This entry is part 30 of 39 in the series 40 years online

Once upon a time* there lived a princess who had everything a princess could want. She had an air conditioned castle furnished with tasteful furniture from Design Out Of Reach, and a solar-powered car that could run at up to 100 MPH, and a large-screen TV that received over a hundred channels. More importantly, she could do anything a princess might want to do: she was an excellent surfer, a renowned aerialist, a prolific painter and a skilled welder.

Despite all these possessions and talents, however, the princess was unhappy. She had no shortage of ladies-in-waiting, royal cousins, minions and exotic pets. And yet the princess was terribly, terribly lonely.

When she drove her solar-powered car sharply around a bend in the local mountain road, she wanted to share her triumph with someone who understood the difficulty of maintaining control at high speeds. When she finished watching the latest episode of Real Princesses of Forest County, she wanted to compare notes with someone else who cared about Forest County’s shocking disregard for landscaping standards. When she managed to weld an exceptionally complex set of spires onto her balcony, she wanted to show it off to someone who appreciated the quality of her craftsmanship.

The king and queen could see that their daughter was unhappy, so they did what any normal set of royal parents do when faced with a lonely princess: they looked for a lonely prince. After all, the princess wasn’t getting any younger, and while all that surfing and trapeze work certainly helped her keep a lovely figure, the welding ensured that her once-delicate hands now showed their age. Find her a prince now, they figured, while she’s still got her looks, and that will provide her with all the companionship she could want.

The royal parents didn’t know a lot about prince-finding, but luckily the princess had a fairy godmother who was quite worldly and kept up with things. This fairy godmother gave the king and queen all the latest advice on how to look for a prince, and helped them formulated their proclamation:

Every prince needs his princess!
Carriage rides are meant for two. Find your happily ever after with a princess who has it all: looks, talent and a fast, environmentally sensitive car. If you’re sensitive, clever, well-mannered, considerate, passionate, charming, as kind as you’re handsome, and heir to a throne then this could be the princess for you. Send an intro and recent portrait to @lonelyprincess15.

The castle was soon deluged by the emissaries of distant princes who were hoping for an introduction, and nearby princes who’d ridden over to see this princess for themselves. The princess consented to spend an afternoon with a prince who shared her passion for circus arts, but was disappointed to discover he enjoyed clowning rather than trapeze. She agreed to let another prince watch the big game on her large-screen TV, but found that high def merely intensified the boredom of watching cricket. She had some hope for a prince who professed his passion for both welding and surfing, but found herself questioning his intellect when he turned up with a handmade iron surfboard.

All these princes left the princess lonelier than ever. To meet so many potential mates who shared one or two of her interests, and then to realize that she would never find someone who shared all of them: well, the princess couldn’t bring herself to choose. She withdrew into her hobbies, and told her parents that if she couldn’t share all of her passions, she’d rather rely on her inner resources and come to terms with a lifetime of isolation.

The king and queen had heard of princesses who took that kind of self-reliant attitude, and they knew it could lead to poetry writing or even Buddhism. Why, there hadn’t been a Buddhist in their family in fourteen generations! They weren’t going to let it happen on their watch.

Just when the entire court was near despair, the tower watch reported that two royal parties had been spotted in the distant hills. But this time, the suitors were not mere princes: they were full-fledged kings!

When the two kings arrived at the castle, the king and queen hastened to look them over. One king was dark and handsome; his crest featured a blue bird. The other king was fair and shy; his crest showed a simple silhouette of a man’s face.

The Bird King kept his introduction brief. “I am the king of a new kingdom. I promise the princess a lifetime of conversation.”

The Face King cleared his throat, and launched into a monologue. “My kingdom is already established. I am simply new to these lands. I promise the princess a lifetime of friendship. Also private messaging,
photos, groups, blogging and a wall where her friends can leave her public messages.”

The king and queen were impressed by the eloquent simplicity of the Bird King, and awed by the riches promised by the Face King. Surely both kings were at least worthy of an introduction to the princess herself! The princess was brought into the throne room, where she posed her own questions to the would-be matches.

“Can you keep up with me on a mountain drive?” she asked.

“Just say the word NASCAR and you’ll have trouble keeping up with ME,” the Bird King said.

“Spend your life in my kingdom, and a world of drivers can become your friends,” countered the Face King.

“And will you be able to appreciate my accomplishments as a surfer, aerialist and welder?” the princess next demanded.

“When you give word of your latest feat, it will echo across the land,” promised the Bird King.

