Once upon a time, in a land where magicians and fairies were commonplace, the queen of the kingdom gave birth to a healthy son. As was tradition, the proud parents threw a birth feast, and invited all the noblemen, diplomats, and other people of note. Not being foolish, they extended invitations to all the magic-wielders in the land, not wanting to slight anyone and inadvertently cursing their child.
The feast came off magnificently, with enough food and drink for all. In thanks for the gracious hospitality, all the assembled guests bestowed gifts on the young boy. The noblemen brought physical items for the prince, either for use in his childhood or to be used as he grew older. The diplomats pledged their allegiance to the country. And the fairies and magicians all bestowed blessings on him. One by one, they came up to the cradle, touched the child on the head, and pronounced that he would grow up to be handsome, and kind, and smart, and so on and so forth.
One of the younger fairies, who would be sent up somewhere in the middle, grew concerned. All of the expected blessings had been given, and she was at a loss as to what to grant the young prince. She wished to make a good impression, both to the king and to her fellow fairies, and if she came up empty-handed, as it were, it could have grave consequences for her.
Then, as the Rose Fairy approached and blessed the prince with the ability to tame any animal, the young fairy noticed the King subtly leaning away from the fairy’s red-petaled dress, withdrawing a handkerchief from his pocket and rubbing it. Inspiration came to the fairy in a flash, and allowing herself to relax, she waited patiently for her turn. When it finally came, she approached the boy, laid a hand on his head, and declared;
“Young prince, I bless you with a lack of hayfever. May no flower, grass, tree, or other plant life cause you to itch or sneeze.”
As she said the words, she heard the intrigued murmuring of the assembled company, and knew she had done something not one of the other fairies had even considered. Even better, the king was looking at her gratefully, fluttering his handkerchief in thanks before tucking it away. Feeling inordinately pleased with herself, the fairy returned to her seat.
Indeed, the fairy’s blessing sparked a small trend among the next few fairies. The next few gifts were meant to keep the prince protected from allergies to dust, animal fur, feathers, perfumes and other scents, and even pepper. When all potential allergens had been exhausted, the king briefly interrupted the ceremony to thank all the fairies for ensuring that his son would be destined not to suffer from the horror of allergies. The fairies all acknowledged this with smiles, and after a few more blessings along the lines of good eyesight and a sense of punctuality, the feast was declared over, and the guests dispersed.
Time passed, as it is so often wont to do, and the prince, who had been named Franklin, grew into a fine young boy. The gifts of the fairies started to manifest themselves at around age five, and it became clear that he was everything one would want in a child and eventual ruler. He was kind to all, polite, inquisitive, and utterly charming. There were the occasional tantrums and petulant moments, but it was a part of growing up, and no one thought less of him for it.
One thing no one could understand, however, was his fascination for watching the servants at work. He would trail after maids as they cleaned the halls, linger in the kitchen even after the cooks gave him a tidbit to snack on, even sit in the stables to watch the stableboys mucking out the stalls. But he was quiet, stayed out of the way, and even pitched in to help on occasion, so everyone assumed that it was just a part of his personality. “Such a wonderful king he will make!” they said, “Caring so much about the work of the servants as he does.”
The truth was, they were only partially right. Franklin did care about the servants and didn’t wish them to be overworked, but there was a more…personal reason for his fascination.
In one of those odd little twists that Fate is so fond of, young Franklin was one of those people for whom sneezing holds a peculiar captivation. Having learned early on that there were certain items that made people sneeze, he enjoyed following people when the chances were high that something would set them off. The cleaning maids, with their brushes and dusters, would sometimes be overcome by small fits of sneezing if a room or cloth was too dusty. The numerous spices in the air when the cooks were preparing dinner was guaranteed to coax a sneeze out of at least one of them—more if one was clumsy and dropped one of the glass vials. And all the hay floating around as the stableboys tossed their pitchforks about often cause one or two to drop their tools and muffle a sneeze into their elbow. Franklin watched all of this with eagerness, though he was aware enough of how strange this fascination was that he did his best not to let his feelings show.
Needless to say, he wished to experience this sensation for himself. Others seemed to be annoyed by it, but he couldn’t understand why. The sounds weren’t unpleasant, and the obvious relief on the sneezer’s face one the sneeze was over surely meant that it couldn’t be all bad. But no matter what he tried, it never seemed to affect him the way it affected the others.
“Ih…ihh…Ishoo!” The maid would sneeze after beating the rugs, even if she craned her head back as far as possible. Franklin would ask for a turn, and stand so close to the rug that the threads were touching his nose, but nothing would happen other than a faint prickle in his nose, put out of his mind when the rug smacked him in the face.
