Once upon a time and long ago there lived a king who had three sons called Christopher, David and Matthew. As they grew up together, the three princes became the best of friends. They did everything together. They learned how to swordfight and hunt and shoot arrows together. They studied history and languages together. They did that thing where you put the hood on a falcon and take it off and the falcon flies away for some reason and…I don’t know; it’s just a thing princes do, apparently. In fact, there was really only one thing preventing these three brothers from having a perfect relationship:
They were super competitive.
They were always trying to one up each other. When they went fishing, “I caught a much bigger fish than that!” At the dinner table, “I can eat more suckling pig than you!” When they were playing games together, “Ha! You landed on Marvin Gardens with two hotels! You’re bankrupt!” For some reason known only to the royal psychiatrist, the princes three were each obsessed with being the very best.
One day, their father told them that they must go out into the world and find brides. So the brothers set forth in different directions to seek out awesome girls to marry. Christopher went North, David went East and Matthew went sort of Southwest, that is, he started West then veered slightly South and then he curled around to…never mind, the point is they went out and looked for girls.
C H R I S T O P H E R
Christopher, the eldest, went North to the mountains and arrived at the village of Neun where he announced that he was looking for a wife, and that she’d have to be pretty awesome to marry an awesome prince like him. Now, the good news is that the ruler of Neun did in fact have a beautiful young daughter called Princess Billie who was lovely and fair and graceful and had golden blonde hair and the bluest of all the eyes ever. The bad news is that at the moment, she was not available.
“And why is she not available?” demanded Christopher.
“Because this morning she was kidnapped by a terrible ogre.”
“Well, yeah, I can see where that might be a problem.”
The ruler of Neun said he would give Christopher permission to marry his daughter if he could rescue her from the ogre. To aide him in his quest, he gave the prince three magical items. The first was a gold ring with a red stone which would protect him from the ogre’s hypnotic gaze. The second was a sword which had once been stepped on by an old, nearsighted cow, which according to local legend, meant it was magic somehow (not all local legends are totally reliable, you know). And finally, a pair of really great athletic shoes which offered great arch support and padding, but which were so lightweight that it felt like Christopher was in his bare feet. These weren’t really magic in the strictest sense, but c’mon! How hard is it to find a really great pair of sneakers that don’t cost an arm and a leg? Seriously!
Armed with his new thingies, Christopher strode confidently into the ogre’s cave. His sword drawn, he marched bravely into the cave where he did, indeed, find the princess…who had just finished defeating the ogre on her own.
“Hi there!” she said, in a warm friendly voice. “Did you come to rescue me from the ogre?”
“Well, yeah, kinda.”
“Yeah, sorry. Obviously, I would’ve loved to have waited for you, but I was getting impatient. Also he was going to eat me, so, I figured I’d better do something.”
“No, no, I understand. The important thing is that you’re safe. It’s just…”
“Well, your father gave me all this magic stuff and these awesome sneakers and said if I rescued you I could marry you.”
“Yeah, so it’s a little awkward if I go back and tell him that you…”
“Right, I see what you mean. Well, we can always tell him that you saved me. No one’s ever gonna know.”
“No, that’s not fair. You vanquished him. You should get the credit.”
Anyway, they went on like this for a while and finally decided to share the credit. They went back to Billie’s father and told him that Christopher had arrived just as the princess had sprung into action, and they worked together to defeat the ogre. This seemed to satisfy Billie’s father and he gave his blessing. So Christopher headed for home with his bride-to-be, the strong and beautiful Billie.
D A V I D
David, the middle son, went East to Zehn, one of those countries that someone decided to build in a the desert for some reason. Just as Christopher had done, he announced to anyone who would listen that he was looking for a really cool girl to marry. And, sure enough, the local Sultan had a beautiful daughter called Freema. She was dark-eyed, dark-haired, dark-skinned and oh-so-beautiful. She was lythe and athletic and also happened to be the finest dancer in the country, known far and wide for her infamous Dance Of The Six And One Half Veils. It was one of those belly-type dances where girls’ hips look like they’re made of rubber.
