Saturday, January 11, 2014

A Princess by Choice—Part 2

A guest article by Lydia Vandezande.

By now, they had reached the outskirts of the village. Dogs barked and a crowd of urchins came running to greet them. Sariah reached for the king’s hand. As long as he was in sight, she felt safe. After all, no one dared mock her with him there. He greeted each child by name, sent a disgusted yet compassionate look in the direction of a drunk man slouched in the doorway of a hut, and hurried to where a young mother was struggling to carry a bundle of firewood and keep her children close to her. Sariah followed him and reached for the hand of one of the children, while the king took the load of wood from the woman. They walked slowly to the woman’s hut—a tiny hovel—the woman complaining all the while about her lazy, good-for-nothing husband.

A short walk brought them to the woman’s home. She invited them in for a cup of water, an offer that the king gladly accepted. He sat and talked with her as she prepared the family’s evening meal. Sariah listened at first, but quickly became bored. These conversations were always the same. The woman complained about her husband, her children, her home, about a everything, it seemed, to Sariah. The king replied by offering the woman and her family a home in the royal palace. He offered new clothes, good food, and a whole new start in life. The woman listened politely for a few minutes, but then interrupted, as Sariah knew she would. She thanked the king, but seemed suddenly attached to the life she had been complaining so bitterly about only minutes earlier. The king repeated his offer, but she had no interest in accepting.

Sariah had always found these conversations unbelievable. She looked around at the cold, dirty hut, the whiny children, the rags, the bare cupboard shelves, and wondered why anyone would choose that over a home with in the palace with the king. She thought these people must be crazy to refuse the offer over and over again. Why would anyone not want to be part of the royal family?

Credit: genre by Paula Rey / CC BY-SA 2.0
Then, at the sound of laughter, she looked out through the open doorway to the street outside. There, she saw a group of five young people about her own age, two girls and three boys. They were walking down the street, heads together, obviously discussing something that they found uproariously funny. Just past the hut in which Sariah was sitting, they stopped and stood in a huddle, talking and laughing.

Sariah looked at the king. He was still talking to the woman. She looked back at the young people outside. What fun it must be to be part of a group like that! There were a few young people in the castle, but although they had fun times together, they were too predictable to be very exciting. Sariah looked down at her lovely dress. It looked fine in the castle, but here, she knew it only made her stand out. She imagined herself joining the five outside. What would it be like to dress like them, talk like them, and belong with them?

The king stood up, ready to move on. Sariah said goodbye to the woman and glanced around the hut once more. They were leaving the woman in a dull and cheerless place and returning to the palace, where all was light and warm and joyful. Why would anyone choose this, over that, Sariah wondered. Then she looked again at the laughing group outside and for a moment, she thought she knew.

The king visited two more homes. At the first, Sariah helped a girl churn some cream and at the second, she rocked a baby to sleep. The men of these houses were at home. Both seemed glad enough to talk to the king and accept his help with their work, but when the king repeated his offer of work at the castle, they both declined. No matter that there was no paying work to be had in the village. No matter that their famines were cold and hungry, that the stores of food were nearly gone, that it would still be a long time until harvest. No one, it seemed, wanted to live with the king.

Evening was approaching swiftly as the king and his daughter left the last hut. He took her hand as they walked out of the village. The young people Sariah had seen earlier were no where in sight and Sariah was glad. For some reason, she felt a bit self-conscious about being seen with the king.

They left the village and the quiet of the countryside surrounded them. After a short silence, the king spoke. “The baby you held at that last place reminded me of you at that age, Sariah.”

“Of me?” She asked in surprise. Babies in the palace were clean, well fed, and healthy, while this one was scrawny, dirty, and weak. “Did I look like that?”

“At first you did,” the king answered. “You know that I found you in that same village, right?”

“Yes, you told me that. But was I really that—that pitiful?”

“Indeed you were,” he chuckled, “and more so. What do you know of your story, Sariah?”

She thought hard, digging deep in her memory. “I know that I came from that village when I was a tiny baby,” she told him. “I know you adopted me and made me your princess. That’s really all I know.”

“Would you like to know the whole story?” the king asked.

“Of course I would!” she exclaimed. “I’ve always wondered about so many things. How did you find me? Where was I? Who were my parents before? Yes, please tell me everything!”

…and I shall return again next week with part 3!

Keep looking up!,

Also in this series:


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