“The news of each and every achievement will be shared not only with me but all of your friends, so that they may tell you how they like it,” said the Face King.

“And will you even keep me company when I watch the Real Princesses of Forest County?” the princess asked.

The Bird King smiled. “In my kingdom, you will hear from the Real Princesses themselves.”

The Face King matched him. “With me, you will be able to discuss every aspect of the Real Princesses in excruciating detail, and know that you will always find a response that is just as passionate.”

For the first time in many moons, the princess felt the faintest glimmer of hope that her loneliness might yet be cured. But her fairy godmother knew that such a cure did not come easily; it fell to her to pose the questions that the princess and her parents had not thought to ask.

“Why is there no princess who yet graces your kingdom?” she asked the two nobles.

“Our kingdom is still in beta,” said the Bird King.

“It’s complicated,” said the Face King.

“Are your subjects wise or foolish?” the godmother asked.

“As in your land, we have both,” the Bird King replied. “The princess may choose who she will heed.”

“We too have all manner of subject,” said the Face King. “The princess may find groups as wise and talented as she is. She may even choose to become friends with only those she holds in highest esteem. Of course, that’s not how most people do it.”

“And I must ask: are either of you currently under any curses, cease and desist orders, or other functional limitations?”

Both Kings paled.

“Those in our land must speak briefly,” answered the Bird King. “When the princess shares her joys or sorrows, her words will vanish near as quick as they are uttered.”

“The princess will be free to speak her mind, to wander the kingdom, to befriend those who amuse her: in short, to enjoy all the liberties she has here,” the Face King said.  “But she must know that everything she does will be reported to me, and that her stories will become my stories for all eternity.”

The king and queen sighed. How could they ask the princess to accept either king, knowing that each suffered from so dire a curse? Surely, the princess was destined to remain lonely forever. Her parents steeled themselves for an onslaught of tears, moping and Alannis Morisette.

But to their amazement, the princess wore a shining smile.

“Dear kings, I am honored and humbled by the riches you promise,” she said, holding out her hands to the two men. They each clasped one of her rough hands in theirs. “But I can not become your queen.”

“Bird King, the eloquence of your people and the abundance of your conversation warms my heart. I would know the pleasure of sharing each of life’s joys with those who share that passion!”

“Face King, I can only imagine the love and kindness of a kingdom in which each subject has so many friends. I would know the joy of friendship myself, and feel my friends beside me at every moment!”

The princess paused, and gently withdrew her hands from the kings’ grasp.

“But I can not give my whole life to either of your kingdoms. To speak in so few words, when my heart is bursting with volumes…Bird King, that is no fate for me. And Face King, my stories can not be your stories; some must be guarded for me alone, or shared with all the world instead.”

The two kings now looked as forlorn and worried as the king and queen.

“If I can not be your queen,” the princess continued, “I would yet be your subject. Bird King, permit me to live in your kingdom by day: to share my news with the world, and to find in your kingdom a voice and companion for every one of my own passions. Face King, permit me to live in your kingdom by night: to review my day with those few friends I choose from among your good subjects, and with whom I shall share only the stories I would permit you to keep.”

Most kings balk when a potential queen rejects them. But both of these kings were busy building their kingdoms, and disinclined to turn away any potential subject, especially one as influential as a princess. They gave their assent, and each provided the princess with a lengthy contractual agreement that she asked her fairy godmother to read for her. (Unbeknownst to the princess, her fairy godmother nodded off while reading, so the royal family never did know exactly what they agreed to.) With the documents signed, the princess embarked on her new life, and promised her parents that she would make regular visits to her home kingdom.

As she had hoped, the princess was no longer lonely. In the land of the Bird King she had conversations about welding with her fellow ironworkers, compared watercolor techniques with her fellow painters, and was regularly mentioned by one of the Real Princesses of Forest County. In the land of the Face King her wall was constantly festooned with well wishes, and as the King himself had predicted, she acquired a large circle of friends, not all of whom she actually knew. In fact she had so many conversations and so many friends that she ceased to be known as the Lonely Princess, and was universally recognized by her new title: the Social Princess.

The princess never broke a promise, so she continued to visit her parents in the kingdom of her birth even as she spent more and more time in the kingdoms of the Face King and the Bird King. Her parents thought the arrangement slightly peculiar, and like many parents wished the princess would spend more time with them, but on the whole they were relieved that the princess was happy and hadn’t turned out to be a poet or a Buddhist.

But the princess herself sometimes wondered what it would have been like to meditate.

*Circa 2006.

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