The Princess in the Box

written by


© 2001

Once upon a time,

in a country so high in the mountains that it was above the clouds and where the sun always shown, there was born a princess. A very remarkable princess.

No one had ever seen a child born like her. She seemed to shine like the sun. Her hair was golden and fell in long thick locks around her face. Her parents adored her and the people rejoiced to have such a blessing in their country.

The Golden Princess, as she became known, loved to spend her days in the garden of the castle, which was at the edge of the great forest. She played with the furry animals and made friends of the Poppies, knowing each of their names, and they greeted her each morning when she came into the garden.

She knew the garden by heart, could walk the sunny paths in her memory, even when she was inside the castle and ready to fall asleep. At night she would dream that breezes were lifting her and she would fly among the highest blooms of the roses and she could see the whole of the garden below her.

One day, it was a day like all the happy others in her life, when she was playing in the garden with a golden ball, tossing it in the air, and butter cups would catch it and toss it back. One overjoyed buttercup tossed the ball too high in the air for the princess to catch and the ball rolled under the great leaves of the Elephant Ear plant. She crawled after it and just caught a glimpse of it as it rolled further into the shadows. She chased after it and caught another glimpse of it again as it rolled gently down the incline in front of her. Just when she thought it had come to rest, it rolled forward again just out of reach and continued down a little incline where it came to rest in a grassy clearing.

The princess could see it lying there in the middle of the clearing, but she hesitated to go, because she was now outside the boundry of the garden and she didn't know this part of the garden at all. In fact, she was on the very edge of the forest, and she was very afraid of the forest. Her parents had warned her to never never go there.

Yet, the golden ball was there gleaming in the sunlight, in the middle of the half circle of trees. She thought she could run and get it quickly and be back in the garden with out much danger, but she wasn't sure. Yet the ball seemed to smile as it sat there. So she told herself that she was a big girl and it was only a ball and the ball wasn't even in the forest. So she plucked up her courage and darted out to get the ball.

Her hand circled around it's sunny warmth, just as she heard a very strange sound coming from the forest. She looked up into the shadows of the tree and an enormous stone ogre was standing there infront of her, watching her pick up the ball. She screamed a terrified scream and let go of the ball, but couldn't move. The ball rolled to the foot of the ogre and he picked it up. She was frozen in her feet from fear. She had never seen anything so ugly or terrifying in her whole life. And she knew that ogres were the nastiest of all creatures, mean spirited, and that they even ate little girls.

To her terror, the ogre didn't keep his distance, instead he came out of the trees and his very tortured face was turned even more ugly by the grimace which crossed it like like a wound. He walked up to her and she could fell her heart pounding in her ears.

He came close up near her and he whispered through his foul breath "So, my little pretty, you find me ugly do you? You're frightened of me aren't you, and that's why you're petrified and can't run away?"

She couldn't make her breath come out of her mouth. She couldn't make her breath come out at all, and she began to feel dizzy.

She wanted him to leave, but he just stayed there, she could smell the mold growing around the rocks of his deformed body. He made the sound of stones grinding on stones as he moved.

"You must be the Golden Princess. I have heard many tales of you, and you are indeed the most beautiful creature I have ever seen," he snarled.

"You must be very happy. Your parents must love you very much and I have seen you playing in the garden day after day. You have everything you could possible ever want, and I am the ugliest, meanest creature that you have ever seen. Everyone runs from me in terror. You have everything and I have nothing. Your happiness and your beauty make me sick, therefore I am going to curse you."

She knew she was living her last moments, as she heard him hiss words through lichen covered lips, and she waited to breath her last breath, but when she blinked, suddenly she was all alone in the clearing and the birds were chirping.

She must have had a bad dream. It seemed real enough, but now there was nothing to show that anything had happened. She suddenly could move her feet and she raced back up through the garden to her parents where she told them of her story in great sobs.

