Cicerello: A Fairy Tale for Fearless Boys and Girls
By Elisabeth Glas
To my parents,
and the values they taught me.
Copyright © 2016 by Elisabeth Glas
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. Information can be obtained through elisabethglas.com.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
First edition, 2016
Everyone was staring at the red bird on the table. It was dead. “You sold me a sick bird,” the grandmother yelled at the merchant, “shame on you!” The little girl whom she was holding by her hand was sobbing, hiding anxiously behind her. The merchant’s face was as red as the dead bird: “With all due respect, Signora, you are lying. When you bought the bird yesterday, it was as fit as a fiddle. You must have fed it with something bad.” “How dare you,” replied the grandmother, “I want a new bird now!” and she pointed with her finger to the cage with the red birds.
At that moment, a young handsome man stepped out from the crowd that had gathered around the table: “Signora, may I ask you a question?” The grandmother turned around surprised. “What do you want, young man?” she asked. “I would like to help,” the young man replied. “With what?” the merchant interrupted. “I’d like to help end your fight,” the young man said turning back to the grandmother, “Signora, what would be worse: to have a yellow bird, or to have no bird at all?” The grandmother looked at him startled and said, “Why are you talking about a yellow bird? Can’t you see this bird is red?” Everyone around the table was nodding in agreement. But the young man ignored the crowd and continued, “And for you, Signore, what would be worse: to give up a yellow bird, or to give up your good reputation?” For a moment there was dead silence. The young man used this silence to explain his thinking: “If I’m not wrong, Signore, the yellow bird costs 1 silver coin, and the red bird costs 10 silver coins?” “That’s right,” the merchant responded, “the red bird is a very special bird.” “Then would you be willing, Signore, to end this fight by giving the girl a yellow bird for free?” the young man asked. Before the merchant could answer, the grandmother interrupted, “But my granddaughter does not want a yellow bird, young man!” She pulled the girl from behind her back and made her face the young man.
T he young man knelt down towards the girl and said, “Now let me ask you a question, pretty Signorina.” The girl blushed. “What is your favorite color?” Quick as a shot the girl said, “Red.” The young man smiled and said, “That’s what I thought.” He paused, then moved closer to the girl’s ear and whispered, “I know a trick that can turn a yellow bird into a red bird. Would you like to know how to do it?” The girl nodded curiously. The young man continued, “Every morning before you go to school, you have to mix a pinch of paprika* into the bird’s breakfast.” “Really?” wondered the girl, “That works?” “Trust me,” the young man replied. The girl thought about it for a moment, then turned to her grandmother: “Nonna, I want a yellow bird. Please.” The grandmother looked at the merchant and smiled, and everyone around the table smiled too.
- Similar to flamingos, the feathers of canary birds can change color depending on what they eat. While baby flamingos are born with gray feathers, they later turn pink from eating pigments called carotenoid through their main food source, shrimp and algae. Canary birds’ normal food doesn’t change the color of its yellow feathers, but they can turn a deep orange if they regularly consume paprika, cayenne or red pepper, which all contain carotenoids. By the same token, if flamingos would change their diet, their pink color would eventually fade.
The merchant went to the cage with the yellow birds and gently took out a bird. While walking back to the table, he suddenly stopped midway and returned to the cage. Everyone around the table held their breath. Had the merchant changed his mind? No, instead, he took out a second bird. When he got back to the table, he gave one bird to the girl and one bird to the young man: “Please accept this as a small token of my appreciation for ending this fight.” Immediately, the grandmother reached into her basket filled with fresh peaches and picked out the six sweetest: “Here, for you, young man. You deserve it.” Everyone around the table applauded spontaneously.
The story of the handsome young man who ended a fight about a dead bird without raising his voice or using threats spread through the town like a wildfire. “Did he really only ask questions?” people wondered. “He must have had a knife hidden somewhere in his coat,” other people insisted. However, aside from all the rumors and gossiping on the streets, from that day on, every time a fight broke out, people would soon be calling for the young man to come and help. And the more fights he helped to settle, the fonder people grew of him. Soon they started calling him Cicerello – referring to Cicero, one of the greatest orators* of their history.