“What must I do to win your daughter’s hand in marriage?” asked David.
“You must perform only one task,” said the Sultan. “You must beat me in a game of skill.”
Well, David was awfully clever and he felt certain he could win, especially with the beautiful Freema to motivate him. “What game shall we play?”
“We shall play chess!” announced the Sultan.
“Yeah, I don’t know how to play chess.”
“Very well. Then we shall play backgammon!”
“I really don’t know how to play backgammon.”
“What are we, five?”
“All right, what do you want to play?”
David thought long and hard. He knew he had to choose just the right game. It had to be a fitting battle of wits between him and this wise old ruler. “How about Monopoly?”
“Perfect! But I get to be the horsey-guy!”
And thus began the longest, most incredible game of Monopoly ever played. For three full weeks the game raged on. Just when one seemed to have the advantage, the other would pick up a Chance card and the tide would turn. The citizens came from miles around to watch the game. Poets and scribes wrote epics about the game. It was physically and emotionally exhausting. Then, finally, twenty-two days, seven hours, four minutes and eighteen seconds later:
“Ha!” said David. “You landed on Marvin Gardens with two hotels! You’re bankrupt!”
And so it was that David had won the Greatest Game Of Monopoly Ever and won the hand of the beautiful and exotic Freema.
M A T T H E W
Matthew, the youngest of the three princes, had heard an old legend about a place called the Elf Islands where beautiful women lived, just waiting for handsome young princes to come and carry them away. So, he went to the type of bar where sailors usually hang out and announced that he was planning a trip to the Elf Islands. When he said this, everyone gasped.
“The Elf Islands? There are monsters there, sir! Sea monsters, haunted islands, mermaids who—”
“Mermaids? That’d be perfect! Wait till my brothers see me marrying a mermaid! Right, who’s with me?”
“Sir, you need to know about these mermaids, they—”
“Money is no object.”
“Yeah, why the heck not?”
And so, with a crew of surprisingly stupid sailors, Matthew set sail for a group of dangerous islands in the hopes of marrying a mermaid.
Yeah, he’s a nice guy, but not a lot going on upstairs, if you know what I mean.
Soon (by which I mean about a month later) the islands were in sight. Matthew gave the command to land the ship at the nearest island and called for a fishing net so that he could catch a bride.
“Sir,” said the wide-eyed sailor from earlier, “I really wish you’d let me tell you about these mermaids.”
“I already know about mermaids, you wide-eyed sailor!”
“My name is Josh, sir…”
“See, the top half is like a lady and the bottom half is like a fish, but I read this story once where the prince kissed one or something and she turned into a—”
“SIR! Please, let me explain. The mermaids of Elf Islands are not like the ones in storybooks.”
“I fear not, sir. See real mermaids sing a beautiful, sweet song to lure men in and then when you’re close enough, they grab you and pull you under and suck out your very soul through your right ear.”
“So…not just pretty girls with fish legs?”
“Not really, no.”
Matthew was beginning to consider giving up and just going home when he heard a beautiful sound. A voice far too beautiful to be human, singing a song that was, at once, beyond his comprehension, and yet so crystal clear that it made him want to weep. Soon, he and all the sailors were leaning over the railing into the water. Sure enough, the ship was entirely surrounded by beautiful maidens floating in the water and singing. Most of the crew were hardened old seadogs, so they had enough sense to ignore the siren song and restrain some of their younger shipmates.
Matthew, however, has been established as sort of foolish, which is why, mere seconds after being told about the treacherous mermaids, he dove into the water.
The mermaids tried to drag him down but Matthew’s crew was able to save him with the very same fishing net he was going to use to catch a bride. But before he was rescued, as the mermaids pawed at him, one swam right up to his left ear and simply whispered, “Please help me.”
Once he was safely back on the deck of the ship, Matthew told his men what had happened. They told him to forget it, that it was just another mermaid trick, but he wasn’t convinced. He leaned over the railing and called out, “Attention mermaids! I am Prince Matthew! My father is a king from a distant land! I demand to speak to you on a matter of great importance.”
A moment later, three mermaids surfaced and, glaring up at the prince said, “What do you want?”
