The King's Daughters
Here is the "new and improved" version of what I wrote a while back.
Once upon a time there lived a wise and just King. He had two lovely little Daughters whom he loved very much, and he thought to give them a gift. So he found the most skilled and experienced seamstress in the land and gave her instructions for the most wonderful gift any girl ever has. A few months later, the King called his Daughters to him. They came speedily, for they loved dearly to be with their Father. As they entered the throne room, he held out two carefully wrapped packages. He placed one in each of the Girls’ arms, and the First Daughter held hers in awe and waited for an explanation. The Second Daughter eagerly put her finger to the corner of the package to tear it open, but the King laid his gentle hand on hers.
“Not yet, my Child. These gifts are waiting gifts. You are yet too young to understand, but someday you will be tempted to open these packages before their time, and that will ruin them for ever.”
“When will we open them, Father?” asked the First Daughter.
“Not for a very long time, dear. The packages contain dresses, beautiful dresses, and you will show them to your husbands someday. But no one else should see them before that day, not even you. Can you wait?”
Both Daughters said that they could, though the Second Daughter was a little reluctant. The girls grew and matured into beautiful young ladies. Their father delighted in them and thought happily of the day when they would be given to good young men who served the king and loved their wives.
One day the Princesses were invited to a late night ball, but their Father did not approve, saying they were too young. The Girls were deeply disappointed, but kissed their Father goodnight and went to bed without complaining. The time came when the girls would have left for the ball, had they been allowed to go; the Second Daughter was not sleeping.
Without a word to her sleeping sister, she crept to the great wardrobe and opened it. Inside, on the very highest shelf, laid her package. She had taken it down many times over the years and looked at it longingly, but she had obeyed her Father and never so much as peeled back a corner. But now she breathlessly tore it open and shook out the never-touched dress. She held it up with a long quiet gasp. It was the purest of whites, brighter than the moon on a clear night, and softer than the first snow of winter. It seemed almost to glow in the dimly lit room. She slipped it on silently, and twirled before her mirror in ecstasies. The dress flowed gently over her youthful figure and fell about her feet, so that just the tips of her silver slippers peeked out.
After placing a sparkling tiara in her waving dark hair, she tip-toed through the dormant castle and slipped out a side door like a shadow.
She had a glorious time at the ball: the ladies marveled at her pure white gown and the young men admired from afar. But her conscience would not let her rest. No matter how many times she danced, or how merrily she laughed at her friends’ empty jokes, she felt the nagging knowledge that she was willfully disobeying her beloved Father’s wishes.
The King, in his chamber, had a wakeful night. Several times he almost went to his Daughters’ rooms, to see if all was aright, but he did not. And then, at 2 in the morning, he saw a dark figure limping across the gardens in a faded white gown, and he was saddened deeply.
The Second Daughter never told anyone about her secret adventure, and she believed that no one knew. She had never told a lie before, and somehow it made her feel dirty, but she did not regret her actions. When there came another opportunity for a stealthy expedition, she did not hesitate to take it. But as she unfolded the lovely gown, she was dismayed to see a large, ugly brown stain on the skirt. It was quite conspicuous, and she was at a loss as to what to do. In a panic, she took a bit of white thread and stitched over the stain. The stitching was messy and ruined the pureness of the dress, but the Princess thought that perhaps it would not be noticeable.
When there came a third ball, still the King did not allow his Daughters to attend. The Second Daughter again planned to sneak out, but when she took out her fading gown, she saw that the stain had grown even larger, and seeped through the rude patch she had made. Once again she strived to cover it up, and the stitching looked even worse this time.
At last there was a fourth ball. It was not so late as the others had been, and the King consented to the Princesses’ attendance. Of course, this time the Second Daughter could not wear her gown, as her sister was going and her Father would see them before they departed. But she was not disappointed. In fact, she was almost relieved that she would not have to see the new stain that would undoubtedly be there, and the two patches making the gown bulgy and unshapely.
There were many, many more balls, and the girls grew older, until they were fine young women. The Second Daughter never told anyone about her nighttime adventures in the past, but covered the secret as she had covered the stains. Then came the day when two young men were introduced to the Princesses as possible suitors. They were honorable young Princes, brothers, and the King was delighted to see that his Daughters fell in love with them. When the Princes came to him to ask for his Daughters’ hands, he did not hesitate to grant them their wish.
The Princesses were overwhelmed with happiness. There was a grand wedding, to which everyone in the entire Kingdom was invited. Young and old, rich and poor, man, woman, and child, came to the feast. The whole Kingdom was like a ghost-country – every soul was on the palace grounds, dancing and singing and celebrating late into the night.
At last the guests began to go home, the King retired, and the young newly-weds went to their bedrooms.
With shaking hands, the First Daughter took down her still-wrapped dress. She carefully, slowly pulled back the old worn brown paper and slipped out the dress. A little gasp escaped her quivering lips.... the dress was beautiful. Pure and untouched; the softest cloth and the lightest scent of lavender. She slipped it on and looked at her reflection dazedly. Being a Princess, she had had many lovely dresses, but this was like none she had ever laid eyes on. Trembling all over now, she went into the bedroom where her husband was waiting. He stood up when she came in, and without a word went to her and folded her in his arms.
“You look lovely,” he whispered into her golden hair. “Thank you, so much, for waiting.”
On the other end of the castle, the Second Daughter sat in her dressing room, holding the crumpled, spoiled dress in her arms. Her silent tears fell onto the rough cloth. She could not, could not, show her husband this. He would never forgive me, she thought. I’ve betrayed him, lied to him, and deceived him. He’ll never love me again.
All at once she knew what to do. Taking the dress, she slipped out of the room and ran down the corridors and hallways to her father’s chambers. To her surprise he was awake.
“My Daughter,” he said as she stepped through his door. She ran to him and fell at his feet. She put her head on his lap and wept.
“Father, oh Father!” she cried pitifully. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t wait... I disobeyed you, and I lied to you. I wore the dress many times, and I tried so hard to cover up the stains. But they won’t go away. Please, help me Father! I can’t show this to the Prince.” She held up the ruined, ugly gown for the King to see.
He did not shout at her, or angrily banish her from the kingdom as she had expected him to. Instead, he took the dress in his hands. He looked at it silently, and then turned his gaze to his wayward Daughter. She could not bear the sadness and love in his eyes, and hung her head. Gently, the King lifted her chin.
“Look, my child. You’re sins are wiped away.” She stared at the dress in disbelief. It was the purest of whites, brighter than the moon on a clear night, and softer than the first snow of winter. The stains and patches were gone forever. The Princess tumbled into her Father’s arms and wept again.
Later that night, the Second Daughter went to her bed chamber where the Prince was waiting. She wore the dress as she meekly went to him. He watched her lovingly, and then took her in his arms.
“I must tell you,” said the Princess quietly. “The dress was not always this pure. I made a wrong choice, and did not save it for you.”
The Prince smoothed her hair tenderly. “Your Father has forgiven you, and so will I.”