The Monkey Princess

Long ago in India, there lived a wealthy Rajah who had seven sons. He treated them all exactly alike because he did not want them to become jealous of one another.

At last, the time came for all seven sons to be married, but where could the Rajah find seven brides who would all be equal in every way?

The Rajah sent his ambassadors to the far ends of the land, but they could not find seven such maiden girls. Although one was very beautiful, another sang and played perfectly, although a third was very clever, nowhere could they find seven maidens equal in every way.

At last, the eldest and wisest of the Rajah’s ambassadors went to his master and said, “Highness, we have tried to fulfil your wishes, but it is impossible. The solution to this problem must therefore be left to chance.”

“What do you mean?” the Rajah asked him.

“Tell each of your sons to take their bows and arrows and go to the top of the tallest tower,” he said. “Each may shoot one arrow in any direction he chooses. The maiden who lives nearest to where each arrow falls shall become the bride of the prince who shot it. Each prince, of course, must promise to abide by the result.”

The Rajah agreed on this, and when he put this plan to his sons, they agreed also. The seven princes took their bows and arrows and went to the top of the tallest tower in the kingdom. Then, one by one, they fired their hands far into the distance.

All the princes were worried, in case their arrows fell near the home of an ugly bad-tem- pered maiden, but, at first, all went well. The first six sons to shoot were lucky, for their arrows found them six charming and beautiful brides.

However, the youngest son shot his arrow much farther than the others. It went far over the city wall and disappeared into a thick jungle. At last, it was found in the branches of an old banyan tree, and a monkey was sitting close by.

The Rajah was very sad and insisted his youngest son must shoot again, but the prince refused to break his vow. As it seemed that Fate would not allow him a bride, he decided to make a pet of the little monkey that his arrow had fallen so close to. He named her Rani, which means Queen.

In the following weeks, there was great feasting and celebration at the palaces of the other six princes and their new brides. There were dances, banquets, parties and huge firework displays night after night. The Rajah was still heavy-hearted at the thought of his youngest son sitting alone in his palace, but he knew he could not make him break his vow.

One night, as the youngest prince sat in his palace, Rani, the little pet monkey, climbed onto his knee, as she often did when she thought her master looked sad.

“What can I do?” he asked her. “I would like to entertain my father, as my other brothers have done, but how can I? I have no wife. What shall I do, little Rani?”

Then to his surprise, the little monkey said, “Do not worry, master.”

So saying, she skipped off and returned a few minutes later, clutching a piece of broken china she handed to him. On the back were written some words, instructing him to take it and throw it into the hollow banyan tree.

The following day, when the prince awoke, he could not believe that Rani had spoken to him. He was sure he had dreamt it. However, he set forth into the jungle, back to the spot where his arrow had landed, and threw the china into the hollow of the banyan tree.

As he did so, a beautiful girl appeared in the hollow and beckoned to him as he followed her into the hole. She disappeared, and the prince found himself in the tunnel. At last, the tunnel led out into a beautiful garden and there, seated on a throne on the terrace, was a lovely maiden whom the prince fell in love with her at once.

“So prince,” she said, “you have come. I am glad, but you must come no closer. Go home and send the invitations to your celebration feast. Do only as I say.”

The prince went home and told this story to the little monkey, Rani, but she said nothing.

When the prince awoke on the day of the celebrations, he was amazed to find that the whole palace had changed. It was far more beautiful than ever, with new furnishings, rich tapestries and gold and silver ornaments. He went into the gardens and found new pools, terraces and fountains. Everywhere he looked, there were colourful plants and shrubs.

Finally, the young prince’s guests arrived, and all were amazed at the lavish style in which they were entertained.

However, the prince was worried. All the guests thought that the celebrations were for his wedding. How could he explain what had happened? He certainly had no bride to introduce to them.

What, then, could he do? As soon as he was able, he slipped away to find Rani.

When he entered the room where he had left her, there sat not Rani but the beautiful lady.

“Prince,” said she, “you wanted a bride. Here I am. As soon as I saw you, I fell in love, just as you did with me.”

The prince kissed her but then suddenly looked around the room in dismay. “Where is Rani?” he asked.

“You will never see her again,” said the lovely maiden. “Do you know why?”

The prince shook his head.

“Because I was that monkey,” she replied. “When your arrow landed in that tree, I changed myself into a monkey to test you, to see if you would keep your vow. You have been faithful to it.”

The prince embraced her joyfully. Then he took his lovely bride to be presented to his guests and joined the celebrations, but of course, nobody guessed the secret of the monkey princess.

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