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”Tell me, mirror, who is the most beautiful woman in my kingdom?”

”None is as pretty as you are, my queen, but many are ready to compete with you.”

Queen Griselda chuckled grimly. She didn’t fear her rivals, she could face them. She knew who they were and she had the power to neutralize them. For instance the daughter of her husband’s minister for overseas development. The mirror had told her that she had been surpassed by the girl. She had had to get rid of her and she had talked her husband into the dismissal of the man and his appointment as ambassador to one of those developing countries.

The mirror spoke again: ”My queen, you are nearly 36 now, many young girls will soon overwhelm you with their beauty. Wouldn’t it be sensible to consider cosmetic surgery if you want to carry on with the competition?”

Of course the mirror itself didn’t speak those words but she heard the voice inside her head when she looked at her reflection.

‘It could be helpful,’ she thought.

When the scars had been healed and got invisible she turned to the mirror again.”

”Wow, you are looking good, ten years younger.”

”And who is the the most handsome woman in my kingdom now?” she asked smiling, already certain of the answer.

”You are very pretty, my queen, but one is prettier than you.”

”What?!” Griselda got off into a fit of rage. ”How is that possible?! Who is she?”

”The prettiest in your kingdom is your stepdaughter Graziella, my queen.”

The queen was dumbfounded. Her stepdaughter! Just sixteen. She had never paid much attention to her but now she sent for her.

Indeed, she couldn’t deny that in a short time the child had developed into a very attractive young woman.

”Graziella, you are a very nice girl,” Griselda said in coaxing tones. ”What do you like most of all?”

”Riding horseback, mother. I could do that all day.”

”Interesting. What attracts you so much in riding?”

The queen noticed that Graziella coloured up to her ears.

”Oh…..being outside….in the country…..feeling free…..striking into a gallop……and so on,” she stammered.

”But you are not riding alone, are you? It would be irresponsible.”

Oh no, mother, my instructor always accompanies me.”

”And who is that man, Graziella? Do I know him?”

”His name is Justin. I don’t think you ever met him. You have never shown interest in horses.”

”You are right, Graziella. I should change that and I will. Let’s go and visit the royal stables.”

Justin was a good looking young man, about twenty years old and Griselda soon found out that Graziella was crazy about him. Even a blind horse could see that!

Griselda decided to have the two watched by her spies. Soon they reported that they seemed to like each other very much.

”This is against the law,” she told her husband, king Arnulf. ”You have enacted that no one under eighteen years may maintain intimate relations with someone else as a measure to fight AIDS.”

”Do you have any prove that my daughter does such things? Anyway, I’ll speak to her.”

Graziella denied, she said that she liked Justin only as a friend.

”You see?” the king said to his wife. ”Nothing to worry, it’s all innocent.”

But Griselda didn’t give up. And one day the mark was hit: Graziella and Justin had gone for a ride. They were followed and at a distant place they were caught in the act, embracing each other, kissing and cuddling.

Griselda immediately hastened to see her husband.

”They have been caught! They cannot deny it! Sent for them!”

They had to admit it. Graziella burst into tears: she and Justin would be seperated.

”You have lied to me,” her father said, ”That’s the worst of all.” He looked at her: ”What are we going to do with you?”

Griselda interrupted: ”You cannot make an exception for your daughter. The penalty for violating this law should be executed.”

”Perhaps we could keep it a secret,” the king tried.

The queen laughed, sneering: ”They have been witnessed, all in the palace will know now. You have to sentence her. Or do you want to leave it that to a judge? Put her on trial?”

The king had no choice.

”You know what the penalty is, Graziella. Publicly Justin will be whipped fifteen times and your head will be shaved bald.”

Graziella cried and begged for mercy, not for herself but for Justin.

”I’m guilty, not Justin. I seduced him.”

But it was to no avail. The verdict should be executed three days later at ten o’clock in the morning on a platform at the market-place.

A big audience had gathered at the market-place to see the punishment of the two violators of the law. Of course the fact that one of them was a princess had attracted more spectators than usually could be expected. The relevant act had been introduced only recently and up till now the spectacle had been performed only three times.

The king was absent but the queen had come together with her two daughters, Dulcia, fourteen years old and Lucia, fifteen. Not only to show them what happened to violators but certainly also to share with them her malicious enjoyment.

When the two convicted offenders were brought up most people kept silence. Apparently many felt sorry for the young lovers. Only a few screams of disapproval were ventilated. But did they codemn the two or denounce the law?

