Once upon a time there was a princess.
She grew up never wanting of material things. She had a grand home in which to reside, the most beautiful clothes to adorn her, and food to whet her every appetite. The royal family took regular trips to the country, to the sea, and to faraway places. But in spite of all the plenty, the child starved. Not of food, nor shelter or protection. Not of toys and trinkets. Not even of attention. No, this child was starved of love.
And it happened that on her twelfth birthday when it was her people’s custom to present to all princesses their Diadem of Approval—a simple circlet of gold to adorn their regal head and granted as a gift from the king and queen—the princess was overlooked. Her father was too busy in foreign lands. Her mother was too occupied with the affairs of the kingdom. And the priests were too attentive to the needs of their congregations.
That night before she lay down to sleep in her ornately curtained bed, she stood before her gilded mirror and stared into her own beautiful face, seeing the shadowy word “unworthy” inscribed on her forehead where her crown should have been. She whispered a prayer to the Creator, a prayer of forgiveness and a supplication that someday she might be worthy.
As the princess passed into adulthood, crownless but acknowledged by all as royal, she served her parents and her kingdom tirelessly as a good princess should. She healed the sick, fed the poor, and sheltered the homeless. Her craft and talent grew. Her reputation always preceded her and all held her in high regard. And when it was time, and her husband was crowned king, somehow she was again slighted for her diadem. The king was occupied fighting wars. The governors were busy enforcing the laws. And the priests were attentive to the lost souls that abounded.
The night after the king’s coronation, the queen stood crownless before the great window that overlooked her fair city. In the dim candlelight, she errantly caught her reflection in the glass and saw her noble head wreathed in braids and baby’s breath, but no diadem. Again, only the shadowy word “unworthy” marked her pale forehead. She blew out the candle, gazed into the star-bedazzled heavens of the night sky and beseeched the Creator’s Son to forgive her many transgressions and one day mark her worthy.
As she grew in stature, grace, and generosity, the queen wore duty and fealty to her husband and people like a glorious cloak about her shoulders. Her children stood in awe of her and marveled at her insight and wisdom. Her love for her people was only surpassed by her diligent work on their behalf, seeing to their safety when danger threatened their shores, seeing to their provisions when famine threatened their lands, and seeing to their gratitude when plenty threatened their generosity.
One day, when more years were behind her than before her, she traveled to the whispering shores of a serene lake trying to shake the melancholy that had overcome her soul of late like a cloud of despair. Her servant had lit a fire by the water’s edge and the queen sat warming herself. She stared into the flames, the light dancing across the hollows of her cheeks. It was only at these times when quietness and peace were her companions that the melancholy visited. In years past, she labored unremittingly to keep the wintry cloud at bay, to keep the voices from calling her name and declaring her worth. But her body was slowing and the voices were ever with her now, calling softly. Her father’s stern voice professed her “Lacking”. Her mother’s stately voice proclaimed her “Less”. And her husband’s sinewy voice pronounced her “Wanting”.
The queen sighed, feeling the ever-present tears imminent in her large dark eyes when a sudden cry came from the still chilled waters of the lake. The queen lifted her moist gaze from the fire to see an old woman flaying about in the water. Without a thought to her own safety, the queen stripped off her outer garments and dove into the icy water. She swam strong and sure, reached the drowning woman, and gently drew her back to the shore and to safety. The queen called to her servants to bring blankets for them, to keep them from getting a chill. As the two women sat by the tranquil shore, wrapped head to foot in tender wool and warming themselves in the heat of the fire, the queen said, “This was not a good day for swimming, dear sister. What possessed you to venture into the water?”
The woman turned and gazed back at the lake. “I hear voices,” she said. “They speak to me. Today the Creator beckoned me swim.”
“Perhaps you are mistaken. I don’t think the Creator would lead you into such danger.”
“He often speaks to me. I don’t always listen. Today I listened. And you are here.”
The queen smiled indulgently. “Maybe you have been listening to the wrong voice.”
The woman turned back and looked with sharp, clear eyes directly at her rescuer. “No, my queen. I’m afraid it is you who has been listening all your life to the wrong voices.”
The queen stared at the woman amazed. “How do you know me?”
“All know you. You are the queen. The crown upon your head tells me so.”
Unbidden, a bitter smile curved the queen’s lips. “I have no crown,” she said bringing a hand to her temple to brush aside a stray, wet lock of hair—when her hand encountered a metal band about her head.
“You are the queen,” the old woman said simply.
The younger woman stood and moved to the water’s edge to stare into the mirrored surface of the lake. The diadem sat upon her head, gold and glorious, rimmed in rubies. A crown of the like she had never seen. “I don’t understand,” she said.
The other woman was by her side. “It has always been there, my lady. It was given to you not by your father, your mother, or your husband. Not by a government or people. It was given to you by the great Creator on the day of your birth.
“It was given you not because of all the great and noble deeds you have done, although they are many. It was given you not because of all the sacrifices you have made over your lifetime, although they are numerous. It was given to you because of the forfeit of the Son.”
Her hands suddenly tingled, and the queen glanced down at them and gasped. Written across her palms were three words, one in her right hand:
and in the other,
With a worn and aged hand, the elderly woman lifted the queen’s crowned head to stare into her wrinkled gaze. “My lady, you have always been worthy. Always dearly loved by He who matters most. Can you now and forever finally let that be enough?”
© 2016 Kim Pullen