In one faraway land, there lived a ruler who was notorious for being cunning and cruel. There was not a single day in his life when he treated anyone well or smiled at even a child, or caressed a pet.
All the people in the land — from the elders to the kids — were afraid of the nasty monarch, but there was also one thing that filled the hard man’s heart with horror — the fear of ageing. Besieged with panic, he used to shut himself in his chambers and spend hours scrupulously scrutinising his appearance in front of the many mirrors that he had all around.
And though he had all possible hair dyes and skincare products to keep him young, a glimpse of silver in his hair or a smallest wrinkle was enough to fuel his anger for many days.
“I cannot grow old,” the king thought. “Today everybody dreads me and no one dares to oppose. But when I get old and weak, people will stop listening and obeying me. Then how am I going to rule them?”
So, to get rid of everything that reminded him of old age, the king issued an order to kill all the old men in the country.
On hearing of this, smitten with the grief, hordes of women and children took towards the royal palace from all corners of the country — shedding bitter tears, they offered the heartless ruler many gifts to soften him and begged him to spare their fathers and husbands.
Finally, the king got fed up with the complaints. He told his messengers to make the announcement of his special mercy in all cities and villages of the country.
The next morning the messengers saddled their horses and dispersed. Wherever they went, they blew their trumpets and announced, “Listen people! The king grants you his clemency! He, who succeeds to get a golden urn from the bottom of the palace lake, can save the life of his father. Moreover, the brave lad can keep the precious urn as a reward. This is the royal kindness! However, he, who fails to get the pitcher, will risk not only his father’s but his own head as well, for in this case both the unfortunates will be punished. This is the royal grace!”
The messengers had gone to hardly half of the country when young men started to gather round the lake. Its shore was steep and deep down the clean water one could clearly see a beautiful thin-necked golden jug with an elaborate curved handle.
For the next 99 days, 99 brave hearts tried their luck and 99 heads were chopped off by the cruel king because no one succeeded in getting the urn from the bottom of the lake — it seemed the vessel was haunted. Though it could be easily spotted from the shore, no one could find it once they were in the water.
In the back of the vast palace garden, there was a tiny hut — a house of the gardener and his son Askar. The boy loved his father dearly, and when he noticed that age was taking toll on his dad, he took his old father away to the valley, sheltered between mountains, built a cabin over there and hid him.
Everyday before the sunset, the young man used to secretly visit the cabin and bring food to his father.
One day when Askar came to the valley, he looked anxious and sad.
“What has troubled you, my child?” the old man asked. “Maybe you feel tired to come here daily?”
“No, father,” the young man replied. “To see you safe and sound, I’m ready to climb the mountains three times a day. There is something else that worries me. This royal urn occupies my brain day and night. But no matter how much I think, I cannot understand why when we look from the shore into the water, we can see the urn so clearly; it seems we just need to stretch out a hand and it will be ours. But the moment someone jumps into the river, the water instantly becomes dark and the urn virtually disappears.”
The old man silently pondered for a while.
“Tell me, my son,” he finally said. “Is there any tree on the bank of the river, near the place where the urn can be seen from?” “Yes, father,” Askar nodded. “There is a large tree.”
“Try to recall whether the golden urn is seen in the shadow of the tree?” the old man asked again.
“Yes,” the boy said. “The tree casts a broad shadow on the water, just on the spot where the vessel rests.”
“Now, listen carefully, my son. Climb the tree, and in its branches you will find the royal urn. As for the vessel, which is visible in the water — it is only its reflection.”
Faster than arrow, the boy rushed to the palace. “I bet my head,” he firmly said to the ruler. “I’ll get your urn, merciful king!”
The king laughed and said, “I was missing one more head to complete a century! I’ve cut off 99 heads and yours will be the 100th.”
“Who knows,” Askar answered. “But I am afraid that this time you will not get chance to increase your score.”
“Well, try your luck,” the king said and ordered his servants to sharpen the axe.
The young man approached the river and, without hesitation, climbed the tree that grew right over the cliff.
The crowd that had gathered on the shore gasped in shock. “Truly, fear has made him lose his mind!” said one.
“Maybe he wants to jump from the tree into the water,” speculated the other.
Meanwhile the boy reached the crown of the tree, and there it was — a thin-necked golden urn concealed in the green leaves.
The shrewd king had instructed the vessel to be hung upside down, so that the water would reflect its correct, upright position! The young man took off the urn from the tree and presented it to the king.
“I did not expect such presence of mind from a young boy. How did you do it?” the monarch was astonished.
“No,” Askar said. “I would never succeeded by myself. But I have an old father, whom I have hidden from your merciful eyes; it was he who understood where the urn was veiled. And I only followed his guidance.”
The king plunged in thoughts. “Indeed, old people are wiser than youngsters,” he mumbled. “An old man solved the puzzle that could not be solved by 99 boys.”
Since that day, the kind was no more repulsed by old age and became kind and happy, and none feared for their safety.