as secretly as you can, and I will clear up the mystery for you."
When the day came for Dimitrio to start on his journey he embraced his wife tenderly, bade her take good care of the house, and pretended to go on board his ship. He withdrew secretly to the lodging of Manusso, though.
By chance it happened that a terrible storm came on before two o'clock had struck. It rained so heavily that it seemed as if the heavens themselves were broken up, and the rain did not cease all through the night. The priest, who had already been informed of the departure of Dimitrio, and cared neither for wind nor rain, was waiting for the hour that he could meet Polissenta. When he gave the sign the door was opened to him, and, as soon as he was inside, Polissena greeted him with sweet and passionate kisses. Her husband was hiding in a passage over the way and saw all that went on and was altogether overwhelmed and burst into tears of righteous grief.
Then said his friend to him, "Have you not seen something you would never have believed? But do not say a word and keep yourself cool, for if you listen to what I have to say and do exactly what I shall direct you, you shall see more. Take off the clothes you are now wearing, and put on some beggar's rags and smear your face and your hands with dirt. Then go over to your own house as a beggar and in a counterfeited voice ask for a night's lodging. Most likely the servant, seeing how bad a night it is, will take pity on you and take you in. And if you do this, you will probably see something else you would rather not see."
Dimitrio, having listened to his friend's counsel, took off his clothes and put on instead the rags of a poor man who had come to the house and asked for lodging in God's name, and, although it still poured down, he went over to the door of his own house and knocked on it thrice, weeping and groaning bitterly. The serving-maid opened the window, cried out who was there, and Dimitrio answered in a broken and feigned voice that it was a poor old man, almost drowned by the rain, who begged a night's lodging.
On this the kindly girl, who was just as tender-hearted towards the poor and wretched as was her mistress towards the priest, ran to Polissena and begged her to let in this poor man who was soaked with rain, and to give him shelter till he should be warm and dry. "He can draw us some water," she went on, "and make up the fire, so that the fowls may be the sooner roasted. Then I can prepare the soup, and get ready the spoons, and do other chores about the kitchen."
The mistress agreed to this, and the girl opened the door, let him in, and bade him sit by the fire and turn the spit. It happened that the priest and Polissena, who had in the meantime been in the chamber, came down into the kitchen holding one another by the hand, and at once began to make mock of the poor wight with his dirty face. Going up to him Polissena asked what was his name.
"I am called Gramottiveggio, signora," he replied.
Polissena laughed heartily when she heard this. Then she threw her arms round the priest, crying out, "Come, dear heart, and let me kiss you." And poor Dimitrio had to look on while they thus kissed and embraced each other.
When the lovers had sat down and the time had come for supper, the servant returned to the kitchen and said to the poor man,
"Well now, father, I must just tell you that my mistress has for a husband as good a man as you would find in all Venice, one who lets her want for nothing, and God only knows where the poor man is in this dreadful weather, while she, an ungrateful hussy, cares nothing for him and less for his honour. She has let herself be blinded by this indecent passion, always fondling this lover, and shutting the door to everybody but him alone. But, I pray you, let us go softly to the door of the chamber. Then you will see what they are doing, and how they bear themselves at table."
And when they came to the door they espied the two lovers within, making good play with the viands, and carrying on all sort of amorous dalliance the while.
When the hour of bedtime came, the two lovers retired to rest, and, after a little playful pastime, began to sport in good earnest and made so much ado that the poor Dimitrio, who was in bed in a chamber adjoining, did not close his eyes all night, and understood completely what was going on.
As soon as morning came he repaired to the lodgings of Manusso, who said laughingly as soon as he saw him, '"Well, friend, was all you saw to your taste?"
"Indeed not," answered Dimitrio; "I would never have believed it had I not seen it with my own eyes."
Manusso was a crafty fellow, and said, "Friend, do what I tell you. Wash yourself well and put on your own clothes, and go straightway to your house and make believe that by great good luck you had not embarked before the storm broke. Take good care that the priest steal not away, for as soon as you enter, he will almost certainly hide himself somewhere, and will lie there till he can make his retreat safely. Meantime, summon all your wife's relations to a banquet at your house, and then, when you have dragged the priest from his hiding-place in their presence, you can do anything else which may seem good to you."
