Marco’s Friendship (A Tale From Italy)
Once upon a time, a poor boy named Marco came upon a rocky cavern in the hills beyond his village. Inside the cave, he found a litter of lion cubs, a litter of bear cubs, and a litter of wolf cubs. He took one of each of the babies home with him. When his sisters saw the creatures, they begged him to send them away.
“They are wild beasts,” the family cried.
But Marco knew if he treated his animals with respect, they would love and respect him in return. He raised them all together and the animals grew to be strong, but they were also gentle and as devoted to each other as they were to Marco.
The neighbors teased Marco. “Fool,” they said, “don’t you know you cannot be friends with such creatures?”
“Friendship given becomes friendship received,” Marco said.
When he grew old enough, Marco decided he would leave his village and travel with his friends the animals. Together they journeyed to Sicily.
One day they came upon a peasant’s humble hut. The peasant welcomed Marco and his animals inside. He shared a meal, and his home, saying to Marco, “Friendship given is friendship received.” Marco felt more at home than he ever had, but he could see that something troubled the peasant.
“You seem sad,” he said when they had finished their meal.
“Ah,” the peasant sighed. “Not far from here a dragon lives. He has threatened to destroy our land if we do not give him a human sacrifice each day. Tomorrow is the saddest day of all, for tomorrow the king’s beloved daughter will be sacrificed.”
Marco listened intently.
The next day before dawn Marco and his animals set off for the dragon’s cave. The princess stood at the entrance, weeping bitter tears.
“Don’t fear,” Marco assured her. “My friends and I have come to rescue you.”
“A wolf, a bear, and a lion will save me from a beast?” the princess said. “But they are beasts themselves.”
The wolf brushed up beside the princess, hoping she would see he wanted to be her friend. The lion roared, announcing his presence to the dragon, and meanwhile, the bear hid behind a bush outside the cave.
When the dragon heard the lion’s roar, he called, “Who trespasses near my home?”
The lion roared once more and leaped into the cave, his friends, the bear, and wolf, close on his heels.
Marco and the princess stood outside the cave. The princess trembled. “They do wish to save me, don’t they?” she said to Marco.
“They are my friends,” Marco said, “and because I wish to save you, they want to offer their help.”
The creatures fought with pride and strength. After a while, exhausted from their struggle, the animals emerged from the cave. The dragon was dead.
Marco and the animals bowed to the princess, and they set off for the peasant’s hut to give him the glorious news. The peasant was overjoyed.
The next morning the peasant accompanied them to the castle and bowed before the king. “Your majesty,” he said, “I have come to tell you of a fair and graceful man,” and he told the king of the brave Marco and his loyal friends.
The princess blushed. “Father, I wish to marry this young man. He may be poor, but he is rich in friendship and faithfulness.”
The king agreed and wedding plans were announced.
When Marco’s sisters heard of his good fortune, they traveled at once to Sicily so that they might join in the festivities. Before long they seethed with envy of their brother. Soon they decided they must destroy him. They poisoned a bone and sharpened it and placed it in Marco’s bed.
That night Marco lay down to sleep and the sharpened bone pierced his heart. He died instantly.
The princess wept, and so did all the court, for everyone had loved Marco. But saddest of all were the lion, the bear, and the wolf. When they arrived at the graveyard, the priest and all the others fled, for they feared the fierce animals. The creatures began to claw at the ground. Before long they had dug up their master’s body. When they saw the fatal wound, the lion said to bear, “Brother, I need your salve,” and bear took grease from his throat and laid it upon his master’s wound. When the wound softened, bear sucked it and touched a special herb to it, an herb that only the animals knew. At once it worked upon Marco’s heart and rekindled his spirit. Marco came back to life.
The peasant had not run away, for he, like Marco, did not fear the animals. When he saw the miracle, he ran to tell the king.
The king and his daughter ran at once to the gravesite. When they saw Marco alive, they embraced him, and they embraced the three animals.
When news of Marco’s resurrection reached his sisters’ ears, they came at once, pretending to be overjoyed. But the moment they entered the palace, Marco’s wound began to bleed, and he turned pale as snow. The animals glared at the sisters.
Now everyone knew who had harmed Marco. They banished the sisters from the kingdom.
Marco and the princess and the animals lived happily together all the rest of their lives.