Archive for July 30th, 2019

The Myrtle

There lived in the village of Miano a man and his wife, who had no children. The woman constantly harped on her misery: “O heavens! if I might but have a little baby—I should not care, were it even a sprig of a myrtle.” At last her wish was granted; and at the end of nine months, instead of a little boy or girl, she placed in the hands of the nurse a fine sprig of myrtle. This she planted with great delight in a pot, as fancy as a crib of a royal baby.

Now the King’s son happening to pass by, as he was going to hunt, took a liking for the myrtle in a pot and the sight was unusual  and directly went in and offered to buy it. He would not take no for an answer. The woman put a thousand difficulties and refusals but when he threatened force relented at last. She gave him the pot, beseeching him to hold it dear, for she loved it more than a daughter, and valued it as much as if it were her own offspring. It was thus the Prince had the flower-pot carried with the greatest care in the world into his own chamber. He had placed it in a balcony, and tended and watered it with his own hand.

It happened one evening, when the Prince had gone to bed, and put out the candles, and all were at rest and in their first sleep, that he heard the sound of some one stealing through the house, and coming cautiously towards his bed. Half asleep he put out his hand to feel prickles. He thought it at first a hedgehog and then he saw its form more fairy-like, like a moonbeam gliding: oh no it had form of a celestial creature with flaming red hair let loose; it even danced about his supine form and sat on his pillow as though it had come in for a chat! But as the dawn broke the prince woke and looked around. He was alone.

The unknown fair visitor had disappeared, leaving the Prince filled with curiosity and wonder. He looked forward to night. This went on for seven nights in a row. So on the eighth night he managed to tie one of her tresses to his arm, that she might not escape; then he called a chamberlain, and bidding him light the candles, he saw a sight to amaze one.

The chamberlain crossed himself and made himself scarce.

The fairy offered herself to be his own if he would. Immediately he accepted her offer and thus she became his wife.

It so happened that the Prince was summoned to hunt a great wild boar which was ravaging the country. So he was forced to leave his wife. So after informing of his absence he said to her to go back to the pot in the balcony since his father insisted his presence during the hunt. “I will do so,” said the fairy, “but do me one favor; leave a thread of silk with a bell tied to the top of the myrtle, and when you come back pull the thread and ring, and immediately I will come out and say, Here I am.'”

The Prince did so, and then calling a chamberlain, said to him, “Come hither, come hither, you! ” He instructed what he had to do in his absence and ended by saying, “Make this bed every evening, as if I were myself to sleep in it. Water this flower-pot regularly, and mind, I have counted the leaves, and if I find one missing I will surely charge you to your regret.”

So saying he mounted his horse, and went, to join his father in the hunt. In the meanwhile seven wicked women, all spurned by the prince made a league to open the secret passageway the prince had shut. They sent for a mason who did as they told him to do. Thus they entered in the stealth of night went through the prince’s chamber to explore. But finding nothing, they opened the window; and when they saw the beautiful myrtle standing there, each of them plucked a leaf from it; but the youngest took off the entire top, to which the little bell was hung; and the moment it was touched the bell tinkled and the fairy, thinking it was the Prince, immediately came out.

As soon as the women saw this lovely creature they fastened their hands around the pot. Smashing the pot they pulled the plant apart ‘That serves you right; because of you we have been discarded.” The fairy simply laughed.

Meanwhile the next day chamberlain came to make the bed and water the flower-pot, according to his master’s orders, and seeing the balcony in shambles he swooned. For he saw nothing but seven firewood piled neatly on broken pot.

When the Prince came back from the chase, he faced a chamberlain falling down at his feet begging mercy. He narrated what happened. The prince went through rage, disappointment and then a shiver! He realized winter had come in early and he ordered the hearth to be lit using the firewood. Seven firewood must make a pretty sight when it is dry and burns well. What took his breath away was the outline of a myrtle tree in bluish light sputtering. ‘A marvelous sight it was, all the sparks dazzling and a voice from far away. “O love, a tree is not a tree nor a myrtle is myrtle.” The sound reminded him of his wife.

As he stood there wondering the fairy stepped from shadows. As large as life and behold in flesh and blood, and she raked the dying fire and said, ” Those jilted lovers are your past. You have put it behind you.” The prince embraced her and she was real. While he kissed her she murmured. “It hurt a little but they delivered me from my spell.”

The prince did not ask further and he pledged his fidelity to her and they called on the king and married them with pomp and great revelry.  In due time they became king and queen of that land and lived happily.


*The collection “Il Pentamerone” was first published at Naples by Giambattista Basile, who is believed to have collected them chiefly in Crete and Venice. The story has been adapted for this blog.

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