I tell stories to my kids at bedtime, as I blogged here, in my MSDN blog. This is tonight’s tale:
The Three Gifts
Once upon a time, a father lived on the edge of a forest with three sons. Each son was a teenager, and each was a good young man. They were kind to strangers, honest in their dealings, and hard workers… but they were poor. Each day, the father struggled to keep food on the table. His sons worked in the fields of others to bring in a little money. Still, there was very little to go around.
As the winter approached one very cold year, and the time approached for Hannukah, the father became worried. Each year, he made a point of giving a gift to each son, yet this year, there was nothing to go around. Determined to make a little extra money, the father set out into the forest late one night to cut wood that he could sell in the village the next day.
After finding and cutting the limbs from a fallen tree that looked dry enough to burn well, the father heard a faint cry on the wind. Curious, he followed for a short way down the forest path, and the cry became the sounds of a woman, calling for help. He picked up speed and ran down the path until he saw her. It was the most beautiful young woman he had ever seen, and her foot was trapped. She had stepped into a hole next to the roots of an old tree, and her foot had become lodged in the gap.
He came to her and immediately began to help her, first by trying to free her foot with his hands, and then by chopping away at one of the large roots with his axe until finally her foot was free. She asked if there was anything he wanted in return, but the father refused, saying that it was his duty to help another in need.
Suddenly the woman changed. She was no longer a beautiful young woman. She was still pretty, but now she was much older. A grandmother, at least, with kind eyes and a warm smile. She explained that she was a witch who lived mostly alone in the forest. She told the father that he had done a kind and just thing, and that she insisted on rewarding him. The father was stunned, and a little afraid, because this woman was clearly powerful, yet kind.
The witch gave the father three coins. She instructed him to give a coin to each of his sons, and they were to place the coin under their pillows. In the morning, they would awaken with their gifts. The father looked down to inspect the seemingly innocent coins but when he looked up, the kind witch was gone.
So he returned to his work, bringing home a good load of wood to sell, and a pocket with three coins.
His sons were very curious when he told them the story of the witch and the coins. Each agreed to follow along and place the coins under their pillow. If all else failed, they figured, they would have enough money for a pair of shoes for one son, and that was a good start on the holidays.
When morning arrived, the youngest was the first to shout. His father and brothers turned to ask what was wrong, and he said "I can see things. I can see at great distances. I know what is happening in town. I can see to the streets of the great cities and on ships at sea, and I can see some thing that other people cannot see, even if they are there. I can see inside boxes and barrels and barns. It’s amazing!"
The middle son thought for a moment and realized that he knew of a remedy for the painful rash his father had on his back. In fact, he knew remedies for his brothers painful headaches, and even the limp that the village blacksmith had developed in his left foot. He could recite the ingredients to a thousand different potions and cures. He spent the day reciting lists of ingredients, and the proper instructions on how to make a medicine. It was amazing.
The oldest son had no idea what his gift was. He wasn’t blessed with great sight or healing knowledge. He seemed to be unchanged, and his disappointment was palpable. However, in the course of the day, and the days that followed, it became clear that he had, in fact, been given a gift: he could find any lost thing. He found the ring that his aunt had lost in the vegetable garden the year before he was born, and countless lost coins, buttons, and even nails. Each day, he appreciated his gift more.
The father decided that it was time, now that they had each been given a great gift, to go out into the world and earn a living. So he sent them out with instructions to return in a year so that they could learn from one another.
So the sons set out on their way, each in a different direction, each seeking his own fortune.
The youngest son visited a port town. There, he saw a ship arrive in port full of expensive spices and cloth from the far east. He also saw that most of the spice bins had become overrun with rats, although the ships captain wasn’t aware of it yet. He visited the ship and bought all of the spices from the good bins, being careful not to open the barrels and crates that he knew were already spoiled. The captain sold his spices for what he thought was a fair price. After all, he had brought such a large amount to port, he could set even a low price and would still make substantial profit.
The next day, as the captain discovered that his stocks were far lower than he had thought, he tried to get his good spices back, but it was too late. The ‘seeing’ son had waited for the news to come out that most of the spice in town was ruined, and then approached the home of a wealthy merchant and sold all of the spices at a huge profit.
