Discover more from Gilded Tales
The Princess and the Pearl
A fairy tale about magical dreams and how the faith of a friend can overcome evil and rescue a kingdom from destruction.
A very long time ago in a far away land not so different from our own, there was once a peaceful and prosperous kingdom called Tetra. Tetra was ruled by a wise king, who was fair and just and well-liked by his people.
The land of Tetra was blessed with vast farms that produced abundant crops, forests full of wild game, rivers teeming with fish, and a grand marketplace in the palace square where people came from far and wide to buy and sell goods. It was a healthy and happy kingdom at peace with its neighbors. Times were good in Tetra.
But of all its riches and good fortunes, the most beloved treasure of Tetra was the daughter of the king, Princess Carol. Carol was kind and beautiful, with curly black hair and a curious smile. Only 12 years old, she often traveled around the kingdom talking to common people and helping them with their problems. She treated everyone equally, from the farm workers and soldiers to the merchants and noblemen. In return, everyone in the kingdom loved Carol and looked forward to the day when she would rule as queen.
Thanks for reading Gilded Tales! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
What they didn't know about Carol—in fact, what very few knew—was that Carol had a special power. She had dreams that came true. Sometimes the dreams were silly and harmless. But other times they were nightmares.
The first time it happened was when Carol was only five years old. It was around midsummer, and Carol dreamt that a massive ice storm hit the castle and damaged the highest tower.
The next day was sunny and pleasant, and Carol’s governess suggested spending the afternoon outside the palace walls. Carol refused to go for fear of the coming storm. The governess and Carol’s court maidens all laughed at the thought. But a short time later, a large black cloud appeared over the city and pounded Tetra with a downpour of hail and ice. The storm nearly destroyed an entire wing of the castle, including the highest tower.
After hearing this news, the king commanded that the story of Carol’s dream never be spoken of again. He appointed a special tutor named Stephen to help instruct Carol and train her to become a queen. Stephen was patient and wise, and learned in math, science, and letters. He also knew a few things about magic, and showed Carol many tricks and simple spells. Stephen was the perfect guide to the curious but often troubled young princess.
For the next seven years, Stephen spent every day with Carol, providing knowledge and counsel, but also lending an ear to listen and the warmth of a friend. She trusted him with the secrets of her dreams, and he helped her interpret the messages and deal with their mysteries. The dreams were a heavy burden for the princess.
One morning, Carol came to Stephen with dark news. She had dreamed of a faceless man in a black robe who brought war and plague to the kingdom. In the dream, the dark man had two shiny emeralds for eyes, and he arrived to the sound of clashing metal and the smell of fire. His coming brought sadness and woe to the kingdom.
After calming Carol, Stephen went to the king to deliver a warning about this bad omen. But the king was not available, and instead Stephen was interrogated by the king’s high chancellor, Derion.
The next day, when Carol showed up for her morning lessons, an old woman greeted her and introduced herself as Carol’s new tutor. It was time for a new chapter in Carol’s education, she said. And Stephen was gone.
Many days passed, and Carol eventually gave up looking for Stephen. She began to prepare for her 13th birthday, which was an important milestone. Carol would be made princess regent of Tetra, officially marking her as the next in line for the throne. The king scheduled a huge celebration to mark the occasion.
The night before the celebration, Carol had another ominous dream. In it, she was sitting in a dark chamber holding a large and beautiful pearl. The pearl pulsed with energy and light, but Carol could not maintain her grasp of it, and she dropped it into the darkness. She looked everywhere for the pearl but could not find it. Then she heard screams of pain and weeping, as though coming from all corners of the kingdom. Through the darkness and amidst the cries of anguish, she saw the man in the black robe appear and close in on her, his shiny emerald eyes freezing her in place. Then she woke up in a sweat.
The next day, Princess Carol turned 13. Nearly everyone in the kingdom of Tetra, as well as many visitors from foreign kingdoms, was on hand to witness the royal birthday celebration. There was music and dancing, food and fancy dresses. Before long, the king called for the crowd’s attention.
He told of his ancestors who settled the land of Tetra and ruled it for a thousand years. There were good times and bad times, but always his people managed to pass their legacy to the next generation. And now it was time to do it again.
Then the king slipped his hand into his pocket and pulled out a beautiful golden ring adorned with a large pearl. This ring, he said, was given to him by his father, who received it from his own father before him. It was believed that this ring held the key to Tetra’s peace and prosperity, and whosoever possessed it, had power over the kingdom.
