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Once upon a time a young man named Arion wandered throughout the land playing music and singing. Everyone who heard his voice stopped to listen, for he sang more beautifully than anyone they had ever heard. When the King of Corinth heard his voice, he invited Arion to live in the palace and become his special musician.
Arion became like a son to the king. He entertained all the palace visitors, and soon his fame spread far and wide. One day an invitation came to him from Sicily. “Come play your music at our festival,” the invitation announced. “First prize in the competition is a bag of gold.”
“Go, my son,” said the King of Corinth. “I am sure you will win, and you should share your gift with everyone.” The king ordered his crew of sailors to take Arion by ship to Sicily. As they stood at the harbor, the king said, “Do not forget to return to your home.”
“I promise to return as soon as the contest is finished,” Arion told the king. And the ship set sail.
When Arion arrived in Sicily, he saw that all the best musicians had gathered. Music filled the air, for the musicians played day and night. One after another they took their place upon the stage and filled the world with song. Arion was entranced.
When his turn came, Arion strode to the stage and sang so beautifully that everyone fell silent, awed by the beauty of his voice.The King of Sicily requested an encore, and when Arion had finished his song, the king stepped onto the stage and awarded Arion first prize.
Hundreds of admirers gathered round, offering the singer jewels and sweets and all kinds of treasures. “Please,” they begged him, “stay in Sicily. Play for us forever.”
Arion shook his head. “I promised my king I would return to my home, and I always keep my promises,” he told the disappointed crowd. “I will visit you again one day.”
A crowd gathered at the harbor to wish Arion a safe journey and to wave farewell to the famous singer. Arion stood on the prow of the ship waving goodbye until everyone was out of sight. Then he turned to enter his cabin, but he was shocked to see an angry, boisterous crew surrounding him.
“You are too wealthy,” said the ship’s captain. “We are going to kill you and keep your treasures for ourselves.”
“Please,” Arion begged the men. “Take my treasures, but spare my life. I care nothing for jewels and gold. All I want to do is live in peace to sing.”
The captain laughed. “You will change your mind as soon as we arrive in Corinth. You will keep your treasures and leave us empty-handed. We cannot let you live.”
Arion promised again and again, urging the men to let him live, but the sailors only shouted and stamped their feet, demanding Arion’s life.
Arion saw that all was lost. He sank to his knees and looked into the captain’s dark face. “Since I see you will kill me,” he said, “allow me one last wish. I wish to sing before I die.”
“You may,” said the Captain, “but when you have reached the last note, you will leap overboard. We shall tell the king you drowned yourself.”
Arion climbed sadly to the prow, looking out over the sea he loved. He began to sing, and his voice, now filled with longing, was more beautiful than it had ever been. When he reached the last note, he leaped into the sea.
The ship sailed on, leaving Arion adrift on the waves.
To Arion’s astonishment, he suddenly he felt a swell beneath him, and he was lifted upon the back of a dolphin. A school of dolphins had gathered round to hear Arion’s song, and when he leaped into the water, they swam to him. The largest dolphin swam beneath him, pushing him upon her back, while the others swam beside and behind them. In this formation they traveled all the way to Corinth, arriving long before the ship reached shore.
The king was so happy to see Arion that he did not notice his wet clothing, but after he had heard a sweet new song, Arion told him all that had happened.
The king raged when he heard of the crew’s mutiny. When the ship reached port the next morning, the king sent for the captain and his crew.
“Where is Arion?” the king asked, pretending not to know.
“He stayed in Sicily,” said the captain. “He refused to come with us. We begged him to return to you, but at last we gave up and returned to tell you this news.”
The king listened and nodded. He urged the captain to add details to his tale. And so the captain talked of Arion’s happiness in Sicily and his decision to abandon his king.
When the captain was finished, he bowed to the king, and as he did, Arion stepped into the room from behind a wide curtain. He wore the same clothes he had worn when he leaped from the ship’s prow. When the captain saw the figure, he began to tremble. “A ghost!” he cried. “This must be a ghost,” and in his fright, he confessed all to the king.
The king banished the captain from his land that very day, and retrieved Arion’s treasure. Arion stayed in the kingdom to sing for the king and his guests. And every time he sang, the dolphins gathered near the shore to hear him.
by Amy Friedman and Meredith Johnson