Tales of Old Lusitania/The Story of the White Lamb
THE STORY OF THE WHITE LAMB.
There was once a queen who was very sad because she had no children.
She had in her oratory an image of the Virgin of the Incarnation, which she reverenced much; and she often knelt before it, with tears in her eyes, praying for the favour of a son:—
O Lady of the Incarnation;
Though he be but a lion,
Give me a son.
One day, as she stood looking out of the window, she saw a shepherd pass with a flock of white lambs, and she hastened to the oratory, and kneeling down, prayed the virgin thus:—
Give me a son,
O Lady of the Incarnation,
Though he be but a lamb.
In due time the queen gave birth to a son, who was instantly turned into a lamb.
When the white lamb was two years old, it went up to its mother, and said: "Dear mother, I wish to marry the daughter of the king, the Lord of the Great Council."
"Oh," said the queen, in great astonishment, "how can you, my dear son, think of marrying, when you are only a white lamb?"
"But I do wish it, nevertheless, mother."
The lamb then changed himself into a handsome prince and went to the Lord of the Great Council, and asked his eldest daughter in marriage; and his proposal being accepted, the prince asked the princess: "Have you any objection to marry a white lamb?"
To which she replied: "I should have no objection, for I would kill it when I went to bed."
The white lamb married the princess, and matters went on very pleasantly until they went to bed, when the prince saw a knife, which his wife had hidden under her pillow, to kill him with. So he pulled out the knife and killed the princess.
Some time after this, the lamb said to his mother:
"Oh, mother, I wish to marry the king's second daughter."
"Is it possible, my son, that you wish to marry a second time?"
The white lamb did, however, go a second time to the palace, and engaged himself to marry the king's second daughter; and he put her the same question as he had done to her sister, and she replied in nearly the same words: "Let the lamb marry me if he likes, for I shall kill him, and thus get rid of him."
And exactly the same thing happened as before, and he killed his wife.
The white lamb then informed his mother that he meant to ask the king's youngest daughter in marriage, and the mother, much astonished, made the same remark as before.
The prince again went to the palace in his natural form, looking a most handsome prince. He asked the young and beautiful princess: "Would you, young maiden, marry a lamb?"
"Why should I not, if God gave him to me?"
Now, the white lamb, in order to change himself into a prince, had to throw off seven skins; so, on the night of his marriage, he divested himself of these seven coverings, and told the princess that he was a prince who had been changed into a lamb at his birth; but that no one knew it, not even his own mother, who thought him a lamb: and he charged her not to mention it to anyone.
The maiden was delighted to hear such happy news, and she gazed upon his handsome figure with ecstasy. After a while she found she could not contain herself from disclosing the secret to the lamb's mother, and told her that her son was really an enchanted prince. That night, however, when they retired to rest, the prince approached her, and, looking very sad, said to her: "I charged you to tell no one that I was enchanted, and you went at once and revealed it. The term of my enchantment was nearly accomplished, but now, by your imprudence, I am doomed to a spell of seven years more. I have now to go away to the river South, and you will come after me, and try to find me."
The poor lamb took his departure, and the maiden and his own mother remained sad and heartbroken at what had happened.
At the end of a few days the hapless maiden left the palace to seek the lamb, her husband, and after much walking and journeying, not finding the river South, she started for the realm of the moon. On arriving there, she asked the moon's mother, who came out to her, if she could tell her anything about a certain white lamb. The moon's mother said she knew nothing about him; but she told her to get inside a small hole, which she pointed out, telling her to be careful not to make it any larger, and to remain there until her daughter, the moon, came home.
When the moon appeared, her mother asked her if she knew anything of a white lamb that a maiden was seeking; and the moon replied that she had not seen him or heard of him, but that possibly the wind or the sun might know.
The girl set out and walked till she reached the cavern of the wind, but there she was not more successful in her quest; and she was received in the same way as at the mansion of the moon.
She proceeded next to the sun's great realm, and there she was as unsuccessful as before.
The seven years' term was now drawing to a close, and the poor princess was beginning to lose all hope of finding the white lamb, her husband, when she met an old woman, who asked her what she was doing there. The princess said she was seeking her spouse, who was a beautiful white lamb; that he had left her seven years before to go to the river South, and she had been seeking him ever since, but all her efforts had been in vain, for she could not find the river South. The old lady then pointing to a very large gateway, said: "That portal leads to the river South; enter, my child, and you will see a number of little birds fluttering about; but the one that comes and lies at your feet is the white lamb, for he has been changed into a bird."
The maiden went through the portal, and soon found herself at the river's side, where a number of birds sat on the trees and bushes growing on its banks. The birds began to flutter over her head, until presently one of them, more beautifully plumed than the rest, fell at her feet and began pecking them. The maiden said: "Are you the white lamb?" That moment the prince was restored to his natural shape, and he started off with his wife back to his mother's palace. The spell was broken, and they lived happily together ever after.