King Julian never knew his kingdom was a democracy, and had been for three generations.
A nursemaid is something that should be chosen carefully, if you are a king. Even if you are a king of a not very sizable kingdom that tends to get too much rain and is chiefly known for its lettuce crop (in particular a variety of red lettuce known as ‘Julian’s Head’). You’re still in a position of power, and the nursemaid you choose for your son will spent more time teaching him politics than your wife. And as Julian is wont to say, a nation is only as strong as the feet it stands on.
I have been a nursemaid for a very long time, and I can assure you that the decision was not accidental. I was chosen from a family who had a long history of providing nursemaids to the crown. We were known to be unflappable (important as the red-headed royal line was wont to produce colicky babies), sturdy (lucky as a brief struggle with the neighboring country had resulted on an embargo on all shoes except for the locally made clogs), healthy (fortuitous in a country plagued by rain), and above all, absolutely cunning.
I am cunning.
I also provided a very fine view for those watching me leave, if you get my meaning, which is the real reason why I believe the young king took me on forty years ago. Julian, like all beautiful people, liked to be surrounded by other beautiful people, in case the ugly got on him. His wife, the Queen Ruth, had in fact died ugly, shortly after childbirth, and Julian had never quite recovered.
King Julian had a son, Bertrand, and Bertrand had grown up beautiful and red-headed like his father. Also like his father before him, Bertrand was to marry a girl of true royal blood at the age of seventeen. As his birthday approached, the court whipped into action. We all knew the ritual for finding a true princess; we’d lived through it before. Each time a male member of the royal house began to look for a spouse, a dozen potential girls would descend upon the castle grounds. Each of them would be led to a room that had been prepared exactly the same way: nothing in the room but a lantern and twenty mattresses with twenty feather mattresses piled on top of them. If there were twelve girls, they would sleep there for twelve nights, and each night, one of them had a pea placed under the mattresses. The true princess was the one who could not sleep with such an insult under her bed. The other imposters were killed.
I am kidding.
Of course we didn’t kill the other girls. Who has room to time to bury all those bodies? But the rest of it is true. The entire fate of the kingdom rested on some silly girl feeling some silly vegetable in her bedding.
This is why we all have to wear clogs.
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