A Pinch or Two of Salt

rewritten by Phillip Martin

Many of my favorite tales (and Walt Disney's too) seem to have come from France. Cinderella, complete with fairy godmother, was written by Charles Perrault in 1697 (although similarly themed stories date back to 9th century China.) Sleeping Beauty has origins in both Norse mythology as well as French folklore. However, if you research that tale, you'll never read an earlier version to your children. Beauty and the Beast was first published in France in 1740.

This story has a bit of Cinderella in the plot, but it has it's own unique twist. My source did not include an author, but it is similar to a story by Perrault called "Peau d'ane" (which translates as "Donkey Skin"). If you want more information about Perrault, it's easy to find. Sur La Lune provides a biography of Perrault as well of several of his stories, including "Donkey Skin".

"I love my daughters," thought the king, "but I wonder if they love me as much." The more he thought about this, the more it troubled him. " I have to know the answer!" he declared. "Do my daughters really love me? How can I know?"

The question bothered the king, night and day. Finally, he decided to just ask his daughters how they felt. Whoever loved him the most would inherit his kingdom. And so, he called his oldest daughter to his side.

"How much do you love me, my child?"

"Oh, Papa," giggled the young maiden, "you are the apple of my eye. And, I know you feel the same about me."

"Yes," agreed the king. "I do feel the same way about you. You are indeed a lovely and wonderful daughter."

The king smiled as his second daughter approached. "How much do you love me, my child?"

This second daughter didn't giggle. She was always a more thoughtful child. After careful consideration, she said, "Father, for me you are like a pinch or two of salt that I put on my food."

"That's it? Salt? You think of me as a pinch or two of salt? What kind of answer is that?" demanded the king. But, he didn't wait for any explanation. "You ungrateful child! Leave my presence immediately! Leave my palace and leave my kingdom!"

"And, don't ever come back here!" he declared. "A pinch or two of Salt!"

The little princess fled to her room. After a really good cry, she dried her eyes and considered her situation. "I must leave the only home I've ever known," she said as tears welled up in her eyes once again. "But, tears aren't going to help me now." With that said, she gathered up a few of her best dresses and some of her favorite jewelry. She packed them up into a bundle and raced from the palace.

Plodding along the path, the princess wondered what was to become of her. "I don't know where I should go or what I can do." That really wasn't her fault. She'd never learned how to do any real work at the palace. "Yes, mother taught me a few recipes as a child, but not enough to do me any good," she thought. "And dressing up in front of the mirror, which I'm really good at doing, isn't going to get me hired by any housewife!" The little girl knew that nobody would hire a beautiful young maiden to work in their home. "If I'm going to work and feed myself," she determined, "I'm going to have to make myself as ugly as possible."

"For starters, this beautiful gown has got to go," the princess decided. She stuffed it into her bundle of treasures from the palace after getting a few rags from a beggar. The rags were dirty, and they smelled, but the little girl knew she could do more. She smeared mud all over her new rags. After that, she smeared more mud over her hands, arms and face. "The only thing left is my hair," she mused. But, after running her muddy fingers through her hair a few times, that problem was over. "Nobody is going to consider me too pretty to work as a shepardess or goose-girl," she thought. And, she was right. Nobody hired her because she was just too dirty. "Maybe I overdid things a wee bit?" she said with a smile.

The princess continued her journey for many days and several kingdoms. Finally, she came upon a large farm in need of a shepherdess. The farmer's wife sniffed the air and said, "She can work here as long as it is far from the house." And the farmer agreed. "The flocks are over on the other side of the mountain. We won't smell the flocks or their shepherdess from that distance."

And so, the little princess finally found a new home. Well, not exactly a home. It was a shepherd's hut on the other side of the mountain, surrounded by sheep. Smelly sheep. Sheep that smelled almost as bad as she did. But, she had a safe place to rest and plenty of food.

Like many girls, not just princesses, one day the little shepherdess decided to dress up. Unlike most girls who have this wish, the little girl was a princess and had a few royal gowns and some jewelry in her bundle from the palace. Since she was far away from the farmer and his wife, on the other side of the mountain, the princess tossed her rags aside and quickly washed up in a nearby stream. In just a few minutes she was transformed from ragged shepherdess to beautiful princess (without the help of a fairy godmother!)

