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Rooster Under the Table cover

ęcopyright 2000 by Lois June Wickstrom and Jean Lorrah

The Rooster Under the Table

by Lois June Wickstrom and Jean Lorrah

a retold folktale

Once upon a time, in a land of magic, there was a princess who didn't want to marry. She wanted to have adventures, or rule a kingdom like her father. She didn't like sitting around in pretty lace-trimmed dresses, eating daintily with fancy silverware, and speaking in a soft, ladylike voice. And those were the only things a princess, or a queen, ever got to do.

Her father, the king, was an old-fashioned man. He wanted his daughter to marry. But he wasn't so old-fashioned that he would marry her to a man she didn't like. He issued a proclamation: "Any man who can win my daughter's consent to marry will earn half my kingdom now, and the rest when I die."

Soon young men lined up outside the castle for miles, all waiting to win the princess and half the kingdom. True to his generous nature, the king had hot food brought to the young men every day as they waited in line. And at night, he had warm blankets and pillows brought to them by his faithful servants. One after the other, the princess rejected each young prince when his turn came to ask her consent to marry.

After several months, the king became frustrated with all these freeloading princes who ate his food and slept in his blankets, and waited in line all day only to be rejected by his daughter. Feeding them was expensive. And they kept his servants so busy that they didn't have time to keep the castle clean.

So, the king issued a new proclamation. "Any man who can win my daughter's consent to marry will earn half my kingdom. But if he fails, he will forfeit his life."

When they heard this new announcement, most of the princes went home. Half a kingdom and a beautiful wife would be nice to have, but the chance wasn't worth having their heads chopped off.

The princess became disturbed at her father's new proclamation. She didn't want to marry, but she also didn't want to be responsible for young men having their heads chopped off. 

So she took off her beautiful lace-trimmed princess dress, and put on the gardener's old muddy overalls. She stopped washing and combing her hair. She refused to take a bath. Then she squatted under the dining room table. When the young princes asked for her hand in marriage, she flapped her arms like rooster's wings and would only answer, "Aawk, Aawk."

She refused to eat anything except raw grains and bits of fruit that dropped to the floor when others ate. She became the opposite of a princess. No pretty clothes, no dainty eating, and no soft voice. 

Soon word got out that the princess wasn't worth the risk of losing one's head. And the king only had to feed a prince or two each week, as they took their chances and lost. Soon the princes stopped coming altogether.

Now among the princes who had journeyed from afar was the youngest of seven sons. He was a true prince, but after his six older brothers had received their inheritance, all that was left to him was the clever rooster, Chanticleer. So he had come to court the princess in hopes of earning a kingdom of his own.

As soon as he arrived, however, he heard the news that the princess had stopped washing and combing her hair, and was living under the table, refusing to say anything but "Aawk, Aawk."

Chanticleer, the clever rooster, said, "It sounds as if she just wants to be a rooster under the table. That princess won't be marrying anyone, and you are a fool if you try to court her." 

Out of money and out of luck, the young prince replied, "I must court her anyway. There are no princesses in need of rescuing from dragons or ogres, so this is my only opportunity to win a kingdom."

"But she will refuse you, and then you will just get your head cut off," said the clever rooster. "What good will that do anybody?"

"What good do I do anybody now?" asked the prince. "Without a kingdom to rule, a prince is nothing. I may as well court the princess and risk getting my head cut off."

"Wait, young sir!" said Chanticleer. "Let me go into the castle and see what the princess really wants. That may take a while, so if you want to eat in the meantime, you'd better get a job."

"A prince get a job?" exclaimed the young man in surprise.

"If a princess can be a rooster under the table, then a prince can earn his keep," said the clever rooster.

This is only the beginning of the story...

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