IT WAS PROCLAIMED throughout the kingdom of Granada that the king had decided to marry. First, the news was first told to the court barber, then to the night watchmen, and then to the oldest women in the city.
The barber told all his customers, who again told all their friends. The night watchmen, in crying the hour, proclaimed the news in a loud voice, so that all the maidens were kept awake by thinking of the news.
By day, the old women constantly reminded the young that the king had decided to marry.
The question was posed, “How will the king choose a wife?” To which the royal barber replied: “To find a worthy woman, I am afraid I shall have great trouble.”
“What, you?” exclaimed all of them. “What have you got to do with providing the king with a wife?”
“I am the only man permitted to rub the royal features,” said he. “And what’s more, I have a magic mirror. If any woman who is not thoroughly good should look into the mirror, the blemishes on her character will appear as so many spots on its glossy surface.”
“Is this one of the conditions?” asked all.
“That is the only condition,” replied the royal barber, placing his thumbs in the armholds of his waistcoat and looking very wise.
“Is there no limit as to age?” they again inquired.
“Any woman from eighteen years upwards is eligible,” said the possessor of the magic mirror.
“Then you will have every woman in Granada claiming the right to be queen!” all exclaimed.
“But they will have to justify their claim,” said he. “Each woman will have to gaze into the mirror, with me by her side.”
The one condition imposed on those who wanted to become queen of Granada was made known. Many laughed, as may naturally be supposed, but strange to say, no woman came forward to the barber to have a look into the mirror.
Days and weeks went by, and the king was no closer to getting a wife. Some ladies would try to convince their lady friends to go before the mirror, but none seemed willing to take the step.
The king, you should know, was a very handsome man, and was beloved by all his subjects for his many virtues. Therefore it was surprising that none of the lovely ladies who attended court should try to become his wife.
Many excuses and explanations were given. Some were already engaged to be married. Others claimed to be too proud to enter the barber’s shop. Still others assured their friends that they had decided it would be better to stay single.
It was soon noticed that no man in Granada would marry, since until the king was married, it would not be at all appropriate for them think of marrying, though the real problem was that no ladies were coming forward to look into the mirror.
The fathers of families were much annoyed at the apparent lack of ambition in their daughters, while the mothers were strangely silent on the matter.
Every morning the king would ask the barber if any young lady had come forward to look into the mirror, but the answer was always the same – that many watched his shop to see if others went inside, but none had ventured in herself.
“Ah, Granada, Granada!” exclaimed the king. “Is there no maiden in this land willing to offer herself to be the bride of the king? Kings I know in other lands have no trouble getting married. Why is this happening to me?
“Barber!” shouted the king, “you shall get me a wife as bright as the day, as pure as dew, and as good as gold – one who shall not be afraid to look into your magic mirror!”
“Your Majesty,” replied the barber, “There is one possibility. The shepherdess on the mountainside may brave the magic power of the mirror, but would you marry such a lowly one?”
“Bid her to come,” answered the king. “In the presence of my assembled court, let the shepherdess look into the mirror, after you have told her of the risk of doing so.”
Soon the barber had brought the shepherdess to court. It was proclaimed throughout the city that a trial was going to be made, and so the royal hall was soon filled with all the grand ladies and knights of the king’s household.
When the shepherdess entered the royal presence, she felt very shy at being surrounded by so much grandeur. The king was very pleased with her appearance, and received her kindly, telling her that if she desired to be his wife she would have to gaze into the magic mirror. If she had done anything which was not consistent with a good and virtuous character, the mirror would show as many stains on its surface as there might be blemishes in her past.
“Sir,” replied the maiden, “everyone makes mistakes and I am no different. I’ve made mistakes with my flock but I think they must forgive me because every day they let me take care of them and if they sense danger, they come to me for protection. I love my sheep and do my best for them. Truly I have no ambition to become queen, and I dare say I cannot say if you and I are a match for a lifetime. Still, I am not afraid to look into that magic mirror.”
Saying this, she walked up to the mirror and gazed into it, blushing slightly, perhaps at the sight of her own reflection.
The court ladies surrounded her. When they saw that the magic mirror showed no stains on its surface, they snatched it from her, passing the mirror from one to another. Why, the mirror simply showed the reflection, as any mirror would do. They exclaimed, “Look! There is no magic in this mirror – a trick has been put on us!”
But the king said, “No ladies, you have only yourselves to thank. For had you been as confident as this shepherdess, who was not afraid to see her own reflection whatever that may show, and who will be my queen if she so desires it, then you, too, would not have dreaded to look into the mirror.”