Once upon a time there was a king and queen who lived in a small kingdom. They loved each other very much, and the queen gave birth to a beautiful princess. The very sight of her daughter filled the queen's heart with joy, and she wouldn't give her up for all the treasures in heaven and earth. The king ruled justly and kept the kingdom safe from enemies, and the queen had a special affection for artists and craftsman. Woodworkers, metalworkers, weavers, painters, and other artists blossomed in the kingdom. The king and queen also imported fine objects from other lands to decorate their castle.
When the princess was a young girl, she heard the royal storyteller tell a tale about four children who traveled to a distant land to find their mother a lovely gift for her birthday. Initially, the princess was excited to do the same, but then, as she watched a musician delight a group of peasants, she thought of her mother's love of beauty and was inspired to create a work of art for her.
For days the princess traveled through the kingdom watching all the artists and craftsman at work. She was fascinated by all the different arts and saw the beauty in each of them, but she was compelled to make porcelain. The best porcelain makers in the kingdom trained the princess until she could work on her own. For months the princess practiced and refined her porcelain making, studied literature, and learned from craftsman visiting from overseas.
On the queen's birthday, the princess gave her a porcelain bowl graced with a floral design. The queen was surprised and delighted with the gift. The bowl was of adequate craftsmanship, but the queen knew her daughter was just a little girl and was proud of all the work she put into it. She gave the princess a big hug and placed the bowl on a shelf in her private quarters.
Over the next few years, the princess learned everything she could about porcelain making. She copied antique works, experimented with different techniques, and studied other arts to improve her knowledge and skill. With her leisure time as princess, she became the best porcelain maker in the kingdom. She became an expert on color, line, surface, motifs, and other aspects of her art; and she demanded the use of the best clay and best glaze.
The princess made many objects each year, but she always saved her best work for her mother's birthday. The queen received a unique piece of porcelain every year that she cherished and stored in her private collection.
One year a group of mercenaries assassinated the king. They were caught and imprisoned, but the kingdom mourned the king's death for months. The queen, who was dedicated to the kingdom, rallied her subjects and made the kingdom prosperous again. She was admired and respected as much as the king had been. The princess learned the ways of ruling too, but in her heart she believed everyone deserved the freedom she had, so she tried persuading her mother to free the peasants.
The queen wouldn't listen, so the princess put all her energy into her art. She encouraged children to learn a craft, and she sponsored festivals for the artists of the kingdom.
The princess worked hard improving her own skill; she developed new techniques and awe-inspiring works of porcelain. Everyone admired her craftsmanship, and her porcelain was imitated around the world. Nobody else knew, but she still gave her most beautiful work to the queen on her birthday. These works were the most innovative and imaginative porcelain in the world. Also, these gifts were very personal. Some depicted scenes of family history, while others reflected the queen's love of the natural world. The queen loved the secret she shared with her daughter and spent hours admiring the translucent beauty of the porcelain.
Years passed. Then a plague hit the kingdom. A quarter of the people died, including the princess. As the queen sat at her daughter's deathbed, the pain of her loss paralyzed her. The plague affected every family, leaving the kingdom with a great loss of spirit, and the queen spent months isolated in the castle, too depressed to rule anymore. Day after day she sat in her chambers staring at the porcelain. It encompassed all the hard work, skill, and imagination of her daughter. Finally, she came up with an idea to relieve herself of her duty as queen.
Word spread through the kingdom that a great contest would be held. The queen was to reveal her private collection of porcelain. Anyone who could duplicate the presents made by the princess, making the queen believe they were her daughter's art, would be granted rule of the kingdom.
The best porcelain makers and artists in the kingdom were inspired by the challenge, while the peasants dreamed of copying the works, hoping to bring wealth to their families. For weeks the palace was filled with people who came to examine the porcelain, taking notes on height, weight, and design. The beauty of the works amazed everyone. They whispered to each other that the plate, the cup, the vase, the statue, and the other objects were the best of their kind in the world, but they still thought they could duplicate the works.
Months passed. Artists worked day and night, refining their porcelain, while peasants did everything they could to get clay and glaze, including selling their only goods. Then thousands of people brought their porcelain to the palace, where the royal attendants mixed the objects with the princess's porcelain. But no matter how many objects were placed next to her daughter's art, and how many hours she spent studying all the porcelain, the queen could always pick out her daughter's presents. The queen was surprised no one could duplicate her daughter's porcelain, and each time she picked her collection out of the group, she felt her daughter coming back to her. Many artists became frustrated, believing the objects were marked somehow, or that the royal attendants were tipping off the queen, but they didn't see any markings when they examined the princess's porcelain and they never saw anyone signaling the queen.
One day a seer brought her porcelain to the palace and said, "Now that everyone else has failed, I will take over the kingdom. I called the spirit of your daughter, and she showed me how to make her porcelain."
The queen was amused as the seer's porcelain was mixed with the princess's. She examined the porcelain in front of her and quickly picked out her daughter's art.
The next day two elderly men in fine clothes came to the palace, accompanied by attendants holding a large chest filled with porcelain. "We have studied porcelain and other arts all our lives," they said, as their porcelain was mixed in with the queen's gifts. "We know every innovation and technique, good or bad. We commissioned this collection to meet our specifications."
The queen studied the objects, and before long, she picked out her daughter's porcelain.
The day after that a man and a woman approached the palace carrying an impressive collection of porcelain. "We are the experts of a new technology," they said. "We have copied the porcelain using our most advanced techniques."
"I've heard of you," the queen said. "I'm a great admirer of yours."
After the royal attendants mixed the porcelain, the queen studied the objects closely, and for a long time she was undecided, but then the aura of her daughter's porcelain came to her and she picked her gifts out correctly.
Over the next few weeks, more experts and peasants brought their porcelain to the palace, but no one could fool the queen. Eventually, everyone in the kingdom gave up trying to duplicate the princess's porcelain.
Then one night, as the queen sat on her balcony enjoying the starry sky, she saw hundreds of lit torches in a nearby village and she heard the commotion of peasants. She had not been to any of the villages since the onslaught of the plague, so she called for her attendants, who took her by carriage down to the village. As the carriage neared the outskirts of the village, the queen saw peasants standing next to a stone wall. A few of the peasants touched the wall cautiously, while others appeared to be praying. The queen climbed out of her carriage and walked over to the wall. The wall was engraved with images of those who died during the plague, and it appeared like the chiseled stone had captured ghosts. There were faces of children and the elderly, artists and workers, and peasants and royalty, including the face of the princess. The queen stared at the image of her daughter. Then she dropped to one knee and began to cry for the first time since her daughter's death.
Everyone was silent. As the queen continued crying, she covered her face with her hands and tried to hide from the crowd. Then a peasant slowly walked over to the queen and put his hand on her shoulder.
"I hope you are not upset, but we made this wall," he said, gesturing towards his friends nearby. "We were left speechless by your daughter's porcelain, and we knew it was no use trying to copy her work. She inspired us to make this wall, to honor our loved ones, our neighbors, and our kingdom."
The queen cast her eyes down, thinking silently to herself. "You have shown me how I have dishonored my daughter's hard work and imagination, and how I have put my subjects' future at risk," she said. "The beauty of her porcelain will last forever, and everyone should have the freedom she had."
The queen was reinvigorated and dedicated to restoring the old spirit to the kingdom. After several months, the kingdom was prosperous again, and the queen helped put a system in place where the peasants could govern themselves. They still honored the queen, and they lived in peace in their new life as citizens.