The Pirate and the Prince
When he raised his club to beat it senseless, it gave him such a pitiful look and, moreover, entreated him with a human voice, saying, “Have mercy, old man, and spare my life that I may return to the deep blue sea.” The old man took pity on the gold fish, for he had never before seen such a creature in all his years, and cast the fish back into the deep blue sea. When he returned home his wife asked him how much he had caught. But by then the old man, having lost another day, had gone to the tavern and drowned his sorrows. “I caught a single fish,” said he, “the likes of which eye hath not seen! It was covered in golden scales and spoke with a human voice. It begged for its life. I was moved by it, and had compassion, so I cast it back into the sea.”
“Senseless old sot!” said the man’s wife. “Why have you gone and done such a foolish thing? Don’t you know how much we could have sold it for? We could have bought three head of cattle!”
So disheartened was the old man that he made up his mind the very next morning to find the fish again. He let down his nets and waited a good, long time before gathering them up again. And when he had gathered them in - so heavy were they that they began to burst - he knew he had caught the likes of which eye had not seen. And sure enough, there was the little gold fish, helplessly flapping. And again it looked on him with sorrowful eyes and entreated him with the same hopeless voice so that the old man took pity on it and cast him back into the deep blue sea. And when he had returned home that night his wife again came calling and asked how much he had caught. “I caught a single fish,” said he, “the likes of which eye hath not seen! It was covered in golden scales and spoke with a human voice. It begged for its life. I was moved by it, and had compassion, so I cast it back into the sea.”
The old man’s wife was furious. "You foolish old sot! It would have been better for me if I had cast you into the sea!" Then she turned him away without supper, adding, "You've drank all the supper you're going to get!"
When the old man had heard these words, he made up his mind all the more to catch the gold fish. And when the morning had come he set out as before and let down his nets, and, having waited a long time, gathered them up again. And after gathering them in, seeing once more the gold fish in his nets and once more having pity on the creature, he relented and returned home empty-handed and heavy at heart. And so, having told this to his wife, that all had happened as before, that foolish pity had gripped him, that of all the virtues of industry, cruelty did not become him, she did not speak. But she flew into a rage and tore the beams from the ceiling so that the little house did fall inward. Then the old man left that place and passed the night on his boat for fear of his wife.
He did not stir but only to let down his nets. And he waited for the morning. And when the morning had come, he drew them in. So heavy were they, they began to burst, thread by thread, and it was all he could do to save his catch, for after this his nets were in tatters! But no sooner had he gathered them in than he found the little gold fish, bright and beautiful - so dazzling was it! It turned to him and said, "Old man, I see now that I am fated to fall into thy hands for the rest of my life. Therefore, do as I tell you and take me home. Cut out my heart and my liver, and prepare my flesh. Give them to your wife to eat, and you will receive a blessing."
The old man knew not what this could mean but did as he was instructed and gave the pieces to his wife to eat. And having eaten them, she became with child and in due time bore two sons. Now the children grew up not by the day but by the hour, and so handsome were they! Every morning when they woke, the old man found a golden coin beneath their heads. And so he slept peacefully each night, knowing that he would be a day richer in the morning.
When the old man's sons had grown tall and strong, he took them out to sea with him that they might learn his trade. But when they had sailed a great distance and the shore sunk far, far behind so that it was lost to them, a great storm broke, and they were swallowed by the wind and the waves. And when the storm had lifted, there in its place rose a great ship, whose sails blew like mighty cloud billows!
Now the crew was a villainous lot. They seized the father with his two sons and pressed him for all his wealth. The father, though, having nothing but his sons, delivered them into the chief brigand's service, with the assurance that every morning when they woke, there a golden ducat lay, the size of a man's fist! This the captain greatly desired to see, so he locked them away in his own cabin. In this way the old man's sons were spared. And in the same manner as the ship had come, so its sails were lifted, and it blew away!
That evening the captain came to the two brothers and warned them that his hat should be filled with gold by morning, lest they forfeit their lives. And so it was, the very next morning, when he had risen, he sought his hat to see whether the rumor were true. But he could find it not, for such a heap of gold had buried it, and beside it lay the brothers fast asleep! The old pirate laughed so heartily and slapped his knees so that the whole ship shook. From then on, they ate at his very own table, from his very own bowl, and with his very own spoon. He treated them as though they were his own and taught them everything a son should learn of his father's trade.
After these days, when he had grown old and fat, he sat his sons beside him and boasted of his great wealth, saying, "See what you've done to me? I came to you a scoundrel, and now to my shame, I leave you a gentleman, too civilized to take up the sword, too wealthy to take plunder, and worst yet too loved by all to take my leave! But as there is hope yet for you both, see that you fall not into the trappings of well-bred men, but take these gifts and use them well that you might find no peace but sweet adventure."
