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The Serpent Prince

Source: Fairy Tales From All Nations

There lived once a peasant's wife who would have given all she
possessed to have a child, but yet she never had one.

One day her husband brought home a bundle of twigs from the wood, out
of which crept a pretty little young serpent. When Sabatella, that was
the peasant woman's name, saw the little serpent, she sighed deeply
and said: "Even serpents have their offspring; I alone am so
unfortunate as to remain childless!"

"Since you are childless," replied the little serpent, "take me in
lieu of a child; you shall have no cause to repent, and I will love
you more than a son."

When Sabatella heard the serpent speak, she was at first ready to go
out of her wits from fright; but at length taking courage said: "If it
be only for your kind words, I will love you as well as if you were my
own child."

So saying, she showed the serpent a cupboard in the house for his bed,
and she gave him a share, daily, of all she had to eat, and so the
serpent grew; and when he was quite grown up, he said to the peasant,
Cola Mattheo by name, whom he considered in the light of a father:
"Dear Papa, I wish to marry."

"I am willing," said Mattheo; "we will look about for a serpent like
yourself, and conclude the alliance at once."

"Why so," replied the serpent; "we shall then only become connected
with vipers, and similar vermin. I greatly prefer to marry the king's
daughter; so pray go forthwith, solicit the king for her, and say that
a serpent wishes to have her for his wife."

Cola Mattheo, who was a simple-minded man, went without further delay
to the king, and said: "The persons of messengers are always held
sacred. Know, therefore, that a serpent desires to have your daughter
for his wife; and I am come hither in my capacity of gardener to see
whether I can graft a dove upon a serpent."

The king, perceiving that he was somewhat of a booby, in order to get
rid of him, said: "Go home, and tell this serpent that if he can turn
all the fruit in this garden into gold, I will give him my daughter in
marriage," and laughing heartily, he dismissed the peasant.

When Cola Mattheo reported the king's answer, the serpent replied: "Go
early in the morning and collect all the fruit kernels you can find
throughout the city, and sow them in the royal garden; then you shall
behold a wonder."

Cola Mattheo, who was a great simpleton, said nothing, but as soon as
the sun with his golden besom had swept away the shades of night, he
took his basket under his arm, went from street to street, carefully
picking up every seed and kernel of peach, pomegranate, apricot,
cherry, and all other fruits he could find. Then he sowed them in the
royal garden as the serpent had desired him,--which he had no sooner
done than he perceived the stems of the trees, together with their
leaves, flowers, and fruit, all turn into shining gold; and the king,
when he saw it, went almost out of his senses, and could not tell what
to make of the affair.

But when Cola Mattheo was sent by the serpent to request the king to
perform his promise, the king replied: "Not so fast! For if the
serpent really desires to have my daughter in marriage, he must do
something more; and, in fact, I should like him to change the walls
and the paths in my garden into precious stones."

On this new demand being reported to the serpent, he said: "Go early
in the morning and collect all the potsherds you can find on the
ground; strew them in the paths and on the walls of the garden; then
we shall soon make the king perform his promise."

And when the night had passed away, Cola Mattheo took a great basket
and collected all the bits of broken pots, pans, jugs, cups and
saucers, and all similar rubbish; and when he had done with them as
the serpent desired him, the garden was suddenly covered with
emeralds, rubies, chalcedonies, and carbuncles, so that its brilliancy
dazzled all eyes, and astonished all hearts. The king was almost
petrified at this spectacle, and knew not what had befallen him.

When, however, the serpent caused him to be again reminded of his
promise, he answered: "All this is nothing yet. I must have this
palace quite filled with gold."

When Cola brought this further put-off from the king, the serpent only
said: "Go and take a bunch of green herbs, and sweep the floors of the
palace with it; then we shall see what will happen."

Mattheo directly made a great bunch of purslain, marjoram, rue, and
chervil, with which he swept the floors of the palace, and immediately
the rooms were filled with gold in such quantities, that poverty must
have fled at least a hundred houses off.

Now when the peasant went once more in the name of the serpent to
demand the princess, the king found himself constrained at last to
keep his promise. He called his daughter, and said: "My beloved
Grannonia, in order to make sport of an individual who requested you
in marriage, I required things of him which seemed impossible. As,
however, I now find myself obliged to fulfil my promise--I entreat
you, my dutiful daughter, not to bring my word to disgrace, but that
you will resign yourself to what Heaven wills, and I am constrained to

"Do as you please, my lord and father," answered Grannonia, "for I
will not depart one hair's breadth from what you desire."