Justin was stripped of his upper clothes and shirt and tied to a stake. Graziella was shoved on a chair and her wrists and ankles were tied to it.

Graziella cried when Justin was whipped but she didn’t look. However she couldn’t close her ears for the ghastly noises. Justin didn’t utter one sound. Stoically he underwent his punishment though every lash caused a bloody welt on his back. After the last stroke he wasn’t released but had to stay to witness Graziella’s punishment. Later he would be banned from the capital and sent back to his relatives in the country.

Many spectators pitied Graziella.

”She is such a lovely girl and what a waste it is to cut off her long, luscious and wavy tresses.”

The executioner cut off with a pair of big scissors the tresses of the girl’s long hair one by one till only short whisps on her head remained. A woman came with a bowl of hot water and a piece of soap and washed the remnants of her hair. Her head still wet and covered with soap-suds was then shaved with a straight sharp razor to total baldness.

During the whole procedure Graziella sat silently without showing any emotion though she felt a sharp sorrow and her heart ached thinking of the seperation from Justin whom she had seen for the last time, bleeding and miserable.

Back in her room at the palace she looked at her image in the mirror with amazement.

‘Totally different but not too bad,’ she thought, rubbing her head. ‘So soft, so smooth, strange without hair but nevertheless handsome.’

Not the loss of her hair made her sad but the thought of Justin made her cry.

Griselda consulted her mirror.

”You are a beautiful woman, my queen, but Graziella is the prettiest.”What!? Are you crazy? That baldhead?”

”Hair or no hair, she still is the prettiest.”

‘That’s the limit!’ she thought. ‘She is ugly, ugly! What am I to do?’

She knew only one solution: the girl had to disappear from the surface of the earth. How to handle the matter?

‘The royal hunter,’ she thought. She had done him a favour when he had made a tresspass. He was in the red and he would do whatever she asked him.

”Take Graziella with you into the woods and stab her to death. I’ll give you two hundred dukates when you bring me her bloodstaine
d dress as evidence.”

The hunter knew he couldn’t refuse or he would lose his position and go to jail. But he couldn’t kill Graziella. She chatted all the way, happy to be away from the palace and her sad recollections, and she was so nice and innocent.

”I had got an assignment to to take you into the woods and kill you, but I can’t do that. When you proceed in the same direction you’ll soon find a convent, a nunnery. Tell them that you are lost and they will let you in. But I need your dress.”

”I should undress?” Graziella asked startled. ”I can’t possibly knock at the convent’s door in my underwear.”

The hunter gave her his coat and he took her dress. He shot a wild boar, stained the dress with its blood and made a few holes in it with his knife.

He went back to the queen and told her that Graziella didn’t more live. The king was inconsolable when Griselda told him that Graziella had made off and had in the woods been mauled by a wild animal. He felt guilty, he shouldn’t have done that to her, this humiliation.

But when Griselda asked her mirror whe now was the most beautiful woman in the kingdom she got the same answer: ”Graziella.”

She called for the hunter.

”You have deceived me, you didn’t kill her. I want my money back and I’m going to charge you.”

”Charge me with what, your majesty? I’ll tell the judge that you have asked me to kill your stepdaughter.”

Griselda realized that she could get into an awkward position and swallowed her words.


Graziella had told the abbess that she came from the palace, being a princess and that her stepmother had threatened to kill her. Which of course was the truth but the abbess didn’t believe her.

The convent was outlying amidst of the woods and had no contacts whatsoever with the outerworld but the abbess knew that princesses with shaven heads were very unlikely to exist. Princesses were all day well groomed and styled.

Due to illness? In that case one’s hair falls out but this girl’s head was shaved. Lice? No, no princess could have lice. The abbess remembered that when she had been seven or eight years her mother had cut off all of her hair because of lice. It had been a very frustrating experience. In later years, being a rebellious puber, her father had threatened to send her to an approved school if she didn’t behave and she knew that in some of these institutes the heads of inhabitants were shaven as a penalty in case of misbehaviour. But she couldn’t imagine that a princess would be sent to such a school.

Hookers were sometimes shaved bald. But this girl looked so young and innocent and though you could be mistaken she didn”t believe her to be one.

But she could be a nun. Also princesses sometimes had that vocation or were forced. Perhaps she had escaped a nunnery as she couldn’t bear the ambiance. She knew that it happened. Those girls didn’t know where to go and finally ended by seeking hide in another convent or a brothel. And perhaps her story of being a princess was a make-up. Well, it didn’t matter. The abbess always could use enlargement of her ranks!

