For awhile she tried warming garden stones and slipping them into her pocket, but they were just ordinary stones. She prayed over them, please don’t cool, please take away my pain, please, please, please, but it never worked. Each one, she placed in a pile beside her bed and before long, a monument to her unanswered prayers sat beside her bed. Each day she grew more dejected, sadder, more reticent. She refused even to meet her duties, worrying the royal family and her husband, and setting the servants to gossip.
It must be her head, they whispered. The day she fainted, she must have hit her head and now she’s not right in it.
I am dying, Marcy, as I have lived upon these stolen days and nights, and they now catch me and call me back, she said to Marcy, as the good maid attended her one morning.
Marcy, not knowing how to reply, sat down beside her beloved princess and wept.
As she did so, a bright bluebird burst into the room flying first in the rafters, then landing atop the rock pile. It let out a bright blue chirp.
And called for a moment from their weariness and grief, the princess and her maid regarded the bird and saw it had a wounded wing.
What do you think she says princess?
She says that . . . she says that she must return home, to the bright place from which she came and that . . . the princess paused . . . she shall lead the way.
So the princess stole from the castle with her trusted maid at her side, holding naught but a tiny, wounded bird in her hands. Some hidden ear within her heard and understood the bird so that the way was easy and effortless and they soon arrived at the bird’s home, which was a small, clear running stream in the forest. The princess looked about, sensing something both strange and familiar.
I have been here before . . . I have been to this very spot such a long time ago.
She gazed upon the little creek meandering over the rocks and and walked to the water’s edge. Gazing down she saw tiny minnows swimming among the sunny pebbles and bits of algae. She drew even closer and then she saw it, her red clay heart, lying among the life of the little streambed.
Tis here! she exclaimed, dredging it from the shining streambed. Tis a miracle, Marcy!
It was then that the bird in her nest began to sing a song that neither maid nor royal could ignore.
Does she speak princess? asked the maid.
The princess, listening intently, fixed her gaze firmly on a spot somewhere in the air between them.
She does . . . she says:
I have a milk and honey waist, am both foul and chaste,
I am now lost and now found, and bidden under the cold, dark ground,
To that which is empty forevermore,
yet full of that which should be yours.
Tis a riddle! the maid exclaimed, thoughtfully turning the words over as she repeated them, a milk and honey waist. . .
Yes, tis – the princess answered quietly. Something is dirty and clean, lost and found, and under the ground, empty, yet full of what should be mine? As she puzzled the riddle, she paced along the stream bank with the warm heart in her hands.
Ah, what could it mean? she said as she looked up suddenly – The dress! The white gown I once wore here as a child . . . tis still here, under the ground. Tis empty, can no longer be worn, yet tis still mine, tis still MINE! I must find it, find whatever remains –
The princess began sorting through her mind, grasping at the frail memories put away long ago, the places she might have buried it. I can’t! It all looks the same now!
You can, princess, you must, or you . . . you will die, Marcy pleaded.
What say you bird? The princess shot up – I have brought you here, now pray tell me where lies my child’s dress?
The bird was gone. Gone.
The princess looked around in a panic – how could that be? How could that be? she wailed.
But princess, look now in your very hands! Marcy exclaimed.
And there, sitting on the warm, red heart was the bluebird staring up at the princess, waiting. She chirped loudly and the heart began to glow with light. The princess, reeling with both shock and delight, stepped backward, and the light dimmed. Testing the light, she stepped to one side and then the other. The light remained dull. Moving back to the center, the heart lit the shaded forest with a warm red glow.
Tis here! Tis here under my very feet!
The princess and her maid began digging and sure enough, not far below the surface, they found a mottled gown, decayed with the grim work of time and earthworms. The princess held the fabric up triumphantly and washed it in the stream, gently using the most round and weather-beaten rocks to aid her. And though she could not clean it to the pristine white of the past, she was amazed at how close to clean it came. Carefully, she wrung it out and dried it on the very same sunning rock that the indestructible heart sat upon. Once dry, she carefully wrapped the heart within it and packed it in her gown. That familiar warm feeling of health and ease spread through her body, yet something was quite different.
The bird, having flown back to its nest, sang one last laughing chirp above their heads.
The princess looked up at the bird, then down at her chest. Then, quite suddenly, she began to undress, and with the competent help of her maid, all the layers of her gown began unlacing, unwrapping, peeling, and dropping off of her body.
She stood then, quite naked in the forest, and her chest was perfectly healed. Where there should have been healthy, pink skin, there now was. She had recovered her very own warm, beating heart and with it, her life.
She and her maid gazed quietly at one another – the secret that bound them was finally dissolved.
Did I err Marcy? As a child, I mean? Did I bring this misery . . . did I abandon and cast off something that I should have treasured?
I don’t know, my love. I don’t know. But you were only a child and without love, too. That decision should not have been yours to make.
Gathering her courage, the princess redressed in her undergarments, and found that the dress-wrapped heart quite disappeared. Marcy picked the gown up, leaving it hanging on a sunny branch to sway in the wind, be cleansed by the rains, and eventually, to become nesting material for the birds.
The maid and her princess walked home with empty hands and peaceful hearts, greeting all along the way. The princess’s family, most scandalized and worried for the princess’s virtue, swarmed about the castle, perplexed. And though she reassured them time and time again, with her typical sweet smile, it was long before they could bring themselves to believe that she had only been “swimming” and “sunning.”
The princess lived a long, happy life after that, eventually becoming a fair and beloved queen with children of her own, whom she loved and adored every day of her life.