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Not Beauty’s Sleep

            Long ago in a bountiful land, the king and his wife longed for a child.  Their kingdom prospered and grew strong, for the king forged clever alliances and planned well for his people.  The queen loved her king and her people, too.  She was loved in return, for she was very beautiful.  Yet the child she longed for never came.

No one feared what would happen to the kingdom after the king’s death.  He educated his young nephew to be as wise and thoughtful as himself, and already the people loved the king’s nephew.  The king and queen gave up their dream of a child, growing old together and comforting themselves with the handsome children of their subjects who played in the prospering towns and fertile fields of the land. 

            In secret, the queen kept a little doll in her bedchamber with which she slept at night to comfort herself and remember what it was to be young, to dream, and to long for something.  One night, the queen’s little doll quivered in her arms.  Startled, the queen rose up, throwing back the damask covers to assure herself she merely dreamed. 

            But this was no dream: her china doll reached up to her with a live hand and spoke as it laid its fingers upon her lips. “Fear not, dear queen, for I am your daughter.  I will come to you soon.”  No sooner had the little thing spoken these words than she fell once again into her doll’s pose, eyes closed and arms limp, never more to move of her own accord.  The queen lay awake waiting all night and then after the sun rose, but the doll never raised its finger and never moved its lips.

            A girlhood faith in magic protected the queen from doubting her own mind.  When she was but a princess, a wise old woman served as her nanny.  The good woman impressed upon her charge the idea that when you experience something you cannot explain, sometimes the best thing to do is accept what happened and see where it leads.

            “Perhaps a good fairy guards me after all,” the queen smiled to herself, remembering her girlish hope for a fairy godmother when she would listen to her Nanny’s tales as sleep took her into night.  “Perhaps, after all this time, my fairy comes to me with what I most desire.”

            The queen tarried in her private chamber at such length, her husband came looking for her.  When he knocked at the heavy mahogany door, she called to him.

            “My King,” she said, “come and listen to the dream I had last night,” and she told him what had happened.  But the knowledge that it was not a dream she kept in her own heart. 

            The king smiled, at once sad at the prospect of false hope and pleased to see his wife so joyful.  “I wish with all my heart for your dream to come true,” he spoke slowly, meaning every word, “and for all your dreams to come true, my love.”

            The queen only smiled, for she knew something the king did not.

            It came to pass, less than a year later, that the little doll lay tucked in her bed in the queen’s ornate cabinet, undisturbed for quite some time.  For, in the spacious chamber, next to the queen’s bed, rested a larger cradle where the infant princess slept.  The queen watched over her daughter, barely slept herself, and thanked her good fairy.  The queen blessed the memory of her good nanny who taught her to believe in magic, dreams and the fulfillment of longings.

            Watching his wife from across the room, the king’s joy ran deep.  “My love,” he pronounced, “we must have a festival, followed by a great ball.  All our kingdom must share in our joy and mark the year of our little Beauty’s birth.  We will set the occasion for her baptism.”

             The princess, of course, had a very proper and formal royal name, but her parents privately called her Beauty, for nothing they had ever beheld matched the harmony of her features and nothing they had ever known touched them with the wonder they found in her sapphire eyes.

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