They comforted her, but as nothing seemed to be wrong with her, they thought that she must have imagined it. And they told her to go back and play in the garden and to not go outside of the garden, even if she lost her ball. They could send one of the pages to go get it the next time. But she didn't feel like playing in the garden. She imagined the beady eyes of the ogre looking at her through the shadows of the trees and the garden didn't seem as it did before.

But nothing apparently was wrong with her, so after the image began to fade from her mind, she again began playing in the garden each day, and all of her joy and happiness came back, and she completely forgot that anything bad had ever happened.

One day, when the peonies were blooming, she was playing leap frog with the rabbits of the garden, when she lept off the back of a rabbit and ran flat into a black wall. She sat back stunned and confused. There had never been a wall in that part of the garden. She wondered when they had built a wall, and when she got up to run to her father the king, the most unusual thing happened. The wall moved when she did.

She stopped dead in her tracks, half way up the stairs between the castle and the garden, and the wall stopped dead in it's tracks too. She took one step and the wall took one step.

She reached out to touch it, but it was just outside her reach, and when she took a step toward it, it also took a step away.

She ran terrified up to her parents and the wall stayed with her the whole way, and she fell sobing into her mother's lap. The wall stood next to them both.

Her parents were horrified and called on the guards to destroy the wall and twenty of them ran at it and all of them fell away. The wall remained, black solid, untouched. It gleamed softly in the light coming in great angles through the windows of the hall.

More panicked then ever, the king called in the canons, but nothing they could try to do to it had any effect.

They sent for the wizard, who emptied his entire bag of magic power onto the thing, and still nothing changed.

Finally, after a long day and no success, they took the exhausted terrified princess up to bed, where the wall stood beside her all night. They all hoped that the wall would just go away. That when they went to get the princess in the morning it would no longer be there.

In the morning, rather than getting better, the situation got worse. There was now a second wall, facing the first, just as sinister, just as black and silent, on the other side of the princess.

And the morning after that a third, then a fourth, a fifth and a six, until the princess was entirely closed inside a black inpenetrable box. It was a cube, formed of evil magic. No one could get through it, even though the Princess could move about as she wished, the box moved with her where ever she went. She cried and cried, but no on could get through the box to hold her hand and to comfort her.

The King and the Queen were so distraught, they called on the entire kingdom to come to their aid. The called on the bravest, and the strongest and the wisest to come and get the Princess out of the box. And what ever man could successfully free her from her prison, could have her hand in marriage.

The people who had all heard the story of the plight of the Little Golden Princess, lined-up each in turn to have a try at freeing her. The strongest giant, could not make a dent. The wisest man designed a huge machine capable of crushing even the toughest granite and steel, but his devise couldn't break it. It couldn't even scratch it. A brave man from a distant land, brought a dragon, collared with an iron chain. He bade the dragon hurl its firery breath at the box, in hopes of melting it, but had to give up when the Princess cried from the heat. A wizard with a long beard used a magic flute to play eerie songs from the sirens, that no material known to man could withstand, but the box remained untouched, even though there was much damage to the castle.

Everyone in the kingdom, from the smallest to the oldest took their turn and all tried their best, but in the end none of them succeeded in making the slightest difference. They had no choice but to give up. The box was there to stay.

So they let the princess go into the garden, but she had ceased to respond to anyone in anyway. She had cried til she could cry no more. She had pleaded and she had prayed. Now she just sat in a sort of daze and watched the garden turn around her, for she could see out perfectly well, even though no one could see in. But she became more and more depressed, because even in the garden, the sun could not come through the box, and she was always cold.

Everyday for many days, visitors came, but as time went on, their number became fewer and fewer. It was too hard for most people to know that the Princess suffered, so they kept themselves busy with other things so they wouldn't have to think about it. Afterall, what could they do?

Her parents were there, but they had a kingdom to rule and more and more often , the princess found herself alone.

