Portugal | Pedroso: The Slices of Fish

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The Slices of Fish

THERE lived a man in a certain country who was a fisherman, and as he went fishing on one occasion he caught a beautiful fish. The poor fish finding itself caught and on dry land begged the fisherman to throw it back again into the sea, promising the man if he did so he would have a great catch of fish next time he went fishing. The fish added, however, that should the man succeed in securing it once more, he was then at liberty to keep it. The fisherman did so that day, and he took such a large haul of fish that he did not know what he should do with all the fish he had caught iii his net. Several days after this the fisherman again let down his nets at the same place, and again caught the beautiful fish. The fish then said to the man: "Take me to your house and cut me into twelve slices, and three slices you will give your wife, three to your mare, three to your bitch, arid the remaining three you must bury in your garden." The fisherman did as he was told, and when another year had passed his wife gave birth to three boys, the mare had three colts, the bitch three lions; and in the garden three lances had risen up. When these boys grew up to manhood they asked their father to give them each a horse, a lion, and a lance, for they wished to go travelling. The father and mother, much against their inclination, gave them leave to go, and the boys left home and proceeded all three along a road until they came to a part of the highway where three roads met. They separated, each taking a different road; the eldest brother went to the left, the second to the right, and the youngest took the middle road. But before parting they agreed to meet in that same spot in a year's time, and then each went his own way. The eldest brother after journeying for many days without arriving at any country, at last came to one where there was a very high tower. He remained at a house, where at the end of a week he married the owner of it; and when he was already married he asked his wife what tower that might be, and she informed him that it was the "Tower of Death," for whosoever went into it never returned alive. But the young man said: "Well, I shall go there, and I shall return." At night when he lay down to sleep he placed his lance between himself and his wife on the bed, and on the following day he went straight to the tower with his lion. He knocked at the gate and an old woman appeared, who asked him what he wanted, and he replied that he wished to see the tower. The old woman said that if he wished to inspect it he must first have a wrestling match with her, to which the young man agreed, and the woman asked him to fasten the lion with one of her hairs, as she was very much frightened of those animals. The young man said he would, and the old hag gave him one of her hairs, with which he secured the lion, after which he commenced to wrestle, until the youth finding that he was nearly overcome by the hag cried out to his lion: "Advance, my lion, to my assistance!" And the old hag quickly said: "Be thickened, oh, my hair!" And as she repeated these words, the hair which kept the lion secure became a thick heavy chain. The old hag overcame the youth, and when she had him on the ground cut his head off and threw it into a subterranean cave and then entered the tower again.

After a year the two brothers met again at the spot agreed upon, and as the eldest brother had not arrived they waited for him some days, until finding that he did not come they went home, believing that he would meet them there; but as they did not find him with their parents, the second brother asked to be allowed to go in search of him. The father gave him the desired permission, and he started, following the same road as his eldest brother had taken. After travelling a few days he arrived in the same country and city, and he went to live iii the same house, and married his brother's widow. And after the marriage he asked her if she could tell him positively if a man like him, having the same kind of horse and lion, and carrying a lance, had passed that way. The woman replied that a man had arrived about a year ago who had married her, and that next day he had gone to the "Tower of Death," that whoever went in it never returned, and that having gone he had never come back, as had already happened to many men like him. The young man then said, as others before him, "Well, I shall go, and I mean to return." At night he also placed the lance between himself and wife on lying down, and next day, early in the morning, he departed with his lion to the "Tower of Death." When he had knocked at the gate the same old woman appeared who had killed his brother, and she also wrestled with him, after making him first secure the lion with one of her hairs. When he found himself hard pressed he called out for his lion, saying, "Come to my help quickly, my lion!" but the old hag rejoined instantly, "Thicken, oh, my hair!" and knocking the boy down to the ground she cut his head off and threw it in the same cave underground where his eldest brother's body had been cast, and she went into the tower again.

A whole year had passed, and the youngest brother, finding that his elder brothers did not return, asked his father leave to go in search of them. The father replied, "Then you wish, my son, to leave me and remain away, dead or alive, as your brothers have done before you!" but the boy replied, "Let me go, father, and I promise you that I shall come back to you in a year's time with my two brothers, and bring much wealth with me!" The father consented, and he took the same road as the other two brothers; and he arrived at the said tower. He married the same woman that his brothers had, and he asked her if she would give him any information respecting the two men who must have passed that same way--one two years ago, and the other one year since. She replied that they had passed that way, and both had married her, and that on the following day each had in turn proceeded to the "Tower of Death," that who goes into it never returns alive, and thus had they remained there! When the youth heard this, he said resolutely, "Well, I also shall go, and I know that I shall surely return!" And having gone to rest that night with his lance lying on his bed ready by his side, he early next morning went on his way to the "Tower of Death," accompanied and protected by his lion. On arriving he knocked at the gate of the tower, and the old hag opened it for him. He said that he wished to see the tower, and the replied that he might enter, but he must first of all have a wrestling match with her. The youth consented to it, and the hag then asked him to secure the lion with one of her hairs first of all, as she had great fear of that race of beasts. The youth promised to do so, but instead of fastening the lion he threw the hair away over a wall, and when he found himself nearly overcome by the old hag, he called out for his lion saying, "Advance and come to my aid, oh lion!" while she instantly replied: "Be thickened, oh, my hair!" But as the lion was not tied up it sprang upon the old hag and laid her fiat and helpless on the ground. The boy, perceiving that she lay powerless on the ground, was about to cut her head off, when she entreated him to spare her, for she would give up to him his two brothers, and would besides allow him to inspect the tower. The boy desisted from killing her, but left her pinned down by the lion whilst he went over the tower; and there he found three princesses who were enchanted in it. He brought them down, and, having done that, he commanded the hag to show him where his brothers were detained. The old woman lifted up the trapdoor and told him to go down the cave till he reached the bottom, and he would there find them. But the boy would not go alone and made her descend before him. When they reached the bottom he saw many dead bodies in heaps, the trunks on one side and the heads on another. When he saw that ghastly spectacle he said to the old hag, "how can you possibly give me back my brothers alive if their heads are cut off?" She answered him: "Go to the cupboard and bring a bowl you will find there full of ointment, rub their necks with it, and join the heads to the necks and they will be immediately cured; but I must make it a condition that you only anoint your dead brothers." The youth, however, insisted upon including all the bodies which were there; but as the old silly hag would not consent to it the boy killed her. He then went for the ointment and anointed the bodies and necks of all, and they rose up, and they went each to their respective countries. The youth and his brothers married the princesses they had- found there, and proceeded each to their realms, not forgetting to take to their father and mother much wealth.

The text came from:

Pedroso, Consiglieri. Portuguese Folk-Tales. Folk Lore Society Publications, Vol. 9. Miss Henrietta Monteiro, translator. New York: Folk Lore Society Publications, 1882. 
[Reprinted: New York: Benjamin Blom, Inc., 1969.]
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