The Weeping Princess
The Weeping Princess
Once upon a time there lived a greedy emperor who forced his subjects to pay heavy taxes. Every person, rich or poor, was highly taxed. At last, the nobles of the land decided to protest. When the emperor heard about this, he was afraid of a rebellion so he sent out this proclamation: “The nobleman who can make my daughter, Sunny, smile again — for she's mourning the loss of her fiancé — will never pay taxes again.”
Upon hearing the proclamation, most of the noble princes decided there was no need to complain about the high taxes, for each was quite sure he would succeed in cheering up the princess. So off they all went to get ready to try to make Sunny smile. A long line of noble knights came from far and wide to try to console the weeping princess. The crowds cheered them as they passed, but when they returned with bowed heads, the same crowds booed at their failure.
The days went by and the list of defeated knights grew. From all over the provinces came bold young men brimming with confidence. But the minute the princess set eyes on them, she just wept and wept. The emperor was delighted, for each failure meant another taxpayer. The common folk were content with this turn of events since it meant that the rich did not always get what they wanted.
The only unhappy person among them was Sunny, who went on weeping. One day, a Mongol prince seemed to be on the point of winning a smile. He thrummed his balalaika for hours, playing first a sad tune, then a more cheerful one, until he finished by playing a merry jig. The princess sat for ages staring at him, and onlookers thought she was about to smile.
Instead to everyone's dismay, she burst into floods of tears. A Kurdish chief, famed for his charm and easy wit, tried to earn a smile from Sunny. But the princess's dark eyes filled with tears. Noblemen came from as far away as Persia, but none had any luck with the weeping princess.
The only person who had not yet appeared was Omar, the chief of the tiniest, most distant province. He was an intelligent young man. Finally, one evening, he reached the palace. When the tired and dusty traveler explained to the stableboys why he had come, they laughed. But they had orders to obey, so they told him to enter. “It's late,” they said, “you cannot see the princess until tomorrow.”
The emperor's other daughters, however, were soon told of the new arrival. “He's the most handsome of them all!” exclaimed one of the servants. So Marika, the emperor's youngest and prettiest daughter, with her sisters, peeked through a window at the sleeping Omar.
Next morning, the emperor ordered the newcomer to be led before Sunny. The court crowded around to watch. Unlike all the other suitors, Omar did nothing at all to amuse the princess. He stared at Sunny without saying a word. And she stared back, with an empty look on her face. The two young people stared silently at each other. Then Omar went back to the emperor and said:“Sire! Give me your scepter and I will solve Sunny's problem.”
Surprised at such an odd request, the emperor followed Omar into Sunny's room. The other princesses clustered round, smiling and admiring this handsome fellow. With a deep bow to Sunny, Omar straightened up and dealt her a blow on the head with the scepter. Screams filled the air and the emperor threw up his arms in anger. His daughters fled. The guards drew their swords.
Then the whole room stopped, hushed, in amazement. For, out of Sunny's head, which had been broken off by the blow, rolled loose springs and metal fragments. The princess who never smiled was a doll — a perfect, mechanical doll. Nobody had ever been aware of it except Omar.
Marika, after witnessing this scene and realizing what had happened, began laughing uncontrollably. The emperor glared at her. “Be quiet,” he ordered.
Then the emperor began to see the funny side of it as well. For the crafty emperor had been making use of the doll as a way of guaranteeing himself a steady flow of taxes. And now, a man more cunning than himself had exposed his scheme. The emperor had a sudden thought, a way he could get rid of the cheeky Marika and gain a smart son-in-law.
“You should be put to death for this,” he said, “but I'm going to spare your life, if you marry my youngest daughter. Of course, you won't need to pay taxes!”
Smiling at a happy Marika, Omar nodded silently. But in the depths of his mind he was thinking, “One day, I'll be sitting on your throne.” And he was, just a few years later.