|In the darkness under the trees,|
the king dealt Wormwood a blow.
Note: contains violence. "Over and over it has been told that once upon a time there was a king and queen." Though the queen bore many healthy children, they were all girls. The king wanted a boy, and finally told the queen,"If you have one more girl, I shall kill it." And when the queen soon bore another child, and it was a girl, she would not let the king see it. Instead, she said to the baby's godmother,"Take this infant and do as you think best." So the godmother took the baby and carried it deep into the countryside. There she spied a wormwood bush, and laid the babe upon it. Meanwhile, the hermit who lived nearby was unaware of the child. It was not until several days later that he found her. This is how: he had a pet doe with a pair of fawns. Every morning, the fawns would nurse from their mother. But all of a sudden, "when the fawns attempted to suckle...the doe's udder was empty and the fawns went hungry." So the hermit followed the doe, and there he observed as the baby drank its milk. Then he said to the doe,"Divide your milk between her and the fawns." So it did. The baby grew to become a chubby child, as beautiful as the flowers of the meadow. As she grew to girlhood she tended to all of the hermits needs, cooking and cleaning and keeping the little hut clean. It happened one day that a king was hunting in the forest. A "fierce storm came up; the wind blew, there was thunder and lighting and it poured rain." The only shelter he could see was a small hut, and, when he knocked on the door, the hermit helped him in. Then he called out, "Wormwood! Bring a chair, light the fire, and make his Majesty comfortable." The king asked why such a lovely girl had such an odd name, and the hermit told of the babe's discovery in a wormwood bush. Now the king said,"Hermit, would you like to give her to me to take back to the palace?" And he offered to educate and clothe her, so the hermit agreed. When the king had taken Wormwood back to the palace and became "thoroughly acquainted with the girl's merits", he decided to marry her. Soon after, he announced that he must travel for some time, with " a company of princes and knights". As the party traveled on, talk among the men turned to their wives. The king bragged that his wife was not only the finest but the most loyal wife a man could have. That is when another knight said, "Majesty, I bet that if I went to Palermo in your absence I could make time with your wife." The king was outraged,and declared it impossible at first. But when the other knight proferred "a fiefdom" as prize, the king agreed. Then the knight rode to Palermo and took up watch outside the palace. For days he could not so much as glimpse the queen. One day, an old woman spoke to him, asking him why he looked so downcast. He told her of the bet he had made, and, for a price, she agreed to help him. Then she "packed a basket with eggs and fruit" and went to call on the queen. Feigning to be the queen's "long lost relative", she gained admittance to the palace. Wormwood, knowing herself to be a foundling, and longing for a granny of her own, delighted in the hag's company. Soon she allowed the woman to tend her chambers, and one night while the queen slept, the old lady "approached the bed, peeped under the cover, and saw that the queen's back was graced by a very beautiful mole" with two small hairs growing from it. She cut these off and returned to the knight, who paid her well. Thus supplied, the knight returned to the king and told him that the queen allowed strange knights to visit her chamber. The king would not believe the tale until the knight described the mole on the queen's back. Then he showed the little hairs, and the king knew that he had been betrayed. He rode home at once, dragged the queen onto his horse, and rode with her into the woods. There he struck her a terrible blow and threw her into the trees. "That day, a doctor and his wife were on their way to the Sanctuary of St. Rosalie, in fulfillment of a vow made before the birth of their son." Traveling with them was their "Moorish slave, Ali.", who secretly hated them. That is how they discovered poor Wormwood. They tended her, and carried her to their own home. When she was well, they kept her on as nursemaid to their little girl. One day they told Wormwood that they were going to travel to the Sanctuary again, and that they would leave their child in her care overnight. But in the deepest part of the night, the doctor's slave, Ali, ran back to the house. He cut the child's throat and placed the bloody corpse into Wormwood's arms. In the morning, she awakened and "felt herself drenched with blood". In a panic, she fled, "running as fast as her legs would carry her". At last she collapsed, and looked around. That's when she saw the ruins of a castle. Seeking shelter from the night she went in, "but there was not a living soul in sight. She spied an old dilapidated sofa on which she sank down and promptly fell asleep." Now, "let us leave the young woman and turn back to the king", her father. He had learned that the infant he had ordered killed still lived. His heart had softened over the years. and now he was desperate for news of this daughter. He set off to see what he could learn. "Let us leave this father in search of his daughter and go back to the king" who had married Wormwood and then abandoned her. This king's search led him to "a desolate plain" where lay the ruins of an old castle. Entering, he sank down to rest in an old chair, and fell asleep. Some time later, the other king, questing for his daughter, he came to "a desolate plain", whereupon he discovered the ruins of an old castle. He entered and sank down to rest on a large chair. "Let us leave this king, and take up the doctor". Returning from the Sanctuary and discovering his child slain, he took his slave Ali and set off to find "the wicked woman" who he assumed had done the deed. As night fell, they found themselves among the ruins of an old castle, so they went in. Now Wormwood slept on the sofa while her father, her husband, and the doctor slept beside one another in armchairs. They were awakened when "a lantern, which was in the middle of the room, said 'I want oil". Next a little oil cruet walked over to the lantern. Now "the lantern let himself down and the cruet poured oil into him." When the cruet asked the lantern if he had any interesting news, it replied,"There was a king, who, wishing no more daughters, told his wife that if one more girl were born to her, he would kill the baby." The lantern described how the child was hidden, who had raised her, and the story of the king who took her to the palace. As the details emerged, Ali the thief began to quiver with fear. As the lantern finished the story, announcing that the girl was upstairs on a sofa, and that the two kings and the doctor were right there in the room, all of the men ran upstairs. Ali ran away and was never seen again. And Wormwood woke up to hear her father the king saying, "She's mine!' and her husband the king declaring "She's mine!" and the doctor saying,"She's mine! I saved her life!". But "in the end, she went to the king who was her husband." He invited the doctor and her father back to the palace for a celebration, and "from then on, they were one happy family."
From Italo Calvino's Italian Folktales, Selected and Retold (1953)