The Three Princes
LONG AGO on the Arabian Peninsula, when cities flourished along the major trade routes that stretched across the desert to transport spices, almonds and dates, there ruled in one of those cities 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 vain.
"Father, I beg you, don't make me marry any of them!" she cried.
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. "Come back tomorrow."
The next day, he summoned the three suitors and the princess to his throne room.
"Each of you is a perfectly worthy suitor for my daughter's hand," he 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 equally glad to postpone the matter.
The three princes set out together. After traveling for one week they came to a well that was located before a fork in the road, beyond which the road branched into three separate paths.
"Obviously, this is where we should part," stated the first prince.
"Don't you think we know that?" said the second prince, wiping his dirty hands on his cloak.
"Listen carefully," the first prince continued. "One week before we return to the palace, let's all meet at this well 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's such a nuisance."
And so the three princes 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. "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 sits on it can be transported anywhere in the world they wish to go in minutes."
"If they don't mind sitting next to you," another prince murmured, holding his nose. And now it was the third prince's turn to show what he had brought.
"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, still as death.