Once, a long time ago, a fair king with a vast kingdom had three sons. The king tried to rule fairly and justly, and tried to be a good father and a husband. As it happens, the king grew older. His wife, the queen, saw how much it pained him to try and choose which of his sons would rule the kingdom once he passed.
So, being very wise and clever, the queen advised her husband that he should send each of their sons to bring the richest treasure of the kingdom to their father. “For,” she said. “A true and just king will know the worth of every step of his kingdom.”
The King agreed, and the next day called to his oldest son and told him. “Travel to the farthest point and back, and bring me the richest treasure of my kingdom.”
Wanting to please his father, the oldest son set out straight away, traveling to the farthest point of the kingdom where there stood a grand palace. The prince rode on the fastest horse and stopped for nothing and no one. There he hired a cart and a hundred men to guard it and filled it with all the gold and jewels he could find.
The oldest prince marched the cart back across the kingdom, and whenever he encountered a traveler on the road would shout “Out of the way! Out of the way! Off the king’s road!” so he arrived very quickly.
And when the king saw the cart full of gold and jewels and the hundred strong men to guard it, he was somewhat impressed, but not satisfied that this was the richest treasures of his kingdom.
Thus, he called to his middle son and said to him: “Travel to the farthest point and back, and bring me the richest treasures of my kingdom.”
Now the middle son took a steady horse and raced straight away to the farthest point of the kingdom. He stopped only briefly to rest and to eat and arrived very shortly at the grand palace. And he thought to himself that if one cart hadn’t been enough for his father, then surely two carts would be. And so he hired two carts and filled them with gold, and jewels and priceless paintings and he hired two hundred men to guard each cart.
The middle prince began back to his father. He did not order other travelers off the road as his elder brother had, but when they would ask him for the news or the time, or even just greet him he would stick his nose in the air and tell them “Begone! I am a prince and you are not. My time is too valuable.”
And so the middle prince arrived very soon home with two carts and two hundred men to guard them, the king was decently impressed, but not satisfied that this was the richest treasure of his kingdom.
Thus, he called to his youngest son and said to him: “Travel to the farthest point of our kingdom and back and bring me the richest treasures of my kingdom.”
The youngest prince agreed and bade his mother and father and brothers goodbye and gave them all a hug and a kiss before he took a slow horse and went on his way to the farthest point of the kingdom where there was a grand palace.
His horse was very slow, so one season had changed to the next by the time he arrived and the youngest prince marveled at the sight of the land. As he was traveling, he found several perfectly shaped leaves in their brightest autumn colors of gold and ruby. He said to himself, “they are not real gold and ruby, but they are beautiful. I will bring them so I may at least show my mother how beautiful they are.”
And so the youngest prince brought them along with him.
When he reached the farthest point of the kingdom he spoke to the man who had given his brothers their carts.
The cart maker apologized but he only had one cart left. “I’m very sorry, Your Highness,” the man told him. “Though it is smaller than the ones your brothers bought, but I would have to ask more for it than I did for the others.”
“Why would that be?” The youngest prince.
“It is a good cart. It’s seen many years and it is still strong and sturdy. It is also the last cart I was able to build with my father. It is worth more than anything I own.”
The youngest prince understood that and considered it for a long time before he spoke. “I will not buy your cart. I will hire you instead to drive it for me so that I may show my father the richest treasures of his kingdom and the quality of his peoples’ work.”
This overjoyed the cart maker because he had often wanted to see the sights of the land, but not had much reason to travel so he agreed.
Now came time to fill the cart with the richest treasure, and the youngest prince discovered that when they had filled all three carts, his older brothers had not left a single fleck of gold, or painting or jewel in the grand palace at the farthest point of the kingdom. With winter approaching, the big palace was cold and empty but the prince decided he would stay until the snow had begun to clear and he could safely travel.
One night, a great storm blew through and the youngest prince heard a knocking at the door. He went to it, and was surprised to find a young woman there. “Please, I only need a little shelter from the storm. I cannot pay you with anymore more than songs, but may I stay?”
