Once upon a time a princess was born. Like every princess, Nita was given a handful of seeds. As she grew, the importance of the seeds became clear. When the last seed was gone, her reign would end. No longer would she be Princess-of-the-Land, instead she would be a poor peasant, without money or food or power. All knew that death quickly followed poverty.
When she reached the proper age, Wise-Ones came to her from all over the country. “Follow our advice and your reign will last forever,” they told her. But their advice varied so greatly, Princess Nita was confused.
One said to keep the seeds hidden in a box. Another said a box would kill the seeds, instead they should be hidden in her pillowcase, where air could circulate. Still others said the attic, the basement, the light, the dark.
Yet, one thing was agreed upon. The seeds should be hidden. For thieves could steal them, or they could rot and turn to dust.
In confusion, Princess Nita finally told the Wise-Ones that she had made her decision. She scooped up her seeds and placed them carefully in a cedar box, which she kept in her pocket at all times.
They soon left, some in anger because their advice had not been taken, and others with self-satisfied confidence. They all requested the scribes keep them informed on how long she retained her throne.
One evening the Princess stood at her window, watching the sun set over the villages. Behind her, the servant girl, Annette, was busy making her bed for the night, but the rustling of the sheets could not quite drown out the sound of her tears.
“Whatever is the matter?” the Princess asked her.
Annette swiped a hand over her eyes and bowed her head, “I am so sorry, dear Princess, but I am overcome with sadness because my mother and sisters are dying.”
Nita quickly left her spot by the window and hurried to the servant’s side. “What is wrong with them, dear girl?”
“Princess Morana, from across the river, has lost her throne. My mother and sisters worked for her these five years and now they have no food or shelter. They are dying of hunger, ma’am, and I do not have enough to share.”
“Why, Annette!” Nita exclaimed, “Did you not request more? Are not all my people fed well?”
Annette stared at her hands, which were shaking slightly. “Oh, Princess,” she finally whispered, “there is barely enough food for those who work for you, let alone villagers who chose to work in surrounding kingdoms.”
Nita sat down on the edge of her bed. Her heart felt pained. “I should have asked them how to produce more food,” she said.
“Who?” Annette asked.
“The Wise-Ones,” Nita explained. “All I worried about was extending my reign and all the while my people starved. Now we are without hope.”
Annette dropped to her knees beside the Princess. “If it pleases you,” she said, “I know of a Wise-Woman in the village. She is poor, to be sure, but her wisdom has kept many people from starving in the past.”
Princess Nita jumped to her feet. “Wonderful!” She reached for Annette’s hand and helped the servant up. “Lead me to her.”
“Now? It is growing late.”
“Now. There is no purpose in trying to sleep while others are sitting hungry.”
The two wrapped themselves in warm cloaks, to ward off the chill of night, and hurried through the castle gates. As they entered the village, Annette led Nita to a small cottage with a worn, chipped door. She knocked and the door opened to show a tall elegant woman. Her brown hair was piled high and her face was both youthful and old at the same time. “Yes?” the Wise-Woman asked.
“I am Princess Nita, and I need your wisdom.”
“Come in,” the Wise-Woman drew them quickly into the cottage. “I will help in any way I can,” she told the princess.
“Do you know how I can save my people?” Nita asked. “Annette has told me that they are starving. There must be something I can do.”
“There is,” the woman said, but her face drew shuttered and solemn.
“Whatever it is, I will do it,” Nita told her.
“It will cost you everything,” the woman explained. “You will sacrifice your throne and your life.”
The princess drew in a deep breath. Since birth she had been instructed in preserving her life and reign. All was to be sacrificed to save her throne, but what was the worth of holding the title of princess if her people died?
“Tell me,” she said.
The Wise-Woman pulled a long scarf from a hook on the wall and wrapped it around herself. “Come,” she said, leading the women from the house. The walked through the twilight to a wide, empty field. “I have been preparing, hoping against hope that your goodness was not just a rumor.”
“Why is the grass torn out of this field?” Annette asked, leaning down and running fingers through the loose soil.
“There is more food than just the few creatures that travel through our land,” the Wise-Woman explained. “There is food that grows in the ground and can be harvested with baskets. It can be eaten raw or cooked. There is much work that must be done, but your kingdom can be fed, if you so choose.”
“We will do it,” the Nita exclaimed. “I am not afraid of work. How do you we make it grow?”
The Wise-Woman turned to look the princess in the eye. “You plant your seeds into this ground.”
“My seeds?” the Princess looked at her in surprise. “If I put my seeds into the ground, they will rot and turn to dust.”
“They will die,” the Wise-Woman said, “but they will not turn to dust. Some might, but many will grow and produce food.”
