a fairy tale about being different...
|The Shoeless Princess
Once upon a time in a town very far away, a princess was waiting to be born. Her parents had been waiting a very long time for her and feared she'd never be born.
When the day finally arrived, everyone were very excited. The queen was housed in a very special chamber filled with sweet smells and the enchanting sounds of exquisite birds brought in from all over the beaded forest and beyond.
The king was also excited. It was all he could do to keep himself busy while waiting for the appointed moment. He had suspended all royal business as he could not focus on anything else. The castle was abuzz with excitement as people scurried to and fro with well wishes and good tidings. The kingdom seemed to buzz all day with spontaneous bursts of laughter and song.
All of a sudden it seemed the sun went cold and everything went eerily silent. All the birds stopped singing and the air became thick with the taste that something had gone wrong. As people stood still and waited for the news, the queen cried out in anguish. The king dropped the crystal rattle he'd been holding and rushed to her side. Everyone held their breaths in fear as the guards threw open the heavy doors and all the birds shrieked their escape.
There in the dark, far across the suite, only brightened by candles and a crackling fireplace, sat a lonely crib and in it lay the royal child. Everyone stood around, aghast from her by at least three paces. None reached forth to calm the softly crying child and the child could only comfort herself by suckling her small fists. Even the queen, who sat upright in bed, could only look about with fear and concern and outstretched arms. No one had given her the princess to hold. The queen knew not which way to look and her face expressed alarm. As the king approached, she reached out to warn him, but he rushed past her to see what all the clatter was about. The king reached down without fear or trepidation and pulled the wailing princess close to his chest and soothed away her tears and gently swathed her in her royal pink blanket. He could only look upon her with awe and wonder. He was instantly enamored and stood proudly as any father would with tears streaming gently down and into his bearded face.
The king then placed his now sleeping daughter back in her crib. He turned and faced his subjects and with his booming voice set them running in all different directions. He ordered his wife comforted and when this was done, he lovingly brought the princess to her side. The queen who had originally been concerned now reached forth to hold her sleeping daughter. As she was finally placed in her arms, the queen immediately unwound her blanket and set about inspecting the infant from head to toe. When she finally reached her feet, she let out a gentle sigh which was quickly followed by a giggle, and then a full-throated guffaw. She was soon joined by the king and everyone else in attendance. The subjects let out a huge sigh of relief, then set about to spread the news of the royal birth.
Over the next few days, the king and queen set about opening the thousands of presents sent for the new princess. They sighed as they examined beautiful gowns she would grow to wear and hundreds of shoes she would likely never wear.
As the princess grew, she eventually did wear all of her beautiful gowns, but she never wore shoes; none of them would do. When her royal attendants tried to put them on, she would immediately remove them and go running about the castle with multiple attendants in rapid pursuit. It was a useless endeavor, she was much too fast and none could catch her. The king and queen didn't appear interested in the shoes or the chase. The princess went to all formal events shoeless, occasionally with stockings, and rarely willingly.
When it came time for the princess to be formally presented, she suddenly took on a solemn air, quite unlike herself. She became quiet, rarely appeared outside her room, and seemed to fight every suggestion mentioned for the formal affair. When presented with her golden gowns, she looked interestedly, dropped her head, and then said none would do. And the multiple shoes got a simple sigh, a cry and were gently turned aside.
This went on for a number of weeks until the queen approached and asked all to leave her and the princess alone. The princess looked so sad and forlorn and it broke her mother's heart. "Dear child, what could be the matter? How has your mother failed you?" The princess cried and cried. "I know you and Papa love me and have never thought to tell me how ugly I am, but I know no one will come to my debut, except to stare and laugh at my...my feet." "Oh my," said the queen. "I have failed you." With this, she reached down, pulled up her gown and began to take off her shoes. The princess sat in wild-eyed wonder. She realized she had never seen her mother's feet or ever dared to try. She stared and stared as the shoes were undone and the stockings removed. The queen's feet looked just like hers; the same shape; and bigger with endless beauty that seemed to go on forever. She was amazed.
"I thought I was the only one," she said. "I thought I was alone."
