The plow horse and the princess

There once was a queen who was sovereign over a modest but prosperous queendom. On the day her daughter came of age, the Queen took her daughter aside and showed her the source of her prosperity.

In the stables, far from prying eyes, was a broken old horse wearing a worn leather bridle with a rusty iron bit. The horse’s coat was worn thin in places, his mane falling out, his legs trembling from the effort of keeping himself standing.

‘He’s ready for the knackers, my daughter.’ Said the Queen matter-of-factly. ‘And there he shall go in due course.’

‘This is the horse that built the queendom!’ The princess said. ‘Surely he should have some sort of retirement! And a proper funeral.’

‘No, my daughter. You must respect his role; his role is to sacrifice for us, therefore even in death we respect his role by allowing his body to provide a last benefit. It will be the glue factory if he doesn’t live to make it to the slaughterhouse.’

‘Besides, it is not him that is magic. His bridle is the magic, my daughter. When you place it on a plow horse, the plow horse will be so proud to wear it and so proud that you placed it on him that he will work himself to death to fulfill your needs. It is his pride that makes the magic work; and his pride that gives it its strength.’

With that the Queen lifted the bridle from the old horse’s head. The old horse let out a rattling cough and, trembling, knelt. After a moment even kneeling was too much for him; he lay on its side. A few moments more and his last breath shuddered his broken body like a paper doll on a string.

The Queen watched the horse’s death with a cool detachment.

‘That poor horse.’ Said the princess, dabbing at her eyes with a lace kerchief. ‘He was pitiful.’

The Queen stared at her daughter, her demeanor solemn. ‘Controlling your sentiment is the price of leadership my daughter.’ Replied the Queen. ‘Speaking of which, after you place the bridle upon a horse’s head do not let yourself want it; do not take it off him before you are done with him; above all, do not explain its true nature to him. Now, you must select the horse that will wear your bridle.’

The Queen’s daughter took her time selecting just the right plow horse to wear the bridle. In due course she found a strong, handsome draft horse and all the queendom came to celebrate her placing the bridle upon his head in a great festival.

The princess basked in the adoration of her people as she brought out the bridle and made to place it upon the horse’s head. But soon as the bit hit the back of his tongue, the bridle transformed from worn leather into spun gold and silver, embedded with pearls and rubies.

The princess gasped at the sight of it and so did her people. She glanced around herself; now all eyes were no longer on her, they were on the draft horse. Resentment stirred in the princess’s heart.

Sensing her daughter’s discomfort, the Queen interjected. ‘But lets not forget the woman behind the draft horse.’

The gathered nobles agreed with their queen and toasted the princess’s choice.

True to her mother’s words, when the Princess had a need, the draft horse would provide. When she felt the queendom threatened by northern barbarians, the draft horse built a castle to thwart their ambitions and led the charge to repel them.

When the queendom was gripped with a famine and the princess felt the first stirrings of fear for herself, the draft horse pulled the plow faster and harder than any horse could because of the pride he had for his bridle.

But the princess was not happy. She seethed silently to herself. How the plow horse was admired when he wore the bridle! People would stop and stare and remark on how strong he was and how much he had accomplished. They awarded him titles for his great deeds. And each admiring glance and handsome trophy was a dagger in the princess’s heart.

After all it was her needs he lived to fulfill; her benefit he bowed to; her frailties he sacrificed for.

She should have the bridle! And all the attention given him should be rightfully hers! But remembering her mother’s words, ‘don’t let yourself want it; don’t take it off him until you are done with him; and above all don’t explain its true nature to him’ the princess resisted giving in to her jealousy.

One day a passing dignitary from another land happened to mention the beauty and majesty of the castle built by the plow horse. How wonderful it was and how ingenious the plow horse had been to build it. The plow horse preened under the dignitary’s compliments and the princess fumed. It was enough that her own people admired the plow horse; but must she bear a stranger’s admiration for the plow horse as well?

The princess, unable to contain her anger any longer, cried out, ‘He may have built it, but he built it for me!’ And clomped from the dignitary’s presence.

That night she went to the stable and crept to the horse’s stall. Watching him rest with the handsome bridle—surrounded by all his medals and trophies—bile rose in the princess. ‘Give the bridle to me.’

The plow horse woke and used to giving the princess whatever she needed, dutifully allowed her to grab hold of the bridle.

‘Stupid horse, I let you wear this bridle, but it was always mine. I just used it to control you! And look what you did! You were supposed to live for my needs, but you saved the best in this world for yourself!’ She pulled the bridle from the horse’s head. It turned back into crackled leather and rusted iron in her hands.

She stared at it, dumbstruck and so did the horse.

Once the horse saw the bridle for what it was, old, worn—and above all a bridle—his demeanor changed instantly. He reared up, pawing the air with his great hooves. In her haste to get out of the stall and away from him the princess dropped the bridle.

The stallion turned his head to the stable door. The door was open. In her greed for the bridle the princess had forgotten to secure it. The stallion’s nostrils flared, catching the scent of long night runs, open water and wild grasses.

He bolted through the open stable door, trampling the bridle to pieces in his escape.

The horse gone the princess looked at the cracked leather bridle now laying broken on the ground. Off the horse’s head the magic was gone—there was nothing left in the bridle to want—and she felt a dawning horror as she finally understood her mother’s warning. The bridle’s only real worth was its ability to control the plow horse and she had lost its magic forever.

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