Once upon a time, in a Kingdom far, far away, there was a Princess who never smiled. She had always been that way; never once smiling or even smirking. Because of this, a dark cloud hung over the Kingdom, and the citizens were much more saddened and short-tempered than citizens ought to be. The King could not stand to see his daughter so unhappy. Thus, on her 18th birthday, he decided that he had enough and sought advice from the Witch of the Woodland. This Witch was not a bad Witch; rather, she was wise and used her magic powers for good. She could see into the future, and she would give good advice to people who sought it. The King went to see her at her cottage in the Woods. “What should I do to make my daughter smile for once?” he asked her. The Witch gazed into her crystal ball for about a minute, and then told the King, “You must issue a royal decree; any man who is able to make your daughter smile will be wed to her”. The King was hopeful at this advice from the Witch, and later that day he issued the royal decree.
Many men from all over the Kingdom came to the Royal Palace with the intention of making the Princess smile. Some tried telling jokes that they had heard; others tried complimenting the Princess on her undeniable and profound beauty. There were men who brought her expensive gifts of gold and jewellery, and there were others who simply tried to be funny in their mannerisms and ended up making a fool of themselves before the Royal Court. None of these men were successful; the Princess continued to look dour and downcast, and she clearly disapproved of all of these men. The King was severely disappointed. Then it just so happened that one day, as a dozen more men arrived in the Royal Palace to try their luck, the Princess was nowhere to be found. She had a habit of sneaking off during the day, and the King was growing impatient at her unruliness. This time, however, an unexpected message arrived for the King. It was from the Royal Guards, and it was that the Princess had been caught stealing shoes in the Cathedral! The King could scarcely believe his ears. He questioned whether the report was accurate, but the Guards confirmed it; the Princess was the culprit, although she had attempted to disguise herself as a peasant while committing the act. The King was furious, and he sent out a message for the Guards to bring the Princess to the Royal Palace.
Some time later, the Princess was brought by the Guards into the Royal Court, where she stood looking very ashamed before her father. She was not wearing any of her fine regalia. Rather, she was dressed in peasant clothes; a vest, baggy trousers and sandals. She still looked incredibly beautiful – perhaps even more so without the excessive finery and pretentious pomp to obscure her natural beauty. The King demanded to know why she was stealing shoes while pretending to be a peasant, and she simply replied that she was bored with royal life and wanted to experience something different for a change. It turns out that this had been her hobby for almost a year now. The King was incensed, and he knew that he could not make exceptions for his daughter when it came to the law of the land; even if he wanted to, this would be seen as a blatant double standard. The punishment for stealing shoes was to be locked in the stocks in the public square for several hours. The King ordered the Guards to take the Princess away immediately to be punished in this manner. The Princess protested earnestly, and she promised to never defy her father or break the law again. But the King felt that he had no option, and simply turned away as the Guards firmly escorted the Princess into a horse-drawn carriage, which then headed towards the public square for the punishment to commence.
Once again, the King went to see the Witch of the Woodland. He was in even deeper despair than before, as he believed that no one would marry his daughter now. Her reputation was ruined, as was his for raising such an unscrupulous child. He said despondently, “what hope is there now? My daughter is currently in the stocks for stealing shoes. She will never get married”. The Witch’s response surprised the King greatly; she laughed heartily, not out of spite but out of genuine merriment. The King demanded to know the reason, and she replied: “today is the day that your daughter will find a suitor”. The King was even more taken aback, and he asked the Witch how this could be. The Witch told the King to go to the public square, where the Princess was sat in the stocks, and he shall soon see what the fates had in store for her. The King was greatly confused, but he nonetheless heeded the Witch’s words and began riding his horse to the public square.
A young farmhand called Jack was on his way to the marketplace, when he passed by the public square and saw the Princess locked in the stocks, her arms tied above her head and her feet trapped in front of her. She looked very ashamed, almost tearful, as women cast disapproving looks in her direction and unruly children laughed at her. Jack felt very sorry for her, and he wondered what it would feel like to never have once smiled. He walked up to her slowly, rather unsure of how she would react, and when he got close she muttered at him bitterly, “what do you want? I suppose you want to make fun of me too like the rest”. Jack replied, “no, not at all. I had rather just hoped to make you smile somehow”. The Princess said angrily and with more than a hint of sadness, “well don’t waste your time. I can’t smile, others have already tried everything. Just leave me alone”. Jack pondered for a moment, and then a grin spread across his face. “Everything?” he asked. The Princess glanced up at him with a look of annoyance, but then her expression turned to one of befuddlement as Jack began unbuckling her sandals. “What are you doing?” she asked sharply and rather worriedly. “Oh nothing”, said Jack innocently, as her sandals fell to the ground. “Just wondering if you’re ticklish is all”. The Princess had never been tickled, and she had no idea what the sensation felt like. Well, that is until Jack began gently spidering his fingers up and down the bare soles of her feet. The Princess’s mouth instantly twitched into a smile and she burst out laughing hysterically. Her laughter was like liquid sunshine, flowing out throughout the kingdom for all to soak in. It was long, happy, unbounded, careless and carefree, only interrupted by giggling gasps of “stop!” and “don’t tickle me!”.
