Water in the Basket – Italian Folktales – Italo Calvino

Water in the Basket 

Illustrator G. Tomai

There was once a widowed mother who married a widowed father, and they each happened to have a daughter by their first marriage. The mother loved her own daughter, but not her husband’s. She sent her own child for water with the jug, and her stepdaughter she sent with the basket. But the water would all run out of the basket, and the stepmother beat the poor girl every day.

One day as the stepchild was filling her basket, it slipped out of her hand and was swept off by the stream. She began running downstream asking everyone she met, “Did you see my basket go by?” but they all told her, “Go farther downstream and you’ll find it.” She soon met an old woman sitting on a rock in the middle of the stream examining herself for fleas. “Have you seen my basket?” asked the girl.

“Come here,” replied the old woman. “I have your basket. But first be so good as to look down my back and see what’s biting me.” The girl killed vermin by the hundreds, but so as not to embarrass the old woman, she said, “Pearls and diamonds.”

“You shall have pearls and diamonds yourself,” replied the old woman. When all the fleas were off, she said, “Come with me,” and they went to her house, which was one big rubbish heap. “Do me a favor, my girl, and make my bed. Do you see anything in it?” It too was crawling with vermin, but the girl politely replied, “Roses and jasmines.” “You shall have roses and jasmines yourself. Do me another favor now and sweep the house. What do you see to sweep out?”

“Rubies and cherubs,” answered the girl.

“You shall have rubies and cherubs yourself.” Then she opened a wardrobe containing all kinds of clothes and asked, “Do you want a silk dress or one of cotton?”

“I’m a poor girl, as you can tell, so give me a cotton dress.”

“I’m giving you the silk one.” She gave her a handsome gown of silk, then opened a jewel case. “Would you like gold or coral?”

“I’ll take coral.”

“But I’m giving you gold,” and she slipped a gold necklace on her. “Do you want crystal earrings, or diamond earrings?”


“But I’m giving you diamond ones,” and she put them on her, adding, “You shall be beautiful, your hair shall be golden, and when you comb it, down one side shall pour roses and jasmines; down the other, pearls and rubies. Go home now, but don’t turn around when the donkey brays. When the cock crows, turn around.”

The girl set out for home. The donkey brayed, but she didn’t turn around. The cock crowed, she turned around, and on her forehead appeared a star.

Her stepmother asked, “Who in the world gave you all those things?”

“An old woman, who’d found my basket, gave them to me for killing the fleas on her.”

“Now I know I love you,” said the stepmother. “Henceforth you’ll go for water with the jug, while your sister takes the basket.” To her own daughter she whispered, “Go for water with the basket, let it slip away from you in the stream, and go after it. And may you have the same luck as your sister!”

The stepsister marched off, threw the basket into the water, then ran after it. Farther downstream she met the old woman. “Did you see my basket go by?”

“Come here, I have it. Look down my back and see what’s biting me.” The girl began killing vermin, and the old woman asked, “What is it?”

“Fleas and the itch.”

“You shall have fleas and the itch yourself.”

She took the girl to make the bed. “What do you see there?”

“Bedbugs and lice.”

“You shall have bedbugs and lice yourself.”

She had her sweep the house. “What do you see?”

“Disgusting filth!”

“You shall have disgusting filth yourself.”

Then she asked her if she wanted a dress of sackcloth or one of silk.

“A silk dress!”

“But I’m giving you sackcloth.”

“A pearl necklace, or a necklace of rope?”


“But I’m giving you rope.”

“Golden earrings or tinsel?”


“But I’m giving you tinsel. Go home now and turn around when the donkey brays, but don’t turn around when the cock crows.”

She went home, turned around when the donkey brayed, and on her forehead sprouted a donkeytail. It was useless to cut it off, it only grew right back. The girl screamed and cried:

“Mamma, Mamma, this is how it goes:

My head is now a tail down past my nose;

The more of it I cut, the more it grows.”

As for the girl with the star on her brow, the king’s son asked for her hand in marriage. On the day he was supposed to fetch her in his carriage, her stepmother said to her: “Since you are marrying the king’s son, do me one last favor before you leave: wash out the barrel for me. Climb into it and I’ll come and help you in a minute.”

