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The Three Silver Citrons - A Persian Story






Source: Tales Of Folk And Fairies

There was once a King who had three sons, and he loved them all
equally, one no more than the other.

When he had grown old and felt his strength leaving him, he called the
three Princes before him.

"My sons," said he, "I am no longer young, and soon the time will come
when I must leave you. I have it in mind to give the kingdom to one or
the other of you now and not to leave it for you to quarrel over after
I have gone. You have reached a time of life when you should marry. Go
forth into the world and seek, each one of you, a bride for himself.
He who brings home the most beautiful Princess shall have the
kingdom."

The three Princes were well content with what their father said. At
once the two elder ones made ready to set out; but the youngest one
said he would wait a bit. "It is not right," said he, "that our father
should be left alone in his old age. I will wait until my brothers
return, and then I too will start out to try my fortune in the world."

That was good hearing for the older Princes, for they had always been
a bit jealous of their younger brother and were just as well pleased
not to have him with them.

Before they set out they packed a bag full of food to carry with them,
for they had no wish to starve by the wayside. They took baked meats
and boiled meats, and little cakes and big cakes, and fine white
bread, and wine to drink.

Well, off they set, and on they went, a short way and a long way,
until they came to the edge of a forest, and there they sat down in
the shade to eat; and when they spread the food out before them it
made a fine feast I can tell you.

Just as they were about to begin an old woman came hobbling out of the
forest. She was so old that her nose and her chin met and she was so
bent that she could barely get along even with the help of the crutch
she had.

"Good masters, give me a bite and a sup, I beg of you," she said. "It
is a hundred years since I have tasted anything but black bread."

"If you have lived on black bread that long you can live on it a
little longer," said one of the Princes, and then they both laughed.
However, they bade the old crone come back there after they had gone,
and it might be she would find some broken bits lying round, and those
she might have if she cared to gather them up.

Then the Princes went on eating and drinking, and after they had
finished they journeyed on again.

Presently they came to a cross roads, and there they separated; one
went east and one went west. The eldest Prince took the east road, and
soon it brought him to a castle, and in this castle lived a Princess
who was as pretty as a picture. It was not long before the Prince won
her to be his wife, for he was a stout and comely lad, and as soon as
they were married he set out for home, taking his bride with him.

As it happened with the eldest Prince, so it did with the second
brother. He also found a castle and a Princess, and won her to be his
bride, and brought her home with him to his father's house; and when
the two Princesses met it was hard to choose between them, they were
both so pretty. It seemed as though the kingdom would have to be
divided between the elder brothers and their pretty brides.

But first it was only right that the youngest Prince should have a
chance, so now that his brothers had returned he was ready to set out
into the wide world and see what sort of a beauty he could pick up.
His brothers laughed at him, for they had never had much of an opinion
of his wit, even though they were jealous of him.

"Only see that she has two eyes and a stout pair of hands," said they.
"Our Princesses will find something for her to do about the palace, no
doubt, and as for you, you shall always have a warm place in the
chimney corner where you can sit."

The youngest Prince answered never a word, but he put some food in a
scrip and off he set.

He journeyed on and on, a short way and a long way, and then he too
came to the forest and sat down in the shade to eat, as his brothers
had done before him.

Presently the old crone came hobbling out from the forest, and she was
more bent and hideous than ever.

"Good youth, give me a bite and sup, I beg of you," she said. "It is a
hundred years since I have tasted anything but black bread."

"Then it is high time you had something else to eat," said the Prince,
and he gave her the best of all he had, both food and wine.

The old woman ate and drank, and by the time she finished there was
little enough left for the Prince. Then she drew out from her sleeve a
pretty little pipe and gave it to him. "Take this," she said, "and if
there is anything you wish for play a tune upon the pipe, and it may
help you to find it."

After that she disappeared into the forest again.

The Prince hung his scrip over his shoulder, and then he was ready to
set out, but first he thought he might as well see what the pipe was
good for. He set it to his lips and blew a tune.

Immediately a score of little black Trolls with long noses appeared
before him. "Master, here we are!" they cried. "What would you have of
us?"

