Once upon a time there was a princess with only one eye. Now, we need two eyes to see depth, so the one-eyed princess could only see people as they looked on the surface, and not how they were in their hearts. Such a handicap would make life difficult for a commoner, but a princess’s only job is to find a handsome prince to marry, and her one eye made her exceptionally good at determining handsomeness, so nobody worried.
The princess was kind-hearted, and she grew to be very kind and pleasant to anyone she thought good-looking enough to be a good person. She was less kind to the plainer-looking people who she assumed were not as good. Being a princess, she didn’t often have to be around people who looked bad. The ugliest people she saw were servants, whom she was allowed to treat poorly.
And so the time came when the princess was expected to marry. Princes voyaged from far and wide to meet the princess at a grand ball. The King and Queen were careful to only give invitations to the very handsomest of princes, lest the princess displease handsome princes by showing how badly she treated the less handsome ones.
The princess’s handmaidens worked tirelessly to prepare the princess to meet her suitors, and were only called names in return. One of them was losing her hair from worry, and the princess treated her all the worse for it. On the eve of the ball, the handmaiden could not bear to continue, and gave the princess a mirror, so that she may groom herself.
For the first time, the princess saw her reflection. She saw the smooth skin where her left eye should be, and how ugly that made her. She saw that she was even more worthless than the ugliest of her servants. She ran out into the rainforest by the castle, crying as much as her single eye could. She threw herself down by a pond, and saw her reflection in it, the smooth skin reddened and swollen with trapped tears. “No handsome prince will ever love someone as ugly as me!” she wailed.
Now, a chameleon walking nearby heard this, and being a smart chameleon, he knew that there were benefits to marrying even an ugly princess. So he changed himself to look like one of the handsome princes he had seen entering the castle.
“Oh!” said the princess as the prince appeared beside her. “You look like a mean old tax collector. Kindly give me my taxes or go away.” So the chameleon went away. The princess looked at her reflection again, and saw that she did not deserve the taxes.
The chameleon waited for a more handsome prince to arrive at the castle, and changed himself to look like him. When he approached the princess, she said, “Hello, there, Sir! You are surely a knight. Do you need a stable girl? For I am clearly not fit to be a princess.”
The chameleon said, “Sorry, Miss. I thought you were my horse,” and went away. The princess cried so much into the pond that the water, and her reflection, became clearer, and the ugly red bulge where her left eye ought to have been grew to the size of a plum. She saw it and knew that she did not deserve to live.
Just as the princess was about to throw herself into the water and drown, the chameleon came back, disguised as the handsomest prince he could find. He held the princess by the waist to keep her from falling in. “Oh, thank you, your Highness! You have saved me!” she said. “But I am not deserving of your kindness.”
“It was simply the right thing to do, ma’am; the pond does not deserve to be so sullied,” replied the chameleon.
The princess agreed. “You are right, of course, your Highness. But is there anything I can do to repay your good deed? Through some accident of birth, I am a princess, so I can give you anything you want.”
The chameleon replied, “As a handsome prince, I already have almost everything I could wish for. But I am a friend of the forest creatures, and my own kingdom does not have such vast rainforests as yours. So I ask that you marry me, and when the time comes for you to take the throne, let me rule as King in your stead.” And that’s exactly what she did. When the chameleon became King, he ordered the people to move to the outskirts of the kingdom, so that the rainforest could grow and give more room for his chameleon family.
The chameleon did not always treat the princess well, but as he was so handsome, she could tell he was a good person who was kinder to her than she deserved. As he had two eyes, the chameleon could tell that the princess was a good person who was kinder to him than he deserved, but he did not always treat her well. And so, they lived happily ever after.
For a while after I finally gave up on Wiener-Neustadt and found an apartment in Vienna, I had no furniture in my apartment, so I was sleeping on a borrowed camp mat with a bundle of clothes for a pillow. I kept finding cushions in the shops instead of pillows, which was okay, because I didn’t want to get something that would be redundant once I got my pillows out of storage in Geneva. I found this cushion on sale, perhaps because of the missing eye, and I knew I had to write a fairy tale about it. So I bought the cushion and used it as a pillow until I got a sofa bed, while thinking about what the story would be. I don’t remember exactly how I came up with the chameleon’s role, but looking at it now I can hardly believe my luck. It just seems like such an obvious character to feature alongside a one-eyed protagonist that I wonder if there’s already a fairy tale about this that I haven’t read. This one is partially based on my own rephrasing of something that somebody at a writers’ group I belonged to in New Zealand once said: The way you judge others is ultimately the way you [imagine that other people] judge yourself.
Of course, I don’t actually think that people who don’t have 3D vision for whatever reason are shallow, any more than I think a chameleon can disguise itself as a prince. This is a fairy tale, and fairy tales tend to extrapolate wildly from physical characteristics just as the one-eyed princess does.