Tell Me a Story by Amy Friedman and Meredith Johnson

NOURIE HADIG (an Armenian folktale)

Once upon a time, there lived a rich couple, and each month the woman asked the new moon, "Am I the most beautiful in the world, or are you?"

Each month the moon replied, "You are most beautiful."

The woman gave birth to a baby girl, and they named her Nourie Hadig. She grew more beautiful with each passing year, and one night when she was 15, her mother asked the moon who was most beautiful. The moon replied, "Nourie Hadig is more beautiful than you or I."

She fell instantly sick with jealousy. When Nourie Hadig noticed her mother's fevered brow, she ran to her father. When he asked his wife what was wrong, she said, "Tell me, who is more important, your daughter or me?"

"I cannot answer such a question," he said.

But she would not be calmed; she insisted her husband kill their daughter.

The man was sick with grief, but he felt he must somehow cure his wife of her illness. And so he told his daughter they must go into the forest to seek help. This they did, but at sunset the father tearfully looked at Nourie Hadig and said, "Wait here for my return."

Nourie Hadig waited, but after many days when he did not appear, she began to search for him. She came to a house where she hoped she might find shelter. As she reached to knock, the door opened. She walked inside, and the door closed behind her. She turned to open it, but she could not.

Nourie Hadig discovered rooms full of silver and gold, silks and satins, rugs and candelabra, jewels and chandeliers, and at last a room where a handsome young man lay fast asleep. When she spoke, he did not answer or move.

And then she heard a disembodied voice that told her the prince was under a spell. "You must look after him for seven years," the voice said, "and then the spell will be broken."

And Nourie Hadig's work began.

Three years passed, and Nourie Hadig tended to the sleeping prince.

One night her mother smiled up at the new moon, and for the first time since her daughter's death, she asked, "Tell me, am I still the most beautiful in the world?"

The moon gleamed, as if winking, and said, "Nourie Hadig is most beautiful."

And the woman understood her husband had not killed their daughter as she'd asked, and so she knew she must do it herself.

So the mother set off to find Nourie Hadig.

Each month the mother asked the moon, "Who is most beautiful?" and each month the moon answered, "Nourie Hadig."

Another year passed.

One day in her loneliness Nourie Hadig cried out the window to a group of Gypsies, "Will someone help me tend to a sleeping prince?" She dropped a rope, and one young girl agreed to climb the rope and help.

Nourie and the Gypsy girl took care of the prince together, and three more years passed.

One summery day, the Gypsy girl sat beside the bed when the young man woke. "You have broken my spell, and I shall marry you and make you my princess!" he said, and naturally the girl agreed.

Nourie Hadig loved the prince, but she did not say a word. When the prince asked if she would like a gift for her service, she told him she would like the Stone of Patience.

"And your happiness," she said.

In the city the prince bought a ring and a bridal gown, and he went to see a stonecutter to ask if he might have the Stone of Patience.

The stonecutter smiled. "Yes," he said, "but you must know this: If the Stone of Patience sees that your troubles are too great to repair, it will swell and break wide open."

He agreed to sell the stone to the prince.

Back home the prince gave Nourie Hadig the Stone of Patience. At once she began to tell her tale.

"My father left me," Nourie Hadig said, and the stone swelled to twice its size. She went on to tell of the four years she took care of the prince all alone, and it swelled still more. She spoke of the three years she and the bride-to-be worked, and she asked the stone, "Tell me, am I more patient, or are you?"

With those words the Stone of Patience broke open, and the prince understood Nourie Hadig had saved him. He asked her to become his wife.

And she became Princess of Adana.

Soon after, when her mother asked the moon who was most beautiful, the moon answered, "Princess of Adana."

Now she knew how to find her daughter, and so she had a beautiful ring made and filled it with poison. She sent a servant to deliver the ring with a note asking for forgiveness.

Overjoyed by this, Nourie Hadig slipped the ring onto her finger. At once she fell into a deep sleep from which no one could wake her.

Three years passed, and just as his wife had looked after him, the prince looked after Nourie Hadig.

One day a healer came, and as he tended to Nourie Hadig, he noticed the ring. Hoping no one would see, he slipped the ring from her finger, and she woke.

He knew he had discovered a secret. He returned the ring to her finger.

"I can cure your wife," he told the prince, "if you'll pay me in silver and gold."

Naturally, the prince agreed.

The healer removed every necklace, bracelet and ring Nourie Hadig wore.

Last of all, he slipped off the mother's ring from her finger, and Nourie Hadig awoke at once.

That night, when her mother asked the new moon who was most beautiful, the moon answered, "Nourie Hadig, Princess of Adana."

And the mother, shocked at this news, died that night.

But Nourie Hadig and the prince lived happily ever after.