It was to such immaculate parents that a daughter was born. She had everything she could possibly desire. Her beautiful parents lavished jewels of rainbow colours on her, dressed her in pearls and satins from a small infant, yet she could ask for no greater beauty than the beautiful souls of her parents. From an early age she was taught to measure the worth of material things and she never took her wealth and position for granted. She was as grounded as one could be: though it could not be denied that she knew that within her she held the power to stand out on the balcony and speak to the masses, and they would hang on her every word; nor could she ignore that her youthful wisdom would inspire the ideals of the peasants of the land. Her parents dreamt of great things for her, and they knew at some point she would come to rule the kingdom they so loved, and loved them so back. It was with these dreams, and those of the happiness that she would experience that led them to name her Joy.
But as Joy grew up her parents noticed something different about her. She would not play as children do – or even as royal children do – she would not smile at the jesters as they capered before her; she would not laugh if silly faces were pulled in her direction; she would not smile at the first breath of summer as it floated in through her bedroom window. All she liked to do was sit on a little veranda that had been built onto what was designed to be a little summer hut in the grounds of the royal palace. She would languish on a silk embroidered seat there, her arms spread over the silver edged beam, her head on her arms and watch the peacocks as they strutted about. She would not move for hours at a time, and when she was asked at what time she would require refreshment, or even meals, she would answer, ‘I don’t think I shall require any today,’ and her eyelids would droop yet again, and she would sigh desperately. The king and queen became gravely concerned with the state of Joy’s condition and the way in which she was growing up so unlike their own experiences of childhood. The king said to Joy one afternoon, ‘My dear, we cannot have you missing meals – you shall have to come in at regular times to eat something, for we can’t have you starving.’ Joy knew that her father only meant well, and as she loved him dearly, she agreed to do what he asked, and came in when requested to nibble at the end of a loaf of bread, or take a sip at a glass of elderflower wine. But the truth was that she didn’t want it, and did it only to keep her parents pleased: and though they were relieved to see her decline in weight halt, they were still troubled as to what was so disturbing their daughter.
Eventually her mother, with her wisdom and knowledge about human relationships, went down the path to the summer house to speak to Joy. The queen felt that if only Joy could talk about what was causing her to behave so oddly then she might feel a great deal of relief. The queen floated into the veranda and sat down on the swing. Joy looked out into the grounds, slumped into her usual position, her gaze unfaltering. ‘My darling,’ the queen started, ‘you know I am here for you. I love you. I want to do all I can to make your life as joyful as it is supposed to be. Please won’t you tell me what is wrong, and why you don’t like to eat, and why you prefer to spend all winter and summer long here, watching the grass grow? Wouldn’t you like to be inside, or touring the country, seeing the sights, finding out what life and the world has to offer?’ The queen leaned forward and tried to catch Joy’s eye. Joy looked out and sighed desperately. ‘No,’ she said. ‘I just want to stay here.’ And the queen tried her best to reason with her daughter, but Joy would not speak another word.
And so, feeling defeated by a force unknown, the queen floated sadly back to the palace and told the king what had happened. The king resolved to help Joy himself, in his own way, for no daughter of his was going to be unhappy, not with the riches, power and servants that he had at his disposal. He went down to the summer house and looked at Joy as she stared into the grass a few feet before him. He looked into her eyes while she looked at the grass, and this gave him an idea. The king ran back to the palace and called an urgent meeting with his workmen and bid them go to work immediately at transforming the spot right before the veranda of the summer house. Over many days and many nights, the plain grass spot of the grounds was transformed into a marvellous gleaming pond, with a surface like floating silver, and with golden fish jumping in and out of its little waves blown in by the wind, and which was so beautiful and with water so fresh that the most exotic and beautifully coloured birds were attracted there to preen themselves and to frolic around in the water. The king stood back and admired their work, and congratulated the men who had created the pond as they streamed away from their finished product. As he shook the last man’s hand his eyes travelled over to Joy, who was sat still at the veranda. She had not noticed, and her eyes were still glazed over, completely unaware of her father’s gesture. The king was horrified, and he walked back to the palace sadly.
But the king and queen, in their devotion to their daughter’s happiness, were determined not to let their failed attempts deter them from trying once more. They walked out onto the balcony, and the people of their kingdom stopped what they were doing and rushed to hear what the royal couple were to say. They entreated their loyal people to try to think of any way in which they might cheer up their royal daughter. And one by one, candidates presented themselves to the palace, with plans to plant a smile back on the face of their less than joyful daughter Joy. The king and queen rigorously interviewed their people until they found one that they thought would bring a smile to her face. They sent in a clown, whose water shooting flowers and balloon bending antics beamed the brightest smiles onto the king and queen’s faces. The clown made his way up to the pond and rode around it on his miniature bicycle hooting his horn. He performed the best routine of his life, with more vitality and enthusiasm than the king and queen thought possible, but still Joy looked ahead with her sad expression still upon her face, and after the clown had finished his tomfoolery she simply stared straight ahead and said, ‘You perform with skill and precision, but I do not want you here. Leave me alone, for I just want to stay here.’
