Tales of Old Lusitania/The Prince Who Had Ass's Ears

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Once upon a time there was a king, who was very unhappy because he had no children. He therefore resolved to send for three fairies, who immediately obeyed the king's summons, and glided into the king's audience chamber to hear what his majesty had to say. The king explained to them the cause of his trouble, saying that he and his wife would be the happiest of mortals if they had a son. The fairies, after consulting among themselves what they should do, promised the king that his wish should be granted, and that they would come and be present at the birth, and greet the little stranger with good wishes and gifts. The queen accordingly had a son, and the three fairies came, and bending forward until their heads touched, stood like a canopy over the child's cradle.

Then one of them said, "Let this child be the handsomest man in the world."

The next said, "Let him be wise and good."

The third fairy, who must have had some spite against either the king, queen, or the other two fairies, said, with a malicious smile, "My gift to this precious prince shall be a pair of ass's ears, as a set off to his beauty."

The fairies then flew away on various other errands of good and evil, and instantly the ass's ears appeared on the prince's head. When the king saw this he was filled with grief, and in his distress ordered a cap to be made at once, that should hide the ears, and ever after no one in the palace saw the prince without his cap.

The young prince meanwhile grew in comeliness and manliness, which were only surpassed by his excellence and wisdom; thus all the blessings of the two good fairies were fulfilled, and no one at Court had the least suspicion that the prince had ass's ears.

When his beard grew, and it became necessary that he should be shaved, the king sent for a barber, and told him to shave the prince, but on no account to reveal to any one that his son had ass's ears, for if he did he should be punished with death.

When the barber left the palace, his head was completely turned with the magnitude and importance of the secret intrusted to him by the king; he felt a burning desire to divulge a matter which would cause such a sensation among his majesty's subjects, and would enable him to boast of the royal favour in confiding to him so delicate a matter. At the same time, he feared the king would carry out his threat and put him to death; so for a time he kept his counsel. But every time he shaved the young prince, the secret he carried seemed to weigh heavier and heavier upon him, until he decided to consult a holy monk.

"Good father," said he, "a secret has been confided to me, which I have been forbidden to reveal, but if I keep it much longer and do not give it to some one else to keep, I shall surely die; yet, if I tell it, the king will put me to death. Tell me, father, what am I to do?"

The monk advised him to go to a lonely valley and dig a hole there, and confide the secret to the ground by repeating it until he found his mind relieved. Then he was to fill up the hole again with earth, and there it would remain deposited safely in the ground. The simple barber, following the friar's advice, took a spade and made a hole in a convenient spot, depositing his secret in the cavity he had made, and returned home much comforted and relieved in his mind.

Some time after this incident some reeds began to spring up in great abundance over the spot where the hole had been made, and as the shepherds passed the place with their flocks, they often paused to cut some reeds to make their musical pipes with. But, strange to relate, whenever the pandæan pipes made from these reeds were played upon, instead of notes and musical sounds, voices were emitted, which kept repeating, "The prince hath the ears of an ass." And so it went on, until the news spread everywhere that the prince had ass's ears, the rumour reaching even to the palace. The king then sent for the shepherds, and bade then play on their pipes, as he loved to hear their beautiful airs, and when they did so the king heard the voices emitted which persisted in crying out, "The prince hath the ears of an ass."

The king in great agitation and perplexity sent for the queen of the fairies, and asked her to undo the mischief that one of the wicked fairies had done, and to break the spell under which the prince, his poor son, laboured.

The fairy queen was very gracious and said she would do her best. She convened a meeting of all the courtiers in the palace, at which the prince was to be present. And when all the noble lords were assembled, she said, "Remove your cap, O prince." The prince did so, and what was the joy of the king and queen when they saw that the prince had no longer ass's ears, but natural ones.

From that day forward the shepherds' pipes ceased to say that the prince had ass's ears.


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