Dimitrio was highly pleased at his friend's advice, and as soon as he had stripped himself of his ragged clothes went over to his house and knocked at the door. The servant, when she saw it was her master, ran to Polissena, who was yet in bed with the priest, and said to her, "Signora, my master is come back." Her mistress, when she heard these words, got beside herself with fright, and, getting up with what despatch she could, she hid the priest, who was in his shirt, in the coffer where she kept all her choicest raiment, and then ran in her fur-lined cloak, all shoeless as she was, to open the door to Dimitrio.
"Dear husband," she cried, "welcome! God be praised for that you have come back safe and sound."
Dimitrio, as soon as he entered the chamber, said, "Polissena, my love, now I would like torest a little; and in the meanwhile let the servant go to the house of your brothers and bid them dine with us today."
Polissena answered, 'Would it not be better to wait till another day, seeing that it rains so heavily, and the girl is busy calendering our body linen and sheets and other napery?" Polissena continued, "But you might go yourself; or, if you are too weary, ask your friend Manusso to do you this service."
"That is a good suggestion," said Dimitrio, and, having sent for his friend, Manusso carried the affair out exactly as it had been settled.
The brothers of Polissena came, and they dined jovially together. When the table was cleared, Dimitrio cried,
"Brothers-in-law of mine, I have never properly let you see my house, nor the fine apparel which I have given to Polissena, my wife and your sister, so that you might judge from it all how I treat her. Now go, Polissena, my good wife, get up and show your brothers over the house."
Dimitrio then rose and showed them his storehouses full of wheat and timber and oil and other merchandise, then casks of malvoisie and Greek wine and other delicacies.
Next he said to his wife,
"Bring out the rings and the pearls which I have bought for you. Just look at these fine emeralds in this little casket; the diamonds, the rubies, and other rings of price. Does it seem to you, my brothers, that your sister is well treated by me?"
"We knew all this well, brother," they replied, "and if we had not been satisfied with your worth, we would not have given you our sister to wife."
But Dimitrio had not yet finished, for he next directed his wife to open all her coffers, and to bring out her fair raiment. But Polissena, her heart sinking with dread, replied, "What need can there be to open the coffers and show my clothes? Do not my brothers know well enough that you always let me be clothed full honourably?"
But Dimitrio cried out, "Open this coffer, and that, at once," and when they were opened he went on showing all her wardrobe to her brothers.
Now when they came to the last coffer the key of this was nowhere to be found, for the good reason that the priest was hidden therein. Dimitrio, when the key was not found, took up a hammer and beat the lock so lustily that it gave way, and then he opened the coffer.
The priest, shaking with fear, could in no way hide himself, or escape being recognized by all the bystanders. The brothers of Polissena, when they saw how the matter stood, were so strongly moved by anger that they were within a little of slaying her and her lover too on the spot with the daggers they wore.
But the husband was averse to this course, deeming it shameful to kill a man in his shirt, however stout a fellow he might be. He spake to the brothers thus: "What do you now think of this troll of a wife of mine?"
Then, turning to Polissena, he said: "Have I deserved such a return as this from you? Wretched woman! Who has any right to keep me back from cutting your throat?"
The poor wretch, who could in no way excuse herself, was silent, because her husband told her to her face all he had seen of her doings the night before so clearly that she could not find a word to say in her defence.
Then, turning to the priest, who stood with his head bent down, he said,
"Take your clothes and go quickly from this place, and bad luck go with you. Let me never see your face again, for I have no wish to soil my hands in your blood for the sake of a guilty woman. Now begone; why do you tarry?"
The priest, without opening his mouth, stole away, fancying as he went that Dimitrio and his brothers-in-law were close behind him with their knives.
Then Dimitrio, turning to his brothers-in-law, said: "Take your sister where you will, for I will not have her before my eyes any longer."
And the brothers, inflamed with rage, took her out of the house and killed her there. When news of this was brought to Dimitrio, he cast his eyes on the serving-maid, who was indeed a very comely lass, and he bore in mind, moreover, the kind turn she had done him. So he made her his wife. He gave her, likewise, all the jewels and raiment of his first wife, and lived many years with her in joy and peace.