The clown walked away sadly and a small tear rode down his whitened cheek. He shook his head at the king and queen, who were watching in the background, and they looked at each other with despair. They went back to the masses of people that had arrived at the palace gates while the clown was performing and started interviewing the people again. Eventually they came across a lyre player, who played songs that flew through the air and delighted the soul. The king and queen were instantly in agreement and sent the lyre player out into the grounds at once to play to Joy. The lyre player crept up and sat quietly on the swing in the veranda and began to play. She sang songs of the courtship of swallows in the summer months, of the friendship between foxes and badgers, and of love between a parent and a child. The tunes hummed through the air and even the birds in the pond began to smile slightly through their beaks. And when the lyre player was done, and she leaned forwards to see whether her magic had entranced Joy, she still saw her unhappy face looking straight ahead; and Joy said, ‘You play with emotion and soul, but I do not want you here. Leave me alone, for I just want to stay here.’
The lyre player burst into tears and ran away so distressed that she didn’t realise that she left her lyre behind on the veranda swing. The king and queen tried to speak to her as she ran past them but they hardly needed to. The king and queen went back to their interviewing room and resolved to try one more person. They came across, through many days of interviews, a handsome man who wrote and recited poetry. His rhymes fell like dripping honey through the ears and onto the heart. His lines warmed the soul, and the king and queen were determined that this time they had the solution to their daughter’s woes. The man strode out in the most beautiful, flowing attire, a feathered cap upon his head, his mind full of words. He stood and performed for Joy, his cascade of language tying together all the disharmony of the garden and calming the sky into smoothness. He looked down on her after he had recited every poem he knew and his mind was empty from words. Joy still looked forward, unchanged, and she uttered only the words, ‘You recite with delicacy and rhythm, but I do not want you here. Leave me alone, for I just want to stay here,’ and she sighed a melancholy sigh.
The man was shocked, for he had never met a single soul that had not enjoyed his poetry, and he walked down the path numb and unfeeling, completely passing the king and queen by. The queen wept and the king held her in his arms. He felt such sorrow for his wife’s unhappiness, and in a moment of anger, spurred on by his own and his wife’s helplessness, he marched up to his daughter and let a barrage of words fall from his mouth:
‘Joy! Can’t you see that we’ve tried our hardest to make you happy? But we can’t do it unless you try! Can’t you see what you are doing to this kingdom, to this family? It has taken generations of your family to create this kingdom, to achieve this perfect state that it is in, but they tell me that now if one walks the streets all the peoples have frowns and tears upon their faces, they feel defeated, for none of them can cure your melancholy, and your mother and I feel the same. It has taken years to create what you destroyed in your few years on this earth – and you don’t even seem to care! What could be so bad that you cannot bring a smile to those cursed lips of yours? You shall never be queen if you cannot even handle being a princess.’
The king knew, from the second that the words began to fall from his mouth into the ears of his daughter that he was wrong for saying what he was, but such mistakes will happen when emotions run high. His hand flew to his mouth as if he could take back what he had said. He began to mumble, ‘I’m sorry,’ when he was struck: Joy had stopped staring at the grass and was looking up at him with tears in her eyes. They flowed out of her eyes, shining brighter than any silver or gold that lined the corridors of the palace, and more beautifully formed than the brightest pearls. Joy stood up and made her way over to the pond. She began to wade in: first her toes touched the water, sliding into the deep blue feathers of the water, then her legs were consumed by it too, and further, further still. She looked down at the water as she spoke:
‘Father, you never asked me whether I wanted to change. Did you think that maybe I thought there was nothing wrong with me? That I liked the way I was? In all honesty it was too much to live up to, all of this. It was too much pressure being joy. Because once you realise you aren’t, that you’re miserable, the pressure gets worse, and you become more miserable. It was just too much, and I don’t know what the best thing was for it, but I can see that everyone I have met has left me with tears in their eyes and they do not enjoy their tears, even though they are necessary for life. Father, you are right,’ she said, and as the water crept up to her neck, she uttered her last words: ‘you will find your own joy without me, and the kingdom will too, and everyone will be happy again.’ Joy disappeared on these words, and nothing the king and his men could do could drag her body up from the depths: she seemed to completely disappear.
An official period of mourning was declared for Joy’s death. The king and queen were devastated, and cried every day for a year. It was true that a grey cloud was drawn over the whole of the kingdom, and everyone was sorry for what had happened. But within time, the king and queen, as well as the kingdom, began to come to terms with what had happened, and once they had done so, they were less sad, and began to celebrate the time Joy had had on the earth. And the king had to admit, on a day a few years after Joy’s death, that he was happy, and though he felt guilty about it, his wife was happy, and the kingdom was happy too. The king and queen even had another child. Everything was beginning to become perfect again.