On hearing this the king desired Cola Mattheo to conduct the serpent
to his presence; who accordingly repaired to court in a carriage made
entirely of gold, drawn by four elephants, also of gold. As they
passed along, however, everybody fled before them, from terror at
seeing such a dreadfully large serpent.

When the serpent reached the palace, the courtiers shuddered and
trembled; even the very scullions ran away, and the king and queen
shut themselves up in a remote chamber. Grannonia alone retained her
self-possession; and although her royal parents called to her, saying:
"Fly, fly, Grannonia!" she stirred not from the spot, and merely said:
"I will not flee from the husband whom you have given me."

No sooner had the serpent entered the apartment, than he encircled
Grannonia with his tail, kissed her, then drew her into another
chamber, locked the door, and stripping off his skin, was transformed
into a remarkably handsome young man, with golden locks and bright
eyes, who immediately embraced Grannonia with the utmost tenderness,
and paid her the most flattering attentions.

The king, on seeing the serpent lock himself into another room with
the princess, said to his wife: "Heaven have pity on our poor
daughter; for, unquestionably, all is over with her. This confounded
serpent has, no doubt, by this time swallowed her up like the yolk of
an egg." And they peeped through the keyhole to see what had happened.

But when they beheld the surprising elegance and beauty of the young
man, and perceived the serpent skin, which had been thrown down on the
ground, they burst open the door, rushed in, and seizing the skin,
threw it into the fire, where it was instantly consumed. Whereupon the
young man exclaimed: "Ah! you wretched people, what have you done to
me!" and changing himself into a pigeon, he flew with such force
against the window glass, that it broke, and he flew through, although
very much injured.

Grannonia, who in one and the same moment beheld herself thus
rejoicing and grieving, happy and unhappy, rich and poor, complained
bitterly at this destruction of her happiness, this poisoning of her
joy, this sad change of her fortune, all of which she laid to the
charge of her parents, although these assured her they had not
intended to do wrong. She, however, ceased not to bemoan herself until
night drew in, and as soon as all the inmates of the palace were in
their beds, she collected all her jewels, and went out at a back door,
determined to search till she should again find her lost treasure.
When she got beyond the city, guided by the moonshine, she met a fox,
who offered to be her companion; to which Grannonia replied: "You are
heartily welcome to me, neighbour, for I do not know the district very

They went on together a considerable way, and reached a forest, where
the tops of the lofty trees met on high, and formed an agreeable
canopy over their heads. As they were weary with walking, and wished
to repose, they went under the thick leafy roof, where a rivulet
sported with the fresh grass, sprinkling it with its clear drops.

They lay down on the mossy carpet, paid the debt of sleep to nature
for the wear and tear of life, and did not wake until the sun with his
wonted fire gave notice that men might resume their avocations; but
after they had risen, they stood awhile listening to the song of the
little birds, as Grannonia took infinite pleasure in hearing their

When the fox perceived this, he said: "If you understood, as I do,
what they say, your pleasure would be infinitely greater."

Excited by his words--for curiosity as well as love of gossip is a
natural gift in all women--Grannonia begged the fox to tell her what
he had learned from the birds.

The fox allowed her to urge him for a considerable time, in order to
awaken still greater curiosity for what he was going to relate; but at
length he told her that the birds were conversing about a misfortune
which had befallen the son of a king, who, having given offence to a
wicked enchantress, had been doomed by her to remain for seven long
years in the form of a serpent. The period of his enchantment arriving
at its close, he had fallen in love with the daughter of a king, and
having, on finding himself in a room alone with her, stripped off his
serpent's skin, her parents had broken in upon them and had burnt the
skin; whereupon the prince, by flying through a window in the form of
a pigeon, had so severely injured himself, that the surgeons had no
hope of his recovery.

Grannonia, on hearing the history of her beloved prince, immediately
inquired whose son the prince might be, and if there were any means by
which his cure could be effected. The fox replied, that those birds
had said that he was the son of the King of Ballone-Grosso, and that
no other means existed of stopping up the holes in his head, so that
his reason should not evaporate through them, but to anoint the wounds
with the blood of those very birds who had narrated the circumstance.