The middle son went into the forest and picked some common plants, and he set up a medicine stand in a nearby city, selling simple remedies. One day, a young woman came to his shop with a small child. She was frantic. Her son had a rash on his face and was hot to the touch. She was terrified that her son would die. She had been to every healer in town, and none had helped her. When she arrived at the shop of the healing son, he immediately recognized the boy’s condition and prescribed a potion that brought health to the boy within a few days. So grateful was the woman that she asked her husband, a wealthy landowner, to reward the healing son with a handsome sum of money.
The eldest son had tried to make a business out of finding lost and rare items, but his ideas never seemed to work out. One day, when standing in a vegetable stall at the local market, he heard two men talking about a chest of gold that was rumored to be aboard a boat that had crashed on the nearby rocks almost 50 years before. The ship, which had sunk on the sharp shoals just outside the harbor, was rumored to contain the gold, although no one had ever found it. Within a few days, the oldest son returned to his father’s house with some good money in his pocket. Each son, in fact, had built good fortune on the gifts of that single coin.
Now that all three sons had returned, the father announced that it was time for them to marry. They had to each find a bride.
Immediately, the ‘seeing’ son said "I know who she is. I can see her."
He brothers immediately pressed him for details, and the seeing son said, "in a far away kingdom, lies a beautiful princess striken with a mysterious disease. Her father, the king, has offered her hand to any man who can heal her, and countless have tried to no avail. We should go to her and help her."
They immediately realize that, by working together, they can help her. So the seeing son led the way as the family took up the long journey to the far off kingdom. When they arrived, the father explained to the king that his sons could help, and the king immediately gave his consent. The healing son soon wrote down a list of rare plants and roots that were necessary, and the oldest son used his amazing skills to collect the items from the nearby forest and marshlands.
Sure enough, as soon as the princess drank of the medicine, she began to feel better, and within a few days, the king announced that his daughter was healed. He turned to the father and asked which of his sons should marry the princess. The boys immediately set about to fighting.
"If it weren’t for me, no one would have even known to come here," said the seeing son.
"If it weren’t for me, no one would have known what medicine to make her," said the healing son.
"If it weren’t for me, the ingredients for the medicine would not have been found in time to save her," said the finding son.
Each were right. Yet there could only be one groom.
So the king decided that the princess should choose her husband. The princess, extremely grateful that these brothers had saved her life, met with each one to see who she would choose, but she was torn. Each was unique and special in his own way. So she announced that she would give a test.
As the King and the father and the three sons listened, the princess informed them to return the next day. She would ask each of the sons a different question. After hearing the answers, she would make her choice.
The sons went home, but could not rest. Each spent the evening trying to guess what the question may be, and thinking about the ‘perfect’ answer that would convince the princess that he was the right choice.
The next day, the princess brought together the sons.
To the seeing son, she asked "look, as far and as wide as you can, and describe for me the place where true love lies."
The seeing son, caught off guard, stammered for a few minutes and tried to describe a romantic spot on the river bank nearby.
To the healing son, she asked "what is the cure for a broken heart?"
The healing son thought long and hard. There were many potions for pain, but none that could relieve the pain of a broken heart.
To the finding son, she commanded him to "find the source of love."
The finding son, being the oldest, sat quiet and still for a few minutes. Everyone, from the King to the servants busy with the food, stopped moving and sat quietly while the finding son thought, and thought, and thought.
Finally, he said something truly amazing. He said, "Dear princess, I will not answer just one question. I will answer all three."
"The place where true love lies," he said, "is not in a house or a field or a ship. It is in the heart of each person here. It is in each of us, waiting to be set free."
"The cure for a broken heart," he continued, "is to fall in love with another."
"Finally, the source of love is right here," the finding son said, pointing at his father and the king, "in our parents, for they have not only loved us, but given us the courage, the faith, and the strength to love another. "
The princess looked at the finding son’s eyes. Without blinking or turning away, she stared into his eyes, but spoke to her father. "Father," she said, still looking deeply into the eyes of the finding son, "my true love has found me. He used his gift to save me, but he used his heart to answer me."
The princess married that young man, and in time, his brothers found wives in the same kingdom. They made their home there, and lived long and happy lives.