Once upon a time there was a beautiful, kind and sensitive princess named Robyn. She spent her days visiting the kingdom’s hospital, where sad men and women came to rest when life became too overwhelming. She sat beside their beds, held their hands, and told them stories she created from her imagination.
Princess Robyn always looked immaculate, from her shiny blonde hair piled into an elegant bun to her expensive handbag. But most of all she was known for her shoes, for it seemed she never wore the same pair twice. They were typically extremely high and encrusted with jewels. She had them custom-made by an ancient shoemaker who lived next to the gates of the castle.
By the end of each day, Princess Robyn’s feet were in excruciating pain. Her shoes pinched and rubbed her toes, and her calves ached from standing.
‘Why don’t you wear something more comfortable?’ her father, the King asked one night when Princess Robyn limped into the dining room for dinner.
Before she’d had a chance to answer, her mother, the Queen snorted dismissively.
‘Don’t be ridiculous,’ said the Queen. ‘Robyn’s feet are hideous. There is no way anyone wants to see that.’ The Queen looked down at her own feet clad in similar, if not quite as elaborate, high-heel pumps. ‘It’s the family curse,’ she continued, ‘a burden the women of this family all have to bear.’
Every night, long after the servants had gone to bed, Princess Robyn slipped off her shoes and gazed at her misshapen toes covered in bunions and blisters. Even faced with such ugliness, she couldn’t contain her relieved sigh. The pain in her feet and ankles eased, and by the time she got into to bed, it was almost gone, lessened at least until she got dressed the next morning.
Princess Robyn endured the pain for years. Sometimes she went to the apothecary for an ointment which gave her some relief, but after a few weeks, the effect wore off and the sharp, sickening pain returned. She wished she could simply stop wearing her tight, restrictive shoes completely but for a woman with such a shameful secret, it just wasn’t possible.
One dark night, in the middle of winter, long after everyone else in the castle had gone to sleep, Princess Robyn took a carving knife from the kitchen and sliced off her feet. When the King and Queen found her the next morning, Princess Robyn was dead, the sheets on her bed soaked with blood, her amputated body parts on the floor.
‘At least she’s at peace now,’ said the Queen, through her tears. ‘Her pain is over.’
The King couldn’t speak, grief holding his words hostage in his throat.
The people of the kingdom sang the praises of Princess Robyn for weeks. They left messages of love and sympathy at the gates of the castle and renamed one of the hospital wards in her honour. The shoemaker displayed a painting of Princess Robyn in the window of his shop. Once a week, until his own death from a heart attack, he tucked fresh flowers into the frame surrounding his best customer’s smiling face.
When finally the King’s voice returned, he called everyone together and addressed his kingdom.
‘The size and the shape of your feet doesn’t matter,’ he said, tears pricking at the corners of his eyes. ‘If your shoes are hurting you, take them off. We would rather you be yourself and be happy, than be in pain. There is no shame in being less than perfect.’
Although the people nodded and cheered in agreement, no one was listening. They had heard about a princess from the land across the sea who was rumoured to be coming for a visit. And from what they had been told, she wore a garment that made her waist as small as that of a child.
And in spite of their sadness for Princess Robyn, the people could hardly contain their excitement.