The Princess and the Pea: a Retelling of Hans Christian Andersen's Classic Fairy Tale


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nce upon a time in the land between lands, there was a good and kind prince who wanted nothing more than to find a bride. His parents, the King and Queen, also wished to see their only child wed, for they wished for a sweet daughter-in-law to call their own, and grandbabies to spoil. But just as the Prince was good and kind, he was also wise, and he knew that because his bride would one day help him rule the kingdom, she must be a true princess in every way. So the Prince set off to travel the world in search of a true princess. He looked near and far, from the snowy mountains of the North to the sandy deserts of the South, and every greenwood forest in between. Though he found many a king’s daughter, he had no way of know if they were true Princesses. Each one, though acceptable, was not quite right. Princess Esmeralda of the Eastern Mountains was a beautiful raven-haired girl with glowing skin and dark eyes, but she had a terrible habit of belching loudly after every meal. She didn’t even try to hold it back. The Prince thought of all the important royal dinners they would attend, and shaking his head, he moved on. Her Royalness, Rosamund of the River Country had a golden voice that could charm the birds from the treetops, but she had a terrible temper and would throw anything within reach at the servants if her tea wasn’t the perfect temperature. The Prince thought that going through a tea service a day would be rather costly, and so he continued his search.
            Princess after princess, kingdom after kingdom, the Prince searched. All were nearly perfect in beauty beyond compare, but not one proved to him that she was a true princess. So after a full year of wandering the world, the Prince returned home, all hope of finding a suitable wife nearly gone. Immediately upon returning home, he took to his room and slept for three days; world traveling is exhausting you know. When he woke up, he was changed. He had become pensive and quiet, and spent long hours at his desk in the royal study.  His Royal Mother was worried and spoke to her husband about it. “Wilfred dear, our son has not smiled since he returned from his journey. He has taken all too seriously to the affairs of the kingdom and has not stopped to enjoy himself once. Frankly dear, I’m worried for him. At this rate, he’ll work himself ragged and die before us, and then where will we be without an heir?”
The King had noticed the same things, but he tried to calm his wife’s fears. “Now, Winnie, I’m sure it’s just a phase. He’ll regain his hope eventually.” But the King wasn’t exactly sure that he was right. Their son seemed to have lost his spirit.
            This sad situation had continued for a couple months when at last the Forces-That-Be decided to change something in this prince’s story. One April, dark clouds had been gathering all afternoon and finally let loose in a torrential downpour just as the sun had set. The Queen was standing at a window, watching the lightning when she saw a slight figure dash through the garden towards the castle.  She paid it no mind, figuring that one of the garden girls had been caught out in the rain and was making her way back, when all of a sudden there was an urgent pounding at the front door. Hurrying out in to the hall, she met the King as he was striding briskly to the door. Carefully he unlocked the great oaken door and swung it open. There on the doorstep was a bedraggled girl, her brown curls plastered to her face, and the hem of her yellow dress four inches deep in mud. She curtsied, then sneezed three times. “Good evening your Highnesses, I beg pardon for disturbing you at this hour, but I am Princess Wren from the Western Woods, I have been traveling a long way, and my carriage broke down just outside the city gates. I had begun to walk to the city in search of a place to stay for the night, while my coachmen attended the horses, when the rain let loose. I saw the lights shining in the castle and they looked so warm and inviting that hoped I might find a place to rest here tonight.” She then sneezed thrice more and curtsied again.
            The King was skeptical that this was a real, true princess. What kind of princess would travel on foot and alone? And she had no royal markings of any kind, not a crown on her head nor a ring on her finger. The Queen also had her doubts; this girl was pretty, but plain, not the perfect model of beauty that most princess were. Her pert nose was freckled, and her eyes a grayish-blue, not striking at all. Her brown hair was not a glossy chestnut color, but rather the drab color of her namesake bird. But she took pity on the poor, wet girl; taking her hand and leading her into the hall, the Queen called for the servants to bring towels and prepare a pot of cambric tea.  She took the supposed princess to her sitting room where she provided her with a clean nightgown and a soft robe, and once dry, they sat together, drinking the sweet milky tea, and talking. The Queen found Princess Wren to be a charming little creature, growing more so as she dried off. Her hair curled in soft ringlets at her chin and her eyes sparkled when she talked. She sat in the Queen’s armchair as if it was a throne; her posture was impeccable, and her manner without reproach. The Queen began to wonder if this Princess was not truly who she said she was, when, as the serving maid handed her a teacup, she sloshed a drop on the girl’s hand. Apologizing profusely with nervous glances at the Queen, the maid quickly retrieved a tea towel, which the Princess received graciously with a gentle reassurance of no harm done. The Queen decided that if this girl was in fact a true princess, there could be no better wife for her son. So she schemed to administer a test that was rumored to sort the real princesses of the most sensitive nature, from those who claimed that title through crown only.
