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The Three Suitors

Source: Hero Tales And Legends Of The Serbians

In a very remote country there formerly lived a king who had only one
child--an exceedingly beautiful daughter. The princess had a great
number of suitors, and amongst them were three young noblemen, whom
the king loved much. As, however, the king liked the three nobles
equally well, he could not decide to which of the three he should
give his daughter as wife. One day, therefore, he called the three
young noblemen to him, and said, "Go, all of you, and travel about
the world. The one of you who brings home the most remarkable thing
shall be my son-in-law!"

The three suitors started at once on their travels, each of them
taking opposite ways, and going in search of remarkable things into
far different countries.

A long time had not passed before one of the young nobles found a
wonderful carpet which would carry rapidly through the air whoever
sat upon it.

Another of them found a marvellous telescope, through which he could
see everybody and everything in the world, and even the many-coloured
sands at the bottom of the great deep sea.

The third found a wonder-working ointment, which could cure every
disease in the world, and even bring dead people back to life again.

Now the three noble travellers were far distant from each other
when they found these wonderful things. But when the young man who
had found the telescope looked through it, he saw one of his former
friends and present rivals walking with a carpet on his shoulder, and
so he set out to join him. As he could always see, by means of his
marvellous telescope, where the other nobleman was, he had no great
difficulty in finding him, and when the two had met, they sat side
by side on the wonderful carpet, and it carried them through the air
until they had joined the third traveller. One day, when each of them
had been telling of the remarkable things he had seen in his travels,
one of them exclaimed suddenly, "Now let us see what the beautiful
princess is doing, and where she is." Then the noble who had found
the telescope, looked through it and saw, to his great surprise and
dismay, that the king's daughter was lying very sick and at the point
of death. He told this to his two friends and rivals, and they, too,
were thunderstruck at the bad news--until the one who had found the
wonder-working ointment, remembering it suddenly, exclaimed, "I am sure
I could cure her, if I could only reach the palace soon enough!" On
hearing this the noble who had found the wonderful carpet cried out,
"Let us sit down on my carpet, and it will quickly carry us to the
king's palace!"

Thereupon the three nobles gently placed themselves in the carpet,
which rose instantly in the air, and carried them direct to the
king's palace.

The king received them immediately; but said very sadly, "I am sorry
for you: for all your travels have been in vain. My daughter is just
dying, so she can marry none of you!"

But the nobleman who possessed the wonder-working ointment said
respectfully, "Do not fear, sire, the princess will not die!" And
on being permitted to enter the apartment where she lay sick, he
placed the ointment so that she could smell it. In a few moments the
princess revived, and when her waiting-women had rubbed a little of
the ointment in her skin she recovered so quickly that in a few days
she was better than she had been before she was taken ill.

The king was so glad to have his daughter given back to him, as he
thought, from the grave, that he declared that she should marry no
one but the young nobleman whose wonderful ointment had cured her.

The Dispute

But now a great dispute arose between the three young nobles: the
one who possessed the ointment affirmed that had he not found it the
princess would have died, and could not, therefore, have married any
one; the noble who owned the telescope declared that had he not found
the wonderful telescope they would never have known that the princess
was dying, and so his friend would not have brought the ointment
to cure her; whilst the third noble proved to them that had he not
found the wonderful carpet neither the finding of the ointment nor
the telescope would have helped the princess, since they could not
have travelled such a great distance in time to save her.

The king, overhearing this dispute, called the young noblemen to him,
and said to them, "My lords, from what you have said, I see that
I cannot, with justice, give my daughter to any of you; therefore,
I pray you to give up altogether the idea of marrying her, and that
you continue friends as you always were before you became rivals."

The three young nobles saw that the king had decided justly; so
they all left their native country, and went into a far-off desert
to live like hermits. And the king gave the princess to another of
his great nobles.