“Have you taken a prisoner?”
“Many years ago, a young woman was scorned by her lover. In her despair we were able to trick her into becoming one of us. Now she is doomed to help us ensnare stupid, gullible men for all eternity.”
“I demand that you set her free at once!”
“What will you give us in exchange?”
“You can take me in her place.”
His crew tried to stop him but he wouldn’t be dissuaded. Doing heroic stuff like this is part of the job when you’re a prince. He took a longboat to the beach, where he stood on the sand and waited. He saw a figure step out of the water, walking onto the land. A moment ago she had been a mermaid. But now she was a beautiful young woman with long cascades of red, red hair and seagreen eyes. She was soft and gentle as the waves that lapped against the beach. As she walked up onto the land, Matthew started to walk down, into the water. At the halfway point, they met and the woman put up a hand to stop him. She turned to the mermaids in the sea. “Give me a moment to thank the man who saved my life.”
The mermaids agreed. The woman put her arms around Matthew’s shoulders and whispered, “The spell they placed on me hasn’t fully worn off yet. This should keep you safe. Until we meet again, my brave prince.” So saying, she kissed Matthew. And not only did he feel the usual awesomeness that comes from getting kissed by a pretty girl, but he also felt something strange. A tremendous rush of energy, as though new life were literally being breathed into him. With a wink and a smile, the young woman continued walking onto the beach and Matthew continued walking into the sea until the mermaids had him and were pulling him under…
But here’s the thing about mermaids: They can’t eat your soul if you haven’t drowned. And there are two ways to avoid drowning if you’re underwater. The first is to be a fish. The second is to have received the legendary Mermaid’s Kiss, which allows the recipient to breathe under water. After nearly an hour of trying unsuccessfully to drown Prince Matthew, the mermaids finally gave up and tossed him back onto the shore like a fish that was too small.
Which is howcome Matthew survived and he and his crew turned the ship around and headed home…with one additional passenger: the gentle and mysterious Princess Karen.
T H E M I R R O R
And so, all three princes returned home and there was a grand and glorious triple wedding. Christopher married Billie, David married Freema and Matthew married Karen. Indeed, everything was all set for one heck of a mega happy ending…except for that nasty competitive streak I mentioned back when this ludicrous story began.
“My wife is the most beautiful girl in the world.”
“No, my wife is!”
“You’re both nuts! My wife is the most beautiful girl in the world!”
Of course, we know that this was the silliest thing in the world to argue over, but for some reason, the princes were determined to settle it once and for all. Which is why they decided to go on another quest, together this time, and seek out the Witch of the Mirrors. Legend had it that in a tiny cottage deep in the forest lived a witch who did nothing all day but make magic mirrors and play the lottery. In two hundred thousand years, she hadn’t won so much as ten bucks, which is why she had so much time to make mirrors.
And why were they seeking the Witch of the Mirrors? Because another legend had it that there was a Mirror of Truth which would answer any question asked truthfully and which never failed to give an answer to any question. So they would simply stand before the mirror ask “Which of our wives is the most beautiful?” and her face would appear before them, thus solving the question once and for all. Unfortunately, no one knew where the Mirror of Truth was. But they figured the Witch was a good place to start. And so, despite the protests of their beautiful new wives, the three stupid princes went forth to find the Witch of the Mirrors to find the Mirror of Truth to find the…whatever, you know the bit.
After two long days of traveling, the princes found the cottage of the Witch of the Mirrors and knocked on her door. Excited to have company for once, the Witch let them in. She showed the princes her impressive collection of magic mirrors. One showed you what you would look like when you were a hundred. One could show you any event in the past that you wanted to see. One of them made you look all bendy and distorted (it was essentially just a fun house mirror). Then there were some that were traveling mirrors. Matthew stepped into one and came out through a mirror on the other side of the hut.
“These are all really cool mirrors,” said David. “But we are looking for a particular mirror. The Mirror of Truth.”
The Witch’s eyes went wide. “The Mirror of Truth? You seek the Mirror of Truth?”
