Once upon a time there was a princess so ugly that the king shut her away in a tower. Now it wasn’t so much the king’s fault or a lack of love on his part for he visited her everyday, it was the fact that nearly any one who looked on her felt nauseous.
Most stories like this begin with a slighted fairy who takes revenge on a fair daughter for the offenses of her parents (though the paternal grandmother said the cause was “that woman you married”) or end with the ugly duckling turning into a swan, but this isn’t one of those stories. The princess was born ugly and she stayed ugly, her face did not change, but that doesn’t mean she died in the tower alone and unloved, for as you’ve probably guessed—or maybe just hoped—there’s a lot more to life than beauty. Pain for one thing. Loss. Fear. Frustration. Hardship. And Love, there is love.
Now the princess may have had a crooked nose, a snaggle tooth, coarse hair the color of mud, and one eye that was larger than the other, to name a few of her better qualities, but what the princess lacked in beauty she made up for in raw determination. Though even this was tempered by a naïveté so deep she thought people were just playing a game when they ran away from her. Her parents did not have the heart to tell her the truth, and so she lived secluded in the tower, allowed to dwell in that naïveté.
Now the king and the queen both loved their daughter very much and although they had to be careful to eat before visiting her as to avoid nausea, they visited her every day. The king played chess and other strategy games with her while her mother taught her many skills like spinning wool, braiding thread, and to audit the castle’s books (a queen should know how her house is run). “You can’t just get by on looks, you gotta be useful,” her mother always said.
The queen herself had a plain face, but knew well the way to a man’s heart is not always through his eyes. She had worked her feminine wiles on many different fronts to help the king, then just a prince with a good appetite, ask her for her hand in marriage.
Each night the Queen would tuck her daughter into bed and tell her ancient stories of love and loss, of brave knights, evil witches, and ugly princesses. And each night the princess fell asleep watching the stars smile at her from the vast unknown depths of the sky.
But as is want to do in stories, the good times came to an end. The king and queen were involved in a rather unfortunate carriage accident while crossing the drawbridge. A heavy laden cart had slipped from the hand of a day laborer and rolled straight downhill to the drawbridge where it went out the front gate and collided with the king and queens carriage, knocking them into the moat. The king, a rather large man who’d never learned to swim used his last strength to push his wife out the carriage door to safety. The queen, for her part, made it to the surface. She had swallowed so much of the dirty moat water, however, that she contracted a disease that, within a month, killed her.
The princess, being only fifteen at the time and subject to some antiquated rules, was not allowed to take the throne. The Council of Nobles, men greedy for rule and the spoils of war, elected Sir Byron Trapsfield as the regent for the princess. Slowly and methodically Sir Trapsfield removed power from the throne and gave it to the Council of Nobles of which he was the chancellor. As you may have guessed, Sir Trapsfield had no need or love for an ugly princess beyond keeping him in power and left her to live out her days in the tower alone.
Two months after Sir Trapsfield took the regency, a junior member of the council of nobles, named Sir Galahad Trite, realized he could make a play for the throne if he could convince the princess to marry him. So one day he took a walk in the castle and happened to make his way to the very tower in which the princess lived. So he went up to see her.
“Hello, Honey Lips,” Galahad said as he flung open the door.
The princess looked up from her spinning wheel and Galahad caught sight of her for the first time. He promptly turned to his left and puked into a potted plant (which the king and queen had placed there for just such a purpose).
“Who are you?” The princess asked.
“My name,” began Galahad, but he could continue no further, for as he had just lost his lunch, his breakfast now dared a return journey and he turned again to the potted plant.
“Gracious,” the princess said, “Is this the infirmary? Why do all the sick people visit me?” She took him by the hand and led him to a bed where she laid him down and brought him a cup of water.
Within a few minutes his color had returned. The princess had returned to her spinning and now had her back to him. He stirred in the bed and coughed.
“Feeling better, Honey Lips?” The princess asked.
Galahad replied with a moan.
“What’s your name, brave knight?” The princess asked.
“Galahad,” he said weakly, “Sir Galahad Trite.”
“Of the Winnsfield Trites?”
“My father spoke highly of you, though he thought your family valued words more than honor and the sword more than the plow.” Despite being naïve herself, the princess had grown a penchant for speaking her thoughts boldly. A bad habit, she picked up from the king, unfortunately though, growing up in isolation she had not yet developed the filters and tact which would make this an admirable quality on the throne.
But this was a time when monstrosities were hidden away, defects cast out and black sheep slaughtered. Galahad stood to his feet and decided to take his leave. He walked to the door without a word.
“Where are you going?” She asked.
Without turning toward her he said, “I believe my family has been ridiculed enough for one day.”
“I’m sorry, I-“ she began, but he had already left.
The princess worried throughout the night that he might never return, seeing as she had been so beastly toward him, but she had not counted on the depth of this young nobleman’s greed.
“You’re going back?” His steward asked. “She must not be as bad as they say.”
“She’s worse,” Galahad said. “I’d rather look at a horse’s rear or watch a pig give birth than look at her face, but there’s no benefit in that.”
“If you marry her you’d have to look at her every day.”
“Bah,” Galahad said. “A king can shut up his wife if he needs. She likes the tower.”
“A wife easily found, is not a wife easily lost,” the steward said.
“Quit your philosophy and bring me my shoes.”