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Princess Peony

By Yael Sofer

Across the sea, in a faraway country, there lived a king and a queen who had only one daughter. Her name was Peony. She had pale blue eyes and the most beautiful red hair with curls. The people of the country loved the king and the queen very much, and they especially loved princess Peony.

One day, Peony became sick with a mysterious illness. The king and queen immediately called the palace doctor and he prescribed, “A little bit of hyssop, thyme and garlic, mixed with honey, mustard, calendula and an onion peel. Cook it with buckwheat and crocus flowers and eat it three times a day.”

They tried the doctor’s remedy, but it didn't help. So the king and queen called for every doctor and wizard in the kingdom to come and prescribe the cure for Peony’s illness:

One recommended, “Cold showers!”

A second one said, "Only vegetables and fruits."

And a third one announced, "Only porridge and hot showers, and she must stand on her head once a day."

But none of these things helped. Peony was still very ill. Growing weaker, she lay down in her bed and closed her pale blue eyes.

Then, the king sent for an expert on mysterious illnesses who lived in a nearby kingdom. The expert arrived. He was very short with a long white beard, and he carried an old black briefcase. The expert looked at Peony and checked her pulse.

"Peony suffers from sadness,” announced the expert. “To make her happy, an unusual remedy is needed. You must bring Peony the most beautiful melody in the world."

Then, he closed his briefcase and left.

Immediately, the king and queen called for the messenger to ride a horse all over the country, and announce: “Attention! Attention! The most beautiful melody in the world is needed for princess Peony. Whoever brings the princess the most beautiful melody, will marry her.”

That same day, many musicians with different instruments came from all over the kingdom to the palace court.

"We must have complete silence in the palace court and all over the kingdom so Peony can hear the melody," said the king and queen.

"We will walk on tiptoes," said the servants.

"We will use sign language to tell people what we are selling," winked the merchants at the market.

"We will whisper and we will not quarrel," said the children softly to each other.

The following day, the gates of the palace were opened and the servants were careful to let the musicians enter Peony's room one at a time.

First, a fiddler entered with a violin in his hand. "I will cure Peony with a melody on the violin, for it is the most noble of all the musical instruments," announced the fiddler. He pulled out a bow made of fine horse's tail, and played a beautiful melody on the strings. But Peony remained lying down.

"You didn't succeed, Mr. Fiddler," said the palace doctor, and the fiddler left, disappointed.

A flutist came in the room immediately after him. "I will cure Peony, for the melody of the flute is as clear and fresh as mountain air," he explained. He played a melody on the flute that traveled out the window to the courtyard, and everyone in the palace stopped to listen to the sweet melody. But Peony still remained lying down.

"The flute doesn’t help!" announced the doctor, and the flutist sadly returned to the court.

Next, four servants came in the room carrying a piano and behind them entered the pianist. "I will cure Peony,” he announced confidently, “for my melody is the most exciting." He played the black and white keys with so much emotion that the sounds traveled out the window, past the courtyard, and into the streets. Indeed, all the residents of the kingdom were very touched.

But the queen who was sitting beside the princess said, "You must stop because you are making Peony cry!"

The pianist left quickly with all four servants and the piano.

All of a sudden, a tall young man entered the room dressed in a strange-looking black coat. But the strangest thing was that his hands were empty; he was not carrying an instrument.

"Who are you?" asked the king.

"I am a conductor, Your Excellency. And I know which melody will cure the princess," he said smiling at the king.

"But what do you use to play your music?" asked the king.

"If you let me go out to the court for a moment, I will return with the most beautiful melody in the world," the conductor replied.

The king, who had already given up on any of the other solutions, allowed him to go. "Fine, go out and come back quickly, for it seems that Peony's condition is getting worse."

Not even a minute passed, and the conductor returned. And with him came the fiddler, the flutist, the pianist, and the piano. Everyone stood there embarrassed.

"These are the musicians that you brought?" shouted the king.

Now, the king was losing his patience, and the doctor quickly signaled them to leave.

"Just a moment," said the conductor. "I know what happened in this room and that is why I am here. Your Highness, we have to save Princess Peony!"

All of a sudden, the queen said, "Let him try."

And the king agreed.

The young conductor gathered the musicians, whispered something, and waited. When there was absolute silence in the kingdom, the conductor lifted up his hands and all the musicians started playing a beautiful and clear melody together; soft and fluent, high and exciting, a melody that had everything in it − a melody that was almost perfect. The conductor continued to signal and all the musicians followed him, until, at last, a wonderful new sound was heard.

To everyone’s astonishment, Peony opened her eyes, sat up and joined the musicians, singing, “La la la la la.”

At that very moment, the most beautiful melody in the world was heard.

The expert from the nearby kingdom was right, and Peony indeed recovered. The king and the queen invited the young conductor to live in the palace and the musicians remained to play in the king's orchestra.

One day, Peony whispered to her mother," Although he wears a strange coat, the conductor is wise, handsome, and very talented. I would like to marry him."

And so it was that seven days later, a magnificent wedding was held in the palace and all the residents of the kingdom were invited.

"There is still one thing that makes me very curious,” the king said to the conductor. “What was the secret that you whispered in the musicians' ears on the day you cured Peony?"

The conductor smiled. "The secret is very simple,” he said. “I told them that instead of playing their music separately, we would all play together in harmony… as one man.

Illustrations: Ekaterina Vasilchenko, Larissa Novikova

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