It was yet another sleepless night for the princess, made worse by the fact that every toss and turn she made was answered by a lusty snore from her husband, the prince. She was half convinced he was faking his deep sleep so that he could laugh privately about her inability to check beneath the multitude of mattresses for the source of her distress until morning.
Once he’d rolled out of bed and ambled off to the washroom that particular morning, she stuck her arm as far as it would go under her side of the bed. A few seconds’ groping in the general region where she’d felt the sharpest pain found the out of place object, and she pouted as she extracted the pebble from the mountains of bedding.
“I found this under my side of the bed,” she told her husband over breakfast, holding it up to the light.
She thought her sensitive ears picked up the beginnings of a snicker from the other end of the massive marble table echoing through their impressively sculpted dining hall. But it ended as quickly as it had begun, and with an expression of the utmost seriousness, he gazed into her eyes from across the table and said, “How distressing. Really, we must speak to the servants about their cleaning habits.”
“I don’t think the servants are to blame.”
He’d started to take a sip of his coffee, but when he heard the pointedness of her tone, he raised his eyes to meet hers again. “Oh?” was all he said.
Her eyes narrowed. “It’s funny that all these objects – the beads, the pebbles, the grains of salt and sand – only ever end up on my side of the bed, don’t you think?”
Her sensitive eyes thought they detected a twitching at the corner of his lips. “Funny. Yes. That is a good word for it.”
She stood up, flung her napkin aside, swept her plates and silverware off the table, and stormed to his side of the table, where she dropped her pebble in his coffee.
“I can’t live like this anymore,” she informed the prince. “I’m leaving.”
“And just where do you think you’re going?” he shouted after her in protest. “Your father already passed his kingdom to your brother, and he’ll have no place for his divorced sister in his palace.”
The princess didn’t bother to turn around. “I don’t know,” she declared as she marched toward the bedroom to pack her valuables, “but I’ll find something.”
* * *
When the queen, his mother, chastised him for having chased off the mother of his would-be heir, he scoffed, “She’ll be back. Someone with her sensitivities won’t be able to handle anything less than the full royal treatment.”
But it had been a year since she left, and he hadn’t heard a word or read a letter. In all honesty, he might have thought much about her except that he’d been scheduled to perform the ribbon-cutting ceremony for a new store opening in the town square – a mattress store.
He smiled and shook hands without much attention paid as his advisors introduced him to the store’s owners, a husband and wife team who were lavish in dispensing their gratitude and praise for his visit.
“Please, help yourself to a nap on any one of our products,” the owners offered as they finished giving him a tour. “They have all been tested to the most exacting of standards by a quality-control specialist of royal bearing.”
“Is that so,” said the prince, stifling a chuckle. “Is your, uh, quality-control specialist here today? I’ve never met a royal mattress tester before.”
“It is her day off,” said the wife, “but I shall send word to ask if she would be willing to make a special appearance.”
“In the meantime,” the husband said with a bow, “it would truly be my honor to have Your Highness rest his weary body on one of our mattresses.” The prince, tired already from his princely duties, accepted.
The option his host led him toward was a thin single lying directly on the floor, and the prince eyed the owner skeptically. “I am used to lying on a bed of twenty mattresses, each stuffed to the brim with down,” he informed the man.
“I promise you,” the owner insisted, “that our quality-control specialist is an expert in comfort and would not allow me to put this product out on the sales floor until she got an uninterrupted night of sleep in it.”
And so the prince, after exchanging dubious looks with his most trusted advisor, allowed himself to be helped onto the mattress…on which he promptly fell asleep.
When he awoke, he felt renewed and invigorated, as young as a child but with the sharpness of a man at the peak of his wisdom.
“Such soft cushioning, yet such strong support!” he gushed as the husband smiled upon him. “Day off or not, it is my royal command that I meet the tester whose standards are so exacting as to result in a mattress as fine as this.”
“She is already here,” the wife announced, coming from the storeroom and waving to someone behind her. “Meet the woman who puts the quality in our quality control who only lets us refer to her as Sweet Pea.”
And from out of the storeroom, looking just as youthful and exuberant as the prince felt (right up until the familiar frown lines settled around her eyes as they landed on him), was his very own sweet pea – his princess.