By Paulo Coelho
For The Bali Times
Maria Emilia Voss told me this story 10 years ago, and I have decided to repeat it here:
In ancient China a certain prince in the region of Thing-Zda was about to be crowned Emperor; before that, in accordance with the law, he had to get married.
Advised by a wise man, he decided to call all the young women in the region to choose the most suitable among them. An old lady who had been a servant in the palace for many years heard the comments on the preparations for the audience and felt a deep sadness, for her daughter nurtured a secret love for the prince.
On reaching home and conveying the news, she was astonished to hear that her daughter also intended to present herself before the prince.
“My child, what are you going to do there? All the prettiest and richest young women in the court will be there. Get that silly idea out of your head! I know that you must be suffering, but don’t change your suffering into madness!”
“Dearest mother, I am not suffering and far less have I gone crazy. I know that I shall never be the chosen one, but it’s my chance to be at least for a few minutes close to the prince. That makes me happy, even knowing that my fate lies elsewhere.”
At night, when the young woman reached the palace, indeed all the prettiest young ladies were there, dressed in the prettiest clothes, displaying the most beautiful jewels and willing to fight in every possible way for the opportunity that lay open to them.
Surrounded by his court, the prince announced the challenge:
“I shall give each of you a seed. The one who brings me the prettiest flower in six months’ time will be the future Empress of China.”
The young girl took her seed, planted it in a vase and even though she did not know much about the art of gardening, took care of the earth with great patience and tenderness, for she thought that if the beauty of flowers was as deep as her love, then she did not need to worry about the result.
Three months passed by and nothing bloomed. The young woman tried a bit of everything, spoke to farmers and peasants – who taught her all sorts of gardening techniques – but nothing worked, all her efforts came to nothing.
Finally, the six months came to an end and nothing had flourished in her vase. Even knowing that she had nothing to show, she decided to return to the palace, realizing that this would be the last meeting with her beloved.
The day arrived for the new audience. The girl appeared with her vase without a plant, and saw that all the other pretenders had managed to produce fine results, each of them with a prettier flower than the next, all with a variety of shapes and colors.
At last came the moment everyone was waiting for: the prince entered and observed each of the pretenders with great care and attention. After reviewing them all, he announced the result, pointing to his servant’s daughter as his chosen wife.
Everyone present began to complain, saying that he chose precisely the one candidate who had failed in the assigned task.
Then the prince very calmly clarified the reason for his choice:
“She was the only one among you all to cultivate the flower that made her worthy to become an Empress: the flower of honesty.
“All the seeds that I distributed were sterile, and there was absolutely no way that they could flourish.”
© Translated by James Mulholland
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