This article is an excerpt from Steffani Raff's The Ravenous Gown.
But finding a wife was challenging. In this kingdom, there were no easy arranged marriages with princesses from far distant shores. Instead, the King was required by custom to find a bride from within the kingdom.
He took his problem to his most trusted advisor: his barber.
“How will I ever find a bride?” the King sighed.
“You could throw a ball.”
“A ball?” the King laughed. “I’d be so occupied with the next dance step, I’d hardly have time to think about who would make a wonderful companion.” The King sighed again. “Marriage is like this stool. If the legs aren’t equal, it won’t hold any weight. That’s what my father taught me and what his father taught him. Ruling a kingdom is a heavy weight, and I want someone who will bear it with me.”
“It will be challenging to find a woman who is your equal; you are the King.”
“I am the King, but I am also just a man, my friend. How do you see what is inside a woman?” The King ran his fingers through his hair. The barber ceased snipping momentarily.
The barber smiled, “I’m not sure how seeing a woman’s insides is going to help—a rather messy affair, I’d think.”
The King’s laugh surged out slowly, like a bird hatching from an egg. “You are a good man.”
The next day, the barber presented the King with a gift—a mirror nestled in a box lined with soft, dark fabric.
“Your Majesty, I offer this mirror as a gift to assist you in choosing a bride. The mirror is magical and will reflect a woman’s flaws on its surface as a splotch. In your search for an equal, may it help you discern what the eyes cannot.
The King posted a proclamation inviting any eligible lady to come and view herself in his magical mirror. Any woman who could see herself without a splotch would be deemed a worthy bride, and the King would court her for his wife.
The King expected to see a great line of eligible ladies lined up at the castle gates, but there was not a woman in sight.
Not on this day, or the next, or the next . . . or the next.
For no matter how kind or lovely, willing or winsome, each woman was, each knew her own flaws.
The women went to great lengths to encourage their flawless friends to attempt a look in the magical mirror.
“You really should look in the King’s magic mirror. You are perfect for him,” a woman coaxed her friend.
“No, I’m not. The extra flub on my tummy will show up as a splotch!” she replied.
“At least you don’t have freckles,” said another woman.
“Or big toes,” said another.
“I have too much flub on my backside.”
“I wish I had any flub at all,” another woman chimed in.
Dangling earlobes, big hands, guilty pleasures, snoring, impatience, bushy eyebrows, a tendency to be boring, bossiness, thin lips, a chatty disposition, clumsiness, and occasional crabbiness all kept women from looking in the King’s mirror.
No woman wanted to see a splotch in her reflection, nor did she want anyone else to see her imperfections.
Months passed, and no one came to the castle to look in the mirror, until one spring day, a shepherd girl came into town for the annual shearing of her sheep. She spent so much time in the mountains she knew nothing of the King’s magic mirror. She read the proclamation and approached the castle gate.
“I will look in the King’s mirror,” she said simply.
A great trumpeting went forth; a woman would actually approach the mirror. Women from all over the kingdom gathered to see who among them dared to view their own reflection.
“Who is she?”
“I don’t know. I’ve never seen her.”
“She must not come into town much.”
“That is obvious. She is wearing such simple clothing.”
“Look at how her skirt is hiked up to show her ankles.”
“Her ankles! They are so large.”
“Her hair is slipping out of that braid.”
“She smells like sheep.”
The women couldn’t help themselves. Here was such an obviously flawed woman approaching the King’s mirror.
The shepherdess stood listening to the whispers, waiting for the King.
When he saw her, the King smiled. He had waited for this day for almost a year.
You are aware of the magical properties of this mirror?” the King asked in a hushed tone.
“Yes,” she said simply.
“And you are willing to look at your own reflection, unafraid?”
“Yes,” she said, then faced the crowd of women gathered.
“I know that I am not perfect, but according to the proclamation, the King isn’t looking for perfection; he is looking for an equal. Even the King, as wonderful and wise as he is, is not perfect.” She turned to the King. “No offense is meant by this, Your Majesty.”
“None was taken,” he smiled.
She addressed the crowd, “In appearance, you find me lacking, but clothing and features fade with time. I am happy with who I am today, and I am happy with who I will be tomorrow.”
She looked at the mirror.
Not a single splotch appeared.
The silence broke when a woman from the crowd grabbed the mirror from the shepherdess to view her own face. Not a single splotch appeared. “What!?”
Woman after woman grabbed the mirror, horrified to view their own reflection—splotchless.
“The mirror must be broken!”
“This mirror isn’t magical at all.”
“It’s a fake!”
The barber shared a sidelong glance with the King and shrugged with a grin. The King laughed, delighted with the discovery.
“It seems every woman in the kingdom is fit to be your bride,” the barber smiled.
“It seems so, but I choose to court the only woman who was willing to look in the mirror and accept whatever she saw. That is, if she will allow me.”
The shepherdess nodded her head and smiled.
The women continued to pass the mirror from person to person. Some saw themselves as beautiful for the first time, while others looked in the mirror, convinced it was broken. And they all lived as happily as they allowed themselves to be.
Click here to read your kids a tale of truer love: Cinderella—Sort of (A Tale of Truer Love)
Click here to read your kids a tale of self-acceptance: The Flawed Prince: A Tale of Self-Awareness