*The word orator comes from the Latin word orare, which means “talking,” more specifically talking in court, defending a person or a cause. Americans who are considered great orators are for example Abraham Lincoln or Martin Luther King Jr.
Cicerello lived in a town with many different markets selling many different things, from the juiciest fruits and vegetables, to the freshest fish and flowers, to the most colorful pottery, fabrics, and yarns. With so many markets in town, Cicerello was very busy settling fights. And every time Cicerello settled a fight, people would give him a little something. When he came home from the markets in the afternoon, he would sneak through the backdoor into the kitchen and proudly present his treasures to the housemaid. She was a great cook and knew how to turn the juicy veggies and fresh fish into delicious meals for Cicerello. She was also a great dressmaker and knew how to turn the rich fabrics into stunning clothes for him. In fact, she was his best and only friend.
Cicerello’s mother had died when he was a little boy. Soon after, his father had married another woman who moved into their mansion with her two sons. Cicerello never liked them, and they never liked him. And to make matters worse, they were spending his father’s silver coins, leaving very little for Cicerello. He had to start wearing his stepbrothers’ worn-out clothes and eating leftovers with the housemaid and servant in the kitchen. How lucky was Cicerello to have his secret treasures! But worst of all were the evenings when the servant was off, and Cicerello had to serve dinner – to the great pleasure and delight of his two stepbrothers. They didn’t miss a single opportunity to humiliate him: They would ask him to refill their glasses, although the water carafe was standing right next to them. And they would purposely throw their napkin on the floor, ordering him to pick it up. But Cicerello stayed calm, thinking to himself: “One day I will show you. Just wait.”
On one of these evenings, Cicerello’s stepmother was proudly holding a fancy-looking letter in her hand. It was decorated with a golden sphinx. Whilst Cicerello was collecting the plates from the first course, the stepmother cleared her throat conspicuously and started reading: “Invitation. We cordially invite all unmarried Noble men of this Kingdom to…” She stopped reading and looked at Cicerello, who was standing in the corner balancing a pile of dirty plates: “Shoo, shoo, this is not for your ears! Go back to the kitchen.” Cicerello nodded and started walking as slowly as possible towards the kitchen to make sure he caught the second part of the sentence: “…to three dances at the Royal opera house when the Princess will choose her husband.”
This was the moment Cicerello had been waiting for. He was so excited to hear of the three dances that he had to sit down at the kitchen table. “But how will you get invited?” the housemaid asked concerned. “Don’t worry. I will come up with a plan, as I always do,” Cicerello said confidently, and the yellow bird was nodding in agreement. Cicerello needed to organize three things: First, he needed to organize transportation to the dances, because the Royal opera house was on the West side of the island, and his town was all the way over on the East. Then, he needed to organize access to the dances, because his stepmother would never let him go with his two stepbrothers. And finally, he needed to choose his outfits for the dances, because he wanted to impress the Princess. When serving the main course, Cicerello was already hatching ideas.
The next morning, Cicerello went straight to the fish market to look for the merchant who sold the octopus from the waters on the West side of the island. Octopus had to be fresh, he reasoned, so this merchant must bring in the octopus every day in the early morning hours from the West Coast. Maybe he could help? “No problem,” said the octopus merchant after listening to Cicerello, “you can join my octopus express carriage on those nights.” Then Cicerello went to the flower market to find the merchant who would help with decorating the ballroom for the dances. “No problem,” said the flower merchant, “I will smuggle you into the Royal opera house with great pleasure.” On their way home, Cicerello was petting the yellow bird’s head triumphantly: “I told you that we would go to the dances!”
The first dance was fast approaching. All the Noble families of the island were hard at work preparing for the event. Even Cicerello’s stepmother was anxious about getting her two sons ready for the dances. “This jacket makes you look fat,” she complained to her older son, “and this one makes you look short.” And when glancing over her younger son, she threw up her hands in despair and sighed, “You are wearing too many different colors, son, you look like a walking Easter egg!” Cicerello almost felt pity for them and was grateful that he didn’t need her approval. He had carefully chosen his outfit for the first dance: a perfectly cut navy blue suit with a white shirt and a matching bow tie. He wanted to be discreet the first night, nothing extravagant. The only lavish thing he allowed himself was a pair of navy blue velvet loafers, each decorated with three sparkling yellow stones, the color of his beloved bird.
