Once Upon A Time

Once upon a time, there lived a princess who was born with three eyes. This wouldn’t have been unusual except that everyone else in the kingdom only was only allowed two eyes each. This deviance, of course, caused some distress to the king and queen. They purchased expensive silk scarves and wrapped them in elaborate bows around the baby’s forehead, but the baby cried and fussed until the scarves were removed.

As the princess grew into a toddler, the princess’ governess cut the princess’ hair so that long bangs would hide the princess’ third eye. But the bangs blocked the princess from seeing through her third eye, and besides which, the hair tickled her eyelashes. So, every morning, after her governess would comb her bangs straight, the princess would pin her bangs back so that she could see clearly.

After a couple of years of this, the queen, frustrated by her child’s rebelliousness, summoned the princess to the throne room. The child, aside from her insistence on using all three eyes, was generally loving and obedient. When she received word that her mother would like to speak to her, she handed the basket of wildflowers that she had been picking to her governess and headed toward the castle.

The throne room, like the rest of the castle, was made up entirely of white marble threaded through with gold. The room was large enough to hold hundreds of subjects at a time. Twin dais’ set against the back wall were home to two elaborately carved golden thrones. Upon the thrones, sat the king and queen.

Other than the few spots of dirt on her dress and cheeks, and the giant eye in the middle of her forehead, the princess was nearly the perfect image of a royal child. Her cheeks were rosy, her eyes bright and intelligent, and she moved with a grace beyond her handful of years.

The queen dismissed the governess and when the princess was alone with the king and queen, the queen set her fierce gaze upon her child. “My daughter,” the queen said, her voice stern. “Why do you insist on exposing your third eye when you have been repeatedly asked to cover it?”

“My third eye has the power to see if a person is good or bad,” the child answered.

“Really?” the queen asked. “How?”

“When people are mean because of my third eye, I can see that they are bad.”

The queen was quiet for a moment, and then she burst into tears. The princess crawled up onto her mother’s lap and wrapped her arms around her mother’s waist. The queen wept into one hand and held onto her daughter with her other.

Before long, the queen pulled herself together. She sniffled and then wiped her nose on the sleeve of her dress. “I have something to show you,” she said.

The queen held her daughter tighter with one arm and removed her diadem with her free hand. She handed the diadem to her husband and then pulled her hair back, revealing a pucker in the skin of her forehead. It took a moment for the princess to realize that this was a closed eyelid.

“My mother was ordered to sew my extra eyelid shut,” the queen said. “But she couldn’t bear to do that to me. So she merely plucked out all of my eyelashes and ordered me to keep my extra eye closed and covered. I haven’t opened my third eye since I was a child, younger than you.”

The princess felt sad for her mother, the child. The princess also felt a guilty relief that she wasn’t the only person in the kingdom with an extra eye. She wasn’t a naturally defiant person; it had just never made sense to intentionally cripple herself for the aesthetic preferences of other people.

However, her stubbornness had consequences. For one, many people rejected her because of her deformity, and that hurt. Second, even people who didn’t mind the third eye found her open defiance offensive. And third, in her secret heart, behind all of her common sense and courage, was a secret wish that she didn’t have to constantly defend her right to be as she was. In her secret heart, she’d always wished to look like her mother, with her two perfect eyes.

And now, it turned out, that her mother looked like her, with her imperfect third eye. Sorrow and joy and words formed a knot in the child’s chest, which moved up to her throat. Unable to speak, she instead reached out and stroked her mother’s closed eyelid, which trembled beneath the child’s fingers.

The queen pulled her child’s hand away from her eyelid and held it to her heart. She had kept her third eye closed for so long that it took several minutes to assure the lid that she wanted it to open, before it budged. The eyelids slid apart and a near lifetime’s worth of tears that had built up behind that closed lid, poured out.

There were tears of shame and anger but also of joy. New tears joined the old ones, cascading down her cheeks, splashing down her shoulders and then her daughter’s, before splashing down the steps of the dais. The princess’ tears joined her mother’s, creating a pool that flooded the throne room and the entire bottom floor of the castle. It then flowed out of the castle, filled the moat surrounding the castle, before forming a river that led to the sea.

The river of tears was full of woe but also every moment of joy that the queen had ever felt. There was the day that she learned to skip, the first time she rode a horse, her first time behind the reins of a carriage. The river frolicked with the memory of first time she decided that she loved the man who would be her king, and every subsequent realization that she loved him even more as the years went by.

When the memories of her daughter’s first step, first word, and the first time she brushed the hair out of her face reached the ocean, the sea level rose five inches. By the time the flow of the queen’s tears slowed, several years had passed.

The marble stairs of the dais had eroded to the point where the queen and the princess had to slide down from the throne to the wet floor. The king, who had contributed his own portion of tears to the river, met his wife and daughter at the base of the dais’. Together, they splashed their way to the door of the throne room.

The servants had adapted to the new state of the castle floors and skated around on small boats instead of walking in shoes. The queen ordered the servants to prepare a feast, and to invite the entire kingdom. The servants rejoiced at the return of their king and queen, and immediately set to work on preparations for the feast.

The morning of the feast, the princess was bursting with excitement. Firstly, because she hadn’t eaten in several years, and now that she was approaching her teenage years, she needed extra nourishment. Secondly, the princess had outgrown all of her old clothing, and a brand new dress designed specifically for the occasion was hanging in her wardrobe. And finally, she was looking forward to the vindication of her third eye. Surely, once the entire kingdom knew that the queen also had a third eye, everyone would be forced to accept that third eyes were completely normal.

This euphoria was tampered by the governess, who, as usual, attempted to style the princess’ hair in the old way — by covering her third eye. The princess ducked the governess’ next swipe and then gently removed the brush from the governess’ grasp.

