In a far-away land, there lived three brothers. They were very close to one another, as their parents died when they were very young and they grew up raising each other. The eldest brother, Cordano, and the middle brother, Arno, were two of the best farmers to be found. The youngest, Ladrino, did not possess such talents. Instead, he lead a life of thievery. He was so cunning and charming in his ways that few folks ever realized he was stealing from them. Once when returning home from a heist, he crossed paths with a beautiful woman named Guida whose charm was greater than his, and he immediately fell in love. The two soon had a baby boy, whom they named Fortunato. Ladrino soon realized that thievery could not support his family so he set out to a new land with his family to start fresh. Ladrino's brothers loved him very much and loved their nephew even more, so they agreed to come along to ensure that all went well.
The three brothers, Guida, and Fortunato travelled for a week before they came to a kingdom where there lived a powerful King and they decided to settle. Throughout his reign, he faced incredibly formidable adversaries. While away at battle, the King's wife had grown ill and passed away leaving him overcome with anger, sadness, and fear. He realized that his skills were not as sharp as they used to be, making a defeat in battle an unsettling possibility. He knew he had to find an heir. A courtier informed him of a family new to the kingdom that had a baby boy. The King, still angry over the loss of his wife and child, decided to steal this boy and raise him as his own child.
The next day, the King, along with his retinue, set out to the brothers' home. On his way, he encountered a fairy who declared, "You will find the boy you desire, but be wary. Anything you do to the boy's family will ultimately be done to your crown. " The fairy then disappeared and the King, mindful of the fairy's prophecy, continued on his quest. When they arrived at the brothers' home, they were greeted by Cordano, for the others had gone out to start the day's work. Hastily, the King exclaimed, "I have heard of a baby boy in this house, and I intend to take him and raise him as my own, for he will be the protector of my crown. " Knowing how much Ladrino loved his baby boy, Cordano responded, "Your Majesty, too kind is your interest in taking the child and giving him a better life than he can ever hope for in this lodging. But his father loves him very dearly, and may find your demand too difficult. " The King became outraged and ordered his men to hang Cordano right there on the spot.
Arno, Ladrino, Guida, and Fortunato returned to see the King and his men surrounding their house. "Wait here," said Arno, "I will go see what the King and his men are doing here, and I will come back for you if all is well. " The family did as they were instructed and Arno set out to his home. Just as the King's men were about to hang Cordano, Arno appeared before them. When the King saw Arno, he exclaimed, "I have heard of a baby boy in this house, and I intend to take him and raise him as my own, for he will be the protector of my crown. Your brother's refusal will get him hanged. I hope you have more brains than he. " Arno responded, "My lord, I am greatly saddened by the fate that will become of my older brother, but I do not believe our youngest brother will give up his baby boy. He loves him too dearly and will give up anything for the boy. " The King was even more enraged and he ordered his men to drown Arno in the nearby river. Arno tried to free Cordano and put up a fight, but the King and his men were too powerful. They captured both of them and prepared them for death, as the King demanded.
After some time, Ladrino returned home, for it was getting late and Fortunato was becoming restless. Ladrino, with Fortunato in his arms, walked home alongside Guida. When the three reached their house, all three of them witnessed the lifeless bodies of Cordano, who was hanging, and Arno, who was drowned. Ladrino set Fortunato aside and ran to try to retrieve the bodies of his dead brothers. The King stopped him and exclaimed, "I know you have a baby boy. I intend to take him and raise him as my own, for he will be the protector of my crown. Your brothers refused to let me do so, and you can see what has become of them. " Ladrino knew that if he refused to give in to the King's demands, he and Guida would be killed, and Fortunato stolen anyway. While holding back tears, Ladrino responded, "Oh great King, I am taken away by your kindness and generosity. All I want is for my Fortunato to live a wonderful life, and now he will live as a prince! You may have him, and I hope he grows up to serve the crown magnificently. " The King was suspicious of Ladrino's response and ordered that Ladrino and his wife only be allowed to live in the nearby forest, never showing their faces within the kingdom. Ladrino, deeply saddened, embraced Forutanto long and tenderly, then handed him to the King. As Fortunato was carried to the King's castle, he witnessed the King's men toss Ladrino and Guida, as well as their belongings, into the forest.
