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Italian Popular Tales:
The Shepherd Who Made the King's Daughter Laugh
There was once a king and a queen who had an only daughter, whom they loved very dearly. When she was fifteen years old she became suddenly very sad and would not laugh any more.
So the king issued a proclamation that whoever made his daughter laugh, whether he were a prince, peasant, or beggar, should become her husband. Many made the attempt, but none succeeded.
Now there was a poor woman who had an only son, who was idle and would not learn any trade; so finally his mother sent him to a farmer to keep his sheep.
One day, as he was driving the sheep over the fields, he came to a well, and bent over it to drink. As he did so he saw a handsome ring on the wheel, and as it pleased him, he put it on the ring finger of his right hand. He had scarcely put it on, however, when he began to sneeze violently, and could not stop until he had accidentally removed the ring.
Then his sneezing ceased as suddenly as it had begun. "Oh!" thought he, "if the ring has this virtue, I had better try my fortune with it, and see whether it will not make the king's daughter laugh." So he put the ring on his left hand, and no longer had to sneeze. Then he drove the sheep home, took leave of his master, and set out toward the city where the king lived. He was obliged, however, to pass through a dense forest which was so extensive that it grew dark before he left it. He thought: "If the robbers find me here they will take away my ring, and then I should be a ruined man. I would rather climb a tree and spend the night there."
So he climbed a tree, tied himself fast with his belt, and soon fell asleep. Before long, thirteen robbers came and sat down under the tree, and talked so loud that the shepherd awoke. The captain of the robbers said: "Let each relate what he has accomplished to-day;" and each exhibited what he had taken. The thirteenth, however, pulled out a tablecloth, a purse, and a whistle, and said: "I have gained to-day the greatest treasures, for these three things I have taken from a monk, and each of them has a particular virtue. If any one spreads out the tablecloth and says: 'My little tablecloth, give me macaroni, or roast meat,' or whatever one will, he will find everything there immediately. Likewise the purse will give all the money one wants; and whoever hears the whistle must dance whether he will or no."
The robbers at once put the power of the tablecloth to the test, and then went to sleep, the captain laying the precious articles near himself. When they were all snoring hard the shepherd descended, took the three articles, and crept away.
The next day he came to the city where the king lived, and went straight to the palace. "Announce me to the king," said he to the servants; "I will try to make the king's daughter laugh." The servants tried to dissuade him, but he insisted on being led before the king, who took him into a large room, in which was the king's daughter, sitting on a splendid throne and surrounded by the whole court. "If I am to make the princess laugh," said the shepherd to the king, "you must first do me the kindness to put this ring on the ring-finger of your right hand."
The king had scarcely done so when he began to sneeze violently, and could not stop, but ran up and down the room, sneezing all the time. The entire court began to laugh, and the king's daughter could not stay sober, but had to run away laughing. Then the shepherd went up to the king, took off the ring, and said: "Your Majesty, I have made the princess laugh; to me belongs the reward." "What! you worthless shepherd!" cried the king. "You have not only made me the laughing-stock of the whole court, but now you want my daughter for your wife! Quick! take the ring from him, and throw him into prison."
While there the wonderful tablecloth provides him and his companions with plenty to eat, and when it is discovered and taken from him by the king's orders, the purse enables them all to live in comfort. That is also discovered, and nothing is left but the whistle. "Well!" thought the shepherd, "if we can't eat any more, we will at least dance;" and he pulled out his pipe and began to play on it, and all the prisoners began to dance, and the guards with them, and between them all they made a great noise. When the king heard it he came running there with his servants, and had to dance like all the rest, but found breath enough to order the pipe to be taken away from the shepherd, and all became quiet again.
So now the shepherd had nothing left, and remained in prison some time, until he found an old file, and one night filed through the iron bars and escaped. He wandered about all day, and at last came to the same forest where he had formerly been.
All at once he saw a large fig-tree bearing the most beautiful fruit, - on one side black figs, on the other, white ones. "That is something I have never seen," thought the shepherd, - "a fig-tree that bears black and white figs at the same time. I must try them." Scarcely had he tasted them when he felt something move on the top of his head, and putting his hand up, found he had two long horns. "Unhappy man!" he cried; "what shall I do?" However, as he was very hungry, he picked some of the white figs and ate them, and immediately one of the horns disappeared, and also the other after he had eaten a few more white figs. "My fortune is made!" he thought. "The king will have to give me all my things back, and his daughter in the bargain."
The shepherd disguised himself and went to the city with two baskets of figs, - one of the black and one of the white kind, the former of which he sold to the king's cook, whom he met in the market place. While the king was at the table the servant put the figs before him, and he was much pleased with them, and gave some to his wife and daughter; the rest he ate himself. Scarcely had they eaten them when they saw with terror the long horns that had grown from their heads. The queen and her daughter began to weep, and the king, in a rage, called the cook and asked him who had sold him the figs. "A peasant in the market," answered the cook. "Go at once and bring him here," cried the king.
The shepherd had remained near the palace, and as the cook came out, he went up to him with the basket of white figs in his hand. "What miserable figs did you sell me this morning!" cried out the cook to him. "As soon as the king, queen, and princess had eaten your figs, great horns grew on their heads." "Be quiet," said the shepherd; "I have a remedy here, and can soon remove the horns. Take me to the king." He was led before the king, who asked him what kind of figs he had sold. "Be quiet, your Majesty," said the shepherd, "and eat these figs," at the same time giving him a white one; and as soon as the king had eaten it one of the horns disappeared. "Now," said the shepherd, "before I give you any more of my figs you must give me back my whistle; if not, you may keep your horn."
The king in his terror gave up the whistle, and the shepherd handed the queen a fig. When one of the queen's horns had disappeared, he said: "Now give me my purse back, or else I will take my figs away." So the king gave him his purse, and the shepherd removed one of the princess' horns. Then he demanded his tablecloth; and when he had received it he gave the king another fig, so that the second horn disappeared. "Now give me my ring," he said; and the king had to give him his ring before he would remove the queen's horn. The only one left now was the princess, and the shepherd said: "Now fulfil your promise and marry me to the princess; otherwise she may keep her horn as long as she lives."
So the princess had to marry him, and after the wedding he gave her another fig to eat, so that her last horn also disappeared. They had a merry wedding, and when the old king died the shepherd became king, and so they remained contented and happy, and were like a bundle of roots.
Source: Italian Popular Tales by Thomas Frederick Crane, A. M.