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The Riddle Princess - Teravili Kumari Kava

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Legends of Ceylon

In a beautiful country called Ceylon, once upon a time there lived a King and his only daughter, who was both his joy and his despair.

His joy, for she was what the King loved most on earth.

His despair, because she would not marry, but spent all her time in solving riddles.

From all parts of the world she had gathered ancient books of riddles. When she was a child she had coaxed her father into building her a high tower, to which was fixed a rope ladder. In the tower she kept her precious books of riddles, and all the toys and playthings of her childhood.

The Princess had hardly known what it was to be loved by a mother when her mother died.

Her books were her friends, and with them she spent most of her time solving riddles.

When she entered her tower she would draw her rope ladder after her, and, undisturbed, give all her mind to her puzzles.

Now the King had a wicked cousin who aspired to the throne, and the King feared that at his death his cousin would rob his daughter of her rights.

He longed that she should marry and have a husband to protect her; besides, in Ceylon at that time it was a disgrace to be unmarried after a certain age—unless the unmarried person happened to be either a priest or priestess.

The King's chiefs, too, urged the King to arrange a marriage for his daughter with a suitable Prince.

In Ceylon from that time to this day there is the professional matchmaker, and the court matchmaker was anxious to earn his fee.

But what was the King to do when the Princess would not consent to marry ?

She would laugh, and tease or coax him into talking of something else each time he broached the subject. One day, however, he determined that she should listen to him, and he showed her that it was a duty she owed her father and her country that she should marry.

And of course the Riddle Princess was obliged to consent.

But she made her conditions, as every woman does when she is obliged to give in, and these were her conditions:—

That she would marry the Prince who would ask her a riddle she failed to solve.

But those who failed in the attempt were to pay for failure with their lives.

The Princess was very beautiful, and the King had a faithful portrait of her painted, which he sent by his favourite courtier all over the wide world.

With her portrait went a scroll of ola-leaf encased in ivory, containing the conditions the Riddle Princess made in consenting to marry.

It was not long before Princes from all parts of the world flocked to Ceylon, for the Princess was enticingly beautiful.

Those who saw her lovely portrait had no peace till they competed for her hand.

And then they found peace only in death, for the Riddle Princess could solve every riddle they put to her.

This is what the Rajah of Rajputana, who reigned over twenty States in India, told his son, when he begged permission to try his luck with the Riddle Princess.

"Would you court death, my son," asked the Rajah, " and at my death let a stranger rule the twenty States over which our ancestors ruled in direct line for countless generations?"

And for a while the Rajah's son did his best to forget the face of the Riddle Princess.

But in his dreams the beautiful face of the portrait haunted him; in her eyes he seemed to read an unsolved riddle; her lips seemed to speak to him. What did they say—that they had the key—the key to what ? To the unsolved riddle in her eyes ? The key to his happiness ?

Ah! he must go, for the Riddle Princess called him in his dreams and his days were restless.

It was only, however, when he had given his father a solemn promise that he would not compete for the Princess's hand that the Rajah consented to his visiting Ceylon, and in parting gave his son three lustrous pearls. So full of light were these pearls that they had been used by the Rajah on special occasions to light up his Palace at night.

Tucking the pearls securely away into the folds of his turban, the Rajah's son left for Ceylon disguised as a poor pilgrim, and when he arrived, sought his way to the Royal Palace.

But first he found the port full of strange vessels from distant lands, and that the whole town was in a stir, the streets crowded with foreigners and natives of the country, all in queer garments which the Rajah's son had never seen before, and talking languages he had never before heard.

No one took much notice of the poor Pilgrim who hung about the palace gates all day.

In the evening he found his way to the Princess's tower, and there he stationed himself at the foot of the rope ladder. At dusk the Princess descended and noticing the poor Pilgrim, asked of him what he wanted. "Food," replied the Pilgrim, " for I am hungry."

"Go," said the Princess to her maids-in-waiting, "bring this Pilgrim good food and plenty of it."