When Cicerello entered the ballroom, the dance was already well under way. “Can you see the Princess?” he asked the yellow bird who was sitting on his shoulder, “Go and find her for me!” The bird took off and spotted the Princess immediately. She looked stunning in her pale green gown. He landed on a large chandelier right above the table where the Princess was taking a break from dancing. While Cicerello was fighting his way through the crowd, the bird suddenly felt two eyes staring at him. It only took him a few seconds to locate them right on the Princess’ lap. They were the green eyes of her sphinx cat. But before the bird had time to become scared, Cicerello arrived at the table and went straight to the Princess and asked her for a dance. The bird held his breath: “Please say yes!” When Cicerello guided the Princess to the dance floor, the bird was clapping his wings with joy. Of course the other Noble men in the ballroom had not missed Cicerello’s discreet but masterful entry, and didn’t like it at all. “Who is this young man who carries himself with such striking elegance?” they wondered. Nobody remembered having ever seen him before. Not even his two stepbrothers recognized Cicerello in his elegant suit.
As the evening turned into night, Cicerello and the Princess kept dancing together one dance after the other, only interrupted by short breaks to refresh themselves. During one of these breaks, Cicerello realized that people had started to leave the party and decided to look for his two stepbrothers. But he could not find them anywhere. He suddenly panicked: “What if they arrive home before me and find my bed empty?” Cicerello abruptly turned on his heels, called the yellow bird, and ran out of the ballroom, leaving behind a confused Princess. The yellow bird, who had dozed off on the chandelier, took off as quickly as possible, followed by a pair of green eyes.
Cicerello didn’t miss a beat. He ran down the grand stairs leading down to the piazza and into the backstreets behind the opera house where the octopus express carriage was waiting. “Where have you been? We should have left an hour ago!” the driver ranted furiously. But Cicerello had no time to lose. “Let’s go! Now!” he instructed and jumped on the carriage. Slowly they moved through the narrow streets of the town. “Can’t we go any faster?” Cicerello asked impatiently, “I thought this was the express carriage, not the snail carriage.” The driver gave Cicerello an annoyed look, but remained quiet until they reached the paved road. Then he gave a sharp whistle, and the two horses that were pulling the carriage picked up speed so fast that Cicerello almost fell off the driver’s seat. “Fast enough, young man?” the driver asked smirking. “Very funny,” Cicerello mumbled. Soon the octopus express was racing over the flat land towards the big mountain that separated the island into East and West. Cicerello was hopeful that the two young horses pulling the octopus express could easily catch up with the slow old horse pulling his father’s carriage. “We have to reach my stepbrothers before we start climbing the narrow mountain road,” Cicerello was pondering, “otherwise it will be dangerous to overtake their carriage.” Nervously, he kept scanning the horizon for another carriage. Finally, there it was. The distance kept shortening quickly. And once Cicerello recognized his father’s initials on the back of the carriage, he took a deep breath, leaned back into his seat and started dreaming of the Princess. He thanked the driver when getting off the carriage close to his house and walked home in long, fast steps. He silently slipped into the house and fell asleep within seconds of putting his head on the pillow.
Despite the distances, news travelled fast on the island. The following evening over dinner, all the Noble families were talking about one and the same topic: Who was the young man that had charmed the Princess last night? Cicerello was in the kitchen with the yellow bird when he overheard his stepbrother describing the young man: “He was handsome and elegant. He must be a Noble man, but nobody has ever seen him before.” “Maybe he is from the mainland?” the stepmother suggested. “Probably,” the younger stepbrother confirmed, “you should have seen his shoes… with shiny yellow stones…” The stepmother pricked up her ears: “Shoes with stones? Maybe you were wearing the wrong shoes? Maybe that’s why the Princess didn’t want to dance with you!” “Mom, please,” controverted her son, “those shoes were ridiculous.” Cicerello and the yellow bird looked at each other and started giggling, imagining the shoes that the nervous stepmother would make her two sons wear to the second dance.
