The Princess and the Pea ~ Bedtime Stories for Kids
This version of “The Princess and the Pea” is a bit different from the story you may know. Let’s hear this one.
Once upon a time there was a Princess who noticed just about everything. Not only would she notice fresh footsteps on the grass, but she could also tell whose footsteps they were. Let’s say you were looking for a book. The Princess knew what row of the bookshelves to go to at the library, and how many books to count over to find it. Often the Princess kept her observations to herself – who wants to hear these sorts of things all the time? Yet every day and each moment, she noticed things.
The Princess lived in a castle where everything was tidy and in its proper spot. The servants at the castle were forever dusting and putting things right. The walls were white, bright, and glistening.
One afternoon when the Princess was out riding in her coach, the bump-bumping of the horse’s gait and the pit-pattering of the soft rain against the window glass lulled her to sleep. Suddenly, lighting filled the sky. A crash, then the loud crack of a tree falling. The coach’s horse reared up and whinnied. The Princess bolted awake. Her driver was shouting with alarm. The Princess ran to the window. There was her driver, thrown to the ground! Fast disappearing from view he was, as her runaway horse sped away, and with her inside the coach!
The Princess pried open the coach window and a gush of rain soaked her face. She climbed out the window and sloshed to the front of the coach. She took hold of one flapping rein, then the other. Mud splashed all over and rain soaked her dress, but she couldn’t think of that. She gave the reins a gentle tug, and the horse reared up again.
With a steady voice, the Princess calmed the animal, and it slowed to a trot. She could tell by an opening of the high weeds ahead that a path must be there. Surely that path would lead to a road, and she could follow the road back home. But then again, she worried, while she was asleep the horse could have trotted off in any direction. Once her coach was on the path, she looked to the right and the left, searching for a farm or crossing she knew. Yet she saw nothing that looked familiar. Where was she, anyway?
The sky was darkening. The Princess knew her horse needed water. And she was getting hungry, too. Above the treetops on a hill beyond she noticed the spire of a castle. A royal family may be kind enough to offer her a warm meal and a bed for the night. She found a path at the bottom of the hill and took it toward the castle. The path was steep and rocky, and she led the horse with care.
But the coach hit a tree root and something cracked! A wheel had broken. In the distance she noticed the soft branches of weeping willow trees. She knew that meant water must be nearby, probably a pond, since weeping willow trees like to be beside water. There her horse could refresh itself. And she could see what she could do to fix the coach.
Leading the horse to the pond, another cracking sound. Then the coach started to slip backwards! She reached quickly to grab the edge of the coach but as she also needed to hold onto the horse’s reins, she missed it. The coach bumped backward down the hill. In despair, the Princess could do nothing but to watch it go. After the horse had drunk its fill, the Princess climbed onto its back, wet and slippery as it was, and they continued up the path to the castle’s gate.
Knock, knock on the gate. Who would hear her in this downpour? After a few minutes a servant girl, holding a shawl above her head, opened the castle’s gate. I do not know who was more surprised - the servant girl, on seeing a young lady soaked and covered with dripping mud from head to toe, or the Princess, who was shocked by what she spied through the gate as it creaked open.
The Princess asked if she might stay the night and the servant kindly ushered her into the castle grounds. The Princess took one look around and gasped. Just as she thought from her first glance, debris was everywhere. Broken wheels up to one's knees, fallen-down sheds, gardens gone wild, critters scuffling under the debris – the Princess had never seen such a mess! “I can only imagine what this castle looks like inside,” she thought with a shudder. But when one needs a place to stay for the night, one tends to overlook this sort of thing. And so she smiled at the servant.
Arriving at the front door to the castle, the servant ushered the Princess into the great hall. “Wait here please, Miss.”
“Thank you,” said the Princess.
What a sight in that castle! Strewn over the great hall were rumpled capes and clothes, broken baskets, piles of belts, hats, scarves, shoes, velvets and silks, and who-knows-what. Shocked she was but she was a princess, after all, and said nothing. The servant stepped over piles of clutter as she made her way across the great hall.
In the distance the Princess heard the servant say, “Your Majesty, a young lady is here who says she is a princess.”
“Says?” snapped the Queen. “Do you doubt her?”
Said the servant, “If you please, Your Majesty, the young lady speaks like a princess. But she does not look like any princess I have ever seen.”
“Hmmph!” said the Queen. “Bring her to me.”
The princess followed the servant across the great hall. At the corner of her eye, she noticed several oil paintings on the walls. Each painting was hung at more crooked angle than the last. Yet the bold, colorful strokes took her aback. There was something about them. One showed bright flowers in a field, another one shining stars in the sky, another a busy village outdoor market. The princess was reminded of the vast white walls in her castle back home. Somehow those empty walls seemed cold and stark.
“Do not tarry!” snapped the Queen to the Princess. “Come closer, where I can see you.”
The Princess stepped up to the Queen and bowed.
“You say you are a princess?” said the Queen.
“That I am,” said she with a curtsey.
“Surely you do not expect me to believe a young lady with mud running down her face and dress is a true princess!” said the Queen. “Where are your servants? Where is your coach? I dare say you are like every other young lady, coming here and claiming to be a princess just to marry my son, the prince!”
“Your Majesty,” said the Princess, changing the topic and thinking fast. “Let me prove my worth. Then if you might offer me a place to stay here tonight, I would be most grateful.”
“What could the likes of YOU do for me?” snapped the Queen.
“Perhaps I might straighten things out a bit?” The Princess waved one hand across the room. As she did so, the paintings again caught her eye.