The girl climbed into the barrel while her stepmother went off to get a kettle of boiling water to throw upon her and scald her to death. The woman intended to dress the ugly girl in the wedding dress and take her to the king all veiled so that he wouldn’t know the difference until too late. Meanwhile the ugly girl walked by the barrel. “What are you doing in there?” she asked her half–sister.

“I’m here because I’m to marry the king’s son.”

“Let me get in, so I’ll be the one to wed him.”

As accommodating as ever, the beautiful girl climbed out, while the ugly one took her place. The mother returned with the boiling water and poured it into the barrel. She thought she’d killed the stepdaughter but, discovering it was her own child, she began screaming and crying at the top of her voice. Her husband came in about that time, having heard everything from his daughter, and gave the woman the beating of her life.

The beautiful daughter married the king’s son and lived happily ever after.

Wide is the sheet, narrow is the street;

To tell your tale after mine is meet.

Louse Hide – Italian Folktales – Italo Calvino

Louse Hide

Illustrator ArtTower

There was once a king who, during a leisurely stroll one day, found a louse on him. A king’s louse, he thought, is to be respected. So instead of delousing himself, he took it home to the royal palace and cared for it. The louse grew fat, as fat as a cat, and spent the whole day in a chair. Then it got as fat as a pig and had to be moved to an easy chair. When it became as fat as a calf, it had to be put in a barn. But the louse continued to fatten and soon outgrew the barn, so the king had it slaughtered. Once it was slaughtered, he had it skinned and the hide nailed to the palace door. Then he issued a proclamation: whoever guessed which animal’s hide it was would have his daughter in marriage; but whoever guessed wrong would be condemned to death.

No sooner was the proclamation out than a long line of men formed before the royal palace. They guessed and lost. The hangman worked day and night. Now the king’s daughter, unbeknownst to her father, had a lover, and was on pins and needles until she found out from certain servants in the know that the hide belonged to a louse. In the evening when the lover showed up as usual under her window, she said in a low voice, “Tomorrow, go to my father and say the hide is that of a louse.”

But he didn’t catch her words. “Of a mouse, you say? A giant mouse?”

“No, louse!” answered the king’s daughter, raising her voice.


“Louse! Louse!” she yelled.

“Oh, I get it! I’ll see you tomorrow.” With that, he left.

But under the window of the king’s daughter a hunchback cobbler had his workbench, and overheard the whole–conversation. “We’ll just see now who marries you,” he said to himself, “me or that man there.” And in a flash, without even removing his smock, he jumped up and ran to the king. “Sacred Crown, I have the honor to come before you and guess what hide you have here.”

“Be careful,” said the king. “Ever so many men have already lost their lives guessing.”

“We’ll just see if I lose mine too,” said the hunchback. The king showed him the hide. The hunchback took a good look, sniffed it, pretended to rack his brains, and said, “Sacred Crown, I have the honor to inform you that it doesn’t take so much effort to recognize what animal this hide is from: it is from a louse.”

The king was quite put out by the hunchback’s cleverness, but without a word, since a king’s promise is sacred, he sent for his daughter and right away declared her the rightful bride of the hunchback. The poor girl, who had been sure of marrying her lover on the morrow, was now beside herself with woe.

The little hunchback became king and she was his queen. But having to live with him took all the joy out of life. In her service was an old chambermaid who would have given anything to see the queen laugh again and said one morning: “Sacred Majesty, I saw three hunchback buffoons passing through town dancing and singing and playing, and everybody just dying laughing. How about me bringing them to the royal palace to entertain you too a bit?”

“Are you out of your mind?” said the queen. “What would the hunchback king say if he came in and found them here? He’d think we’d brought them in to mock him!”

“Don’t worry,” replied the chambermaid. “If the king comes in, we’ll hide them in the trunk.”

So the three hunchback musicians went to the queen and entertained her royally, and the queen split her sides laughing. Right in the middle of their act the doorbell rang loudly: the hunchback king was back.

The chambermaid grabbed the three hunchbacks by the neck, thrust them into the big cupboard, and locked the door. “All right, all right, I’m coming!” she said, and went and let the king in. They ate supper and then went out for a walk.

The next day was the day the king and queen received visitors, and the hunchbacks were completely forgotten. The third day the queen said to the maid, “By the way, what became of the hunchbacks?”

