Many years ago, far away in an Arab land, there was a splendid kingdom overflowing with good and plenty. It was a kingdom full of flowers of every hue, where clear, sweet water rushed in the rivers and the people lived in happiness and joy.
The kingdom's young princess was the most beautiful maiden in the land. So great was her beauty that the poets wrote: "If our kingdom is the crown of the east, our princess is the jewel in that crown." Artists tried to capture her beauty in paint on canvas, likening it to the full moon that illuminates the dark night sky. She truly was the most beautiful of princesses.
One day, on the order of her father the Sultan, the princess was taken for a tour outside the palace and its grounds, so that, for the first time in her life, she could see for herself what the country looked like up close, and how the simple people lived. As they walked through the marketplace, at a moment when the guards were busy looking at all the colorful wares on display, a man stepped out of the crowd and approached the princess. He was an old hobo, dressed in rags. But he was a wise man and his bright eyes shone. He whispered a few secret words in the princess's ear and in a moment he had vanished back into the throng. But his words etched themselves so deeply into her heart it was as if they had been engraved there, and they changed her life forever.
A short time later, the princess's mother, the queen, noticed a change in her daughter's behavior. The princess began to lose interest in the pleasures of palace life and to dress in simple clothes. She neglected her dancing lessons, her music lessons, and her lessons in royal etiquette, and preferred to spend her time feeding the birds in the courtyard and tending to the flowers. She even asked permission to leave the palace from time to time and wandered through the streets and alleyways of the marketplace, wearing rough-hewn fabrics and a veil that covered her face.
Concerned, the queen sought out the princess. "Most precious and beloved daughter of mine," she said, "as your mother, who knows you so well, I sense that something is troubling you. Why else would you forego the pleasures of palace life and choose to dress like a simple country girl? Have you forgotten that you are the most beautiful young woman in the land? What is it that weighs so heavily on your heart? Why would you hide your extraordinary beauty, extolled by the greatest poets, in this way?"
"My dearest mother," the princess replied, "Don't you know that beauty is fleeting? Consider your niece for example, the esteemed queen of the western kingdom. In her youth, wasn't she also considered the most beautiful of women? And now think of her. Time has robbed her not only of her loveliness, but also of the joy that was in her heart. Beauty alone is certainly not the source of happiness."
When the queen heard her daughter's words she too sank deep in thought. Troubled by the significance of what the princess had said the queen hurried to consult her husband, the Sultan.
The Sultan immediately went in search of the princess. "My dearest daughter," he reproached her gently, "Why do you worry your mother so, with your thoughts and musings? Do you not see all the happiness that surrounds you? Feast your eyes on the many precious jewels in your room, on the cashmere carpets that line the corridors of our magnificent palace, and on the golden treasures in the cellar. Do not all of these fill your heart with pleasure and joy?"
"Dearest father," the princess replied, "Don't you know that the glitter of gold fades with the passage of time? Consider your nephew, the revered Sultan of the eastern kingdom. He is said to be the richest of all men, and yet, the simplest and lowliest of his subjects has more joy in his heart. And so, my father, even treasures of gold do not bring happiness."
When the Sultan heard her words, he too was plunged deep into thoughts and reflections, and yet, in his heart of hearts, he felt, "My daughter is certainly very different from other young girls, but for some reason I trust her feelings. I sense that her heart is pure and full of wisdom. Therefore, I must not stand in her way." And so, with the consent of the goodhearted Sultan, the princess was permitted to follow her heart. Once she had fulfilled her duties in the palace, she would walk out through the grand gates and go to the hospital to help the poor and suffering. Dressed in simple country clothes, no one suspected that she was the royal princess.
One sad day a war broke out. The Scarlet-Robed Sultan who ruled the adjacent land decided to conquer his peace-loving neighbor. He wanted to rule over both domains, to possess the beauty of the small kingdom next door, to decorate his garden with its gorgeous blooms, and to fertilize his lands with the water of its rivers.
The princess's father was forced to send the army to defend his territory from the invader. It was a long and difficult war that sowed much devastation and destruction. The land became barren and grey, the many and varied crops withered and died, the rivers ran dry and the people began to starve. Sorrow, poverty, and suffering were everywhere and all hearts filled with despair.
One day the Sultan turned to the princess, "Oh my daughter, I have never seen such terrible misery. Our troops are worn out and our subjects are wretched. As Sultan it is my responsibility to do everything I can to put an end to this terrible disaster. Your heart, dear daughter, has always been so pure and clear and you have always been able to see the right path, even when the eyes of others are clouded. My eyes are weary and my heart is heavy, please daughter, tell me, what is your advice?"
