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THE SHEPHERD OF THE MONTE CRISTALLO

Once upon a time, on the pink-coloured Monte Cristallo, where now only terribly steep walls are to be seen, there stood a magnificent castle. Its towers and pinnacles raised their tops proudly above the valley, and greeted one merrily as they shone in the sun over the snow-peaks of the Marmolata. In this castle there dwelt a beautiful and charming princess, and many princes had already sued for her hand, but they all came away as rejected wooers, and were never again seen in the locality. The princess took a real pleasure in refusing each lover after giving him a problem which no one was able to solve. She required to be told a story concerning herself, which she did not know, and yet which she had to believe. No one was able to fulfil these three conditions, for who could know anything credible about the princess which she herself did not k now, and when a suitor began to speak, the princess used to look at him so inquiringly with her big, blue eyes that he became quite embarrassed. No matter how much the men wearied themselves in their efforts to invent something strange, and to speak the greatest flatteries, it was all to no purpose, for in the end the princess always burst into mocking laughter, and the wooer was rejected. Her tutor also came to her assistance, for he knew how to entangle the story-teller in contradictions by means of clever questions. Everything was written down and afterwards read to the courtiers, who were highly amused by the ridiculously false stories with which the wooers had tried their luck.

Cortina d'Ampezzo
Cortina d'Ampezzo with the peaks of Monte Cristallo

One day the princess heard, from one of the knights of her court, a song which she liked very much, and she asked him if he had composed it. The knight answered in the negative, and told her that it was the work of a shepherd who was called "the crazy Bertoldo". The princess was very astonished at this, and wanted to know more about this Bertoldo. The knight, however, did not know any more, so she asked the tutor.

"Yes," he said, "I know the crazy Bertoldo. Formerly he was an ordinary shepherd, but after seeing you, noble princess, one day while you were picking flowers on the meadows of the Padeòn, he became a poet and wandered about the forests making songs. People say he is madly in love with you. He, too, came here one day, wishing to become a wooer, and saying that he knew a story about you, but I had him turned away by the castle guards, for I could not present a shepherd to you as a suitor."

When the princess heard these words she became very angry, and she reproached the tutor, saying, that it was no business of his who her wooers were, but was altogether her own affair, and she ordered him to let the shepherd know that he could come to the castle as soon as he liked and tell the princess his story.

Bertoldo did not need to be told this twice. On the very next morning he appeared at the castle gate, and the guards conducted him to the large hall where the princess sat with her ladies-in-waiting and the tutor. Everyone was very anxious to hear what the shepherd had to say, and the princess looked at him with her big, blue eyes, not mockingly, as she generally did when examining her wooers, but in a friendly and expectant manner.

Then Bertoldo began his tale:

61 My very noble princess," he said, "what I am going to tell you happened, not here, but far away in the fields of the blessed. At that time we all lived in those fields and we were contented and without troubles for we did not know that we were destined to move, later on, to the earth, and to live here as men in trouble and need. Every one of us had, a duty to perform and you, noble princess, were chosen to be queen. All your subjects praised you for your justice and goodness, but what we most admired about you were your wonderful eyes, which no one could see without feeling intensely happy."

For a moment Bertoldo was silent, then he continued: "I was employed as a shepherd, and when I went with my lambs to the pasture, early in the morning, I used to blow a merry song on my bugle under your windows, to tell you of the good morning. That was the greatest joy of the day. So we lived in the fields of the blessed, not thinking but that things would always be the same, when one day an angel informed us that soon we would have to come to the earth. Then he examined every one of us concerning the manner in which we had performed our duties, and he established that everyone had been more or less careless, with the exception of two: the queen and myself. The angel praised us, therefore, and said that we could both mention one request each, and that it would be granted to us down on the earth. As I stood there and saw before me my queen, with her beautiful eyes, I expressed the wish that she should keep the same lovely eyes when she came down to the earth as a human being. The angel nodded as a sign that my prayer had been granted, and then he turned to the queen who had listened to my words with a smile. I saw at once that she would reward me, for she looked kindly at me, and begged the angel to grant that my greatest wish on earth should be fulfilled."

"Now, behold, my most noble princess, what I then asked of the angel was granted indeed, for you possess the same eyes that you had in the fields of the blessed, but I do not know whether the angel will also grant your request, and fulfil my greatest desire here on earth."

After having said this Bertoldo became silent. The court ladies glanced at one another secretly, but the princess looked at the shepherd in silent astonishment Then the tutor began to speak, and acknowledged that Bertoldo's story complied with the three conditions, for it concerned the princess, she did not know it, and one could not say it was incredible, because who could know anything about what happened once upon a time in the fields of the blessed. "But," he went on, turning to Bertoldo, your tale presents one big difficulty: if we were all at one time in the fields of the blessed, and cannot remember it, how is it that you alone pretend to be able to do so?" But Bertoldo calmly replied: "I can remember those fields because the remembrance of them was brought back to me, and it comes back to every one who sees again what he last looked upon in the fields of the blessed."

"And what was that?" asked the tutor.

"The beautiful eyes of my queen," answered Bertoldo, "and when I saw our noble princess a short time ago on the meadows of the Padeòn, with the same eyes, the remembrance came back to me, and the fields of the blessed were opened before me.,,

The tutor grew afraid, and began to consider very deeply, but could think of no way in which it would be possible to reject Bertoldo.

But the princess smiled, and gave the shepherd her hand; and, with her, he won the lordly castle and the large kingdom.

For many years, and even today, the shepherds of the Ampezzo-valley call the Monte Cristallo "Croda de Bertoldo" (the rock of Bertoldo).