Once upon a time in a not-so-far-off land, there was a young maiden, who dreamed of becoming a princess. But she was from a lowly family, and the friends of her childhood were lowly peasants as well. She had learned to play the games of the peasants, and to speak the speech of her class. She had learned the skills of the village to survive in the circumstances of her life, but she wished in her heart of hearts to become a princess more than anything else in the world.
When she came of age, her suitors were of her same station and class, and yet she dreamed in the quiet corner of her room at night in the hidden corner of her mind of royalty and their grand balls, of the formal receptions and the pomp and glory of a regal court. She would tell her friends and even her beaus of the majesty that would some day be hers, if only she wished long and hard enough. There would come, she would say, a fairy godmother, or a fabled jinn, or even one of the crazy nephews of Rumpelstiltskin. Whoever, they would have the power to make it so. And so she wished and wished with all her might.
As she washed the vegetables for the evening stew she dreamed of the banquets she would attend.
She wished throughout her wedding ceremony in the littlest church of her little village of the great cathedrals and trumpeting choirs and the finery of the finest fabrics that she would one day wear.
She wished as she walked to the fields from her hut of the regal carriage and its footmen in livery in which she would one day be carried, for she would be a princess then.
She wished aloud so often, and one day the old priest of the village said to her, "If you would be a princess, you must learn languages. French for diplomacy, and Latin for theology and law, and Italian for the great dramas." But she knew that all one had to do was wish hard enough.
She wished aloud so often, the village musician once said to her, "If you would be a princess, you must learn the clavichord to accompany yourself at all the classics of our age." But she knew that all one had to do was to wish hard enough.
She wished aloud so often, her husband could only slump in his chair by the fire at night, knowing that he could never be the prince she wanted. But she knew that all one had to do was to wish hard enough, and she would be a princess.
She wished aloud so often, her mother said in answer to her wish, "If you would be a princess, you will have to wish harder than you do." And so, she wished even harder than she had ever done before. Harder and more furiously than anyone could even imagine.
The life in the village went on as before, and as it had done in the generations long past which now peopled the little church's cemetery with their names and professions. Smith, Tailor, Singer, Merchant, Farmer and all their friends long gone. The children and the children's children named Smith and Tailor and Singer and Merchant and Farmer lived their lives as those had done before them.
Only the maiden, now a woman and a wife, and though still young, wished for more. She still wished to be a princess with the fervor and fire of the winds, with the tenacity of the seasons' change and with the faith of all the saints ever there were in this world.
When her chores were finished, the once maiden and now woman and wife made her way to the gates of the castle, and sat waiting for herself to become a princess. Then she would return home, and finish the chores of that day. The next day it was the same.
She said to the priest, "I shall one day be a princess."
She had said to the village musician, "One day I shall be a princess."
She had said to her husband, "One day I shall be a princess."
She had said to her mother, "One day I shall be a princess. because I wish it so."
She wished so hard and so completely that priest and musician, husband and mother dared not even suggest in a whisper that perhaps she would not be a princess some day. Her friends would not take up the subject in her presence for fear of disappointing if not angering her.
She wished and wished and wished without objection, without question, without flagging, and without mercy. Especially without mercy for herself.
The priest, who wished for so very little for himself and for so very much for others, went about his parish with the regularity of a clock, delivering hope and penance and care and kindness. In time, the church fathers saw his diligence, and in time the village priest was given the title Monsignor, then Archbishop and finally, as he simply continued to deliver hope and penance and care and kindness, he was made Cardinal. He was a prince of the church, but it escaped him how he became a prince of anything. And after pondering on his good fortune, he would always return to delivering hope and penance and care and kindness.
If the village priest could become a prince of the church, the woman once maiden thought, I too shall rise. And so she wished even harder than before.
The village musician, who wished for little because of his own simplicity, came up with a little tune which was so infectious that all who heard it tapped their feet and danced with such merriment that people from all around came to listen. Finally the royal court heard of this marvelous tune, and summoned the lowly musician to play at table, and then at receptions, and finally his merry tunes regaled the festivities of all the lands around. Still a servant in the court, he was of great reputation.
If the village musician could become a prince of music, the woman thought I too shall rise. And so again she redoubled her efforts at wishing.
