The Fool and the Prince

Once upon a time, in a land not so far away, there lived a fisherman’s son. He was not favored by the girls of the village, for he was neither smart nor good looking. He was such a fool; in fact, that the village folk got much pleasure at his expense, for he in his foolishness had given them many a humorous anecdote. Many of them would reflect that the boy had once, not very long ago, caused a great uproar of laughter when a royal procession had passed through the village. The boy had invited the crown princess to take lunch with him! Not only had the village folk broken out in laughter (many of them injuring themselves by laughing too hard), but the boy had been compelled to flee for his life when two of the royal guards tried to arrest him for his impertinent mouth. Lucky for the foolish boy, he leaped into the harbor before the guards could grab him, and he hid beneath the dock until the guards were ordered to proceed.

It happened one day that when the boy was out fishing on the sea, pulling in his nets, he found a large fish snagged among the few fish that he’d caught. The boy congratulated himself on pulling in such a large catch. There would be plenty of meat for his family, and they’d make a dime or two from selling what they couldn’t eat themselves. “Father will be so proud of me!” he exulted, and the creature spoke. “Please, fair fisherman, show mercy on me and return me to the sea, and I will surely make it worth your while!” The boy laughed “ha! Ha! What do you have that I could use beside your meat and bones?” The creature answered, “Surely you see that I am a magical creature. Has it not occurred to you that I might grant you your dearest wish? Have you not heard of such things?”

“Heard? Heard, yes!” laughed the young fisherman. “I’ve heard it in fairy tales. Surely you have too!”

“Ah but this is no child’s tale,” argued the creature. “I am quite heavy, no? Have you ever known a fairy tale so heavy?”

“Yes, you are quite heavy, and you talk,” but the same is true for my aunt Mathilda. She is even heavier than you, and she chatters on just as you do, but she grants no wishes.”

“That is fair,” conceded the creature, “so I shall have to prove myself.”

“Yes, you shall,” the boy nodded and paused for a moment, the he said “go, you’re such a talker. You tell me my wish!”

“Oh ha-ha!” the creature laughed. “That’s easy! What magical fish in all the sea doesn’t know that your wish is to sit at lunch with the crown princess! But lo, no magical creature could ever grant such an absurd wish. One such as you could never sit at the table of a princess! You are so foul to look upon, and even more foul to smell! The poor princess would not be able to eat. It would be like having a pile of dead fish at the table!”

“’Tis true. ‘Tis true” conceded the fisherman. “There is no hope of it. I shall not be able to spare you.” And the fisherman turned to take up his oars and row back home.

“Wait. Wait!” cried the creature. “There must be a way.” It paused, and then cried out, “yes! I know.”

Just then, a strange feeling came over the boy from his head to his toes, and creature said, “There! Now look overboard into the water, and tell me what you see.”

The boy hesitated, but then he noticed that the soiled and bloodied rags that he’d been wearing had been replaced by clean, embroidered sleeves, and his hands had changed: they were clean and soft. “Look!” the creature cried out, and the boy hesitated no more. He looked overboard into the water to see his reflection, but he did not see himself. He saw a prince! And it was not just any prince that he saw; he saw the prince who had come courting the princess from the land over the sea. The young fisherman was thrilled.

“Now you must cast us all overboard now, or our smell will betray you!”

“Yes,” the boy agreed, and he unloaded the net into the sea. A moment later, the creature arose from the water just enough to speak, and it said, “Ye must act today! The spell wears off at sunset!”

So the boy returned to the land with haste, and upon finding one of the royal guard at the market, he commandeered the guard’s steed and rode, not very gracefully, to the castle, where he was invited in straightaway. “I have come to beg the company of the princess at the noon hour,” he spoke with authority to the captain of the guard. And so it was granted.

The princess gladly admitted the prince to her table at the noon hour, thinking him to be her beloved. When he took his seat she sniffed the air, frowned, and observed, “fair prince, you have been at sea.” Then she remembered to smile.

“Indeed I have, fair princess” he replied. “I must cross that foul pond to gain your sweet presence.”

The prince glanced left and right, as if wondering who it was that had said such noble words. Then he realized that the spell must have affected his mouth with the rest of his face.

And so they dined together that day, and after lunch they went riding across the royal hunting grounds. When the prince noticed that the sun was sinking near the horizon, he begged her leave, rode away, and returned the guard’s steed.

And so it was that the fisherman’s son got his wish, and he was not too wise to brag when the townsfolk would mock, “been to lunch with princess lately, have ye?”

“Indeed, you have heard!” he would reply.

And so this fool happily carried on. He never married, for no village girl would have him, but he could be found out at sea early every morning, casting his nets with noble anticipation.