THE GIRL IN THE TATTERED DRESS

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Once there was a girl and the girl longed to be friend of the King. But the girl lived in a tavern on the edge of a village, far from the castle of the King. Not only did she live in the tavern, but she was a servant there, serving drunken men who leered at her, young boys who spat and laughed at her, and the occasional woman who looked down upon her with disgust. She spoke to no one and no one spoke to her, except to demand a job from her.

The girl’s face was always dirty, her nails were broken, her hair unwashed, and her dress tattered. Most days she knew she was broken, alone, unlovable, and worthless. But on the darkest of days she still felt, deep inside, that the King in his castle far up on the mountain was a good King. The knowledge that there was goodness in the world kept her from despair.

And so her life went on.

Until the day it changed. 

One day a man walked into the tavern, a man dressed in a fancy woolen coat and pants made of fine cloth. He was clean, well-shaven and respectable, unlike the usual customers. He asked the girl for a meal and as he asked, he looked at her. His look startled her for it wasn’t a look of lust or disgust, but a look of immense sadness and compassion.

She looked away in fear and scurried to the kitchen. But when she came back, he continued to gaze at her. The man spoke to her, asking her name.

“I am Nobody.”

“Nobody,” he said, “I am pleased to meet you.” She looked up sharply, surprised at the lack of harshness in his voice. He smiled his excruciating smile of sadness and compassion, then thanked her for the meal and turned to go.

“That’s not your real name,” he said over his shoulder.

Confused, she stood staring as the door closed behind him, wringing her hands in her dirty dress until a shout drew her back to her labors.

That night, she dreamt of the King in his shining castle on the mountain.

The next day, the sad and clean stranger returned for a meal, and spoke to the girl again. Her heart skittered in her chest as she attempted to answer his questions about her work, and her eyes darted around the tavern as she awaited the reprimand for speaking to the man. But his presence seemed to create a temporary quietness in the room, and until he walked out the door, she was left alone.

It was on the third day that he pierced her heart with his words.

“Nobody,” he said quietly, “I must tell you a story. Twelve years ago I had a daughter. She would spend hours sitting on my knee, and I would tell her stories of glorious battles and the heartrending love stories of old. She was beautiful, kind and beloved. But then one day she was gone. She was too old to be followed everywhere by a nursemaid but too young to run away. She was just…gone. I searched every corner of my kingdom and all the neighbouring ones as well, but alas, my precious child had disappeared. I could only hope that one day she might return of her own accord.” As he finished his story, his mouth quivered and he blinked back tears.

Nobody gaped at him in astonishment. What a tragic tale! But why was he telling her? For as long as she remembered, she had been a servant in this dirty tavern on the edge of the world and no one had even bothered to look at her, never mind tell her a story.

The man stared at her face, searching for something. At last his eyes crinkled, tears began to flow, and he pulled her into a rough embrace.

“It is you!” he cried, weeping loudly, without regard to the strange looks he was receiving.

“I?” she questioned.

“You! My precious daughter, at last you have been found! Let us leave this foul place and return to the castle.”

“Castle?” she mumbled, muscles too dumbfounded to move, and voice too rusty to say anything more.

“My child, you are the princess!”

As the inhabitants of the tavern realized who the man was, they fell with one accord to their knees, heads touching the rotted floorboards.

Before she could comprehend what was happening, he swept her onto his horse and they were galloping towards the mountain of the King.

When they reached the castle, she was received with many tearful embraces and was pulled immediately into a whirlwind of dress fittings, bathings, meals, and studies. Nobody felt appreciative of the love and attention, but couldn’t shake the feeling that she was an imposter.

When she was finally left alone, she fell to the floor and began scrubbing the stone tiles with a rag from the bath. When the servants came in, she cast her eyes to the floor and asked their permission to leave the room. After meals, she picked up and carried dishes to the vast kitchen.

This carried on for months, with the inhabitants of the castle unsure how to help her become the princess they remembered. Until one day, the King stopped her.

He stood in front of her, and touched her under her chin. He lifted her face to look at his, and she saw the sorrow in his eyes again.

“Daughter, I am sorry that you were a slave in that tavern for so many years. While there, you were Nobody. But you were not created to be Nobody. Your true self, your authentic self, is a Princess. I haven’t felt until now that you were ready for your name, but I was wrong to hold it from you. In order to be the Princess, the person you were created to be, you must know the name that I gave you at birth, the name that is yours for all eternity.”

“My child,” he said as he knelt down in front of her, “you are Cherished.”

At this, the girl finally let go. She collapsed on the floor, weeping, allowing herself to grieve for all the years that she was Nobody. The King gathered her up, and held her in his arms. She had no remembrance of her life before she was Nobody, but sitting in her Father’s arms felt like something her deepest memories recalled from a happier time.

As she sat, he began to tell her stories. Stories of love, stories of how he had searched the kingdoms searching for his Cherished, stories of battles he had fought in her name, stories of who she would be someday when she was grown and would rule at his side. And as she listened, she could feel the layers of her dusty soul peeling away, revealing the trueness of who she really was.

Cherished.

~~~~

If you would like to read another of my short stories, head over to my blog for the story of a rebellious sheep!

isaiah

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