It was on one of these days of solitude, that had all grown to seem like the others, that the Princess sat forlorn, blank in her thoughts, when she was suddenly startled, realising that she was no longer alone. Someone had been watching her for quite a while from the shadow of a grove of trees.

She instantly demanded to know who it was, and a strangely familiar voice said, "So you do not recognise me? How odd."

"I have seen everyone in this kingdom," said the Princess. "They have all come to try and save me, so I must have seen you among them, but I can hardly remember each one, there were far too many to keep track." But something made her uneasy in the foggy recollection of his voice. It seemed to grate with sand. It was very unpleasant.

At the very instant she realised who it was, and he stepped out from behind the trees and she screamed.

It was the ogre.

She threw herself against him, screaming in rage, shaking with fury, demanding that he undo the curse that he had put on her, but he was made of stone. She did nothing more than bloody her own hands.

He was strangely silent.

After she could not pick herself up even once more to throw herself at him, as she sobbed from utter grief and despair, he said very calmy and with a sneer, "Do you want to get out of your box, Princess?" She didn't even have enough energy left to pick up her head, let alone respond, so the ugly ogre took her lack of response as a yes. He continued, "It is not a difficult thing that I ask, for your release. Do you want to know what it is?" She managed to nod her head... and she glared at him, straight in his beady eyes.

"You must tell me a story about an ogre, if you know one."

Her mind went blank for an instant. Such a simple sollution and she would be free. But a thousand voices rushed through her head. She knew hundreds and hundreds of fairie tales. Her grandmother had told her one for every day, since the day she was born, and her mother had told her a different one each night before she went to bed, but in all those stories she couldn't remember even one that was about an ogre.

"And I forgot one thing," gnarled the ogre, "You can't ask anyone for help."

If she had any tears left, she would have cried them then. He only said that he would come back for his story in the morning.

All that day, she went through rages of despair, sorted through all the tales in her head, mixed them up, knew that she was forgetting half of what she knew. She refused to go inside that night, no matter how her parents pleaded, because she did not want the ogre to think that someone had helped her. She knew he was watching, even though she couldn't see him.

She slept fitfully, a few minutes here and there through the night. When she slept, she was tormented with nightmares, when she woke, her mind was a swirl of chaos. All her memories fighting to be heard at once. She felt very very sick.

And she began to dispair more and more as the night drew to it's blackest point, then started along it's deliberate path to morning. The sky began to lighten. The edge of the earth turned from pale blue to soft gold. She could hear the ogre coming through the trees.

And just at that moment the sun broke over the lip of the bowl of the world, suddenly she remembered.

Oh, but how she wished she hadn't.

The story came to her, but she knew that if she told the only story about ogres that she knew, that he would definitely be offended and would never never let her out of her box. It was not at all a nice story about ogres. It was all about how they were the ugliest and meanest creatures ever known.

He rumbled up to her and said, "So, do you have your story?"

Even though she thought she had no more to cry, she burst into tears and pleaded in garbled words through her tears. He growled and told her to speak clearly. He couldn't understand her.

She didn't know if she should try to make up a story at that point, or tell him she didn't know one, give her another day, but she opened her mouth and said, "I only have one story with an ogre in it, but I don't think you will like it, and you will be angry and you will keep me in this box forever."

"Tell me your story, or stay in your box. Your choice, and you only have today to decide. I will be back before the day ends. And I must tell you, that you must tell the story exactly as you know it, with no errors, nor omissions, or I will not free you from you box," And with that turned and disappeared into the trees.

What was she going to do? Her story was about a boy a very very long time ago who had been so bad, that to punish him, he had been turned into the ugliest, evilest, smelliest creature known to man: an ogre. How could she possibly tell him that story, when it was her thinking he was ugly that had got her into this whole mess in the first place. He might free her from the box, but then he would surely eat her.