The king gave the ring to his daughter and took a large bow before her. By royal proclamation, Carol was made princess regent of Tetra. She trembled with fear as she remembered her dream about the pearl in the darkness.
Back in her room that night, Carol decided she didn't want the responsibility of ruling. In fact, she never wanted to see the pearl ring again. So she placed it in a little red box, and hid it beneath a floorboard under her bed. That night, she slept without dreams, but she woke up feeling anxious about the previous night. Having second thoughts about the ring, she checked on it to make sure it was safe and was horrified to learn the box was missing. In a panic, Carol searched her room backwards and forwards, looking in every drawer, every pocket, purse, and handbag. But the ring was nowhere to be found.
Later that day, the royal doctor paid a visit to Carol to deliver more bad news. The king had taken sick, he said, and could not get out of bed. That afternoon, storm clouds rolled in and blanketed Tetra, and the sky turned black. Everyone in the palace was in a foul mood.
For days the situation worsened. The king’s condition did not improve, and many others in the palace came down with the sickness. Meanwhile, the kingdom fell under an unseasonal freeze with constant gloomy skies. Farmers reported dying crops. Hunters and fishermen were desperate, as animals began to die of an unknown disease. The grand marketplace shut down for lack of customers. All the while, Princess Carol could not find the pearl ring anywhere and had quietly begun to resent her father for giving it to her.
Several weeks passed and the surrounding towns and villages of Tetra were overflowing with talk of war. The king was said to be nearing the edge of death. Fear and despair took hold of the kingdom, and the princess regent was paralyzed by her own guilt and sadness.
It was around this moment that the high chancellor Derion stormed into Carol’s chambers with an armed escort of the king’s fiercest soldiers. He proclaimed command of the castle and Tetra’s army, and demanded that the princess give him possession of the ring. Carol told him honestly that she didn’t know where the ring was, but he didn’t believe her. Instead, he arrested her and had her imprisoned in the castle’s high tower, where she shared a cell with the rats, birds, and frigid winds.
From the highest point in Tetra, Carol looked upon her kingdom day after day and watched the once beautiful land descend into war and chaos. She witnessed fighting and cruelty, fields burning, buildings turned to rubble, families fleeing, and the constant sounds of pain and suffering. Months passed in sorrow.
Then one day, as the princess sat at the window crying, she heard a strange voice from within the tower cell.
“Why do you weep, princess?” it said. Carol looked around the cell but could not see anyone. “Down here, princess,” said the voice again, coming from below. Carol looked again and in the center of the room, a scrawny rat stared up at her, almost smiling.
“Now I know I must be going mad,” she said. “For I’m talking to a rat.”
“But you haven’t answered my question, princess,” said the rat.
“Why do I weep? Take a look around. My kingdom is in ruins. My father is sick and may be already dead. The pearl ring is lost. War and destruction are everywhere. And it’s all my fault. I’m a complete failure who should live to see the end of the once great kingdom of Tetra.” She began to sob.
“That doesn’t sound like the confident princess and strong future queen that I know,” said the rat.
The princess snapped at him sharply. “What do you know about anything? You’re just a scruffy rat!”
The rat’s eyes widened, and Carol saw something familiar in them. She immediately regretted her tone. “I know a great deal more about you than you think,” said the rat, now sounding very familiar indeed.
“It can’t be…Stephen?” muttered the princess.
“None other than,” said the rat, and gave a mock curtsy. “Like I said, I know you all too well.”
Carol was suddenly overcome with joy. She gathered the rat into her arms and hugged him. “Oh, Stephen, I’ve missed you so. But whatever happened to you?”
“It seems there are many inside the walls of this castle who do not like your special gift of vivid dreams, princess. For I was tricked into telling your secret to the high chancellor Derion, and he rewarded me by casting a wicked spell and turning me into this handsome rat you see before you.”
Carol laughed through tears. Happy to find her friend and teacher, she told Stephen everything that had happened since his disappearance, explaining that it all started with the dream and the missing pearl. Then Stephen had a realization.
“I might know where the ring is,” he said. Stephen told Carol of a place called the rat bazaar, where all the four-legged scavengers of Tetra met underground to trade their prized possessions. “I think I’ve seen the red box you describe.”
