Once, a king couldn’t decide which of his three sons should inherit his crown. He also had a daughter, but in addition to being a girl, she was modest and seldom spoke. In the royal court, as everyone knew, words meant everything.
The dilemma haunted the king. The oldest prince was cruel and doubtless would alienate his subjects and the surrounding kingdoms who maintained a fragile peace. The second son was greedy and would tax the people until they rebelled. The third son was vain and spent most of his time in front of mirrors. The king couldn’t begin to imagine the harm he would do.
Finally, the king reached a difficult decision. Each prince would become king over one-third the land to offset the harm any of the others might do. The very next day, the royal attorney drew up a new will. The king immediately stamped it with his royal seal and the document was placed in the royal vault. Its provisions remained secret.
The next day, the king took to bed gravely ill. The court physician summoned the king’s children. “I fear His Majesty has little time.” The princes entered the royal bedroom. The princess waited in the anteroom.
The king beckoned the princes to come close. “Soon,” he gasped, “the kingdom will be yours.” He explained at length the kingdom’s three-part division. The eldest son clenched his fist. “The people need discipline,” he said. “The entire kingdom should be mine.” He then spoke at length. The second son urged, “Let me be king, and the treasury will burst with gold.” He, too, gave a lengthy speech. “Make me king,” said the youngest, “because everyone says how handsome I am, and isn’t what that what the people want in a king?” He then gave an extended discourse on the need to make a good impression. The princes’ voices were so loud, they carried out to the princess.
The king bade the princes take their leave then called in the princess. He related all his hopes and dreams for the kingdom, his accomplishments and his failures. He also expressed his disappointment in his sons. All the while, the princess said nothing. Rather, she gently squeezed her father’s hand every few moments. When he finished, she kissed him goodbye. Just before sunrise, the king died.
After a week’s mourning, the princess invited her brothers to a family dinner in their honor at her small villa. They sat at table with the princess nearest the kitchen so she could serve them. In silence, the princess rose and went to the kitchen from which she brought four goblets of wine. She placed three large goblets before her brothers and a small one, befitting her status, at her place. Then she raised her goblet and pronounced more words than they had ever heard from her: “To father, to the kingdom, to our people and to peace.”
“I prefer war,” said the eldest prince. “I prefer gold,” said the middle prince. “Does anyone have a mirror?” asked the third prince.
Although none of the princes thought the toast eloquent, they drank. In seconds, all three pitched forward dead. The next day, the princess was crowned queen before a cheering citizenry. She ruled a peaceful, prosperous kingdom happily, if quietly, ever after.
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