Once upon a time, there was a great King who led his people with fairness and wisdom. Unfortunately, the King’s health was in decline, and so was his kingdom. None of the King’s subjects understood why, but many suspected the reason had to do with a recent omen.
The royal family’s coat of arms was displayed high above the King’s throne. For generations, it consisted of a sword crossing a heart, during which time the kingdom was ruled with fidelity. However, after the Queen died, the coat of arms changed, so that the sword seemed to pierce the heart instead of protect it. Real blood began to drip onto the feet of the King as he sat on his throne, which his servants scrubbed away. Many saw this as a sign the King’s demise would mark a period of turmoil for the kingdom, unless the royal family again learned to live together peacefully.
The problem was the King’s sons were neither married nor had children, and many of the King’s subjects felt these young men were too ill-tempered to rule. As the time for the King’s death drew near, his sons plotted more fervently to seize power from one another, and the royal family’s coat of arms dripped more blood day by day.
Perhaps the most greedy and selfish of all the king’s sons was his eldest and the heir apparent, the Prince. He wanted to make sure none of his brothers robbed him of the opportunity to control the kingdom, but otherwise he gave little thought to the manner in which he might use his power, which greatly troubled the King.
“Even now, you look at me as if I am already dead,” the King said. “But what shall you do, and whose will shall you serve, when I really am gone? Your own?”
“I shall serve your will, father,” the Prince said. “I will force this land and its people to do as you intended, always and forever.”
“That’s a clever answer, but I fear not the right one,” the King said. “I would prefer my successor serve the will of the people, and not mine or anyone else’s. Force should only be used to do right by others. Do you understand?”
The Prince dismissed his father’s remarks and continued his plotting. There were rumors of a map that led to a treasure so powerful that anyone who obtained it could lead an army against the Prince and threaten his chance to control the kingdom. The Prince wanted the treasure, so none of his brothers would dare challenge him.
The map to the treasure was said to be buried deep inside the stomach of a talking oak tree, which only made itself known if someone worthy sang to it.
The Prince, believing himself worthy in any matter that interested him, arrived at the forest, and sang. His voice, however, was so coarse and unpleasant that the birds flew away, and the rabbits and squirrels buried themselves deep in their holes to avoid him.
Needless to say, the oak tree the Prince sought remained unresponsive, and so the Prince left the forest, dejected. The next day, he returned, pondering what he should do next, when he heard a lovely voice.
He followed the voice to a brook, where he found the forest birds, rabbits and squirrels listening to a lady singing as she washed her hands in the water.
“Excuse me, Prince,” the lady said, when she noticed him.
“No, please, excuse me!” the Prince said. “It is I who interrupted you and your beautiful song. May I ask you for a favor, miss?”
The Prince explained that a map had been taken which rightfully belonged to him. The map was under a spell, hidden somewhere in the forest.
“Only a person whose voice is worthy can lure the map out of hiding,” the Prince said. “I suspect you will do. Will you help me?”
“Of course, my Prince,” the lady said. “I am always willing to help those in need.”
The Prince took the lady by the hand, and she sang as they wandered together through the forest. At last, they came upon an oak tree that had the gnarled features of a face.
“What might I do for thee, o’ lovely one?” the oak tree said.
“Help me return a map to its rightful owner,” the lady said.
“Of course,” the oak tree said, and out of its mouth emerged a rolled scroll.
The scroll would have landed on the lady’s feet, had it not been for the Prince, who leaped forward and snatched it midair.
“Ah-ha!” he said. “Mine!”
Once the Prince had the map in his possession, he thought his quest soon would be finished, because no one would be able to stop him from obtaining the treasure that would ensure his power for as long as he lived. However, as he unraveled the scroll, he realized his quest was anything but complete.
“What’s this?” the Prince said. “It’s blank!”
He turned to face the tree, but the face in the tree was still and silent.
“Great, now what?” the Prince said.
“May I see the map?” the lady said.
“Promise to give it back?”
“You are its rightful possessor, are you not?” the lady said. “Of course I will!”
The Prince handed the lady the map. As soon as she touched it, something magical happened. The scroll was no longer blank; a map to the treasure appeared.
“Amazing!” said the Prince. “How could this be?”
“I do not know,” the lady said, equally surprised. “Perhaps this is a sign our work together is not done yet.”
“I cannot think of a better reason myself,” the Prince said. “Perhaps you will join me for the rest of my quest, or at least as long as your company proves necessary?”
“I would love to, but I really should get home,” the lady said. “I am told nothing good happens in the forest at night.”
“Fear not, my lady!” the Prince said. “You would be in excellent company. No harm would come to you, I promise. Also, my father the King would be most grateful for your service.”
“In that case, very well,” the lady said. “No one is expecting me home, anyway. My parents passed long ago, and I support myself by selling mushrooms in the village.”
