It's was a beautiful spring day and market day. Melly loved market day--going to town, seeing all the houses and stores and merchandise. Her mother handed her a basket of eggs to carry and they started off. They had gathered lots of eggs and Melly was sure that they would get a good price for them. Maybe they could buy a new ribbon for her hair. She smiled and began to skip, humming a tune as she went.
"Be careful, Melly," her mother called out.
"Okay," she replied and she stopped skipping and tried to walk carefully along the dirt road. "I bet we will get a good price for these eggs. Can we buy a new ribbon for my hair?" she asked.
"If we get a good price for the eggs." Melly had started skipping again at the thought of getting a new hair ribbon. "But if you keep skipping we may not getting any price at all," her mother added.
"Oh right," Melly slowed her pace again.
"Remember what they say," her mother said, "Don't count your chickens before they hatch."
Melly wrinkled her nose. "Why do they say that?"
"Well, because sometimes you expect something to work out one way--such as all your eggs hatching or getting a new hair ribbon--but it doesn't always work out that way--like not all the eggs hatching or people not needing eggs in town making a new ribbon an impossible purchase."
"Oh," Melly replied. She thought for a moment and said, "Or if I trip and break the eggs then we'd get no price at all, and then I'd be expecting something and then it really wouldn't happen."
"That's right," her mother replied.
They continued on to the village, Melly being as careful as she could with the eggs. At the market they did get a good price for the eggs and they were able to buy a beautiful green ribbon for Melly's hair. That night, after they returned home from the market Melly was telling her grandfather about the day's adventures.
"And I was skipping along and Mother told me to be careful and to not count my eggs before they hatched."
"Ah, wise advice," her grandfather replied.
"Yes, and I was careful then and didn't break a single egg and we got a good price at the market and I got a new ribbon. It's green," she turned around so he could see her new ribbon.
"And a beautiful ribbon it is," he replied. "Would you like to tell you a story," he asked before she could say anything more.
"Oh, yes!" Melly loved listening to her grandfather's stories.
"Once upon a time," he began, "There lived a king with twelve young daughters. He loved everyone of them and was sure each would make a brilliant match someday with princes from all over the world. He would spend hours looking at his map and thinking about which alliances would strengthen his kingdom the most, for he was sure his daughters could capture the attention of any prince. So he planned and he hoped as his daughters grew. His wife, the queen, would shake her head when she saw him studying the map. She too believed her daughters could make excellent matches, but she was more interested in their happiness than in alliances, though she was not against alliances either."
"He was counting his chickens before they hatched, wasn't he?" Melly asked.
"Yes, he was," her grandfather replied. "But he hadn't realized that yet. When his oldest daughter reached the age when it was appropriate to begin the courting process, he began inviting princes from all over the world to come and meet her. There were tall princes and short princes, old princes and young princes, smart princes and silly princes, brave princes and fearful princes, princes of all kinds and varieties. The eldest princess, Princess Mary Anne, met them all, was gracious to all, even the ones who she didn't think much of. She met them all, yet none of them seemed to capture her attention. Her father would tell her of the good points of this prince, and the good points of that prince."
"But she didn't care cause she didn't love any one of them, right?" Melly asked.
"Right you are," her grandfather replied, patting her cheek, "Right you are. None of those princes caught her fancy in the least. Oh, some of them were well enough, but none of them seemed to fit her dreams of someone who she could be herself with. Her mother saw this, but her father was desperate for her to make a good match, an excellent match, an alliance that would strengthen the safety and position of his kingdom--for a king rarely declares war if their children are married."
"I guess that's a good reason for wanting her to marry a prince," Melly said, "but what if she falls in love with a man who is not a prince."
Her grandfather smiled. "Well, my poppet, that is exactly what she did. A handsome and brave soldier to be exact. He had come to the castle after having served his country for several years. He had an ambition to become a king's counselor. Now most soldiers don't become counselors to the king, but this young soldier had seen much of the world and of war in his short life and he thought the king could use someone to counsel him about such matters. So he went to the castle to look for a job, hoping by his hard work to move up in the ranks until he could someday counsel the king.
"At the castle he got a job as a clerk. He didn't particularly like being stuck inside all day, but it seemed the best way to work towards his goal. When he could, he would escape into the gardens to explore and enjoy being outside. That is where he met the princess. He came across her as she sat on a bench near a fountain of water. He apologized for intruding and turned to go, when she called him back.
"'Who are you?' she asked.
"'I am a clerk in the castle,' he replied.
"'You don't look like other clerks I've met,' she replied. He seemed strong and robust. Most of the clerks she'd met were wan from hours indoors and lack of exercise.
"He didn't know what to say to her observation and was sure he shouldn't be talking to a princess. Good behavior led to advancement and talking with princesses was usually forbidden. 'As you say,' he replied, 'I will leave you to your ponderings.'