But Cicerello had a much more urgent problem to solve. He had to make it through the second dance without revealing who he really was. He explained his dilemma* to the yellow bird: “See, my friend, if I go to the second dance, the Princess will ask me who I am, her parents will reject me because I have been rejected by my own father, and she will choose another man at the third dance. If I don’t go to the second dance, she will believe I’m not interested in her and in any case choose another man at the third dance. No matter what I do, she will choose another man.” The yellow bird was wrinkling his little forehead, trying to follow what Cicerello was explaining to him. But he was sure that Cicerello already had a plan, as always.
- The word dilemma comes from the Greek word δίλημμα, which means “two propositions.” It describes a situation in which one has to make a difficult choice, typically between two (or more) equally bad options.
“Ready?” Cicerello asked the yellow bird. “100%,” responded the yellow bird proudly, knowing how important his role in tonight’s plan was. It was the evening of the second dance, and they were standing in one of the balconies on the second floor of the Royal opera house. Nobody else was up there. “What a view!” the yellow bird whispered. The ball was in full swing, and it didn’t take them long to locate the Princess. She looked even more beautiful than the last time. But she was restless waiting for the elegant young man to show up. To distract herself, she kept dancing. She even accepted dances with Cicerello’s stepbrothers, although they looked like clowns with those clunky red stones on their shoes. Then suddenly, in the middle of a dance, she saw a yellow bird flying across the ballroom. Her heart started beating faster. A few swirls later, she saw the yellow bird again. “There!” the Princess gasped. The young Noble man whom she was dancing with looked surprised: “What is it, Principessa?” “Oh, nothing,” the Princess jumped, her voice trailing off. This time she followed the yellow bird with her eyes – and there he was, standing in his full elegance: Cicerello had chosen a striped shirt in dark turquoise and white, combined with a burgundy suit. The matching bow tie was decorated with tiny stones, twinkling in the candlelight. She was mesmerized and couldn’t take her eyes off him, but she had to wait for the dance to end. Swirl after swirl, they exchanged amorous glances. Finally, the music stopped and the Princess rushed to the second floor. But, by the time she arrived, Cicerello was gone.
This time, at dinner the day after the dance, the topic of conversation of the Noble families was no longer who the young man was, but where he was, and if he would be back for the third and final dance? Even in his absence, Cicerello was the topic of the night. “Can you imagine, mom, last time the Princess refused to dance with anyone else but the young man,” the older stepbrother was sputtering, “and this time she couldn’t switch her dancing partners fast enough.” “She didn’t smile at me a single time,” the younger stepbrother jumped in, “she was just waiting for the dance to be over.” “I guess the red stones on the shoes didn’t impress her,” the stepmother commented drily. At the mention of the red stones, Cicerello and the yellow bird who were listening in from the kitchen burst out laughing. “I can’t wait to see what shoes they will be wearing next time!” Cicerello panted. “Maybe no shoes at all,” the yellow bird squeaked and couldn’t stop laughing about his own joke.
And so, as the third dance was approaching, all parties were fine-tuning their outfits and plans for the Grande Finale. The young Noble men of the island were spending hours in front of their mirrors trying on different costumes, Cicerello – taking nothing for granted – was preparing his most glamorous appearance yet, and the Princess was developing a detailed plan that would prevent the young man she desired so much, from escaping from her again. She had the Director of the Royal opera house sending her the floor maps of each floor of the opera house, so she could study them carefully and identify all exit points, including back and side doors. She assigned servants to the staircases of each floor as well as to all exits. And she had carriages waiting on all sides of the opera house, so they could follow the young man if needed. This time, she would leave nothing to chance.
When Cicerello and the yellow bird arrived at the third dance, the Princess was already expecting them. She looked stunning, wearing her most exclusive jewels for the special night. Even her cat was wearing a little crown. Cicerello, likewise, was dressed to impress. He had chosen a royal purple tailcoat, a white shirt with pearl buttons and pinstripe pants in silver gray. Only the yellow bird felt a little underdressed. But he forgot about it the moment he saw Cicerello and the Princess reunited on the dance floor. They were simply made for each other. And just like their first dance, they became completely lost in each other as the evening flew by. But this time, when Cicerello tried to sneak away during a refreshment break, he was followed.
