The Parable of the Two Princesses

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Wed, Dec 24 - 9:00 am EDT | 3 years ago by
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    The Wright Perspective - The Scowling Princess

    A king once had two daughters. He died in the wars with barbarians when these girls were babes, and the kingdom was held in regency until they were to come of age. The widowed Queen commanded the elder, who was the heir, never encounter unhappiness.

    Therefore the elder princess was coddled by her nurses, so that no discomfort reached her; each rose in the garden was clipped of thorns by an army of gardeners, each rock removed from the pathways of white gravel lest she stub her royal toe in its bejeweled slipper. And if a branch fell and blocked the garden pathway where she was wont to be carried in her little pony-carriage with gold wheels, agile servants removed it from the way before the royal child saw it.

    The royal beekeepers chased and caught every bee and filed their stingers blunt, so that they eldest princess was never stung. The royal dentist removed the teeth from the puppies with which the child was wont to play, so that she was never bitten.

    The Queen likewise commanded all the ladies in waiting to lose games of tennis or chess to the eldest princess, no matter how poorly the princess played. Likewise, all the royal tutors were commanded to give her the highest grades on her schoolwork, no matter how poorly the princess learned the material.

    A high wall of fair marble was placed around the palace to keep her safe, and a score of linkboys with lanterns with colored glass ordered to follow her when the sun was declining, as well as a mountebank with fireworks. When dusk fell and the vespers were sung, so many brightly colored lamps would flock to her, and pyrotechnics ignited, that the eldest princess was largely unaware that night existed at all.

    Now, with so many servants following the elder princess at each footstep, there were none to wait on the younger. Hence, with no one to flatter her, the younger daughter received little praise when she worked hard at lessons or sports unless her performance excelled; and no agile servant came to remove fallen tree branches from the road when she went out riding on her royal pony, so she learned how to haul aside such obstacles as she could not overleap.

    Because she ventured at times far from the palace grounds, beyond the walled garden, the younger princess encountered bees that stung and dogs that bit. At first, these frightened her badly, and she screamed, but when no servant came to her aid, the younger princess learned to wear a heavy leather coat against the bees, and carry a bow and arrow, and shoot at such beasts as might prove dangerous.

    Once, when she ventured too far and was lost in the wood, she was frightened badly, and ever afterward she packed a bedroll, flint and steel, or a lantern with oil if ever she ventured far, lest she would be caught cold and lost in the dark when the dusk fell.

    When she was grown to womanhood, the elder princess left the walled garden for the first time, and went out riding her domains, as was the custom.

    Passing through a flowery field, she was stung by a bee. Not knowing what the cause of her pain was, she scowled and frowned terribly, running in circles and screaming. So engaged, she came across a group of peasants, who, their backbreaking labor done for the noon rest, were lolling in the shade, smiling and happy. This caused the princess a fear whose origin she did not know, and she demanded why they were happy, when their princess was not?

    The simple folk laughed and said every life has a few small stings, and one ought not to let so small a trifle rob one of joy. Scowling, the princess ordered them beaten, and their cottages burned.

    Because of this, the fearful peasants, the next time the elder princess went out riding, made every effort by smoke or fan to drive the bees away from her, or to lead her horse away from bright and flowery fields were bees were wont to gather. So the elder princess never saw any fair flowers again.

    The next day, she was menaced by a wolf, which the elder princess (having never erenow seen a wolf) thought was a dog; and so she thought to placate it by speaking soothingly, as she was wont to do with the toothless puppies of her youth. But the animal attacked and tore her fine gown, and the elder princess was terrified beyond imagination, screaming and calling for others to help her, as this was the only way she knew how to meet any danger.

    A woodman with an ax, happening by, chopped the wolf’s head off in one stroke, but instead of thanking the man, the elder princess upbraided him for not having come sooner. Her empty head was filled with compassion for the creature she thought was a big puppy, and she ordered the woodman flogged and his cottage burned.

    Because of this, the fearful woodmen, the next time the elder princess went out riding, rode ahead of her, killing every woodland beast they met, lest she be bitten by a chipmunk, and the elder princess never saw any beasts again, neither the majestic stag nor the swift hare nor the playful squirrel.

    Finally, when the elder princess returned home, she saw people fiddling, singing and dancing such simple songs and rustic dances as the country folk used. The folk were smiling, which was a shape she was not used to seeing on faces, and she did not recognized it or like it. Perhaps it reminded her of the lips of a dog drawn back to bite.

    But she knew that if the folk were happy, there was some unpleasant thing somewhere in the world that was allowed to prosper, causing more unpleasantness, a single bee with a stinger unblunted, or a dog with a tooth left in its mouth, and so she ordered the people flogged and their cottages burned.

    And the elder princess, seeing this, then knew that her unhappiness was a great power: all she need do was scowl, and anything she wished done would somehow get done.

    When she was grown to womanhood, the younger princess too went out riding. She came upon a beggar, a sick woman, and a dead man. She used her own allowance of money to feed the beggar, to bring the woman to the cell of a monk who knew the arts of healing, and to have a coffin made for the dead man, and to pay the gravedigger. So it was that all who saw her smiled at her coming.

    Seeing this, the younger princess knew that to see a scowl or frown, or a tear in the eye, meant that there was some good to be done in the world, which would not get done unless she did it.