The lady raised a basket full of truffles she recently collected under the trees.
“I see,” the Prince said. “Maybe we can turn your misfortune into something more palatable. Perhaps you would allow us to enjoy your morsels tonight for dinner? I would compensate you in coin for the trouble, or course.”
“As you wish, my Prince,” the lady said. “But, really, it’s no trouble at all. My truffles are delicious, as you will see!”
“Excellent, then it’s settled!” said the Prince, and together they followed the map to the mountains beyond.
The map led them along a trail up a majestic peak that overlooked the kingdom. At the top of the peak they found a cave, the final destination of the map.
Night fell, they were tired, and the Prince and lady decided to camp near the cave’s entrance. They lit a fire, munched roasted mushrooms, and shared stories about their lives. Then, they heard a distant hum.
“Oooooh, eeeeeeee, oooooooh, ahhhhhhhhhh, oooooooooh!” bellowed a group of dwarves as they marched up the mountain.
“Quick!” the Prince said. “Hide!”
He and the lady poured dirt on the fire. They watched as the dwarves unsuspectingly passed them and continued into the cave.
“Gather your belongings,” the Prince said. “We will catch them by surprise!”
“They look tired,” the lady said. “Are you sure we should be introducing ourselves at such a late hour? Perhaps tomorrow would be a more fitting time for all of us to meet.”
“Absolutely not!” the Prince said, and he stood and drew his sword. “Let’s go!”
They proceeded slowly, cautiously. The cave was dimly lit, its rocky walls strewn with gold. The deeper the Prince and lady went, the brighter the cave became, until at last they reached a large cavern, filled with the comforts of home.
Tired, indeed. By the time the Prince and lady arrived, the dwarves were fed, a pile of dirty dishes were stacked near a sink, and they were fast asleep, snuggled together in a big bed.
Opposite the cavern was a closed chest.
“That must be it,” the Prince whispered. “The treasure!”
Together he and the lady crept past the dwarves. The chest was unlocked. The Prince quietly opened it, peered inside.
“What?” he said. “How could this be?”
He closed the chest, and by so doing, inadvertently let his frustration known; the chest slammed shut with a loud thud.
When the Prince turned back toward the lady, the dwarves were sufficiently aroused. They stumbled forth from their bed and formed a barrier barring the intruders from the exit.
The dwarves carried an array of knives, forks and other kitchen ware, raised as weapons.
“Who goes there?” they said in unison.
“It is I, the Prince!” the Prince said, pointing his sword. “I have come for the treasure that rightfully belongs to me!”
“What treasure?” a dwarf said, stepping forward. “We have no treasure here, just that empty chest you see. It has inhabited this cave longer than we have!”
“Listen up, you little monsters!” the Prince said. “I didn’t come all this way just to hear …”
As the Prince and dwarves bickered about the whereabouts of the treasure, the lady peeked inside the chest. This time, there was a beautiful golden necklace with a heart-shaped ruby pendant.
The lady gently retrieved it, and the Prince and dwarves ceased their bickering. They stood and watched in silence.
“Try it on, my dear,” a dwarf said.
The lady did as suggested, but she could not clasp the necklace together by herself.
The Prince stepped forward, reached behind her neck, helped her, and then he stepped back. He and the dwarves marveled at the lady and the heart necklace. It was as if it were made for her.
“My lady, would you be willing to return with me to the castle, to show the King what I have found?” the Prince said.
“Of course,” she said, and the she turned to the dwarves. “Would that be all right with you?”
The dwarves mumbled to each other in awe and agreement.
“Take it as long as you wish, my dear,” they said. “Good luck!”
The Prince returned to the castle with the lady. The two appeared before the royal court. Blood stained the foot of the King’s throne. Gathered around the King were his sons.
“Father, I have been on a great journey,” the Prince said. “All this time I sought a treasure I thought would help me vanquish my enemies. I found that treasure, but it was not a powerful axe or sword, as I hoped.”
The Prince turned to the lady.
“The treasure I found is you,” he said to his companion, “and your kind heart.”
The comment caused murmurs around the court.
“In our time together,” the Prince continued, “you have shown me a power that goes beyond my own. You have shown me the power that comes from looking out for others. I have been selfish and greedy in my objectives, and for what purpose? A sword that protects itself serves no one, while a sword that serves others protects everyone. Today I seek your hand in marriage, because I realize that the heart and sword rule fairest and wisest side by side.”
The lady agreed to marry the Prince, and he was delighted.
So was the King. His son had learned a valuable lesson about the nature of love and loyalty. Finally, the Prince was fit to rule the kingdom, and soon his brothers would follow his lead, too.
The royal family’s coat of arms ceased to drip blood.
In time, the Prince and lady became King and Queen, and together they had several sons and daughters.
They lived happily ever after.