"I did not know I was your master," thought the Prince, but what he
said was, "What I want is the prettiest Princess in twelve kingdoms
for a bride, and if you can get me such a one I'll thank you kindly."

"We know where to find such a Princess, and we can show you the way,"
said the oldest and blackest of the Trolls, "but we ourselves cannot
touch her. You will have to win her for yourself."

Well, that suited the Prince, and if they would only show him the
Princess he would do his best to get her. So off they set, and
presently they came to a high mountain, and it belonged to the King of
the Trolls. The Prince blew upon the pipe again, and the mountain
opened before him. He went in, and there he was in a great chamber,
where the Troll kept the three daughters of three Kings whom he had
taken captive and brought there, and they were so beautiful that their
beauty lighted the whole place so there was no need of lamps.

When the girls saw the Prince they were terrified and began to run
about this way and that, looking for a place to hide; but they could
find no place, for the chamber was quite smooth and bare. Then they
changed themselves into three silver citrons and rolled about this way
and that, all over the room.

The Prince was terribly distressed that the girls had changed into
citrons, for they were so lovely that he would have been glad to have
any one of them for a wife.

However, he took up the citrons and hid them in his bosom, and then,
as there seemed nothing better to do, he set out for home again, for
after having seen three such beauties as that he would never be
satisfied with any one else.

After a while as he journeyed he came to the wood where he had seen
the old crone before, and there she was, waiting for him.

"Well, and did you get what you set out to search for?" she asked.

"I did and I didn't," answered the Prince;--and then he told her the
whole story and showed her the three citrons that he still carried in
his bosom. "They are three beauties, I can tell you," said he, "but of
what use are they as long as they remain as citrons?"

"I may be able to help you again," said the old hag. She then gave him a
silver knife and a little golden cup. "Keep the citrons until you come
to a running stream. Then take one,--whichever one you please,--and cut
it open with this knife. At once one of the Princesses will appear. She
will ask you for a drink of water. Give it to her immediately in this
golden cup, and after that she will remain with you and you can have her
for your wife."

The Prince was delighted. He took the knife and cup and thanked the
old woman gratefully, and then she again disappeared in the shadow of
the forest.

The Prince journeyed on until he came to a running stream, and it was
not so very far from his father's palace. Then he got out the knife
and the cup and one of the citrons. He cut the citron, and at once one
of the Princesses appeared before him. If she had looked a beauty when
he saw her in the mountain she was ten times lovelier, now that he saw
her in the light of day. The Prince could only gape and gape at her.

"Give me a cup of water to drink," demanded the Princess; but the
Prince was so busy staring at her that he did not move, and in a
moment the Princess vanished from before him, and where she went he
could not tell. He was filled with grief over the loss of her, but she
was gone, and that was all of it.

Then the Prince took out the second citron. "This time I will be ready
for her," he thought. He took his knife and cut the second citron. At
once the second Princess appeared before him.

"Give me a cup of water to drink," she demanded. But again the Prince
was so overcome by her beauty that he could no more move than if he
had been rooted to the ground, and the next moment she too disappeared
from before his eyes.

The Prince was in despair. He ran this way and that way, calling aloud
and trying to find her, but she had vanished like the fading of a
breath.

And now there was only one other citron left, and the Prince trembled
at the thought of opening it, for he was afraid he would lose this
third Princess as he had the others. At last he drew it from his bosom
and prepared to cut it, but first he filled the golden cup and set it
ready to his hand. Then he seized the knife and with one stroke
divided the citron in two.

At once the third Princess stood before him, and though the others had
been beautiful she exceeded them in beauty as the full moon exceeds
the stars in splendor.

"Give me a cup of water," said she; and this time the Prince was
ready. Almost before she could speak he had caught up the golden cup
and presented it to her.

The Princess took the cup and drank, and then she smiled upon him so
brightly that he was dazzled.

"Now I am yours, and you are mine," said she, "and where you go I will
follow, for I have no one in all the wide world but you."

The Prince was almost wild with happiness. He kissed her hands and
looked with joy upon her face.

But she was dressed only in a linen shift.