WHEN the king of Pietrasecca was left a widower without a woman at his side, he was advised to take to wife his own sister Penta. So one day the king called her to him when he was alone and said, "It is not the act of a sensible man, my dear sister, to let anything of value go out of his own house. Besides, you do not know what you are bringing on yourself if you let strangers put foot in your house. I have thought a great deal about this matter, and have decided to take you for my wife. You are made to my liking and I know your character. Say yes to our union. It will lead us both to a happy life."
When Penta heard this she was beside herself, her colour came and went, for she never imagined that her brother was capable of such extravagances. She remained silent for a little while, thinking what answer she could give to such an impertinent and unreasonable request. But at last, losing her patience, she said, " If you lose your wits, I have no wish to lose my modesty: I, your wife? Where is your sense? Do not let such words ever slip out of your mouth again, or else I shall do something unbelievable!"
She ran off in a rage to her room, locking it on the inside, and did not look on her brother's face for more than a month. After many days, Penta was called again by the king, and this time she wanted to know exactly what it was in her that made her brother so enamoured of her. "My Penta, you are lovely and perfect from the crown of your head to the soles of your shoes," said the king, her brother, "but above all things it is your hands that enchant me."
He would have said more, if Penta had not answered, "Very well: I understand. Wait a moment - don't go away, for I shall be back shortly."
She returned to her room and called a half-crazy slave to her, then, giving him a large knife and a handful of coins, said to him, "Ali, my friend, cut off my hands, I've got a fine secret and want to grow all white." The slave, thinking he was doing her a service, struck off her hands with two blows. Penta had them put in a porcelain bowl and sent it covered with a silken cloth to her brother with a message that he should enjoy them as best he could, wishing him good health and fine sons."
When the king saw the chopped off hands, he flew into a furious rage and ordered a chest to be made and tarred. In it he shut his sister and had her thrown into the sea.
After some days the waves cast the chest up on a beach. Some sailors who were drawing their nets, found it, and when they opened it they discovered Penta inside. Masiello, who was the leader of the group, took her to his home and told his wife, Nuccia, to be kind to her.
Nuccia got full of suspicion and jealousy, and as soon as her husband had left again, shut Penta into the chest again and threw it back into the sea. Once more she was buffeted and battered by the waves, till at last she met a ship on which the king of Terraverde was travelling. When he saw something strange tossing on the sea, he struck sail and had a boat lowered to bring the chest on board.
When they opened it, they found inside the unfortunate girl, a living beauty in that coffin. The king grieved that the maid was without hands, but all the same he took her to his kingdom and made her maid of honour to the queen.
Penta now rendered her every kind of service, even threading her needles and starching her collars and dressing her hair, and all this with her feet.
Some months later, the queen fell ill and was about to die. She called the king to her bed, and said, "It is now only a little while before I go. Take heart, my husband. And if you love me, there is one favour that you can do me."
"Command me," answered the king.
"Then marry Penta. Although we do not know where she comes from."
"I will make her my wife, and it does not matter if she has no hands and is scant of weight."
When the queen had passed away, the king took Penta to wife and grafted her with a boy the first night. Some time later he made another voyage to the country of Altoscoglio, so he took his leave of her and set sail. At the end of nine months, Penta brought into the world a beautiful child; the city was all illuminated, and the council at once sent off a special felucca to notify the king.
The felucca encountered a terrible storm at sea, but at last she came to shore on that same beach where Penta had been sheltered by the kindness of a man and driven away by the cruelty of a woman. By an unlucky chance, that same Nuccia was on the beach washing out the clothes and napkins of her little brat, and being as inquisitively she asked the captain of the felucca where he came from, where he was going to, and on whose business.
The captain answered, "I come from Terraverde, and I am going to Altoscoglio to the king, who is now there, to give him a letter especially entrusted to me. I think it is his wife who has written to him, but I couldn't tell you exactly what it is about."
"And who is the wife of this King?" asked Nuccia.
And the captain answered: "From what they say, I understand that she is a beautiful girl called Penta. Both her hands have been cut off. She was found in a chest at sea, and for her good fortune she has become the king's wife. I have to get to Altoscoglio quickly."
