Johnny was a bold youth and never seemed to be afraid of anything. When he was sent out upon the mountains with the herds and had to be alone with them through the dark nights and his mother bid him not be afraid, he used to stare at her with great round eyes as if he wondered what she meant.
He saw people shun passing through the churchyards by dark and so he used to make it his habit to sleep every night on the graves, and did not come to harm.
One day he said, "I will roam about and see if I can find this thing called fear that people so often talk about."
So he went out till he came to a village where there was a fair going on. The boy was too tired to care much for the dance, so he went to an inn and asked for a bed.
"A bed!" said the inn-keeper; "No, my beds are for regular customers only."
At that moment men and women shouted and screamed and came rushing towards the inn for shelter. A giant man ran after them, waving a club. The inn was filled in a few seconds. The inn-keeper ran to the top floor, put his head out of the window there and called for help..
The boy took it that the inn-keeper wanted the giant with the club pacified.
"All right, I'm your man!" said the youth, walked up to the giant and asked for his club.
And since the giant had been provoked by mocking and laughing boys at the fair, and now had come to his senses, he gave the youth the club and sat down to cry.
When the inn-keeper and all the other people saw the coast was clear they came out from their hiding-places.
The youth said to the inn-keeper:
"It seems to me I have earned a bed in your inn tonight."
"What?" said the landlord. "Don't you think anyone could have said, 'Give me your club,' to the furious giant with the club?"
"Then perhaps you would like to try," answered the youth, and gave the club to the giant who was sitting nearby.
"For heaven's sake!" screamed the inn-keeper and prepared to run away.
"Better give me what I ask for. It is not much and reasonable enough," answered the youth.
"There is a whole suite of rooms you can get if you will," said the inn-keeper.
"Where are they?" said Johnny.
"They are in that castle on the edge of the high rock over there," the inn-keeper explained. "The castle was built by a bad giant who lived here long ago. But there is a great risk of falling down if you should try to go up to the castle."
"Is it fearful, you say? Then show me the way, and I will spend the night in that castle."
The host stared a lot at him, but pointed out the path that led to the giant's castle.
Johnny trudged along until he reached the castle. He walked in and made his way through several rooms. Everything was very clean and tidy. He had hardly finished making his round when twelve ghosts came in. They were all dressed in white.
"Could you bring me a bottle of wine and some bread and meat, candles and cards?" asked Johnny.
At once the ghosts prepared supper for him.
After the supper Johnny said:
"I will just go and see what I can find in the cellars, perhaps I shall find the old giant down there."
"Yes; go down and choose a wine you like. You may find the old owner there too," said the twelve ghosts.
Johnny was delighted to hear that, and down he went. The bottles in the cellars were all in order, labelled with the names of various choice wines.
He found a skeleton among the shelves of wine too, and did not get rid of the rattling bones so easily. The skeleton came clatter-patter after him up the stairs. Johnny neither turned to look at it nor hurried his pace, but walked straight back, bottle in hand, into the room where the supper was laid ready. While he was supping, the skeleton danced round him, but Johnny munched his bread and meat and drank his wine.
When he had done he called to the twelve ghosts to clear away the plates and then dealt out the cards they had left on the table for him. The skeleton wanted to play cards with him, and so they did until it was time to go to bed.
As soon as Johnny had laid himself to sleep, the skeleton came in and pulled the bedclothes off him. However, when Johnny threatened to break the skeleton's every bone, the skeleton put on the bedclothes again, and Johnny fell asleep.
An hour later the skeleton came in again and shook the bedpost so violently that Johnny woke up with a start.
"Ah! there he is again!" said Johnny; "now I'll ask him what he wants;" so he jumped out of bed once more and said:
"Earthly soul, tell me your grief."
The skeleton made a sign to him to follow, and led him down to the foundations of the castle, where there was a big block.
"Lift up that block," said the skeleton.
"Not I!" answered Johnny; "I didn't set it there and am not going to take it up."
Then the skeleton lifted the block. Under it lay two two very large jars full of gold.
"Take them and count them out," said the skeleton.
"Not I!" said Johnny; "I didn't heap them up and am not going to count them out."
The skeleton counted the jars out itself. They contained ten thousand gold pieces each.
When this was done, the skeleton forced forth these words:
"I have waited hundreds of years to be set free. It will happen if you take over the castle and these two jars filled with gold. One of them is for you, and the other is for doing good to people - at least doing better than I did."
With that he disappeared and Johnny got into bed again. There he slept quietly for the rest of the night.
In the morning, when the sun was up and the birds began to sing cheerily on the branches, the inn-keeper began to feel some remorse for having sent the fine youth to the haunted castle. He gathered his servants and neighbours and led the way up to the castle.
Johnny was still fast asleep, but their sounds woke him up. He told what had happened to him. He was pleased with much, he said, but had not found fear.
