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Written in the Stars | Ep. 199

(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)
(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)

Do you have a hobby you’re passionate about? Something that brings you joy every time you do it?

We’re about to meet a Princess whose hobby doesn’t just bring her joy; it brings her a power she never imagined!

Our story is called “Written in the Stars.” It’s inspired by folktales from the Jewish community of Morocco, a country in North Africa.

Voices in this episode include Feodor Chin, Jessica Rau, Erika Rose, and Tallie Medel. Grown-ups, check out Tallie Medel in Everything Everywhere All At Once, nominated for ten Oscars at this year’s Academy Awards. And stream Snowy Bing Bongs Across the North Star Combat Zone, the movie she made with her trio, Cocoon Central Dance Team, on Mubi.

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

Coloring Page

(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)
(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)

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

What’s your favorite music? Is it a specific song? A specific style? Perhaps you have a favorite composer or musician.

When you’re done listening to this episode, find a way to play your favorite music. Listen to a recording, play it on an instrument like a piano, recorder, or harmonica, or use your voice and sing out loud as you share the power of music!

Musical Spotlight: Oud

Eric Shimelonis playing the oud. (Photo courtesy of Rebecca Sheir)
Part of the distinctive sound of the oud (shown here played by composer Eric Shimelonis) comes from its double strings, though the lowest string is usually a single one. (Courtesy of Rebecca Sheir)

With eleven or thirteen strings running up and down its short, fretless neck and pear-shaped body, the oud is believed to have originated in Persia more than 3,500 years ago.

The Arabic word “oud” translates to “stick” or “from wood.” Appropriately, oud-makers use rounded strips of wood to craft the backside of the instrument, and one flat sheet of wood to create the front. Traditionally, oud players have plucked or strummed the oud’s strings with a ‘plectrum’: a long, flat pick that resembles a nail file.

You can hear Eric Shimelonis playing the oud in several other Circle Round episodes, including “The Unwelcome Guest,” “The Sultan’s Figs” and “The Fire Within.”


NARRATOR: There once lived a King who was rich beyond compare. His golden palace was full of golden rooms. His golden carriages were pulled by golden-saddled horses. And his golden closets were jam-packed with long, golden robes.

The King had one daughter, a Princess. And the Princess’s favorite thing to do… was play her oud.

NARRATOR: The oud is a musical instrument with strings running up its pear-shaped body and short neck.

And the Princess played her oud constantly – much to the King’s chagrin.

KING: Princess! Are you strumming that silly oud again? Don’t you have more important things to do? Like that math assignment the royal tutor gave you?

PRINCESS: I already did it, Father!

KING: Okay then. Your spelling homework?


KING: Science?

PRINCESS: Finished!

KING: Geography?

PRINCESS: Complete! Look, Father. I’ve already finished all of my assignments. Now may I please play my oud in peace?

KING: Fine. You may play.

KING: But can I just say one more thing?

PRINCESS: Ugh! What now?

KING: I just want you to consider taking up another hobby. One that will actually be of use someday! I know that as Princess you have everything handed to you on a golden platter. But you ought to have at least one practical skill.

PRINCESS: And what might you suggest…?

KING: How about archery, so you can hunt? That was always my favorite growing up. Or sewing, so you can make clothing? Music is just so… frivolous!

PRINCESS: “Frivolous”?!? With all due respect, Father — music is anything but “frivolous”! Don’t you understand? Music has power! The power to move your body… your mind… and your heart! It’s like nothing else in the world!

KING: All I’m saying, my dear, is that I wish you’d spend less time on your music and more time on something sensible. Alright. Lecture over. Go back to your…oud.

NARRATOR: One day, as the Princess was practicing her oud, the King came bursting into her room…

KING: Daughter!

NARRATOR: …with some news.

KING: Would you please put down that oud of yours? I have something very exciting to share!

PRINCESS: What is it, Father?

KING: Well…? I have found you a new hobby!

PRINCESS: A new hobby?!? But I already have a hobby! My mu-

KING: Your music! Right. So you’ve told me. But this one is infinitely more practical. You see, my royal messengers have brought word of a woman in the kingdom – a very wise woman – and she can read the stars!

