In ages vastly remote there lived in a distant land a king of such prowess and renown, that his name was known throughout the four regions of the compass. His name was Ludovico. His power was increased twofold by his attachment to an aged magician, to whom he was tied by strong bonds of friendship.
Ludovico had an extremely lovely daughter by the name of Clotilde. Ever since his arrival at the palace the magician had been passionately in love with her; but his extreme old age and his somewhat haughty bearing were obstacles in his path to success. Whenever he made love to her, she turned aside, and listened instead to the thrilling tales told by some wandering minstrel.
The magician finally succumbed to the infirmities of old age, his life made more burdensome by his repeated disappointments. He left to the king three enchanted winged horses; to the princess, two magic necklaces of exactly the same appearance, of inimitable workmanship and of priceless worth. Nor did the magician fail to wreak vengeance on the cause of his death. Before he expired, he locked Clotilde and the three magic horses in a high tower inaccessible to any human being. She was to remain in this enchanted prison until some man succeeded in setting her free.
Naturally, King Ludovico wanted to see his daughter before the hour of his death, which was fast approaching. He offered large sums of money, together with his crown and Clotilde's hand, to anybody who could set her free. Hundreds of princes tried, but in vain. The stone walls of the tower were of such a height, that very few birds, even, could fly over them. But a deliverer now rose from obscurity and came into prominence. This man was an uneducated but persevering peasant named Juan. He possessed a graceful form, herculean frame, good heart, and unrivalled ingenuity. His two learned older brothers tried to scale the walls of the tower, but fared no better than the others.
At last Juan's turn came. His parents and his older brothers expostulated with him not to go, for what could a man unskilled in the fine arts do? But Juan, in the hope of setting the princess free, paid no attention to their advice. He took as many of the biggest nails as he could find, a very long rope, and a strong hammer. As he lived in a town several miles distant from the capital, he had to make the trip on horseback.
One day Juan set out with all his equipment. On the way he met his disappointed second brother returning after a vain attempt. The older brother tried in every way he could to divert Juan from his purpose. Now, Juan's parents, actuated partly by a sense of shame if he should fail, and partly by a deep-seated hatred, had poisoned his food without his knowledge. When he felt hungry, he suspected them of some evil intention: so before eating he gave his horse some of his provisions. The poor creature died on the road amidst terrible sufferings, and Juan was obliged to finish the journey on foot.
When he arrived at the foot of the tower, he drove a nail into the wall. Then he tied one end of his rope to this spike. In this way he succeeded in making a complete ladder of nails and rope to the top of the tower. He looked for Clotilde, who met him with her eyes flooded with tears. As a reward for his great services to her, she gave him one of the magic necklaces. While they were whispering words of love in each other's ears, they heard a deafening noise at the bottom of the tower.
"Rush for safety to your ladder!" cried Clotilde. "One of the fiendish friends of the magician is going to kill you."
But, alas! some wanton hand had pulled out the nails; and this person was none other then Juan's second brother. "I am a lost man," said Juan.
"Mount one of the winged horses in the chamber adjoining mine," said Clotilde.
So Juan got on one of the animals without knowing where to go. The horse flew from the tower with such velocity, that Juan had to close his eyes. His breath was almost taken away. In a few seconds, however, he was landed in a country entirely strange to his eyes.
After long years of struggle with poverty and starvation, Juan was at last able to make his way back to his native country. He went to live in a town just outside the walls of the capital. A rich old man named Telesforo hired him to work on his farm. Juan's excellent service and irreproachable conduct won the good will of his master, who adopted him as his son.
At about this time King Ludovico gave out proclamations stating that any one who could exactly match his daughter's necklace should be his son-in-law. Thousands tried, but they tried in vain. Even the most dexterous and experienced smiths were baffled in their attempts to produce an exact counterfeit. When word of the royal proclamations was brought to Juan, he decided to try.
One day he pretended to be sick, and he asked Telesforo to go to the palace to get Clotilde's necklace. The old man, who was all ready to serve his adopted son, went that very afternoon and borrowed the necklace, so that he might try to copy it. When he returned with the magic article, Juan jumped from his bed and kissed his father. After supper Juan went to his room and locked himself in. Then he took from his pocket the necklace which Clotilde had given him in the tower, and compared it carefully with the borrowed one. When he saw that they did not differ in any respect, he took a piece of iron and hammered it until midnight.
Early the next morning Juan wrapped the two magic necklaces in a silk handkerchief, and told the old man to take them to the king.
"By the aid of the Lord!" exclaimed Clotilde when her father the king unwrapped the necklaces, "my lover is here again. This necklace," she said, touching the one she had given Juan, "is not a counterfeit: for it is written in the magician's book of black art that no human being shall be able to imitate either of the magic necklaces. -- Where is the owner of this necklace, old man?" she said, turning to Telesforo.
"He is at home," said Telesforo with a bow.
"Go and bring him to the palace," said Clotilde.
Within a quarter of an hour Juan arrived. After paying due respect to the king, Juan embraced Clotilde affectionately. They were married in the afternoon, and the festivities continued for nine days and nine nights. Juan was made crown prince, and on the death of King Ludovico he succeeded to the throne. King Juan and Queen Clotilde lived to extreme old age in peace and perfect happiness.