    When the eldest princess came of age, the whole kingdom was unaccountably filled with dread at the prospect of crowning the eldest princess queen, albeit no one would say aloud what was the source of his hesitation.

    The Barons and Bishops met in parliament to decide which would be crowned. Both princesses were asked how they would rule and reign.

    The younger princess answered first and said, “If crowned, I will uphold the current laws, which have served us well enough, making only small improvements cautiously, as needed, and maintain the taxes, imposts, and levies as needed to field the soldiers and men at arms, and so keep the kingdom safe. Without law, every man becomes predator and prey at once to every other, without arms, there is no security from foreign invasion, and public money cannot be spent without it first be gathered.”

    The elder princess was astonished, and scoffed at these answers. “The laws are far too many and complex, and we need not heed what our fathers and grandfathers decided when they ruled, nor need we honor the charters and promises given to walled towns, nor observe the forms of oaths and fealties given for the possession of land. Are we chained to the past? Nay, we need one law and one only: to be happy!

    “Hence, if crowned, I will burn all law books, flog the lawyers and burn their houses, and propose a single and simple law, that unhappiness be banished forever from the kingdom! Nor shall we collect taxes, nor field any militia, nor pay for the service of knights in the field. I will simply declare war to be illegal, whereupon all wars will cease! I will throw open the counting house and the coffers of the crown, and all money will be given freely to whomever has need of it!”

    The younger princess answered, “The money cannot come out of the treasury unless it first goes into the treasury. It is won from the servile and bitter toil of the field hands.”

    But the elder said, “This was never taught to me in any of my lessons in my youth, and we both know I received nothing but the highest marks and highest praise. And the one time I saw peasants, they were singing and dancing.”

    And she began to scowl, and the Queen, who was seated in the gallery, said, “Quick, quick, grant her the crown! Or else she will cry and be unhappy!”

    Just then an envoy of the chieftain of the barbarians to the East kicked in the doors of the parliament house and rode in, armed and armored, upon his black charger. And, with many a foul curse and bloody threat, he presented his master’s ultimatum, demanding the Princesses surrender the kingdom to him, and become his slaves. Oddly, these barbarians were far weaker than the soldiers and knights of the kingdom, so many Barons and Bishops in the Parliament wondered at the effrontery of the demand, and sought to know where the barbarian found the confidence to make it.

    The elder princess stood and assured the barbarian that the kingdom would indeed surrender as rapidly as possible.

    Naturally, the Barons objected said, “But these men are dangerous!” But the elder princess did not know what the word dangerous meant. “They are like ravening wolves that tear with tooth and nail!” But the elder princess only knew about toothless puppies. “They are like bees that sting! They are like thorns that scratch!” But the elder princess rarely if ever met bees that stung, and never a rose with a thorn.

    One Baron said, “Highness, these barbarians only destroy, never build nor make: and the bright fields of flowers they will trample, and the majestic stag and hare hunt to extinction, and burn all crops and houses!”

    But she did not know what these things were, and so had no love for them, and no desire to protect them. Indeed the talk of barbarians burning houses made her smile and blush with joy, for she too loved arson.

    Another Baron said, “Should the barbarians prevail, night will fall on our civilization!”

    But the elder princess did not know what night was.

    And so she said, “We shall love the barbarians as they enter, and become their friends, and share all we have with them!”

    All talk was of no use. The elder princess had been raised and trained and taught to think that there were no dangers in the world, and moreover it delighted her to think the world would one day soon be free of all sorrow and hardship, because this alone gave her surcease from the nameless and restless fear that gripped her.

    And since she ruled by scowls, her fear decreased only when all around her were unhappy and scowling as well, since then the small things like bee stings might be cured, and all things like flowers abolished.

    Her sister ruled by smiles, since when by hard work and by prudent counsel bravely followed large dangers like wolves and barbarians were eliminated, and small bee stings ignored, men smiled. But she only smiled when it was earned.

    And that was also a word the elder princess did not know.

    Now, since this is a fairy tale, the ending is this: the younger princess was crowned swiftly by the Barons, whereupon she merely ordered the elder princess locked up in the asylum for lunatics, where all dangers would indeed be kept from her, then ordered the foolish Queen to the chopping block for the treason of raising an elder daughter in such a wise; and upon the same hour she led her knights, men-at-arms, and militia to break the power of the barbarians; and this was the first of many triumphs of a reign, which proved to be just, prudent, thrifty, happy and long.

    In real life, the elder would be crowned amid a heaven-shaking shout of universal applause, and the kingdom surrendered, ruined and raped in short order.

    But the moral of the story is the same in both cases. Be it virtue or vice, either in a princess or her people, the moral is that whatever you reward, you encourage; and whatever you encourage, you get more of it.

    John C. Wright is a retired attorney and newspaperman who was only once hunted by the police. He is a graduate of St. John College (home of Mortimer Adler’s “Great Books Program). In 2004 he foreswore his lifelong atheism and joined the Roman Catholic Church. He has published over 10 SF novels, including one nominated for a Nebula award, and was described by Publisher’s Weekly as “this fledgling century’s most important new SF talent.” He currently lives in fairytale-like happiness with his wife, the authoress L. Jagi Lamplighter, and their four children.

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