The Grave Prince and the Cat
There once was an aged king in Tirol. He had three sons. The eldest was grave and thoughtful. The queen thought this son would rule well. One day the king was advised to appoint a successor while he was alive. He therefore decided to set some tasks for his three sons, and then made his people gather. In front of the gathering he proclaimed that the son who brought him the finest drinking-horn, might be given his crown and throne.
The eldest brother set out alone. During his lonely wanderings earlier he had often seen a beautiful castle on a far-away mountain. He decided to ride there. The last stretch up to the castle was easy and pleasant. Birds sang soft melodies among the branches. Broad marble stairs led up to the castle.
The prince went into the hall, but all the corridors were empty. Then he entered one room after another. At last he came to a room filled with beautiful flowers. On a pink satin sofa sat a large cat.
As he entered, the cat rose to meet him. Finding her so friendly, he was going to take her up in his arms, but she sprang on to a ledge above his head. "You have come here to find out if I can help you or not, poor prince," said the cat.
"Yes," answered the prince.
"I think you need someone to pet you and pamper you and make you very happy - a nice little wife!" answered the cat.
"A wife for my own sake!" exclaimed the prince. "But we princes marry for the sake of the kingdom. But yes, I would rather choose a wife on my own, someone I love."
"Your mother understands you," said the cat. "And I can give you a drinking-horn so that you can win the match."
With that she sprang lightly to the top of acabinet, opened its folding-doors with her paw, and showed him a white drinking-horn.
"How can I ever thank you? May I come back and see you again?" asked the prince.
"It will not be long before you will have to come back to me," the cat said.
When the prince reached home, all the people gathered in the palace to see the drinking-horns. His mother sat at her window and watched the people. He wanted to see her first. When he came to her room, she took a look at the the drinking-horn.
"This is a stunning piece of work!"
Then she led him along up to the throne where the king sat, and showed him the drinking-horn the drinking-horn their eldest son had brought with him.
Everyone who saw it said it was the best drinking-horn among the three the brothers had acquired.
The king agreed, saying:
"Sons, next morning you will be given a new task."
With that the people all went to rest. The next morning the three brothers were given the task of bringing the king a hunting-whip. The one who brought him the best wip, could become the new king.
The eldest prince went to the cat's castle and asked her for one. "Well, I can give you one!" said the cat and led him to the stables. On a high ledge was a dusty hunting-whip. It did not look like much.
"It may not be much to look at," she said. "But if you crack this whip, your horse will jump a lot better. Saddle a horse and see for yourself."
When the prince did it, his horse jumped higher than before.
The cat shared a good meal with him. Afterwards he had to go home to show the whip to his father.
"Your father will give you still another test, and you will come back again to me. At that time you cannot say a word to me and you have to do whatever I command at that time. Agree?
When the prince reached the council-hall in his father's castle and took out a shabby, old whip, the gathered people laughed. The king said he was insulted by such a present. No one would listen to a word the prince had to say. But the queen heard the noise in her chamber. When she learnt what was the matter, she insisted that he should be allowed to show and tell why he brought this whip.
The prince said:
"The merit of a whip is not in the decor of the handle, it is in the lash. The handle needs to be even so that the hand may take a firm grip. I have but to crack this whip, and my horse will at once jump higher than usual. Let me show you."
His mother ordered a horse to be brought to her eldest son from the stables to a the avenue in front of the castle. When the prince sat firmly in the saddle, he cracked his whip, and his horse jumped and ran! No one had ever seen such a jump before.
The king said to the people that it was this whip that had won this trial too.
Next morning he told that the third task he set was to bring back the best princess for a wife. The three princes set out again. The eldest walked off alone to the cat's castle. There he did as she told him to. She said: "Kiss my snout now!" He picked her up in his arms and did as he was told. Suddenly a fairy-like princess stood before him in his arms.
"You kept your word. If not, I should still be a cat."
Her attendants came to life as she spoke. The halls and rooms were filled with them. A banquet was very soon prepared in the dining-hall. Afterwards the cat-princess reminded the prince that it was time for them to go to his father. Carriages and horses were brought round, with guards and footmen and all the retinue needed for a princess.
She rode in a fine carriage with ladies to attend her, and the prince rode on horseback close by her side.
The king and the queen received the princess cordially. The queen said:
"Welcome! Nice to see you!"
Before she had done speaking, a messenger came from the two younger princes. He told the two had tried to get the princesses of the neighbouring kingdom, but the king had refused it. Then the two had tried to carry off the princesses by force; but the king had caught them in the act and shut them up as robbers. He meant to keep them there a long time.
The old king could not defend what the two youngest sons had done. He proclaimed that the grave prince was to follow him, and married him to the lovely princess in the middle of great rejoicings from all the crowds of people that had gathered for the ceremony. The queen on her part was happy that her eldest son had got a wise and lovely wife.
Those who live on hope alone die badly. (Proverb from Trentino)