The Princess didn’t miss a beat when she received the message that the young man had left and was heading East. With her cat squeezed under one arm, she ran down the grand stairs, jumped into her carriage waiting in front of the opera house, and gave instructions to get out of the town as fast as possible. By this time, the octopus express had already made it out of town, picking up speed quickly. Cicerello was confident that with their two horses they would easily outpace the one-horse- carriage that had been trailing them from the Royal opera house. It was a bright night, and visibility was good. Every few minutes Cicerello looked back to make sure the distance kept growing. But suddenly, there was a second carriage chasing them. The next time Cicerello looked back, the second carriage had overtaken the first one. Cicerello’s heart started beating faster. He looked back again, and indeed the distance kept shortening very quickly. Luckily, they were about to reach the narrow mountain road, so at least the other carriage couldn’t overtake them. But it kept coming closer, despite being pulled by only one horse. Soon the carriage was so close that he could see its details. He had to rub his eyes twice before he was able to believe what he saw: On the top of its roof, there was a golden sphinx shining in the moonlight. Now Cicerello knew who was following him, but he kept wondering what made her carriage go so fast.
The next day, the Princess announced her visit to Cicerello’s family for after-dinner tea. She had observed where Cicerello and the yellow bird had gotten off the octopus express and had spent the following morning writing up a list of all Noble families in the neighborhood with unmarried sons. Of course Cicerello’s family was on the list. The stepmother couldn’t believe her luck and immediately started with the preparations. Dinner would be served earlier than usual, so the house would be tidy for the Royal visit. And as the servant was off that night, Cicerello would be serving the tea. While everybody was busy getting ready, Cicerello was sitting at the kitchen table staring into space. The yellow bird had never seen his master like this before and asked timidly: “If I understand correctly, Cicerello, you are just facing another dilemma, right?” A smile flashed over Cicerello’s face: “Good bird! You learn fast. You are absolutely right: another dilemma.” The yellow bird blustered his feathers proudly. “But what will you do?” he asked anxiously. “Good question,” Cicerello was thinking out loud, “there is only one thing I know for sure: I’d rather never see the Princess again than serve her tea in these shabby clothes.” The yellow bird nodded in agreement: “Yes, we cannot let that happen, ever.” “Hence,” Cicerello concluded, “somebody else will be serving the tea tonight.” With a smirk on his face, Cicerello stood up from the kitchen table and got busy helping the housemaid.
When it was time for Cicerello to serve dinner, he entered the dining room balancing four cups of tomato soup on a heavy silver tray. As usual, he first served the father. When walking over to the stepmother, he stumbled and one of the cups fell off the tray, spilling the red soup all over the white marble floor. Everyone was staring at the mess, then at Cicerello. “How dare you?” the stepmother hissed. But the father tried to calm her down: “We are all just a little nervous tonight, aren’t we?” And to Cicerello he added, “Why don’t you go and clean it up?” Dutifully, Cicerello got a mop and started cleaning the floor. Then it was time to serve the main course. Cicerello made sure he put some extra gravy on the older stepbrother’s plate – just enough for it to spill over when he served it. Now everyone was staring at the greasy brown stain on the stepbrother’s white shirt. “Enough!” the stepmother yelled, “You will stay in the kitchen for the rest of the evening.” The father agreed: “I’m sorry, but the housemaid will serve the tea tonight.” Without looking at anyone Cicerello vanished into the kitchen, silently triumphant.
Soon the Princess knocked at the door, and she was led into the parlor. The housemaid hurried to her attention, making sure to leave the connecting doors from the kitchen to the dining room, and from the dining room to the parlor, wide open so Cicerello and the yellow bird would overhear the conversation. After the tea was served, the Princess explained why she was here, and described who she was looking for. Unfortunately, no one in the room matched the Princess’ description of the young man. “Is there another young man in the house?” the Princess asked hopefully. But everyone in the room was shaking their head. Kindly the Princess switched the topic while finishing her tea. Then she stood up and started looking for her cat who had quietly gone for a little stroll around the mansion without anyone’s notice. Not even Cicerello or the yellow bird had seen her entering the kitchen, as they had been so concentrated listening in. When the cat heard her mistress calling, she started meowing without moving an inch, forcing the Princess to come to the kitchen to pick her up – and to see Cicerello.
