site logo

How William Of Palermo Was Carried Off By The Werwolf

Many hundreds of years ago there lived in the beautiful city of Palermo

a little prince who was thought, not only by his parents but by everyone

who saw him, to be the handsomest child in the whole world. When he was

four years old, his mother, the queen, made up her mind that it was time

to take him away from his nurses, so she chose out two ladies of the

court who had been friends of her own youth, and to them she entrusted

her little son. He was to be taught to read and write, and to talk

Greek, the language of his mother's country, and Latin, which all

princes ought to know, while the Great Chamberlain would see that he

learned to ride and shoot, and, when he grew bigger, how to wield a


For a while everything went on as well as the king and queen could wish.

Prince William was quick, and, besides, he could not bear to be beaten

in anything he tried to do, whether it was making out the sense of a

roll of parchment written in strange black letters, which was his

reading-book, or mastering a pony which wanted to kick him off. And the

people of Palermo looked on, and whispered to each other:

'Ah! what a king he will make!'

But soon a terrible end came to all these hopes!

William's father, king Embrons, had a brother who would have been the

heir to the throne but for the little prince. He was a wicked man, and

hated his nephew, but when the boy was born he was away at the wars, and

did not return till five years later. Then he lost no time in making

friends with the two ladies who took care of William, and slowly managed

to gain their confidence. By-and-by he worked upon them with his

promises and gifts, till they became as wicked as he was, and even

agreed to kill not only the child, but the king his father.

Now adjoining the palace at Palermo was a large park, planted with

flowering trees and filled with wild beasts. The royal family loved to

roam about the park, and often held jousts and sports on the green

grass, while William played with his dogs or picked flowers.

One day--it was a festival--the whole court went into the park at noon,

after they had finished dining, and the queen and her ladies busied

themselves with embroidering a quilt for the royal bed, while the king

and his courtiers shot at a mark. Suddenly there leapt from a bush a

huge grey wolf with his mouth open and his tongue hanging out. Before

anyone had time to recover from his surprise, the great beast had caught

up the child, and was bounding with him through the park, and over the

wall into the plain by the sea. When the courtiers had regained their

senses, both the wolf and boy were out of sight.

Oh! what weeping and wailing burst forth from the king and queen when

they understood that their little son was gone from them for ever, only,

as they supposed, to die a cruel death! For of course they did not know

that one far worse had awaited him at home.

After the first shock, William did not very much mind what was happening

to him. The wolf jerked him on to his back, and told him to hold fast by

his ears, and the boy sat comfortably among the thick hair, and did not

even get his feet wet as they swam across the Straits of Messina. On the

other side, not far from Rome, was a forest of tall trees, and as by

this time it was getting dark, the wolf placed William on a bed of soft

fern, and broke off a branch of delicious fruits, which he gave him for

supper. Then he scooped out a deep pit with his paws, and lined it

with moss and feathery grasses, and there they both lay down and slept

till morning; in spite of missing his mother, in all his life William

had never been so happy.

For eight days they stayed in the forest, and it seemed to the boy as if

he had never dwelt anywhere else. There was so much to see and to do,

and when he was tired of playing the wolf told him stories.

But one morning, before he was properly awake, he felt himself gently

shaken by a paw, and he sat up, and looked about him. 'Listen to me,'

said the wolf. 'I have to go right over to the other side of the wood,

on some business of a friend's, and I shall not be back till sunset. Be

careful not to stray out of sight of this pit, for you may easily lose

yourself. You will find plenty of fruit and nuts piled up under that

cherry tree.'

So the wolf went away, and the child curled himself up for another

sleep, and when the sun was high and its beams awakened him, he got up

and had his breakfast. While he was eating, birds with blue and green

feathers came and hopped on his shoulder and pecked at the fruit he was

putting into his mouth, and William made friends with them all, and they

suffered him to stroke their heads.

* * * * *

Now there dwelt in the forest an old cowherd, who happened that morning

to have work to do not far from the pit where William lived with the

wolf. He took with him a big dog, which helped him to collect the cows

when they wandered, and to keep off any strange beasts that threatened

to attack them. On this particular morning there were no cows, so the

dog ran hither and thither as he would, enjoying himself mightily, when

suddenly he set up a loud barking, as if he had found a prey, and the

noise caused the old man to hasten his steps.

