[This is a tale I wrote this morning, originally in my very bad Italian. I thought I’d put it into English for your enjoyment.]
One day when the sun shone brilliantly in the clear blue sky, like it does during childhood summers that seem to stretch out into eternity, a mouse went for a walk in the lush green forest. When the sun reached its peak at midday, he stopped beside a stream to take a refreshing sip of water; the long walk had made him very thirsty. Having taken a drink, he then decided to nap. Without any difficulty whatsoever, the young mouse climbed a tree nearby and sat himself down on a leafy branch to rest. He had barely closed his eyes when he heard a strange sound. Wait a minute… he strained his ears. It was unlike anything he’d heard before. It sounded like someone was crying.
He jumped to his feet immediately and ran towards the source of this awful sound, so mournful that it seemed it could tear his heart into a million pieces.
And there, under a bright green leaf, the little mouse was greeted by a sight more beautiful and more heart-breaking than any he’d seen before. There, before his very eyes, stood a butterfly with striking black and orange wings and she was wailing sorrowfully. He didn’t need to ask why; one of her delicate wings was snapped in two like a dry twig.
The mouse made a quick decision: he sent a pigeon to inform all the animals in the wood of his discovery, calling them to an urgent conference.
He didn’t have to wait long – such dire news had them all rushing to get there. Within a few minutes, they began to arrive: every species of bird, deer, foxes, squirrels, rabbits, snakes, wolves, ants… and of course, the conference couldn’t possibly begin in the absence of the king of the animals: the lion and his majestic queen.
Upon their arrival, the birds began to chatter incessantly. It’s a well-known fact that birds – especially sparrows – are chatterboxes and extremely noisy, and they’ll gossip about everything and anything. Growing impatient, the lion kindly asked them to desist and called them to order because their chatter was giving him a headache. With the birds silenced, he launched straight into the business of the day.
“Who here can speak the language of butterflies?” asked the lion. “It’s the only way we’ll find out what really happened and who must be punished for this heinous crime.”
For it is a crime to injure such a harmless creature. In fact, in this particular forest, butterflies were sacred animals. Harming a butterfly in any way constituted a criminal act, punishable by death.
“I,” a deep voice resounded across the woods. “I can speak with her.” All the animals turned to look. The voice belonged to an owl perched on a low branch above their heads. Quite an ugly animal, but extremely wise. Everyone knows owls are the wisest animals in the world. Of course, this means they speak several languages.
A quick flutter of wings saw the huge owl land next to the butterfly. What followed was a silent interrogation. The bird and the injured butterfly spoke quickly and silently, using only a few gestures and their eyes. Butterflies don’t have an extensive vocabulary; they don’t need it.
“Unfortunately, it was a human who broke her wing,” announced the owl a few minutes later. “But she says she doesn’t wish him to be punished.” The old owl shot the upset butterfly a glance, as if to make sure he was interpreting her words correctly.
“She says she is in love with him.”
A weighty, shocked silence spread between them, like an invisible mist seeping into the clearing. A butterfly. In love. With a human? Inconceivable!
“So… what do we do, sir?” the mouse finally dared to ask the question on everyone’s mind, in his high-pitched voice. The troubled lion looked at the butterfly, his large eyes gleaming golden as the Sun itself. He had to think this through.
A long silence. Nothing moved. Not so much as a leaf, as if the entire forest held its breath.
“Find him, and bring him here,” commanded the lion. The search would give him time to contemplate punishment. The butterfly began to weep again.
In just a few hours, the animals found the culprit and brought him before their king. He was young, not yet a man and no longer a child. Just a simple shepherd. He had no traces of a beard to speak of, but his suntanned complexion and his confident demeanor gave the impression he was much older than his sixteen years.
The lion stood and approached the stranger, but failed to strike fear into the shepherd’s soul. His brown eyes gazed calmly back into those of the carnivorous feline. In fact, he seemed ready to face his destiny.
“You have harmed this butterfly. A crime punishable by death. Do you desire to say anything before we execute this punishment?” the lion asked.
The owl translated everything; as we’ve already said, owls are multilingual creatures.
“It was an accident,” the youth replied truthfully. “I was just trying to stroke her and ended up being too forceful. But I didn’t mean to hurt her in any way. I love her with all my heart.”
The butterfly cried out a tearful reply, echoing his words. The lioness then spoke up:
“You did not mean to hurt her, but you did.”
Nothing could be done; the shepherd had to be punished for his actions. It was the law.
The butterfly spoke up timidly.
“Before…before he is p-put to death, I would very much like to hear him sing for me again. Just one last time. Please, sir,” she implored the lion, clearly distraught. The lion, an animal neither cruel nor insensitive to her plight, agreed to grant her this wish, because he respected her greatly.
And so, the animals listened to the shepherd’s song.
The youth opened his mouth and out poured a sweet melody. He sang of lost loves, poisoned dreams, promises that were never kept, happiness and sadness, and the simple joys of being alive.
The song was so melodious and so moving that all of them had tears in their eyes by the time he was finished. Even the lion himself was greatly moved – it had touched his very soul – and he hated the idea that he’d have to execute such a passionate and talented singer.
So, the wise king made a decision.
He lifted his giant paw, and, before any of them could blink, the shepherd was gone. In his place stood a nightingale.
From then onwards, he was condemned to live as a tiny and rather plain-looking, unimpressive, bird whose voice was powerful as the wind and completely enchanting. And every evening, the nightingale searches for his beloved butterfly among the thick branches of trees, but will never find her.
This is why nightingales are the birds with the sweetest and the most melancholy voices of all.
And that is the tale of the butterfly and her love, the nightingale.