|A morning dove swooped down.|
Once upon a time, in Palermo, there lived a princess. She was so beautiful and had such gorgeous long hair that "she would let no hairdresser touch it". Instead, she combed and brushed it herself while sitting in her window. One day, while in the midst of this, "a dove lit on the ledge, took the comb in its beak, and flew off with it." Though she called for the dove to return, it did not. The next day, the moment she set her her hair clasp on the window sill and began to comb her hair, the dove appeared again. Now it snatched the clasp, and flew away. Again the princess called out, but in vain. The following day, "she had no sooner done her hair and still had the cloth around her shoulders" when the dove dipped down and grabbed the cloth. It flew away, cooing. Now the princess was "truly vexed", so she climbed down a "silken ladder" and chased the bird. It led her on a maddening chase, and she soon found herself in the depths of the forest. There she saw a hut, and inside there was a handsome youth. She asked if he had seen a dove fly by carrying a cloth, and he replied "I am that very dove." Then he told her that "the fairies have cast a spell on me, and I can't go out in human guise until you have sat at the window of this hut for a year, a month, and a day, in sunlight and in starlight, with your eyes fixed on the mountain across the way, where I shall fly as a dove." So she did. Settled comfortably in a chair, with servants to wait upon her, she sat by the window for a year, a month, and a day. Without applying SPF 45 sunblock every four to six hours. And "little by little, she turned darker, ever darker, until she was as black as pitch". And when the prince came in and saw her on the morning of his freedom he said,"Phew!What a sight you are! Aren't you ashamed to show yourself after becoming so ugly for the sake of a man? Off with you!' And he spit on her." So she ran away, weeping. That is when she ran into a trio of fairies. They listened to her story, and then each gave her gift. The first "stroked the girl on the face and she was beautiful once again". The second "clothed her in an empress' gown". The third gave her "a basket of jewels". Then they told her where the young prince was, and helped her find his castle. Together, the fairies then built one a hundred times finer, and bade the princess sit on the balcony. Sure enough, the prince saw her and swooned for her beauty. When he saw that she was clothed in the pink dress of an empress, he fell in love. Though he tried to court her, she refused, for many days. At last, she consented to receive a message from him, and she replied to it by declaring that if would come to her palace, he must build "a landing stage [with] a carpet of rose petals two inches thick." So the prince set his household maids to picking roses and plucking the petals, and after one month of work, it was ready. Now the fairies advised the girl to walk across the stage, but to feign piercing by a thorn halfway across. This she did, and fell down screaming, howling that she would die. Needless to say, the prince did not succeed in visiting the maiden that day. In fact, it was forty days later, after the chemists and the doctors had declared her cured, that he sent her another message. This time she replied that he must build a stage with a carpet of jasmine petals three inches thick. So the prince nearly bankrupted himself with hiring workers to strip jasmine petals, and build such a stage. At last it was done, and the prince invited the maiden to walk across it. So she did, but halfway across, she feigned being pricked by another thorn. Once again she took to her bed for forty days. Meanwhile, the prince began to fade from lovesickness. Soon, he was at death's door, as thin and gray looking as a corpse. And he sent a message to the princess begging her to come and see him. She answered this request by saying that the only way she would consent to see him was "if I saw him laid out in a coffin." So the prince had one built, and then he climbed in, and summoned the lady. She took one look at him and said, "Phew! Down with you! You did all this for the sake of a woman?' And spit on him." This made him suddenly look closely at her face, and he now recognized the maid who had sat in his window for a year and a month and a day for the princess he was hopelessly in love with. So, you can "imagine how upset he was. He almost changed from a false corpse into a real one". Then he jumped out of the coffin and "went in and asked her forgivenss. The royal chapel was immediately opened, and they got married."
From Italo Calvino's Italian Folktales Selected and Retold (1953)