(an English tale)
Once upon a time, there lived a poor young shepherd who dreamed of glory. The shepherd owned little else but his vast imagination; he told everyone he met that his imagination was so rich that he felt he was a wealthy man.
His fellow shepherds laughed at him. “Fool,” they called him, but one day as he was grazing his flock near the palace road, he happened to notice a knight riding his horse toward the court at Canterbury.
“I wonder where that fellow goes,” he mused to himself, and he waited all that day and into the next to speak to the young man. He wished to ask him what the palace looked like. Most of all, he wanted to hear stories of the princess, who, he imagined, was more beautiful than a flower, and lovelier, too.
But the knight never returned, and the next day the shepherd saw another knight heading that way.
“Who are these fellows?” he said to his sheep. He decided the next time he saw a passing stranger, he must ask.
The second knight did not return, and when a third passed by, the shepherd asked, “Sir, I see many gentlemen riding to the court at Canterbury, but none return. Can you tell me why?”
“Shepherd,” said the knight, “the king has proclaimed that any man who can watch his daughter through the night and neither sleep nor doze will have her hand in marriage. But those who fail will lose their heads. I am off to try my best, for she is a wise and fair and beautiful woman.”
The shepherd began to dream, and he decided he must try his luck, for then he would be a prince or a headless shepherd, and so he bid his sheep wait on the hill, and he set off for the court.
On his way, he had to cross a river. He took off his shoes and socks to wade across, and as he was walking, he noticed some pretty fish at his feet. And that’s when his imagination went wild. He reached down and picked up four fish and put them into his pocket.
“These fish will be my keys to the kingdom!” he said.
When he arrived at the palace, the servants took him to the hall where the princess awaited her suitors.
“Good evening,” she said. “I hope you shall stay awake all night.” She was drawn to this young man — he, too, was handsome and kind and fair.
“Help yourself to the banquet,” she said, pointing to a table set with delicacies and wines so marvelous that the shepherd could not resist. He ate and ate, and he drank and drank, and as the clock struck midnight, he could feel his eyelids growing heavy.
He sat in one of the luxurious chairs across from the princess, and suddenly she said, “Sir, you have been dozing! I’m afraid you’re going to lose your head!”
But the shepherd sat up tall and said, “Oh, no, I wasn’t dozing at all. I was fishing.”
The princess cocked her head. “Fishing?” she asked. She wondered if the young man might not be a little mad, but just as that thought crossed her mind, he smiled and drew one of the pretty fish from his pocket.
“It’s beautiful,” she gasped. Secretly, she was astonished by this young man’s magic, and so she waited a little while, and she watched him carefully.
He did seem to be sleeping, but she said, at last, “Shepherd, are you fishing again?”
He sat up and smiled, and he said, “I am, and here’s another fish for you,” and he reached into his pocket and handed her another fish.
Now the princess was falling in love, and so she said, “I shall let you sleep, and I promise I’ll convince my father not to chop off your head.”
The next morning, when the king walked into the chamber, the princess was true to her word. “Father, the shepherd must live,” she said. “He was not sleeping — though it may seem that he was. He was fishing! And he’s given me two pretty fish from his pocket.”
“Ridiculous,” the king said. “How can a shepherd catch a fish in his pocket?”
But the shepherd had an answer for this. You see, in his dreams he had come up with a grand idea. “Please, sire,” he said to the king, “lie down on this bed, and I shall show you.”
The king lay down, and as he did, the shepherd pretended to fish in his pocket, and after several moments, he sighed and pulled another fish from that pocket. And then he pulled out yet another!
“Look at this: Two for one try!” the shepherd said, and the king had to admit this fellow had a special gift.
“I wish to marry him,” the princess said, and the king agreed.
And so they lived happily ever after, for the shepherd’s fine imagination delighted the princess for the rest of her life.