"You're never alone," the king said as he entered. He was barefoot also. She could see he had enormous feet also. "No one bothers to look at the feet of the king." The princess was told that she was unique, but not simply due to the size of her feet. She was simply the only person she could be, as was everyone else. Her parents thought she knew was loved, but now they realized everyone might need to be reminded now and again, and maybe it was time to retell the story.
With a sigh, the queen began to tell the story of her youth. She was also the only child of her parents and it had been a long and tortuous route to her birth. When she was born, as had been the tradition of royalty, her parents were expected to have her hobbled before her first birthday. The Queen Mother simply could not do it. She looked upon her own misshapen and painful feet and she just couldn't do it to her own daughter. She and the king hatched the idea of spreading a rumor she had been kidnapped, while in reality, they had her whisked away to the forest where she was to be raised by friendly souls who would return her at the age of eight years; long past the years where her feet could forced to remain the size of a baby and constrain her into a life of being carried wherever she went; a life that bound her to her castle and her throne. The kingdom was lead to believe she would never return and mourned their loss. She was lead to believe she was a peasant and only later was she told the truth. In the years that quickly passed, the Queen Mother surprisingly died one night in her sleep and yet, it was still much too early for the princess to return, even for the death of her mother.
Her father, the King seemed forever saddened and was under intense pressure to remarry and produce an heir to the throne; an heir he knew was not needed. Eventually in his weakened state he remarried, but he was never in the company of the new queen. They were only seen together at formal affairs. Even so, the new queen immediately began to show as if with child. Some thought she was a witch. None liked her. She was an evil queen and soon learned of the missing princess that all wished would return; the true heir to the throne. In her evilness, she suspected the princess was alive. As the King grew prematurely frail and ill, he sent his most trusted guards to return the princess to his side so she might take her place on the throne; even as a child. He prayed she would be strong enough. He could not bequeath the evil queen his kingdom, even for a short time.
His trusted men immediately dispatched for the forest to summon the princess. Little did they know, there was an assassin amongst them? He had been planted there by the evil queen. He lurked amongst the guards as if one of them and smiled and laughed as they did; all content about their duty. As the princess emerged and was placed within her royal coach, the assassin made ready to ride within her royal coach. None challenged him as they set about their return to the castle.
The royal procession was still deep within the darkened forest when he made his move. Poor fool! The princess was well-prepared to defend herself and immediately kicked him with her too-large feet. He was caught completely unaware and hand all the breath knocked out of him. The princess then leapt upon his chest and cut his throat with the small blade she always kept about her person. He, for all his arrogance, had forgotten she had been raised amongst the strongest of the strong forest dwellers. She had been trained to protect her royal person as only she could. The only evidence of his dastardly attempt was a single bloody tear upon her royal dress.
The young princess thought to herself, if she'd been hobbled, she would now be lying dead with her beautiful small feet. When she returned to the castle and sat upon the bed of her ailing father, she told him what had happened. She even told him the thought she had immediately upon the death of the assassin. He listened intently to his brave and now wise child.
When the evil queen made her unannounced entrance, she thought she would be coming to pretend comfort for the king, but instead was stunned by the appearance of the princess. The princess stood proudly before her in her royal gown with the single bloody tear, her eyes clear and her eye brows unfurrowed. Her feet were bare with no hint of shoes and her face shone brightly with no hint of shame. The evil queen was devastated and could not hide her tears, not only because the princess was alive, but her brother was now dead. In her treachery, even her unborn no longer moved.
The evil queen ran from the room and was soon in labor delivering her stillborn child. Soon after, she withered and died. And with her death, the king miraculously became well and thrived. It was as though a poison had been released from his system.
With the return of the princess, the king bravely banned foot-binding and whenever it was found, the binding was released, the girls were freed, and their parents were thrown into the dungeon never to see the light of day. But even a royal decree could do nothing to free the minds of some and they were forever bound to their old ways of thinking.
As they all sat and finished their crying, a thought came to the princess. "Are there others with feet like mine?" The king and queen looked at one another, "Of course, there are. Why would you think you're the only one?"
"Up until this moment, I didn't even know about the two of you," the princess cried. They all laughed.
"Perhaps, we can fix this. You just pick out your gown and prepare for your ball. We have some work to do." The princess giggled as her parents left. The queen hadn't even put her shoes back on.
The next day announcements went out that the princess's debut ball would be shoeless. It was a small step, but all hoped the bare feet would bring a new day.