The Brave Shepherd

 The Brave Shepherd

A long time ago, in a far off land, there lived a fierce and powerful king. His servants were very afraid of him and came running to obey his commands at once, for fear of angering him. For as long as possible, they stayed out of his way altogether and this seemed to be the best thing to do. One day, the king sent for his head minister. "I have just made a new law," he told him. "From now on, every time I sneeze, everyone in the Royal Kingdom must say, "To your very good health!" The head minister went hurrying off to tell all the people of this strange new law and, a few days later, the king sent for him again. "Tell me," the king said, "when I sneeze, does everyone say 'To your very good  health'"? The minister looked worried. "Yes, Your Majesty, they do, all except one of them. However, do not worry, sire, he is only an ignorant shepherd boy." "No excuse!" snapped the king. "Bring him to me at once." The minister did as he was told and brought the shepherd boy to the palace.

When the boy was taken before the Royal court, he was quite unafraid of the stern looking king for his eyes were on the King's daughter, the princess, who was thinking what a fine young man the shepherd boy was. "Now come on," said the king impatiently. Say "To your very good health." "Certainly," replied the shepherd. "To my very good health!" "Mine, not yours," roared the king. "I said 'my health'," grinned the shepherd. The king was nearly choking with rage. "If you do not say it properly, it will be the worse for you. That is my last word." "I will say it, only if you give me your daughter's hand in marriage and that is my last word." This was the last straw for the king. "Take him to the Bear pit and throw him in," he ordered. The shepherd boy was dragged away and the princess was very upset, for she knew that nobody who had been thrown into the Bear pit had ever come out alive. Next morning, the king went to look in the Bear Pit, fully expecting to see the lifeless body of the stubborn shepherd lying at the bottom, but he received a surprise. There was the shepherd boy, sitting on an upturned bucket, facing the great bear. He was quite unharmed. The bear had not even scratched him.

The king ordered him to come out of the pit. "Now," said the king, "you have had a taste of what I can do to you. However, if you say 'To your very good health, Your Majesty', we will say no more about it and you can go home." "It does not matter to me," replied the shepherd boy. "Will you give me the hand of your daughter, or not? If not, I will not say it." "You must admit, father," sighed the princess, "that the shepherd boy is very brave." "Brave!" roared the king. "Throw him to the wolves." The eyes of the princess filled with tears. There was only one bear, but how could anyone escape a whole pack of wolves? The guards marched the boy away and flung him into the wolves' den. When, the next day, all the Royal court went to inspect the Den, there was the shepherd boy, playing a pipe and all the wolves were dancing to his tune. The shepherd stopped playing when he saw the king and bowed to him. "Now will you say it?" asked the king, wearily. "Only if I can have the princess," the shepherd shouted back. "For look, the wolves have not bothered me at all." "Let there be no more of this," roared the king. "Throw him into the Well of Knives." The soldiers led the shepherd over to the dark well. When one looked down, it was indeed a terrible sight. All the way down, the walls were thickly lined with long, sharp knives. "The man who goes down there will certainly never come back," said the shepherd, quietly, "so before you throw me down, turn your backs for a moment and allow me to say one last prayer." As soon as the soldiers had turned away, he quickly took off his hat, cloak and knapsack and threw them into the dark depths of the Well of Knives. Then he darted quickly away to hide. 

When the soldiers turned round and saw the shepherd's belongings from the knives in the well, they thought that he must already have jumped in and was somewhere at the bottom. They went back to report his death to the king. "Well," said the king in surprise, "I have never known anyone in such a hurry to jump down there before. Perhaps, daughter, your shepherd boy really was brave after all." "Yes, father, he was," the princess replied, "after all you never did make him say 'To your very good health, Your Majesty', did you?" "And he never will," cried the shepherd boy, coming out of hiding. "You are brave and quickwitted," said the King, "but there is one way to win all men. If you say the words that you were asked to say, I will give you a forest, where all the leaves are made of gold, a lake full of diamonds, a fine palace of ivory. All these shall be yours if-" "Save your breath to cool your porridge," interrupted the shepherd, "for I will not say those words until my wedding day, when I marry your daughter." At last the king relented. "You can either be bought nor bulled," he said, "and that is more than can be said of most men. Take the princess. You have my blessing." The shepherd boy and the princess were married and as soon as the wedding was over, the shepherd raised his glass of wine on high and he cried, "To your very good health, Your Majesty!"  

NO doubt Fortune favors the Brave!

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