Adapted from: 'The Shepherd Boy', originally written by the Brothers Grimm.
It all started with those simple words: Once upon a time.
Once upon a time, lived a king. He was the wisest ruler in all the land, but also the saddest. In his youth, he had married a beautiful woman. But his wife died in childbirth, giving him three sons. But he soon found pain to be an old friend.
The first son drowned. The second was struck down by the heavens as he gazed at the night sky. The third rode off to seek his fortune, promising to return even if it took him an eternity.
He never returned.
The king grew old, unwilling to remarry. As the days passed, the king knew his time was running short. But he did not name an heir for none were as wise as he was.
One day, the king learned of a shepherd boy who lived at the foot of the largest mountain in his domain. This boy had grown famous for giving wise answers to anyone who asked.
Intrigued, the king sent for the boy. So it happened, on the eve of the king's seventieth birthday, that the shepherd boy attended the king's court.
The king leaned forward on his throne, amused at the boy's plain appearance. His hair was unruly, his clothes covered with patches. But the king knew that appearances were deceiving and proceeded to test the boy.
He announced, "If you can give me an answer, a good answer, to three questions, I shall take you as my son."
The shepherd boy rose from his feet, face darkened from a blush. He dared not ask why, but asked instead, "What are your questions, my king?"
The king thought upon his first son and asked, "How many drops of water are there in the ocean?"
The shepherd boy thought upon the mighty streams his sheep had drank from and said, "Sir, if you dam up all the rivers on earth so not a single drop leaked into the sea, then I will tell you."
The king was captivated by the shepherd boy's answer, his mind wandering to his second son. "How many stars are there in the sky?"
The shepherd boy pondered the many nights he had watched his flock by starlight, before finally begging for a great sheet of white paper and a pen. When the king's servants provided, he then made so many fine points on the paper that the paper had grown black with ink.
"There are as many stars in the sky," the shepherd boy told the king, "as there are points on this paper. Just count them."
But there were none who could. There were so many points that any who tried to count them lost track.
Charmed, the king thought back to his third son, the one who promised to come back even if it took an eternity. The king finally asked, "How many seconds are in eternity?"
The shepherd boy's brow furrowed. He closed his eyes, remembering the birds that flew over the mountain he lived at the foot of. It was then he had his answer.
Then said the boy, "At my home is a mountain with rocks harder than diamond. It takes a day to climb it, and a day to go around it. Every hundred years a little bird comes and sharpens its beak on the stone. When the entire mountain is chiseled away, then the first second of eternity will have passed."
The king rose from his throne, coming face to face with the shepherd boy. And then he did something he had not done since his last son left his life. He smiled.
"You have answered my questions like a wise man," the king announced. "From this day forward, you shall live here in my palace, and I shall call you my son."
And so it was that the king's word was law, and the wise shepherd boy became the wise prince. And when the wise king finally died in peace, the wise prince became the second wise king and ruled over the land justly and fairly.
The shepherd boy-turned-king, his subjects, and the land all lived happily ever after.