PRINCESS: Wait, what? I’m not following…

KING: This wise woman is a seer of sorts. She can take one look at the stars and know things! Like deeply-buried secrets! And what’s going to happen in the future! It’s a marvelous, useful skill – and she is going to teach you everything she knows. I had the royal guards bridle up a team of golden-saddled horses, and a golden carriage is bringing the wise woman to our golden palace as we speak!

PRINCESS: But Father! I don’t want to learn how to read the stars! I want to play my music! I want –

KING: I know what you want. But more importantly, I know what you need. Now go get ready. Your new teacher will be here any minute.

NARRATOR: When the wise woman arrived at the palace, she got right to work teaching the Princess how to read the stars. The Princess caught on quickly. And after one year, the wise woman told the King there was nothing left for her to teach.

WOMAN: Your daughter is a quick study, Your Majesty. My work here is done.

KING: Thank you, Madam. I had a feeling my daughter would take to this new skill! I will order a golden carriage to take you home.

NARRATOR: Now that the Princess could read the stars, she began putting her new knowledge to use. And on one particularly star-filled night, she saw something in the heavens that sent her running to her father’s chamber.

PRINCESS: Father! The stars are telling me something terrible! Something terrible indeed!

KING: What is it, Princess?

PRINCESS: They’re telling me that a jealous ruler in a neighboring country is planning to invade our kingdom! You must dispatch our army, right away!

NARRATOR: So he did. And the kingdom was saved.

The King was so grateful – and impressed – that he hired the Princess to be his Chief Counselor!

KING: Congratulations, daughter! Chief Counselor is a very important and very practical position! Now aren’t you glad you gave up your silly, frivolous music?

NARRATOR: The truth is, the Princess was not glad – at all! But once she became the King’s chief counselor, she was so busy that she had little time to think about her music… and her oud just sat in a corner of her room, collecting dust.

One night, the Princess saw in the stars that a great storm was coming. She notified the King, who immediately jumped into action to help his people get ready.

In the end, though… despite everyone’s preparations… the driving rain and howling winds were too powerful. They ravaged the kingdom, and the King was beside himself.

KING: My land! My domain! It’s in ruins! Even if we spent all the money in the royal treasury, we could never rebuild everything we’ve lost. Daughter! How in the world will we recover?

NARRATOR: The Princess looked up at the sky. It was early evening, so the stars were just beginning to come out. And as she gazed at their twinkling faces… she suddenly knew exactly what to do.

NARRATOR: What do you think the Princess saw written in the stars?

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


NARRATOR: Welcome back to Circle Round. I’m Rebecca Sheir. Today our story is called “Written in the Stars.”

Before the break, a gold-loving King insisted that his music-loving daughter give up her beloved oud and do something more “practical.” He hired a wise woman to teach the Princess to read the stars, then he hired the Princess to be his chief counselor.

After a devastating storm ravaged the land, the King asked the Princess how their kingdom might recover. So she consulted the stars.

PRINCESS: Let me see… if I’m reading the skies right, they’re telling me something about… a mountain! And it’s filled… with gold! Vast treasures of gold!

KING: Ooooo! A golden mountain! I like the sound of that!

NARRATOR: Indeed he did! A mountain full of gold could provide the funds they needed to rebuild the kingdom. Plus, with his golden carriages and golden robes, the King was rather fond of gold himself!

PRINCESS: But wait! The stars are also telling me that only one person in the entire kingdom knows how to get inside the mountain… and it’s the wise woman! The seer who taught me how to read the skies!

KING: A-ha! I shall send a golden carriage to fetch her immediately!

NARRATOR: So he did. But when the wise woman learned that the King wanted to enter the golden mountain, she hesitated.

WOMAN: Your Excellency. If I show you how to get inside, you must be aware… the mountain has certain dangers associated with it.

KING: Dangers…?

WOMAN: Yes. I can explain more when we get there. But you and I must go alone; no one else may be present.

KING: I see. We shall leave at once!

NARRATOR: The King and the wise woman mounted a pair of horses and set out across the kingdom. They rode for hours, crossing rivers and valleys, forests and fields.

Finally, in the middle of the night, they reached a great, impenetrable wall of rock. And as a shimmering white moon shone high above, the wise woman opened her mouth, and began…

WOMAN: (singing)

NARRATOR: … to sing.

