Once upon a time, in a far off land, lived a princess. She was beautiful to look at and her every wish and whim was carried out by her court. If she desired something it would appear no matter the difficulty in obtaining it or who had to die. Her father, the king, had brought her up telling her that the kingdom and everyone and everything in it was hers to do with as she pleased. She was an only child and the apple of her father’s eye; her mother, the queen, died giving her birth.
Her father was a cruel king and his subjects lived in abject fear of him. His daughter, the princes, took after him and not a day went by that she did not have someone flogged for a minor transgression.
However, for all her power and all her wealth, the princess was lonely. She had had many proposals of marriage. Princes came from far and near to ask her father for her hand. They brought with them the riches of their kingdoms and laid their treasures at her feet. Nevertheless, she rebuffed all offers of marriage and she grew lonelier still.
One day as she and her father were riding through the kingdom on their magnificent horses, followed by the captain of the guard and his men, they happened upon a young peasant of about twenty summers. He was comely of face and the sinew of his muscles glistened with sweat in the morning sun. Because he was deep in thought and intent on the task at hand, hoeing a small patch of ground. He did not hear the approach of the entourage. Hence, he did not prostrate himself as all subjects were required to do when the king or princess passed by.
The king halted the procession and pointed to the peasant. The captain of the guard, knowing his duty, ordered two of his men to bring the man before the king. But before the soldiers reached him, he turned upon hearing the snorting of the horses. Almost immediately, he was accosted by the two men, and held by his arms, he was taken to the king.
With his face upraised, he looked from the king to the princess and back to the king with a look of inquiry. Finally the king said, “How is it that you do not prostrate yourself when your king passes?”
The peasant, whose name was Tom, simply said, I am sorry sire I did not hear you coming, so engaged was I in getting my meager crop planted.”
The king smiled a malicious smile and said, “There are no excuses. Captain, show this man what happens to those who disobey the edicts of the land. Tie him to a tree and administer forty lashes. And when you have finished chop off his left hand as a reminder to others that their king’s decrees are absolute.”
Then turning back to Tom he said, “I am feeling benevolent today. That is why only your left hand and not your right will you forfeit.”
All though the exchange between sovereign and subject, the princess sat her horse enthralled by the peasant’s bearing and striking looks; his muscles fairly rippled under his tattered tunic. Never had a prince of the realm, or any other realm, so enchanted her.
As the man was led to a nearby tree, the princess whispered to her father. The king’s eyes widened and he asked, “Are you sure?”
Before he could be bound to the tree, the king gave the order that he be brought to the castle and ensconced in a room suitable for a prince. Then as an afterthought added, “Bath him, burn his clothes and dress him befittingly.” With that pronouncement, he proceeded on, followed by his court and the princess who did not look back at the receding figure of the man she had just saved.
When she arrived back at the castle the first thing the princess did was call for her maidservant. As soon as the servant appeared, the princess eagerly demanded, “Where is he?”
“Who your highness?” asked the girl.
Losing her temper at the girl’s obtuseness, the princess lashed out at her. “The man that was brought here while I was gone! Where is he?”
Finally a light dawned, and the girl told the princess that someone was put in the unused wing of the castle and that there was a guard to keep servants and members of the court out. However, her sister, who was also a servant in the castle, was told to take hot water to that wing and leave it with the guard.
The princess smiled a wicked smile and dismissed her servant with an order that bath water was to be readied for herself. After her toilet, and after dressing in her finest garments, the princess called for a guard and instructed him to bring the man they had come upon that morning to her sitting room.
The guard demurred, thinking that first he should get the king’s permission. But after one look at the princess, he knew that to fail to carry out her command would only mean imprisonment or maybe worse.
In due time, Tom was brought before the princess and he wore a perplexed expression upon his countenance. After the guard left, he stood before the princess a moment before speaking. “I remember you. You were riding with the king this morning. Can you please tell me how I happened to be here?”
“You happen to be here because I wanted you here,” the princess replied calmly.
Tom, not quite understanding, stood before the princess and awaited her pleasure. He did not have long to wait. “What do they call you? she asked.
“I am Tom, son of Tom the Tinker.”
“Do you know who I am? the princess queried.
“You are a lady. That is all I know.”
“That is good enough for now. You and I shall dine together tonight and then you will spend the night here in the castle. Is there anything in particular you would like to eat?”
