The Dragon And The Enchanted Filly

There was once a king and queen who had no children. The royal couple constantly prayed for a baby and gave generously to the poor. At last the queen found herself with child, and the king sent for astrologers to find out if it would be a boy or a girl and under what star it would be born. ; The astrologers replied, "You will have a boy, who the minute he turns twenty will take a wife, and in the same instant he will slay her. Otherwise he would turn into a dragon." The king and queen were all smiles when the astrologers informed them they would have a son who would marry at the outset of his twentieth year. But upon hearing the rest of the prophecy they burst into tears.

The son was born and grew into a fine young man. That was no little comfort to his parents, who nevertheless shuddered at the thought of his terrible fate. As his twentieth birthday approached, they sought a wife for him and asked for the hand of the queen of England.

Now the queen of England had a talking filly who told her owner everything and was, beyond all doubt, her best friend. As soon as the queen became engaged, she spread the word to the filly. "You have no cause to rejoice, replied the filly, a bewitched animal who knew everything. "The truth of the matter is..." and she revealed the prince's strange destiny. The queen was horrified and wondered what she should now do. "Listen carefully," said the filly. "Tell your bridegroom's father the queen of England will not ride to the wedding in a carriage but on horseback. Come wedding day, you will mount me and proceed to the church. The instant I paw the ground, throw your arms around my neck and leave everything to me.

In the wedding procession the filly, draped in gala trappings, stood beside the bridegroom's carriage, while on her sat the queen of England in her wedding dress. Every now and then the queen peered through the carriage window at the bridegroom with a sword on his lap and at her in - laws holding watches and awaiting the exact time when he had been born. Suddenly the filly pawed the ground with all her might, then sped off like lightning, with the bride holding on for dear life. The fatal hour had struck, and the bridegroom's parents dropped their watches. Right before their eyes the king's son had turned into a dragon, sending king, queen, and courtiers fleeing for their lives from the overturned carriage.

The filly reached a farmhouse and drew to a halt. "Dismount," she told the queen, "and go in and tell the farmer to give you his clothes in exchange for your royal ones." T he farmer could hardly believe he was getting a real queen's dress, and a wedding dress at that. In exchange, he gave her his coarse shirt and breeches. The queen came back out dressed as a farmer, jumped into the saddle, and continued on her way.

They came to the palace of a second king, and the filly said, "Go to the stables and see if they'll engage you as a stable boy." She did, impressing the people as a bright boy who also had that fine filly, so they said, "We'll hire you with your filly to work here with us."

Now the king had a son the girl's age exactly. The boy no sooner saw the new groom than a certain thought struck him, which he confided to his mother. Mamma, I may be wrong, but I believe that new stable boy is a girl and one that appeals to me."

"No, no," replied the mother, "you're all wrong. If you want to find out for sure, take him to the garden and show him the flowers. If he makes a bouquet, then you'll know your stable boy is actually a girl. If he pulls a flower and sticks it in his mouth, he's a man."

The prince called the stable boy into the garden and said, "Would you like to make a bouquet of flowers?"

But the filly who knew everything had already warned the false stable boy, who replied, "No, thanks, 1 don't care much for flowers," and pulled a blossom and stuck it in her mouth.

"What did I tell you? He's a man for sure," replied the queen when the prince related the incident.

"I don't care what you say, Mamma. I'm more convinced than ever that the stable boy is really a girl."

"Try something else, then: invite him to the table to cut the bread. If he holds it up to his chest, your stable boy is actually a girl. If he holds it away from him to cut it, then he's a man"

This time too the filly warned her mistress, who held the bread away from her like a man. The prince was still not convinced, though.

"The only thing left," said his mother, "is to see him fence. Arrange a match with him." >

The filly taught the girl all the subtleties of fencing, but concluded, "This time, my dear, you will be found out"

No fault could ever be found with her fencing, but in the end she fainted from exhaustion. And that way they finally discovered she was a girl. The prince was so deeply in love by now that he resolved at all costs to marry her.

"Marry her without any idea who she is?" exclaimed his mother. They asked her to tell her story, and upon learning that she was the queen of England, the prince's mother made no objections to the wedding, which was celebrated with great pomp.