When he reached the spot from which the noise came, the dog was standing

at the edge of a pit, out of which came a frightened cry. The old man

looked in, and there he saw a child clad in garments that shone like

gold, shrinking timidly into the farthest corner.

'Fear nothing, my boy,' said the cowherd; 'he will never hurt you, and

even if he wished I would not let him;' and as he spoke he held out his

hand. At this William took courage. He was not really a coward, but he

felt lonely and it seemed a long time since the wolf had gone away.

Would he _really_ ever come back? This old man looked kind, and there

could be no harm in speaking to him. So he took the outstretched hand

and scrambled out of the pit, and the cowherd gathered apples for him,

and other fruits that grew on the tops of trees too high for the wolf to

reach. And all the day they wandered on and on, till they came to the

cowherd's cottage, before which an old woman was standing.

'I have brought you a little boy,' he said, 'whom I found in the


'Ah, a lucky star was shining when you got up to-day,' answered she.

'And what is your name, my little man? And will you stay and live with


'My name is William, and you look kind like my grandmother, and I will

stay with you,' said the boy; and the old people were very glad, and

they milked a cow, and gave him warm milk for his supper.

When the wolf returned--he was not a wolf at all, but the son of the

king of Spain, who had been enchanted by his stepmother--he was very

unhappy at finding the pit empty. Indeed, his first thought was that a

lion must have carried off the boy and eaten him, or that an eagle must

have pounced on him from the sky, and borne him away to his young ones

for supper. But after he had cried till he could cry no more, it

occurred to him that before he gave up the boy for dead it would be well

to make a search, as perchance there might be some sign of his

whereabouts. So he dried his eyes with his tail and jumped up quite


He began by looking to see if the bushes round about were broken and

torn as if some great beast had crashed through them. But they were all

just as he had left them in the morning, with the creepers still

knotting tree to tree. No, it was clear that no lion had been near the

spot. Then he examined the ground carefully for a bird's feather or a

shred of a child's dress; he did not find these either, but the marks

of a man's foot were quite plain, and these he followed.

The track turned and twisted for about two miles, and then stopped at a

little cottage with roses climbing up the walls. The wolf did not want

to show himself, so he crept quietly round to the back, where there was

a hole in the door just big enough for the cats to come in and out of.

The wolf peeped through this hole and saw William eating his supper, and

chattering away to the old woman as if he had known her all his life,

for he was a friendly little boy, and purred like a pussy-cat when he

was pleased. And when the wolf saw that all was well with the child, he

was glad and went his way.

'William will be safer with them than with me,' he said to himself.

Many years went by, and William had grown a big boy, and was very useful

to the cowherd and his wife. He could shoot now with his bow and arrow

in a manner which would have pleased his first teacher, and he and his

playfellows--the sons of charcoal-burners and woodmen--were wont to keep

the pots supplied at home with the game they found in the forest.

Besides this, he filled the pails full of water from the stream, and

chopped wood for the fire, and, sometimes, was even trusted to cook the

dinner. And when _this_ happened William was a very proud boy indeed.

One day the emperor planned a great hunt to take place in the forest,

and, while following a wild boar, he outstripped all his courtiers and

lost his way. Turning first down one path and then the other, he came

upon a boy gathering fruit, and so beautiful was he that the emperor

thought that he must be of a fairy race.

'What is your name, my child?' asked the emperor; 'and where do you


The boy looked round at the sound of his voice, and, taking off his cap,

bowed low.

'I am called William, noble sir,' he answered, 'and I live with a

cowherd, my father, in a cottage near by. Other kindred have I none that

ever I heard of;' for the gardens of Palermo and the life of the palace

had now faded into dreams in the memory of the child.

'Bid your father come hither and speak to me,' said the emperor, but

William did not move.

'I fear lest harm should befall him through me,' he answered, 'and that

shall never be.' But the emperor smiled as he heard him.

'Not harm, but good,' he said; and William took courage and hastened

down the path to the cottage.

'I am the emperor,' said the stranger, when the boy and the cowherd

returned together. 'Tell me truly, is this your son?'

