A Story From: Saudi Arabia
Read Time: ["16 to 20mins"]
For Ages: 8 to 10yrs.
The Three Princes ~ Short Stories for Kids in English
LONG AGO on the Arabian Peninsula, merchants traveled in caravans to carry spices, almonds and dates along major trade routes that crisscrossed the desert. Where trade routes crossed is where a number of cities flourished. In one of those cities there ruled a king whose daughter had come of marriageable age. Three princes of nearby cities came to court her. But the princess looked at them with alarm. One prince was bossy, the second prince was unclean in his habits, and the third suitor was conceited.
"Father, I beg you," she cried, "don't make me marry any of them!"
The king loved his daughter. But he didn't want to offend her suitors and risk angering his neighboring city-states.
"I'll think about it," he said to the three suitors. "Come back tomorrow."
The next day, he summoned them and the princess to his throne room.
"Each of you is a perfectly worthy suitor for my daughter's hand," the king said. "Therefore, to make the correct decision I have determined that the three of you must venture into the world for one year and a day. Whoever returns with the most wondrous item will win my daughter's hand in marriage."
The princess was glad for the one-year extension. And the king was also glad to postpone the matter. Who knows what might happen in one year and a day? Perhaps, he silently hoped, none of them would return.
The three princes set out together. After traveling for one week they came to a well that was located by a fork in the road. At the fork, the road branched into three separate paths.
"Obviously, this is where we should part," stated the first prince with great authority.
"Don't you think we know that?" said the second prince, wiping his dirty hands on his cloak.
"What you didn't think through," said the first prince, the bossy one, "is that we should all plan meet here one week before we return to the palace, to compare what we found."
"I only hope the maidens don't slow me down by falling in love with me," said the third prince, throwing back his hair. "It can be such a nuisance."
And so the three princes agreed to the plan, and they went their separate ways. When the time came to return to the well, each one followed his separate path that led back to the well.
"You look a little the worse for wear," said the first prince to the second. "I'm fine," said the second prince, blowing his nose onto his sleeve. "Tell us, what did you find?"
"Only a crystal ball," said the first prince, as nonchalantly as he could, "that shows anything you want to see that's happening anywhere in the world."
The other two were impressed (and a bit worried). Said the first prince to the second, "What wondrous item did you find?"
From under his cloak the second prince unrolled a carpet. "A flying carpet. People who sit on it can be transported anywhere in the world they wish to go in minutes."
"If they don't mind sitting next to you," said the conceited prince, holding his nose. And now it was the third prince's turn to show what he had found.
"This vial," said the third prince, "holds a magical healing ointment. One dab of it will restore the health of anyone, no matter how sick. And they say if it's rubbed with true love, can even restore youth."
"Speaking of health," said the second prince to the first, "since you have a crystal ball, let's take a look at our princess and see how she fares."
The first prince waved his hands over the crystal ball; its cloudiness disappeared and was replaced with an image of the princess lying in her bed, as still as death. Her father and the court physicians hovered over her.
"Isn't there anything you can do?" they heard the king say.
"Sire, we have done everything," said the head court physician. "I'm sorry, but she has very little time left."
The three princes leapt up, alarmed. "Alas!" cried the third prince. "My ointment would heal her, but we're too far from the palace - we'll never get there in time!"
"Quick, everyone on my magic carpet," said the second prince. "We'll be there in a flash!"
Indeed, moments later the three princes were standing in the very room they had viewed through the crystal ball only minutes before. Everyone was so distraught they didn't notice the three princes had suddenly appeared in the room. Without a word, the third prince stepped up to the princess' bed and with his finger touched a dab of ointment on her forehead and set the ointment by her bedstand. She blinked and seconds later opened her eyes. Then she moved her head, and sat up. "I feel better," she said.
"It's a miracle!" cried the father. He embraced his daughter with joy.
Later that night, the three princes appeared before the king.
"Your majesty," said the first prince, "each of us may have located a magical item. But there is no doubt that my crystal ball is the most wondrous item of all. Without it, none of us would even have known the princess was sick in the first place. I submit that mine is the most wondrous item. Therefore I deserve the hand of the princess."