"Father, you must meet the Scarlet-Robed Sultan, and you must speak to him with a heart that is empty of anger and vengeance. That is the only way. But remember oh father, only if you stand before your rival pure of heart will your words find their way into his heart and open his eyes to the madness and illogic of this war."
The kindhearted Sultan listened intently and spoke quietly to the princess, "The Scarlet-Robed Sultan is a stubborn and uncompromising man. Yet when I listen to your words my daughter, my heart is filled with hope, and my doubts fade away. Oh my girl, you have just granted me not only what I asked for, but also a new and marvelous idea!"
The next day the Sultan called a special meeting, where he stood face to face with his adversary, the Sultan of the Scarlet Robe. "Your Majesty and most honored and worthy opponent!" the Sultan addressed his sworn enemy, "I know that we have had our disagreements, and that we have each caused the other much suffering. For long days now our armies have been locked in combat and our subjects tormented and starving.
"As a man of honor I turn to you, since I believe that it is our shared wish to put an end to this bloodshed. I believe we have both had our fill of war and killing. I requested this meeting today because I am certain that it is in our power to find a solution to this dispute, and that by combining our forces we may find a path to peace! "Yet, before I present my case in the spirit of compassion, I would like to make a request. My daughter, the young princess, would like to whisper something in your royal ear. She is known for her kindheartedness and healing ways. I beseech you, most respected foe, please do not rebuff my modest request but accept it as a gesture of friendship and peace."
The Sultan of the Scarlet Robe was silent for some moments. It seemed that the unusual appeal surprised him somewhat and perhaps even touched his heart. Another moment passed and he nodded his assent. The princess's father motioned with his hand, and she set out across the extravagant hall, taking small, soft steps toward the Scarlet-Robed Sultan. As she made her way among the guards and assembled dignitaries, the princess did not look like an ordinary young girl. Blessed with her wondrous beauty and grace, she seemed to glow. The closer she moved toward the Scarlet Sultan the deeper was the silence that filled the room.
The large and imposing man inclined his head in the direction of the girl who was coming close to his ear, to whisper into it the secret revealed to her years before by the poor, wise man from the market. "Remember your Highness; remember… the only beauty that lasts forever is the beauty that resides in your heart."
The Scarlet Sultan leaned back in his chair and sat perfectly still. The tension in the hall continued to mount and the princess's father felt his heart pound in his chest.
After a moment that seemed to last an eternity, the Scarlet-Robed Sultan stood up and rose to his full height. He walked over slowly to the large palace window and surveyed the neighboring kingdom. Although he had admired the vistas of the adjacent land countless times, this time his eyes beheld a new and painful truth. The fair land that had always seemed to glow with loveliness and plenty and which he had coveted with all his heart was now stripped of any spark of light or beauty. It was grey, poor, dry, and tired. Instead of the light that he so desired, the Scarlet-Robed Sultan saw only darkness. He understood the profound truth of the words that the princess had whispered to him, and the important lesson they contained. His heart felt cleansed of anger and fear, as profound sorrow and compassion took their place. He looked over at his rival, who was watching him intently from the opposite end of the room. His intense desire to go to war and conquer seemed suddenly empty of all meaning and he found that he couldn't understand how he had been so blind.
As if on cue, the two elderly sultans began to walk toward each other until they met in the center of the hall. They gazed into each other's eyes and embraced warmly.
From that day onward, peace returned. The two rulers became allies. They declared an immediate ceasefire and announced a new age of fraternity and friendship. The borders were opened and the citizens of the two kingdoms enjoyed lives of harmony and plenty. It was the dawn of an era in which both peoples lived lives of happiness, contentment, and security.
In time, the young princess inherited the throne and became the most magnificent of queens. Her unique goodness and purity of heart filled every corner of the land, helping the flowers to regain their magnificent blooms and the rushing water to flow again in the streams that reached every crevice. Her tenderness and kindness could be heard in the joyous chirping of the birds and bestowed warmth and love on the hearts of all. Under her gentle, soothing hands, through her wisdom and love, the kingdom was filled once more with happiness – a happiness deeper and more genuine than ever before.
Countless songs and legends were written about the magical beauty of her heart, and it was said that it was greater indeed than all the beauty ever seen in the world. This is one of those legends.