“Oh, my goodness!” exclaimed the maid, clapping her hand to her forehead. “I forgot all about them!

They’re still there in the cupboard!” They opened the cupboard at once, and what should they find but three dead hunchbacks. They had died from lack of food and air, and they looked quite sulky.

“Now what will we do?” asked the frightened queen.

“Don’t worry, I’ll think of a way out of this,” replied the maid, and she took one of the hunchbacks and stuffed him in a sack. She then called a porter. “Listen, in this sack is a thief I killed with a slap as he was stealing the crown jewels.” She opened the sack and showed him the hump. “Now take him on your back and, without letting anyone see you, throw him into the river. I’ll pay you when you return.”

The porter flung the sack over his back and went to the river. Meanwhile that devil of a chambermaid stuffed the second hunchback into another sack and placed it beside the door. The porter returned to be paid, and the maid said, “How do you expect to be paid when the hunchback is still here?”

“But what game are we playing?” asked the porter. “I just now threw him into the river.”

“Here’s proof you didn’t do it very well. Otherwise he wouldn’t still be here.”

Shaking his head and grumbling, the porter once more loaded the sack onto his back and trudged off. When he returned to the royal palace a second time what should he find but the sack with the hunchback, and the chambermaid as angry as a hornet. “Am I not right, you don’t know how to throw him into the river? Can’t you see he’s back again?”

“But this time I tied a stone to him before throwing him in!”

“Tie on two! Just let that sack come back here again, and not only will I not pay you, I’ll beat the daylights out of you!”

Once more the porter took up the sack, walked to the river, tied two boulders to it, and threw the third hunchback into the water. He watched carefully to see that it didn’t reappear, then returned to the royal palace.

As he was climbing the steps, he met the hunchback king on his way out and thought to himself, Damnation! The hunchback has escaped again, and that old witch will now beat me for sure! In a blind rage, he grabbed the hunchback by the neck and shouted, “You hangman of a hunchback, how many times do I have to throw you into the river? I tied one stone to you, and you came back up. I tied on two, and here you are back again! How can you be so ornery? I’m going to fix you for good!” At that, he put his hands around the hunchback’s throat and strangled him. Then he caught him by the neck and dragged him straight to the river, where he tied four rocks to his feet and hurled him into the water.

When the queen learned that her husband had gone the way of the other three hunchbacks, she showered the porter with presents: gold, precious stones, hams, cheese, and wine. Without hesitation she then married her first love and from then on was happy as happy could be.

“Wide is the leaf, narrow is the way,
Tell yours now, as I have had my say.”

 The Little Girl Sold with the Pears – Italian Folktales – Italo Calvino

The Little Girl Sold with the Pears

Illustrator Hana Augustine –

Once a man had a pear tree that used to bear four baskets of pears a year. One year, though, it only bore three baskets and a half, while he was supposed to carry four to the king. Seeing no other way out, he put his youngest daughter into the fourth basket and covered her up with pears and leaves.

The baskets were carried into the king’s pantry, where the child stayed in hiding underneath the pears. But having nothing to eat, she began nibbling on the pears. After a while the servants noticed the supply of pears dwindling and also saw the cores. “There must be a rat or a mole gnawing on the pears,” they said. “We shall look inside the baskets.” They removed the top and found the little girl.

“What are you doing here?” they asked. “Come with us and work in the king’s kitchen.”

They called her Perina, and she was such a clever little girl that in no time she was doing the housework better than the king’s own maid–servants. She was so pretty no one could help loving her. The king’s son, who was her age exactly, was always with Perina, and they became very fond of each other.

As the maiden grew up, the maidservants began to envy her. They held their tongues for a while, then accused Perina of boasting she would go and steal the witches’ treasure. The king got wind of it and sent for the girl. “Is it true you boasted you would go and steal the witches’ treasure?”

“No, Sacred Crown, I made no such boast.”

“You did so,” insisted the king, “and now you have to keep your word.” At that, he banished her from the palace until she should return with the treasure.

On and on she walked until nightfall. Perina came to an apple tree, but kept on going. She next came to a peach tree, but still didn’t stop. Then she came to a pear tree, climbed it, and fell asleep.

In the morning there stood a little old woman under the tree. “What are you doing up there, my daughter?” asked the old woman.

