The Valley

(This fable follows “The Kingdom” )

After years of being “locked” away in the tower, the Princess came out.  She joined her father, the King, in his celebration of the new advisers in the Kingdom.  She felt inspired by the changes her father was making, and decided it was time she made some too.

So, she moved out of the castle and into the valley.

Because she was royalty, the Princess sent a messenger and servant to prepare the way.  She wanted to live among the common folk, and did not want any special privileges.  She would be sending along her own furnishings, but needed somewhere to live.

The people of the valley were simple folk, who valued their peaceful existence.  Wary of the Princess, but willing to be accommodating, they found her a suitable cottage, surrounded by beautiful and well-tended gardens.  On the day of her arrival, the villagers lined the streets with banners of welcome, and threw petals of roses to honour her.

The Princess was delighted, but reminded the citizens that she had come to live among them, and she expected to be treated as an equal.

It was a difficult transition for all to make.  The villagers tried to pretend she was an ordinary young woman, but the Princess maintained many of her former habits.  She refused to carry her purchases home from the market, and always expected everyone else to step aside when she was walking down the street.  She never learned the art of making an appointment, assuming everyone would be available for her at her whim.  And when the village got together for potlucks, she would command the menu.  The problem escalated when the Princess began to commandeer all the best workers to tend her gardens and do her household chores.  Work around the valley was being neglected in order to keep the Princess happy.

“This has to stop!” proclaimed the people during a meeting of the Valley’s folks.  The Princess was not in attendance.

“We cannot deny the Princess,”  the elders said.  “Her father, do not forget, is our King.”

“But she is destroying the peace!  People can’t get good service,  and businesses have lost their most productive workers, and they’re not even getting paid.  Everyone is upset!  We just want our peace back.”

“Here!  Here!”

“The Princess did say she wanted to be one of us.  Maybe we should invite her to hear our complaints.”

The room went quiet.  Everyone was afraid of upsetting the Princess, and ultimately, her father.

“Well, then.  We shall just have to continue to make her happy, and fulfill her every wish.”

The room erupted in moans and yelling.

“Wait,” came a voice from the back.  “I think I have a solution.”

It was the young woman, Sheboygan, now adviser to the King.  “I will invite the Princess to come live with me.”  Despite her new status, Sheboygan had maintained her home on the edge of the village.

The Princess accepted the invitation wholeheartedly.  Truth was she had not found happiness amongst the common people, and she was becoming disillusioned.

“Leave your belongings,”  Sheboygan advised.  “You will not be needing them where we are going.”

On foot, the two women walked through the village to the foothills of the valley, where they found themselves besides a beautiful lake.  “We will rest here for the night,”  Sheboygan told the Princess.

“What?  Outside?  Without a bed?”

Sheboygan nodded and busied herself with collecting kindling to start a fire.  “Make yourself useful.”

The Princess trailed after her, her gown getting caught on the underbrush, and smudges of dirt appearing on her skirts.  Not used to physical labour, she felt herself becoming winded, as she blew at a piece of hair that had fallen from her normally well-coiffed hair.   Incensed, the Princess was about to complain, when Sheboygan ordered her to build the fire, while she went in search of food.  “Or would you rather I start the fire, and you prepare dinner?” Sheboygan added, which shut the Princess up immediately.

Left alone to her own devices, the Princess was at a complete loss.  Although many fires had been built for her, she never gave any thought to how it was done.  Trying to recall what she had seen she piled the sticks and brush together, but could not imagine how to ignite them.  She looked around for someone to command, and when it hit her she was totally alone, she sunk down into the dirt and cried.  “Look at how useless I am!’

“Looking for something?”  came a deep voice from behind her.

Not turning around, the Princess continued with her rant.  “Yes!  I need to start this fire, but I don’t know how.  Will you do it for me good citizen?”

“I might, but what will you give me in return?”

“Anything,”  the Princess wailed.  Who could be so insolent?  “Just light the fire!”

But her visitor wasn’t so easily persuaded.

“Will you promise to thank me kindly?”

“Yes, yes!”  said the Princess, now fully exasperated.

“Will you promise to be my friend?’

