Danish Fairy and Folk Tales/The Trial

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ONCE upon a time there lived a king in a country far away from ours. He had three sons, any of whom he could select as his successor. As he was a very old man, all his counsellors and friends among the noblemen besought him to determine which of the three princes he would choose.

The king promised to make the decision in a month's time, and at the end of the first week he requested his oldest son to be ready to ride out with him the following morning at a certain early hour.

Early in the morning, yet later than they had agreed, the prince appeared in the king's rooms. His father said that he desired to dress, and asked the young man to fetch his garments. The prince turned to a valet, and bid him bring them. The valet inquired, however, which ones he should bring, whereupon the young man repeated the question to the king. He replied, "My overcoat." "Which one?" then asked the valet. So the king was obliged to make yet another explanation about this matter; and thus they went on, until at length he was dressed to his satisfaction.

He now told his son to saddle his horse and bring it forward. The young man willingly complied, ordering the Royal groom to make his father's horse ready for a ride. "Which one of them?" inquired the groom, and the prince was again obliged to seek information from the king. Thus it went on, until at length the horse was standing in front of the door ready for the king to mount. Now the king declared that he could not go, and asked the prince to do so, and to notice carefully all that he saw on his way, in order that he might be prepared on his return to relate all that was important and noteworthy.

So the prince mounted, and rode, accompanied by all the knights and noblemen, through the city. They formed a stately parade, which was headed by a choice corps of kettle-drummers, trumpeters, and flautists. When they returned to the palace, the king asked his son what he had seen and how he had liked it. "Well enough," replied the young man, "but the kettle-drummers made too much noise!"

At the end of another week the king called his second-oldest son, and repeated to him the same instructions as were given in the case of his brother. This young man acted exactly like the other prince.

A few days later the king bid his youngest son appear before him the following morning by daybreak. He came in due time, and finding his father yet sleeping, waited for him to awake. When this took place he entered the sleeping-room, bowed reverently to the monarch, and received orders to fetch his clothes. He inquired very carefully as to the king's wishes, allowed no one but himself to bring the articles, and assisted him in putting them on, declaring that no one but he himself should help his father. At length the king was dressed to his satisfaction, whereupon he requested the young man to order the horse ready for a ride. Having inquired about his father's wishes regarding the saddle, bridle, spurs, sword, and the rest of the equipment, he went into the stable and arranged it all according to the directions which he had received. When all was ready the king had determined, however, to remain at home, but asked the prince to ride out into the city and give careful attention to all that he heard and saw.

Mounting the horse, the prince first proceeded to the centre of the city, where he inspected the Royal treasury and the churches. Then he proceeded to examine the fortifications around the city, mustered the army, held exercises with the soldiers, and took a general view of the condition of things.

Towards evening he returned home, and when the king asked him to relate what he had seen, he hesitated, saying that he was afraid of arousing his anger. But when the king bid him speak freely, the prince stated that although he (the king) was a skilful man and an able ruler, he did not seem as clever as he might be, otherwise he would have conquered the whole world long ago. His army was so large and well equipped that this would be an easy matter for him!

This reproach pleased the king so much that on the appointed day when the council was to listen to his decision in the matter of the succession, he announced that his youngest son would be best fitted for governing the land. Although his two older sons were good and able young men in their way, he would choose neither of them, as they had both fallen short of his expectations.