“Ah-ah-ASHH!” The chef would sneeze, before putting down the spoon and declaring that the stew had too much pepper. Franklin would steal the pepper shaker and bring it to his room that night, sniffing up as many black grains as he could, but only resulting in a coughing fit, a black nose, and a scolding when the maids discovered the mess on the bedsheets.
“HRESSSH!” One of the animal caretakers would sneeze as a chicken flapped its wings directly into his face. Franklin would pluck one of the feathers from said chicken (earning a peck on his hand for the trouble) and stick the feather directly up his nose, but get nothing for his troubles other than smelling nothing but chicken dung for a good hour.
Franklin was even fascinated by his parent’s sneezes. His father tended to sneeze mightily in spring when the flowers were in bloom, but even when Franklin sniffed every flower one right after the other, he could never coax out a sniffle, let alone a sneeze. His mother, meanwhile, would occasionally stifle a sneeze between her fingers at a banquet if she sat near a woman saturated in scent, but liberally spraying himself with his mother’s perfume didn’t generate the same reaction in him. After each failed attempt, he would sulk, though he tried to put on a pleasant face if anyone asked him what was wrong.
As he grew older, and his curiosity about sneezing grew stronger, Franklin came to almost resent everyone their ability to sneeze. Hearing people sneeze was still something he enjoyed, but along with the flash of interest came a gnawing frustration that he was unable to copy them. Eventually, he learned from his tutor about allergies, and the mystery became clear to him. Somehow, he had no such sensitivity, which was why he never sneezed. From that night onwards, as he prepared, he would look out his window and wait until the first star came into the sky, and say “O, if only I could find something that made me sneeze!” But it seemed as though the stars did not want to grant his wish.
The years passed, and at last, the old king stepped down, wishing to spend his twilight years in peace at his summer cottage. With much pomp and ceremony, Franklin took the throne that March. His schooling and fairy-blessed gifts served him well, and the first six months of his reign passed peacefully. He spoke with the diplomats, fêted the noblemen, and praised the fairies whenever one happened to cross his path. Though he was now confronted with still more sneezing at meetings and banquets, feeling the familiar frustration and continuing to wish on the first star every night, he had, at twenty-one years of age, mostly resigned himself to the fact that he was destined to never sneeze.
Now, most observant readers of this tale will no doubt have been wondering about the other affliction that is known to make people sneeze. And they are quite correct to do so. It had just been something that had slipped through the cracks, as it were. Fairies did not fall ill, and thus never even considered giving Franklin a blessing against illness. But, at the same time, the king and queen were well aware of it, and thus had done their best to protect their son from falling ill. He was always bundled up during the winter and exhorted to eat warm foods whenever he came in from inside. If someone in the palace were to fall ill, they were ordered to immediately quarantine themselves and to stay away from the young prince. Thus, though Franklin had suffered through earache, toothache, and other such illnesses, he had never come into contact with someone suffering from a cold.
But now, as king, Franklin came into contact with many more people who lived outside the palace, who perhaps would stay away if they were feeling seriously ill, but thought nothing of meeting the king if they were getting over a cold or feeling slightly under the weather. And winter, as is well known, is well known as the season when people are most likely to fall ill.
And thus it was that one morning, Franklin awoke with a pain in his head and a strange, blocked sensation in his nose and throat. Thinking it was due to sleeping in an odd position, he got out of bed to dress and splash water on his face, only to shiver most violently when he pulled back the covers. Puzzled and a little concerned, he rang for a servant. The servant took one look at him and gasped. “Your majesty is ill! I shall send for the doctor at once!” This did nothing to assuage Franklin’s concern.
The doctor, however, put his fears to rest. “It’s nothing but a bad cold, my liege,” he said, after giving Franklin a quick examination, “You should be fine in a few days. I would advise staying in bed until the shivering passes, but I am sure there are still duties you can attend to here in bed.”
Franklin nodded and sent the man off, mulling things over. A cold, did he say? Did that mean that he had somehow absorbed the chill in the air? Was this something that happened when one became ruler? Is that why he’d never heard of it until now? Surely his father would have mentioned something as they’d prepared for Franklin’s coronation.
His reverie was distracted by a sharp prickling sensation in his nose. He froze, heart hammering in his ribs. It was much like the slight itches he’d felt in his experiments with irritants, but much stronger than he’d ever felt. Could it be…?
It was as though he had lost control of his body. As the itch grew stronger and stronger, he took little involuntary breaths, his eyes closing and his head tilting back. And then, at last, the itch reached a point where it was unbearable, and air exploded out of his nose and mouth.
