The Princess and the Pea

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The Princess and the Pea

A Danish folk tale retold by Niz Smith and Avril Lethbridge


Once upon a time there was a prince who was very very very very fussy.  He decided that the time had come for him to get married, but his future wife would have to be a real princess who was just as fussy as him.  He thought fussiness was a sign of royalty.

But where could he find one?  He began to search the length and breadth of the land.  But no luck.  He was so fussy that every princess he saw he’d say:

“That one’s too fat” or “that one’s too thin” or “that one’s too tall” or “that one’s too short” or “that one’s too smelly” or “that one’s hair’s green” or “that one’s hair’s blue”

And so on and on it went.  He was never satisfied but he did still want a wife who was a real princess.  Where was he to find one?  In the zoo?  In the pig sty? In the stable? His mother and father, the king and queen, were at their wit’s end.  They didn’t know where else to look.

They were still worrying about it when, one night, there was a terrible storm and through the noise of the howling wind and the rain thy heard a gentle tapping on the door.

Outside, bedraggled, hair dripping wet, was a very sad sight.

“Please let me in out of the cold and wet, I’m a real princess”.

They let her in because real princesses shouldn’t be cold and wet.  But when they looked at her closely, she certainly didn’t look like a real princess, her hair was all straggly, her clothes were torn and dripping, her shoes were muddy and squelchy and she wasn’t wearing a crown (as all princesses should).

The ladies of the palace all whispered behind her back:

“That’s never a real princess, a real princess would never get in such a state, who does she think she is?”

But the queen was a kind queen and decided the girl should be offered a warm bath and a bed for the night, but she secretly thought that, without telling the king or the prince, she’d prove the girl wasn’t a real princess.

After her bath the girl did look more like a real princess but the test was still to come.

The queen ordered her servants to make up a bed with not 1, not 2, not 3 but 20 mattresses all piled on top of one another.  But, most importantly, to put a tiny green pea underneath the bottom mattress.

Why was she ordering this?

The next morning, when the girl joined them at breakfast she looked very very tired.

“How did you sleep last night?” asked the queen.

“Your majesty, I climbed onto the topmost mattress and tried to settle down.  But all night long I tossed and turned because I was so uncomfortable.  It was no good, however hard I tried, I could not sleep. There must have been something hard trapped under the mattresses and it kept me awake all night”.

“Oh my dear” said the queen “you must be a real princess.  Only a real princess would be so delicate that she would feel a tiny green pea underneath all those mattresses”.

The prince was overjoyed. His grooms and his knights and his squires and his cooks and his horses who had had to search all over the land for a real princess with him were overjoyed, at last they could have a rest. The king and queen were overjoyed because, at last, they could see their son, the prince, was happy.

The real prince and the real princess married and lived happily ever after being very very fussy together.