Once upon a time something happened. If it had not happened, it would not be told.
There was once an emperor who had three daughters; the oldest was beautiful, the middle one more beautiful, but the youngest, Ileane, was so fair that even the sun stopped to gaze at her and admire her charms.
One day the emperor received the news that his neighbor, a mighty monarch, was no longer friendly, but wanted to fight with him on account of a great imperial feud. The emperor consulted the old men of the country, and, seeing there was nothing else to be done, he commanded his valiant soldiers to mount their horses, take their weapons, and prepare for the terrible battle which was to be fought.
Before mounting himself, the emperor called his daughters, addressed a few fatherly, touching words to them, and gave each one a beautiful flower, a merry little bird, and a rosy-cheeked apple.
"Whoever has her flower wither, her bird mope or her apple rot, I shall know has not kept her faith," said the wise emperor; then mounting his steed he wished them "Good-health" and set off with his brave soldiers on their toilsome way.
When the neighboring emperor's three sons heard the news that the emperor had quitted his home and gone to the war, they made an agreement among themselves and sprang on their horses to ride to the palace and vex the monarch by making his three daughters faithless to his trust. The oldest prince, a brave, spirited, handsome fellow, went first to see how matters stood and bring tidings afterward to the others.
Three days and three nights the champion stood under the wall, but not one of the girls had appeared at the windows. In the gray dawn of the fourth day he lost patience, plucked up his courage, and tapped on the oldest princess's window.
"What is it—what is it? What is wanted?" asked the royal maiden, roused from her sleep.
"It is I, little sister," said the prince, "I, an emperor's son, who have stood under your window three days for love of you."
The princess did not even approach the window, but replied in a prudent tone:
"Go back home by the way you came; may flowers spring up before you and thorns remain behind.