It was cold and the palace a little lonely, so the prince agreed and brought her in and warmed her by the fire and fed her.
She thanked him, and as agreed, she sang for him the sweetest songs with the clearest voice so full of love and passion that the prince found himself crying.
And so he spoke to her. “When I leave, will you travel with me and sing for my father so that I may show him the richest treasures of his kingdom and the joy in their songs?”
To this she agreed for she enjoyed her songs and hoped it would please the king. For the winter they would stay in the big empty palace. There were several storms over the season and each time they took in travelers and others who needed a little shelter, warming the palace and once again filling it. Each time a new traveler arrived, the prince marveled at the stories they shared with him and so passed the winter quite contently. Many of those he offered shelter to offered this or that trinket, or some small token which the prince took, cherishing each one and stowing it to share with his father when he returned.
Spring soon arrived and so with it, the prince and the young woman and the cart maker began to fill the cart with some of the trinkets and tokens they had been gifted. When they had packed up and were ready, the cart only held a few handfuls of things and nothing like the gold and treasures his brothers had brought back.
The youngest prince did not worry though, for there was a long way to go between where he was and home and was certain he could find a treasure that might please his father.
And so the young woman, the youngest prince and the cart maker set off to return the prince home. As they traveled, they were greeted by other travelers and exchanged the news and stories with those they met. Most nights they shared their campfire with someone new, trading stories and little tokens of things.
Now as they met new travelers and added new things, the cart slowly filled until at last they arrived at the castle. It was soon announced to the King and Queen that the youngest prince had arrived again.
His mother wept upon seeing him, having feared something had happened to him since he was gone much longer than his brothers. His brothers too, were overjoyed to see him, and upon seeing how little he had brought back felt sorry for him, thinking to themselves that he could not possibly have anything worth value with him in his old, sturdy cart.
When the prince greeted his father, the King was overjoyed to have his son again, and listened when the youngest prince began to explain.
“You have asked for the richest treasure of your kingdom and I have done my best to carry it all here. Your kingdom is not rich with gold or jewels. It is rich with people. Come and talk to the cart maker with me and you will see.”
And so the king spoke with the cart maker and learned that it was he who built the three carts the first two princes had brought their treasures back with them, and that the cart the prince had hired him to drive was the last one he had built with his father.
The king was pleased with this. “This is one cart is worth as much as the three your brothers brought back for me.”
The prince spoke again. “Your kingdom is not rich with gold or jewels, it is rich with joy. Listen to her song and you will hear.”
The young woman began to sing, for she had learned several new songs while traveling and speaking with many of the others they had met. Her song moved the king, and his sons and all those who heard it to joyful tears for she sang so sweet and so true of what had made her the happiest in her travels.
The king was indeed pleased with this. “Her voice and passion are worth all the gold and jewels your brothers have brought back.”
At last, the prince opened his little journal where he had been keeping the some of the leaves and the pressed flowers and plants of his travels. “Your kingdom is not rich with gold or jewels,” said the prince. “It is rich with beauty. Look at these and you will understand.”
And so the king looked through and saw all the colors of the gold and jewels his first two sons had brought back, all brightly displayed in the flowers and plants his youngest son had been taking the time to collect and preserve.
This pleased the king more than he could say and he announced joyously that his youngest prince would be the next king. “For,” he said. “A true and just king will know the worth of every step of his kingdom.”
And so it was decided. Humbled by their failures, his brothers asked him to teach him how to see the value of the kingdom the way he had and the prince instead gave them each two slow horses and sent them off to travel. He took the gold and jewels his brothers had brought back and the three hundred men and he used it to fix the concerns of the travelers he had met.
Eventually he became king, and his young wife would sing him the sweetest songs when he was troubled and grew wise and clever herself. The cart maker was only too pleased to open another shop, and to give his first one to his own son and as he grew older, traveled home again in his sturdy cart to build carts and birdhouses and other things with his grandchildren.
And the kingdom prospered, rich with people, if not with gold and jewels.