”You may stay with us when you are willing to commit yourself to our rules. Sister Mathilda will coach you.”

Graziella promised to do so; where else could she go? So she became a postulant, that is to say living the life of a nun without having taken the vows. The days were filled half with praying, meditating and worshipping. The other half with hard labour: polishing, cleaning, scrubbing, preparing food, washing, working in the garden and so on.

In the beginning Graziella was sad when she thought of Justin but gradually those feelings faded. The atmosphere in the convent had a soothing effect on all of the inhabitants.

The abbess had undergone the same process. When she was sixteen her father had decided not to send her to an approved school but had brought her to the convent. She had cried and so had her mother but all to no avail. Again her hair had been cut off and never more got a chance to grow back. The nuns shaved each other every week. The abbess had no longer any desire to leave the convent. Life was uncomplicated and she felt herself protected inside the walls of the cloister.


Griselda felt uncomfortable. Though the hunter had told her that Graziella was in the convent in the woods and once inside it would be almost impossible to get out of it, she wanted to finish the task the hunter hadn’t carried out.

She disguised herself as a beggar-woman, put a strong poison in her purse and went on her way to find the convent. The hunter had indicated the direction which she had to follow and after three days she knocked at the doorway.

The abbess didn’t ask why she wanted to stay, she had only to promise to obey the rules. Griselda was clever but not clever enough to comprehend that she wouldn’t get permission to leave once she had promised. The walls surrounding the garden were high, the doors locked and the windows barred. No possibility to fly.

”Go with sister Mathilda, my child,” she told Griselda, ”You must be hungry, she will feed you, bath, prepare and dress you.”

While Griselda ate and drank: bread, butter, cheese and milk, Mathilda prepared her bath. After several days in the woods Griselda enjoyed lying in the warm water. She washed, combed and dried her hair and expected that Mathilda would bring her clean clothes. But the nun didn’t appear, so Griselda wrapped herself in a towel and strolled towards the small office of the sister.

”I’m looking for other clothes,” Griselda said.

”Yes, my child, later, first I’ve to prepare you. Sit down.” She pointed at a chair, opened a drawer and brought to sight a pair af big scissors. Horrified Griselda looked at them.

”What are you up to!?” she screamed.

”I’m going to cut your hair,” Mathilda said quietly.

”I don’t need a haircut,” Griselda protested.

”All our inhabitants get their hair cut,” Mathilda answered, ”that is one of our rules and you promised to obey our rules, didn’t you?”

”Yes,” Grislda said and reluctantly she sat down, ”But why must I be punished?”

Mathilda grabbed the long locks of Griselda and gathered them into a ponytail.

”It is no punishment, your hair is superfluous and a nuisance. So better get rid of it, you’ll feel free. I know that it may be an intimidating experience to lose your hair but soon you’ll like it.”

She began to cut off one strand of the queen’s hair after another till only short wisps of an uneven length remained on her head. Griselda was furious but she knew that she had no choice. She had to meet Graziella to carry out her plan. So she endured resigned her shearing. Meanwhile Mathilda washed her head with warm water and soap and without drying she took a sharp razor and started to shave off the with soap-suds covered remnants of the once glorious and admired locks of the queen. Soon her head was changed into a shining dome.

Mathilda handed her a habit and a wimple and simple cotton underwear, woollen stockings and a pair of sandals.

”This is your new dress.”

”But I’m not a nun,” Griselda protested upset.

”That doesn’t matter,” Mathilda laughed, ”We are all sisters here and we all wear the same clothes.”

Griselda brought back to her mind the words of the hunter: ”Once you have entered the nunnery you get no more chances to leave it.”

”What happened to my other clothes?” she asked Mathilda.

”We burned them together with your purse. We provide you with all you need.”

Griselda’s heart sank: the poison had been lost. What to do now? She simply had to face the new situation and find a solution. First she had to spot Graziella but that was not easy. There were so many nuns and all looked equal.Moreover Mathilda didn’t budge from her side. She had to tutor Griselda and told her how to behave.

”Never look into the eyes of the other sisters.”

”Keep your eyes down when walking.”

”Don’t speak untill you are as
ked to.”

”Walk close along the walls of the corridors.”

”Keep your arms crossed in front of your chest, hiding your hands in your sleeves.”

All this made it extremely difficult to recognize her stepdaughter.