And as the old pirate had grown very fond of his sons, he gave each of them gifts and sent them away to seek their own fortunes. To one he gave his sword, a delicate thing that, if struck, seemed to them it might break in two, but whose blade, said he, could cut through bars of iron. To the other he gave his spyglass, which could see the furthest reaches of the world and the object of his heart's desire. Lastly, he gave to each a belt of iron that would only rust if some ill befell its owner.
The two brothers decided they should each wear the other's belt, so that if one rusted he should know that the other was in trouble. After this, they kissed their father's face and parted, one to the east and the other to the west. Now the younger brother who traveled west followed his nose, riding near or far, high or low - whither he went he did not know - until at last he came to a dark wood, whose timbers towered high above him.
Unable to see the road ahead, he straightway climbed into the treetops, took out his spyglass and gazed into the distance. The world unrolled before him and became as a scroll, and his eyes as sharp as a hawk's, learned well its grammar. From afar he spied a wood. Through the wood ran a river. And in this river bathed a white swan, a bird of beauty on whose brow lay a crown of 12 stars. Never before had he seen such a crown.
As the young man watched, the swan took flight. He marked in what direction it flew and set out thence in search of it until at last he came to a city, hung with banners and pennants streaming. He went to the inn and asked for a room. But the innkeeper, upon seeing how his clothes were well-worn from his travels, and he with unwashed face, decided that the other guests could not be troubled with him, so he put the youth in the stable and gave him a pail of water with which to bathe.
And, having attended to himself, the youth then asked the innkeeper of that fair city wherefore were banners hung and pennants did stream. The innkeeper said, "It is because the King has set a contest for his daughter's hand that to the victor should go half his kingdom and he should wed her. For this reason, princes from near and far and many other suitors besides have tried their luck. But all have failed!"
"Who then is able to win such a contest?" asked the young man. And upon hearing that whosoever should guess the Princess's secret should win, he marveled! For, he thought, it was no difficult task. So he made up his mind to go and have a try at it himself.
"But," said the innkeeper, "Whoever should guess poorly, his life shall lose! Many a soul has tried and many a man has died." At this the youth asked no more questions, but the following morning left for the castle to see how the contestants fared. One by one they were called in to the Princess's chambers from the lowliest of knights to the greatest of nobles, but none guessed right. When the time had come for the princes and wise men of the realm to enter into the great hall, they stood in a corner and did not move but murmured amongst themselves, for of all they had to gain, they had not little to lose.
Now the youth, as he went amongst them begging for scraps, moved unseen because of his lowly position. In so doing he overheard all that was said. Some marveled at the beauty of the Princess, sore at heart that they would not win her hand in marriage. Others at her great wealth. And still others spoke of the crown she bore, full of stars and splendor. "The likes of which no man has seen, nor ever shall see again," said one.
"Then," said the youth, "I should like to see it once before I die!" For he remembered all that he had seen in the forest, and, wondering what it could mean, hid these thoughts in his heart and spoke not a word of them, but went straightway in through the doors and into the Princess's chambers. But the noble ones without would not move a pace, but only spoke poorly of the youth: "He has not much to lose, so 'tis no great loss!" they said. "Yea, save for his dust, that he should suffer the fate of a man instead of a pig!" And many other insults they hurled at him and laughed.
But on seeing the Princess, he counted himself most fortunate, for she was as white as snow, as red as roses, with hair like golden filigree. And what more did he see, but upon her brow a crown of 12 stars. When he had thus seen, he knew at once the Princess's secret. And speaking it thus into her ear, a crown of gold, like that unto the sun was given him, yea, even half the kingdom that all should bow before him. Even those who before had spoken ill of him. And last of all he wed the Princess. And he, with tender heart, loved her dearest of all, yea, even more than all his vast wealth.
The King, however, was sore displeased. That his daughter should marry a beggar was too much to bear. So he set an additional task before the youth. Now betimes the King's flocks were harried and suffered an ill fate at the hands of a beast, known only as the Norka. And betimes it would rise out of the sea, and, whenever it fell upon the shore as was its wont, would devour whole herds of cattle, and rams too, till not a single head stood alone on nine hills. Then it would return into the sea.
The King reasoned that if the youth should slay the beast, then he would be a worthy son. If he should not, then his fate would certainly overtake him; and this pleased the King most. But the young Prince was eager to prove himself, and so with the King's blessing, he departed and hid amongst the herd till the appointed night. When night fell, the sea blackened and began to boil, the sky thundered and the stars fled. Then out of the sea rose a terrible beast, clad in scales with webbed claws. No sooner had the brave youth risen to meet the Norka than he was devoured whole, along with all the King's cattle! And not a single head stood alone on nine hills.
When the morning had come, the elder brother did gird on his belt and rose to greet the dawn when, lo! there girt his waist a paltry thing, all eaten with rust. And when he had thus seen it, he knew at once some ill had befallen his brother. Now he, who had traveled east when they had parted, turned west, for he thought, "I may yet be able to save him."