"With all due respect," said the second prince, stepping forward. "While it was informative to learn that the princess was sick, had we had not been able to travel a week's journey in a blink of an eye on my flying carpet, that knowledge would have done us no good. I submit that mine is the most wondrous item. Therefore I deserve the hand of the princess."
"Good sire," said the third prince. "While it may have been useful to learn the princess was sick and was helpful to arrive here as quickly as we did, had we not had my magical ointment, all that knowledge and all that quickness would have been in vain. I submit that mine is the most wondrous item. Therefore I deserve the hand of the princess."
The king was perplexed. Each of the princes made a good argument. And since the question was so close, no matter which prince he selected, he was sure to raise the ire of the other two and their neighboring city-states.
"I'll think about it," he said, "Come back tomorrow."
That night, the king summoned his advisors, called in those land viziers, to ask their advice. "Sire," said his head vizier, "there is a wise old man who lives amongst us who hails from very far away, a distant country called Russia. He is well known for his sage advice. If we allow him to make the decision, the communities of the princes who aren't chosen will get angry at a country far away, and not at us."
"Excellent thought," said the king. "Summon him to court tomorrow."
The next day when the three princes arrived to hear which of them would be selected, at court stood a very old man. He hobbled on his cane and spoke in a whisper. The three princes repeated why they thought they deserved the hand of the princess.
"As far as I'm concerned," asserted the king, "each of these fine young men has an equal claim to my daughter's hand. And so," he turned to his guest, "I am interested. You come from a faraway land and it is said you give wise advice. What is your opinion?"
The old man coughed and cleared his throat. "Your Majesty, first allow me to say that it is an honor to be in your court." He raised a shaky hand toward the princes. "There's no doubt that each of you brought a wondrous item that saved the life of the princess. But in my country, when it comes to marriage, there are those who say that the young woman, whose happiness is at stake, should have a say in the matter. And so I would ask our Royal Highness." He turned to her. "Princess, whom do you wish to marry?"
The princess was silent a moment. She raised her head and faced the three princes. "Each of you saved my life and for that I will always be grateful. Yet this old man is the only one," she said, looking at the Russian, "who understands that the choice is one that should be mine to make. And so, Father, if you please," and here the princess stepped toward the old man, "I choose him."
Gasps of shock ran throughout the court. Some ladies fainted and were carried out. The king blustered, "But, but...you can't!" The princess picked up the magic ointment, took the old Russian's hand, and with a dab of the ointment rubbed the back of his hand. Instantly a haze surrounded him. When she removed her hand, incredibly, the old man had straightened up to become tall and dark, with the lines of an earnest young man chiseled on his cheeks. Restored to the strength and handsome stature of his youth, he smiled at the princess.
"Each of you will have large tracts of land to rule," the king quickly said to the three princes. "We will never forget what you did for our royal family." The three princes, of course, still had in their possession the magical items of the crystal ball, the flying carpet, and the vial of healing ointment, and it wasn't long before they attracted fine princesses to marry from neighboring lands.
And so they all lived happily ever after, as may you.
Retold by Elaine L. Lindy. ©2006. All rights reserved.
This retelling is a blending of two stories from Saudi Arabia and Russia, with a smidgeon from a Serbian folk tale. The story motif of "who gets to marry the princess" is prevalent in folk literature throughout the Middle East, Asia and Europe. Typically someone other than the female makes the choice; an ending where the female makes the choice is rare. In the version from Saudi Arabia, referenced below under "Other Versions," the three princes save the princess' life by using a crystal ball, a flying carpet, and a magical healing orange; the princess chooses to marry the third prince who delivered the magical healing orange because it was the only magical item that was fully consumed and gone. In this retelling, the magical healing orange was replaced with a vial of magical healing ointment (the smidgeon from the Serbian version). This revision enabled the story to flow toward a different ending - one from a Russian folk tale. In the Russian version, also referenced below, the three suitors consult a wise man who determines that the woman is the one who rightly decides whom she will marry, and for that insight she selects the wise man (who's magically restored to his youth). Thus, in the above retelling based on the Arabian tale, a Russian character is woven into the tale to deliver the ending.