A king falls ill and is told by his doctors that the only way he can be cured is by obtaining a feather from the ogre that eats every human being it sees. No one of his subjects is willing to go on a quest for one of the ogre’s feathers, until one attendant bravely volunteers to go. The man is told that the ogre lives in a cave on a mountaintop. Along the way, he stops at an inn, where the innkeeper asks if the man will bring back a feather for him, for good luck, and if he will ask the ogre if he knows where the innkeeper’s daughter, who disappeared years ago, may be. The man agrees and goes on his way.
He then takes a ferry across the river, and the ferryman asks if he will bring back a feather for him and if he will ask the ogre how he can escape from the ferry, as he has not been able to go ashore for years. The man agrees and goes on his way. He then stops to rest by a fountain, and two noblemen ask if he will bring them back a feather and if he will ask the ogre why their fountain, which once spewed silver and gold, has gone dry. The man agrees to do this and goes on his way. He next stops at a monastery, where the monks ask if he will bring them back a feather as well and if he will ask the ogre why it is that there has been so much discord among the monks for the past ten years. The monks also give the man advice about how to find the ogre. The man agrees to do this, and the next day he climbs the mountain and enters the seventh of seven caves, at the very end of which is the door to the ogre’s home.
When the man knocks on the ogre’s door, the ogre’s wife, a beautiful girl, answers. When he explains that he has come for some of the ogre’s feathers, she warns him that the ogre eats every human being he sees. The girl agrees to help him obtain the feathers and to answer the questions he has so that she can escape the ogre, whom she can’t stand. When the ogre comes home, the man hides under the bed, and the girl serves the ogre his dinner.
When the girl and the ogre go to bed and the ogre has fallen asleep, the girl plucks one of his feathers and hands it to the man under the bed. When the ogre wakes up with an “ouch!,” the girl explains that she had been dreaming that the monks in the monastery had been fighting amongst each other for the past ten years. The ogre responds that the monks have been in discord because the Devil has been living among them, dressed as a priest. When the ogre falls asleep again, the girl plucks another of his feathers and hands it to the man under the bed. When the ogre awakens a second time, she explains that she had been dreaming that the fountain owned by the two noblemen that used to spew silver and gold had dried up. The ogre responds that in fact the fountain has gone dry, because it is blocked up by a snake sleeping curled around a ball. He tells her that the noblemen would have to crush the snake’s head under the ball so that the fountain would once again pour silver and gold. When the ogre falls back to sleep, the girl plucks another of his feathers and hands it to the man under the bed. When the ogre awakens a third time, she explains that she had been dreaming that the ferry man had been unable to leave his ferry for years. The ogre responds that this is true, and that he could only be freed from the ferry by jumping to shore before his next passenger gets off the ferry. That way, the passenger would be stuck on the ferry, and the ferry man would be free to go. When the ogre falls back to sleep, the girl plucks a forth feather and hands it to the man under the bed. When the ogre awakens a fourth time, she explains that she had been dreaming that the innkeeper had lost his daughter and had not seen her for years. The ogre responds that she herself is the daughter of the innkeeper.
The next morning, after the ogre leaves for work, the girl and the man flee the ogre’s cave together. They first stop at the monastery, where they give the monks a feather and explain that the Devil is living among them, dressed as a priest, and that if all the real priests do good deeds, the Devil will be found out; this they do, and the Devil is sent away. They then stop at the fountain of the noblemen, to whom they give a feather and explain how to unblock their fountain. After they have taken the ferry to the opposite shore and gotten off, they give the ferryman a feather and explain to him how he can be free from the ferry. When they come to the inn, they give the innkeeper a feather, and he is so grateful for his daughter’s return that he gives the man her hand in marriage. The man then brings a feather to the king, who recovers from his illness and rewards the man. When the man explains that he is off to be married, the king doubles his reward.
The ogre, meanwhile, upon discovering his wife’s absence, goes in search of her and the man, with the intention of eating them both. When he takes the ferry across the river, the ferryman jumps ashore, leaving the ogre trapped on the ferry.
Jennifer Smith – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 12, Italo Calvino, Published by Gale Group, 2001.