Perina told her about the difficulty she was in. The old woman said, “Take these three pounds of grease, three pounds of bread, and three pounds of millet and be on your way.” Perina thanked her very much and moved on.

She came to a bakery where three women were pulling out their hair to sweep out the oven with. Perina gave them the three pounds of millet, which they then used to sweep out the oven and allowed the little girl to continue on her way.

On and on she walked and met three mastiffs that barked and rushed at anyone coming their way. Perina threw them the three pounds of bread, and they let her pass.

After walking for miles and miles she came to a blood–red river, which she had no idea how to cross. But the old woman had told her to say:

“Fine water so red,

I must make haste;

Else, of you would I taste.”

At those words, the waters parted and let her through.

On the other side of the river, Perina beheld one of the finest and largest palaces in the world. But the door was opening and slamming so rapidly that no one could possibly go in. Perina therefore applied the three pounds of grease to its hinges, and from then on it opened and closed quite gently.

Inside, Perina spied the treasure chest sitting on a small table. She picked it up and was about to go off with it, when the chest spoke: “Door, kill her, kill her!”

“I won’t, either, since she greased my hinges that hadn’t been looked after since goodness knows when.”

Perina reached the river, and the chest said, “River, drown her, drown her!”

“I won’t, either,” replied the river, “since she called me ‘Fine water so red.’”

She came to the dogs, and the chest said, “Dogs, devour her, devour her!”

“We won’t, either,” replied the dogs, “since she gave us three pounds of bread.”

She came to the bakery oven. “Oven, burn her, burn her!”

But the three women replied, “We won’t, either, since she gave us three pounds of millet, so that now we can spare our hair.”

When she was almost home, Perina, who had as much curiosity as the next little girl, decided to peep into the treasure chest. She opened it, and out came a hen and her brood of gold chicks. They scuttled away too fast for a soul to catch them. Perina struck out after them. She passed the apple tree, but they were nowhere in sight. She passed the peach tree, where there was still no sign of them. She came to the pear tree, and there stood the little old woman with a wand in her hand and hen and chicks feeding around her. “Shoo, shoo!” went the old woman, and the hen and chicks reentered the treasure chest.

Upon her arrival, the king’s son came out to meet her. “When my father asked what you want as a reward, tell him that box filled with coal in the cellar.”

On the doorstep of the royal palace stood the maidservants, the king, and the entire court. Perina handed the king the hen with the brood of gold chicks. “Ask for whatever you want,” said the king, “and I will give it to you.”

“I would like the box of coal in the cellar,” replied Perina.

They brought her the box of coal, which she opened, and out jumped the king’s son, who was hiding inside. The king was then happy for Perina to marry his son.

The Fine Greenbird – Italian Folktales – Italo Calvino

The Fine Greenbird 

ph. Chris Tribble –

There was once a nosy king who went prowling in the evenings under the windows of his subjects to hear what they said about him in private. It was a time of unrest, and the king feared the people were hatching some plot against him. Thus, lurking near a humble country dwelling at dusk, he overheard three sisters on their porch in a spirited discussion.

The eldest said, “If I could marry the king’s baker, I would make as much bread in a single day as the court eats in a whole year, so taken am I with that handsome young baker!”

The middle girl stated: “For my husband, I would like the king’s vintner, and you would see me intoxicate the whole court with one glass of wine, so much does that vintner delight me!”

Then they asked the youngest girl, who held her tongue. “And whom would you marry?”

The youngest, who was also the loveliest of the three, answered, “I would take the king himself, and I would give him two rosy–faced, golden–haired sons, and a rosy–faced, golden–haired daughter with a star on her brow.”

Her sisters made fun of her. “Poor little thing! You ask for so little!”

The nosy king, who had heard every word, went home, and the next day he sent for the three sisters. The girls were very frightened, for these were dangerous times when everyone was viewed with suspicion, and anything could happen. They got to the palace, quite upset, but the king said, “Don’t be afraid. Just tell me what you were saying last night on your porch.”

More taken aback than ever, they stammered, “Uh … we were … uh, we weren’t saying anything.”

“Weren’t you saying you wanted to get married?” prompted the king. And he kept on until the eldest finally repeated what she’d said about wanting to marry the baker. “Very well, you shall have him,” said the king. So the eldest girl got the baker for her husband.