When that harpy of a Nuccia heard this, she invited the captain in to drink, and having made him as tipsy as an owl, took the letter out of his pocket and carried it to a student - a client of hers - for him to read. Full of envy she made the student forge the handwriting and compose another letter, which said that the queen had given birth to a monstrous dog. When the letter was written and sealed, she put it back in the sailor's pocket. The sailor awoke out of his sleep, and seeing that the weather was now calm, he sailed off, setting his prow to the south-west wind there on the Adriatic coast.
He arrived and gave the letter to the king, who replied to it, saying that they were to comfort the queen and beg her not to feel even an ounce of sorrow.
On the way back, the captain arrived after two nights at Nuccia's house, where he was received with great honour. She filled him with food and drink, so that he again became drunk. At last, stupefied and heavy, he threw himself down to sleep. Nuccia searched in his side pocket, and having found the letter, ran off to get it read to her. She then replaced it with a false one in which the council of Terraverde was commanded to burn both mother and child at once.
When the captain had recovered from the effects of the wine, he went off again. As soon as he reached Terraverde, he presented the king's letter to the council, who at once read it. A great murmur arose amongst these worthy old men, they discussed the matter at length, and at last decided that either the king was mad or that he had been bewitched, or otherwise he could not wish to kill his pearl of a wife and jewel of an heir.
For this reason they decided to take the middle course: they sent away the girl and her son to wander through the world so that she would not be heard of again. They gave her a handful of gold coins to support herself.
The unhappy Penta took her infant in her arms, bathing its face with milk and tears, and set off towards Lagotorbido. The lord of that place was a wizard, and he took compassion on this fair, maimed creature who mutilated all hearts. He wished to hear the whole story of the misfortunes she had undergone since her brother had made her food for the fishes because she would not feed his lust, and till the day when she set foot in his kingdom.
The wizard could hardly stop his tears at this sad tale. At the end of it, he comforted her with kind words, "Take courage, my child. Do not lose heart, for Heaven sometimes pushes human misfortunes to the brink of ruin. In me you have a mother and a father, and I will help you."
The unfortunate Penta thanked him a lot. The wizard then showed her a magnificent apartment in his castle, and ordered that she was to be treated like his daughter.
Next morning he issued a proclamation to be distributed far and wide. It said that the person who came to his court and described the greatest of misfortunes, would receive from him a crown and golden sceptre: they were worth more than a kingdom.
When this edict had been spread all through Europe, more people than there are cabbages flocked to the wizard's court to win these promised riches by telling sad stories.
In the meanwhile the king of Terraverde came back to his kingdom, and found his wife and child were missing. First he raged like an unchained, wild animal, and would have skinned all the counsellors if they had not shown him the letter he had written.
As soon as he saw it he became aware of the forgery, and called the messenger and commanded him to tell exactly everything that had happened to him during the voyage. At last, bit by bit, he discovered that it was Masiello's wife who had encompassed his ruin, so he swiftly armed a galley and went in person to that part of the coast. He found the woman, and drew the whole story from her. When he heard that the cause of the whole affair was her jealousy, he designed to make her into a candle, so when she had been well smeared with wax and tallow, he had her placed on top of a great pile of dry wood which was then set alight.
He watched the burning, and when he saw that the fire had licked its scarlet tongue round the miserable woman and devoured her, he set sail.
His ship crossed that of the king of Pietrasecca, and after exchanging salutations the latter said that he was making for Lagotorbido because of what had been proclaimed by the Lord of that place, for he thought he was the most miserable man on earth.
"I think I can outdo you," said the king of Terraverde, "I shall come with you, and let us see which of us will win, and the winner shall divide the prize as a good comrade should." "So be it," said the king of Pietrasecca, and they both agreed to the pact.
They went in company to Lagotorbido, and as soon as they had landed, presented themselves to the wizard. He received them courteously and made them take their seats under a canopy. When he heard that they wished to compete in the test of the unfortunate men, he was anxious to learn what weight of sorrow had subjected them to the storm of sighs.
