The Three Silver Citrons - A Persian Story

: 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 qu
rrel 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


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


"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


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


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


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


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


"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


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


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


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.