But the Little White Princess refused to sleep. Wearing her white cap and her shining white silk dress, she stood at her small window all night, wailing bitterly: I am not whole, I am not whole, what shall I do, what shall I do. In vain did her parents try to prove her wrong.
Thousands of doctors were brought in, they counted every pore of her skin and every hair on her head and every bone and every cell of her body, look, you are whole, Little Princess, stop crying, go to bed, sleep tight.
Thousands of wizards were called in the middle of the night, they looked at every corner of her soul with silver mirrors and checked her every movement and every path of her young thoughts with silver maginfying glasses, look, you are whole, White Princess, stop lamenting, go to sleep, dream beautifully of all the round and full things of this world. But the Princess wouldn’t listen. Every night her sorrowful song resounded over the country I am not whole, I am not whole, what shall I do, what shall I do.
One day, the king and the queen open the castle gate wide and cried bitter tears: Little White Princess, go out and try your luck and may the stars help you find those missing parts you keep talking about.
And so the Princess went. She travelled through spring forests and golden wheat fields and autumn clouds and heavy snows, singing her everlasting song, and the animals of the earth and the birds of the sky were shaking their heads and talking to one another in their strange languages tsk tsk little girl, don’t be foolish, go home, don’t you know your kind is never whole, tsk tsk what a stupid child, this White Princess after all...
On a summer morning, she stopped and stood in the fresh air and just looked. She saw the valley before her opening towards the rising sun, and still the light had a milky quality in its dampness and still there was a strange softness in the flowers with their bent heads of white.
She entered the valley full of joy.
There, in the middle of countless flowers, she felt a strange numbness in her limbs and fell asleep.
She dreamt of one red flower, glowing with unknown passion in a sea of gold. Oh, she cried in her dream, if I could see that flower, that only flower, and kneel before it, I would be whole.
And then what, the Little Princess asked.
Then you go in, the horse laughed, turned around and left.
Little girl, he started. The Princess frowned.
I am a Princess, you know.
Oh, I am sorry, said the old man in his sweetest tone, with this funny suit you have over there and this white cap, I thought you might be a little g... but wait, no you can’t be a princess, you are a chef, aren’t you?
The Princess looked at him incredulously. Pride and desire fought on her face.
Well, I suppose I could bake a cake for you, if you would just open that gate for me. A huuuuuge chocolate cake, what do you say?
The Gatekeeper laughed. Ay, White Princess, your cakes are of no use to me, look here, look what I have for you. And he opened his arms and unfolded his hands and all the sweets of the world started to flow and dance and circle round the White Princess, rainbows of melted chocolate and almond biscuits and tartes aux fruits and turkish delight and ginger bread and baklava and fluffy, transparent cakes with rose water and raisin breads and sorbets and cinnamon apple pies and colourful icecreams like sweet music. You can have all of this if you leave now, he said and winked as if suddenly amused. But the Little Princess stood there still and smiled and sang her sad song in a little soft voice. The old man bowed his head. The gate opened.
She took a step closer. It was not a tree, just bright tufts of white grass and long waving plants reaching towards the sky like branches, and on those frail, tangled branches myriads of small yellow flowers glowed with a pale light and danced in the summer breeze.
What is this? the girl asked slowly, where are we?
The Gatekeeper put his hand on her shoulder. Little Princess, he said almost inaudibly, the yellow flowers... and when he said this the small flowers rose in the air like yellow butterflies and she didn’t know anymore whether they were flowers or butterflies with gold powdered wings which kept turning in circles about their heads, they are you.
Me? the startled Princess stared at him in disbelief.
Yes, your selves, the possible ones, the ones you lost, gathered here for ever, dancing their endless dance.
The breeze was now cold.
Yes, White Princess, every time you make a decision, every time you choose a road and take one step on it, the inevitable, irreversible one, a Little Princess dies in you and her self turns to a yellow butterfly and comes fluttering to live here with the others. They are all here, all your selves, countless Little Princesses who might have been.
Oh, whispered the girl and took a long breath. She stared for a moment, an endless silence, at her tiny white shoes. And if I don’t choose but am forced to go one way or another? If I stand still and still the road unfolds me?
But old man, the girl raised her voice suddenly, how can those little 'me' be here already, if I am small and still to grow and still to choose and still to walk, countless times and countless roads?
The Gatekeeper shook his head smiling. Well, my dear, this is a big question for big learned men and philosophers, not a little one for little girls errr sorry, little princesses.
She turned to stare at him again. Did they come here also, to look at their selves like me, those big learned men, did they open the gate too?
The old men laughed and shook his head as before, now you got me, Little Princess, no, they didn’t, not one of them.
Why, did they go for the ginger bread?
Her face was serious but he knew she had made a Little Princess joke.
He wanted to say something but at that moment a butterfly came down and sat on her forehead. You see, he said and stroked her hair gently, this little soul here is the one that died when you chose to ride the purple horse.
She felt something like tears in her eyes.
Would I have known the answer then, to my big question, if I had ridden the white horse and my white dress had become one with his white heart?
The Gatekeeper smiled and kissed her on her cheek, where another butterfly had settled, flapping its golden wings. He disappeared.
The girl stood still whilst the night was lighting up around her. Another butterfly came, a deeper shade of yellow, and then another one and another one, saffron and lemon and peach and amber yellow and their hues flowed into one another and their veil of gold was floating around her, wrapping her tightly as the veil a priest would wrap around a sacred corpse. They sat in her glowing hair, they covered her radiant skin, their silken beating of wings devouring the silk of her white dress, her white little chef cap, they burned on her arms like thousands of cold fires, they closed her eyes and filled her mouth.