For a moment after the sneeze, Franklin remained where he was, head hanging downwards, something wet leaking from his nose. Then he felt an overwhelming joy. Turning to his window, he looked up at the cloudy sky and said “Thank you, whatever power you are, for finally giving me something that makes me sneeze.” Then he rang for another servant, asking him to bring a large stack of handkerchiefs.
Ah, but the story does not quite end here, for it seems that Fate has a sense of balance as well as a sense of humor.
For the first two days of his illness (during which time, he learned the true definition of a cold), Franklin was content to enjoy the few sneezes that came his way, learning to overcome that “paralyzing” feeling long enough to prepare a handkerchief to catch the sneeze in. In the meantime, he busied himself with papers and preparing for the various meetings he would be having once he was recovered. Other than the doctor and a few servants, he saw no one, not wishing to pass this cold on. Thus, any well-wishes for his health were relayed through those servants.
On the afternoon of the third day, one of the servants entered, a feather duster in her hand and a makeshift cloth mask over her nose and mouth. “If you don’t mind, your majesty, I’ll get a bit of dusting done. You can at least have a clean room while you’re abed.” Franklin agreed idly, returning to his book.
There was a companionable silence for a few minutes, only broken by faint brushing noises, the turn of a page, and the occasional tiny sneeze from the maid, who was susceptible to dust. But when the maid started to dust the posts of Franklin’s bed, Franklin put down his book to watch her work. Even after all these years, he enjoyed watching the dust fly into the air, occasionally causing noses to twitch and servants to sneeze. Out of habit, he sniffed the air, allowing a bit of the dust into his own nose.
To his astonishment, he felt the sneezy prickle in his nose, but it wasn’t the sharp one he was used to. No, it was lighter, more insistent, and he barely had enough time to get the handkerchief to his face before he let loose with a small fit of sneezing. “Hihchh! Chh! Kissh!”
“I’m sorry, your majesty,” the maid said, withdrawing, “My dusting is aggravating your cold. I will leave the bed as it is until you have recovered.”
“No, no!” Franklin said, hoping his eagerness wasn’t obvious, “Please, continue. The doctor says getting rid of my congestion is the best thing for me, after all.”
Skeptically, the maid did as she was told. Franklin, meanwhile, continued to breathe in the dust, each time generating the same light tickle and a small fit of three. He delighted in it, imagining this is how the maids felt whenever they cleaned out the castle during spring, and was actually disappointed when the maid declared herself finished and curtseyed her way out of the room. Still, he had been given an extra dose of sneezing, and he wasn’t about to complain. Rubbing his nose on his handkerchief, he returned to his reading.
But then, later that afternoon, another servant, along with bringing him some soup, had a vase of flowers on the tray. “From the Drisay family,” he explained, “They heard you were unwell and sent these flowers from their greenhouse, hoping it would bring you some comfort.”
“I shall have to write them a note of thanks when I have recovered.” Franklin said, taking the vase and sniffing the flowers, wanting a whiff of their sweet scent. Instead, his nose gave another prickle, sharper than the dust but not quite as sharp as the cold, and he held the handkerchief to his nose as he snapped forward with two loud sneezes. “Het-CHUH! At-KSHH!”
The servant looked ready to take the flowers away, but Franklin waved him off, “Just my cold flaring up,” he lied, setting the flowers on his bedside table, “I’ll be fine. Thank you for the soup.”
Once the servant had gone, Franklin thought over everything that had occurred that day, and came to an inescapable conclusion; because of this cold, it seemed that his body, unable to respond to allergens the rest of the year, took this opportunity to gain sensitivity to dust, pollen, and other irritants. To test this, he took the pepper shaker from the tray and gave an experimental sniff. One rather wet sneeze later, he was sure his theory was correct.
And thus did Franklin request an odd collection of items be brought to his room for the remainder of his bedrest, from a bottle of perfume to a strand of hay from the stables. He had a plausible explanation for each item, and the servants scratched their heads, but concluded it was for a good reason. Should they have heard a cacophony of sneezing from the king’s bedroom, they assumed it was just a particularly bad moment of congestion.
After five days, the shivering and congestion passed, and Franklin regretfully discovered that his newfound allergies went with them. But it was no matter to him; he now knew exactly how to proceed.
King Franklin ruled justly and wisely for many years. All were satisfied with his decisions, and his policies were enough to usher in over a century of peace, long after he had passed on. All who had ever encountered him, even briefly, spoke fondly of him.
What the servants remembered most, however, was that the quarantine ban was lifted, and that the king would often come to visit them if they were ill and wished to remain in bed. “What a generous man,” they would say, shaking their heads sympathetically, “Always looking out for our well-being, even at the risk to his own health. He always seemed to be perpetually sneezing every winter…”