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  the prince, puppet for telling the story The Prince with the Donkey's Ears
(Portuguese folktale © Retold and translated by Dulce Rodrigues. All rights reserved.)

Long, long ago, there was a kingdom where everybody was in peace and worked seriously, without quarrels nor jealousy. They were ruled by a kind king. The king and her queen also lived happily except for one thing: They did not have an heir!

One day, the king sent for three fairies and asked them to give him an heir to whom he could entrust his kingdom when he died. The fairies promised to fulfil his wish, but they told the king that they wanted to be present at the prince’s birth. The king swore he would call them.

At the end of nine months the queen gave birth to a boy, and as promised the king invited the three fairies. The fairies leaned over the royal baby’s golden crib and one said: “I shall give him beauty.” “I shall give him health and intelligence,” said the second fairy. The eldest of the three paused for a while and then said: “So that he doesn’t despise anyone because he is handsome, healthy and intelligent, it would be better if he had donkey’s ears.” And saying this, the fairies were gone, leaving the king and the queen very sad.

And so it was. Time passed, the prince became a handsome and intelligent boy but, according to the prophecy, his ears grew and grew until they become like donkey’s ears.

The king then called his most trustful valet and asked him to cut the prince’s hair and comb him in such a way that nobody could see his ears. The king also made the valet promise that he would not say a word about it to anybody. If the valet revealed the secret, the king would have him put to death.

The poor valet kept the secret for many ears, but it became such a burden to him that one day he went to the church and made a confession to the priest: “Help me, my father, I know a secret I cannot tell to anyone, but if I don’t tell it I die; and if I tell it the king will put me to death.” The good priest told him to dig a deep hole in the ground and whisper his secret into the hole, where it would forever remain buried.

The valet followed the advice, went to the valley, found a place where among the willows grew some reeds, and digged a hole into which he whispered his secret. Then he returned home; his sould was as light as a bird.

In the place where he had buried his secret the young reeds grew well and one day three shepherds with their flocks came across the reeds. They saw how good the reeds were, and as they needed new flutes, they cut some reeds. The next day, when the three sheperds began to play their flutes three voices flowed out of the flutes, and each voice sang: “Our prince has donkey’s ears!” Can you imagine the shepherds’ surprise when they heard this! And you may well guess that it was not long before the king heard of this amazing fact, too. He ordered his guards to bring the shepherds and their flutes to him.

“Play the song you played this morning,“ ordered the king. The shepherds trembled but had to obey, and again the three voices flowed out of the flutes and each voice sang: "Our prince has donkey’s ears!" The valet dropped to his knees and swore he had not betrayed the secret. But the king said: “Take this liar and let him receive the punishment he deserves!”

At these words, the prince drew his crown off and, bowing before the king, said: “No, my father, no. I beg you to pardon my impertinence, but do not punish anyone unjustly. What does it matter if I do have donkey’s ears, it makes me remember that I must never speak or act stupidly like the poor donkey.”

As soon as the prince had said these wise words, the three fairies appeared in the room and said: “You are wise, prince. You showed great sense of justice in defending the poor valet against your father’s anger. You know no vanity and we are going to relieve you of your donkey’s ears.”

The prince shook his head, and everybody could see that his donkey’s ears were gone. From that day on, the flutes sang no more: "Our prince has donkey’s ears!"

Your four-legged friend.

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    All Texts and Illustrations © Dulce Rodrigues, 2009. All rights reserved