Then the cowherd, trembling all over, told the whole story, and when he

had finished the emperor said quietly:

'You have done well, but from to-day the boy shall be mine, and shall

grow up with my daughter.'

The heart of the cowherd sank as he thought how sorely he and his wife

would miss William, but he kept silence. Not so William, who broke into

sobs and wails.

'I should have fared ill if this good man and his wife had not taken me

and nourished me. I know not whence I came or whither I shall go! None

can be so kind as they have been.'

'Cease weeping, fair child,' said the emperor, 'some day you shall be

able to reward the good that they have done you;' and then the cowherd

spoke and gave him wise counsel how to behave himself at court.

'Be no teller of tales, and let your words be few. Be true to your lord,

and fair of speech to all men; and seek to help the poor when you may.'

'Set him on my horse,' said the emperor, and, though William wept still

as he bade farewell to the cowherd, and sent a sorrowful greeting to his

wife and to his playfellows Hugonet, and Abelot, and Akarin, yet he was

pleased to be riding in such royal fashion, and soon dried his tears.

They reached the palace at last, and the emperor led William into the

hall, and sent a messenger for Melior, his daughter.

'I have brought home a present for you,' he cried, as she entered; 'and

be sure to treat him as you would your brother, for he has come of

goodly kindred, though now he does not know where he was born, or who

was his father.' And with that he told her the tale of how he had found

the boy in the wood.

'I shall care for him willingly,' answered Melior, and she took him

away, and saw that supper was set before him, and clothes provided for

him, and made him ready for his duties as page to the emperor.

So the boy and girl grew up together, and everyone loved William, who

was gentle and pleasant to all, and was skilled in what a gentleman

should know. Wise he was too, beyond his years, and the emperor kept him

ever at his side, and took counsel with him on many subjects touching

his honour and the welfare of his people.

And if the people loved him, how much more Melior, who saw him about the

court all day long, and knew the store her father set on him? Yet she

remembered with sadness certain whispers she had heard of a match

between herself and a foreign prince, and if her father had promised her

hand nought would make him break his word.

So she sighed and bewailed herself in secret, till her cousin

Alexandrine marked that something was amiss.

'Tell me all your sickness,' said Alexandrine one day, 'and what grieves

you so sorely. You know that you can trust me, for I have served you

truly, and perhaps I may be able to help you in this strait!'

Then Melior told her, and Alexandrine listened in amaze. From his

childhood William and the two girls had played together, and well

Alexandrine knew that the emperor had cast his eyes upon another

son-in-law. Still, she loved her cousin, and she loved William too, so

she said.

'Mourn no longer, madam; I am skilled in magic, and can heal you. So

weep no more.' And Melior took heart and was comforted.

That night Alexandrine caused William to dream a dream in which the

whole world vanished away, and only he and Melior were left. In a moment

he felt that as long as she was there the rest might go, and that she

was the princess that was waiting for every prince. But who was he that

he should dare to ask for the emperor's daughter? and what chance had he

amongst the noble suitors who now began to throng the palace? These

thoughts made him very sad, and he went about his duties with a face as

long as Melior's was now.

Alexandrine paid no heed to his gloomy looks. She was very wise, and for

some days left her magic to work. At last one morning she thought the

time had come to heal the wounds she had caused, and planned a meeting

between them. After this they had no more need of her, neither did

Melior weep any longer.

For a while they were content, and asked nothing more than to see each

other every day, as they had always done. But soon a fresh source of

grief came. A war broke out, in which William, now a knight, had to

follow the emperor, and more than once saved the life of his master. On

their return, when the enemy was put to flight, the expected ambassadors

from Greece arrived at court, to seek the hand of Melior, which was

readily granted by her father. This news made William sick almost unto

death, and Melior, who was resolved not to marry the stranger, hastened

to Alexandrine in order to implore her help.

But Alexandrine only shook her head.

'It is true,' said she, 'that, unless you manage to escape, you will be

forced to wed the prince; but how are you to get away when there are

guards before every door of the palace, except by the little gate, and

to reach that you will have first to pass by the sentries, who know


'O dear Alexandrine,' cried Melior, clasping her hands in despair. 'Do

try to think of some way to save us! I am sure you can; you are always

clever, and there is nobody else.'

And Alexandrine did think of a way, but what it was must be told in the

next chapter.