Years passed and Fortunato received an education only available to princes. He had cunning traits no one in the kingdom had seen. When Fortunato had grown old enough to wander the kingdom, he went into the forest with a group of friends. They came across a small lodging that seemed eerily familiar to Fortunato. Fortunato's friends challenged him to steal vegetables from the small garden. Always eager to show his cunning, he agreed. Just as he picked out a cabbage, an older man darted from the lodging and started chasing him. He refused to give up chase, so the two of them ran out of the forest towards the kingdom, where they happened to come across the King who was riding on a hunt. Fortunato ran past the King, but the older man stopped dead in his tracks. The King recognized this man as Ladrino and ordered him to stop. Fortunato turned around to see the events taking place, and saw the King slap the old man across the face. The old man looked towards Fortunato with tears in his eyes, turned around and slowly walked back into the forest. The King then came to Fortunato and told him to never go into the forest again. When the two of them returned to the castle, they both noticed that the King's crown had a red handprint across its monde. Fortunato realized it resembled the mark left on the old man's face by the King.
Fortunato could not stop thinking about these events so he decided to sneak into the forest again to apologize to the old man for the treatment he suffered. When Fortunato returned to the forest, he saw an older woman near the familiar lodging, her face so familiar to Fortunato. As Fortunato came closer, the woman looked up from her work at him. She immediately recognized him and broke into tears. Fortunato went over to her, and as he was consoling her, the old man came out of the lodging. He also broke into tears when he saw Fortunato. Fortunato apologized for stealing food from his garden and for the slap that the King had given him. The old man responded, "Oh Fortunato, I would take a thousand more if it meant I could see you again!" Fortunato was confused and the old couple explained to Fortunato how he was taken by the King as a baby and how they were forced to spend the rest of their lives in the forest, never to see him again. Fortunato became furious. He knew the King's ruthlessness, but not that he was stolen from his real parents. Fortunato determined to come up with a plan to shame the King and steal his prized possession, the crown, and give it to his real father, Ladrino. After Fortunato, Ladrino, and Guida had worked out a plan, Fortunato returned to the kingdom.
One of the King's courtiers noticed Fortunato return home from the forest and informed the King who summoned Fortunato, and when he told the King that he had gone into the forest, the King slapped Fortunato across the face. Fortunato, expecting this response from the King, shouted, "Father, I tire of your rules. You are becoming too old and I know what is better for our kingdom. I challenge you to a competition. Have one of your court members hang your crown high above the river that flows through our kingdom. The first one to capture the crown rules the kingdom. " The King was surprised by Fortunato's challenge, but agreed to it figuring he could easily defeat the boy, who had not even finished his prince's training. He ordered his men to hang his crown, which still had a faded red mark across its face, high above the river. As the men set out to perform the deed, Ladrino snuck into the kingdom and stole a courtier's uniform while he was sleeping. Disguised, Ladrino waited at the base of the foundation holding the crown above the river. Fortunato and the King prepared themselves and awaited for the signal to begin the competition.
As the signal was given, the King raced out in front of Fortunato. The King was older than Fortunato, but he still had the speed of his younger years. He reached the base of the structure holding the crown, and began climbing. Fortunato was right behind climbing. As the King made it to the top and began reaching for the crown, Ladrino, still disguised as one of the King's men guarding the foot of the base, sneakily cut the rope holding the crown. The crown fell from high above into the river, and slowly began sinking. Both the King and Fortunato jumped in trying to reach the crown. On this particular day, the river current was very strong, and it began carrying the crown all the way to the forest. The contestants followed the glistening of the crown that appeared every so often as if struggling to escape drowning. As the contestants swam, Ladrino snuck away from his post and ran to his home in the forest. There he left his courtier clothes and returned to the forest entrance. When the crown had made it a fair distance into the forest, Guida fished it out and hid it in her home. She returned to the river wearing the clothes Ladrino left in the house, disguised as one of the King's men. The King, so eager to retrieve the crown and end the competition, was the first to reach the forest and he continued along in the river, hoping to catch another glistening sign of the crown. Fortunato, meanwhile, met up with Ladrino near the entrance to the forest.
After the King travelled a distance into the forest, he came across Guida in disguise. "Courtier, where is my crown!" he exclaimed. Guida responded, "I saw Fortunato take it into that cavern there, shouting that he was going to burn it so that no king could rule the land!" The King was enraged, so he rushed to the cavern looking for Fortunato. Guida followed the King to the entrance, and once the King had entered, his haste caused him to trip into a deep pit. She then covered the entrance of the cavern with a boulder so that that King could never leave nor be heard.
Guida returned home, retrieved the crown, and met Ladrino and Fortunato. Fortunato returned to the castle with the crown, and it was decreed that he would become the new king of the land. He decreed that his father, Ladrino, become king instead. "The King stole what you loved dearly many years ago. It is only fitting that you do the same to him," said Fortunato. After some persuading, Ladrino finally accepted his new role, and the family lived a long, happy life from that point on.