Passersby immediately stopped in their tracks when they heard the wonderful sound ring out through the air. They were in awe at the sight of the Princess smiling and laughing, and they all thought to themselves that her laughter was perhaps the most beautiful sound they had ever heard. Not only that, but it was contagious too (as laughter tends to be), and soon everyone who was standing nearby began laughing along. The Princess had tears of merriment rolling down her cheeks and her laughter could not be contained, sometimes drifting into sweet silence before returning more boisterous (and contagious) than before. All the while, Jack continued to trace his fingers up and down the soles of her feet, stopping every now and again for a moment to let her catch her breath before continuing the tickling. The Princess had gone her whole life without smiling or laughing, and now she had no choice but to surrender herself to the wonderful, enveloping sensations. A Washerwoman who was standing nearby and laughing along merrily decided to help the Princess further. The Princess had been tied up in her peasant clothes, which meant that she had no sleeves covering her arms… or her armpits. The Washerwoman adorned a mischievous grin as she reached into her washing bag, pulled out a brush and used it to gently scrub the Princess’s right armpit. The Princess howled with hysterical laughter and tried to pull herself leftwards so as to escape the unbearable tickling of the Washerwoman’s brush. However, the Guards had done too good a job of securing her in the stocks, and so she was helpless beneath the tender tickles of the Washerwoman, and of Jack who continued to softly and incessantly stroke the soles of her feet. The Princess was not sure how much more of this she could take, but she was drowning in a sea of laughter and could barely get any words out. Just then, a Maid who had been on her way to work before coming across this wonderful scene emerged from the joyous crowd, and began using a feather duster to tickle the Princess’s other armpit!
At that moment, the King rode into the public square on his horse, and his heart filled with wonder and delight as he saw his daughter laughing like there was no tomorrow. He smiled from ear to ear, and a single tear rolled down his cheek, which he swiftly wiped away. He rode up to the stocks and chuckled for a few moments as he watched the tickling in progress. Then, he announced, “I think the Princess has had enough for now”. At that, the tickling stopped. The Princess was relieved, although she continued to giggle for a while longer as she caught her breath. The King asked, “whose idea was it to tickle my daughter?”. Jack raised his hand and said, “it was mine, Your Highness. I just wanted to make her smile, and I suppose I succeeded”. Jack flashed a grin in the Princess’s direction. The Princess smiled back for a second, but then she regained her composure and tried to glare at him. It was a half-hearted attempt, and she couldn’t help smiling and giggling again when the Maid brushed her neck with the feather duster while teasing, “there’s some dust on your neck, Ma’am, I’ll clean it for you”. The crowd laughed, as did the King. He said to Jack, “I cannot thank you enough for finally making my daughter smile. As per the royal decree, you shall be married. And you two women” – at this he looked upon the Washerwoman and the Maid – “shall become members of the Royal Court, as a token of gratitude”. The women were overjoyed, as was Jack, who then became thoughtful and said, “But I am just a humble farmhand. I doubt the Princess would want to marry me”. All eyes turned to the Princess, whose face dissolved into a warm and radiant smile. She said, “How can I not marry the man who gave me the greatest gift I could possibly want? Not gold or jewellery, but a smile!”. Everyone in the public square erupted into cheers. And so it was that the Princess married Jack the following day.
The Kingdom was filled with laughter and joy from that day forth, and the black cloud that had been hanging over it was lifted. The King was greatly comforted by the knowledge that his daughter was happy at last. The Princess smiled every day; Jack made sure of that. He was the most devoted husband that a woman could wish for, and that sincerely brought happiness to the Princess’s heart. And every so often, when Jack began to miss the sound of the Princess’s delightful laughter, he would run a finger across her foot, and that was all he needed to do to send her into a fit of giggles.