In the end, she realised that if she told him and he was offended, that he would not let her out of the box, and that at least she would be in no worse a position than she had been before. And if he was offended by her story and ate her, then at least her cursed life would be made short.

So in the evening, just as the last ray of sunlight lifted itself across the sky, he came and without a word, waited.

She looked at his stoney face, and beady eyes. She could smell him, even in her box. She knew that her life was not going to have a pleasant end. She no longer cared.

She began her tale:

Once upon a time, in a country not far from here, but a very long time ago, there was a very old king, who's sons had all died in battle and his only surviving male descendant was his infant grandson. Because he was all that the old king had left, the old king ordered that he be treated with the utmost care, and that no one could say a harsh word or punish the boy because the king didn't want anything to endanger his life. The little prince also had a huge problem, that became more and more evident as he grew older. He was the most beautiful prince ever born. And the older he got, the better looking he got.

He grew up knowing he would be king, and that no one could reproach him nor do the slightest negative thing in his presence. He also saw that his beauty seemed to mesmorise everyone near him, so he could have people to do what ever he wanted. He became the most spoiled boy that the kingdom had ever know.

All of the young girls fell in love with him, and only found out after their infatuation had faded what they had got themselves into.

He became vicious and mean. The only person who could have any control over him was his grandfather, but his grandfather was getting more and more feeble and even he did not always succeed in curbing the young prince.

As for the Prince, he grew more and more tired of his grandfather, and wondered why he was so mean, and was always bossing him and telling him what to do, when no one else would dare say a word to him. He knew that his grandfather was very old, and that when his grandfather died, that he himself would be king, and he knew that he would be the best king ever, because he was not only gifted with being so beautiful, but also with being terribly clever. His grandfather, had told him how clever he was, but he knew all by himself that he was, because he never found anyone else who could match him.

So the more and more frustrated he got, the more he took it out on the servants and the lords and the ladies and who got too near him. He made old dames polish his shoes, while he was wearing them, kicked dogs when they got in his way, and laid elaborate plans when ever he could to surprise people and make them look particularily ridiculous.

The people became more and more anxious, but they held their tongues, knowing what had happened to those who hadn't held theirs. They just tried to stay out of his way.

And each day as the old king grew more feeble, the young pretender to the throne became more beautiful of face and form, although the sneer which began to creep more and more often across his fair features, somewhat marred the perfection of his beauty. Still he was the most beautiful creature that anyone had ever seen. Some people counted their blessings and said that his beauty must be a good omen, even though the other aspects of him weren't so desireable. He would mature and become more responsible and kind.

But he didn't.

He grew, and he grew more angry.

One day when he and his now bent and gnarled grandfather took their morning walk together along the parapet he came back alone. His grandfather had accidentally fallen over the parapet. As no one else was allowed to go with them on their walks, no one could verify if the prince's story was true, that the king had stumbled on his robes, and try as the prince might, he couldn't hold on to him and keep him from falling. They assumed that his lack of tears and stoic face were due to his shock and the assuming of his new role as it weighed on his young shoulders.

At first the kingdom fell silent in grief. Most of them had never know a king other than their wizened kind king. He had brought more than sixty years of peace and prosperity to the kingdom. They had no words to express their grief and when they buried him, there were many many tears, but not a sound came from anywhere in the villages. Even the suckling babes were unexpectedly silent.

As soon as the the stone was pulled over the resting place of their honorable king, a strange noise rose from somewhere in the back of the crowd. It was a horrible sound, coming from the depths of an old womans chest. Everyone began to tremble as the pitch of the scream rose, and seemed to echo into every quiet corner of the city.

It began like a little flame and it spread through the people, and they all started to make a terrible outcry. The people in neighboring villages, hearing the din of the crowd from miles away, thought that another war had come to scar their land, or that the end of the world had come.

In the village, people beat their breasts and threw themselves on the ground. It was a terrible sight, and without saying a word, they began to masse without reason or conscious thought towards the castle. From all directions they came, simulaneously and beat on the doors and and soldiers appeared on the crenilated walls.