The middle girl admitted she wanted the vintner. “Your wish is granted,” said the king, and he gave her the vintner.

“And you?” he asked the youngest. Blushing from head to toe, she told him what she had said last night.

“If your wish to marry me came true, would you keep your promise?”

“I would do my best,” said the girl.

“In that case you shall become my wife, and we’ll see which of you girls is the most faithful to her word.”

It galled the elder sisters, the baker’s and vintner’s wives, to be now so much lower in station than their lucky little sister–turned–queen–overnight, and their envy deepened when they learned that the queen was with child.

Meanwhile, the king had to go to war against his cousin. “Remember your promise,” he said to his wife as he departed, leaving her in the care of his sisters–in–law.

While he was at war, his wife gave birth to a rosy–cheeked, golden–haired boy. How do you think her sisters reacted to that? They took the baby away and put a monkey in its place. They gave the baby to an old woman to drown. The old woman took the baby to the river in a basket. Reaching the bridge, she heaved her burden over the railing, basket and all.

The basket floated downstream and was soon seen by a boatman, who rowed after it. He caught hold of it, saw that beautiful child, and took him home to his wife to nurse.

To the king on the battlefield the sisters sent word that his wife had given birth to a monkey rather than a rosy–cheeked, golden–haired baby boy, and they wanted to know what they should do. “No matter whether it is a monkey or a baby boy,” replied the king, “take care of my wife.”

When the war was over he came home, but he no longer felt the same toward his wife. He still loved her, of course; but he was disappointed she hadn’t kept her promise. Meanwhile the wife found herself expecting another child, and the king hoped things would go better this time.

But to get back to the first baby, the boatman happened to notice the little boy’s hair one day. He said to his wife, “Just look at it! Doesn’t it look like gold?”

The wife agreed. “It certainly does. It is gold!” They cut off a lock and went out and sold it. The goldsmith weighed it on his scales and paid them a gold sequin for it. From then on, the boatman and his wife would cut off a lock of the boy’s hair every day and sell it. In no time they were rich.

Meanwhile the king’s cousin started another war, and the king went off and left his wife awaiting their second child. “Remember your promise!” he told her as he departed.

This time too, while the king was away, the queen gave birth to a rosy–cheeked, golden–haired baby boy. Her sisters took the baby away and put a dog in its place. The baby was given to the same old woman, who threw him into the river in a basket, like his brother.

“What’s going on?” asked the boatman upon seeing a second baby land in the river. Then he realized that this boy’s hair would double their fortune.

Still at war, the king heard from his sisters–in–law. “This time, Majesty, your wife was delivered of a dog. Write us what to do with her.” By way of reply, the king wrote: “No matter whether the dog is male or female, take good care of my wife.” At last he came back to town very long–faced. But he truly loved his wife and still hoped that things would go well the third time.

As luck would have it, the cousin declared a third war, again while the queen was with child. The king had no choice but to go. He said to his wife, “Farewell, and remember your promise. You failed to give me the two golden–haired boys. Try to give me the little girl with the star on her brow.”

She bore the baby girl, a beautiful rosy–cheeked, golden–haired child with a star on her brow. The old woman got her little basket ready and threw the baby into the river. The sisters put a small tiger cub in bed in its place. They wrote the king about the tiger that had been born and asked what he wanted done with his wife. He wrote back: “Whatever you like, just so I never see her in the palace again upon my return.”

The sisters pulled her out of bed and carried her down to the cellar. There they walled her up, leaving only an opening for her head. Every day they took her a morsel of bread and a glass of water, then each of them gave her a slap in the face: that was her daily meal. Her rooms were walled up, and no trace at all was left of her. When the war was over and the king came home, he never mentioned her, nor did anyone else. He was now sad all the time.

The boatman, who had also found the little basket containing the baby girl, now had three fine children, who grew by leaps and bounds. With their golden hair, he amassed quite a fortune. One day he said, “We must now think about their future, poor dears, and build them a palace, for they are growing up.” So, right across from the king’s, he had an even larger palace built, with a garden that included all the wonders of the world.

Meanwhile the boys had become young men, and the girl a graceful young lady. The boatman and his wife had died, and the children lived together in this handsome palace, rich beyond belief. As they always wore their hats, no one knew they had hair of gold.