The Prince took off his cloak and wrapped it about her. "Climb up into
a tree," said he, "and hide yourself among the branches, and I will go
to the castle and bring you from thence robes and jewels and all
things fitting for such a beautiful Princess to wear."

To this the Princess agreed. The Prince helped her to climb up among
the branches of a tree that overhung the water, and then he hastened
away to the castle.

The beauty sat there among the leaves waiting for his return, and the
time of waiting was long, for when the Prince reached the castle he
was obliged to stay and tell the whole story to his father before the
King would permit him to return with the robes and jewels he had
promised to bring to his bride.



Meanwhile an ugly kitchen wench who worked in the castle came to fetch
water from the spring, for every day the Princesses required it for
their baths. The girl had brought with her an earthen jar to hold the
water.

As she leaned over the stream to fill the jar she looked down into the
water and saw the face of the Princess reflected there, as she peered
out from the leaves above.

The servant wench, whose name was Lucy, thought it was the reflection
of her own face that she saw. She gazed upon it with wonder and joy.
"Ah! Ah!" she cried. "What a beauty I am; why did no one ever tell me
so? Not even the two Princesses are as beautiful as I." She knelt
there, staring and staring at the reflection. Then in a rage she
sprang to her feet.

"And they send me to draw water for them! Me, who ought to sit on a
throne above them all. But I'll no longer be their slave. I'll break
their water jar to pieces, and if they send me with others I'll break
them too!"

With that she threw down the jar with such violence that it was broken
into bits, and then she stamped about with rage.

The sight amused the Princess so that she laughed aloud. The servant
wench looked up and saw the lovely face peering out at her from among
the green leaves; it was the same beautiful face she had seen
reflected in the water.

"Who are you? What are you doing up there among the leaves?" she asked
in a thick voice.

"I am the promised bride of the Prince who has just gone up to the
castle," answered the beauty. "He has gone to fetch fine robes and
jewels that I may dress myself properly before I appear before his
father."

When she said this an evil thought came into the servant wench's head.

"Come down," said she, "and I will dress your hair for you; I have
often done this for the other Princesses, and I can arrange it so that
you will look even more beautiful when the Prince returns."

The Princess was nothing loath. She had no thought of evil. She
climbed down from the tree and sat herself upon a rock, while Lucy
looped and pinned her hair in place and wove a crown of flowers to
place upon it. "Come now, and see how beautiful you are," said the
servant.

She led the Princess to the place where the stream was deepest, and
then, when the beauty stooped to look at herself in the water, Lucy
pushed her in. After that she stripped herself to her shift, and hid
her clothes under a rock, and climbed up into the tree. There she sat
among the leaves, peering out just as the Princess had done.

Presently the Prince returned, bringing with him all sorts of
beautiful clothes and gifts for his Princess bride. What was his
amazement to see, instead of the beauty he left in the tree, the ugly
face of the servant wench smiling down at him from among the leaves.

"What are you doing there?" he cried. "And what have you done with the
Princess?"

"Alas," said the servant maid, pretending to weep, "I am the Princess.
After you left me a wicked enchantress came by this way and changed me
into this shape."

The Prince was filled with grief and horror at these words. However,
he believed her and could not find it in his heart to punish her for a
misfortune she could not help. He showed her the robes and jewels he
had brought, and the servant wench made haste to come down and dress
herself in them. When she had done this she looked more hideous than
ever. The Prince could hardly bear to look at her, his grief and shame
were so great. Nevertheless he took her by the hand and led her back
to the castle.

There the King was waiting full of impatience to see the bride of his
youngest son, this most beautiful Princess in all of twelve kingdoms.
But when the Prince brought the ugly servant wench before him he could
hardly believe his eyes.

"This a beauty!" he cried. "Are you a fool or do you take me for one?
It is an insult to bring me such a creature for a daughter-in-law."

The older Princes and their brides did not try to hide their scorn or
laughter, but the servant sank on her knees, weeping, and repeated to
the king the same story she had told the Prince. She assured him that
she had been as beautiful as the day when she had climbed up into the
tree and would be so still if the wicked enchantress had not passed by
and bewitched her.