And when he had come to a city, all hung in black, he wondered what it could mean. So he went to inquire of the guards. As he entered in through the gates, the guards greeted him as the young Prince and asked wherefore was he so late in returning, for they had thought some ill fate had seized him at the hands of the Norka. "No, but I had lost myself in so wide a wilderness, and have only now returned," said he. But the elder brother was beside himself, for he knew they were speaking of his dear brother - so alike were they. Then they asked if they should announce him to the Princess, who, for these past days, had been swallowed in grief. To this he agreed, for he had thought, It would be good to pass myself off for him that I might learn more of his fate.
So the guards brought him into the castle where he was received with the greatest of joy and tearful libations. "Wherefore were you so late in coming?" the young Queen asked. "For these past days I have been overcome with sorrow and joy in equal measure, when before your courage, like perfume, surrounded me, there was in short while only the stench of fear. But now I know at last what lies my heart has told me. For vain imaginings are a most worthless weapon and can harm none, save the heart that wields them." And she would but kiss his face, but he began to weep. Those with him knew not that he wept for his brother, but thought it for fear, for they deemed him a coward. At night when she took him to the royal bed, he laid his sword between them. Again, she knew not what this meant, but did not ask.
He remained there three nights in the palace and inquired into the matter, seeking every clue to his brother's whereabouts, until at last he made his decision: "I must slay this vile thing that is called Norka if my heart is ever to see peace." The Princess, however, would have none of it. But try as she might to dissuade him, he would not hear her, but went forth from that place into the hills and hid amongst the herd until the appointed night. And when night fell, the sea blackened and began to boil, the sky thundered and the stars fled. Then out of the sea rose a terrible beast, clad in scales with webbed claws.
The elder brother knew at once that it was the Norka and rose to meet it. And as the beast drew near, he raised his word. "Come and feast," said he. But the Norka laughed. "Such a dainty morsel this! How shall it fill my belly?" But again the elder brother said, "Come and feast, for I tell you that once ye eat of me ye shall have no more need of meat." This pleased the beast, so it opened wide its mouth at once and swallowed him whole! And the Norka would have gobbled up all the King's cattle, the whole city, and licked the hills bare, for so ravenous was its hunger! But the elder brother had not misspoken, for in two strokes - clip! clap! - the beast's head dropped! It fell with such a thundering that the whole land for seven leagues shook!
Then out of the Norka came the elder brother, then the younger, following, and after this all of the King's herds and flocks. And then at last what did they together see but, lo! the Princess, who now emerged. And she sloughed off her rude and paltry raiment and became as it were pure and bright as driven snow! And when the two brothers had beheld all this and each other, too, that they were whole and hale, they embraced and kissed each other's face and wept - one over the other. And so they turned toward home.
And as they walked, they related all they had seen and heard in their travels - and the elder how he had been mistaken for the young Prince and lived in the palace, and ate at his table, and slept in his bed. But when the younger had heard this, he became furious and would have his brother's head. So he seized his sword and struck him on the neck!
But when he saw him lying there dead, his own brother, dyed in blood, his heart became heavy. Then his wife, the young Queen, spoke: "Wherefore hast thou these past three nights lain this selfsame sword between us, but to do to me as you have done to thine own blood? For I knew ye wished me harm." Then the young Prince understood how faithful his brother had been to him, and he repented of the deed: "My brother hath delivered me and my wife from this curse, but for his trouble have I slain him. If I could but see him among the living once more, then would I give half my kingdom." Then he wept.
The Princess's heart was moved. She took the gold cord from around her waist and bound the elder brother's head to his neck. Then she poured some of the water of life over the wound, and the dead man sat up and was whole again. After this, they three went home, rejoicing all the more, for the dead brother had returned to life. What's more, he held no record of wrong, but straightway had forgotten the deed.
Now as they neared the city, the two brothers devised a plan: that they should enter in by separate gates, one after the other. The younger, who arrived first before the aged King, bowed in his presence. "The beast that troubled thee, my lord, shall trouble thee no more," said he. Then he sought of the King the gift promised to him who should slay the beast. This pleased the King greatly, and, seeing all that the young Prince had done, he knew that he could delay his promise no longer. So the King granted him half his kingdom. Likewise, there also came the elder brother, who arrived after, and saying the same, sought of the King his promised gift. But the old King was beside himself, for he knew not to whom he had given the half of his kingdom. Then he pleaded with his daughter, the Princess, saying: "They look and sound alike. Tell me, which is thy husband and rightful heir?" But the Princess spoke not a word. So the foolish old King gave the other half of his kingdom to the elder. Then they three lived out the fulness of their years in richness and in wealth. And there was never an empty cup, no, nor bowl too big, nor tale so grand that was not told by a lowly man.
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