'The Three Tests' | Circle Round 116

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("The Three Tests" by Sabina Hahn)
("The Three Tests" by Sabina Hahn)

What would you say if I told you that you had a very special superpower?

Because, believe it or not, you do!

The superpower is your mind. And when you put your mind to work, there’s no limit to what it can do!

We’re about to meet a character whose mind is tested in all sorts of ways. And whether she passes those tests, well, you’ll just have to wait and see!

Our story is called “The Three Tests.” Variations of this tale come from Russia, Armenia, Hungary, Germany and Greece.

Voices in this episode include Thais Harris, Jefferson A. Russell, Nick Sholley, Ryan Shrime, Raechel Wong, and Kiera Allen. Kiera Allen co-stars with Sarah Paulson in the new mystery-thriller, Run.

This episode was adapted for Circle Round by Rebecca Sheir. It was edited by Katherine Brewer. Original music and sound design is by Eric Shimelonis. Our artist is Sabina Hahn.

Coloring Page

("The Three Tests" by Sabina Hahn)
("The Three Tests" by Sabina Hahn)

ADULTS! PRINT THIS so everyone can color while listening. We’re also keeping an album so share your picture on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and tag it with #CircleRound. We'd love to see it! To access all the coloring pages for past episodes click HERE. Our resident artist is Sabina Hahn and you can learn more about her HERE.

Things To Think About After Listening

Want to try solving a riddle of your own? Try this one on for size:

I can fly to great heights, but I’m not a bird.

I can travel anywhere, but I have no feet.

What am I?

Think about this riddle, and see if you can come up with an answer. Then share your answer with us! Write down your solution — or draw a picture — and email it to us at

Musical spotlight: Piano

Composer Eric Shimelonis created a lilting, lyrical piano melody for this week’s story. (courtesy of Rebecca Sheir)
Composer Eric Shimelonis created a lilting, lyrical piano melody for this week’s story. (courtesy of Rebecca Sheir)

Music scholars believe that Italian instrument maker Bartolomeo Cristofori invented the first piano in the early 1700s. Cristofori had been building clavichords: keyboards that could play softly and lightly (piano in Italian). He’d also been making harpsichords: keyboards that could play loudly and strongly (forte). After a lot of tinkering, Cristofori created the piano: a keyboard instrument that could play all levels of dynamics! Thanks to felt-covered hammers that strike wire strings inside the instrument, the piano can play soft, sweet melodies, loud, epic ones... and everything in between.


NARRATOR: Nicholas the merchant traded silks, spices and jewels in faraway lands.

Nicholas was a savvy businessman. And by the time he and his wife had a child… a bright, curious girl named Leora... the family was prosperous enough to buy a beautiful house in a big city.

But Nicholas wasn’t just a wealthy man… he was a wise and witty one, too. During his long voyages over land and sea, he spent every free moment reading books, solving riddles, keeping his mind sharp and nimble.

And each time he returned home, and Leora marveled at the beautiful, exotic things her father brought back, Nicholas always told his growing daughter the same thing.

NICHOLAS: Remember, my child... All this fancy stuff I’ve spent my life trading… it could disappear in the blink of an eye! It could blow away in a tornado... It could be lost in a fire... It could be stolen away in the night! (beat) But your mind, Leora... your brainpower, your intellect, your witsthose stick with you forever. Those are the true treasure! (beat) Promise me you’ll never forget that!

LEORA: (sounding a bit younger than in the rest of the story) I promise, Father! I’ll never forget!

NARRATOR: Eventually, Leora grew up and moved away to start a life of her own. She and her father wrote letters every week. Though Nicholas was now old and frail, he refused to give up the merchant business, and Leora loved reading about her dad’s adventures in distant lands.

But then one day, Leora received a letter that was different from the rest. Her father’s penmanship had always been elegant and neat, yet the handwriting on this envelope was shaky and scrawled. When Leora tore the envelope open, she could hardly decipher the scratchy, scribbled letter folded up inside.

LEORA: (all grown-up now) (starts deciphering the words and reading the letter) “Dear Leora… I’m afraid I’m writing with bad news. I’m staying in the home of an old friend… and have grown so ill that I haven’t left my bed in weeks. [SOT: cross-fade with Nicholas, below] The doctors say that by the time you receive this letter I’ll have made my final trade and breathed my final breath. In short, your dear old dad will be gone.”

NICHOLAS: (sounding old/frail) “Dear Leora… I’m afraid I’m writing with bad news. I’m staying in the home of an old friend… and have grown so ill that I haven’t left my bed in weeks. [SOT: fade up here] The doctors say that by the time you receive this letter I’ll have made my final trade and breathed my final breath. In short... your dear old dad will be gone.”

NARRATOR: Leora felt her eyes well up with tears. But she kept on reading her father’s words.

NICHOLAS: “Now that I am no longer on this earth, I am leaving all of my gold and riches to you, my darling. (beat) There’s just one… catch. You can’t simply claim your inheritance. You’ll have to earn it… with your mind.”

NARRATOR: Leora couldn’t help but smile. Even in his final moments, her father was obsessed with wit and wisdom!