"And pondering was exactly what she'd been doing. She'd been pondering the many princes she'd met and how they didn't quite fit what she wanted in a husband. She was intrigued by this clerk, not only in his unclerklike bearing, but also in his observation. 'Wait,' she called.
"Again he stopped from leaving and turned to her. His eyes held the question he did not ask. Why did she keep calling him back. She was not ready to answer that question. She realized he ought to go. She knew her father would not like him talking with her. 'What is your name?' she asked.
"'Steven,' he replied. 'May I go.'
"She nodded. 'My name is Mary Anne.'
"He nodded and left. For the rest of the day Mary Anne thought about the clerk she met and wondered how she could manage to speak with him again. At supper she hardly heard her father's praise of the several princes who had recently visited. Her observant mother noted her preoccupation but did not call attention to it. Her mother was content to wait and see if her daughter would confide in her. She felt sure some man had turned her daughters head, but not one of the silly princes her husband continually extolled."
"I her mother," Melly said.
"Yes," her grandfather agreed. "The queen was a very good woman. But Mary Anne didn't confide in her immediately. Instead she started spending more time in the gardens, she would even take her embroidery into the gardens hoping to see Steven again. And then one day she did see him again. He sat under a willow tree eating an apple.
"'Hello, Steven,' she said.
"He startled, he had not heard her approach, being caught up in his own thoughts, of her actually. He swallowed the bite of apple he'd been chewing on. 'Hello princess,' he replied as nonchalantly as he could.' He stood as was appropriate to do in the presence of royalty.
"'Oh, please sit back down,' she replied, and she sat down too. He shifted uncomfortably. 'Sit.'
"He sat, though he was still uncertain. It was one thing to dream about speaking with the princess again, another to actually sit with her.
"'How do you enjoy being a clerk,' she asked.
"'Fine,' he replied.
"He wasn't making this easy for her. She wanted to get to know him, but how could she draw him out? 'Have you always been a clerk,' she asked.
"'No,' he replied."
"Why doesn't he say more?" Melly demanded.
"Well," her grandfather said, "He is a commoner and she a princess. He is probably worried about the proprieties. While he aspires to being a king's counselor, he has never spoken with a princess before. Besides, he likes the princess and he doesn't see how he a mere clerk could manage to be friends with her, a princess. May I continue with the story?"
"I guess, but I wish he'd say more," Melly said.
Her grandfather smiled. "Now where was, I, oh yes.
"'What were you before you were a clerk,' she princess asked.
"He hesitated. It would be rude to not answer the princess's question but he wasn't sure he wanted to tell her. He sighed, then said, 'A soldier.'
"'A soldier!' That explained his hearty looks. 'But if you were a soldier, why did you become a clerk?'
"He sighed again. He was sure she'd keep questioning him, and he truly enjoyed her company. He just had to hope no one came across them speaking. 'I felt it would be the best job to help me achieve my goals.'
"'Oh," she replied. She wondered what his goal was but didn't have enough courage to ask.
"'Do you like being a clerk?' she asked, repeating her earlier question. He hesitated. 'Please tell me,' she asked.
"He looked up and seeing the pleading in her eyes he couldn't refuse. 'Parts I like and parts I don't like,' he answered truthfully. 'I enjoy learning new things, but much of what we copy is tedious. And,' he added, 'I miss being out of doors.'
"She smiled. She was glad he'd answered her. They talked for a little longer about his job and about what she did with her time. She noted his interest when she mentioned her father and his daily rants about the state of the kingdom. She wondered what his goal was. Maybe next time they met, and she was sure they would meet again, he would tell her, maybe by then she'd have enough courage to ask. Soon, he looked at the position of the sun and asked to be excused. She knew he had responsibilities and she didn't want to get him in trouble, so she let him leave.
"That night she told her mother about the wonderful clerk/ex-soldier she'd met in the castle gardens. The twinkle in her eye pleased her mother immensely, but her mother worried a little about what the king would think. She knew they would have to tread carefully, and that it was possible that nothing would happen with her daughter and this clerk/ex-soldier, but the twinkle in her daughter's eye seemed to foretell a story of its own."
"You're getting tired, aren't you?" her grandfather asked.
"Yes," Melly nodded, "But I want you to finish the story."
