|In ancient China, a certain prince from the region of Thing-Zda was
about to be crowned emperor; however, according to the law, he first
had to get married. Since this meant choosing the future empress, the
prince needed to find a young woman whom he could trust absolutely. On
the advice of a wise man, he decided to summon all the young maidens of
the region so as to find the most worthy candidate. An old lady, who
had served in the palace for many years, heard about the preparations
for this gathering and she was very upset, for her daughter nurtured a
secret love for the prince.|
When the old lady got home, she told her daughter and was horrified to learn that she intended to go to the palace. The old lady was desperate. She knew that her daughter would not stand a chance. All the richest and most beautiful girls from the region would be present. She did not want her daughter's suffering to turn into madness. However, her daughter turned a deaf ear to her advice. She knew that she would not be chosen but it was her only chance to spend at least a few moments close to the prince, and that would make her happy.
That night, when the young woman reached the palace, all the most beautiful girls were indeed there, wearing the most beautiful clothes and the most beautiful jewels, and prepared to do anything to seize the opportunity on offer. Surrounded by the members of his court, the prince announced the challenge. He gave each maiden a seed and said that the young woman who brought him the loveliest flower would be the future empress of China.
The girl took her seed and planted it in a pot. She took care of it with great patience and tenderness. Three months passed and no shoots had appeared. She tried everything she could; she consulted the farmers and peasants, who showed her the most varied methods of cultivation, but all to no avail.
At last, six months were up, and still nothing had grown in her pot. Even though she had nothing to show, she knew how much effort and dedication she had put in during that time, and so she told her mother that she would go back to the palace on the agreed date and at the agreed hour. Inside, she knew that this would be her last meeting with her true love, and she would not have missed it for the world.
The day of the audience arrived. The girl appeared with her pot, and saw that all the other candidates had achieved wonderful results: each girl bore a flower lovelier than the last, in the most varied forms and colours.
Finally, the longed-for moment came. The prince studied each of the candidates' pot with great care and attention. Having inspected them all, he announced the result and chose the servant's daughter as his new wife. All the other girls present protested, saying that he had chosen the only one of them who had failed to grow anything at all. In response, the prince calmly explained the reasoning behind the challenge.
"This young woman was the only one who cultivated the flower that made her worthy of becoming the empress: the flower of honesty. All the seeds I handed out were sterile."
(Adapted from Like the Flowing River by Paulo Coelho)
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