“So it is either my people or my throne?” the Nita asked, her face growing drawn and white.
“I am sorry, Princess,” Annette said, “I did not know. Perhaps we should return home and forget this plan.”
“It cannot be forgotten,” Nita told her. “It can be ignored, but never forgotten.”
Taking deep breaths, Nita turned to look back over the village. Lamps glowed from the cottage windows and her castle rose tall behind them. “I can hold tight to my throne at the expense of my people, but in the end, I will lose my position anyway. For without a kingdom, a princess is nothing but a girl with a crown.”
The Wise-Woman placed a hand on the princess’s shoulder. “You are even wiser than I, dear one. Even without a throne, I will always view you as a princess, indeed.”
Kneeling, Nita carefully pulled the cedar box from her pocket and began to slowly, purposefully, push the seeds into the ground. She left only one small seed in the box, the rest were covered with moist black soil. She worked all through the night and finally, when she was exhausted, the Wise-Woman and Annette helped her to the cottage and tucked her into a warm bed.
Word spread quickly that the Princess’s box was almost empty, her seeds all but gone. The Wise-Ones called her a fool. The people watched her carefully, expecting to hear any day that her crown had disappeared and her castle was shut down. The weeks passed and nothing happened, but Nita knew the time was coming. The one small seed was getting smaller, turning to dust in her box.
She gave away almost all of her food, living herself on warm broth. “I will not eat while my people starve,” she said.
She prayed that the single seed would last until she could see her people fed. Every day she would walk the field, touching the small plants, tearing away the grass that tried to choke them out. She carried water from the village well, pouring it over the plants, begging them to grow.
Word traveled that the princess had placed her throne on the line, in hopes of providing the people with food. They loved her more than ever, her sacrifice branding loyalty into all of their hearts, from the least to the greatest.
Finally the morning came when the seed in the box broke into particles of dust. It was the same day that Princess Nita lost the last of her strength. She lay in bed, unable to stand and walk. “Perhaps I will just die now,” she thought. “If only I could know for sure that my people will make it.”
Right then Annette appeared at the door. “Princess Nita!” she rushed to the bedside.
“I am a princess no longer,” Nita explained, indicating the box. “My crown will soon turn to dust as well.”
Annette ignored her. “Come,” she told the princess, “I will help you.” She lifted the princess into her arms and carried her to the castle door. A soldier swung open the gate. The courtyard was filled with people.
“Long live Princess Nita!” they called when she came into view.
Nita felt tears burning her eyes. They were the most beautiful people. How she loved them.
“Princess Nita!” a small girl called out, “you have saved us!” The child walked up to her and held forth a bowl. It was filled with a light green substance. “The Wise-Woman harvested part of the field,” the girl said, “and I have eaten until my tummy is full. Will you eat as well, Princess Nita?”
The tears fell from the Princess’s eyes. Her people were fed. She looked around and realized they were all bright-eyed and smiling. Her sacrifice had worked. Annette set her down gently and helped her sip the bowl of warm thick liquid. It filled her stomach and strengthened her bones.
“There is more,” the little girl told her as she ate, “this is just the summer squash, which the Wise-Woman told us to eat first so we would not grow sick. There is much, much more. Things called corn and oats and eggplant and carrots. Bright red fruits called tomatoes. Green things called cucumbers. And even more than that! There is so much food! Thank you, Princess. Thank you so much.”
“You are ever so welcome,” Nita told her, “but I am a princess no longer.”
The Wise-Woman appeared beside her. “Of course you are.”
Nita shook her head, “No, the last seed turned to dust this morning.” She looked down, feeling both great joy and great sorrow.
Just then one of her subjects stepped up and held out a clenched fist. “For you,” the man said, waiting for Nita to look up. When she did, he leaned forward and released his hand, letting a dozen seeds drop into her lap. She stared at them in surprise, turning her gaze from her lap to the Wise-Woman.
Before the Wise-Woman could respond to her questioning look, another subject stepped forward, dropping another handful of seeds into the princess’s lap. One by one they came forward, so many handfuls of seeds that they filled her lap, running over and piling at her feet.
When the last had given, the Wise-Woman finally spoke. “With the measure you use to give, it will be given unto you. A good measure, pressed together, shaken down, and running over.”
“Where did they come from?” Princess Nita asked.
“It turns out,” the Wise-Woman answered, “that when a seed is sacrificed, planted and watered and tended, it produces 30, 60, even 100 times what is sown.”
Princess Nita reigned for many, many years. Her seeds never ran out and her people were always well fed. Though the day came when she gave her crown to the next in line, it never turned to dust. For when you give, it will come back to you.
Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.
Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.