From the windows of the king’s palace, the baker’s and vintner’s wives would gaze at them, never dreaming they were the young people’s aunts. One morning these aunts saw the brothers and their little sister without their hats on, seated on a balcony, and cutting each other’s hair. It was a sunny morning, and the golden hair gleamed so brightly that it blinded you. The thought suddenly occurred to the aunts that these might be their sister’s children who had been thrown into the river. They began spying on them regularly, observing that they cut their hair every morning only to have it long again the next day. From then on, the two aunts were on pins and needles because of their crimes.

At the same time, the king, too, had taken to studying the neighboring garden and the children that lived there. He thought to himself, Those are just the kind of children I wanted my wife to give me. They look exactly like the ones she promised me. But he hadn’t seen their golden hair, since they always kept their heads covered.

He got into conversation with them. “What a wonderful garden you have!”

“Majesty,” replied the girl, “we have here in this garden all the beautiful things in existence. If you deem us worthy of the honor, you are welcome to walk here.”

“With great pleasure. Since we are neighbors, why don’t you come to my palace for dinner tomorrow?”

“Oh, Majesty,” they said, “that would inconvenience the entire court too much.”

“No,” insisted the king, “your visit will make us very happy.”

“In that case, we accept and will be there tomorrow.”

When the sisters–in–law learned of the invitation, they flew to the old woman supposed to have murdered the poor little things. “Menga, what did you really do with those babies?”

“I threw them into the river, basket and all, but the basket was light and remained afloat. I didn’t stay to see whether it ever sank or not.”

“Wretch!” exclaimed the aunts. “The children are alive, and the king has seen them. If he learns who they are, we are done for. You must keep them from coming to the palace and do away with them once and for all.”

“I will,” replied the old woman.

Disguised as a beggar woman, she paused before the gate of their garden. Just then the girl was looking around her property and saying, as usual, “What does our garden lack? Nothing, for we have right here every beautiful thing in existence!”

“Ah, you say you have everything?” asked the old woman. “I know of one thing you lack, my child.”

“What thing?”

“The dancing water. ”

“Where can you get …” began the child, but the old woman had disappeared. The girl burst into tears. “And here I thought we had everything in our garden, but … but we don’t have the dancing water. The dancing water.… There’s no telling how lovely it is!” And on and on she sobbed.

Coming home and finding her so upset, her brothers asked, “What’s the matter? Why do you weep?”

“Please, leave me alone. I was here in the garden saying to myself that we had every beautiful thing in existence, when an old woman came to the gate and said, ‘You think you have everything, but you have no dancing water.’”

“Is that all you’re crying about?” asked the elder brother. “I’ll go and get it myself, so you’ll be happy.” He removed the ring he was wearing and slipped it on his sister’s finger. “If the stone changes color, that’s a sign I am dead.” He then mounted his horse and galloped off.

He had already gone a good way when he met a hermit, who asked, “Where are you going, my lad?”

“I am seeking the dancing water.”

“My poor child!” answered the hermit. “They are sending you to your death. Are you unaware of the danger of the quest?”

“However dangerous it is, I must find the water.”

“Listen to me, then,” said the hermit. “Do you see that mountain? Scale it and you will come to a large plateau, in the middle of which rises a beautiful palace. Before the front door stand four giants holding swords. Watch out: if their eyes are closed you must not go past them. Is that clear? But when their eyes open, then you can go in. About the door: if it’s open, don’t go in; if it’s closed, then push it open and walk in. You will come upon four lions: if their eyes are closed, don’t go past them; pass only when their eyes open and you will come to the dancing water.” The boy bid the hermit farewell, mounted his horse, and rode up the mountain.

Up there he found the palace with the front door open and the four giants with their eyes closed. “Yes, indeed, wait …” he told himself. The instant the giants opened their eyes and the front door closed, he went in. He waited for the lions also to open their eyes and moved past them. There was the dancing water. The boy filled the bottle he had brought along, and the minute the lions reopened their eyes, he took to his heels.

Just imagine the joy of the little sister, who’d spent all those days anxiously watching the ring, when her brother walked in with the dancing water. They hugged and kissed, then they placed two golden basins in the garden and poured into them the dancing water, which, to the little girl’s great delight, leaped from one basin to the other. She was sure she now had every beautiful thing in existence right there in her garden.