WOMAN: (singing)

NARRATOR: She sang and sang. And once her song was over…

WOMAN: (stops singing)

NARRATOR: … There was a great rumble…and a secret door in the mountain slid open…revealing a vast store of gold inside!

KING: Woooooow! See how it sparkles! I can hardly wait to –

WOMAN: One moment, Your Majesty!

NARRATOR: The woman held up her arm.

WOMAN: The door of this mountain will only stay open for fifteen minutes – a quarter of an hour! It’s a quarter to twelve right now. So in fifteen minutes, at the stroke of midnight, the door will close. If you’re not out by then you will be trapped inside. Do you understand?

NARRATOR: The King nodded, then raced into the mountain, his golden robes flying out behind him.

KING: Oh!!! Behold these golden apples! Those golden pears! Oh, and what’s this? An enormous seashell made entirely of gold?

NARRATOR: The King set to work collecting as many glittering, gleaming treasures as he could. And before long, fourteen minutes had gone by.

WOMAN: Your Majesty! Your fifteen minutes are nearly up! Just one minute remains before the door closes!

NARRATOR: The King gathered up his treasures, then dashed back to the woman –and just in time too, for the moment he stepped foot outside the mountain, the distant clocks struck twelve…and the secret door slammed shut behind him!

Once they returned to the palace, the King sent the wise woman home in one of his golden carriages. Then he used the gold he’d taken from the mountain and got his kingdom back on its feet.

But as the days and weeks went by, the King couldn’t stop thinking about the other gold in the mountain – all the glittering, gleaming treasures he hadn’t been able to take with him.

The King had always been fond of gold, right? And now, the way he saw it, he had a golden opportunity to expand his collection! So one night, while everyone in the palace was asleep, he secretly made a decision.

KING: I will travel back to the mountain on my own! And bring home even more of those glorious treasures!

NARRATOR: Without making a sound, the king got dressed and tiptoed out of the palace. He rode his horse across rivers and valleys, forests and fields, and when he reached the mountain, he opened his mouth and began singing the wise woman’s song.

KING: (singing)

NARRATOR: Though the eager, excited, and impatient fellow sang it an awful lot more quickly.

KING: (singing faster)

NARRATOR: The moment he sang the last note…

KING: (stops singing)

NARRATOR: …There was a great rumble…the secret door slid open…and the King made a break for the entrance, his golden robe flying out behind him. On the way, the edge of his robe got snagged on a thorn bush outside the mountain, and a single golden thread began to unravel… but the king was too enraptured to notice.

KING: Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy! Look at all this gorgeous gold!

NARRATOR: The king scurried about collecting even more treasures. But without the wise woman there, he lost track of the time. And after fifteen minutes were up, the mountain’s secret door slammed shut…and the King was locked inside.

KING: Great heavens! What have I done?

NARRATOR: The next morning, one of the palace workers discovered that the King was gone. Search parties spread out across the land, and the Princess spent all day sick with worry. Come nightfall, her father was still missing. So the Princess raced out to her balcony, and gazed toward the heavens with eager, anxious eyes.

PRINCESS: Oh stars! Please tell me where my father is! Please!

NARRATOR: As she scanned the skies, searching for a message, she suddenly let out a gasp.

PRINCESS: Could it be true? My father is in the golden mountain…?!? And he’s locked deep inside?!? Oh dear! I have no idea how to get in; the only one who knows is the wise woman! But wait!

NARRATOR: The Princess’s hand flew to her mouth.

PRINCESS: The stars are telling me that the wise woman… is gone! She’s passed away! Oh, my dear teacher! … And my poor father! How will I get inside the mountain and save him?

NARRATOR: The Princess spun around and staggered back into her room. As she slumped onto her bed, something in the corner caught her eye. Something with with dust-covered strings running up its dust-covered body and neck.


NARRATOR: The Princess knelt down and lifted up the long-neglected instrument. She couldn’t remember the last time she had played her oud – let alone held it in her hands!

Yet now, as her heart throbbed with sadness and worry and fear, she knew what she had to do. She brushed off the dust. She laid her fingers on the strings. But not long after she began to play…

PRINCESS: Oh no! The strings of my oud are so old and out of use that they’ve broken! But I can’t bear to give up my music again. Tomorrow I will go to the market and pick up some new strings.

