Once upon a time, a princess found a long lonely ladder at the far corner of the castle walls. She thought it rather lazy of the gardener to leave it there where someone might trip over it or where it might catch some drops of rain and it would grow rusty and useless.
“Surely, I can’t move this myself,” she thought.
And in fact, she could not. She tried to move it, but it would not budge the smallest bit.
“Well, if I can’t move it, I might as well find out why it was here in the first place.”
Even though she was wearing an uncomfortable and ungainly court dress, she thought she might try the steps. Quickly, she realized the endeavor would fail with such heavy skirts and confining stays, and even though she wouldn’t usually think herself as brazen as her sister Mina who had been known to dance with the peasants in only her shift at the harvest festival, she decided to remove her first layer of clothing.
“If Mina can dance like a heathen in the name of ‘connecting with the kingdom,’ at the very least, I can do this if only to find out why our own grounds have been left in such disarray.”
Although it was not becoming of a young lady—nobility nonetheless—to curse, the princess swore mightily as she struggled from her dress. At last, she stood before the curious ladder in only a thin white tunic. She removed her shoes and placed them underneath the heap of her garments.
“Now, I am ready to find out the mystery of this silly ladder. Perhaps this is where father ordered the new lanterns to be hung. Or maybe it was put here for some soldier on the lookout,” she thought.
Placing her tender little left foot on the first rung and her right hand reaching above her head, the princess began to climb. She was terribly afraid of heights, so she refused to look down as she pressed on toward the top—wherever the top might be. It seemed so far away, and so high, she was not so sure she could see where it ended.
“Of course this has an end, and it will be at the top of the wall where I can sit and rest before scrambling back down to put on my dress before anyone sees me like such a wild, wicked girl that I must appear to be.”
The climb was not difficult except that it didn’t seem to stop. All at once, the princess noticed that the wall that she had always known to be gray and composed of long, roughly cut stone had changed color. It was a smooth tan, like the dried paste of earth found in the Southern countries.
She stopped her scaling and looked down. She did not see her dress crumpled up near the garden trees, or anything else familiar below her. It wasn’t that she could not see the ground, but there seemed to be no ground at all. When she looked up again, she wondered if she were not actually securely planted on a firm-packed ground where the ladder had fallen.
“I’m in a dream. I’ve fallen. No! I’ve died,” she thought. “That’s it. I am most certainly dead.”
But the princess was not dead, and she figured this much when she was too afraid to test her theory by jumping off the ladder. To make the best of the situation, she elected to carry on with the climb.
As she ascended this strange ladder, her hands no longer grasped a finely made piece of metalwork, but a shoddy, shaky sham of a ladder. The sky—or what she perceived to be the sky—turned a deep starless lapis. It was pretty, she thought.
Wind picked up, pressing her tunic to her legs, making it harder to climb, but at last, she made it to the very topmost part of the ladder. It still leaned against the stucco-colored wall. She found this problematic because the end of the ladder did not match the end of the wall, and she wasn’t sure what would happen if she attempted to go back the way she came. Who knew what would happen? Maybe the splintered wood ladder would turn into a serpent or worse—maybe it would just disappear altogether.
“Well, I guess now I know why that gardener never put this damn thing away,” she muttered.
The princess stood on the ladder, her hands smarting from the long climb, and she wondered how she might solve this problem. After some time, she found out that she would not.