Princess & the Pauper

By David Stempnakowski
Once upon a time, there was a beautiful young princess who was doted upon by her parents. She was sweet and kind, even though she thought highly of herself. She used to run and play in the palace garden but she had no one else her own age to play with, so she would make up all kinds of imaginary friends. Not far from the palace, on the edge of the wood, lived a poor family, who had one son the same age as the princess. When the boy was ten years old his father
suddenly died and he had to take on more responsibility. It became his chore to gather wood for the home to keep the fire going so it would stay warm and so his mother could cook. Each morning he would go out into the forrest to gather wood and each time he had to venture further. Eventually, one day, he happened upon the garden with the young princess playing.

He waited beside an old tree and watched. As soon as he saw her, he felt something deep inside. She turned and caught him staring at her just over the hedge between the garden and the forrest. Even though he was dirty and poor she saw something in his face that touched her heart.

They spoke not a word to each other. The years passed and each day he would pass the garden at the same time and stand by the tree and watch and each day she would make sure she was there so she could see him.
Neither could help it but they had fallen in love. Even though they never said a word, their eyes had shared a thousand conversations.

On the day the princess would turn eighteen her parents threw a ball in her honor and invited many lords and ladies. Two of the princess’ cousins came a day early to help prepare her for the ball. Still, the princess made sure that she could slip away long enough to be in the garden when the young man passed, just as he had every day for the past eight years. The two cousins found the princess alone in the corner of the garden near the forrest and wondered what she was doing there all by herself. Then they saw the young man and as soon as they saw the way they looked at each other their hearts became dark with jealousy. How could someone so rich and beautiful look upon someone so dirty and poor with so much love and compassion? And so they plotted and came up with a plan to prevent them from every being together.

The two cousins found a pretty servant girl in the castle and promised her thirty pieces of silver if she would meet the young man on the edge of the forrest the next morning. She was puzzled by the request but her family could use the money and it seemed harmless enough so she agreed. The next morning, the servant girl went into the wood where she was told and waited. The princess was up early the morning of the ball. She had much to do but she wanted to make sure she would have time to be in the garden to see her young man. Her cousins were more than happy to help her so that she could be there. At her usual time she left her room and walked to the corner of the garden, as she had done so many times before. But this time she saw a young girl in a plain dress waiting at the edge of the forrest by the tree where her love usually was and when the young man appeared the girl ran to him and threw her arms around him and kissed him.

The princess saw this and felt her heart breaking. She turned and ran from the garden, disregarding the young man’s pleas to come back and ignoring his profession of love. It was the only time he had ever spoken to her, but now there was nothing she wanted to hear. The two cousins had watched from a window overlooking the garden and smiled, quite pleased with themselves.

The pauper was heartbroken. He went back to his home where he now lived alone. His mother had passed away in the spring and the only thing he had looked forward to was seeing the beautiful young princess who had become the love of his life. Now she too was gone. That night, and every night for the next month, as he lay in bed he asked Death to take him and end his suffering. All light and happiness had gone from his life and each day was simply existence. One night, just as he was falling asleep and asking Death to come so he would not see morning Death entered his room. He watched from the shadows as the young man drifted off to sleep. He had heard his request, but it was not his time and so he could not take him and release him from his suffering. But Death took pity on him and so he touched the man’s head and entered his mind and whispered a spell of orgetfulness.

Each day the young man got up and went out now to work in the village. He no longer passed by the garden and he no longer thought of the princess he loved. There was a shadow in his mind that he couldn’t see past, and he was neither happy nor sad. He simply was. One day as he labored he heard folk talking about the princess and her new husband, for she had finally married. He thought it good that someone should know happiness, but he had too much to do just to survive and so he gave it no more thought.

The years passed until one day the royal coach was passing through the town with the princess and her prince. It was pulled by six magnificent white stallions, but as it rolled past it struck a rock and broke one of the wheels. So of course it stopped and the driver stepped down to survey the damage. He called the young man over to help him lift the wheel so he could see how bad it was and of course the prince and princess stepped out so as to lighten the carriage and make it easier to lift.

Death’s spell was no match for the depth of their love and the moment they saw each other it was as if not a day had passed. He looked into her eyes and he saw the little princess who had captured his heart and soul all those years ago. The viel in his mind was lifted and all those memories and feelings were back, Suddenly, there was light in his life again and now, older, he knew he loved her in his heart. He had always loved her. He could see in her eyes, his feelings reflected back, but now it was too late. She had married and had a husband, and she no longer went out to the spot in the garden near the forrest. She looked at her true love, hoping he too had moved on but she saw no ring on his hand.

She closed her eyes and turned away from him to her husband and took his hand. When she did, the pauper felt his heart break all over again. He helped with the wheel on the coach and when it had been replaced, the royal couple resumed their journey back to the castle.

That night, as he lay in his bed in his small house, with only a few meager possessions he thought about his princess and how much he loved her. Once again, as he fell asleep he asked Death to come and take him and ease his suffering. He knew now he would never, ever be truly happy as she had taken his love and his soul and now he was empty. As he fell asleep Death came. He watched the man sleep for a while and again pitied him. This time there was nothing Death could do. So Death carried him to the spot in the forrest where he used to go each day to see his beautiful princess, and there he treleased him from his suffering.

The next morning, the princess woke, and for the first time in years, went out to the spot in the garden near the forrest. There she found her true love waiting. Hanging from the tree where they had fallen in love. Neither spoke a word.
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