There was once a sultan of India who had three sons. These, with the princess his niece, were the ornaments of his court. The eldest of the princes was called Houssain, the second Ali, the youngest Ahmed, and the princess his niece, Nouronnihar. The Princess Nouronnihar was the daughter of the younger brother of the sultan, to whom the sultan in his lifetime allowed a considerable revenue. But that prince had not been married long before he died, and left the princess very young. The sultan, out of brotherly love and friendship, took upon himself the care of his niece’s education, and brought her up in his palace with the three princes, where her singular beauty and personal accomplishments, joined to a sprightly disposition and irreproachable conduct, distinguished her among all the princesses of her time.
The sultan, her uncle, proposed to get her married, when she arrived at a proper age, to some neighbouring prince, and was thinking seriously about it, when he perceived that the three princes his sons had all fallen in love with her. He was very much concerned, owing to the difficulty he foresaw whether the two younger would consent to yield to their elder brother. He spoke to each of them apart; and after having remonstrated on the impossibility of one princess being the wife of three persons, and the troubles they would create if they persisted, he did all he could to persuade them to abide by a declaration of the princess in favour of one of them; or to suffer her to be married to a foreign prince. But as he found them obstinate, he sent for them all together, and said to them, ‘Children, since I have not been able to persuade you no longer to aspire to marry the princess your cousin; and as I have no inclination to force her to marry any of you, I have thought of a plan which will please you all, and preserve union among you, if you will but follow my advice. I think it would be best, if every one travelled separately into a different country, so that you might not meet each other: and as you know I delight in every thing that is rare and singular, I promise my niece in marriage to him that shall bring me the most extraordinary curiosity; and for travelling expenses, I will give each of you a sum befitting your rank and the purchase of the curiosity you search.
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