(A South American Folktale)
Long ago, a fisherman and his wife lived in a tiny mud hut near the river. They had seven children, and the wife was pregnant once again. The fisherman worked day and night, but seldom had enough to feed his family.
One day, the oldest son returned from a walk with a little puppy that was nearly starved to death. “Please let us keep him,” the son begged.
The fisherman could never refuse his children. That day, as he cast his net, he prayed, “Please, help me find a way to feed my family.”
Just then, he heard a voice from the river: “Fisherman, I am the river giant. I will reward you with endless fish from my river if you promise to give me whatever new item you find in your home today.”
Although the fisherman knew his son would be sad to lose the puppy, he could not refuse such fortune. “I promise,” he whispered. “I will give you the newest thing I find at home.”
The voice called again: “Tomorrow morning, bring me your gift, or you will lose your life.”
The fisherman cast his net and when he pulled it in, there were more fish than he could count. He happily ran all the way home with an overflowing basket, but when he reached the hut, his oldest son ran outside with startling news.
“Father, we have a new member of the family!” he cried. “Mother has given birth!”
The fisherman raced inside and wrapped his arms around his wife. “I have done something terrible!” he sobbed as he told her of his vow to the river giant.
She also wept and all night they tried to think of a way to break their promise, but they could think of nothing. The next morning, the fisherman’s wife kissed her baby goodbye and the fisherman carried the baby to the riverbank. As promised, he cast the child into the water, and the river giant pulled the baby into his strong arms and carried him to his palace.
Eighteen years passed. The boy grew into a happy young man, with eyes set as deep as the river and hair with dark waves like the current. One morning, the river giant told his son he was going on a journey.
“You must not move or change anything you encounter, or you will die,” the river giant explained. Naturally, the boy agreed. He had always obeyed the only father he had ever known.
Days passed on his lonely journey, and he began to miss the voice of the river giant. He came upon a house he had never seen. He walked to the door, turned the key and entered, where he found a lion eating hay. He quickly turned and locked the door behind him.
Days passed and again he grew lonely on his journey. Once again, he came upon a house he had never seen, and inside he found a beautiful black horse and a rack of meat.
“Can you find me some hay?” the horse asked. “If you do, we will serve you forever.”
The boy told the horse he would think about this. A few days later on his journey, he came upon another house he had never seen. Inside, he found swords, shields and knives. He touched nothing and once again locked the door behind him.
The next day, he returned to the horse’s house and took the meat. Then he went to the house with the swords and took one. Then he went to the lion’s house. He delivered the meat and, wielding the sword, asked, “May I take this hay?”
“Of course, I will never harm you,” the lion said. “Take the hay, and know I will protect you forever.”
The boy delivered the hay to the horse, but he was shaking. “I fear I’ll lose my life since I have disobeyed my father,” he said.
“Since I am the source of your troubles, I will help you escape,” the horse replied. He instructed the boy to gather his belongings as well as a sword, knife and shield. Then he told him to mount his back. They sped away as fast as lightning and traveled to a faraway kingdom.
There, the boy saw the first human being he had seen since the day he was born — the king!
“Please,” the boy begged, “let me stay and work for you.”
“You may be our gardener. You will carry bouquets to my daughter every morning,” the king said. And so the boy set to work, and each morning he brought a bouquet to the princess.
Meantime, princes from other kingdoms were wooing the princess. When they sang to her, the boy listened, so he opened his mouth to try to sing. He soon discovered his voice was as soothing as the rushing river.
The princess began to fall in love with him — he was gentle and handsome, and his voice was more beautiful than anything she had ever heard.
The next day, a wild beast raced toward the kingdom. All the princes gathered to slay it, but it was the boy — blessed by his horse and his magical sword — who killed the creature.
Although the princes tried to pretend they had slain the beast, the villagers knew who the hero was.
“He is the valiant one!” they said.
The princess was overjoyed, for she loved the boy.
They married the very next day. When the river giant heard about the wedding, he sent the new bride a necklace of pearls, for he truly loved his adopted son.
The river giant forever kept his promise to the fisherman, whose family became quite rich through their arrangement. Sadly, however, the fisherman and his family never knew of their youngest boy’s good fortune.