NICHOLAS: “Here’s how it will work. I will give you three tests, dear daughter. Three tests that will challenge three things I’ve always held dear: your brainpower, your intellect, and your wits. (beat) Pass those tests, Leora, and everything I own… will be yours.”

NARRATOR: Nicholas then mentioned the friend he was staying with — another merchant named Victor — and the town where Victor lived.

NICHOLAS: “Visit my friend, Victor, and show me what I know you to be… [SOT: cross-fade with Leora, below] the wisest, wittiest, and cleverest daughter in the world. Love forever, Your Father.”

LEORA: “Visit my friend, Victor, and show me what I know you to be… [SOT: fade up here] the wisest, wittiest, and cleverest daughter in the world. Love forever, Your Father.”

NARRATOR: Leora clutched the letter to her heart.

LEORA: Oh! I can barely believe that Father is gone! (cheering up, with fondness/admiration) But leave it to that cunning fellow to ‘bequeath’ me with one last mental challenge. Or three, really!

NARRATOR: She put down the letter.

LEORA: I don’t know what his three tests are…

NARRATOR: She picked up a suitcase.

LEORA: ...but I sure know one way to find out!

[theme music in]

NARRATOR: What do you think Nicholas’s three tests will be?

And will Leora pass those tests?

We’ll find out what happens, after a quick break.

[theme music out]


[theme music in]

NARRATOR: Welcome back to Circle Round. I’m Rebecca Sheir. Today our story is called “The Three Tests.”

[theme music out]

NARRATOR: Before the break, a wise and witty merchant named Nicholas sent a letter to his daughter, Leora. Writing from the home of a fellow merchant named Victor, Nicholas told Leora that she would inherit all of his riches… if she passed three tests.

The letter revealed the name of Victor’s town, and nothing more. So Leora packed a bag, and traveled over land and sea until she reached the town where her father had died, and where Victor lived.

LEORA: Well, here I am! Now I just need to find Victor’s house. Father didn’t give an address… Surely someone around here can point the way!

NARRATOR: Leora strolled to the marketplace, where dozens of townspeople were zig-zagging among the bustling stalls and kiosks.

But every time Leora approached someone...

LEORA: Excuse me! Do you know where Victor the merchant lives?

NARRATOR: ...they frowned and hurried away.

PERSON 1: I’m sorry, miss!

PERSON 2: So sorry!

PERSON 3: I do know where Victor the merchant lives...

PERSON 4: ...I just can’t tell you!

PERSON 5: Nope! Can’t tell you!

PERSON 6: I can’t breathe a word!

PERSON 7: I promised I wouldn’t!

PERSON 8: And a promise is a promise!!

NARRATOR: Leora trudged over to a bench and plopped down.

LEORA: This is so odd! All these people seem to know where Victor lives, but they won’t tell me! Apparently they ‘promised’ someone they wouldn’t…!?!

NARRATOR: She furrowed her brow.

LEORA: But who in the world could that person be? (beat) Clearly, it’s someone who doesn’t want to make things easy for me! Someone who wants to issue a challenge... a test… a — (suddenly realizing) (gasp) Of course!

NARRATOR: She jumped to her feet.

LEORA: Father! (beat) This must be Father’s first test! A test to see if I’m clever enough to find Victor’s house without knowing the address! (beat) Nice one, Dad!

NARRATOR: Leora glanced around the marketplace. When her eyes fell upon a woodcutter selling firewood from a horse-drawn cart, she suddenly got an idea. She plucked several gold coins from her purse and waved them at the woodcutter.

LEORA: Excuse me, sir! Might I buy some of your wood?

WOODCUTTER: Absolutely, miss! How much would you like?

LEORA: I’ll buy the entire cartful, actually… (slyly) provided you deliver it to a certain house.

WOODCUTTER: I’d be happy to! And whose house would that be?

NARRATOR: Leora grinned.

LEORA: (carefully) Victor the merchant. (beat) And if you don’t mind, I’ll follow behind you and your horse.

WOODCUTTER: Oh, no need for that — there’s enough room here for two. Hop on!

NARRATOR: The horse clipped and clopped and pulled the cart all the way to Victor’s house, a trim cottage with chickens roaming around the front yard, and a brown cow chewing its cud in the back.

When the woodcutter jumped off the cart and knocked at the front door, the man who answered seemed confused.

VICTOR: I’m sorry, friend, but you must have the wrong house!

WOODCUTTER: I don’t think so, sir. I was told I should deliver this wood to the home of Victor the merchant. (beat) That’s you, right?

VICTOR: It is! But I didn’t buy any firewood! Who told you to bring it here?

NARRATOR: The woodcutter pointed a finger toward Leora.


NARRATOR: Leora looked up from the cart and gave a little wave.

LEORA: (sweetly, playful) Hello, Victor! I’m Leora! I think my father, Nicholas, might have told you about me…?

NARRATOR: Slowly, a smile spread across Victor’s face. Before Nicholas died, the old man had described in great detail the three tests Leora must pass in order to claim her inheritance. Victor was impressed at how quickly the clever woman had passed the first one!

