A Patchwork Fairy Tale: the one with the heirs, the trials, and the valiant ladies.
A wise king and queen wish to see both their daughter and son well married before deciding which one of them should take the throne, and two brave noblewomen present themselves to woo them.
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[Gentle theme music]
Laura: Hi, you can call me Laura, I’m here to tell you a story if you like. You found one of my Patchwork Fairy Tales. This is the one with the heirs, the trials, and the valiant ladies.
The Suitable Suitors
There once was a king who was married to a woman that he had loved since the first time he had heard her speak. She was truly the queen of his heart as well as the country and the king told everyone who wanted to listen that she was the most wonderful person in the whole world.
This became a problem for him however, when she gave birth to their first child. A lovely baby boy that to the king was, of course, just as wonderful as his wife.
“Well,” said the king. “Clearly this is the most wonderful child and you are the most wonderful wife!”
This was a very good thought, but it caused a further problem when the queen gave birth to their second child. Another darling little boy. Which, of course, to the king, was also the most wonderful child in the world.
“Now what do you say?” laughed his wife.
“That I have the most wonderful family in the world!” cried the king and everyone he spoke with had to admit it was so. Of course they all did, he was the king after all, although you and I can both be sure that many mothers and fathers secretly thought something else.
Still, the king was a very happy man with his lovely wife and his two lovely children. He boldly declared that they were both the prettiest, kindest and most talented children in the whole world. When they grew a little older it did become clear that they had been mistaken in thinking that they had two sons, because their first child turned out to be a daughter after all. But all this did was allow the king to loudly proclaim that his palace now boasted both the most wonderful prince and the most wonderful princess in the whole wide world and luckily the whole court and all the people of the land readily agreed with him.
When they grew up it turned out that the father’s pride was quite justified. For both the princess and the prince grew up to be kind, intelligent, talented and beautiful to boot. Truly, they loved and were loved alike, and that is not where the similarities ceased. Because if the princess was as lovely as the longest day, with the softest, warm brown skin, and the deepest, shining brown eyes, her brother was just such another. Their voices too, for the longest time, were so alike, that there was not one courtier who had not at some point mistaken one for the other.
Of course their parents found this wholly preposterous. After all they could tell their children apart. Because what the princess wrinkled her nose at, would make the prince laugh, and what the prince shuddered to think of the princess could manage very well.
But then the courtiers would point out that when the prince in turn wrinkled his nose or the princess happened to shudder, they did it in so exactly the same way that there was no telling them apart all over again.
Complicated as this may be, it was not actually a problem in any way, because both the princess and the prince loved each other, their parents and their country, and rarely made any trouble at court. This was more than any of the surrounding kingdoms could say and therefore everyone was very proud of their two accomplished royal children. Their parents most of all, of course, and the king never backed down on his claim that he, above all others, had the most wonderful family in the world.
But even though this did not change, the years did pass and other things changed, until there came a bright, sunny morning when the king woke up and felt very tired. He got up and that day he watched his beloved queen carefully and he saw that she was tired too. He spoke with his wife and they agreed amongst themselves that something had to be done. They had ruled the kingdom side by side for so long, but now they longed for some peace and quiet of their own.
The king sat down on his throne and sighed deeply. He considered his options. Well, there was only one option actually. One of his children would have to take the throne. It was the only way he and his wife could retire.
Despite the fact that those of royal blood are usually quite prepared to become kings and queens, the king felt a little apprehensive for his beloved children. Ruling a country was no small task, it was not a job to be taken on lightly, and as so many parents he still often thought of his grown-up children as the little sprites they once were.
So, after a great deal of thought, the king called for his daughter and son and when they both stood before him he said: “Children, your mother and I are growing weary of ruling. I long to be the old king, instead of just the king. But that means that one of you shall have to take the throne.”
The two siblings nodded and exchanged a look of relief. They had thought for some time now that the burden of ruling weighed too heavily on their dear father and mother. But children do not like to tell their parents they are losing strength and therefore they had never spoken of it.
“I am glad that you were already somewhat prepared for this change,” the king said happily. “But which one of you would like to take the throne?”
“I would, father,” both princess and prince answered in unison and they smiled broadly. Even now, with both of them quite grown-up, their voices still sounded so alike that blended together like this, they seemed to be speaking in one voice.
“I see,” the king said. “And is there one of you who cannot stand the idea of never taking the throne?”
The siblings looked at each other in surprise, their eyebrows raised in exactly the same manner, and answered:
“Not me, father, it isn’t as important as all that.”
“Well,” sighed the king. “It seems that once again, you are in perfect agreement with one another.”
“Indeed,” the siblings laughed.
“That does not make my job any easier though,” the king grumbled.
“Sorry, father,” his children chimed.
“Well, run along then,” he said. “Leave your poor father to think in peace.”