"All right," he said. "Well, Steven and Mary Anne continued to meet in the gardens. He still didn't tell her his goal, but they got to know each other--their likes and dislikes. Each time they met it was harder to leave to go to their separate lives. As time went on Mary Anne's sister just younger than her, Penelope, came of courting age and the king invited all the princes back again. Hoping that both Mary Anne and Penelope would pick one. He even invited princes from even further away--even a prince from a small island in an ocean far away. A prince that an alliance with would help them very little, but the king was becoming a bit desperate when it came to Mary Anne, who had not shown a preference for any prince he'd introduced her to. Maybe a more exotic prince would strike her fancy. The prince from the small island came, prince Taymour was his name. Mary Anne did not fall for him, though he was nice enough. Penelope did. The king was not particularly happy about this circumstance. He'd hoped Penelope might choose Prince Gerant from a large neighboring kingdom, or Prince Hubert from a rich kingdom nearby. But it was not to be. Penelope loved Prince Taymour, and he loved her. His exotically dark skin made him stand out from the other princes. His calm and relaxed manner endeared him to Princess Penelope. The king sighed and sighed as he looked at his map. A small island nation. Well, he supposed it would have to do. But what to do about his eldest daughter who had not chosen a prince yet. It was all well and good that his second daughter had chosen a prince to wed, but tradition required that the eldest must marry before her younger sisters."
"What a silly tradition," Melly said.
"Yes, it does seem silly to us doesn't it. But in many p;aces and many times such the tradition had been," grandfather said. "So, this being the tradition, the king began to pressure Mary Anne all the more to make a match. But in her heart, Mary Anne knew she wanted Steven, the clerk/ex-soldier not some prince. Since they'd met Steven had moved from under clerk to assistant clerk. His promotion thrilled her and filled her with joy for she knew it helped him get closer to achieving his goal. Yet, she wished she knew his dream. What led him to pursue this profession.
"Steven wanted to tell Mary Anne his dream, but felt it would sound silly to her. And as time went on his dream of becoming a counselor to the king, while still there, began to be overshadowed by a dream that seemed unattainable--he dreamed of marrying Mary Anne. He'd stopped calling her princess at her repeated request, though a small part of him feared someone would overhear him calling her by her given name and then all his dreams would be for naught for surely he'd find himself in the dungeon for such an offense.
"Mary Anne told Steven of her delight at her sister's and Prince Taymour's love. She didn't tell him of the pressure her father was putting on her to choose a husband from among the many princes he'd presented to her. Steven, however knew of the tradition and could guess at the pressure from her father and see the strain in her eyes. He wished she weren't a princess then he'd marry her as soon as he could. But the fact remained that she was a princess, and he a mere clerk."
"I think he should marry her anyway," Melly said defiantly.
"Yes," grandfather agreed. "And the queen felt the same way. One day she called Mary Anne to her room. They embroidered in silence for awhile, then the queen asked Mary Anne about Steven and how he was doing. Mary Anne enthusiastically told her about his promotion and about a new trick he'd taught her the day before--how to make a whistling sound with a blade of grass. The queen could see Mary Anne's love for Steven. 'Perhaps it is time to tell your father about Steven,' she suggested. "
"Mary Anne looked aghast. 'Father would not like to hear that I spend my time with one of his clerks!'
"'Perhaps I can be there with you. Why don't we ask him to come see us now?'
"Such a course of action frightened Mary Anne. She didn't know what her father would do and she didn't want to ruin Steven's chances to achieve his dream--which she still didn't know what was. It saddened her a bit that he wouldn't tell her his goal, but she felt sure he had reasons he felt were good ones for not telling her. 'Oh, Mother!' Mary Anne said. 'He would do something terrible to Steven, force him to leave the palace if nothing else.' Tears began streaming down her face. 'I couldn't do that to him.'
"The queen's heart ached at the sight of her daughter's tears. She knew, though Mary Anne had not confessed it, that love blossomed between Mary Anne and Steven. Though she only knew him through her daughters descriptions, she was sure he would make a perfect husband for her daughter, even if he wasn't of noble birth. He was a gentleman and noble of heart. What could she do to help them? And dear Penelope, she too wanted to be united with her love, something tradition would not allow until Mary Anne was wed, though a double wedding might just be the thing. Yes. Now to find a way to convince her husband, and Mary Anne and Steven, that a wedding between those young lovers was desirous and possible.
"The next day, Mary Anne was once again in her mother's chambers embroidering. The king found them there. 'I have waited long enough. You must choose a prince to marry!' he demanded.
"'She doesn't have to choose a prince,' the queen replied.
"'Of course she has to choose a prince,' the king responded. 'Penelope wants to marry that island prince and she can't until Mary Anne weds a prince.'
"'Mary Anne must wed,' the queen agreed, 'but it doesn't have to be to a prince.'
"'Nonsense,' the king replied. 'Of course she has to marry a prince, who else would she marry.'
"Mary Anne held her breath as she listened to the exchange between her parents. Could her mother convince her father that she need not marry a prince?
"'She could marry a soldier,' the queen suggested.
"The king snorted a most unkinglike snort. 'Hah, what kind of alliance would that be. She couldn't marry a soldier.'
