TITLE: Princess Grace and Matilda the Mad
By Martha Black
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Princess Grace was carefree and happy, the only daughter of the King and Queen of Matsubu, and the delight of their hearts. With her deep blue eyes and dark blond hair, she delighted the people of the kingdom, and when she walked down the street they showered her with love. "Good day, my Princess.” "Blessings on you, Princess Grace!"
Everyone loved Princess Grace—everyone except Matilda the Mad.
Matilda had been Princess Grace's nursemaid during her childhood. The princess had spent hours in Matilda's lap listening to the tales Matilda made up for her. As she listened, the princess played with the charm Matilda wore on a chain around her neck, a charm given her by the King. One day Matilda accidentally, but carelessly, dropped the young princess. The King, known for his fierce temper and his love for his daughter, raged furiously, "Get out of my castle and out of my kingdom! You’ll never see my daughter again! I ban¬ish you from Matsubuforever!"
Matilda, already distressed by the injury to her beloved princess, left in shame. She had loved and cared for the princess since birth, but soon her raging hatred for the King smothered and killed her love for the princess. Years passed, yet Matilda brooded daily about her banishment. "You'll pay, Your Majes¬ty! Wait and see! You'll pay!” The once gentle nursemaid had become quite mad, mad for revenge against the King.
Princess Grace developed a slight limp due to the fall, but with her face so full of sunshine and her actions so joyful, people seldom noticed. But the king noticed and remembered. He posted guards to watch constantly lest Matilda re¬turn to Matsubu and harm the princess again.
On her fifteenth birthday, Princess Grace danced among the flowers in a tiny field between the castle and the forest while waiting for her birthday party to begin. The King had invited the entire kingdom to celebrate, and Princess Grace’s excitement compelled her out of the castle into the sunshine.
The world, alive with birds, flowers and butterflies, joined the celebration of the Princess' special day. To the delight of her guards and in spite of her limp, the princess danced through the field, picking wildflowers and scattering petals. Yellow butterflies drifted on the warm summer breeze, and Princess Grace chased them as fast as her limp allowed. "Come, pretty ones and dance with me," she begged.
She danced with carefree joy, moving ever closer to the dark, dark woods edging the tiny field. Matilda hid deep in the shadows of the woods where she could not be seen watching the beautiful girl chase the butter¬flies. "Come, pretty princess," she crooned softly. "Come to me, and I'll take you where your father will never find you!"
An especially large butterfly with amazing markings drifted to the very edge of the gloomy forest. Princess Grace followed, never noticing the darkness beyond. Her guards, watching from the edge of the tiny field, laughed at the happy chase, completely unaware of her danger.
Suddenly, before her guards could react, Matilda rode out of the forest on horseback and dragged Princess Grace up into the saddle with her. Her guards roared with fury as they ran to help their princess. They rushed the short distance to the woods, but before reaching them, Matilda and the princess disappeared.
One of the guards rushed to tell the King and Queen what had happened, others ran for their horses, and still others searched the forest on foot. In the throne room, the heartbroken guard fell before the royal couple sobbing, "Your Majesties, Matilda the Mad has stolen the prin¬cess!” The Queen wept, but the King furiously beat the arms of his throne. "Call out the entire guard!" he roared. "We'll search until my daughter is found!"
The king and his guards searched the woods and far beyond for their beloved princess. As word of Princess Grace's disap¬pearance spread throughout the kingdom, the men, women, and children invited to her party joined instead the search for their beloved princess. They searched until a deep dusk covered the land.
Birthday joy turned to gloom as the sun set with no sign of the princess. The moonless night made further searching useless, so the guards returned to the gaily-decorated castle and the people to their homes. How they wondered, could this have happened to someone as closely guarded and as deeply loved as their princess?
Princess Grace, completely surprised and terribly frightened, struggled mightily when Matilda pulled her up onto her horse. She tried calling her guards, but Matilda pressed her gnarled hand tightly over her mouth. She wiggled to free herself, but Matilda's rage made her strong. Princess Grace finally realized that struggling was not helping and allowed herself to be carried along.
Hours later Matilda arrived at a large cave, a cave she called home. Cobwebs brushed the Princess' face as they rode through the entrance, and bats flew wildly in the dim cave. A flickering lantern formed scary shadows that moved and swayed on the walls.
Princess Grace looked around and shuddered. How could anyone live like this? The bat’s movements made eerie noises and dripping water made the air damp and chilly.