Truly, neither the prince nor the princess knew a solution to this predicament, so they both kissed their father on one cheek and left him alone to think. No matter how hard the king thought, however, he could not reach a decision. He loved both his children equally, he valued their abilities equally, they were esteemed by the court and loved by the people equally too. No matter how many secret differences he knew were hidden behind their perfectly matched faces, none of them made a difference now. The king couldn’t choose between them, no matter how hard he thought.
“We’re in a right fix, dear wife,” he said to the queen. “How shall we ever decide which one of our children must take the throne?”
His wife however, was a wise woman and she thought of something quite important.
“Husband,” she said. “I think you should wait with naming a successor until our children have each found a partner. Because even though both our children are equally suitable to rule, their partners of choice might not be equally suitable to rule beside them.”
“How right you are, my love!” the king cried. “That is a good thought indeed.”
So the royal parents related this important consideration to their children.
“That is, of course,” mused the King. “If you wish to marry at all.”
Both of his children got very flustered for a moment, but both of them confided that, if they could find the right person, they really would like to marry some day. But they agreed with their father that not every right partner would make a right ruler, so they agreed neither of them should pledge to take the throne until they at least found the person they wanted to marry.
Now, even though their parents told them that there was no hurry at all to be married, of course the princess and the prince walked away from that meeting with their heads very crowded with thoughts. They rambled through the royal gardens for a long time, talking with very few words and nevertheless understanding each other very well. So well in fact, that after two or three of these rambles the royal siblings, for the first time since they were quite little, both ended up dreaming of their future weddings.
It was no surprise then, that there were considerably more balls and parties at the palace from that moment on.
All the young, unmarried royals and nobles were invited and each and every one of them came. The royal siblings danced with all of them, which gave them sore feet. And they talked with all of them, which gave them sore throats. And then they thought about all of them, which gave them sore heads.
But the end of it was that the poor siblings were sore all over and more importantly sorely disappointed with all their noble suitors. None of these genteel men and women lived up to their expectations and of all the people they met, there wasn’t one they thought they could love. So both the princess and the prince remained without suitors and the king and queen remained on the throne.
“It is a pity there aren’t any more suitable suitors to be found,” the queen told her children. “But perhaps it is better to happen upon a good match than to seek them out.”
The prince thought that was a very pretty thought, but the princess thought it was a rather troublesome one.
So while the prince tried to forget about marriage and engagements for a while, the princess started writing her friends and asking them if they did not have any nice young people hanging about the place that might be worth a look at.
One of the princess’s dearest friend, a young duchess, replied immediately. She knew exactly such a young woman. A young countess from a neighbouring country, who had arrived at the duchess’s court about a month ago.
She was travelling to see something of the world and the duchess was sure the princess would like her very much. So she wrote to her friend:
“I will send her to you as soon as I can. I’m sure she’ll be glad to go for I’ve kept her in one place for quite a while already. She is travelling with a good friend of hers, a baroness, also quite a charming girl. I suppose they’ll be coming together and I’m sure you will like them both.”
The princess was very pleased and quickly went to tell her brother and parents that two young noblewomen would be visiting very shortly, with compliments of her friend the duchess.
Her parents were rather surprised, but quite willing to receive the two young women.
Within a fortnight they arrived and the king greeted them cordially and invited them both to his table. Of course the young women accepted and that night they dined with the royal family, sitting across from the princess and the prince, who looked even lovelier now they were a bit anxious to please.
The baroness was a very gallant young woman and she spoke beautifully. Her friend the countess was not so poetic, but twice as quick and clever. Both of them were very entertaining dinner quests and the king and queen were quite pleased.
The royal siblings were more than pleased, they were delighted. They sent hints their parents’ way all evening and at the end of the meal the queen invited both young women to stay for at least a week before they set off again to see more of the world.
Both baroness and countess gladly accepted and the next night they made sure they sat opposite the prince and princess in exactly the same way. The royal siblings smiled a lot and the baroness and the countess grinned a lot and even if the king and queen didn’t notice anything yet, the servants certainly did.
The week’s visit was extended into a fortnight, then into a whole month and just when the king had begun to wonder if he would have to invite them for half a year to keep his children happy, both the young women asked for a private talk with him.
“You seem to be always together,” he answered them. “So I will see you together. Do tell me what is troubling you.”
There was nothing troubling either of them, they assured him, nothing but the deepest love and affection. Passionately they both confessed to him that they had fallen in love with his children. The baroness with the prince and the countess with the princess.
“And if only we could marry them,” they said. “We would never have a wish to see any other part of the world than this one.”
The king thought about this and politely told them to wait in their rooms.
When they had gone he quickly called his wife and children. His children were both quite flustered, but not at all surprised. It seemed that their young suitors had had a word with the partner of their choice before they chose to speak to their father.
“Ah,” the king said. “So you are both in love as well.”