The king passed by and wanted to know why they had not come to dinner; he had waited and waited for them. The little girl explained that their garden had lacked the dancing water, so her older brother had been obliged to fetch it. The king had much praise for the new addition and extended the three young people another invitation for the following day. The old woman, sent back by the aunts, saw the dancing water and felt her blood boil. “You have the dancing water now, but you still don’t have the musical tree,” she said to the little girl and vanished.

The brothers came home. “If you love me, dear brothers, you must bring me the musical tree.”

This time it was the second brother’s turn to say, “Why, of course, my little sister. I’ll go and get it for you.”

He gave his sister his ring, mounted his horse, and galloped all the way to the hermit who had helped his brother.

“Oh!” exclaimed the hermit. “The musical tree is a hard nut to crack. Here’s what you have to do: scale the mountain, beware of the giants, the front door, and the lions, just as your brother did. You will then come to a little door with a pair of scissors over it. If the scissors are closed, don’t go through the door. If they are open, go on through. You will then come upon a huge tree making music with its every leaf. Climb the tree and break off its highest branch. Plant it in your garden, and it will take root there.”

The youth went up the mountain, found every sign favorable, and went in. He made his way up the tree through all the musical leaves and got the highest branch. Accompanied by its melody, he returned home.

When it was planted, the branch became the most beautiful tree in the garden, filling it with its music.

The king, who was rather outdone over the children’s failure to show up the second time, was so delighted with that music that he reinvited all three of them for the next day.

The aunts at once dispatched the old woman. “You’re satisfied with the advice I gave you? The dancing water, the musical tree! Now all you need is the fine Greenbird, and you will possess every beautiful thing in existence.”

Here came the boys. “Little brothers, who is going after the fine Greenbird for me?”

“I am,” replied the oldest, and he was off.

“This is truly unfortunate,” said the hermit. “So many have gone after it, and no one has come back. Go to the same mountain, enter the same palace, and you will find a garden full of marble statues. They are noble knights who, like you, tried to capture the fine Greenbird. Flying through the trees in the garden are hundreds of birds. The fine Greenbird is the one that talks. He will speak to you, but don’t dare answer, regardless of what he says.”

The youth made it to the garden full of statues and birds. The fine Greenbird perched on his shoulder and said, “So you too have come, my good knight? And you think you can catch me? You are mistaken. Your aunts send you here to your death, and they keep your mother walled up alive …”

“My mother walled up alive!” exclaimed the youth, and as he spoke he immediately became a marble statue.

The sister never let a minute go by without looking at the ring. Seeing the stone turn blue, she screamed. “Help! He’s dying!” And the other brother jumped into his saddle and galloped away.

He, too, reached the garden, and the fine Greenbird said to him, “Your mother is walled up alive.”

“What! My mother walled up alive!” he cried, and turned to marble.

The sister was looking at the second brother’s ring and saw it turn black. She did not go to pieces, but dressed up as a knight, took a phial of dancing water and a branch from the musical tree, saddled their fastest horse, and departed.

The hermit said to her, “Look out: if you answer the Greenbird when he speaks, you are done for. Rather, pull out one of his feathers, dip it into the dancing water, and touch each statue with it.”

When the fine Greenbird saw the maiden dressed as a knight, he perched on her shoulder and said, “You’re here, too? Now you will become like your brothers. Do you see them? One, two, and you will make three … Your father at war … Your mother walled up alive … And your aunts thumbing their noses at her …”

She let him run on, and the bird grew hoarse repeating his words in her ear. He was about to fly off when the maiden seized him, pulled a feather out of one of his wings, dipped it in the phial of dancing water, and passed it under the noses of her petrified brothers; they came back to life and embraced her. Next, the three of them stroked all the other statues and had a retinue of knights, barons, princes, and sons of noblemen. They made the giants sniff the feather, so the giants revived, too, and finally they brought the lions back to life. The fine Greenbird perched on the musical branch and allowed himself to be caged. In a grand procession, they all left the palace on the mountain, which magically vanished into thin air.

When the aunts looked out of the royal windows into the garden with the dancing water, the musical tree, and the fine Greenbird, and saw brothers and sister mingling with all those joyful princes and barons, they grew weak in the knees. The king decided to invite everybody to dinner.