The king of Pietrasecca therefore began to tell of the love he bore to one of his own flesh and blood, of the deed of his noble-minded sister, and the hard heart he had shown in having her imprisoned in a tarred chest and thrown into the sea. For these reasons, therefore, on the one hand his conscience was tortured by his evil deed and on the other by sorrow for his lost sister. Now he was tormented by shame and now by grief.
When the king had ceased speaking, the other one began, " Alas, that is little compared with the anguish I feel, for I found that same Penta with severed hands in the chest. I took her to wife, and she bore me a lovely child, but by the wickedness of an evil harpy it nearly came to pass that they were burnt alive. They were both driven away and expelled from my kingdom."
When the wizard had heard the second king, he understood that one was the brother and the other the husband of Penta. He called to a little boy, and said, "Go and kiss the hands of your father." The child obeyed. The father, observing the boy's easy grace, threw a fine golden chain round his neck. Then the wizard said again, "Go kiss your uncle's hand, my boy," and the pretty lad at once made his bow. The second king admired the young stripling's quickness and gave him a precious jewel; he asked the wizard if he was his son, and the wizard replied that he should ask the mother.
Penta, who had been hiding behind a tapestry and had heard everything, now came forward; and ran first to her husband and now to her brother, now drawn to the one by her love and now to the other by her affection, she embraced first one and then the other with a delight impossible to describe. You may imagine they made a concert of three with their broken phrases and interrupted sighs.
At the first break in this music, they began again to caress the little boy. First the father and then the uncle embraced and kissed him and were beside themselves with joy. When all this had been said and done on both sides, the wizard ended up with these words:
"I am glad indeed to see Penta consoled at last. And by the way, I judge that the king of Terraverde has suffered almost to death, I will keep my word, and give him the crown and sceptre, and the kingdom too. I have no children. Therefore I should like as my adopted children this happy couple, husband and wife, who will be dear to me. And so that there will not be anything lacking to complete the happiness of all, let Penta put her stumps under her girdle and then bring them forth more beautiful than ever before."
Penta did this, and in an instant her hands grew out again. They were more beautiful than ever before. They all rejoiced exceedingly.
After spending several days in feasting and banquets, the king of Pietrasecca returned to his realm and the king of Terraverde sent his brother-in-law to give the affairs of state into the hands of his younger brother, and he himself remained with the wizard.
[From the Pentamerone. Retold]
It was the custom in a certain village that when a man died, his sister was to keep watch over his grave three nights in a row. If a girl should die, the watch would be kept by her brother.
A certain maiden died, and her very brave brother went to the cemetery for the vigil. At midnight three dead men arose from their graves and asked, "How about a game?"
"Why not?" he answered. "But where do you want to play?"
"We always play in church."
They entered the church and showed him to crypt where they picked up some bones and a skull and then went into church. There they stood the bones in a straight line on the floor. "These are our ninepins."
They picked up the skull. "This is our ball."
And they began bowling.
"Do you want to play for money?"
The young man bowled with them and was so good at it that he won each time and took every cent the dead men had.
As soon as they ran out of money they carried ball and ninepins back to the crypt and retreated to their graves.
The second night the dead men wanted to play the return game, staking rings and gold teeth, and again the youth won everything.
The third night they played still another round, at the end of which the men said, to the youth, "You've won again, and we have nothing left to give you. But since gaming debts are settled on the spot, we shall give you this dead man's arm. It is well preserved although a bit dry and will come in handier than a sword. No matter what enemy you touch with it, the arm will grab him around the chest and throw him down dead, even if he is a giant."
The dead men departed and left the young man standing there with that arm in his hand.
Next morning he took to his father the money and the gold won at ninepins and said, "Dear Father, I'm going out into the world to seek my fortune."
His father gave him his blessing and the young man left, with the dead man's arm hidden under his cloak.
He came to a large city, where the walls of the houses were draped in black crepe; the people all wore mourning and had even draped their horses and carriages in black.
"What has happened?" he asked a sobbing passer-by, who explained:
"Near that mountain, mind you, is a black castle. Sorcereres have settled in it and demand from us a human being a day. And that is the end of the poor soul who goes to them. First they called for the girls, and the king had to send them every last one of the chambermaids, housewives, baker girls, and weavers; then all the maids of honour at the court and all the noble ladies, and most recently his only daughter as well. And not a single one of them has come back. Now the king is sending soldiers there three by three, but they fare no better. If only somebody could deliver us from the sorcerers, we would reward him with anything he wanted."