It so happened that the prince of this new land was hunting on that very day. And, it so happened that he got lost in the forest on the other side of the mountain. It also so happened that when he became thirsty, he looked for a stream. As the prince neared the water's edge, he couldn't believe what he saw just on the other side of the stream. A beautiful maiden in magnificent royal clothing danced with the butterflies -- next to a rather smelly herd of sheep.

The prince blinked his eyes. "I must be seeing things," he mumbled. As he leaned forward for a better look, the princess heard the rustling of grass along the stream and saw the bluest eyes she'd ever seen. Immediately, she raced into the forest. Of course, the prince sloshed across the stream in pursuit, but he slipped in the mud twice before tripping on a tree branch. By the time he regained his balance, the princess was long gone. After all, she wasn't the one lost on the other side of the mountain. She knew exactly where to hide and the prince never found her.

When the prince finally gave up, and the princess was quite sure he was gone, she placed her royal clothing back in her bundle. Next, the little shepherdess slipped back into her rags and smeared mud over her face, hands and clothing. She sat down next to her favorite sheep and slipped her arm around him. "That was close," the princess whispered. "But, did you see his eyes?"

The sheep just snorted.

Meanwhile, the prince found his way to the farm on the other side of the mountain. The farmer's wife rushed to offer him a drink of cider. As the prince sat down with his drink, he asked the farmer about the beautiful maiden who looked after the sheep. The poor farmer nearly spit he cider into the prince's face. "Beautiful maiden?" he coughed. "That shepherdess is one of the ugliest and filthiest creatures I've ever seen."

"And, you forgot to mention smelliest," added his wife.

Everyone around the table laughed. Well, everyone except the prince. The young man was quite sure he'd seen a very beautiful maiden, dancing with the butterflies. And, he was very certain he smelled the sheep. Finally, he decided that some kind of witchcraft must be at work with that shepherdess. And, if witchcraft was involved, that was a young woman to stay away from. When his cider was finished, the prince said goodbye to the farmer and his wife and then headed for the palace.

But, he couldn't get the maiden out of his mind!

"She is so much more interesting than any lady of his father's court!" thought the prince. And, he thought of little else. He dreamed of little else, when he could sleep. The young prince lost sleep and couldn't eat. When he grew too thin, his parents pleaded to know what bothered him so. "I can't tell them about a bewitched shepherdess," thought the prince. "They would only laugh at me." So, instead of telling his parents the truth, the prince requested a loaf of fresh bread from the shepherd girl at the distant farm at the edge of the mountain.

Although the request was very strange (and his parents whispered about it long after they left their son's room), the king and queen quickly set about to fulfill their son's wishes. A messenger was immediately sent to the farm at the edge of the mountain. Now, the farmer's wife was equally puzzled, but she sent for the shepherdess. "The prince has requested a loaf of bread from you. Now, quickly wash your hands. No, you better take a bath instead. Then, get busy baking some bread."

The princess gathered some flour, a pinch or two of salt and some water as well as a bar of soap and a fresh towel. "Thanks goodness!" she thought. "This is one of the recipes my mother taught me so long ago."

After the bath, the princess put on one of her favorite rings. That small action always made her feel special. Then, she started kneeding the dough. As the young maiden thought about the prince's blue eyes, she didn't notice that her ring slipped off her finger and into the bread. In a very short time, a warm loaf was ready for the prince. The maiden kept dough on her hands and even sprinkled flour over her face and hair before presenting her finished loaf to the farmer's wife. "It's not any prettier than you, my dear," sniffed the woman, "but it is what the prince asked for."

The messenger hurried off to the palace. In turn, the queen grabbed the loaf and rushed to her son's side. "It really isn't the prettiest loaf, my son," the queen commented. "My royal chef can do so much better if you want." But, the young prince would have nothing to do with that. A smile crossed his face and his blue eyes glowed in delight when he smelled the loaf.

However, that smile diminished when the prince bit down on something hard. "What on earth?"

"What is it, my son?" demanded the queen.

"It's a ring! And, look how simply beautiful it is!"

"The color is the same as your eyes, my son."

"It must be a sign. I will marry the girl whose finger perfectly fits this ring."

And so it was, the king made a royal declaration throughout the entire kingdom. Ladies, maidens and a few old maids came from near and far to claim the ring and the prince's hand.

"But that ring is so tiny!" snarled more than a few of the women shown their way from the palace. "Even a woman with the smallest hand couldn't get it on her little finger."