The princess held Stephen up to her eye and said, “I know you have suffered more than most, and I cannot ever change that, but will you go to the rat bazaar and retrieve the box for me?”
“Princess,” replied Stephen. “I do not believe in the legends of the pearl ring. But I do believe in you. And I swore an oath to serve you, so your wish is my command.”
With that Stephen headed out of the chamber and down the long stairs, through a winding corridor, and into the shadows of the castle. For a rat, the journey was long and dangerous. He was nearly picked up in the talons of a dive-boming owl in the palace courtyard, and he had to sneak past several hungry cats near the servants’ quarters. But eventually he made it in one piece to the entrance of the rat bazaar.
Once inside the market, Stephen approached a large, sinister-looking rat with yellow eyes and long claws. He asked where the most valuable treasures were kept, and was led to a corner in the back. There he spotted the red box, nearly buried under a pile of trinkets.
“What do you want for that box?” he asked the yellow-eyed rat.
“I do not think you can afford that one,” said the creature in a snide tone.
“What is it you desire most?” asked Stephen.
“In these dark times, there is one thing rats desire above all else,” came the reply. “Cheese.”
Stephen twitched his whiskers. “I have no cheese to give you at the moment,” he said. “But I have something far better. I can get you access to the royal kitchen, where you will find the king’s personal stores, with more cheese than you could eat in a lifetime.”
The sinister rat laughed. “And how would a pathetic excuse for a rat such as yourself be able to pull off this miracle?” A small crowd of nasty looking rats had gathered by this time and were watching Stephen closely.
Stephen straightened himself and said, “I’ve forgotten more about this castle than you will ever know, and besides, I know many tricks and secrets.” Then he snapped his tiny paws and conjured a small flame in the air, using a simple magic trick that terrified the pack of vile rodents.
The big rat jumped back in fright, and then nodded his head in agreement. “Ok,” he said, “take the box, but remember to give us instructions on how to find the cheese.”
Stephen promised to return later with the information. Then he loaded the box onto his back and scurried out of the market as fast as his little legs could carry him.
It took hours to return to the high tower. Again, Stephen was attacked and nearly taken by the owl. He barely escaped a couple of filthy children who tried to stomp on him. At every turn he ducked, ditched, or dove out of the way of scampering boots and wheels, coming and going in every direction. Something was happening in the palace.
Stephen made it back to Carol with the box. When she opened it and saw the pearl ring, her eyes lit up with joy and relief. It did not last, however.
Moments after Stephen’s return, Derion barged into the chamber with a group of soldiers. He was dressed in the black robe from Carol’s dreams. He snatched the box from the princess and sneered at her.
“Filthy little liar,” he said. “I have no more need of you. Tetra has no more need of you. Tomorrow at noon, you and your father will meet the ax of the executioner.”
He turned to leave and then stopped for a moment. “Take comfort, girl. The kingdom is losing the war, but now that I have the pearl in my grasp, Tetra’s moment of glory is upon us. So in a way, you’ve saved the kingdom. Enjoy your last night, princess.”
With that, Derion and the soldiers stormed out. Carol threw herself on the floor in tears. She lay there crying softly for a few moments. Then Stephen leapt into her hand and looked into her eyes. He smiled.
“Don’t give up hope, Carol,” he said. “All is not lost.”
“How can you say that?” she replied. “Everything you did, it was all for nothing. Now we’re worse off than we were before.”
“No, princess, I don’t believe that,” said Stephen. “The girl I taught for so many years was kind and curious, cared deeply for the people of Tetra, and always looked on the bright side. I never thought it would be magic or legends or even dreams that would one day make you a great queen. I always thought it was your heart. And I can see from your sadness that you haven’t lost that.”
The princess wiped away her tears. “But what can I do? I’m stuck up here with nothing but a chair and a lumpy bed.” Then she suddenly had an idea. “Stephen, can you make me fall asleep?”
Stephen let out a squeaky rat laugh. He understood what she was asking, so he thought of a slumber spell.
The princess fell into a deep sleep and had another vivid dream. She was once again sitting alone in a dark chamber, unable to see anything. Her hands were empty. She began to search the floor and found a pearl. Then she found another one. Then another. Suddenly she realized the floor of the room was covered in pearls. The darkness faded and sunlight burst into the room. She saw the figure of the black robe in the distance, now screaming in anger, as sunshine reflecting off the pearls seared into his eyes and turned his darkness into mist. Carol noticed then that she was surrounded by people, warm and smiling and embracing each other.
