Once upon a time…
A beautiful princess went for a walk and got caught in an unexpected storm. With a wistful thought of home, her carriage, and her favorite red umbrella, the princess got swept away by the deluge.
When the water finally settled, she found herself in an unfamiliar place. In the flashes of lighting, she saw a castle with tall towers and the flickering light of a roaring fire. With a sigh, the princess emptied water from her slippers, squeezed droplets from her limp hair, and squelched over to the cobblestone path.
The bedraggled princess sloshed her way through the rain to the castle door. Her knock was muffled by the heavy door; however, after a minute, the queen herself answered.
“Go away,” she told the sodden visitor. “We aren’t interested in whatever you’re selling.”
“Wait!” The desperate princess fell to her knees. “I’m cold and I’m wet and I’ve lost my crown. Please let me stay the night here! I’m a princess.”
The queen appraised the women. Could it be true? Despite the dripping clothes and ratty tendrils of hair, there was an air of royalty about her. Besides, the bookish prince needed to marry a princess: a real princess. There was only one way to know for sure if this was the real deal or an imposter.
“Right this way,” said the queen.
While the princess dried off in front of the fire, the queen ordered a room to be prepared with 20 mattresses and 20 feather beds, stacked up in one of the towers. Beneath this fluffy monstrosity of a bed, the queen placed a single pea.
The damp princess had to climb a ladder to reach the top, no doubt wondering what kind of strange people would make a bed fifty feet high. Polite and exhausted, she settled in for the night. In the morning, she emerged from the guest tower with purple circles under her eyes.
“How did you sleep?” asked the queen lightly over a cup of licorice root tea.
“I cannot lie! I hardly slept a wink. I tossed and turned, and now I feel bruised from head to toe!”
With that, the queen knew she had found the woman for her son to marry, because only a real princess could have skin delicate enough to feel a lowly pea under all those layers.
The prince soon came down for breakfast and heard the whole story.
“Mother! You forced her to sleep on some precariously piled pillows? And furthermore, you intentionally inflicted bodily harm on a beautiful guest in need? My lady, you have my sincerest apologies for this mistreatment. How can I ever make it up to you?”
The princess was quite taken with the prince’s compassion. She asked for a lift home. The prince escorted her personally, and they spent an enjoyable ride in deep conversation.
In the end, she did marry the prince and become queen. The happy couple outlawed peas and lived delightfully ever after.