Matilda got off her horse, pulling the exhausted princess off as well. "Like your new home, dearie?" she sneered. “Better get used to it. You'll be here for the rest of your life!” The mad woman's laughter echoed through the cave sending chills down the young girl's back. Frightened bats swooped around their heads.
"You'll never get away with this! My Papa will never stop looking for me!”
Again, the chilling laughter bounced off the walls as Princess Grace ducked a bat flying near her head. She recoiled in horror.
An iron bar cage stood at the highest part of the cave. In the cage, the princess saw a small stool and a ragged blanket. Matilda pushed her toward the cage. When Princess Grace realized what Matilda intended to do, she struggled to get free. "No! No, you can't put me in there! That's for animals! I'm not an animal! I'm a person, and it's my birthday. Oh, please, please, you can't! You just can't!"
The mad woman cackled with glee as she locked Princess Grace in the cage. "Your father will regret the day he banished me from his kingdom! How I wish he could see you now!"
Princess Grace shook with fright. She wanted to beg and plead with Matilda to let her go, but thinking of her father stopped her. She straightened her back, held her head high as she walked regally across the cage and sat on the stool as though it were a throne. The solidness of the stool controlled her shaking knees. She leaned over, picked up the ragged blanket and hid her trem¬bling hands in it. Then she sat quietly.
"What, my pet, no begging? No crying? Don't disap¬point me! I've waited a long time for this!” Princess Grace saw madness in Matilda's eyes and though terribly frightened, she sat as calmly as possible while Matilda taunted her. Matilda bellowed furiously when she was unable to make the king's daughter beg or cry.
Days passed, and the princess left her stool only to sleep on the hard floor wrapped in the ragged blanket or to take the awful food Matilda brought her. At first, she refused to eat, but soon hunger forced her to eat whatever pitiful food she received.
Whenever she wasn't eating or sleeping, she watched Matilda. Something about Matilda stirred her memories. Her constant watching made Matilda nervous—and furious.
"Why do you stare at me like that? I hate it! Look the other way if you want supper tonight!"
"I'm sorry. I’m trying to remember something, but I can't. Every time I think I have it, it slips away.” Princess Grace turned away—for a while.
The next morning Matilda looked awful when she brought Princess Grace her meager breakfast. As Princess Grace took the food, her hand touched Matilda's, and it burned with fever.
She did not see Matilda for the rest of the day. She had no lunch and no supper. Late that evening the lantern burned out. In the scary, black cave, Princess Grace lay awake on the floor of the cage. "Oh, Papa, where are you?" she cried softly. "Why haven't you found me?” Shivering in the darkness, she could no longer hold back her tears or pretend to be brave.
The next morning Matilda came to her cage with dry bread in her hand, looking worse than the day before. She opened the cage to hand the bread to the princess. "You need something to eat,” she mumbled, “but I'm not feeling well, and this is the best I can do.” As Princess Grace reached for the bread, Matilda fainted at her feet.
The young princess stared in dismay. "Oh my! Oh, my! What shall I do?” She knelt by Matilda. "Are you okay? Can I help you?” Matilda did not move.
Suddenly Princess Grace saw the open door behind Matilda. She stepped carefully over the unconscious woman and ran to the entrance of the cave. Before her was freedom, but she paused at the entrance, looking back at the sick woman. Again, her memory searched for a hidden something that she could not remember. She went back to Matilda.
Kneeling beside her, she noticed for the first time a chain around her neck. She pulled the chain and saw the charm. She touched it and remembered.
"Oh, Tilly, it's you! Tilly, why did you leave me so long ago? I needed you!” She touched the hard, bitter lines around Matilda's mouth. "Poor Tilly, what happened to make you like this?"
She searched the cave, found clean cloths and gently put them under Matilda's head and spread her ragged blanket over her. In a corner, she found water and bathed her brow. All the while she sang a lullaby she had learned from Matilda as a child. The sound of it made Matilda stir restlessly and moan fitfully.
In all her fifteen years Princess Grace had never cooked a meal, but she managed to make some soup, which she poured one spoonful at a time into the sick woman's mouth. As she fed Matilda, she stroked her hair. "I love you, Tilly. You're going to get well, because I'm going to take care of you.” At the unexpected tenderness of Princess Grace's touch, tears squeezed between Matilda's eyelids. Slowly her clinched fists relaxed.
