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Pen of Joy, Pen of Sorrow

by Laura Beasley

She believed one pen was enough.

She selected her Pen of Joy as a girl. Before teaching the daughters of noble women to write their names, the wise woman sent them to the forest to find pens. The princess gathered a basket of feathers to share.

Wanting the best for herself, she asked, "Is this feather from a black-billed or yellow-billed magpie?"

The Old Weaver twisted the iridescent feather in her fingers, "It's from a yellow-billed bird. It will be a fine Pen of Joy, for you, child."

The girl copied recipes, scribbled riddles and knock-knock jokes. Although the other girls drew pictures, she was fond of all things literary. The princess drew with words. She traded notes of friendship with other girls and wrote letters. Every day she penned a poem for her sick mother, the queen.

"Roses are red, violets are blue.
My poems will make you happier too."

She believed poems written by her Pen of Joy would cure her mother's illness. The queen could not button her gown. Her neck was covered with fleshy stones. The Old Weaver told the princess the stones would grow to consume her mother. The princess stroked her own neck, underarms and belly and searched for pebbles that could grow into stones. She hoped her Pen of Joy would protect her from illness.

The queen had been sick for years, and the princess was not yet a woman. The girl was old enough to make soup but had not reached her bleeding time. The Old Weaver brought her to say farewell to her mother and receive her final gift. The queen gave her daughter a Pen of Sorrow.

The princess could not see clearly in the candlelight. The pen felt heavy in her hands. The queen's loud breathing frightened her. She was afraid to kiss her mother even though she was old enough to be brave. She nodded and curtsied before leaving. She had no intention of using the Pen of Sorrow.

The life of a princess needs more than a Pen of Joy. There were many opportunities to pick up the green-black quill and send bread-and-butter letters after attending costume balls and elegant receptions. The princess penned notes of gratitude and appreciation for gifts and tributes received. Even without her mother, the teen years included joyful memories scrawled in leather journals. Yet there were moments each day that necessitated the Pen of Sorrow. She was not grateful for this gift but recognized its value. Some acquaintance or family member would be afflicted with disease or injury. Notes of consolation or sympathy could only be written with the blood-red dagger-tipped Pen of Sorrow.

After she was engaged to her Prince Charming, she hoped she could dispose of her Pen of Sorrow. She wrote about their long rides and private picnics during their courtship, wedding plans and true love. The royal wedding led to royal babies: prince and princess. Her journals included loving memories and notes receiving shower gifts. The princess was surprised she needed the Pen of Sorrow raising children. Her offspring inspired intense emotions. Their behavior could be less than royal. She wrote letters of apology to other mothers when her daughter borrowed her friend's clothing without permission, when her son knocked down other boys during dueling practice. Some days she needed her Pen of Sorrow more than her Pen of Joy.

On difficult days, the princess would grip her Pen of Sorrow, cursing, "Some day, when my children are grown, I will be done with you!"

She celebrated when her children were married and living in castles of their own. The princess had time with her true love and fun with grandchildren. Even her friends were healthy and less accident-prone. The princess decided to dispense of her mother's final gift. She left her mother's blessing in the dark forest.

The next day, her daughter carried in her child, "Mother, there is something on Lucinda's arm. What does it mean? What should we do?"

The princess stroked her granddaughter's arm and felt the fleshy pebble. When she closed her eyes, they burned as she remembered her mother's illness.

She grabbed a parchment and her pen, "We'll send for the Old Weaver. She'll come for me. She will summon the best healer."

She had selected her Pen of Joy. The paper ripped and tore as the princess tried to write her message.

"Mother, what are you doing? Don't you want to help us?"

The princess tried and failed repeatedly. She could not write the message with her Pen of Joy. She knew what she had to do. The princess needed to find her Pen of Sorrow in the forest. With eyes obscured by tears, she searched for seventy days. By the time she returned to the castle, the pebble on the child's arm had grown to the size of a hen's egg. Summoned by the letter written by the Pen of Sorrow, the Old Weaver brought the best healer who cured her grandchild. The princess carried the Pen of Sorrow in her apron pocket until the end of her days.

Laura Beasley was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma in 2000. After treatment with CHOP chemo, she has been living beyond cancer for 14 years. She was an active participant in the "Writing for Wellness" group at the Cancer Support Community in Redondo Beach. Her experiences are included in Barbara Abercrombie's book, Writing out the Storm.