The crowed cried for justice, they cried to the keeper of the castle to deliver the boy to them. They did not need anyone to tell them what happened. The truth was plain as the pain on their distorted faces.

It was a terrible day.

They started tearing the stones from the castle with their bare hands. Nothing could stop them until a solitary figure wearing a robe of deep royal violet appeared at the balcon. The same balcony where the king had addressed them each spring, since before most of them had been born. The crowd fell silent.

It was the mage of the castle. The best friend of the king since they had been little boys together. His councelor, his magician, his astrologer.

He came to them, but he did not speak. And one voice rang out of the crowd. "Give us the boy. He must get a punishment befitting his crime. And he must never be our king. Kinslayers are a curse on the entire land, and our kingdom is better without a king than with an evil one. Deliver the boy to us."

The Mage raised his hand, even though there was silence and no need to make space for his words. Everyone hung on them. Everyone heard them as if the Mage spoke to them from the intimacy of their parlor over a cup of meade.

"My dear people, I grieve with you. I understand your outrage. There will be justice and you are right that a kinslayer is evil medicine for the entire country, but I also caution you not to take justice in your own hands. A people who slay their king are also cursed to a hundred years of draught and plague. Their children are born deformed. You must find another sollution. I can not have you undo all the good that my dear friend and your recently deceased king built in this kingdom."

"You will have justice, but you must discuss amoung yourselves, what the punishment will be, but I warn you. It must not be death. I will not let that happen. Come back tomorrow after you have the sollution. We will make our decision then."

So the people all went off in hundled angry groups, back to their homes, to inns, to street corners, and each proposed the worst punishment that they could possibly think of short of beheading.

They spoke of banishment, they suggested torture, they thought of curses. They took each of the worst ideas from each group and collected them and brought the worst of those punishements together, until they brought three possible terribles to the city council, who then made their decision.

They decided to turn the prince into the ugliest meanest most detested creature that they could think of. There was no hesitation in knowing what that was: An ogre.

Ogres, who were hideously ugly, made of composites of stones and boulders, moss and rotted leaves. Slime ouzed from their pores and they could be smelled for miles. Not only were they the ugliest possible creature, but they were also the meanest.

There were not many of them left, because they couldn't stand the site of each other, and if two of them crossed in the forest, only one would walk away, so reproduction of the species was a pretty limited affair. They could smell happiness, and would go for miles to steal the dolly of a little girl, if they didn't eat her too while they were at it. They tortured innocent animals and a hundred more evil things.

The people felt that if it weren't for his remarkable face, the prince wasn't that different from an orgre in his actions.

They took their decision to the Mage, and the Mage felt that it was a just punishment, and it was sentence was exocuted at dawn in the courtyard of the castle. He was transformed there and then into an ogre. The prince, the ogre, was shown his own image in a large mirror, and he fled in horror of what he had become. As he made his creaking painful way through the streets, children threw rotten eggs at him, young women fled in terror.

He felt as terrible as he had ever felt in his life, and he wondered how such a horrible thing had befallen him, when he was born to be king, when he had been so beautiful. He felt the hatred of the people like knives in his bones, and he wanted to crush them, but they drove him out of the city and into the wild forest.

He went from village to village, trying to convince people that he was really a prince, and not really an ogre and no one believed him, and once his anger got the best of him and he crushed one of them with his boulder fists. When he had done that he ran from the village and never even got close to as much as a farm house after that.

Many many years later, when he had spent many years by himself, and had days and days to replay the events of his life, he suddenly began to see what a horrible thing he had been before he was ever turned into an ogre. As he could not go near the habitats of man, he spent many days learning to make his stoney fingers hold a pen, and he spent many many months practicing to write, and he sent a letter to the new king of his grandfather's kingdom (a noble from a far land and from a cadet branch of the family). He explained all that he had learned, and that he was terribly terribly sorry for all he had done, and he wanted to come back.