The neighbours told Johnny, who was now a rich man and had castle to live in, that perhaps he might find fear if he went hunting in the mountains. He did his best on dangerous climbs, but still did not know what fear was. After some years, therefore, he once more went abroad to seek it.
After a long journey, one hot day when he was very thirsty, the came to a water fountain in the outskirts of a town. As he climbed down from his horse to drink he noticed that the whole town looked deserted; the road was grass-grown and the houses seemed neglected and empty.
As he went up to the fountain to drink, a faint voice called to him from the wayside: "Don't."
He looked round and saw the banks of the wayside were covered with dying people.
The weary voice went on:
"A fearful dragon has taken hold of all the fountains. He seems eager to eat uip those who come near, and then all run away for fear."
"'Fear!'" cried Johnny, and joyfully ran to the side of the well to dip his hand into the cooling flood. But before he could do so, the dragon put his head up through the middle of the well. Fire came out of his nostrils. Johnny at once took out his sword and with one blow severed the monster's head from the trunk. Then all the people crawled to the fountain or got carried to it, thanking him.
But before they had slaked their thirst, the dragon appeared again from the depth of the water with a new head on. The head was already full grown and spewed out fire from its nostrils and sparks from its eyes.
The drinking townspeople ran away screaming. Johnny was left alone, but didd not lose heart. With another well-aimed blow he sent the second head of the monster rolling by the side of the first.
The people came back and began to drink again when they saw the huge trunk disappear beneath the surface. But after some minutes the dragon rose again with another head on. It spewed fire from its nostrils, sparks from its eyes, and had hair and mane of flames. All the people fled, and Johnny was once again left alone with the monster. With his sword he cut off the terrible head. After this the dragon was not seen again.
"The dragon's blood could perhaps restore heads and heal well too," thought Johnny. He filled a bottle with the dragon's blood and travelled on, after being thanked again by the gathering townspeople.
After a time he came to the outskirts of another town. The streets were full of people making merry – so very merry that they seemed insane. Johnny spurred his horse and rode right through their middle. But the people got round him and seized his horse's bridle and dragged him from the saddle.
"What do you want with me, good people?" asked Johnny; "let me hear."
One of them answered: "If you want to know, it is soon told. We do nothing but dance and drink and sing and divert ourselves from morning to night. But after enjoying all this a long time, we begin to find it wearisome. So now we are almost as tired of our pastime as we used to be of our work. Therefore the king has decreed that every stranger who comes to town shall be caught and find us a new amusement. If he cannot do that, it will be the worst for him!"
"Take me to your king and I will show you a diversion you never heard of before," said Johnny, unruffled.
When he came to the king, the king laughed and would hardly listen to him at first, for Johnny said that if they would let him cut off anyone's head, he would stick it on just as before and the man would not be worse for it.
Soon, however, the king was delighted with the idea, but no one could be found who was willing to test it.
This made the king very angry. He called forward his jester and ordered Johnny to make the test on him. The jester objected as much as anyone else, but he did not disobey the king. "But think," said the jester to the king, "what will you do without your jester if this quack does not deliver as he has promised?"
The king and all those gathered were too eager to see Johny try the feat and cried to him to do it. The jester threw himself on his knees and begged that the king would grant him two favours. One was to repeat the trick on Johnny, and that first of all they should try it on the king's ape.
The king and Johnny both agreed to the two requests and the ape was brought to them. With one blow he severed its head, threw it up high in the air, that all might see it was well cut off and then placed it on again, smearing in some drops of the dragon's blood. The head and trunk were scarcely placed together again with the dragon's blood between, than the ape bounded up as well as before and just as if nothing had been done to him.
"Now, jester," cried Johnny, "it is your turn."
Fearless Johnny struck off his head in a trice, then threw it up high in the air, as he had done the ape's and then glued it on again with the dragon's blood.
"Now for you!" screamed the jester when he got his head back in its right place once more.
Johnny sat down on the ground so that the jester might reach him better. The jester swung the sword and sent Johnny's head rolling at the king's feet. The people caught it up and wanted to see it stuck on again. They gave it back to the jester. He smeared the rest of the dragon's blood over the stump of the throat but put on the head it a wrong way. No one noticed it until Johnny got on his feet again. Then all the people screeched and yelled and shouted. Johny could not make out what was the matter, and angrily asked for his horse, so that he might ride away from them all.
The horse was brought, and Johnny got into the saddle with some pains. He was feeling confused, for riding was awfully cumbersome to him all of a sudden. When he came to a quiet lake surrounded by mulberry-trees and vines and grassy slopes, he was hot with his ride and so was his horse. Johnny rode his horse into shallow water. There he got off the horseback and bent down to drink, but trying to was not pleasant at all. And then in the water he saw his own back where his breast was to be. The jester had put on his head backwards. The moment he saw it, he died of fear.
Relatives are seen at weddings and funerals. (Proverb from Trentino)