The story tells of a prince who wants to marry a princess, but is having difficulty finding a suitable wife. Something is always wrong with those he meets, and he cannot be certain they are real princesses because they have bad table manners or they are too fat or thin or not beautiful. One stormy night a young woman drenched with rain seeks shelter in the prince's castle. She claims to be a princess, so the prince's mother decides to test their unexpected, unwitting guest by placing a pea in the bed she is offered for the night, covered by 20 mattresses and 20 feather-beds. In the morning, the guest tells her hosts that she endured a sleepless night, kept awake by something hard in the bed that she is certain has bruised her. The prince rejoices. Only a real princess would have the sensitivity to feel a pea through such a quantity of bedding, so the two are married.

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