Many, many years had passed away since the marriage of the princess,
when her husband was sent by her father to a distant country with which
the king was waging war. The nobleman took his wife, the princess,
with him, as he was uncertain how long he might be forced to remain
abroad. Now it happened that a violent storm arose just as the vessel
which carried the princess and her husband was approaching a strange
coast; and in the height of the great tempest the ship dashed on some
rocks, and went to pieces instantly. All the people on board perished
in the waves, excepting only the princess, who clung very fast to a
boat and was carried by the wind and the tide to the shore. There she
found what seemed to be an uninhabited country, and, discovering a
small cave in a rock, she lived alone in it for three years, feeding
on wild herbs and fruits. She searched every day to find some way
out of the forest which surrounded her cave, but could find none. One
day, however, when she had wandered farther than usual from the cave
where she lived, she came suddenly on another cave which, to her great
astonishment, had a small door. She tried over and over again to open
the door, thinking she would pass the night in the cave; but all her
efforts were unavailing, it was shut so fast. At length, however,
a deep voice from within the cave called out, "Who is at the door?"

At this the princess was so surprised that she could not answer for
some moments; when, however, she had recovered a little, she said,
"Open me the door!" Immediately the door was opened from within,
and she saw, with sudden terror, an old man with a thick grey
beard reaching below his waist and long white hair flowing over
his shoulders.

What frightened the princess the more was her finding a man living
here in the same desert where she had lived herself three years
without seeing a single soul.

The hermit and the princess looked at each long and earnestly without
saying a word. At length, however, the old man said, "Tell me, are
you an angel or a daughter of this world?"

Then the princess answered, "Old man, let me rest a moment, and then
I will tell you all about myself, and what brought me here." So the
hermit brought out some wild pears, and when the princess had taken
some of them, she began to tell him who she was, and how she came in
that desert. She said, "I am a king's daughter, and once, many years
ago, three young nobles of my father's court asked the king for my
hand in marriage. Now the king had such an equal affection for all
these three young men that he was unwilling to give pain to any of
them, so he sent them to travel into distant countries, and promised
to decide between them when they returned.

"The three noblemen remained a long time away; and whilst they were
still abroad somewhere, I fell dangerously ill. I was just at the point
of death, when they all three returned suddenly; one of them bringing a
wonderful ointment, which cured me at once; the two others brought each
equally remarkable things--a carpet that would carry whoever sat on it
through the air, and a telescope with which one could see everybody and
everything in the world, even to the sands at the bottom of the sea."

The Recognition

The princess had gone on thus far with her story, when the hermit
suddenly interrupted her, saying: "All that happened afterward I
know as well as you can tell me. Look at me, my daughter! I am one of
those noblemen who sought to win your hand, and here is the wonderful
telescope." And the hermit brought out the instrument from a recess
in the side of his cave before he continued; "My two friends and
rivals came with me to this desert. We parted, however, immediately,
and have never met since. I know not whether they are living or dead,
but I will look for them."

Then the hermit looked through his telescope, and saw that the other
two noblemen were living in caves like his, in different parts of the
same desert. Having found this out, he took the princess by the hand,
and led her on until they found the other hermits. When all were
re-united, the princess related her adventures since the foundering
of the ship, in which her husband had gone down, and from which she
alone had been saved.

The three noble hermits were pleased to see her alive once again,
but at once decided that they ought to send her back to the king,
her father.

Then they made the princess a present of the wonderful telescope, and
the wonder-working ointment, and placed her on the wonderful carpet,
which carried her and her treasures quickly and safely to her father's
palace. As for the three noblemen, they remained, still living like
hermits, in the desert, only they visited each other now and then,
so that the years seemed no longer so tedious to them. For they had
many adventures to relate to each other.

The king was exceedingly glad to receive his only child back safely,
and the princess lived with her father many years; but neither the king
nor his daughter could entirely forget the three noble friends who,
for her sake, lived like hermits in a wild desert in a far-off land.

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