The King frowned and stroked his beard. "Yours is a sad case," said
he, "and since the Prince has given his word to marry you, marry you
he must. Perchance sometime your beauty may return."

He then gave orders that Lucy should be shown to the apartments
prepared for the Princess and that she should be waited on and served
just as though she were the beauty his son had promised him.

But the heart of the Prince was like a stone in his bosom, and he
could not bear to look upon the ugly one who was to be his bride.

Now when the Princess had been pushed into the water she had not been
drowned, as Lucy thought. Instead she changed into a beautiful silver
fish that swam about in the stream or hid under a grassy bank.

Now there was another servant who came down to the stream for water
instead of Lucy, and one day when this servant dipped the jar into the
water the fish swam into it, and she carried it back to the castle
with her.

It was so pretty that she showed it to the Prince, hoping it might
cheer him for a moment.

No sooner had the Prince looked upon the fish than he grew quite light
and happy. He would not let the servant take the fish away but kept it
with him in a crystal bowl and now he no longer grieved so bitterly
about his bride.

Lucy did not know why the Prince had grown happier. She thought
perhaps he had begun to love her. But when she found that he scarcely
ever came to see her, but spent all his time watching the fish, she
became very angry.

She bribed a servant to steal the fish from the Prince's room and
bring it to her. Then she had a fire built and threw the fish into it
to burn.

No sooner did the flames touch the fish, however, than it changed into
a beautiful silver bird and flew out of the window.

The false Princess was frightened. "There is some magic here," thought
she, "and magic that will prove my ruin."

And now the silver bird sat on a branch outside the Princess's window
and sang and sang. The Prince heard it, and his heart was filled with
joy, he knew not why, and he forgot the fish that had disappeared from
the bowl.

Lucy also heard it and was more frightened than ever. She sent for the
servant who had stolen the fish and bribed him to set a net to catch
the bird. This he did one day when the Prince was away, and then he
brought the bird to the false Princess. But she shuddered at sight of
it as though she were cold, and bade him take it outside and wring its
neck.

This the servant was loath to do, but he dared not disobey her. He
carried the bird outside and did as she commanded, and three drops of
blood fell on the ground just below the Prince's window.

The next morning when the Prince awoke he saw with amazement that a
beautiful citron tree was growing outside of his window. Its trunk was
silver, and its leaves were silver, and on the branch nearest his
window hung three silver citrons, and they were exactly like the
silver citrons he had brought from the Troll's home under the
mountain.

The Prince saw them hanging there, and his heart was filled with joy
and hope as he looked at them. He reached out and plucked them and hid
them in his bosom. Then he took the silver knife and the golden cup
and hastened down to the stream where he had opened the citrons
before.

He cut the first citron, and at once the first Princess appeared and
asked him for a drink of water, but he scarcely looked at her, and she
fled away.

He cut the second citron, and the second Princess appeared and
demanded water, but he never stirred, and she too vanished.

Then he filled the golden cup with water and with a trembling hand cut
the third citron.

Immediately the third Princess appeared. "Give me of the water to
drink," said she.

At once the Prince handed her the golden cup. She drank deeply, and
then she smiled upon him, and it was his own dear love who stood
before him more beautiful than ever.

The Prince could hardly believe in his good fortune. But the Princess
told him all that had happened to her--how Lucy had pushed her into
the water, and how she had been changed first into a fish, and then
into a bird, and then into a citron as she had been before. The Prince
could not wonder and marvel enough. He took her by the hand and led
her up to the castle, and her golden hair fell all about her so that
she seemed to be clothed in a shimmering golden mantle.

When she appeared before the King he was amazed at the beauty of her,
and when the Prince told him that this was his true bride and not the
other, his happiness knew no bounds. The whole palace resounded with
rejoicings. Only Lucy was so terrified that she ran and jumped out of
a window and broke her neck.

But the kingdom was given to the youngest Prince, and he and the
Princess reigned there in peace and happiness as long as they lived.





Next: The Magic Pipe - A Norse Tale

Previous: The Magic Turban The Magic Sword And The Magic Carpet - A Persian Story



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