            Princess Wren’s eyes soon began to grow heavy with sleep, and her conversation became punctuated with politely covered yawns. The Queen took this as her chance and excused herself to oversee the preparation of the spare bedroom. “Just you wait here, my dear, and we will have you in a nice soft bed in no time,” she said as she left the room.
            In the spare room, the queen instructed the housekeeper to stack ten mattresses on the bed, layering ten more down comforters on top. Then with the addition of a nest of pillows, and the very same quilt the Queen had slept under as a girl, the bed was almost ready. Sending the housekeeper to fetch the princess, the Queen took a small dried pea from her pocket and slipped it under the last mattress. The legend had been told that a true princess would be sensitive enough to feel the smallest lump through such a stack of bedding.
            Sleepy from her exhausting evening and the warm milky tea, Princess Wren climbed the ladder to the top of the bed without stopping to question the great height of the bed. The Queen called goodnight from the ground, and left the princess to settle in.
            Morning dawned with the freshly washed world sparkling in the remaining rain that dripped from the leaves and clung to the grass. When the King arose for breakfast he went to the royal study, where he found the Prince dozing in a leather arm chair. Shaking his head at the sad state of his son, who looked like he hadn’t even bothered to go to his bedchamber the night before, the King gently shook the Prince awake. “William, we received an unexpected guest last night, and your mother and I would like you to join us for breakfast.”  You see, the King had been informed of the Queen’s scheme and had decided that if his wife perceived something true from this princess, he would trust her intuition. However, he thought it best to keep the identity of this guest in the dark, and let his son make judgements for himself. Quickly making himself presentable and fetching his crown from the head of a nearby suit of armor, the Prince followed his father down to the breakfasting room, where a delicious spread of toast and jam, porridge with cream, sausages, and piping hot tea was laid out waiting for the royal family and their guest. The Queen was already seated to the right of the head of the table,  and her husband and son went to their seats. Just as they were seated, they rose again, for the princess had joined them. She was dressed in the same yellow gown from last night, which the servants had whisked away to be cleaned almost as soon as she had discarded it and her curls were neatly pulled back from her face. Stopping in the doorway, she glanced to the Prince with a surprised look. The Queen, noticing this, went to her, “Forgive me dear, I forgot to mention my son to you last night. Princess Wren, His Royal Highness Prince William, our only son. William, this is Princess Wren of the Western Woods.”
            While the Queen was making her introductions her son had stood by his chair, his face mirroring the same surprised look of the Princess’, which soon turned to a transfixed smile, under which the Princess bowed her head demurely. She curtsied deeply, “I’m very pleased to meet you, your Highness. Your parents have been most hospitable to me this past night in my time of need.”
            The Prince bowed in return, “The pleasure is all mine; I’m glad we have been of service to you. Tell me, did you sleep well?”
            At this the Princess hesitated ever so briefly, “Oh yes… or I would have… I mean…” turning to the Queen she took her hand earnestly, “Every good thing was provided for me, but all night long, I dreamt that I was sleeping on a bed of rocks. When I awoke this morning I was sore all over. It was the most curious thing, for never have I seen a finer quality of goose down or felt softer blankets.”
            The Queen glanced to her husband, and they both breathed a sigh of relief. The test had proved reliable. Now if only their son would see the true-ness of this Princess. But they had nothing to fear, for as the four sat down to breakfast, the Prince couldn’t take his eyes off the gentle Princess. Already, hope had been rekindled in his heart for he knew at once that this princess was gentle and kind and true—precisely the kind of woman he would want to have by his side as he ruled in his father’s place someday. As for the Princess, whether she knew it or not, her heart had been captured from the moment of the Prince’s first smile.
            As they ate together that morning, the King found the Queen’s hand on the table and held it gently, happy in the knowledge that their son and this girl would one day live happily ever after.
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            As for the dried pea, it was retrieved from under the mattress and the Queen had it gilded, and set as a necklace pendant, which the prince later gave to his wife on their first anniversary. 

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