"'She could marry a clerk,' the queen said.
"'Why would she want to marry a measly clerk," the king asked, 'when she could marry a prince?'
"'You do want your daughters to be happy, don't you,' the queen asked.
"'Of course,' the king replied. 'And a prince for each will make them happy.'
"'Maybe a prince will do for some of them,' the queen said, 'but I don't think a prince will work for all of them.'
"'Hmm.' The king pondered his wife's words. He did want his girls to be happy--he did love them very much. But he was realizing that to make his daughters happy he might have to give up his dreams of grand and wonderful alliances. He sighed. He already had one daughter who wanted to make an alliance that was far from grand and wonderful. He wondered what his dear wife was hinting at, but decided he would be wise to listen to her words. 'So not all my daughters will be happy marrying princes, eh? Maybe a clerk or soldier instead.' He sighed again. Then turned to his eldest daughter. He saw hope and fear warring in her eyes. 'Are you in love with someone?'
"She nodded her head.
"'Is he a prince?' He could hope.
"She shook her head.
"'And just what is this man you've fallen in love with,' he thought about his wife's words. 'A soldier, perhaps. Or maybe a clerk.'
"Mary Anne hesitated, looking toward her mother. He sighed. 'Tell me about this man you love,' he encouraged.
"Mary Anne smiled, 'He is wonderful! He is noble and brave. He is kind and patient.'
"The king saw the light is Mary Anne's eyes. 'I would like to meet this paragon, but first, I promise,' he glanced to his wife and she nodded, 'I promise you may marry him be he the lowest of commoners.'
"'Truly?' Mary Anne asked.
"'Truly,' the king replied. 'Now may I know who had captured your heart?'
"'His name is Steven,' she said.
"'Not Prince Steven of Gattelia,' he joked. Prince Steven was old and interested only in his flying friends--his birds.
"'No, not Prince Steven,' she replied. 'Steven the assistant clerk. Steven the ex-soldier.'
"'He works in the castle?' the king asked. Mary Anne nodded. The King went to the door and asked a page to fetch Steven. When he turned back to the room he saw his wife's approving smile. Well, his oldest daughters may not be making glorious matches, but hopefully they would be happy. And who knew, maybe some of his younger daughters would make glorious matches."
Melly laughed. "I'm glad he is going to let Steven and Mary Anne marry."
"Yes, a good thing indeed," grandfather replied. "Steven was worried though when he told the king had requested his presence. He felt sure the king had found out about his friendship with Mary Anne and send him to the dungeon. When he entered the room he'd been led to, he was surprised to see not only the king but also the queen. Mary Anne was smiling. Maybe he wouldn't be going to prison after all. 'You are Steven?' the king asked.
"'Yes,' Steven replied.
"'Do you love my daughter?'
"Steven looked toward Mary Anne. He couldn't refuse to answer the king, though he'd never told Mary Anne of his love, so he looked at her as he said, 'Yes, I love your daughter.'
"'Good,' the king said.
"That brought Steven's eyes back to the king. He'd not expected such a response. And what followed did nothing to lessen his surprise. He was informed that he had permission to marry Mary Anne. The queen added her idea of a double wedding with Penelope and Prince Taymour. Steven was astounded. He was not to be sent to prison, he was to marry a princess, and to become part of the royal family. He couldn't take it all in and just wanted some private time with Mary Anne. Eventually they were allowed to leave and they went to the willow tree where their friendship began. They discussed all that had happened. Steven asked her if she truly wanted to marry him and she reassured him that she truly did. She told of her discussion with her father before Steven had come and he told her of his fears when he had been called to see the king.
"Eventually Mary Anne asked, 'Since we are to be married, do you think that maybe you could tell me your dream, the goal that led you to become a clerk in my father's castle?'
"He smiled. 'I wanted to become a counselor to the king, your father.'
"'What a wonderful dream! Though it would have taken you ages to move from clerk to king's counselor.' She smiled. 'And now you'll be better than a counselor. You'll be his son in law and he'll have to listen to you!'
"Steven laughed, 'I don't know about that, but maybe he will listen to some of my suggestions. But you know that dream has been superceded, and superceded by a dream that is coming true, the dream of marrying you.'
"She smiled at that, for that was her dream too. So they were married, and Penelope and Taymour, too. In time all the king's daughters married. Some to princes, some to noblemen, and one other, like Mary Anne, married a commoner, though hers was a stable hand. In the end the king loved all his son-in-laws and came to respect all of them. The eggs had not hatched as he'd hoped, but perhaps that was for the best. The end."
Melly sighed, "I love stories."
"Be that as it may," her mother said. "It's now time for bed."
"All right," Melly said, "But tonight I'm going to dream of princesses and eggs!"