Prince leaves home to find everlasting youth, life without death
Adapted by Amy Friedman
Adapted by Amy Friedman
"The Prince of Youth" is a Romanian legend.
Once upon a time a king and queen were awaiting the birth of their first child when suddenly they heard a tiny voice say, "I refuse to be born."
The queen looked at the king. "What can this mean?" she asked. "Our unborn child is talking to us."
The voice spoke again. "Promise me I will never grow old and never die," said the unborn child, "or I will refuse to be born."
"Dear child," the queen pleaded, "you will rule over our kingdom. You will have a happy life, filled with riches and friendship, but I cannot promise anything more."
"Then I will not be born," the voice said. For weeks this argument continued.
Finally, the king impatiently said, "All right, we promise you youth without old age and life without death." And that very night the queen gave birth to a boy.
Once in a while, the king remembered his promise, but the years passed, and it seemed that his son had forgotten his wish.
Then the prince turned 21, and on his birthday he said to his father, "I want to receive my birth wish now."
The king sadly shook his head. "I'm sorry, son, I lied to you. I cannot promise you everlasting youth, and you will one day die. Life and death are out of my realm."
The prince was furious. "You promised me, and since you have broken your promise, I am leaving. I shall find everlasting youth!"
The headstrong son marched out into the world to find his dream. In his travels, he slew monsters, befriended wise old men, and came to know fairies and spirits. And one day he reached the edge of the world he had always known.
The prince stepped over the border into a new land, and the moment he did, all memories of his past life slipped away. He no longer remembered his mother and father. He had no recollection of the fairies and friends of the forest and did not recall the days of his youth. In this land, a place where life went on forever, a land where nobody grew old, the prince began his life anew, without a single thought for all the years that had come before.
He fell in love with a beautiful princess and asked her to be his bride. "I will," she said, "but you must promise me you'll never cross the border into the Valley of Tears. What is past is past."
The prince agreed. He could imagine nothing more wonderful than all he found in this beautiful world. For many years he and the princess lived in happiness among the youthful creatures of land and sea and sky.
Then one day, the prince was hunting when he spied a peculiar creature limping among the trees. The creature was half man and half beast.
Overcome with curiosity, the prince followed the beast as it made its way through the forest. After a while, the prince saw that without his noticing, he had crossed the stream. Now he stood in the Valley of Tears.
In that instant the prince remembered his mother and father, and his heart contracted with sadness and tears fell from his eyes. He began to recall his friends and the fairies, and suddenly he wished only to see his parents' face once more.
He raced back across the stream to tell his wife of his memories and to beg her forgiveness for crossing into the Valley of Tears.
At his wife's side, the prince bent down and said, "I must go see my mother and father, but I promise you I shall return." He kissed his wife and turned to depart.
"Goodbye," his wife said softly, for she understood her prince would never return. She knew, you see, that nobody who leaves the land of youth for more than a few hours can ever return.
But the prince did not yet know this. He set off into the country of his early years. When he arrived, he saw that everything had changed.
When he asked strangers where the fairies had gone, they laughed and said, "Fairies are only characters in tales we tell." And when he asked about the bridges and towers he remembered, they laughed again.
"Such is the stuff of legend," they said. They thought he surely was mad.
When the prince reached the old castle, he found it in ruins. He sat down and wept. When an old man passed by, he asked, "Excuse me, do you know where the king and queen have gone? They are my parents."
The stranger shook his head, but he felt sorry for the prince. He led the prince within the crumbling walls, where the stranger showed him a trunk.
The prince instantly recognized his old hope chest, the place where for hundreds of years his hopes and dreams had awaited his return. He tried to force the heavy lid upward. The rusty hinges creaked ominously, and the lid flew open. But he found none of the treasures and memories of his early years. Instead, death leaped out to embrace him.