Tom responded, “If it’s all the same to you my lady, I would like to leave this place. I have someone that will worry for me if I do not return this eve.
The princess did not like what she heard and answered thusly: “No. It is not all the same to me. I saved you this morning and now you belong to me,” she said with raised voiced.
Tom, not knowing what to make of the tirade, smiled at the girl before him and told her quite forcibly that he belonged to no one save his one true love.
When she heard what Tom said, the princess stood and walked to the door and summoned the nearest servant. “Bring to me the captain of the guard, at once!” She then returned to where she had been sitting and with a smile asked Tom the name of his one true love.
Tom, though he was young, fathomed something in her manner and hesitated. “She lives not in this country. She belongs to a clan eight leagues to the north.”
It was a lie and the princess knew it for what it was. She simply said, “I tire of you.”
It was then that there was a knocking upon the door. “Enter,” the princess intoned.
The captain came in and awaited his instructions. The princess said, “Take this man to the dungeon and see to it that he is not fed this night, nor on the morrow. He is not to be fed until I say so. He may have water, but that is all.” Showing reluctance, the captain said, “But your highness your father has instructed me to treat this man with courtesy.”
The princess, now getting angry, told the captain that the king had issued the command on her behalf. Now she wanted the peasant in the dungeon. The captain, who had been at court many years and was a captain because he knew how to obey orders, did as he was bid. As he led Tom from the room the princess said, “When you have finished with the charge given you report back to me.”
The captain reported as ordered and was given a new commission. “I want you to send men out to find a woman. She will be in the vicinity of where that man was first seen. His name is Tom, son of Tom the Tinker. She will be either his wife or his intended. When you locate her, bring her to me. Now leave, I am weary.”
So the captain sent four of his best men to bring back a single girl.
The undertaking was not as easy as the princess had thought. It was not until the early morning hours that the girl was located. And when she was brought to the castle, no one, including the captain, wanted to awaken the princess. So the girl was locked in a room until her highness awoke and had eaten her morning meal. It was only then that the captain sent word that the girl she desired was in the castle and awaiting her pleasure.
The young girl, her name was May, was brought before the princess at mid morning.
May faced the princess not knowing what offense she had committed. However, she was too scared to say anything. The princess walked around her once, then twice and finally she said, “So you are the little snip that Tom prefers to me?”
Not knowing what the princess was referring to, the girl said, “I am sorry ma’am, but I do not know of what you speak.”
This infuriated the princess, and she yelled, “I am Princess Elizabeth. I always get what I want! Your Tom thinks you are more desirable than me, but if you were no more then he would come to me willingly.”
The outburst had the opposite effect that the princess had intended. May stood straight and with a smile informed the princess that she was proud to love Tom and was proud of his love for her. She added, “Killing me will only strengthen our love.” Then a look crossed her face and she implored, “Where is Tom? Is he all right? May I see him?”
“You ask a lot for peasant girl,” said the princess. “But no you may not see him. He is mine and as soon as you are dispatched we will be married.” The princess smiled her coldhearted smile and called for the guard. “Take this girl to the dungeon and behead her.”
May, contrary to what the princess envisioned, stood tall and said, “You may kill me, but you will never kill Tom’s love for me.”
“Take her from here and do what I have commanded,” screamed the princess.
That afternoon Tom was brought before the princess. There was a table laid with the finest food in the land and the princess bade Tom to sit and partake of the fare.
Tom was hungry, but he hesitated. “Do you think a night without food would have me forsake my love? Well, not one night, nor a thousand nights in your dungeon will do so.”
The princess only smiled and bid Tom to eat and enjoy the repast. “I am not fearful of your love. Her name is May, is it not?”
Tom was startled when he heard May’s name spoken and asked, “What do you know of her?”
“I know nothing of her. Nothing that is except she lies dead below us.”
Tom, not believing his ears, shouted, “You lie!”
“Shall I have her head brought to us?”
It was then that Tom knew in his innermost being that the princess did not lie. He walked over to a window and while looking down at the courtyard far below asked, “Why?”
The princess shrugged and said, “I wanted you and she stood in the way. Now you are mine.”
Tom shook his head and said, “I will never be your.” as he leaped to his death.
The Beauty of this tale was the love between Tom and May. The Beast should be self evident.