The husband set about to raise his orchard, planting and nurturing new seedlings until the harvest was better and better. In time, and after work which could bend the back permanently into old age and cover hands with calluses, he became renown as a farmer, and his fruits were in demand in the largest cities of the land. When the royal court needed the finest of fruits, his were selected from the market even at the highest of prices, though he was never made a guest at the royal banquets. He became slowly a prince of sorts among his fellow farmers, and his advice on the growing of orchards was prized and sought after.
If my husband can become so renown, can become a prince among growers, the woman thought, I can become a princess.
The mother, who had raised many children and grown bent and old for its labor thereof, was pleased with a son who had become a smith, and with a son who was a tailor, and a daughter who had become a singer, and another son who was a merchant, and with her daughter above all, the one who had married the farmer.
And that daughter who had married the farmer said to her mother in the dotage of the mother's years, "I will someday be a princess."
Her mother replied as she had always answered, "If you would be a princess, you will have to wish harder than you do."
The daughter asked, with frustration at the length of time wishing takes, "How long must I wish to make it so?"
"I have no answer, for I have wished only to be your mother," she replied.
"How long must I wish to make it so?" the daughter asked of the Cardinal, who would receive even the lowliest of peasants.
"I have no answer, for I have wished only to be your priest'" the Cardinal replied.
"How long must I wish to make it so? To become a princess?" she asked her husband.
He answered, "I have no answer, for I have only wished to make the orchard better."
"How long must I wish to become a princess to make it so?" she asked the musician on his way to the royal court.
"I have no answer. I have only wanted to make music. But may I play you this merry tune which I dreamed last night?”
The woman, finding no answer to her question, wandered about the fields and woods, wandered by the castle from which she heard the merry tunes of the village musician, wandered and wandered, asking herself, "How long must I wish to become a princess to make it so?"
She wandered until she came upon a hut, with smoke rising from its chimney, and looked inside to see an gnarled old woman, stirring her dinner in a pot suspended over the fire.
"What to you want?" the old woman asked, startled by her visitor.
"I have always wanted to be a princess," the woman who wished replied.
"You have always wished to be a princess?" the old woman repeated.
"I have," she answered. "I have wished to be a princess since ever I can remember. Since I was a child. I knew that if I wished hard enough, one day, there would come a fairy godmother, or a fabled jinn, or even one of the crazy nephews of Rumpelstiltskin. Whoever, they would have the power to make it so."
"You?" the old woman said. "You wished to be a princess? Come to me. I am Mother Mirror. Come sit with me, for I too, like you, have wished my whole life to become a princess. I knew that there would come a fairy godmother, a jinn, or one of the crazy nephews of Rumpelstiltskin to make it so. You must be her!"
"No!" the young woman said. "You must be her! To me!" It seemed all quite confusing to the both of them.
The old woman said, "I had a priest who became a prince of the church, and he did nothing to help me."
"I too know a prince of the church, who has done nothing to help me," answered the young woman.
The old woman said, "I had a husband who became a prince among tailors, and he did not help me become a princess, and I had a mother who told me to wish harder than I could even imagine, and she did not help me."
"I know of them, for I have a husband and a mother just the same," the young woman answered. "But why do you sit here, alone?"
The old woman stopped stirring her evening meal, and said, "There is nowhere else to be, for wishing is a serious and lonely task. What do priests know? What do husbands know of wishes? Even my mother didn't wish to be a princess, though she told me I could wish to be. Will you stay here and wish with me? Perhaps we both can become princesses together."
The young woman looked at the old woman, and a shudder of recognition passed through her like the cold wind which was arising at the end of the day. If I stay and wish with her, in time I will be like her. In time enough, when she is gone, I shall in fact be her. I will be Mother Mirror.
The young woman fled in terror, and found herself suddenly in a world filled with princes and princesses that she had never seen before. The orchard princes. The princes of caring and hope. The princes of melody and rhyme. The prince of a father and the princess mother to her children.
And one day, she heard rumor of the real princess of the royal castle who wished someday to be ordinary. Ordinary like all the ordinary princes and princesses of the world. For to be a real princess was simply not enough, while to be ordinary was quite satisfactory.