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I read this fairy tale when I was a kid, around 30 years ago. I've now tried searching for this story, checking the usual suspects (brothers Grimm and H.C.Andersen), but haven't found anything matching.

Here's the story:

Once upon a time there was a king of a small/poor kingdom, and he had three sons. Since they were so poor, the king decided that one of the princes should marry the princess in a much larger/richer kingdom. The problem was that this particular princess was very picky, and also had magical powers. So any suitors she didn't like, she would turn into stone statues.

The princes went to the princess' castle, and entered it one at a time (maybe only one prince was allowed in per day?). The garden of the castle was full stone statues, all the previous suitors.

Secretly, the princess had disguised/turned herself into a maid so that she could observe the princes before meeting them officially. The first (and of course the oldest) prince went in first; he was certain that the princess would be very impressed by his strength and fighting skills. He of course treated the maid very poorly. Needless to say, the princess turned him into a statue.

The second prince didn't do any better.

The third prince was very uncertain of himself, I think he discussed with the maid that he didn't really want to do this, but had to try in order to save his poor country. If all three princes were turned to stone, their kingdom would be ruined. He also treated the maid well.

I believe the maid turned into the princess right there in front of him. I guess they got married, and possibly she brought back to life the other too princes (maybe even everyone she had turned to stone?). And they lived happily ever after.

This story to me seems to be a bit more modern than Grimm/Andersen; the princess decides herself whom she wants to marry, and there are no animals featured.

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    I recognize this one. Good details. – FuzzyBoots Nov 7 '18 at 10:54
  • I've removed the italics from the description as in my opinion they made the post a bit harder to read than normal. Feel free to add them back in via an edit or rolling my edit back if you want though. – TheLethalCarrot Nov 7 '18 at 11:00
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    I forget what the second brother specialized in. Magic maybe? Also, the princess as maid tried to dissuade him, telling him that it wasn't with his life, that the princess was cruel. It was part of a modern anthology I read. – FuzzyBoots Nov 7 '18 at 11:20
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    @FuzzyBoots The first prince was physically strong and had whatever fighting skill came from his brute strength. The second was more of a military type, expert in fighting with weapons and armour - I don't remember if he was also a good military leader or not. – AJM Nov 7 '18 at 13:28
  • The kingdom of the princess must have been very powerful, if the King thought that it was safe to let the princess kill visiting princes. Shouldn't the king have been afraid that a coalition of kingdoms would attack to get revenge for their petrified princes? I always thought that the Odyssey should have ended with an Ithacan War with the other Greek Kingdoms invading Ithaca to avenge the suitors slain by Odysseus. – M. A. Golding Nov 10 '18 at 15:21
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This was "The Fable of the Three Princes" - an Isaac Asimov short story with some vaguely Wodehouse-ish humour, published in his short-story collection Magic.

"I believe the maid turned into the princess right there in front of him. I guess they got married, and possibly she brought back to life the other two princes (maybe even everyone she had turned to stone?). And they lived happily ever after."

You are correct on all counts! The third brother had been on the verge of abandoning his mission before she transformed. He had come to care about the maid more and more, and was close to giving up on Operation 'Impress the Princess' and proposing instead to her.

Fortunately, he still wanted to marry her even after she revealed herself to be the princess.

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    Well this is embarrassing... I have that book in my bookshelf, and I've probably read that story this year. That explains why I remember the story so well. I did not associate the story with Asimov at all, as it's the "classic fairy tale" type. – rijnswind Nov 7 '18 at 13:58
  • @rijnswind I remember it being great fun (albeit very short) - well worth a reread! The Wodehouse-ish flavour of the humour was a bit of a clue too, Asimov had talked in an essay about liking Wodehouse and admiring his writing skill. – AJM Nov 7 '18 at 14:00

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