Tell Me a Story by Amy Friedman and Meredith Johnson

STRONGER THAN FATE (an Egyptian folktale)

Once upon a time, the queen of Egypt gave birth to a baby boy. The fairies gathered around the child to bless him, but one of the fairies shook her head.

"I fear it is the prince's fate to die by crocodile or serpent or dog," the fairy said. "We can do nothing."

The king and queen were heartbroken and decided not to tempt fate. They built a castle atop a mountain and hired men to guard it day and night, and there the young prince lived, protected.

One day the boy noticed a dog playing outside his window. At once he wished to have a dog, and since the king and queen never denied him a wish, they decided to grant this as well. They found him a puppy, and trained him to protect the prince.

The prince and his puppy were great friends, but one day when he was 20, the prince told his father he longed to see the world.

"I know about the prophecy," he said, "but my dog will protect me."

Again, the king could not refuse. He sent the prince and his dog by ship to the other side of the Nile. There a beautiful horse awaited him, and with his dog by his side, the prince rode everywhere. He was delighted by all he saw.

One day while visiting a foreign land, he fell in love with a princess, and she fell in love with him.

"I wish to marry you," the prince told her, "but my fate is to die at the hands of a crocodile, a serpent or a dog; you must not marry me."

But the princess loved him dearly. "We shall resist fate," she said. "True love can conquer anything so long as we believe it can."

And so they married.

A few years passed, and the prince learned his father was ill. He and his wife traveled to visit him in Egypt. One night, while they were fast asleep in the palace, the princess suddenly heard a sound that woke her.

She stared into the darkness and spied a serpent coiled in the corner. She tried to recall all she had learned from the fairies. Quickly, she remembered that serpents couldn't resist milk. So she slipped out of bed and filled a bowl with milk. When the creature saw the bowl, it began to lap it up so quickly that the princess was sure it would choke to death.

When the serpent had finished the milk, it fell fast asleep, and the princess summoned the guards to capture it and send it far away.

She had saved her husband from his deadly fate.

Sadly, the king died the next day. The prince began his rule. One day, as he was out hunting with one of his dogs, he suddenly tripped over a log on the riverbank. To his astonishment, he heard a voice.

This dog was, in truth, a crocodile, and it said, "You cannot escape fate. Wherever you go, I will find you, and your only safety is a hole in sand filled with water that never dissolves."

Terrified, the prince shared the news with his wife. "I'm doomed," he said, but she was determined to save him.

"There is nothing we cannot overcome," she said, remembering a plant her fairy godmother had told her about. The four-leafed herb grew in the desert and could keep water in a pit for one whole year.

The next day the princess set out to find it.

She left in the middle of the night, guided by starlight. She rode her snow-white donkey west, toward the desert, encouraging her poor, exhausted donkey with kind words. "I will love you as I love the prince," she promised the donkey as they traveled on, enduring heat and storms and thirst.

At last they came to a mountain that cast a cool shadow. The plant grew at the very top of that mountain, but it was surrounded by a deep chasm.

The princess, however, had carried along a rope. She made a noose with one end and tossed the other across the chasm with all her strength. It caught on a branch. Trusting this to hold her weight, she climbed across the chasm.

A fierce wind assailed her, and still she climbed. Blinded by sand, she felt her way up the mountain to the very top.

She climbed on until she felt plants beneath her feet, and taking one she counted leaves -- one, two, three, four. Her heart pounding, she held fast to the plant and slid down the rock, leaped over the chasm and mounted her donkey.

"Let's go!" she cried. They rode across the desert.

Back home, the princess saw her beloved standing near the river beside a pit of sand he had dug. Beside the pit was a pot of water, and only a short distance away stood the crocodile. Its mouth was watering.

The princess ran to the hole. "Pour in the water," she said, and as the prince did, she tossed in the plant.

Sure enough, the water did not seep through the sand, but remained.

The angry crocodile plunged back into the river and swam away.

The prince stared at his wife with gratitude and love. With her strength and commitment, he had overcome the second of the three fates the fairies had predicted so long ago.

Suddenly a wild duck flew past. The prince's dog began to chase the duck, and he ran into his master's legs. The prince and his dog both lost their balance and fell into the river, where mud and rushes caught them.

It seemed they might drown, but there was the princess with the rope in her hand. She cast the rope to her beloved and pulled him and his dog ashore.

Again, the prince stared into his wife's eyes. "Your love is stronger than my fate," he said.

"This is true," she said with a smile.

And they lived happily ever after.