He tagged the letter to a branch on a tree near a heavily traveled road and then waited there many days for the reply. When it came, he opened it carefully, and read that the King under no circumstances would give him a pardon for his hideous crime, even if he had repented. The risk of cursing the kingdom was too great.

The ogre flew into a rage, tearing out trees, and doing many more unspeakable things... and ran into the forest, never to be seen again."

The princess, finished her story. The world around her came back into focus, well almost. Her eyes had filled with tears while she had been talking, and her view of the garden before her, was ringed in a prism of color, trapped in the tears that clung to her long lashes. She had been moved by the plight of the little prince trapped in his stone prison, reviled by everyone. It took her a long time to come back to reality, and suddenly she remembered exactly where she was: the box; the loneliness; and the ogre.

At first she wondered if he had left... Then she wondered if he was now going to eat her, for the insult of her awful story. She turned her eyes to him and thought she would breath her last breath. Instead, she saw the most unusual thing. The ogre had leaned his head very close to hers, but he wasn't about to bite off her head. He was crying.

Thick round globes of saltywater, slid down the slime of his cheeks. New ones bubbled up to replace them. He was holding his breath, but suddenly he let out the smallest of sobs and then he began to cry and cry. He cried until he started wretching.

The princess sat spellbound in her box. She had never expected this reaction. She sat stunned, and only began to realise very slowly that her face was feeling terrible warm. It was almost burning. She looked around and saw a single sliver, a ray of golden sunlight coming through the impenentrableness of the black box. The tears of the ogre, where spilling all over the box, and where they fell, they began to melt the box. It fell in big chunks around her. She shielded her eyes with her hands to stop the pain of its intensity which hurt her eyes.

She would have jumped out of the shell of the box, or rejoiced to see the sun, but she never got the time to do anything. A huge clamoring had come into the garden. All the soldiers of the castle, the king, the queen and the court charged into the garden. They had seen the ogre and were come to save the princess. They swarmed around her, pulling her away from the dreadful beast, while others began to throw rocks and attack it with axes, driving it out of the garden.

Everything happened so quickly, that she never knew how she did it, but she lept out of the arms of her protectors and flew to the side of the ogre. She threw herself against his rough hide and splayed her arms to try and ward off the blows.

No one dared hurt the princess. No one could understand what had gotten into her.

She yelled at them to stop. She shrieked for them to leave him alone. "He may be an ogre, but no one had the right to be cruel to any creature." And she turned to him and whispered in his ear "And inside an ogre might be trapped a little prince, and enough is enough." Tears streamed down her face and she looked him directly in his bloodshot and rancid eyes, and she placed her lips on his check and gave him a kiss. Then she turned to face the people.

Instantly, she knew she must have made a mistake. Her ogre wasn't an enchanted prince, her ogre was just an ogre, because the people fell away from her, and gasped. She figured that the ogre had turned on her, and she would soon no longer be among the living. But no death blow came... She instead heard a peal of the most beautiful pure laughter she had ever heard. Stunned, she turned, to see what everyone was agast about. And when she turned, she almost fainted from the shock. There before her stood a young prince, a beautiful young prince, with a few flecks of rock settled in his hair and a few grains of sand and a bit of slime still clinging to his rather old and shabby clothes. He smiled, but his eyes were full of tears, which only made his beauty more remarkable.

The King kept his promise, to give his daughter's hand in marriage to the person who could free her from her magic box. They were married in the centuries old cathedral and the whole town turned out to cheer. The fame of the couple spread from country side to country side. People spoke of the unforgettable gentleness and kindess of the Princess and the compasion of her husband the Prince. And sometimes they added as if they had forgotten,or as it it didn't matter, that by the way, the two young people were also the most beautiful couple they had ever seen. The old women dabbed their eyes.

The End

by Sean McGINNIS