“I see you like my son’s artwork,” said the Queen in a gentler tone.
“Is there a visitor, Mother?” said a voice, stepping into the room.
“One who says she’s a princess,” said the Queen.
“I mean,” said the Prince, “does the visitor like my paintings?”
“Very much, if these are yours,” said the Princess. “I can’t say why, but they make me feel happy.”
The Prince beamed. “Hearing you say that makes me happy, too,” he said.
“This young lady is offering to straighten up the place,” said the Queen, “to earn a night’s stay. I hardly know why she would bother. The place is perfect!”
“Well Mother, maybe not exactly perfect,” said the Prince, kicking some balls of yarn aside with his foot. “Today several townspeople came to the castle to have their dispute settled, but the other people in the dispute already came three days ago.”
“That’s ridiculous!” said the Queen. “Why didn’t they come at the same time?”
“We told our servants to deliver the message to them with the time to come, but no one could find the sheet,” said the Prince. “The servant tried to remember the date right.” The servant quickly looked away.
“And you know what happened at our royal ball,” said the Prince.
“You mean the one that no one came to!” said the Queen, “until days after. And now they can’t stop coming.”
“That’s because the flyers got lost,” said the Prince. “No one knew exactly what day the ball was going to be.” There was a knock on the door. “Not again!” groaned the Prince. To the servant he said, “Tell them the ball is over.”
The Queen turned to the Princess. “I suppose a LITTLE straightening up wouldn’t be the worst thing. But be quick about it!”
“Yes, Your Majesty,” said the Princess.
The Queen and Prince left the great hall, and the Princess got to work. She arranged together all the things that were the same. All the belts in one place, the buckles in another. Velvets and silks folded into two piles. Broken baskets set aside to be mended (or maybe thrown out). Who-knows-what put together, over there. The Princess yanked sheets off the furniture.
Underneath was one carved wooden cabinets after another, all with empty shelves. “This is where many of the things can go,” thought the Princess. She spread on the tops of the furniture the items she wasn’t sure of. She straightened the oil paintings on the wall. Then she stepped back and smiled. How tidy the great hall looked now! And with the bright, bold paintings, it was an impressive sight indeed.
When the Queen and Prince returned, they could not believe their eyes. To be honest, for the first time in years they could see the entire floor! It was made up of large white and black marble tiles, arranged like a chessboard – who knew? The Prince was delighted to see his paintings hung straight. He turned to the Princess and they smiled. Many items she had spread out on top of the furniture were long-lost treasures discovered by the Queen and the Prince. Even the servant found a locket she had lost in the clutter a long time ago.
“This is how I want things to stay,” said the Prince.
“Son!” said the Queen. “Come with me now. A word.”
The two of them retreated to the royal kitchen. Said the Queen, “This young lady may be clever enough with putting things here or there, but any maiden could do that. It does not mean she’s a true princess.”
“Mother,” said the Prince, “why does it matter if she’s a princess?”
“You know very well why!” snapped his mother. “You are a prince and can marry only a true princess. I see very well the looks going on between you and that girl – don’t think I don’t see it! I will find out tonight if she is a true princess or not!” The Queen called for her servant. Of that conversation, the Prince heard nothing.
Later that night, the servant led the Princess to a room where she could stay that night. In the middle of the room 20 mattresses were piled high, one on top of the other. A very tall ladder leaned against the pile for her to climb to the very top. “Does everyone here sleep on top of 20 mattresses?” said the Princess.
“Not really, ma’am,” said the servant. And she would say no more.
The Princess climbed to the top, as odd as it was to have to climb so high just to go to bed. She settled on top of all those mattresses but try as she might, she could not fall asleep. A small but very hard spot poked up right in the middle of the mattress. At times such as these she wished she did not notice so much small detail. She had to toss and turn to stay away from that spot but as it was in the middle of the mattress, sleepy as she was, it was hard to avoid it.
The next morning at breakfast, the Queen said to the Princess, “Good morning! How did you sleep?”
“I am sorry to say, Your Majesty, not very well at all,” said the Princess. “I scarcely closed my eyes all night. It felt as if there was something very small and hard under the bed.”
“Well my dear!” The Queen smiled a very broad smile. It was the first smile the Princess had seen from her. “I asked my servant,” said the Queen, “to place one pea at the bottom of the twenty mattresses. Only a true princess would notice such a thing. You are a true princess after all!”
“That I am,” said the Princess, with a curtsey.
“You must marry my son at once and move into this palace!” said the older woman. The Prince looked with hope at the Princess.
“If we might hold off a bit,” the Princess said quickly. “I am fond of your son, I don’t mind saying. But first would you let me show everyone here how to keep the castle tidy? It’s not hard to keep things organized and clean once everyone knows their part. While I stay, your son and I can spend more time together, and get to know each other better.”
“Sounds like a plan!” said the Prince. In the days that followed, the Prince and Princess spent a lot of time together. As you can imagine, they grew even more fond of each other.
In the meantime, the entire castle was put in order. In a frenzy of energy, the Prince painted one new painting after another. He even painted a large portrait of the Princess, and this one he placed in the very center of the great hall. Nearly every speck of wall in the castle was filled with a cheery, warm painting. The Princess loved to gaze at them, and the Prince loved to gaze at her. Before long, the Prince and Princess were sure they wanted to stay together always.
For their wedding, this time, everyone in the land knew exactly when the royal event was going to take place. Flyers and announcements were posted throughout the land with the correct date. On the wedding day, all the guests showed up on time as they should. Everyone had a marvelous time, and the Princess and the Prince lived happily ever after.