Day after day Princess Grace cared for Matilda, and slowly her angry muttering stopped, her hard face softened, her frown lines left, and she rested easily. Sometimes she even smiled in her sleep.
One morning the young princess, very tired from days and nights of caring for Matilda, limped more than usual. For the first time since becoming ill, Matilda woke and watched the young girl across the cave.
"It's my fault, you know."
Princess Grace, delighted that Matilda was awake, ran to her side. "What's your fault, Tilly?"
"It's my fault that you limp. I dropped you when you were a child.” Matilda covered her eyes with her forearm.
"Did you drop me on purpose?"
"Good heavens, no!” Matilda tried to sit up, but could¬ not. "It was an accident, but a careless one! Your father furiously banished me from the country. Everything has been awful since then. I've been so angry with your father that I forgot how much I loved you."
"It wasn't your fault, Tilly! Accidents happen! This limp doesn't bother me and it shouldn't bother you. I love you! I've always loved you, and I forgive you completely!"
Matilda covered her face with her hands. When she took them down, instead of madness Princess Grace saw tenderness mixed with sorrow. Matilda reached out her thin arms to hug the child she had not hugged in years. Her past anger and desire for revenge melted away.
"My child, you can't imagine what it means to hear you say you forgive me. But, your father will never forgive me! He hates me!"
"Oh, Tilly, surely that's not true! Papa loves me and tries to protect me, but I know you would never hurt me on purpose. Even stealing me away like you did worked out for the best, because now I have my Tilly back.” Princess Grace hugged Matilda again. "I'll speak to Papa. I love you and if I love you, he’ll surely love you too."
Every day Matilda's health improved. Princess Grace cooked for her and cared for her, as she grew stronger and stronger.
When Matilda was strong enough to go back to Matsubu, Princess Grace saddled the horse and packed what they needed for the trip. They both laughed at how clumsily she did the things she had never done before. When finished, she helped Matilda onto the horse and put the pack up behind her. Then holding Matilda's hand, Princess Grace started toward home.
It was a long way to Matsubu, and although Princess Grace was not used to walking, she insisted that Matilda ride the entire way. She refused to allow Matilda to worry about her; instead, she worried about Matilda. She was determined her Tilly would be safe and comfortable.
Princes Grace and Matilda met the King and his guards just outside of Matsubu; their search for Princess Grace had never ended. They now joyfully surrounded the princess.
“Oh, Papa, Papa, it's so good to see you!”
The ecstatic king hugged his daughter and she hugged him back—then she felt him stiffen. As she stood back, she saw him glaring at Matilda, fury flashing from his eyes.
Princess Grace immediately stepped between Matilda and her father. "Look, Papa, it's Tilly, my Tilly. Please, Papa, you must forgive her! I have! She's my friend! She didn't mean to drop me, and she has suffered so much! She's been sick and has been living in a horrible cave. Please, Papa, please! Forgive her—for me!"
The King looked from his daughter to Matilda and back again. He saw the love in Grace's tender touch on Matilda's knee. He wheeled around clinching his fists and paced furiously back and forth. He had hated Matilda for such a long time.
Princess Grace went to him, and he stopped to look into her face. "Papa, have you never made a mistake? Have you never had an accident? If you chase away everyone who makes mistakes or has accidents, then eventually you will chase away everyone, including me. Please, Papa, Tilly made a mistake and she's sorry, so sorry!"
The King embraced his daughter, stroking her hair. "But, my child, because of Matilda you have a limp. You'll always have a limp. Always!"
"Oh, Papa!" she pulled back to look into his face, "limping is not so bad. If I had a choice I'd rather not limp, but I do limp and I'll always limp. I can't change that, but I can forgive the one who made it happen. If I spend my life or if you spend your life hating Tilly because of my limp, then you and I have something far worse than a limp wrong with us.”
The King hugged his daughter. "My child, how wise you’ve become in just fifteen years. You're right, of course! It's best to forgive Matilda! I'm sure I acted too hastily by banishing her from Matsubu. My fury drove her away—and almost cost me my only child."
The King and Princess Grace returned to Matilda who was sitting nervously on the horse. The King gently lifted Matilda down, and watched his only child help her to a nearby log where she could sit. He knelt before Matilda and took her hand. "My daughter's right, Matilda. It's hard for me to admit, but forgiveness and friends make more sense than anger and enemies. Please, won’t you come and live with us in the castle again?"
Princess Grace, kneeling beside her father, hugged him, "Papa, I love you!"
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