“Er…no, you don’t want that old thing! Wouldn’t you rather have this one? See, when you look inside it, it magically alters the image so that the left appears on the right and the right appears on the—oh, wait, this is just a regular mirror. I should label these better.”
“Please,” said Christopher. “Do you know where the Mirror of Truth is?”
“That mirror was stolen from me a hundred a seven years ago by my cousin, Phil. He lives in an old, haunted castle two hundred leagues from here.”
The princes thanked the Witch and traveled to the old haunted castle of her cousin, Phil. They knocked on the giant doors, which swung open as if under their own power. Swords drawn, the princes stepped carefully into the dark corridor and the doors slammed shut behind them. Then the walls of the corridor lit up with long lines of candles that stretched all the way to the end of the hall. They followed the candles (which went out as they passed) until they reached the throne room. There was Phil, seated on the throne.
“What brings three young princes to my dominion?”
“If you please, sir,” said Matthew. “We seek the Mirror of Truth.”
“The Mirror of Truth? And what sum would you pay for this mirror?”
“Any you care to name,” said David.
“Good to know. But, unfortunately, I do not have the mirror anymore. I gave it as a wedding gift to a great king. It is too far to ride, but I can lend you my dragon to fly you there.”
A few minutes later found the princes riding on the back of a mighty dragon to a place so far away from their home that none of the three princes had even known it existed. Once there, however, the king said he had regifted the mirror to another king and the brothers went to see that king. But this king lost the mirror in a game of cards to a fairy in yet another part of the world. The fairy told them she had given it to an enterprising dwarf who was down on his luck, the dwarf traded it to a dentist in exchange for a painting of some frogs, the dentist sold it to an enchantress and the enchantress had sold it to a witch. By now the princes were getting pretty tired of the whole thing, so the enchantress offered to magically transport them to the home of the witch she had sold it to…
Imagine their surprise when they found themselves back in the home of the Witch of the Mirrors.
“Oh, there you are!” she said cheerfully upon their arrival. “I remembered just after you left. I had the mirror the whole time. You see, I got it from an enchantress who—”
“Will you please just show us the freaking mirror?!?!?!?!”
“Okay! Geez, you’re grumpy! It’s there in the corner.”
Their long, arduous and ultimately pointless journey at an end at last, Christopher, David and Matthew stood shoulder to shoulder to shoulder in front of the Mirror of Truth and, simultaneously, asked the question, “Which of our wives is the most beautiful?” The image in the mirror began to ripple, as though it were a pond someone had tossed a pebble into. Then the image began to change, until it was a perfect likeness of…
“Billie! That’s my Billie!”
“What are you talking about? It’s Freema.”
“Are you two blind? It’s clearly Karen!”
It was clear that though they had asked the same question and were all looking at the same mirror, each prince was seeing a different image. They were each seeing their own wife smiling back at them. They were, in a word, confused.
“Don’t you see?” said the Witch. “Beauty is not something that can be measured or compared or contrasted. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. So the answer to the question ‘Who is the most beautiful girl in the world?’ would be different for every person who asks it. You all have lovely wives, who are probably missing you terribly after all this time you’ve been bouncing around the world (sorry about that, by the way), so what does it matter whose wife is most beautiful.”
And that’s how the princes three learned that sometimes in life there was no biggest or best, there was no winner. Sometimes things were just different. Not better, not worse. Just different. As far as each of them was concerned, they had married the most beautiful girl in the world, so what else mattered?
Finally, the brothers returned home to their wives who were, don’t get me wrong, a little annoyed at their husbands for wasting all that time on such a stupid wild goose chase, but they had also gotten to know each other very well in the meantime and were now closer than sisters. As for the Witch of the Mirrors, she eventually did win the jackpot and retired from mirrormaking once and for all. Today she is known as the Witch of the Large Amount of Money.
And our Princes Three? They of course lived happily ever after.
If you enjoyed this long, rambling tale of competitive brothers and mirrors and Monopoly and...wait, what was this one about? I can't remember. Anyhoo, there's a lot more just like it in Flunkerer's Fables available from the Amazon Kindle Store for hardly any money at all! (But it does cost some money)