Story the Seventeenth:
Princess of Pentacles (Page of Pentacles)
The Princess and the Pea
Once upon a time, there was a prince who wanted to marry. He was dashing, charming, and courteous, and besides heir to a great power, so that every blue-blooded maiden in the land and in foreign realms dreamt of becoming his bride. Yet he had sworn by his sacred honour that he should only take to wife one who turned out to be a "real princess;" and by that he meant that the candidates had to fulfil a lot of conditions for him to even dare to take a glance at them. So demanding was the test that, naturally, the years went by and he remained single. His crowned father and especially his crowned mother, fearing their only child and heir should die childless and put an end to the dynasty, launched a proclamation across the continent that the gates of the royal palace were open to every maiden who could prove herself as a "real princess."
Young noblewomen came by the score from far and wide, but one seemed too fussy in the prince's eyes, another one too rude, a third one could not play the concert flute, a fourth one limped -although imperceptibly- on her left foot, and many provincial ladies knew not how to take off their gloves according to the customs of the court. His parents were desperate until, on a dark and stormy evening, a knock at the door led the guards to open, and into the hall entered a young girl with a humble look on her face and the sweetest voice. She was none other than the adopted daughter of the royal gardeners, living in a cottage at the edge of the palace grounds, but she really was a child of foreign royalty, dethroned long time ago by revolutionaries.
The Queen, seeing that the maiden was soaked to the bone, offered her a seat by the fireplace, where a great provision of wood burned and crackled. The cupbearer served her a cup of hot chocolate to warm herself, and even the maids brought a set of dry clothes fit for royalty, into which the maiden could change. Once the sumptuous brocade gown had been donned, the hot chocolate had been drunk to the last drop, and a now delightfully warm and dry visitor exchanged some words with the Queen, she went into the bedchamber of his son and heir to warn him that she had found a "real princess."
The young man, though still as perfectionistic and mistrusting as usual, paid a lot of attention to his mother's description of every gesture the newcomer had made, of every word the newcomer had said, and, little by little, he was soon convinced that this was the person that he sought to tie the knot with. However, he wished the maiden to submit to one final test. His crowned mother should ask her to spend the night at the palace, and the guest should have a bed made with nineteen eiderdown covers and twenty mattresses, but under the bottommost mattress there had to be placed a dried pea: if, the next morning, the guest realised that she had spent a most dreadful night, only then would he take her to wife.
And the Queen arranged it all exactly as her only son had planned.
At the crack of dawn the next day, she rushed into the maiden's bedchamber.
"Good morning, my dear. Have you spent a good night's rest?"
"Oh... please do not speak of it, Your Majesty! Something hard has been hurting my back all the time! I have not even been able to get a blink of an eye...!"
And, as the maids took the guest's négligée off, a little dark blue spot on her lower back came to view.
The Queen, mad with elation, made haste to tell her son and heir of the test's glorious success.
In the end, the prince had to admit that he had finally found the "real princess" he had sought for so long.
They married and, to live happy ever after, they only needed a single mattress.
The pea wound up at the Court Museum, where anyone may see it displayed in a glass case as an ancestral heirloom and proof of the events described in this tale being real.
Provided that one can find that kingdom, and that the pea has not been misplaced, of course!