NARRATOR: The Princess knew she wasn't permitted to go to the market alone. So early the next morning, she snuck into the servants’ quarters, borrowed some clothing, then bridled up a horse and rode to the market in the nearest village.

As the disguised Princess wove her way through the bustling crowd, she was delighted to come face to face…

OUD MAKER: Ouds! Get your ouds here!

NARRATOR: …with a woman selling ouds!

OUD MAKER: Ah! Greetings, miss! Can I interest you in one of my ouds?

PRINCESS: Actually, ma’am… I already have an oud. I was wondering if I could please buy some strings?

OUD MAKER: Strings…?

NARRATOR: The woman smiled a mysterious smile.

OUD MAKER: Why buy strings when instead… you can have this????

NARRATOR: She reached behind her and pulled out a shiny oud made entirely of gold. 

PRINCESS: Wow! That oud is stunning! I’ve never seen anything like it! But I don’t need a whole new instrument. And am I wrong? Or does this oud not even have strings??? What good is an oud without any strings? 

OUD MAKER: It’s no good! It’s no good at all! But if you find the right strings for this oud, you can unleash… its magic!

PRINCESS: Magic???

NARRATOR: The Princess cocked her head.

PRINCESS: What kind of magic?

OUD MAKER: Magic that will bring you what you seek! Or whom you seek… You are seeking someone, aren’t you?

NARRATOR: The Princess felt a shiver run down her spine.

PRINCESS: Actually, I am seeking someone! Someone I’ve… lost.

OUD MAKER: Well… If you buy this oud… and you find the right strings… and you play those strings… then your someone will no longer be lost. They will be found. And what’s more… they will be freed.

NARRATOR: The Princess stared at the woman. Could it be true? Could this golden oud really help her free her father from the mountain?

OUD MAKER: I understand if you are skeptical, miss. But I assure you: if you buy this oud… and you find the right strings to play it with… your worries will be over.

NARRATOR: The Princess decided it was worth a shot. She handed over some coins, then took hold of the oud and began to walk away. She took a few steps before turning back around.

PRINCESS: Um, just one more thing! How will I know which strings will –

NARRATOR: The Princess was too stunned to finish her sentence. Because the woman…

PRINCESS: What?!???

NARRATOR: …was gone!

PRINCESS: Where’d she go?

NARRATOR: Perplexed, but eager to save her father, the Princess hopped onto her horse and headed for the mountain. As she crossed rivers and valleys, forests and fields, she kept her eyes peeled for anything she might use to string her golden oud.

PRINCESS: Hmmm…  There’s a spider web hanging on that tree… but spider silk is too thin to string an oud! There’s long, tall grass in that field… but it’s too weak!

NARRATOR: At long last, the Princess reached her destination. But when she looked around the mountain’s stony base, she felt a wave of disappointment.

PRINCESS: How am I going to find something to string my oud here? All I see are rocks and boulders and — wait!

NARRATOR: The Princess’s heart skipped a beat as she spied something glinting and glistening in the sun. It was a long, golden thread, snagged in the brambly branches of a thorn bush.

PRINCESS: Wait… Could it be…? No. It isn’t possible! But… what if it is??? 

NARRATOR: The Princess untangled the golden thread from the bush. Then she used the thread to string her golden oud.

PRINCESS: What luck! There’s just enough thread to string the entire instrument! The only thing to do now… is play.

NARRATOR: And…she did.

The Princess played as she had never played before… for a new song suddenly sprung into her mind – and her heart. Little did she know, but it was the same song the wise woman had taught the king all those months ago. Only the Princess’s version was filled with extra longing, extra yearning, extra love.

And as soon as the song was over…there was a great rumble…then the secret door in the mountain slid open…and the Princess raced into the arms of her father.

KING: Daughter! You’ve saved me! How did you do it?

PRINCESS: Let’s just say I had a little extra power on my side!

NARRATOR: Well… after that fateful day, the Princess wasn’t just the King’s chief counselor. He hired her to be his chief musician, too! So when she wasn’t advising her father, she was entertaining everyone in the palace with the lovely, lilting strains of her golden oud.

Because now, the King finally understood what his daughter had been trying to tell him for so long. Music has the power to move your body… your mind… your heart.

And now, he knew it had the power to move mountains, too.

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



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