His children didn’t answer, but the truth of it was quite visible on their faces.
“You with the baroness?” the king asked his son.
The prince nodded.
“And you with the countess?” he asked his daughter.
The princess nodded too.
“Well, that’s a relief,” the king declared.
“Oh my darlings!” the queen gushed and she hugged and kissed both her children.
“Oh we’re going to be so happy!” the princess laughed.
“Perfectly happy!” the prince sang.
The king smiled at them both and pressed their hands tenderly. “Then we will be very happy too,” he said. Because all the king and queen wanted was to see their children well-loved and well contented and now it truly seemed like they both would be.
But the king and queen also knew that passionate love does not always lead to steady love and that a pleasant personality does not always guarantee a good character.
“We have to find a way to test them,” the king said. “I want to know for sure if they are suitable for my children, and suitable for the throne.”
The queen agreed and at length their cihldren agreed too, because you could never be too sure. But what kind of test could possibly show exactly what kind of people the countess and the baroness were?
“First of all,” the queen said. “We should tell them they must wait for our decision. If they are not offended and are willing to wait, that is already a good sign.”
“I would not marry a woman who would not wait for me,” the princess agreed.
“Neither would I,” the prince nodded.
“That is settled then,” the king said. “And I think I have thought of a second test that might give us some valuable insights…”
He told his wife and children of his plan and they all thought it was a very good plan indeed. So the king called the baroness and the countess with him and told them: “My children seem to have taken a liking to you, but my wife and I need some time to decide. We ask you to be patient for a few more days.”
“Of course, Your Majesty,” the young women replied. They knew very well they were asking a lot and both of them were quite prepared to wait for even a year, if it meant they could marry the choice of their heart.
The royal siblings were very pleased with this and by the time the few days were over, so was the king. He called the young women to him once more and said:
“Your love for my children is as plain as their love for you, so if you can prove that you are worthy, you shall all have my blessing.”
The young women straightened their backs and held their heads high. It was possible they knew what was expected of them because they were noblewomen, or perhaps their beloveds had dropped a hint or two during the few stolen moments alone in each other’s company, because they both readily proclaimed:
“Give us any test you wish, Your Majesty, and we shall undertake it.”
“Very good,” the king nodded. “Then listen. Not far from the castle lies a haunted abbey that none of my subjects dare to approach. You must each spend one night there to see what comes to pass. Make sure you do not fall asleep and remember that it is a holy place.”
Neither the baroness nor the countess were afraid. They were young and nothing in life had yet beaten them down.
“One night alone seems but a low price for a lifetime of happiness,” the baroness said.
“I will gladly spend a night with ghosts if that means I can spend the rest of all my nights with my love!” the countess said.
Both of them were so eager to prove their worth that they had to toss a coin to decide who would go first. The baroness won, so he the countess wished her luck and had to stay behind at the castle. That, perhaps, was the greatest trial of all for them, because these two friends had not let anything separate them ever since they set off from home.
Even so, the baroness went to the haunted Abbey alone. She entered it at sundown and walked straight to the large abbatial chapel where the altar stood. There she sat down in quiet contemplation, because that seemed the right thing to do in a holy place.
For a long time she sat, waking in the dark, but then the clock struck twelve and a whistling wind blew through the cold corridors.
Strange shapes took form, strange sounds swelled and a troop of ghostly men appeared in the abbey hall. They laughed with hollow voices as they chased each other between the benches. In their presence the abbey filled with light like candles had been lit everywhere.
The baroness stood up and raised her hand to the strange ghosts. “Be quiet,” she said fearlessly. “This is a sacred place.”
But the ghosts laughed at her and started to deal cards. They invited the baroness to their game, but she refused, for one shouldn’t gamble within abbey walls. The ghosts made an awful racket and insisted she played with them.
“I won’t yield for evil and I shall not gamble!” the young baroness said bravely.
Still the ghosts did not cease their games. No matter how sternly she spoke to them they would not leave the abbey.
“We play here every night,” they jeered. “If you wish us gone, you must make us go.”
“So be it,” the baroness said severely and she drew her sword.
Without another word the young baroness swung her sword and drove the steel straight through one of the ghostly players.
The ghost did not wound or bleed, but he vanished in thin air and did not come back again.
“You have seen what I did to your brother,” the baroness spoke to the other ghosts. “Now leave this place or I shall make you leave.”
The ghosts did not flee, they rushed at her instead. Terrible howls they made echo between the abbey walls, but the young baroness stood her ground and swung her sword until there were no longer any ghosts to be seen.
She stood guard all night, sword in hand and head held high, but the ghosts did not return.
When the dawn came and still no ghost had come back, the baroness went outside. There the king, the queen and the two royal siblings were waiting, with the prince standing at the front.
“Tell us what happened,” ordered the king and the baroness told them all she had said and done.