“Why are you trying to cover my third eye?” the princess asked.

The governess frowned. She loved the princess but she had not missed this old argument. The princess’ bangs had grown out, so the governess was attempting a sweep of hair across the forehead before the princess took the brush away.

“Her highness requested it,” the governess said.

It was the princess’ turn to frown. “I’m sorry, but you must be mistaken,” the princess said. “I will speak to my mother, and she will clarify this matter for us.”

The princess had received a new pair of gem-studded boat shoes for the party, but she preferred splashing through her family’s tears. Each splash that she made on the way to her mother’s chambers was a reminder of the pain that came from trying to seem like everyone else — and that that pain was now over, forever.

The queen’s chambers were decorated in reds, oranges, and golds, with watery blues and green accent that tempered the fiery tones. The queen sat at her vanity. Her dark curls had been captured by a filigree gold crown that rose several inches from her head. She wore no necklace, showcasing her long, graceful neck.

Although the queen’s back was to the princess, the princess could see her mother’s reflection in the mirror. A length of hair swept sleekly across her forehead, obscuring her third eye.

The princess’ disappointment was compounded by the foolishness of her hopes. She had known the truth as soon as the governess had, once again, wielded that hateful hairbrush. The princess felt dizzy and fell back against the door frame.

Her movement reflected in the mirror and the queen turned to face the princess. She didn’t say anything but a flush crept up her bare neck.

The princess took a few shaky steps toward her mother. She looked down, watching her mother’s tears splash against her toes. She stopped and looked at her mother. “I thought….” she didn’t know what to say next.

The queen stood. “I have decided to keep my third eye open in private,” she said. “However, in public, I can see no good in exposing myself to ridicule.”

“Like I do,” the princess said, finishing her mother’s thought.

“Like you did,” the queen corrected.

The princess stepped back. “You’ve never forced me…”

The queen sat again, and picked up a pair of golden shears from her vanity. “And I wouldn’t,” the queen said. “But I think you’re old enough to make the right decision — not just for me, but for you, and for the entire kingdom.” She rested the shears on her lap, and waited.

The princess walked toward her mother, but halted again, a few feet away. “What is so bad about having a third eye?” the princess asked. It was a questioned that had echoed throughout her entire childhood, but one that she had never received a satisfactory answer to.

“The fault isn’t with having three eyes,” the queen answered. “The fault is with having three eyes when everyone else has two.”

This sounded like the same lack of answer the princess had received her entire life, but the princess was too tired to continue arguing with it. She tried to understand that five years was half of her entire lifespan but it was a smaller fraction of her mother’s. And her mother had spent her entire life shamed into hiding that part of herself. It was unreasonable to expect a complete change of heart just because her mother had experienced one good cry over it.

So the princess pretended to understand, and she allowed her mother to cut her bangs. She closed her all three eyes as her mother encircled the princess’ forehead with a diadem made of intricate gold filigree. She opened her normal two eyes to see her mother’s resigned smile.

The princess allowed herself to be led outside to what had once been the castle lawn, but which was now a lake. The servants had set up floating platforms bursting with roasted meats, fruits, vegetables, deserts, and champagnes for the older folk, punch for the younger.

The old and infirm were rowed around the lake by jaunty servants, while the younger subjects glided around in jewel-toned gowns and tunics. Those with gowns allowed their hems to float on top of the water, whilst those in tunics and stockings displayed their gilded boat shoes proudly.

Cheerful chatter and flirtatious laughter that rose up over the band that circled the lake on their own floating platform. It was as festive a party as the princess had hoped for when she had woken up in the morning.

The king was already sitting in a golden throne on a floating platform in the center of the lake. He had trimmed his hair and beard and was wearing an elaborate crown studded with sapphires that matched his doublet and his wife’s gown.

The queen gave the princess a quick hand squeeze before slipping onto the lake with her bejeweled boat shoes. She joined her husband on the platform and took her seat next to him.

“You forgot your shoes.” The princess turned to find her governess holding out the bejeweled boat shoes. The princess expected to find the same old censure in the governess’ eyes, but empathy lurked in their watchful depths instead.

The princess could have handled yet another lecture or another stern glare, but the unexpected empathy brought tears to all three of the princess’ eyes. She took the shoes and turned away. She allowed the tears to fall silently into the lawn lake as she slipped the shoes on.

“Thank you,” she said softly, not trusting herself to look back at her governess. Instead, she tilted her chin up, and slipped into the lake. She glided aimlessly for a moment until a young lady caught the princess’ hand and pulled her into a dance. The dance was intricate and spirited. The dance reminded the princess of ones that she watched as a child, although those had been done on grass or marble rather than water. She remembered the anticipation of being old enough to participate.

She could not help but feel grown up and graceful as she caught onto the movements fairly easily. It helped that her dance partners were gracious and patient. The last time she had seen one particular gentleman had been five years ago. She had chased him across what used to be the palace lawn after he had demolished a flower crown that she had painstakingly woven from wildflowers found at the edge of the forest.

Another young gentleman had been accustomed to throwing sheeps’ feces at her and calling her a Three-Eyed-Freak. It had seemed that, at one point, every other child in the village had had a nickname for the princess, and none of them had been friendly. But as she glided through the water, clasping hands with old nemeses, it almost hurt to realize how good it felt to be accepted.

If she had realized how good this felt, she may have never fought the compulsion to allow her third eye to be closed. Several dances later, the sun had set, leaving the sky dotted with sparkling stars.

The princess, warm from the dancing, slipped away from the crowd and toward the edges of the lake. What had once been the forest was now half underwater, but the princess found her favorite tree pretty quickly. It was the one she had used to climb away from insults and tossed poo.

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