They came, and the little sister brought along the fine Greenbird perched on her shoulder. As they were sitting down to the table, the fine Greenbird said, “One person is missing!” Everybody stood stockstill.

The king then counted everybody in his household to see who could be absent, but the fine Greenbird went on saying, “One person is missing!”

They had no idea whom else to bring in, when it suddenly dawned on the children. “Majesty! Could it be the queen walled up alive?” The king ordered her unwalled at once. The boys embraced her, and the little girl with the star on her brow helped her into a tub filled with dancing water and brought her out again as sound as ever.

Then they went back to their dinner, with the queen dressed as a queen at the head of the table and her two sisters green with envy.

Everybody was about to take the first bite of their food, when the fine Greenbird blurted out, “Only what I peck!” That was because the two aunts had poisoned the food. The guests ate only those portions the fine Greenbird pecked, and no one was poisoned.

“Now let us hear what the fine Greenbird has to tell us,” proposed the king.

The fine Greenbird hopped onto the table before the king and said, “King, these are your children.” They uncovered their heads, and everyone saw that they all three had golden hair, and the little sister a golden star on her brow. The fine Greenbird kept talking and told the whole story.

The king embraced his children and begged his wife to forgive him. Then he summoned his two sisters–in–law and the old woman, and said to the fine Greenbird, “Bird, now that you have disclosed everything, give out the sentence.”

The bird said, “For the sisters–in–law, a gown of pitch and a greatcoat of fire. Throw the old woman out the window.”

Thus was it done, and king, queen, and children lived happily ever after.

Alpheus and Arethusa

Alpheus and Arethusa

Aretusa was among the nymphs following Diana’s favorite one, they spent their days in the woods that grew luxuriantly under Mount Olympus in Greece, chasing deer and fallow deer. Our Arethusa was beautiful, but so beautiful that she almost had trouble and blush to show herself to men. During a hunting trip, she moved too far from the group of maids following Diana and arrived alone in front of the banks of the river Alfeo, whose waters were pure, very sweet and clear, so much so that the gravel could be seen on the bottom. It was a sultry day and the nymph wanted to take a bath. All around there was a singular silence, broken only by the chirping of birds and the sound of aquatic ducks. Arethusa, perhaps enticed by not being seen and by the oppressive heat, took off her white clothes, placed them on top of a cut weeping willow tree trunk and immersed herself, starting to enter the water with a sinuous and graceful bearing. However, she immediately had the feeling that towards the center of the river, the water around her began to quiver and to form almost dancing vortices, something magical was about to happen she thought, it seemed as if that water wanted to caress and wrap it around herself . Troubled by these sensations, she tried to hurry out of the water, but it was at that moment that the river Alfeo turned into a beautiful young blond man who, lifting his head out of the water and shaking off his thick hair, showed himself to the nymph Arethusa, with the eyes of a lover.

The nymph, however, taken by fear, managed to free herself and to reach the shore with great effort, where she ran away naked and dripping. With a feline leap, Alpheus also came out of his river and chased her without clothes and dripping with drops of water. This chase lasted a long time and Alfeo was unable to reach the nymph at first. The seductive Aretusa, however, began to tire and understood that her strength was failing her. She felt that Alpheus was about to reach her and violate her, she who was a wild and demure virgin and who had never known love.

Aretusa, for fear of being overwhelmed and desecrated, asked Diana for protection, invoking to be transformed into a source in a place possibly very far from Greece.

Diana first wrapped it in a mysterious fog and concealed it from the sight of Alphaeus, then turned it into a spring and brought it, as in a strange spell, to Sicily in Syracuse near the island of Ortigia.

Alfeo in the midst of the mist thus lost sight of his beautiful nymph, but he did not give up looking for her and remained on the spot. When the fog cleared, however, he found nothing, he saw only as in a mirror a source of water gushing and immersed in a wonderful garden. Alfeo understood the prodigy and was so in love that it overflowed with love. The gods took pity on him and Jupiter the almighty allowed him to reach his beloved, but Alfeo had to make a great effort, dug an underground under the Ionian Sea and from the Peloponnese came to emerge in the great port of Syracuse, next to his beautiful beloved : Arethusa. Together they lived happy forever