The prince’s face was lit up like the sun itself. “You are the bravest, most fearless, most honourable woman I’ve ever met,” he beamed. “Father, I don’t care if you think we are fit to rule together, I want to marry her and no one else.”
The baroness had never been happier in all her blessed life and yet a moment after her happiness was increased tenfold, because the king nodded approvingly and gave his permission for the marriage of the prince and the baroness.
There were embraces and congratulations all round, but soon the king raised his voice and said:
“Now we must get the countess and prepare her for this test.”
The prince was secretly certain his sister’s suitor could not do as well as his and the princess was silently just as sure that her beloved would do even better.
The countess was told none of this though and she was not allowed to speak with her friend the baroness. So when she entered the haunted abbey that night she knew nothing of what awaited her there. Because of that she had no idea she was doing the opposite to her friend, by passing by the chapel and finding a little room down one of the corridors to stay in.
Once she had chosen her spot however, she too sat down quietly, preparing to stay awake the whole night.
It was very quiet and dark around her, so when she began to hear voices in the distance the young countess at first thought she had been dreaming. But her eyes were still wide open and the noise only grew louder. Curiously she went to investigate and in the great hall she found the merry ghosts playing at cards.
“Ah, friend! We did not know you were here,” they exclaimed. “Do sit down and join us!”
The count thanked them for their invitation, but felt obligated to refuse. After all this was a holy place and they were gambling.
“We were here first!” the ghosts roared. “And we shall not go! If you do not wish to play, we shall chase you out instead!”
“I won’t let you do that,” the countess said. “I promised to stay here the whole night.”
The ghosts made an awful racket and the countess realized that she would either have to fight them or join them and after a moment’s thought she sat down, took up a hand of cards and said:
“Well then, I shall play with you, but I assure you, you lads will not like it!”
That was true, for the countess played masterfully and no matter how the ghosts schemed and cheated, she won almost every round.
When finally the sun rose, the ghosts vanished in the first flicker of sunlight. Their cards dissolved on the flagstones, as did all their playing money. But in front of the countess, who was now left alone, still laid a stack of golden coins. After all, she had won them fair and square.
The countess picked up the coins and went outside where the king, the queen and two royal siblings were waiting, the princess in front.
“Tell us what happened,” the king demanded once again.
The countess told them of the ghosts and their card games and then she took out the golden coins.
“I did not want to kill any creature on holy ground,” she said. “So I joined them and these are my winnings.”
The princess beamed with joy and turned from the countess to her family and back again.
“Oh you are the cleverest!” she cried. “Brave and sly and you beat them at their own game too!”
The king nodded and gave this couple permission to be wed as well, although to be honest they hardly even heard him.
So the princess had her countess and the prince had his baroness and the weddings were held that very same week, in the haunted abbey. Because the ghosts were gone for good. They had been very much annoyed with the baroness and they were so insulted by the countess that they had decided that it wasn’t worth the trouble keeping this abbey as their gambling hall.
Where they went no one knew, but the abbey made a very fitting backdrop for the two royal weddings.
The king was happy, the queen was happy and both the young couples were more than happy. In their vows they made all the promises young lovers could possibly make. The king cleared his throat and the queen wiped her eyes and the whole country celebrated, for if there ever was an excuse for a party this was surely it.
When the excitement of the weddings had subsided a bit, the king called all his children before him once more.
He smiled at them and at length he said:
“We have thought long and hard about this and the queen and I have finally made a decision.”
Their decision was as follows. Recognizing in the baroness a woman who would astutely follow orders, but above all would be honourable and brave, the king made her the head of the royal army. So his son would remain a prince.
In the countess, however, he saw a woman that would be calm in a heated situation and would choose to be clever rather than brash. So he made his daughter queen, which of course made the young countess her queen-consort.
Both the siblings and their wives agreed with the old king’s decision. They laughed at each other and hugged one another and as the old queen kissed her husband, the old king was still very sure he had the most wonderful family in the world.
His subjects thought so too. Everyone praised the old royals and drank to the new royals and the coronation was a grand affair.
With all that said and done the parents could now retire without any reservations or hesitations and with so many happy couples in the royal family, both the courtiers and the commoners could not help but smile.
So happiness was all around and since I have never heard anyone say otherwise, I think they must all be happy still.
Laura: And with that last word stitching up the very last sentence, this story has its proper end.
Thank you so much for listening, lovely of you to stop by. If you want to listen to more of these, or find out about my other projects, check out patchworkfairytales.wordpress.com. You can also find me at laurasimonsdaughter.tumblr.com which is full of folklore and urban fantasy.
There’s another tale to tell some other Wednesday but until then…
Respect frogs, keep an eye out for mermaids, and be safe~
Copyright Laura Simons, please do not copy my stories without my permission, lest you insult the fae.