From the numerous short Italian folktales, we have selected this very interesting fable from the northwest region of Italy called Piedmont. The name Piedmont means “at the foot of the mountains”. And this is one of the major characteristics of this region; it’s surrounded on three sides by the Alps. This includes Monviso (where the Po River rises) and Monte Rosa. The geography of Piedmont is mainly mountainous, along with extensive areas of hills. Only one-forth of the region could be considered plains.
The story illustrates in an Italian context how ‘chickens come home to roost’. So, without further due, please enjoy this wonderful folktale.
The Griffin’s Feather
There was once a king who had three handsome brave sons. One day he got ill and lost his sight in one eye. He called the doctors, but they did not find the cure. Then the king made his men go by sea and by land to find someone who might be able to cure him.
One day an old magician came before the king. He looked at the king’s eye for a long time and then said:
– This eye will be cured if the griffin’s feather touches it.
– The griffin’s feather? Asked the king.
– Yes, one that grows below his beak, said the magician.
We need to know that the griffin was a terrible fowl that lived on the top of a very high mountain. It had steel claws and shot fire out of its beak.
– We are ready to leave, father! Said the three sons of the king. We will go up the mountain and tear off the griffin’s feather.
– Only you two go, you’re my older sons. Said the king who feared the dangers of the journey.
The two older sons left and rode and rode. Their horses were very tired when they arrived in a huge meadow that was down below the mountain where the griffin lived.
In a hut that was on the edge of the meadow lived an old solitary man.
– Good old man, which is the shortest pathway to go up the mountain? They asked.
The old man showed them a straight and stony pathway and said:
– That one is the shortest, but you won’t make it to the top, good young men! You can’t defeat the griffin!
However, after a short rest the two set off taking the straight pathway. Up, up they went. Their feet hit the stones on the path. The noise woke up the griffin, it looked down with its terrible eyes, saw them, opened its tremendous wings and glided over them shooting fire out of its beak. The two of them fell dead.
Meanwhile the king waited until finally he understood his sons would never return.
– I’ll go father. Said the youngest son.
– Don’t go! It’s better for me to have just one eye than to lose my only child left.
But the young lad did not listen and left.
He rode and rode. He arrived in the huge meadow below the mountain. He saw the hermit who was gathering forage and asked him:
– Good old man, which is the quietest pathway to go up the mountain?
The old man looked at him and showed him a path which went through the grass.
– That one over there, but you won’t get to the top because the griffin is a killer!
– I’ll do what I can, said the young man. Now I will give you a little help gathering forage because you seem a bit tired.
He gathered a big bundle then gave it to the old man who said:
– What strange stems you have gathered!
The young man looked. He saw that in the forage he had gathered there was a sword and a wand.
– Maybe that’s a sword to beat the griffin and the wand is to bring back to life whoever has been burnt to death, said the
old man and he set off carrying his bundle.
Before he was out of sight he turned around and shouted:
– One feather is beautiful, but beautiful as well is its sister!
Not understanding what those words meant the young man took the sword and the wand and started to climb the lengthy path. Up, up he went. His feet trampled on the grass but made no noise.
The sleeping griffin did not hear the young man until he was at the entrance of the cave. Then the griffin tried to open its wings and fly because it couldn’t shoot fire unless it was flying. But the young man charged at it and cut off its head. Then he saw that below the griffin’s beak there wasn’t only one feather, but two: a yellow one and a green one. In order to make no mistakes, he took all two of them. He put one in his right pocket and the other one in his left pocket.
Afterwards he took the stony pathway down and came across the burnt bodies of his brothers. He touched them with the wand and they came back to life safely and were healthy. They gave each other a lengthy hug and soon were on their way again.
But the two older sons were envious of their youngest brother’s success. While resting nearby a lost swamp, they took the griffin’s head, slipped their hand into their sleeping brother’s pocket, stole the yellow feather and left him there with no horse. They thought he would die of hunger and cold.
When they arrived home they said to their father:
– We have killed the griffin, here’s its head and here’s the feather which was below its beak.
– Have you seen your brother? Asked the king?
– Not even from a distance! They answered.
The king very sadly passed the yellow feather over his eye, but nothing happened.
– We see that the magician has deceived you. Said the two brothers. We have done as we ought to!
But the king didn’t care at all about his healing because his third son didn’t return.
When the young man at the swamp woke up and realized what had happened, he wept bitterly.
– Disloyal brothers! He said looking around. I wish I was a reed instead of a man!
And lo, he was transformed into a reed because the green feather in his left pocket was enchanted and it could make wishes come true.
Days went by. A shepherd saw the beautiful reed and cut it to make a flute. But when he began to play, instead of the sound of a flute he heard a beautiful voice that sang.
So Cruel was one of my brothers,
Just like a sharp knife was he!
disloyal as no one, the other;
Deceitful and evil his dealings with me!
The shepherd was scared. After however, he thought that with the enchanted flute he could earn a fortune. So he took for touring and playing across countryside and nations.
The fame of the singing flute spread quickly and reached the king’s ears. In order to distract himself from his sorrow the king ordered the shepherd to be called and asked him to play. So the man played. When the flute sang the words which are above, the king recognized the voice of his son.
– Where did you get that reed? The king asked the shepherd.
– At the black swamp! He answered.
The black swamp was just below the pathway to the griffin’s mountain.
The king said:
– I want to buy it. Tell me the price.
The shepherd asked for the money and the king gave it to him. Subsequently the king went into his room and closed the door. Little by little, without anybody hearing, he began to play.
At first, only the words which have been mentioned, came out. But then playing and playing, the voice sang everything that had happened.
– Poor son of mine, said the king crying and caressing the flute. How I wish you were not a piece of wood. My heart’s desire is that you become flesh and bone!
All of a sudden, the reed became a young man of flesh and bone, the king’s son. They hugged each other gladly.
– Here’s the magic feather! Said the young man, who took it out of his left pocket and passed it gently over his father’s blind eye. He was instantly cured.
Imagine what a surprise when the two other sons saw their healed father and their youngest brother home again.
The king looked at the bad sons sternly, gestured to them and the two walked out the palace without saying a word. They were seen no more. Whereas the youngest son stayed with his father and became king when the old monarch died.
We definitely reap what we sow. You could experience the aroma of the breeze at the foot of the mountains reading this story directly in Italian. If you would like to do so, click here.