Once upon a time there lived an ugly Prince. The Prince was so ugly that the King and Queen had no other children, for fear that they would be even uglier than their only son. Soon after his birth the hideous figure of the infant Prince became so untoward that the King and Queen could hardly bear to look at the child. The Royal couple placed him in the care of a wet nurse, Frieda. At first, bereft by the sudden loss of her firstborn, Frieda overlooked the dismal visage of the infant Prince. But the ugly Prince was so revolting that over time he curdled the milk in Frieda’s breasts. The wet nurse had a woodwright carve a long straw so that the infant Prince could be suckled in one room while Frieda milked in a corner of the chamber behind a wood and ivory screen. When the tiny Prince began to walk, all the palace doors were locked so that he would not toddle in and surprise others with his dreadful appearance. Mirrors were taken down and locked away in the Royal Bed Chamber. Servants were tasked with dulling all the metal in the palace so that the baby Prince could only see a blurry and distorted image of himself. The palace staff taught themselves to see the ugly Prince without actually looking into his face, so that they could cater to his needs.


By the time the ugly Prince was old enough to learn to ride his horse, the animal had to be hooded before the child could mount, else the steed would have bucked and run. His Royal Guards, like the palace staff, learned to protect him without beholding his terrible face. Both rank and his appearance caused the ugly Prince to grow in isolation. When others had need to speak to the Prince he found that they looked at his shoulder, his hand, his tunic, his feet— anywhere but his face. Though grossly unattractive, the Prince was bright and observant and noted that the way people spoke to him was markedly different from how they spoke to each other. During the increasingly rare court functions he was by ritual forced to attend, he saw that even when others spoke to his Royal parents they looked at their faces and not away from their visages, the way they would with him.


Growing up this way, the Prince came to believe that there was something remarkably wrong with him. He had no friends, no playmates, no one his own age to talk with, and especially, no one to confide secrets in. Slowly, he accepted that whatever there was about him that caused people to shun him was a burden he would have to live with, alone. Thus, over time, being by himself became natural to him. He recognized that if he were to have fun and find joy in his life then he would have no recourse but to do so by himself. There was only one activity the ugly Prince loved above all others. He loved the sea. Each and every day, no matter the weather, he rode through the Royal Forest and down to the water’s edge. Waves and spume and the constant sea-song gave the Prince a sense of belonging that he never felt in the castle.


For all his youthful acceptance of his appearance, the ugly Prince had the inborn longing to win his parents’ approval, and yet he could find no means of realizing his dream. When the Prince was eight-years-old, he decided that if he could become a warrior he would win his parents’ approval. Inspired by the Royal paintings, medallions, and the tapestries lining the palace walls and halls, he aspired to battle, and to win glory and honor. He began to take a stout wooden sword with him when he would journey on horseback. Riding out virtually alone to the seacoast. the King and Queen had no fear for the Prince, since they knew that their child was so ugly that no one would willingly approach him. There was also the silent and vigilant Royal Guard to assure them of his safety.


Alone on the beach, the child would dismount and pretend that he was in mortal combat. With his wooden sword he would battle his way through deadly enemies and emerge triumphant. Some of the Royal Guard would smile at his childish attempts to play the hero. Most kept their eyes averted for fear of inadvertently seeing his face. In his mind the victorious Prince would make believe that his father would embrace him and proclaim his love, admiration and respect for his only son. But when the Season of Passage dawned, the time during which the young nobles who deigned to enter the Discipline of Steel were chosen, the Prince was absent from the field. He was afraid that, since no one would look at him, this would give him an unfair advantage. He was also afraid of failure. He dreaded the very idea of not pleasing his father, so quivering with self-doubt, the ugly Prince sat in the Grey Tower, alone. The child listened to the sounds below in the courtyard, and tears welled in his eyes.


“I am such an ugly child,” the Prince moaned, “there is nothing that I can do right.” His face turned towards the dark brown wooden rafters as he assumed the blame for all the trials in his life. The Prince had come to fully believe that the reason no one ever looked at him was that he had done something wrong, or at the least nothing right; or he forgot to do something; or he could have done something that would have changed the way his parents, and everyone else, treated him. But whichever pathway his young mind walked, he always assumed the fault lay within himself.


Unaware of their son’s state of mind, the melancholy air surrounding the ugly Prince was taken as a sign of his intellectual desire. George of the Tumbled Tower was hired as the boy’s tutor. Though the child learned his lessons, he showed no outstanding ability. The tutor soon began to leave books for his student to read by himself while the teacher busied himself in the castle’s library. The Prince found solace in the grand sprawling epics, and would take his books to the seashore to escape. The Epic of the Weary Dragon was has favorite, though he had questions and doubts about the idea of passion. He feared to ask George. feeling that the tutor might deem him slowwitted for not understanding. So the Prince’s questions were tossed out into the open sea, where they floundered and remained unanswered.