A little later, the new wife found herself with child, when the king was summoned to war. But being an old man, he sent his son in his place. The prince urged his parents to write him as soon as the baby was born, mounted his wife's filly, and rode off to battle. Before leaving, however, the filly gave her mistress three hairs from her mane, saying, "Hide these in your bosom. Break them in an emergency, and I'll come to your aid."

In due time the princess gave birth to twins, a boy and a girl, who were the most beautiful children you ever saw. The king and queen wrote their son the good news at once. Now as the messenger was riding to the prince with the letter, a dragon lay in wait for him midway to the battlefield. It was none other than the other king's son who had turned into a monster on his wedding day. Seeing the messenger approach, it blew its noxious breath down the road, and the man fell from his saddle in a deep sleep. Then the dragon pulled the letter from the messenger's pocket, read it, and forged a new one saying the princess had borne two dogs, a male and a female, thus turning the whole town against her. This letter went into the pocket of the messenger, who, finding nothing amiss upon awaking, got back onto his horse and rode to the prince.

When the prince read the letter, he turned as white as a sheet, but said nothing. He sat down immediately and wrote a reply: "Be they male dogs or females, keep them for me and take good care of my wife." On the way back, the messenger was again spotted by the dragon and put to sleep by its breath as he came down the road. The dragon replaced the letter the messenger bore with one that read: "Burn wife and children at the stake in the town square. If king and queen do not comply, they too shall go up in flames."

Such a reply threw the town into alarm. What was the meaning of the prince's fury? But instead of burning those innocent souls, the king and queen put the princess into a boat along with the children, two nurses, food, water, and four oarsmen, and secretly launched them on the sea. Then they carried to the town square three dummies resembling the princess and her babies and set them afire. The citizens, who had grown to love the princess, were outraged and vowed revenge.

The princess sailed across the sea and was put ashore with her babies. She was walking along the deserted strand, when before her loomed the dragon. She had already given herself and the children up for doomed, when she remembered the three hairs from her filly's mane. She pulled them from her bosom, broke one, and saw an impenetrable thicket instantly spring up around her. But the dragon plunged into it and twisted his way right on through. She broke another hair, and out gushed a river wide and deep. The dragon had a time in the swift current, but he finally got across the river as well. She frantically broke the last hair as the dragon was about to seize her, and a tongue of fire shot up and expanded into a mighty fire. But the dragon passed through the fire, too, and had her in his hands, when onto the shore galloped the filly.

They faced one another, filly and dragon, and then began to fight. The dragon was taller, but the filly reared and kicked and bit so furiously that she laid him low and crushed him to bits. The princess rushed up to embrace the filly, but her joy was short lived, for the filly closed her eyes, hung her head, and dropped lifeless to the ground. The princess wept as though she had lost her own sister, recalling all that the filly had done for her.

She was there weeping with her children, when she happened to look up and see a large palace she didn't remember seeing before. Moving closer, she noticed a beautiful lady at a window motioning to her to come inside. She entered with her children, and the lady embraced her, saying, "You don't recognize me, but I'm the filly. I was under a spell and couldn't change back into a woman until I'd slain a dragon. When you broke the hairs of my mane, I left your husband on the battlefield and ran to you. Killing the dragon, I broke the spell."

Let's leave them for the time being and turn to the husband when he saw the filly flee from the battlefield. He thought to himself, Something must have happened to my wife! and hurried to win the war so he could go home.

When he got back to town, all the citizens rose up against him. "Tyrant! Monster!" they screamed. "What crime had that poor woman and her children committed?" He couldn't for the life of him understand what the people were talking about.

When his father and mother, wrathful and grief stricken, produced the letter received from him, he said, "This is not from me!" He showed them the letter he had received, and they realized then that both letters had been forged by no telling whom

After rounding up the mariners who had rowed his wife to that deserted shore, the prince put out to sea with them immediately. He came to the spot where they had disembarked, saw the dead dragon and then the dead filly, and lost all hope. But while he was weeping, he heard his name called: it was the beautiful lady at the palace window. He went inside, and the lady announced she was the filly and led him into a room, where he found his wife and children. They hugged and kissed, wept and cried. Then, together with the beautiful lady who'd been a filly, they departed. Everyone was overjoyed to have them back, and from that time on they were always together and as happy as happy could be.

retold by Italo Calvino