The Lilac Fairy Book
The False Prince and the True
The king had just awakened from his midday sleep, for it was summer, and everyone rose
early and rested from twelve to three, as they do in hot countries. He had dressed himself
in cool white clothes, and was passing through the hall on his way to the council
chamber, when a number of young nobles suddenly appeared before him, and one
amongst them stepped forward and spoke.
'Sire, this morning we were all playing tennis in the court, the prince and this gentleman
with the rest, when there broke out some dispute about the game. The prince lost his
temper, and said many insulting things to the other, who was playing against him, till at
length the gentleman whom you see there struck him violently in the face, so that the
blood ran from his mouth and nose. We were all so horrified at the sight, that we should
most likely have killed the man then and there, for daring to lay hands on the prince, had
not his grandfather the duke stepped between and commanded us to lay the affair before
The king had listened attentively to the story, and when it was ended he said:
'I suppose the prince had no arms with him, or else he would have used them?'
'Yes, sire, he had arms; he always carries a dagger in his belt. But when he saw the blood
pouring from his face, he went to a corner of the court and began to cry, which was the
strangest thing of all.'
On hearing this the king walked to the window and stood for a few minutes with his back
to the room, where the company of young men remained silent. Then he came back, his
face white and stern.
'I tell you,' he said, 'and it is the solemn truth, that I would rather you had told me that the
prince was dead, though he is my only son, than know that he would suffer such an injury
without attempting to avenge it. As for the gentleman who struck him, he will be brought
before my judges, and will plead his own cause, but I hardly think he can escape death,
after having assaulted the heir to the crown.'
The young man raised his head as if to reply, but the king would not listen, and
commanded his guards to put him under arrest, adding, however, that if the prisoner
wished to visit any part of the city, he was at liberty to do so properly guarded, and in
fifteen days he would be brought to trial before the highest judges in the land.
The young man left the king's presence, surrounded by soldiers, and accompanied by
many of his friends, for he was a great favourite. By their advice he spent the fourteen
days that remained to him going about to seek counsel from wise men of all sorts, as to
how he might escape death, but no one could help him, for none could find any excuse
for the blow he had given to the prince.