Theugly Prince’s solitary forays through the woods were often discussed by his parents, and in the council chambers. As the kingdom’s sole royal offspring, the prospects of his marriage were planned, or rather unplanned, since the council found the contracting of their Prince impossible to achieve. News, rumor, and gossip had spread across the land and had grown in the telling. Though the Prince’s ugly features were almost impossible to exaggerate, cooks spoke of a ripe, carrot-length nose; weavers told of his sparse, lank, black hair; cordwainers talked of his single black eyebrow; cobblers spoke of knobby feet; carpenters told of his gangly hands; and the livery drivers talked about his bony shoulders. The parts, separate, had become stories unto themselves, but the whole was a marvel of an unattractive Prince.


Still, the council was faced with the task of finding a suitable candidate for marriage, one who would overlook the ugly Prince’s appearance. No one was to be found. Not the gap-toothed Griselda, not the knock-kneed Jenna, not the obese Sara, not the albino Bronwyn, nor the birth-marked Winifred. The council soon began to wonder at the kingdom’s future. With no marriage for their only ugly Prince, the image of a civil war began to worry the council. For the Prince to take the throne and not to produce an heir would, upon his death, fling open the door to the power-seeking nobles.


All these concerns were unknown to the ugly Prince as he would ride down to the sea. Though no one ever mentioned the Prince’s ugly appearance to him, he knew, deep inside himself, that there was something not quite right with him. The Prince felt the distance that grew between himself and others; he felt the dread of isolation, and the fear of being utterly alone without knowing how to reach across the abyss and bridge the distance. The Prince felt that there had to be something he could do to change his life, his future, his sorrow. Yet, when he tried to envisage how he might change, he found himself stuck for answers, for the Prince simply could not bring himself to step beyond the perceptions of others.


Time slid by and the ugly Prince came out of his youth. The years had done nothing to help. The ugly Prince remained ugly, and over time he came to harden his heart so as to bear his solitude. His ugly face took on an even more grim tone as he rarely, if ever, smiled or laughed. He kept his ugly face as stony as he could, so as not to betray the anguish in his heart.


There came a day, as the Prince was perched upon his mount riding through the forest, when he encountered a wounded pup. Beneath the arms of a hawthorn tree, the dog looked up at the riding party. Holding up his hand to forestall the Royal Guard, the Prince studied the animal. The Royal Guard watched in silence as he dismounted and approached the whimpering animal. There was a drying line of blood above the animal’s front right leg. Among the roots of the hawthorn was a smattering of red droplets. Looking about, the Prince could find no littermates, nor a mother. The pup, like the ugly Prince, was alone.


Cradling the pup in his cloak, the ugly Prince brushed at its russet short fur. A raspy tongue flicked out and licked his hand. The touch tickled him, and the ugly Prince smiled for the first time in years. He scratched the pup behind the ears and a happy whine echoed the Prince’s movements. With one last look around, and finding no other dogs to whom the pup might belong, the Prince shifted the pup in his hands and remounted.


Once back in the palace, the ugly Prince had water fetched and bathed the pup, cleaning the wound. On the flesh under the fur was an image of what looked to the Prince to be a small heart held by two hands. Tenderly, the Prince washed the pup. He was amazed at how happily the pup responded. In all his memories, these were the first set of eyes that had looked at him directly. The pup showed no revulsion, no dismay at the Prince’s appearance. Instead, the animal gladly licked his face and nuzzled his hands. The feelings inside the Prince were new, unexpected. Never before had he experienced such freely given affection. As the pup gleefully shook bathwater from his flanks, he sprayed the Prince, who laughed so loudly that the Royal Guard burst into his chamber. Since they had never heard the Prince laugh they mistook the sound for something more nefarious. The Royal Guards, seeing their mistake, were also amazed at the effect the pup seemed to have on the Prince.

The aging King and Queen were informed. In their turn they too were at a loss for how a tiny pup seemed to have changed their only child. For the first time in long years the Royal couple entered the ugly Prince’s suite. As quietly as possible, they approached. They were delighted and astonished. Their son no longer seemed so hideous. His laughter was like music to their ears.


The Prince and the pup became inseparable. In his bliss the Prince named the pup Gaudium, which is the very essence of joy. He came at last to have a glimmer of what the word love meant. Though he had read that one word many times, and had an inkling of what the meaning alluded to, the Prince had never felt that experience. Now with Gaudium, he started to feel something beyond himself, something bigger and more marvelous.


They would go into the Royal Forest and track animals, not for the hunt but for the joy of discovery. Other times they would meander along the shore, the pup dancing in and out of the ever-lapping waves. Finally, the Prince had someone to whom he could talk to, someone to whom he could unburden himself of his cares and woes and not fear rejection or disdain.


The palace was astounded at the apparent change in their Prince. Many began to whisper of an enchantment. The Royal Wardens never found any other pups or dogs that had the coloring of Gaudium. They managed to track a set of small paw prints near the tree where the pup had been found, but the trail slipped into the sea. Where the dog had come from remained a mystery, and this fed the ideas in league with the arcane and the fey. Indeed, some speculated that the pup was a magical creature, perhaps lost in the Wild Hunt. But all agreed that whatever the cause the result was, ultimately, to the good.