And, that appeared to be true. After all the fair maidens, and several not so fair ones, tried and failed, the search was broadened. Peasant maidens and goose-girls were brought before the prince. Then, peasant maidens and goose-girls were shown their way out of the palace.

"I think we're just going to have to cancel the search, my son," admitted the king in defeat.

"We've tried just about every hand on every girl in the kingdom," sighed the queen.

"But, there is still one maiden who has not come to the palace," smiled the prince. "The shepherdess!"

"What?" cried the king. "Even I've heard about how she smells."

"Why, Father, looks and smells can be deceiving," replied the prince.

Immediately a messenger was sent for the shepherdess. In no time at all, she arrived at the palace covered in rags and surrounded by the smell of sheep. However, her hands were cleaner than usual and she had no problem slipping the ring on her finger. The blue stone glittered in the light just like the prince's eyes.

"And so I have found you!" beamed the prince. "You're the one I have been searching for!"

"But she's just a shepherdess!" cried the king.

"And she smells horrible!" added the queen.

The shepherdess took a step forward and announced, "I was born a princess in a not too distant kingdom. If you allow me a little soap and water, I think you'll see that I clean up rather nicely."

"Get that girl some water!" ordered the king.

"And don't forget the soap!" added the queen. "We're going to need a lot of soap!"

The shepherdess grabbed her bundle and followed a servant girl to the washroom. Two other servants followed them with a bucket of hot water and a whole lot of soap.

When the young maiden returned, there was no longer any trace of the shepherdess. Before the royal court stood a princess in a magnificent gown, adorned with her finest jewelry. The prince beamed. His parents sighed in relief. And instantly, the prince bowed before his princess. "I loved you ever since I had that first glimpse of you, dancing with the butterflies."

"If I remember correctly, that day it was you covered with mud," the princess teased.

The young man smiled. "I lost you one time. I never plan on doing that again. Will you marry me?"

After a brief moment, the young maiden said, "Probably."

"Huh? Probably? What does that mean?"

"Well, as I told you, I really am a princess. Before I get married, it would be necessary to have my father's consent."

"Guards! Horsemen! Ambassadors! Off with you to her father! Do not return until you have his consent," demanded the prince.

"Yes, my lord," cried the ambassador, as he and his attendents hurried from the court. Words like "preparations" and "consent" were heard in their shuffle, but mostly everyone heard their sandals flapping on the marble staircase.

The prince reached for the hand of his hopeful bride-to-be and smiled. But, before he could say anything, there was a knock at the door. The ambassador entered the room, his face fully red, and bowed deeply. "Pardon the interruption, my lord," he begged, "but which kingdom are we going to visit?"

Of course, the princess' father had given up hope long ago that his daughter was still alive. As soon as he realized what he had done, he searched for the princess throughout the land. But, she was nowhere to be found. It never occured to him to look a few kingdoms away in a shepherd's hut on the other side of a mountain. So, it was with great joy and relief that he agreed to his daughter's marriage.

Plans were made, a date was set, the gown was sewn, and all too soon the princess welcomed her father to her new kingdom. "Oh, welcome, my father," cried the princess. "I'm sure you must be tired from your journey. But, as soon as you are ready, I've prepared a very special banquet for you."

"Oh, my daughter," cried the king, "I am not worthy of a banquet after the way I treated you. All I want is your forgiveness."

"All is forgiven, Father," declared the princess. "But, you aren't getting out of my banquet."

"As you wish, my dear."

As the banquet table was set, the princess had her father sit by her side. Little did he know that he had a very special plate created in his honor. While the others in attendance appeared to love their meal, the king had no pleasure in his bread baked without salt and his meat prepared without seasoning. The princess finally whispered, "Father, I could always read your face. And, I can tell that you don't seem to like the banquet. Is it not to your taste?"

"Well, my daughter, I can see that everything has been carefully prepared and flawlessly presented," replied the king. "But, I hate to tell you this, everything on my place it just dreadfully tasteless."

"Now, Father, you should know that salt is one of the best things in our lives. It brings out the flavor in our food. It makes our lives better. And, when I compared you to salt, just to show you how much I loved you, you threw me out of the palace."

"I was foolish not to see how very wise you are," admitted the king. "Now, my dear, could I please have some salt for this meal?"

"I think I might have a pinch or two for you," smiled the princess.

And, it was the best meal the king ever ate.

Copyright 2011 by Phillip Martin All rights reserved.M