(An Italian Folktale)
Once upon a time, a beautiful child was born to a wealthy merchant and his wife. Soon after Thalia was born, her mother died, and so the baby became the pride and joy of the merchant. He called all the village elders to come and bless his child. But when they did, one of the elders who looked at the child inside her crib turned pale.
“Trouble awaits her from a stalk of flax,” he said. So the merchant forbade any flax inside their estate, and he ordered his servants to watch carefully over his beloved daughter.
Once, after Thalia had turned 21, she was standing at her bedroom window when she spotted a woman across the estate spinning yarn, and Thalia was mesmerized by the whirling and twisting of the thread. She called out to the woman, “Please come here so I can see what you are doing.”
The woman walked to the window and handed the distaff to Thalia. “Go ahead, pull on the thread,” she said. The moment Thalia pulled, a stalk of flax lodged under one of her fingernails and she fell down, dead. The old woman hurried away.
The merchant was overcome with grief, and wishing never to remember this moment, he closed up his estate and moved far away, leaving his daughter’s body behind.
A few days later, the prince of the village was hunting when his falcon escaped from the hunting party and flew into an open window of the merchant’s estate.
The prince and his men followed the falcon, but they could not lure the creature outside, and so they knocked on the door. Naturally, no one answered. The prince peered inside the open window and saw that the place was abandoned, so he climbed inside.
Soon he found beautiful Thalia lying upon her bed. She looked as if she were asleep, and so the prince gently shook her arm and said, “Wake up, miss. My falcon has decided to stay here.”
She did not wake, and at last the prince’s men captured the falcon. They departed, but when the prince returned home, he could not stop thinking about that sleeping beauty. He began to walk through the palace in a daze.
A few days later, a twin boy and girl who had no family walked past the abandoned estate, and when they saw an open window, they decided to climb inside. They decided this would be a lovely place to live. They, too, found Thalia.
At first, they were afraid to go near her. But the little girl grew brave and reached out and squeezed her hand. When she did, the flax splinter popped out, and Thalia woke from her deep sleep.
When she saw the children standing beside her, Thalia felt as if they must be her own children. She begged them to live with her. They agreed. Thalia named the little boy Sun and the little girl Moon. Magically, from that day on, whenever any of them wished for something — food or drink or any other comfort — it magically appeared.
Some time passed, and finally the prince decided that he must go see the sleeping beauty again. When he reached the estate and found her awake with the two beautiful children with her, he said, “I must take care of you. Let us be the greatest of friends. Whenever you need anything, you will call on me.”
Then the prince returned to his palace, but could not stop thinking of Thalia and Sun and Moon, and so he walked through the palace repeating their names.
His stepmother, the queen, finally had enough. She was a jealous woman, and she could not bear the thought of her stepson loving anyone more than he loved her. She spoke to her chief adviser.
“Go find this woman and the children who have enchanted my stepson and find out all you can about them,” she ordered.
The adviser traveled to the estate and spoke with Thalia and the children. When he returned to the queen, the adviser told her of their beauty — physically and spiritually. They were, he said, the sort of people everyone would love.
The stepmother ordered the adviser to bring these people to her so she could kill them. When he heard this, the adviser became distraught, so he and the queen’s cook conspired to hide the children, but would bring Thalia to the queen.
Thalia agreed to leave Sun and Moon to meet with the queen. When the adviser and the cook brought Thalia before the queen, they told the evil woman that the children were dead.
The queen was glad to hear the children were gone, and now it was time to destroy Thalia. “You have enchanted my stepson and must be thrown into the fire for this crime,” she said. “I cannot abide an enchantress.”
“Please, let me first remove my dress,” Thalia said. “You may have it as your own.”
The dress was covered with pearls and gold. Naturally, the queen agreed. As slowly as she could, Thalia began to undress, and just as she slipped off the first sleeve, the prince rushed into the room.
“What are you doing to my beloved?” he cried. “And where are the children?”
The queen laughed. “This is a witch who must die, and the children are dead. My cook killed them.”
The prince raised his sword and turned to the cook, who quickly cried, “Sir, I would never do such a thing! I have hidden the children.”
The prince stared at him. “If you have saved the children, I will make you the happiest man in the world, but if you are lying, you must die.”
The cook’s wife suddenly appeared with Sun and Moon, who rushed to Thalia’s side, and the prince said to the cook, “You shall be rewarded.”
The next day, he banished his evil stepmother to the deepest part of the forest as punishment for her jealousy and cruelty. He married Thalia, and together they raised Sun and Moon and lived happily ever after.