On rainy days the Prince and Gaudium would look through the tomes of knowledge and lore. Though the fur had grown over the image near the dog’s leg, the Prince felt the need to understand what the symbol meant. So on those drear days he sought the image’s meaning until, at last, he discovered a clue in a tattered scroll that spoke of the Union of Fey and Folk. At the end of the text was imprinted the same symbol, a sign and a pledge of love. From that day there was a seed of doubt within the Prince. Now he wished he had never discovered the meaning, for that image clearly spoke of a love that had come to be before the Prince had found Gaudium.


Yet, as the Prince entered into early adulthood and the pup became a dog who was always at the Prince’s side, there was contentment and peace in the kingdom. Even the council found that there were now some petitions for a possible marriage contract. The future of the kingdom looked bright.


But there came a morning when the Prince and Gaudium were on the shore, when they saw a strange sail approaching the strand. They paused as the canvas belled and came ever nearer. The Royal Guard also noted the strange craft. No longer disturbed by being near the ugly Prince, they formed a cordon around their liege and his dog. With weapons poised they waited. Fear of the unknown radiated from them as the canvas slumped and the craft shuddered against the strand.


A figure appeared behind the jutting prow: a young woman. The sun dazzled and glistened on the long curls of her auburn hair that seemed the same shade as Gaudium’s fur. At the throat of the slim young woman was a necklace of lace and mother-of-pearl that wafted in the breeze. Even from where he stood, the Prince could see that the mother-of-pearl was in the same form as the image on Gaudium. In a fluid move she leapt over the rail and landed softly on the shore. She smiled and the world was brighter for it. Her lips parted and the soft low sound of a single word, “Carus” came forth, carried on the soft wind. In response, the dog at the Prince’s side yelped. She opened her arms and Gaudium skipped away from the Prince. With a last bound the dog was in her arms. As she brushed his soft fur, the Prince could hear the wonder and delight from deep within his canine companion.


A slow reverent movement of her of head followed. The young woman’s nod toward the Prince may have been a gesture of thanks. Her long hair gleamed in the sunlight and eclipsed her face; in that second the Prince felt the light go out of his world. He knew in his soul that he had lost something dear, something so precious that it was beyond his ability to fully comprehend. The young woman lifted the dog in the cradle of her arms. With a happy yip, Gaudium licked at her face.


Standing still, the Royal Guard was caught in the moment, and with their Prince they watched as the young woman turned back to face the waves. In the blink of an eye she had leapt back aboard her craft, taking the dog onboard with her. In the next blink, the wind shifted, the canvas stirred and caught. The craft moved off the shore. Tears started in the ugly Prince’s eyes, then flowed, slipping through the ruin of his cheeks; then the Prince’s face crumpled.


The ride back to the palace was completed in utter silence. The Prince could find no words to explain his sense of loss. Nor was his Royal Guard able find a way to explain what they had witnessed, and why they were powerless to stop it.


Sorrow surrounded the Prince. With Gaudium lost, he no longer went into the Royal Forest, nor down to the shore. Rumors and whispers of magic, of the fey, of spells and enchantments once again swirled around the palace. None of those words reached the Prince. The King and Queen did their best to help their son overcome his loss. But there was no breaching the despair that sank into the Prince’s heart. In a matter of days the Prince’s face again turned so repugnant that others nearly wept. With darkness and grief once more washing his heart, the Prince became more and more isolated.


The days lengthened to weeks, and still the Prince was distraught. He lamented that the one creature to whom he had been able to open up his heart, the one creature to whom he could unreservedly give his love, had been lost. He could not understand the relationship of the young woman and Gaudium. He even sought answers in old musty tomes of magic and lore. Nothing could explain to his heart the feeling of despair.


Finally, in the grip of regret and loss, the Prince with unseeing eyes slipped one day just before dawn from the palace by himself. He again traversed the Royal Forest and made his way to the shore. Greenery and the early stirrings of the forest world mocked his loss. He saw only the past, and experienced the devastation of trust denied, of love unfulfilled. The future gestured with empty hands and drear smiles. Life no longer had any meaning, no aim, no purpose, nothing. In that void, the ugly Prince saw only his failed reflection. “No escape”, spoke a voice inside of him.


A painful past. A lusterless future. The ugly Prince stared out across the white caps, his eyes wet with spume.

“Why?” he asked the merciless waters. The surging waters of the retreating tide silently taunted him in its reply.

Come and see.”


The words seeped into his mind. The water waited. Abandoning what little hope he clung to, the ugly Prince answered. He walked out into the thrashing, unforgiving waves, never to be seen again.

William Rednour was awarded his doctorate in 1999 in Early Modern European History by the CUNY Graduate Center. He’s taught at CCNY since 1994, and also at Fordham, New York Technical. He has happily taught at SVA for nearly fourteen years.