"I shall see what I can do about all this," said the youth and asked to be taken to the king at once. "Majesty, I will go to the castle all by myself."
The king looked him in the eye. "If you succeed, and if you free my daughter, I'll give her to you in marriage and you shall inherit my kingdom. You need only spend three nights at the castle for the spell to be broken and the sorcerers to vanish. On the battlements of the castle stands a cannon. If you're still alive tomorrow morning, fire one shot, day after tomorrow two, and the third morning three."
When night fell, the young man went to the black castle with the dead man's arm under his cloak. He went up the stairs and into a room where a table had been set and laden with food, but the chairs were turned with their backs to the table. He left everything just as it was, entered the kitchen, lit the fire, and sat down next to the hearth, holding the dead man's arm ready.
At midnight a chorus of voices cried down the chimney:
"Many, many have we slain,
Then bang! out of the chimney dropped one sorcerer. Bang! another, and bang! a third. They all had frightfully ugly faces and long, long noses that wavered like octopus tentacles and clutched at the youth's arms and legs.
Realizing it was vital to stay clear of those noses, he began brandishing the dead man's arm as though he were fencing. He tapped one sorcerer's chest with it, but nothing happened. He tapped a second one on the head, but still nothing happened. Then he tapped the third one on the nose, and the dead man's hand grabbed that nose and gave it a yank that left the sorcerer dead on the spot.
Aware now that the noses were both dangerous and sensitive, the young man took aim. The dead man's arm seized the second sorcerer by the nose and finished him off. Then it took care of the third one. The young man rubbed his hands together in contentment and went off to bed.
In the morning he climbed to the battlements and fired the cannon: Boom! Down in the town below, where everyone anxiously waited, a crowd of handkerchiefs bordered in black waved in response.
When he went into the dining room in the evening, some of the chairs had been turned around and properly faced the table. Through other doors filed noble ladies and maids of honour, downcast and clad in mourning. They said to the young man: "Please go on and free us!"
Then they sat down to the table and dined. After dinner they all bowed low and departed.
He went into the kitchen and took a seat by the hearth to wait for midnight. When the twelfth chime had struck, voices were again heard in the chimney:
"Three of our brothers you slew,
And bang! bang! bang! three sorcerers with long noses plummeted down the chimney. Brandishing the dead man's arm, the young man had them each by the nose in a flash, and in no time they were corpses themselves.
The next morning he fired two cannon shots: Boom! Boom! Down in the town a crowd of white handkerchiefs waved back: the black mourning strip had been removed from them.
The third evening he found still more chairs turned to the table in the dining room, and the black-clad maidens entered in greater numbers than the evening before. "Just one more night," they entreated, "and we'll all be free!" Then they dined with him and again departed.
He sat down in his customary place in the kitchen. At midnight the voices set up a howl in the chimney like a whole choir:
"Six of our brothers you slew,
And bang! bang! bang! bang! down rained sorcerers by the dozens, all with their long noses sticking out, but the youth whirled the dead man's arm round and round and killed them off as fast as they came. It was no trouble at all, since the only thing that shrivelled paw had to do was grab them by the nose, and they were corpses themselves.
He went to bed thoroughly satisfied, and the minute the cock crowed the whole castle came back to life. A long row of maidens and noble ladies dressed in gowns with trains came into the kitchen to thank him and pay him honour. In the middle of the procession came the princess. When she got up to the youth, she threw her arms around his neck and said, "I want you to be my husband!"
Then the freed soldiers entered three by three and saluted.
"Go up to the battlements of the castle," said the youth, "and fire three cannon shots."
They heard the thunder of the cannon down in the town and vigorously waved yellow, green, red, and blue handkerchiefs in response, accompanied by trumpets and bass drums.
The youth went down the mountain in the procession of free people and entered the town. The black crepe had disappeared, and all you saw were flags and coloured streamers billowing in the wind. The king was there waiting for them, his crown entwined with flowers. The wedding was celebrated the same day and was such a grand event that people are still talking about it.