She woke up with excitement and immediately told Stephen about the dream. Then she asked him for another favor. She needed him to round up every rat, bird, squirrel, cat, and critter of the castle, and then bring them to the royal chambers to raid the jewelry cabinets. Make sure, she said, that every gem, stone, and especially pearl was taken by the animals and brought to the palace square in time for the execution. “Wait for my signal,” she told him.
The next morning, Derion’s soldiers tied Carol’s hands with rope and brought her to the palace square, where she joined the king, who was almost too sickly and weak to stand. A muscle-bound executioner sharpened his ax behind them. The entire kingdom filled the square to witness the sight.
Derion appeared on the platform in front of the crowd, decked in his black robe. He held the pearl ring high so that all could see it.
“We are here today because the royal family has failed Tetra. While your houses burn and your crops rot, they do nothing!” he shouted to the crowd. “But justice will be served! The pearl ring has come to me, so that now we can get on with the work of saving the kingdom and winning the war.” His words were met with a mix of boos and cheers.
“We will start with the traitor princess, who cast away the pearl and cursed her kingdom to its fate,” he said. “Princess, do you have any last words?”
Carol mustered all her strength to stand tall and proud in front of her people. “It is true Derion has a pearl ring. But the one he possesses is false. He does not have the true pearl, and will never have the right to lead you.”
“You lie!” screamed Derion, enraged.
“I do not lie,” she replied. “The pearl you have gives you no power. And I’m the only one who knows where the true pearl is.” She spotted Stephen in the crowd and the two made eye contact. Suddenly there were jeers from the spectators.
“Tell me where the pearl is and I will spare the king his pitiful life,” said Derion, quaking with anger.
“You will never know,” said the princess. “You are not worthy of knowing.” Then she gave a nod and a wink to Stephen.
Suddenly, birds began to circle the crowd, dropping gems and jewels from the air onto the people below. Small animals skittered out from every nook and cranny in the square, flicking pearls all over the ground. People began to notice and gave shouts of surprise. Then all was a blur of bodies reaching and straining to get their hands on the miraculously appearing treasures.
Drunk with power lust, Derion fell to his knees and scoured the mud for scattered pearls, screaming and cursing in anger. All attention to the execution was lost. During the distraction, Stephen gnawed through the princess’s ropes and set her hands free. She approached Derion from behind and took back the pearl ring without him even noticing.
Carol stood upon the platform looking out over the crowd. She placed the pearl ring on her finger.
“Beloved subjects of Tetra, I am sorry for your suffering,” she said, her voice suddenly carrying above the noise of the crowd. Everyone stopped what they were doing and looked up at her. “I lost faith in myself, and I lost faith in you. But I ask you now to put the past behind us and help me rebuild our kingdom.”
The crowd roared its approval. Then the skies opened up and a pouring rain fell, dousing the people and washing dirt and jewel alike into the gutters of the palace square. The sun shone through the clouds, and the sky turned a brilliant blue. Everyone went quiet.
Derion, noticing the change in mood, raised his staff and shouted, “Seize her!” But no one moved. The palace soldiers just looked at him for a long moment. Then the masses closed in around him and lifted him into the air. A dozen men and women carried him to the palace gates and threw him out on his rear. That was the last anyone ever saw of the king’s high chancellor, Derion.
Just then, the crowd started into a chant: “Hail Carol! Long live the princess!”
Carol searched the palace for Stephen but couldn’t make him out. Then someone tapped her on the shoulder and she turned to see her old friend and tutor, in human form, smiling ear to ear. They hugged for a long time before Carol ran to her father. Both were surprisingly standing upright, looking healthy and strong.
“Father,” said Carol. “Can you ever forgive me for what I did? I’m so sorry for losing the pearl.”
The king had a puzzled look on his face. “You still don’t understand, Carol,” he said, as he pulled her into his arms. “You are the pearl.”
Tetra ended the war with its neighbors, and peace and prosperity returned to the kingdom. The people once again trusted and loved their king. A few years later, Carol became queen. With the help of her high chancellor Stephen, she ruled Tetra with kindness, wisdom, and love for her people. She always wore the pearl ring, as she knew a day would eventually come when she would need to pass it on. And she continued to dream.