Once upon a time there lived a king and queen who longed to have a son. As none came, one day they made a vow at the shrine of St. James that if their prayers were granted the boy should set out on a pilgrimage as soon as he had passed his eighteenth birthday. And fancy their delight when one evening the king returned home from hunting and saw a baby lying in the cradle.
All the people came crowding round to peep at it, and declared it was the most beautiful baby that ever was seen. Of course that is what they always say, but this time it happened to be true. And every day the boy grew bigger and stronger till he was twelve years old, when the king died, and he was left alone to take care of his mother.
In this way six years passed by, and his eighteenth birthday drew near. When she thought of this the queen’s heart sank within her, for he was the light of her eyes’ and how was she to send him forth to the unknown dangers that beset a pilgrim? So day by day she grew more and more sorrowful, and when she was alone wept bitterly.
Now the queen imagined that no one but herself knew how sad she was, but one morning her son said to her, ‘Mother, why do you cry the whole day long?’
‘Nothing, nothing, my son; there is only one thing in the world that troubles me.’
‘What is that one thing?’ asked he. ‘Are you afraid your property is badly managed? Let me go and look into the matter.’
This pleased the queen, and he rode off to the plain country, where his mother owned great estates; but everything was in beautiful order, and he returned with a joyful heart, and said, ‘Now, mother, you can be happy again, for your lands are better managed than anyone else’s I have seen. The cattle are thriving; the fields are thick with corn, and soon they will be ripe for harvest.’
‘That is good news indeed,’ answered she; but it did not seem to make any difference to her, and the next morning she was weeping and wailing as loudly as ever.
‘Dear mother,’ said her son in despair, ‘if you will not tell me what is the cause of all this misery I shall leave home and wander far through the world.’
‘Ah, my son, my son,’ cried the queen, ‘it is the thought that I must part from you which causes me such grief; for before you were born we vowed a vow to St. James that when your eighteenth birthday was passed you should make a pilgrimage to his shrine, and very soon you will be eighteen, and I shall lose you. And for a whole year my eyes will never be gladdened by the sight of you, for the shrine is far away.’
‘Will it take no longer than that to reach it?’ said he. ‘Oh, don’t be so wretched; it is only dead people who never return. As long as I am alive you may be sure I will come back to you.’
After this manner he comforted his mother, and on his eighteenth birthday his best horse was led to the door of the palace, and he took leave of the queen in these words, ‘Dear mother, farewell, and by the help of fate I shall return to you as soon as I can.’