Once upon a time there lived a prince, dark-eyed and brooding, whose broken heart floated in a bottle that could never be opened. He could not laugh or sing or be merry, despite the wealth that filled his pockets, for his breast was empty, and he could love nothing.
The royal surgeons fashioned for him a heart of gold, but it was too soft. They next carved a heart of diamond, but it was too hard. They last made a heart of glass, but it was too fragile. The prince despaired.
Only a heart of flesh could cure his sadness.
The prince entreated his subjects, asking if there was anyone in the kingdom who would give him a heart, but none came forth, for he while he was a just ruler, he was cold and unkind, and given to selfish whims of indulgence.
When the prince saw how little his people cared for him, he stole away that very night and went to drown himself in the river. He took off his clothes and jumped from a bridge, and struck his head on a rock. But because his breast was hollow, he floated to the surface and was borne away.
The prince was swept downstream and into the country, where he drifted into shallows and was found by a pauper. The pauper wrapped the poor wretch in a blanket and took him to his tiny cottage, where he looked after him, tending to his injured head until he woke.
The pauper was a kind man, and he generously shared his meager bread with the prince, gave him clothes to wear, and let him sleep in his bed.
The prince, who had never known the touch of a caring hand, decided to forsake his royal duty and remain with his rescuer.
When his injuries had healed, the prince went to work with the pauper. Together they plowed fields and planted seeds, milked the cows and went to market. The pauper taught the prince to fish and hunt, and showed him how to tell time by the sun. They toiled hard during the day, but passed the evenings telling tales or playing games.
The prince learned how to smile, how to sing and be merry, and one day he laughed for the first time. He soon forgot his wealth, his title, his self-pity—why, he’d even forgotten about finding a new heart.
One evening the pauper came home, but instead of singing songs or reciting stories, he called the prince to his side, and they sat in front of the fire. The prince asked why the pauper looked so sad, and the pauper replied, “It is because I know that you cannot stay here forever; for you are a prince, and must return to your home.”
The prince was shocked, and asked how his friend could know this. The pauper produced a scroll of paper, which bore the prince’s face and pleaded for his return.
“I have already told them you’re here.”
The royal guard came the next morning and took the prince away, though he wept in his misery and refused to go. His father, the king, thanked the pauper for his loyalty and promised to reward him handsomely.
When the prince was out of sight, the guardsmen seized the kind pauper and brutally cut out his heart. “This should fit my son perfectly,” said the king.
But when the royal surgeons opened the prince’s breast, they were shocked to see that a heart was already there.
The prince had grown a new one, with the help of a pauper’s love.
When the prince learned what had been done, his fury and anguish echoed across the entire kingdom. He cursed his father, and cast his crown at his feet. “Now I know from whence came my sorrow, for I inherited my heartlessness from you!”
He rode from the kingdom, tears streaming from his eyes, and returned to the cottage where the slaughtered pauper still lay. Weeping, the prince sat at his side, took up his dagger, and said, “You gave your love to me; now I shall give you mine.”
Then he pierced his breast, and clove his heart in twain.
The prince laid one half of his heart within the pauper, and to his astonishment, it began to beat. The torn flesh healed over and the pauper opened his eyes, no longer dead, but alive, saved by the love of a prince who once had loved nothing. They smiled at one another and embraced, and Death, blinded by Love’s fierce power, was defeated.
They left the kingdom that very night, and settled together in a land of quiet beauty, spending the rest of their days in peace.
And the one heart between them continued to beat forever and ever after.
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