On hearing these words, Grannonia besought the fox to be so very kind
as to catch the birds for her, that she might get their blood, and
promised to share with him the profit she would make by curing the

"Softly to work," said the fox; "let us wait till night, and when the
birds are gone to roost, I will climb the tree and strangle them one
after the other."

So he passed the day talking alternately of the beauty of the king's
son, of the father of the princess, and of the misfortune that had
befallen her, till at length night came on. When the fox saw all the
little birds asleep on the branches, he climbed very quietly and
cautiously up, and caught all the chaffinches, goldfinches, and
fly-catchers that were on the tree, killed them, and put their blood
in a little flask he carried with him, in order to refresh himself on
the road.

Grannonia was expressing her delight at this success, when the fox
said to her: "My dear daughter, your joy is all in vain; for you have
gained nothing at all, unless besides the blood of the birds you also
possess mine, which I certainly do not mean to give you;" and so
saying, off he ran.

Grannonia, who saw that all her hopes were about to be annihilated, in
order to obtain her desires, had recourse to cunning and flattery; so
she cried out to him: "Dear daddy fox, you would be quite in the right
to take care of your skin, if I were not so much indebted to you, and
if there were no more foxes in the world. But since you know how much
I have to thank you for, and that in these fields there is no lack of
creatures of your kind, you may rely without uneasiness on me, and
therefore do not act like the cow who kicks down the pail after she
has filled it with her milk. Stand still, do not leave me, but
accompany me to this king's city, in order that he may hire me of you
for a servant."

The fox into whose head it never entered that a fox could ever be
duped, found himself, however, deceived by a woman; for he had
scarcely given his assent to accompanying Grannonia, and had not gone
fifty paces with her, before she ungratefully knocked him down with
the stick she carried, killed him, and poured his blood into the

She then ran off as fast as she could, until she reached
Ballone-Grosso. There she went straight to the royal palace, and
caused the king to be informed she was come to cure the prince's

The king had her immediately brought into his presence, greatly
surprised that a young maiden should promise to do that which the most
skilful surgeons in his kingdom acknowledged themselves incompetent to
effect. But as there would be no harm in trying, he gave her
permission to make the experiment.

Grannonia, however, said: "If I fulfil your wishes, you must promise
to give me your son for my husband." The king, who had lost all hope
of seeing his son restored, replied: "Only restore him to health and
spirits, and you shall have him just as you make him. For it is not
too much for me to give a husband to one who gives me a son."

So they went into the prince's room, and no sooner had Grannonia
anointed him with the blood than he was entirely cured. Now when
Grannonia saw him well and cheerful, she said to the king that he must
keep his word; whereupon the latter turned to his son, and spoke thus:
"My dear son, but lately I looked upon you as dead, and now, when I
least expected, I see you again living and well; and since I promised
this young maiden in case she restored you, that you should become her
husband, and as heaven has been so gracious to me, enable me, if you
have any regard for me, to fulfil my promise, for gratitude constrains
me to recompense this service."

The prince replied: "My lord and father, I wish my will were as free
as my love for you is great. But since I have already given my word to
another woman, you would not wish that I should break my promise; and
this young maiden herself will not counsel me to act so faithlessly to
her whom I love, therefore I must remain true to my choice."

When Grannonia heard these words, and perceived that the prince
retained the memory of her so vividly in his heart, she felt
unspeakable joy, and said, whilst she blushed to crimson: "But if I
persuade the maiden whom you love, to renounce her claim on you,
would you then comply with my wish?"

"Far be it from me," replied the prince, "that I should ever efface
the fair image of my beloved from my breast. Whatever she may do, my
desire and my sentiments will remain unaltered; and were I to risk my
life for it, still I never would consent to the change."

Grannonia, who could no longer conceal her feelings, now made herself
known; for the darkness of the chamber, where all the curtains were
drawn on account of the prince's illness, and her own disguise, had
entirely prevented him from recognising her. The moment he perceived
who she was, he embraced her with indescribable joy, and then related
to his father who she was, and what she had done for him.

Then they sent for the parents of the princess, and the marriage
festival was celebrated with great rejoicings, so that it was again
made manifest that for the joys of love, sorrow is ever the best

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