And, she thought to herself, I shall see whether he eats it, for he does not look ill-nourished and I fear he is an impostor. If he eats all I give him I shall be surprised and puzzled.

Meanwhile the Princess mounted her rope ladder to watch the Pilgrim from a tiny window in her tower, from where she could see without being seen. When the food was brought to him, the Rajah's son took out of his turban one of the pearls his father had given him, and placing it on a stone near by, he sat down and made a hearty meal of the excellent food provided.

"Ah," thought he, "I have seen you, my beautiful Princess, and a million times more beautiful you are than ever artist painted. Full well I know too that you are watching me, and I shall win you, my Princess, or willingly die in the attempt."

When his meal was over the Princess came to him and begged of him to sell her his pearl.

" Beautiful Princess," said the Pilgrim, "my pearl is not for sale, yet you may have it for the asking, on condition you let me kiss your feet.

And off went the Princess with the pearl to shew it to her father the King.

On the morrow the Pilgrim came again, bringing a larger and more lustrous pearl with him, and begged for food as he had done on the previous day.

And this time it was the forehead of the Princess he would kiss before parting with his pearl.

"Tis a big price to pay," said the Princess, "and yet you said your pearl was not for sale; however, I shall pay for it," and cautiously looking round to make sure she was unobserved, she let the poor Pilgrim kiss her, and hastened away with the pearl to the Palace.

When the third evening approached the Princess found herself looking out for the poor Pilgrim, but it grew dark and she longed for his coming before he arrived. Who was he? The Princess felt sure he was not the poor Pilgrim he professed to be—here was a riddle she could not solve! And why did she long for his coming?

Ah me! She was unhappy. She wished she were a poor pilgrim girl and could wander about the world with the Pilgrim at her side.

But there he was at the foot of her tower, with a great white light in his hand.

Down the rope ladder she climbed, and taking the Pilgrim by the hand, she led him to her father.

They supped together, the Princess, the King and the Pilgrim, by the light of the great white pearl.

At the end of the meal the Princess would have the pearl, offering half her kingdom for it.

But the pearl was not for sale, though it could be got for the asking, on condition the Princess let the Pilgrim kiss her on her heart.

When he had sold his pearls for three kisses the Rajah's son left Ceylon.

And the Princess from her tower waited and watched at dusk for the poor Pilgrim in vain.

After many days as the Princess looked out from her tower, she saw a larger fleet of beautifiul ships than ever she had seen before, enter the harbour.

And soon news was brought to the Palace that a Rajah's son was on his way to try his luck with the Riddle Princess, for he knew of a riddle she would not solve.

And the Princess waited his coming, sad that so many brave princes should lose their lives for her. The Riddle Princess had learnt to think of others in the lonely hours she spent at dusk on her tower, waiting and watching for the poor Pilgrim who never came.

At length the Rajah's son reached the Palace, accompanied by his father the Rajah of Rajputana.

"Beautiful Princess," he said, "this is my riddle, solve it if you will."

"I was out hunting in a strange land when a beautiful antlered deer came into sight; carefully aiming at its feet I fired, but it ran wounded away."

"The next day on the same spot I caught sight of the same beautiful animal, and fired, this time aiming at its forehead. It fell, but when I approached, it darted up and disappeared. For the third time on the third day I found the deer at the same spot, and shot it as I thought through the heart. On arriving, however, at the spot where I thought I saw it fall, it was nowhere to be seen. Can you solve the riddle?"

Now the Princess while listening to the riddle guessed that the Rajah's son was no other than her poor Pilgrim. That she guessed more than this you may be sure, but she did not even pretend to try to solve the riddle; but giving it up, she gladly consented to marry the Rajah's son, to the very great delight of the King, the Rajah and their two dear children.



Owner/Source  Aline van Dort 
Date  Ca. 1914 
Place  Colombo 

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octobre 1996 - march 2007, created by Mascha van Dort, Delft, The Netherlands.