Pretty princesses all in a row dancing in the garden, the youngest spies a butterfly and follows it down a path through daisies and dahlias, past a pretty pond and underneath a dogwood tree. She comes to a little gate and knows full well that she should stop here but the butterfly continues its dance just on the other side and so glancing around she slips through the gate and follows. She glances back nervously but she then continues on her way. With no intention of going too far, after all the sweet smell of the lilacs is here so how far can she be from the king’s garden really.
The butterfly stops, seemingly to wait for her just at the edge of a small stand of trees and as she draws near to it, the butterfly dances around her making her laugh. It alights for just a moment on her sleeve and then makes its way into the trees and she follows. The sunlight shines through the leaves here and there and the butterfly makes its way from one patch of light to the next, as she follows the little dress catches on one branch and then another tearing small holes in her dress unnoticed by the little princess. The butterfly leads her deep her into the woods as it flies further she tries running faster and faster to catch it and trips over a rock and cuts her knee. Falling down a small embankment into a pile of wet leaves, dirty and damp she arises realizing that she has lost her way and the light is beginning to fade.
Panic stricken, she runs as fast and as hard as she can back towards where she thinks her home may be but all the trees look the same. She begins to cry and wishes she had not chosen to follow the butterfly but its too late. Her dress in tatters, dirty and hungry she comes upon some children in the forest. They offer to share some of their food with her. She eats and drinks with them and in the dark and the cold they let her lay with them and they keep her warm.
Morning comes and all the children are discovered out in the wood and led by those who do not care of their innocents or their needs and lead the children to dark places where they are hurt and harried. The little girl insists that she is a princess but they mock her. The call her princess but treat her in ways that leave her broken and bleeding. She still has choices but she does what she must to get what she needs, a bit of comfort, a crust of bread, warmth on a cold night.
“If you are a princess why would you be here?” they ask. “A true princess would never leave the palace, a place of safety and wealth. You are not a princess.” She believes them after awhile. Wondering if she ever really was a princess, they mock her further, “They would never take you back even if you had been a princess, look at you!” She sees the tattered dress, her dirty bruised body and she believes them.
She wanders the streets in search of bits of food, holding out her hand in hopes of compassion from the passers by but they are too busy with their lives to be concerned about yet another beggar. Knowing that her own choices have brought her too this place she does not know how to return to the palace. What if she did would they welcome her back or close the door leaving her rejected on the street? If she went back in this broken state where unspeakable things have occurred would she be accepted again as a princess? No, the little princess does not believe so. She continues to wander along in a state of despair for far too long.
One day as the little princess wanders down a dirty path she comes to a high wall, she hears laughter on the other side and smells the lilacs. Could this be home? She follows the wall around and down and comes to a stand of trees and then a small gate. Fearfully, quietly she opens the gate and slips inside. She makes her way up a familiar path beneath the dogwood tree, she stops and looks around but sees no one although the laughter of other princesses can be heard. She comes to the pretty pond, but her reflection makes her stop. She cannot go in. She tries to wash away the dirt but her own efforts to clean herself up are useless. In despair she turns slipping away back out into the streets.
“You’ve chosen to come back to us instead of going to your palace.” They laugh at her. She made the choices how can she ever return? Too many bad choices and time slips away. But the streets are not kind, and one night when the hunger is too great and the despair too deep she makes her way back to the palace. Knocking on the door and waiting, wondering, worrying about the rejection she almost slips away again. Finally the door opens and she walks in. When she tells them who she is it takes only a moment for the King to pick her up and hold her close. She weeps with joy at the welcome and hugs him back.
She is given a bath and new clothes. Delicious food is brought to her and there is music and dancing and laughter. She is home. But she was followed here and those who know her secrets begin to torment her.
“You chose to walk away. You chose to do those things. If they knew they would send you away.” The whispers come unbidden, in the night, during the day, in the quiet moments, she can even hear them when she is singing and dancing before the king and she believes them. Her joy of returning now shrouded in fear that her secrets would be revealed. Would they send her away? Would they mock her? Would they hate her? Would they know that she really was not a princess? The king takes note of her sadness and draws her close.
“Why so sad pretty one?” He asks but she cannot even begin to whisper the truth. So she shakes her head and tries to smile. He holds her close but after awhile she slips away. Miserable in the palace, unwilling to return to the streets she tries to be good enough. But good enough never seems to make up for bad choices and so her sorrow continues.
One night the king comes to her room. He sits on the side of her bed as he has done many times before. She is not asleep this time though, and she hears him start to sing over her. The words just a whisper but the comfort in them complete.
“Your are my daughter, the one that I love. Lost for a while, in places not far where you have bee battered and broken and bruised. You wandered away, bad choices you made and others have taken your heart and control. But you are my daughter, the one that I love, bad choices won’t change that at all. I longed for your presence. Dwell here close to me. Find comfort and peace, sustenance and joy. You are my daughter, the one that I love know it is true. Dwell richly with me here set apart. Don’t believe whispers, or rumors or lies, no longer chained but set free, no matter what comes I will hold you near I have you right here in my heart. You are my daughter, the one that I love dwell here close to me.”