The Princess and the Pea

The Princess and the Pea

Once upon a time in a faraway kingdom there was a prince who wanted to marry a princess.

Now, this particular prince was quite finicky. He wasn't willing to marry just any princess. He wanted to find a princess who was beautiful, kind, witty, charming, and, most important of all, sensitive.

“Sensitive,” wailed the king. “How will you possibly know if your princess is sensitive until many years have passed? You don't have time for this, Son.”

For it was true, the prince would soon be considered rather too old to be searching for a wife. And, in the meantime, his mother and father, the king and queen, were getting older and really wanted to retire to a smaller palace in a warmer climate.

The prince tried to reassure his father, however. He said he had devised a perfect plan for testing the princess's sensitivity, especially to very small things.

So, the prince continued his frustrating search. He traveled to every part of the world by boat, on horseback, and on camel, crisscrossing the desert, climbing mountains, and crossing valleys, searching for the princess of his dreams. He looked in every country, great and small, but nowhere could he find what he wanted.

Sure, there were plenty of princesses available to a prince of his stature, but it was difficult to find out whether they were real, royal ones, with all of the qualifications this particular prince sought. And so it went. There was always something about the princesses he interviewed that was not as it should be. So he returned from his exhaustive search, sad and discouraged, wondering how he would ever find a real princess.

His parents were just about ready to give up and pass the kingdom on to his younger brother. One evening, as the gloomy prince was pondering his dilemma, a terrible storm blew in. There was deafening thunder and brilliant lightning, along with torrential rains and hail the size of goose eggs.

“Oh, my,” fretted the king, who was a bit afraid of thunder (although none of his royal subjects knew this!), “I do hope this storm passes through quickly. I don't believe I've seen such a fierce rain in many years. I'm afraid it may flood our moat and endanger our pet dragon, Penelope, who lives there.”

The rain continued to pour down in torrents. Then in the midst of this gale, a loud knock was heard at the castle gate. When the old king opened the gate, he found a bedraggled but beautiful maiden standing there.

“Hello, sire,” began the maiden, who was drenched beyond belief. “I am a princess from a neighboring kingdom. I am afraid that I've been caught out in this storm and my horse has run off. I'm not able to return home until the storm ends. Could I please pass some time here?”

The king was a bit skeptical about this maiden's royal claims. How could she be a princess? She looked completely miserable. The water ran down from her golden hair and not-so-royal clothes into the toes of her shoes and out again at the heels.

“How can I be so sure that you're a princess and not an impostor, wanting to steal something from my palace?” asked the king.

“You'll simply have to look in your heart and decide for yourself if I am a real princess or not,” answered the maiden with a soggy smile.

Well, the king wasn't any too certain that this maiden was a princess, but nevertheless he found her charming — and he wasn't, after all, an ogre. The poor girl was soaking wet, so he invited her in to dry off and warm up by one of the huge fireplaces.

Once inside, the king introduced the maiden to the queen and the prince. The prince, being a bit of a skeptic himself, took one look at the maiden and decided she most certainly could not be a princess. After all, she was drenched and bedraggled. No princess he'd ever interviewed during his travels had appeared like this.

Although the queen was a bit doubtful as well, she and the king insisted the prince administer his sensitivity test. After all, this girl might be the real thing. She was charming and beautiful. And, the king and queen really wanted to see this situation resolved, so they could move to their retirement palace in the south.

So, it was agreed. The prince would test the maiden on her princess qualifications. He went to meet with one of the servants to follow through on his plan.

“Kind servant,” said the prince. “We have a guest spending the night in the palace. When you prepare the bed in her bedchamber, please do the following: Remove all of the bedding and the mattress from her bed. Then, place this on the bottom.” With these words, the prince handed the servant a tiny, squishy green pea. All peas, of course, are small, but this one was particularly tiny.

“Then,” continued the prince, “replace the mattress along with nineteen others, placing them on top of this pea.”

“I will do this, Sire,” answered the puzzled servant, not quite sure what the prince was up to.

“No, there is still more,” said the prince. “After replacing the mattress, then take twenty eiderdown comforters and place them all on top of the mattresses. That should do it!”

The prince then took his leave and returned to the main room where the maiden waited with the king and queen.

“Your bed is being prepared, dear maiden,” said the prince. “Let me take you to your chamber.”

And so, he led her to the rather unusual bed. The princess glanced at the exceedingly tall bed and wondered how she would climb to the top of the twenty mattresses and twenty comforters.

“Could I have a ladder, prince?” she asked.

“Of course. Servant, please bring one,” answered the prince.

The ladder arrived promptly and the maiden climbed it with a good-natured smile. Once at the top, she clambered onto the bed, pulled the twenty covers up to her chin, and planned to fall right to sleep. It had been a rather tiring day, after all.

Unfortunately though, sleep was not to come to the maiden. Try as she might, she simply couldn't get comfortable. She tried sleeping first on one side and then on the other. Then she turned to sleep on her stomach. When she didn't find that comfortable, she switched and tried sleeping on her back.

“Maybe I'm too warm,” she thought, and she climbed on top of the comforters. “Maybe I'm lonely,” she thought. So she climbed down the ladder, took her favorite stuffed bear out of her coat pocket, and climbed back up the ladder, tucking herself into the towering bed.

Yet, sleep still wouldn't come. The maiden was quite vexed.

When she appeared in the morning at the breakfast table, she had circles under her eyes and felt a bit cross about her lack of sleep.

“Oh, how did you sleep?” asked the prince, sure that his pea could not have caused her any problems.

“Oh, very badly!” she groaned. “I don't want to sound ungrateful, but I have scarcely closed my eyes all night. I tried everything I could think of to fall asleep but I had no luck. Heaven only knows what was in that bed, but I was lying on something incredibly hard and bothersome. Now, I am black and blue all over my body. Oh! It was completely horrible!”

With these words from the princess — for now they knew she was not just a maiden but a true princess — a great cheer went up from the prince, the king, and the queen (for the prince had told them of his plan).

“Hip, hip, hooray!” shouted the king. “You are the sensitive princess our son has been looking for these many, many years. Now, you and the prince can marry, and the queen and I can retire to sunnier climates!”

They knew without a doubt that she was a real princess because she had felt the tiny, soft pea right through the twenty mattresses and the twenty eiderdown comforters. Nobody but a real princess could be as sensitive as that, they all agreed.

So the prince and the princess were married in an incredibly grand celebration. The palace kitchen prepared a huge wedding feast, consisting of many dishes prepared with peas: split-pea soup, creamed peas, stir-fried snow peas, and even sweet pea ice cream.

And, if you'd like to learn more about this family and the pea that brought them together, you may go to the museum where it was placed after the wedding ceremony. I'm told it may still be seen there, if no one has stolen it.

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