Before Cicerello could escape through the back door, the Princess had recognized him. Despite his shabby clothes, the amorous look in his eyes had betrayed him. “Principessa?” Cicerello asked timidly. “Here you are!” the Princess cheered. And with a smirk she added, “Finally I’ve found you!” The amazement and joy was huge, and Cicerello had a lot of explaining to do. He had to explain to the Princess why he was hiding. And he had to explain to his father how he met the Princess. And he had to explain to all of them, who Cicerello was. As it turned out, everyone in the room had heard great things about Cicerello, but no one in the room knew that it was him. The father couldn’t have been more proud of his son, and the Princess couldn’t have been more in love with her Prince. Even the stepmother had to admit that they were a perfect match. That’s when the yellow bird gathered all his courage and approached the sphinx cat: “Hello. I’m the yellow bird,” he boldly chirped, “I think what you did was pretty cool.” The cat turned around, surprised: “Thank you, yellow bird, nice to meet you. I’m the sphinx cat.”
As the Princess was walking Cicerello to her carriage to take him home and introduce him to her parents, Cicerello could no longer hold back his curiosity: “My love, what is the secret behind your carriage? What makes it so fast?” The Princess looked at him with a sly smile: “So you like my prototype*, Cicerello?” “Your what?” Cicerello asked confused. “My prototype –the first model of a new type of carriage. It’s built in a way that makes it much lighter and much safer, and hence you can go much faster.” “Sounds too good to be true,” Cicerello responded skeptically, “where did you buy it?” “I didn’t buy it anywhere,” the Princess answered, “I made it.” Cicerello’s eyes widened, now she had his full attention: “You made this carriage, Principessa?” “Yes,” the Princess responded proudly, “I designed it, and I helped build it. Engineering is my passion. Ever since I was a little girl, I have spent countless hours with the engineers in my father’s Royal factories. Look,” and she guided Cicerello around the carriage, pointing at different elements of the construction, “the suspension is based on special springs, the wheels are sanded in a special way, and the cabin is built from a special wood.” Cicerello was staring at her in awe. This made her a little uncomfortable, but with a wink she opened the door of her carriage: “Shall we?” Once in the carriage, Cicerello leaned back, enjoying the ride with the Princess. “This is a completely new travel experience!” Cicerello exclaimed happily, “Not sure how much this is because of you, and how much this is because of the primustype?” he added with a smirk. “Prototype,” the Princess corrected him with a warm smile and took his hand. By the time they arrived at the castle, the yellow bird and the sphinx cat had become friends. Cicerello received a warm welcome from his new family, and they all lived happily ever after.
- The word prototype is made of a prefix (proto) and a root (type). The prefix prot° comes from Greek and means “first in time” or “original.” Hence prototype means the first or original type of something. For example, in the case of vehicles or devices, it is the first full-scale and functional form of a new type or design. The word can also be applied to people. In that case it is the person who is the first to show a distinct set of characteristics that later will be adopted by others. For example, Robin Hood is the prototype of an outlaw hero. Or Barbara Streisand is the prototype of a modern-day diva.
Cicerello: A Fairy Tale for Fearless Boys and Girls
Like all other young men of the Island, Cicerello wants to go to the three dances at the Royal opera house when the Princess will choose her husband. But Cicerello’s stepmother would not allow him to go. With the little help from his friends, Cicerello manages to attend the first dance and catch the Princess’s attention. But will she ever see him again?
This Cinderella-inspired tale with reversed roles takes fearless boys and girls on a journey of creative thinking, adventurous curiosity, and romantic persistence. The greatest love story ever, completely retold. It will make your child's eyes glow, and your heart melt. The short scientific and linguistic explanations throughout the book make it very tangible.
- ISBN: 9780996564847
- Author: Elisabeth Glas
- Published: 2017-04-04 11:20:07
- Words: 5132