The Princess and the Pea
The mattresses had been piled one on top of the other, covering a pea. The young girl was to sleep on the topmost mattress. It was a test of her authenticity, the assumption being that only a princess would bruise under such conditions.
They did not appear to have considered the discomfort of sleeping on mattresses piled on top of each other. I have found it difficult sleeping in the attic where just two or three mattresses sit one on top of the other. The stuffing in the mattress below is at odds with the one above, poking and pressing through the fabric.
I saw her gingerly climbing up the ladder to reach the top of the preposterous tower. She gazed down briefly, her pale face paler than usual. I caught her eye and saw her fear. I know that it is not my place, but I smiled up at her encouragingly. She was locked in the room that night.
The next morning the door was opened. The princess gazed down. Her eyes were black with sleeplessness as was her body with bruises. The doctor came with an independent witness and both agreed that the tiny, fragile body of the princess was indeed bruised and in poor condition. He listened in disbelief, as I had, to the reason for putting her under such an ordeal.
“Well,” he finally said, “there is no doubt that her sleep was affected by sleeping on a pea, hidden under many mattresses. I do wonder, however, why her birth certificate wasn’t produced. There is no doubt in my mind that it matters not her size, nor indeed her breed, nor the size of the pea, but that she is indeed a princess and that she has been poorly treated and greatly discomforted by a night sleeping on a pea hidden under several mattresses.”
I was relieved to hear that several days following her ordeal she informed the doubting prince and his family that she would not marry him no matter how large his kingdom. He implored her to change her mind but her determination clearly demonstrated that her fragility was only skin deep.
“No woman,” she said, “should have to prove anything other than her strength of character: all else is superficial. Any man who does not accept this is himself superficial and not worth the woman.”
The women of the kingdom raised their fists in salute. The princess returned to her small kingdom which she ruled with wisdom and kindness to the end of her days.