The Knitting Princess
Once upon a time (since this is how all the best stories begin), there was a beautiful princess who lived a charmed life in La La Land with her parents in a rather sweet dusk-pink U-shaped castle, complete with a vegetable garden and apple orchard. There were once exotic eucalyptus trees dispersed among the Bramleys but the weather in the kingdom could be somewhat temperamental and, much to the princess’s distress, these majestic giants were one day blown out of the ground and away, never to be seen again.
Some might say this was portentous of times to come and, had the princess been that way inclined, she may well have shuddered with a pervading sense of impending doom. As it was, she was generally of a happy disposition and was quite content to bumble about and gaze out of her window, wondering what the future would hold, never dreaming it could possibly be anything other than rose petals and cupcakes for all eternity.
One day, however, the tides turned, the winds blew ill and the fires burned black in the grates – a wicked witch with, as all wicked witches tend to have, a crooked nose and be-warted face had heard tell of the beautiful, sweet princess and was sickened to the depths of her blackened heart at the thought that such charm and purity could exist. “How dare it!” she cursed. “How dare this innocence be allowed to pervade a land where I am wont to tread.” And with that – as well as a shrieking howl and a vicious wave of her wicked wand (made of redwood and cracked goat hide) – she put a curse on the dusk-pink U-shaped castle and its angelic inhabitants, turning the princess’s parents into hideous gargoyles and condemning them to a life looking out at their land forever, watching as the years transformed it from a place of joy and laughter into a shambling wreck of its former self.
The princess, however, was to suffer a different fate, although none less terrible. Before she had time to blink, she found herself whisked away from the only place she had ever known and deposited in a crumbling tower (although it did have parapets) one mile from the ground and guarded by a fearsome, fire-breathing dragon with a glowing red ruby in each incisor.
“What the dickens?” the princess said out loud in abject surprise at the situation she suddenly found herself in. As soon as the words left her lips, there was a terrible crash, bang and a wallop and the wicked witch appeared before her in a swirling puff of smoke.
“For the crime of being happy, you are to stay in this dank tower for all time,” she shrieked. “No friends, no laughter, no music – your life shall be cheerless, miserable and never-ending. All you shall have to do is knit, knit, knit until you drown under a sea of cardigans.”
With that, a ball of wool and needles practically the size of ski poles appeared before the hapless princess and, before she even really knew what was happening, her fingers took on a life of their own, reached for the needles and began to knit. Had she been taught how to knit before, she might perhaps have been less amazed but as it was, having never had a knitting lesson in her life, she was shocked beyond words to find herself casting on, purling and making cable stitches. However, the princess was soon to find her tongue when she discovered she was entirely unable to put the needles down and stop knitting, not even for five minutes.
“How am I going to sleep?” she asked the witch, who had the demeanour of a person preparing to leave the room.
With an evil, ringing cackle, the witch raised her hands to the ceiling and shouted with glee, “you don’t!” With that, and another swirling puff of black smoke, she was gone.
Had the princess been able to put down her knitting, she would surely have hidden her head in her hands and sobbed until her heart would break. Cruel, cruel world, she thought to herself, watching her little hands – that had never done a day’s work in their lives – hook stitch after stitch. I don’t even know what I’m making.
As it turned out, the princess was making a never-ending scarf. No doubt she would have finished it if she could but sadly, try as she might, she couldn’t drop the needles or stop her hand from picking up that hateful end of wool. And so time marched on very, very slowly and for 18 years the princess sat on the cold, hard floor of the tall, dark tower, with nothing but the click-clack of the needles to keep her company.
The ball of wool never ended, the needles never wore down and her hands never dropped off from the exertion, although she often wished they would. In fact, after a number of years, she and her knitting almost became as one – her hair, once the envy of the kingdom so flaxen and wavy as it was, had grown so long (reaching at least nine feet) that she accidentally began weaving it into the scarf and before she noticed and was able to react, her knitting was attached to her forever.
One day, as she was gazing out of the tiny garret window across the rolling fields and lamenting her terrible fate (as she had done many times since the witch first cursed her so long ago), she thought she spied a majestic white horse galloping across the plains, with a flame-haired warrior astride its back. Shaking her head, she told herself it was a trick of the light – after all, she had never seen any man, woman or beast in these parts save the ferocious dragon before. But, before long, the horse came closer and closer, so close she thought the knight would hear her should she call out.
“Good sir,” she cried. “Good, kind knight, I am decidedly a damsel in distress. Please help!”
The knight, who had thus far had a very quiet day upon his steed, in search of something or someone to rescue, trotted up to the foot of the tower.
“Sweet lady,” he called up to the princess. “What seems to be the trouble?”
“I have been imprisoned in this tower for 18 years,” she replied. “I’ve seen no one nor had any rest from knitting for so long, I feel I must die, although I cannot. There is a beastly dragon on guard, I am sure if you fought it you could climb up and help me.”
Never one to back down from a challenge, the knight wheeled his horse around and drew what at first looked like a glinting sharp-edged sword from his scabbard and brandished it about.
“Where is this foul behemoth?” he called. “I shall despatch it straight.”
The bejewelled dragon heard the strange voice and dashed from its lair, fangs bared and nostrils flared, ready to do battle to the death. However, one roar of flame was all it could utter before the knight, who was more prepared, pierced it through the heart with his sword, ending its life in one fell swoop.
Looking rather pleased with himself, the knight wiped the blade on a nearby patch of grass and looked up at the princess, as if to say, now what?
“A mile is a long way to climb,” he shouted to the princess. “Have you a ladder?”
“Nay,” the princess said regretfully, casting her eye about her tiny living quarters. “But hold – I have been knitting for 18 years . I am sure if you were careful you could climb up my ridiculously long scarf.”
With that, she kicked as much of the scarf as she could towards the window and, using her feet (a practice she had become much accustomed to, given that her hands were always busy), she tumbled as much of the wool as possible through the gap.
That was all the encouragement the knight needed and hand over hand he pulled himself up (none too carefully either, which was somewhat painful for the poor princess, since the scarf was still very much attached to her head). Some half hour later, the knight hauled himself into the tiny room and looked about him.
“What a sad state of affairs,” he said, watching the princess continue to knit.
“I know,” she said. “I am unable to stop and I cannot think of a way to break the curse.”
But the knight had a thoughtful look in his eye and said, “I wonder…”
He slowly withdrew his sword from its sheath once more and gazed at it in amazement, as did the princess.
“Why, it’s…” she said, unable to continue.
“Yes,” the knight replied. “Some 18 years ago, a magician came to me and handed me this sword, saying I would have great need of it one day. Given its strange shape and eyelet, I thought he was a madman but now it’s all starting to make sense.”
That’s right, dear readers, what the knight had for so long believed to be an odd sword was in fact a giant bodkin, suited perfectly to the matter at hand.
Without thinking twice, the knight swept his arm upwards and sliced through the princess’s scarf, allowing her to finally move her head freely, as she had longed to do for years.
“Oh, thank you,” she gasped. “But what of my hands?”
Again, without thinking twice (although perhaps there may have been another way around it, had he paused for a second or two), the knight cut through the air once more and chopped the unfortunate princess’s hands clean off.
With a shriek of pain mixed with relief, the princess fell to the floor. “You have saved me,” she cried, wrapping her stumps in some of the wool.
The knight smiled, picked her off the ground and carried her to the window. “You’re welcome,” he replied, before swinging her onto his back and clambering back down the scarf once more.