My story is a rather strange one, but a good one all the same. In fact, I think it is the strange stories that are always the best. They're always the most memorable anyway.
My name is Susan, and ever since I was a baby I've been called Princess Susan, even though I'd never even been in a castle. I was born in a small village, a long way away from the royal city, but only a few miles from the Royals' summer palace. When I was a child I would often go with my brothers to spy on the family there. I would declare that one day I would live in that palace, the biggest, most beautiful building I'd ever seen. My brothers always laughed. I didn't even have the qualifications to be a maid in that palace, they'd tell me. But I held on to my dreams.
But that's not the reason I was called princess. As I said, that started much earlier, when I was still a babe. My mother always complained that I was the worst child she had ever raised, because I would never sleep. I've never been comfortable sleeping on the floor, or on a rush mattress, or even on a pile of furs. It's because it's lumpy. I can feel every lump in a mattress like a knife in my back, and it keeps me awake. My mother told me when I was still a young girl that I slept like a princess. No bed would let me sleep comfortably but a down bed, she'd say, and no one had one of those but the royal family. Maybe that was what first started my fascination with the royal family.
I grew up an ordinary child, despite my little oddities. I helped out my family and did my chores like a good girl. I was happy enough too, until my seventeenth year, when I was promised in marriage to Ewan Longwood. This was a terrible turn of events. Not only because of Ewan himself, a man fifteen years my senior, and none too clean, but mostly because this threw a wrench in my plans. You see, even though I was considered old enough to marry (and throw away any aspirations of my own) I still held onto my childhood dream of living in the castle. Ewan was a farmer, and if I married him I wouldn't be able to go spy on the palace anymore, let alone make my way inside.
I decided to run away. The night was stormy, and I thought it would be a fitting way to start my escape. No one would be able to track me, and the weather matched my mood. I had lived my life happily with my family, believing they cared about me as an individual. To be sold off to Ewan felt like a betrayal. I didn't even write a goodbye note.
As poetic as the rain had at first seemed, it soon become problematic, as I became cold and drenched, and could no longer see the road in front of me. I became lost, and wandered for hours in the dark of night, until at last I saw a light ahead of me and made for it.
I soon came to a door and battered on it to be let in. All I would ask for was a fire to sit by, I thought, all I wanted was a moment to rest and recuperate before continuing on my way.
A finely dressed old woman opened the door and looked me up and down. I blanched as I recognized her. It was the Queen. How often I had watched her from afar, thinking how regal and poised she looked. From up close she was positively intimidating.
"Who are you?" She asked. "What are you doing banging on the door at this late hour?"
I opened my mouth to explain myself, but no words came out. The Queen frowned at me, and I thought she was going to slam the door on my face, but just then a young man came up behind her, grinning and laughing.
"Mother, what is going on? Who is it at this infernal hour?"
If possible, I became even paler. This was the prince, the youngest of five yes, but still a prince. He was my favourite actually, to watch from afar. He always seemed like the most fun, the easy one. I used to think, if we ever met, we should be fast friends. I used to imagine we would be kindred spirits.
"M-My name is Princess Susan." I stuttered, for some reason using my family's pet name. "I got lost in the storm. Might I come in and warm myself by the fire please?" I asked meekly.
The Queen looked me up and down, even as the prince grabbed my arm and pulled me inside. "Of course you can come in!" He told me gaily. "I've been looking for a princess actually! You must stay the night!"
I could only nod dumbly, struck by his nearness. I had always dreamed of being inside this palace, and here I was, my arm held by a prince.
"But first, why don't you come sit by the fire with my brother and me, have a drink! I'd love to know what a princess is doing out in such a storm. Was it assassins? A treasonous plot? An unfortunate marriage arrangement?"
"Well, yes actually..." I started to tell him about Ewan, but the Queen interrupted us. "Lionel, let her be." She scolded the prince. "I'm sure she's quite exhausted from her trials; let me take her to bed. You can grill her in the morning."
The prince looked at me, and I nodded. I was terribly excited by the idea of sleeping in the palace. Was it true that they had down beds, so comfortable that even I could have a full night's sleep? In fact, I wasn't very tired from being out in the storm – I was made of stronger stuff than that – but I wanted to have a go at these down beds. In the morning, I would have to leave anyway; there would be no point in getting to know (and like, as I had already started to do) the prince.
The Queen led me to the guest room, to a bed piled high with mattresses. I nearly screamed with happiness when I saw it. Never in my life had I seen anything so comfortable looking. For the first time in my life I looked forward to lying down in bed; for the first time I expected to have a good night's sleep. I bid the Queen goodnight and climbed the ladder up onto the bed. A big smile spread across my face as I settled in to sleep.
But the strangest thing happened. I wasn't comfortable at all. Despite all the mattresses, despite all the lovely cushiness, I could feel something under me, pressing into my back. Though I wriggled around, I could not get around it, and I spent my night in the palace just like every other night of my life, tossing and turning and trying to find a comfortable spot until finally I could no longer keep my eyes open and I slept for a couple hours.
I was awake before the sun the next morning, and sitting up in bed. I couldn't understand it. This uncomfortable bed felt like a greater betrayal than anything else. I knew I should have been away and on my way, but I felt it was my duty to tell the Queen of this.
I was soon told by a maid that the royal family was waiting for me downstairs in the dining room, with breakfast ready. I crawled out of bed, ready to tell the Queen of her uncomfortable lodgings, and ready to be scolded and booted out the door for it. But my mother raised me to be honest, and though she had been ready to sell me off to a farmer, I still lived by her code.
When I went to the dining room it was only the Queen and two of her sons sitting at the table, but their combined stares were terrifying enough for me. I would have turned and fled then, if not for Prince Lionel's encouraging smile, and the Queen's order for me to sit down.
"How did you sleep?" The Queen asked. The way she asked the question, it seemed less like a polite question, and more like a very important, grilling question.
I swallowed my fear and answered plainly. "In truth, I did not sleep well at all. Though there were many mattresses, there was still something lumpy about them."
For some reason this made the Queen smile, and Prince Lionel clapped. "I told you mother!" He crowed. "She is a real princess!"
"So it would seem." She replied, and gestured at me to eat. "Well done, my dear Susan; you have passed my little test. All that remains is to enquire if you would like to stay here longer?"
I paused. I was a little disappointed in my first experience with the palace. It had not turned out to be nearly as comfortable as I had imagined. And though the food looked delicious, and the family had been kind to me, I wasn't sure exactly what was going on.
The Queen must have noticed my hesitation, because she explained, "I put a dried pea under your bed last night, only to test and make sure you were truly a princess, as you claimed. I think you'll find our beds are really very comfortable."
"In that case, I would love to stay!" I told her happily. I still didn't quite understand, but there was something else my mother had taught me; never look a gift horse in the mouth.
Prince Lionel smiled at me across the table, and this time I was comfortable enough to smile back.