He invited Leora inside and introduced her to his wife and two daughters. Both daughters were engaged to be married, and both their weddings were planned for later this year.

VICTOR: Please, join us for dinner, Leora! (beat) But while my family and I are preparing the meal, could you please run a quick errand at the marketplace?

NARRATOR: Leora was surprised by the request, but she nodded her head.

VICTOR: Terrific! I will give you one silver coin, Leora. Take that one silver coin to the market and use it to buy just one thing. (slowly, carefully) Something we can eat... something we can drink... something we can spit out... something we can plant in the garden... and something we can feed the cow. 

NARRATOR: Leora took the silver coin and dropped it in her purse. When she turned back to Victor, she noticed a twinkle in the merchant’s eye.

A-ha! This must be her father’s second test! 

LEORA: (slowly, starting to mull it over) Alright… I must use this one silver coin to buy something we can eat... something we can drink... something we can spit out... something we can plant in the garden… and something we can feed the cow...

VICTOR: That’s right! (beat) Thanks for your help, Leora. See you when you get back!

NARRATOR: Leora returned to the marketplace and wandered among the kiosks and stalls. She passed a baker selling crusty loaves of bread... a fishmonger selling plump, fresh fish… a cheesemonger selling pungent wheels of cheese… But when she reached the farmer, who was selling ripe, colorful fruits and vegetables, she paused for a moment.

LEORA: (to herself) Hmmmm… (figuring it out) (ad-lib gasp of realization) Of course! That’s it!

NARRATOR: Leora paid the farmer one silver coin, then went back to Victor’s house with a bulging paper bag in her arms.

VICTOR: Leora! You’re back! (beat) And what have you brought us...?

NARRATOR: Leora arched an eyebrow.

LEORA: Well... you asked me to use your one silver coin to buy one thing. Something we can eat, something we can drink, something we can spit out, something we can plant in the garden, and something we can feed the cow. So I brought you…

NARRATOR: She reached into the bag.

LEORA: ...a watermelon! (delighted, but also slowly/carefully) We can eat the watermelon’s flesh… we can drink its juice... we can spit out its seeds, then plant them in the garden… and we can feed the rind to the cow!

NARRATOR: Victor’s mouth curved into a grin.

VICTOR: Marvelous! You’ve passed your second test, Leora! (beat) And that watermelon will make a delicious dessert. But first...

NARRATOR: He gestured toward the table.

VICTOR: Time to sit down for dinner! We’ve cooked up something very special tonight; I’ll go get it from the oven.

NARRATOR: Victor scurried to the kitchen and came back carrying a big silver platter. On the platter was a whole roasted chicken — complete with the head, neck, wings and legs!

Victor set the glistening brown bird in front of Leora.

VICTOR: Leora, would you mind doing us one more favor? To make sure that everyone at the table gets their fair and proper share of chicken...

NARRATOR: He held out a knife.

VICTOR: … would you kindly do the carving?

NARRATOR: Once again Leora noticed that glimmer in Victor’s eye. Surely this was her father’s third test!

LEORA: Why, I’d be delighted to carve this bird so that everyone gets their “fair and proper share.” Thank you, Victor!

NARRATOR: Leora peered at the chicken. With the head, neck, wings and legs, the bird was definitely big enough to slice into five portions for five people.

But Leora suspected that was not what her crafty father had in mind.

She thought for a moment, then lifted the knife… and carved off the chicken’s head. She laid the head on Victor’s plate.

Then she sliced off the chicken’s neck and set it on Victor’s wife’s plate.

Next she cut off the wings and dropped one wing on each of the daughter’s plates.

Finally, she hacked off the legs and put them on her own plate.

Victor looked from plate to plate, then fixed Leora with a curious stare.

VICTOR: Hmmmm… Tell us Leora... How is it that we each got our “fair and proper” share…?

LEORA: Well…

NARRATOR: Leora took a deep breath.

LEORA: (slowly/carefully) Victor, you’re sitting at the head of the table. So it’s only “fair and proper” that you get the head of the chicken. (beat) Your wife is the hardworking woman who holds this house and family together, so her “fair and proper portion” is the neck… which holds the head to the body! (beat) Your daughters are about to get married, and start families of their own. So, since they’re flying away and leaving the nest, their “fair and proper portion” is the wings!

VICTOR: And the legs...? Why do you get the legs, Leora?

LEORA: Well, I’m the traveler who wandered across land and sea to be with you wonderful people tonight, so my “fair and proper portion” is the legs. (beat) And I will use those legs to return back home again... as soon as you give me my father’s inheritance.

NARRATOR: Leora blushed.

LEORA: I have earned it, haven’t I…?

NARRATOR: Victor and his family broke into a round of applause. Indeed, thanks to her brainpower, intellect and wits, Leora had passed all three of her father’s tests with flying colors. And as a result, she went back to her country a very wealthy woman.

But Leora knew that when it all came down to it, it wasn’t the money that made her so rich.

It was her mind.

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Rebecca Sheir Host, Circle Round
Rebecca Sheir is the host "Circle Round," WBUR's kids storytelling podcast.



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