ONCE upon a time, and like many others in the world, there was a widow who had a son. This son was so good to his mother that they loved one another beyond all that can be told. One day this son said to his mother that he must go to Rome. The mother was in the greatest distress, but she let him go. (At parting) she gave him three apples, and said to him:
"If you make acquaintance (with anyone) on the road, and if you are thirsty, give him one of these apples to divide; and he who will give you back the largest part, he will be a good friend to you for the journey."
He set out then. When he has gone a little way he falls in with three men. They made acquaintance, and they told him that they were going to Rome. They went on, and on, and on, and as talking makes one thirsty, the widow's son said to them:
"I have in my pocket an apple which my mother gave me at starting; we will eat it. Here, take and divide it."
One of them divides it, and gives him the smallest part. When he saw that he made some excuse and quitted his companions. He goes travelling on, on, on, along the road, when he meets with three monks. They tell him that they are going to Rome, and offer to make their journey together. When they had gone a little way, they get thirsty also. The widow's son says to them:
"I have an apple which my mother gave me at starting. Here it is; take and divide it."
They, too, were no better comrades than the others. They give him only a small piece. Fortunately he remembers the advice of his mother, and he leaves them. He
goes on a short way alone, and sees in the distance something shining under an oak; as he approaches he sees that it is a king. He tells him where he is going, and learns that he too is going to Rome. The king engages him to rest himself along with him, and he stays there a long time; and at length they get thirsty, and the son of the widow gives him the last apple, telling him that it is his mother who gave it him at starting. The king's son divides it, and gives him the largest piece. The son of the widow is rejoiced that he has found a good comrade, and they vow great friendship under the oak. The son of the widow engages himself to bring the king's son to Rome alive or dead, and the other binds himself to serve and aid him as long as he has a drop of blood in his veins. Resuming their journey they go on, and on, and on, and at length night surprises them, and they do not know where to go to. They meet a young girl who was going to the fountain. They ask her if shelter would be given them in the house which they see there.
She answers "Yes;" and then, lowering her voice, she adds, "Yes, to your misfortune."
It was only the widow's son who heard these last words. So they go there, and enter, and are very well received. They had a good supper given them, and a good bed on the third story. The widow's son puts the prince on the outside of the bed, and he himself goes next the wall. The former falls asleep immediately, because he was very tired; but the widow's son was kept awake by his fear, and, just as twelve o'clock struck, he hears someone coming up stairs, and sees the owner come into the bed-room with a large knife in his hand. The mistress held the light and the servant a basin. They come near and cut the throat of the king's son, and carry him down stairs. While they are doing this the widow's son gets out on the roof, and from there he shouts and cries out for the justice. When he had made himself heard, he told the people what had taken place. As they had never before heard anything like this
of the people in the house, they would not believe him, and put him in prison. The next day he was condemned to death.
Before dying he asks one favour. It is granted him. He then asks for two blood-hounds to go and search the house with. They grant him that, and he goes with the servants of the justice. After having gone over the whole castle, without having found one drop of blood, they go down to the cellar. The dogs kept smelling about, but the master refused to open the door, saying there was nothing there but dirt and rubbish. They told him that he must open it all the same, and there they found the king's son with his crown. This was all they wanted.
They set the widow's son at liberty; and he asks for the body of the king's son, and puts it into a sack. He takes the sack on his shoulders, and starts for Rome, where he arrives fatigued and worn out; but he has kept his word.
He goes to see the Holy Father, and told him all that had taken place, and what had happened to his friend.
Our Holy Father says to him, "To-morrow, at the moment of the Elevation, you will place the head on the body."
He does so, and at the very same moment the body of the king's son is seized with a trembling, and he calls out--
"Where am I?"
The widow's son answers, "At Rome. Do you not remember how your throat was cut yesterday? And I myself have carried you, as I promised, to Rome."
The king's son went to pay his visit to our Holy Father, and (after that) they set out (home). And when they had gone a long way, they come to the oak where they had (first) made each other's acquaintance, and it is there, too, that they must part.
They renew their promises (to each other). The king's son takes off his ring, and gives it to the other as a keepsake to remember him by. And the king's son, on counting his money, remarks that he has just the same sum as he
had when he was under the oak the last time. And they quit each other, each to go to his own home.
When the widow's son reaches home, the mother is delighted to see her son again, and the son also (to see his mother). But the next day he was covered with a frightful disease, which was very like leprosy, and it had an infectious smell; but, fortunately, the mother did not smell it. The poor mother did all that she could to cure her son, but nothing relieved him. She heard that there was a monk in the neighbourhood, a great saint, who cured diseases. She sends for him, and the widow's son relates to him his journey to Rome, and all that had taken place there, and he tells also the promises which they had made to each other.
Then the monk says to him, "If you wish to be cured, there is only one remedy--you must wash yourself in the blood of this king."
This news made the young man very sad, but his mother would start the very next day; and they set out on their journey in an old carriage. Everyone where they passed stopped their noses, and said, "Pheu! pheu!" After some time they came to the king's house. The mother asks leave to speak to the king, but a servant drives her far away, because of the smell, telling her not to approach nearer. So she could not say anything to the king. But one day the king goes out, and sees the carriage, and he asks what it is. They tell him that it is a sick man, who smells like putrid fish, and who wishes to see the king. The king is angry because they had not told him of it before.
Now this king was married, and already he had a son. He orders the people in the carriage to come to him, and the widow's son told him who he was, and showed him the ring which he had formerly given him. Without paying the least attention to his malady, the king takes him in his arms and embraces him. The widow's son tells him the grief that he had felt at what the monk had told him.
The king goes to find his wife, and tells her what has happened about the sick man at the gate, and how this sick
man had already restored him to life, and that now it was his turn, and that he could not be cured except by washing in his blood; and (he bids her) choose between her child and himself. This poor mother sacrifices her son. They kill him. The sick man washes himself immediately (in the blood), and is cured at the same instant. The queen, in her grief, goes into her child's bedroom, and there she finds her son full of life again. Overflowing with joy, she takes up her son, and goes out crying to everyone, and showing them her infant. Judge what a delight for them all! The widowed mother and her son lived in the king's palace so happily, and never left him more.
202:1 This seems to be one of the many variations of the "Golden Legend," the "Aurea Legenda" which Longfellow has so well versified.