When she misbehaved she had to wash and kiss the feet of the nuns when they were gathered in the refectory for their midday-meal. She, the queen had to kneel down! But of course no one knew, she was known as a beggar.Otherwise she had to do the same chores as the nuns, doing things she never had done in her whole life. Rising early in the morning at a time on which she sometimes went to bed in her earlier life.

This new way of life had a strange effect on her: she became tolerant and peaceful.

At last, when she was about six weeks in the convent, she met Graziella. She found her in the garden while her stepdaughter was working alone……………..


In the meantime Justin had heard rumours indicating that Graziella possibly was not dead. After inquiring and searching he learned that the hunter had been the last person seen with Graziella. On asking he admitted that he had left the princess in the neighbourhood of the convent in the woods.

Justin had gone to examine the neighbourhood. He had climbed into a tree near the wall surrounding the convent-garden and by means of a rope had swung himself upon the edge of the wall.

To his amazement he saw that two religeous, talking to each other, turned out to be Griselda and Graziella.

”It is impossible to get out of the convent,” he heard Graziella say, ”all doors are locked and the windows barred.”

Justin nearly lost his equilibrium hearing her voice and the noise alarmed the women.

”Sssssh,” he warned them, ”I’ll get you out but not now.”

”We’ll be here tonight at ten when everyone has gone to sleep,” Griselda said. ”It is nearly full moon, so there will be enough light.”

Justin hoisted Graziella first and then Griselda surprised them.

”I’m staying here. I’ve found peace in the convent and I don’t want to leave it. I’ve been such a fool in my earlier life and I know now that it has only been vanity. I’m happy now to live a simple life and do penance for my sins. Go with Justin, Graziella, marry him and get happy. May God bless you two.”

With those words she turned and disappeared inside the walls of the convent.


The long absence of the queen in the meanwhile had stirred up interest. The court had stated that she was making a journey abroad but she had never been away for such a long time.

What did the king know? He knew the rumours about Graziella, he knew that Justin was on his way to try to find her but he didn’t know where his wife had gone though he suspected that she too had the same purpose.


Jason returned with Graziella at the palace. Of course the king couldn’t contain himself for joy having his daughter back. Less happy he was to hear that she wanted to marry Justin.

When Justin had asked her to marry him Graziella had said: ”My father will give me consent, I’m nearly eighteen.”

But the king objected: ”Justin never can be king. I want you to marry a prince and I know one who is willing to marry you: prince Henry.”

”I don’t want to be married to Henry, I love Justin,” Graziella protested.

”My dear, you should think about the benefit of the country. If you and Justin get married you are excluded from succession to the throne. Should one of the daughters of your stepmother become queen later?”

”Why not? Let Lucia or Dulcia get married to Henry. What does it matter? A queen has no influence at all, her only task is to produce children. I don’t want that and besides I can’t marry Henry.”

”Why not?”

”You don’t want to know that.”

”Yes I do, I demand you to give the reasons.”

”Father, I travelled with Justin through the woods during three days and nights.”

The king was shocked and had to process the facts.

Then he said: ”Do you mean to say what I fear? You are still seventeen and when this is true you have violated the law again.”

”Father, think whatever you want. So people will do. But no one is able to prove anything.”

”But I know enough. Indeed a marriage between Henry and you is impossible. Justin means too much to you. Well, I have to reward his bringing you back. All right, you have my consent.”

Graziella embraced her father with tears in her eyes.

The king proceeded: ”I’ll make Henry an offer to get married to Lucia. She is not bright but she is sweet and lovely to see with her blonde hair and blue eyes. Yes, she is a dumb blonde but she could be a good queen. Because she is sixteen I’ll have to abolish the law that prevents intimate relations before the age of eighteen. And I’ll send my wife a letter, giving my agreement with her staying in the convent and asking her consent to the marriage of her daughter.”

And so Graziella was married to Justin and at the same time the marriage of Lucia and Henry took place. Dulcia was a lovely bride but Graziella drew the greatest interest with her freshly shaved head which was clearly visible through the sheer wedding veil. She really was a beaming bride!

Questioned by journalists she declared that by her marriage with Justin she had to give up her rights as heiress to the throne and she wanted to symbolize this by parting with her hair, though it had grown only a little since she had left the convent. Originally, when she had been shaved bald for violating the law she had experienced this as a humiliation but now she felt proud.

Amazed a reporter asked if she meant to say that she intended to stay bald. Graziella laughed: ”You should never say yes or no.”

But for the time being she was called: ”bold princess baldy”. And she constituted a role-model for teenage girls who wanted to follow her suit…………….

The end.

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