As a certain fisherwoman passed by a palace crying her fish, the Queen appeared at one of the windows and beckoned her to come near and show what she had. At that moment a very big fish jumped about in the bottom of the basket.
“Is it a he or a she?” inquired the Queen. “I wish to purchase a she-fish.”
On hearing this the fish laughed aloud.
“It’s a he,” replied the fisherwoman, and proceeded on her rounds.
The Queen returned to her room in a great rage; and on coming to see her in the evening, the King noticed that something had disturbed her.
“Are you indisposed?” he said.
“No; but I am very much annoyed at the strange behavior of a fish. A woman brought me one to-day, and on my inquiring whether it was a male or female, the fish laughed most rudely.”
“A fish laugh! Impossible! You must be dreaming.”
“I am not a fool. I speak of what I have seen with my own eyes and have heard with my own ears.”
“Passing strange! Be it so. I will inquire concerning it.”
On the morrow the King repeated to his vizier what his wife had told him, and bade him investigate the matter, and be ready with a satisfactory answer within six months, on pain of death. The vizier promised to do his best, though he felt almost certain of failure. For five months he labored indefatigably to find a reason for the laughter of the fish. He sought everywhere and from every one. The wise and learned, and they who were skilled in magic and in all manner of trickery, were consulted. Nobody, however, could explain the matter; and so he returned broken-hearted to his house, and began to arrange his affairs in prospect of certain death, for he had had sufficient experience of the King to know that his Majesty would not go back from his threat. Among other things, he advised his son to travel for a time, until the King’s anger should have somewhat cooled.
The young fellow, who was both clever and handsome, started off whithersoever fate might lead him. He had been gone some days, when he fell in with an old farmer, who also was on a journey to a certain village. Finding the old man very pleasant, he asked him if he might accompany him, professing to be on a visit to the same place. The old farmer agreed, and they walked along together. The day was hot, and the way was long and weary.
“Don’t you think it would be pleasanter if you and I sometimes gave each other a lift?” said the youth.
“What a fool the man is!” thought the old farmer.
Presently they passed through a field of corn ready for the sickle, and looking like a sea of gold as it waved to and fro in the breeze.
“Is this eaten or not?” said the young man.
Not understanding his meaning, the old man replied, “I don’t know.”
After a little while the two travelers arrived at a big village, where the young man gave his companion a clasp-knife, and said, “Take this, friend, and get two horses with it; but mind and bring it back, for it is very precious.”