Friend?  The Princess had never had a friend, and the stranger’s offer struck a lonely chord in her.  “I’d love to be your friend,”  she said more softly.

“If you want to be my friend, then you must accept me just as I am, and not try to change me to fit your needs.”

“I will, I will.”

“Look at me then,” commanded the voice.

The Princess turned, and immediately forgot her despair, for in its place she felt a sudden rush of terror.  There before her, in all its frightening glory, stood the dragon.

“Oh my!”

“Oh, yes,”  said the dragon, for he was really a peace-loving dragon and had a good sense of humour.

“But you’re……..”

“A dragon.  And you’re a Princess.  A good match don’t you think.”

“But, but, don’t you…….”

“Eat Princesses?  Maybe once upon a time, but nowadays I’m strictly vegetarian.  About that deal?” He glanced at the pile of wood.

“Oh, yes.”  The Princess stopped to consider her situation.  “Friends, huh?

“Buddies for life!”  The dragon raised his eyebrows in a comical way, and held out one of his talons.  “Shake?”

“I already am.”  The Princess made a joke despite herself, and they both laughed.  She looked at her poor attempt at a fire.  “Can you really ignite that?”

“In the wink of an eye,” said the dragon, and he did.

That night, the Princess, the dragon, and the woman of the lake sat around the campfire, eating nuts and berries and telling stories about their lives before they met one another.  The Princess forgot all about her discomfort, and discovered what she had been missing all along:  camaraderie.

The three slept beneath the stars and when the morning came, the Princess awoke with a new sense of self, and a pain in her back.  “Can’t say that was the best night’s sleep,”  she said, “but the fresh air and excellent company has done me a world of good.”

“Good,”  Sheboygan said, ” Because you’ll be staying awhile.”

“I will?”  The Princess was dubious.  One night of inconvenience she could tolerate, but she was missing her bed.

“You have much to learn about being a commoner.”

“What do you mean?  I live amongst them.”

“You live amongst them, but you continue to be a Princess.  When was the last time you did anything for yourself?”

“Well…..”  try as she might, the Princess couldn’t think of one thing.

“Exactly.  You expect everyone to cater to you the same way they did in the castle.  Servants in the castle wait on you because they are paid to do so;  the people in the village are not.”

The Princess thought this over.  Sheboygan was right.  She had never thought about it this way.  “You mean all those people who do work for me…….”

“Are not getting paid.  Their families are suffering, and so are their employers who need them.”

“Oh my.  How ungrateful they must think I am.”

“And there’s more.”

Sheboygan continued to tell the Princess about the townspeople’s concerns.

“I have led such a sheltered life,”  the Princess realized.  “I have only had to think of myself, and now I see that everything I do affects all the others.  How can I ever redeem myself?”

“Oh, you will.”  Sheboygan reassured her.  “But first you must learn how to be useful.  That is why you will live with the dragon and I until you have earned the right to be one of the common people.”

“Do you really think I can?”  The Princess knew she’d had years of being pampered.  She wasn’t sure she could adapt to anything else.

* * * * *

Days turned into months and the people of the Valley resumed their lives and forgot about the Princess.  Businesses began to prosper, and people went about their lives, harmony restored.

Then one day, a lone figure entered the town.  She was tall and thin, with the complexion of one who spent her days outdoors.  Her long, dark hair flowed down her back, and her eyes shone with a kindness that drew others in.  She stopped to greet the little children that ran to her, and smiled at the adults along the way.  When an old woman stumbled on her path, the young woman took her arm to steady her.  She unburdened a mother whose arms were full, and followed her home.  She seemed to have time for everyone and a willingness to help out.

People were soon talking amongst themselves, wondering where this woman had come from and who she was.  They followed her through the town to the local market, where she stopped at the grocer’s.

“I have no money,”  the young woman explained to the man in charge.  “But I would be grateful if you would let me work in exchange for food.”

The old man nodded, and handed her a broom. The young woman worked until the last customer was gone and all the shops were closed for the night.   Then she bundled up her earnings, and made her way silently through the streets to the little cottage with the well-tended gardens.

The Princess was finally home, and ready to take her place as part of the Valley.

(Image from Pinterest)

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