"The nobleman that can make my daughter Sarah smile againfor she's mourning the loss of her fiance. will never pay taxes again."
This caused an uproar at the protest meeting. Most of the princes decided there was no need now to complainfor each was quite sure he would succeed where others might fail. So off they went to get ready to try and make Sarah smile. But some of the nobles warned their fellows thatwith his wordsthe emperor was not really abolishing any taxes at all. From that day ona long procession of noble knights trooped from all over the empire to the palace to try and console the weeping princess.
The crowds cheered them as they passedbut when they returned with bowed headsthe same crowds booed and whistled at their failure. The days went by and the list of defeated knights grew longer . . . IndiansCircassiansArabs and Turks . . . from all over the provinces came bold young menbouncing with confidence and hope. But the minute the princess set eyes on themshe just wept and wept. The emperor was delightedfor each failure meant another taxpayer. Even the common folk seemed contented to see that the rich too did not always get what they wanted. The only unhappy person among them was Sarahwho went on weeping.
One daya Mongol prince seemed to be on the point of winning a smile. He thrummed his balalaika for hoursplaying first a sad tunethen a more cheerful onetill he finished by playing a merry jig. The princess sat for ages staring at him eyed and the onlookers thought she was about to smile. Instead she burst into floods of tearsto everyone's disappointment. A Kurdish chieffamed for his humourwho had already kept the court in fits of laughtertried to steal a smile from Sarah with his witty remarks. But the princess's dark eyes filled with tears. Noblemen came from as far away as Persiabut in vain.
The only person who had not yet appeared was Omarthe chief of the tiniest farthest away province. A brightintelligent young manhe had cleverly got the better of certain greedy ambitious relatives that tried to take away his power when he succeeded his uncle as chief. The emperor's messengers had taken a long time to reach this remote realmand though Omar set out at onceon hearing the newshe rode for many days on his fine black horse. Thenone eveninghe reached the palace. When the tired and dusty traveller explained to the stable boys why he had comethey laughed in scorn. But they had orders to obeyso they told him to enter.
"It's late" they said"and you won't see the princess till tomorrow."
The emperor's other daughtershoweverwere soon told of the new arrival. "He's the most handsome of them all!" exclaimed one of the servants. So Marikathe emperor's youngest and prettiest daughterwith her sisterspeeked through a window at the sleeping Omar. Next morningthe emperor ordered the newcomer to be led before Sarah. The court crowded round to watch. Unlike all the other suitorsOmar did nothing at all to amuse the princess. He stared at Sarah without saying a word. And she stared backwith an empty look on her face. The two young people stared silently at each other. Then Omar went back to the emperor and said:
"Sire! Give me your sceptre and I will solve the problem of Sarah." Surprised at such an odd requestthe emperor followed Omar into Sarah's room. The other princesses clustered roundsmiling and admiring the handsome young man. With a deep bow to SarahOmar straightened up and dealt her a blow on the head with the sceptre. Screams filled the air the emperor threw up hls arms in rage and his daughters fled in all directions. The guards drew their swords. Then the whole room stopped in amazement. Forout of Sarah's headwhich had been chopped off by the blowrolled broken springs and pieces of metal. The princess that never smiled was a doll! A perfect dolll And nobody had ever been aware of it except Omar.
The only princess that couldn't stop laughing was Marika. The emperor glared at her.
"Be quiet . . ." he ordered. But he too saw the funny side of it. For the crafty emperor had been making use of Sarah the doll as a way of guaranteeing himself a steady flow of taxes from all his subjects. And nowa man more cunning than himself had exposed his trick. The emperor had a sudden thought: he would rid himself of the cheeky Marika and gain an astute son-in-law able to help him hold onto his kingdom.
"You should be put to death for this insolence" he said"but I'm going to spare your lifeif you marry my youngest daughter. Of courseyou won't need to pay taxes!" Smiling at a happy MarikaOmar nodded silently. Down in the depths of his mind he was thinking:
"One daydear father-in-lawI'll be sitting on your Imperial throne." And he wasa few years later.