"The Young King" is the story of a poor boy who does not know he is the son of a king. When the king dies, the boy is found and brought to the royal palace. He will be crowned on his sixteenth birthday.
The boy falls in love with beauty and surrounds himself with the richest and most luxurious items he can find. He is determined to have the most splendid crown, scepter, and coronation robes ever and commissions these to be made. The crown is studded with costly rubies, the scepter with pearls, and the robe is of gold tissue.
The young man is looking forward to his magnificent coronation the next day when he has three dreams. Each one shows him the misery that is behind the creation of his robe, scepter, and crown. Poor people, including half-starved children, toil in hunger and misery in a foul-smelling room to make his robe. A young slave must dive over and over past exhaustion to find pearls for her scepter. After Avarice (greed) refuses to give Death even one grain, Death brings a plague. It wipes out the people, so that jackals and dragons must pull the rubies for the king's crown out of the slime.
When he wakes up, the young king is so horrified by the suffering that has produced his beauty that he casts aside his crown, robe, and scepter. He puts a "spray of wild briar" on his head for crown, dons his old leather vest and sheepskin cape, and carries a rough staff.
The noblemen want to kill him for his lack of royal dignity but his clothing, staff, and crown are made luminous and beautiful by a mystical light. He is more a king than ever because of his merciful and compassionate heart, and he awes the people with his angelic face.
This is a didactic tale with a lesson that says that true beauty comes from kindness and compassion, not jewels and riches.