There was once a lady who had a daughter so beautiful and sweet-tempered the best of creatures could not hold a candle to her. The knowledge that she had brought this wonder into the world filled the lady with such exquisite happiness, she died.
The little girl grew lovelier with every passing day. Her flaxen hair sparkled as sunlight, her ruby lips grew wanton and plump, and in the corner of her eye a frozen tear sparkled with the brilliance of a diamond.
The child’s father was quick to take a second wife, a scheming woman as slippery as the ice around her heart. She brought two daughters of her own who were coarse and brazen and suckled on the venom of their mother.
Hatred of her new step-daughter caused the mother’s tongue to lash and scold. Jealously of their new step-sibling caused the sisters’ nails to claw and scratch. But nothing they said or did could shake that diamond tear from the girl’s eye. She stood serene and gracious and smiled forgiveness as the blows rained down upon her.
So they took her jewels, tore her clothes and beat her until she lay naked in the ashes of the hearth place, but still the degradation did not diminish her allure.
A proclamation throughout the kingdom required all the eligible young ladies to attend a ball. The prince needed a wife, and all the single women were bidden to dress in their finest clothes and present themselves for his pleasure.
The step-mother knew the value of things, and to her daughters’ cries of protest she said, ‘Hold your tongues, you silly girls. Marriage is a small price to pay for the keys to a kingdom.’
Like a general in a war room, the step-mother put into action her plans for conquering the prince’s heart. Her daughters were plucked, waxed, and tutored in seductive arts as their step-sister sewed their gowns and dressed their hair.
When they were ready, a carriage of solid gold came to collect them. ‘You will come behind in the dog cart, said the step-mother, snapping her fingers in the wretched girl’s face.
‘But I can’t go to the ball. I’m dirty and naked,’ said the girl.
‘You appear as you deserve to appear,’ replied the step-mother, coldly. Inside the carriage, her daughters laughed heartily for their step-sister’s humiliation would be complete.
At the palace, the prince inspected the lines of curtseying ladies, greeting each and everyone with renewed enthusiasm. The queen, a wise-woman who knew a little magic, saw her son had a weakness for ladies of easy virtue and had taken the precaution of rubbing an enchantment into his eyes so he would see the beauty of the soul above all else.
An appalled hush descended upon the great hall as a dirty, little wretch appeared in the doorway. Some began to snigger, and some began to jeer. Astonished cries of ‘But she’s got no clothes on!’ rang out through the great stone arches. Only the prince stood transfixed as if looking through a kaleidoscope at heaven, for he saw at once the beauty of the poor girl’s soul.
Ignoring all others, he took the girl by the arm and led her out of the hall into a moonlit garden. He enfolded her in his arms in ecstasy, and there she was loved.
But as the clock struck midnight, the girl saw with horror that she had become something squalid in his eyes. The queen’s enchantment had worn off, and what he had enjoyed now repulsed him. He stretched every sinew of his good breeding not to physically push her away. After bidding her the briefest goodbye, the prince hurried back to the ball.
Alone in the darkness, the diamond tear fell from the girl’s eye as a barren winter crept into her heart. It fell against the belly where the prince had lain, and where the girl felt the stirrings of new life begin. Tenderness gave way to something more pragmatic, and she began to plot and scheme as to how they’d both survive.