Crack and Crook
“Crack and Crook” is an Italian folktale of two thieves who find each other by trying to steal from each other. They then team up and break into the king’s treasury and make away with much of his riches. Flummoxed by this, the king consults a thief in his dungeon on how to best capture these rogues.
From here, the story starts getting weird. Attempts to capture the thieves start out simple enough: raising the price of meat so that only the thieves will be able to purchase it. But then it moves on to the grim: setting out a pot of pitch at the bottom of the stairs in the treasury, so that when they steal again, they’ll fall into it and die. Crook does, indeed, fall in and die. The story then devolves into a decapitation, a dragging of the body through the streets, and a beating of Crook’s widow—two of which are committed by the surviving thief, Crack.
In a final attempt to capture Crack, the king decrees he will pardon the thief who robbed his treasury if he can steal the sheets out from under him at night. By employing ingenious–and gross–diversion skills of hanging a dead body outside the king’s window, Crack steals the king’s sheets and he is pardoned. Also, in true fairytale fashion, he gets to marry the king’s daughter (to keep him on the straight and narrow, you see).
I really, really love fairytales.
Source: Calvino, Italo, “Crack and Crook”, Italian Folktales, Penguin Books, 2002. Translated by George Martin.