For her birthday last month, our eight-year-old grand-daughter announced that she wanted hand-made gifts.

Words are the only thing I could possibly produce that is “hand-made.” So, I wrote a story for Sophie.

Here is is my effort at a hand-made story for a wise and beautiful little girl turning eight:

How The Princess Got Her Happy Back

This is the story of how Princess Felicia got her happy back.

Princess Felicia was the only child of the King and Queen of the little kingdom of Honrobia. She was born on the auspicious 24th day of the 8th month in the 8th year of her father’s reign.

When Princess Felicia was born there was great rejoicing throughout the kingdom. The people of Honrobia had been hoping that the King and the Queen, who were getting past the age of child-bearing, would finally have a child to carry on their family’s reign.

Everyone saw as soon as she was born that Princess Felicia was a happy child. Her face seemed to shine with the beauty of her smile.

Her nurse often took the baby Princess out into the palace garden and lay her on the soft grass by a gently bubbling stream that ran through the garden and out into the countryside to irrigate the crops of the farms of Honrobia. Felicia could lie there for hours perfectly content listening to the water running and the birds singing. She delighted in the sweet fragrance of the flowers and the sun warm on her face.

One day in the second year after her birth, the kingdom of Honrobia suffered a terrible draught. The stream that ran through the Palace grounds dried up. In the fields there was not enough water to irrigate the crops. Everything turned brown and dry, cattle died as the crops shrivelled. The people of Honrobia were seized with fear of famine.

The King and Queen did all they could to help their people. They shared the grain they had stored away in the royal barns. They served soup each day for hungry people in their kingdom. The kitchens in the palace baked hundreds of loaves of bread to distribute among the people. The King’s soldiers travelled for miles in search of water they could transport back to their arid kingdom.

Finally, on the day of Princess Felicia’s fourth birthday, the rains returned. It was too late to save the crops that year but the people took courage from the rain believing that next year’s crops would prosper.

In thanksgiving for their good fortune, the people of Honrobia decided that every person should bring a gift to the palace for the princess on her birthday.

No matter how poor everyone worked to create a small present to offer the princess to celebrate her birth and to give thinks for the fresh rains.

And so, it became a tradition, in Honorobia that each year on Felicia’s birthday she was showered with every gift any child could ever imagine.

As prosperity returned following the draught, the gifts got more and more elaborate. The people of Honrobia sought to outdo each other with bigger and better presents every year. Everyone took great pride in the gifts they produced for the princess.

On her fifth birthday, when the people of Honrobia gathered with their offerings for the Princess, the people of the kingdom noticed something disturbing. Instead of her usual happy smile, the Princess had an angry, discontented frown on her face. And, instead of thanking the people for their generosity as she had always done, she looked at the people with a scowl and said, “I am sick of your gifts. They used to make me happy, but now they are just tiresome. Take your gifts away. I don’t want them.”

The people of Honrobia were shocked.

What had gone wrong? What could cause the happy Princess Felicia to become this sullen unhappy child who appeared at her fifth birthday celebration?

Sadly, the people of Honrobia took their gifts and returned to their homes. There was no great celebration for the Princess, no happy festivities to observe the anniversary of her birth. A great unhappiness settled over the kingdom.

No one knew exactly how it had happened but somehow, Princess Felicia had lost her happy. And all the gifts from the loyal subjects of Honrobia were not enough to bring back a contented smile to the sad face of the once-happy Princess.

Day after day, Princess Felicia sat in her playroom surrounded by the splendid gifts of years gone by. None of them brought her any pleasure. She walked in the palace gardens without seeing the flowers or hearing the birds. She no longer delighted in the warmth of the sun on her skin. The sweet scent of spring brought no pleasure to the unhappy Princess. The bubbling of the stream running down out of the hills that had once seemed such a magical sound had become just an irritating noise.

The King and Queen were desperate. What could they do to bring the happy back to their only child? They tried parties, feasts, journeys in the countryside. They sought the brightest most creative children in the kingdom and brought to the palace to play with the Princess.

Nothing helped. Every day Princess Felicia grew more unhappy.

As her eight birthday approached, the people of Honrobia gathered to discuss what they might do to help the Princess get her happy back. Great arguments erupted as everyone proposed wild schemes to delight the Princess. But no one believed the plans would work. And, after hours of discussion, they went home convinced that another birthday would come and go and still they would not be able to make the Princess get her happy back.

It was just two days before her eighth birthday that something happened which changed everything.

The Princess was walking alone in the garden. She wore her customary scowl. Her head hung down. She was not looking where she was going, which is why she did not see the small boy lying in the shade of a tree beside the stream until she kicked him. He sat up, rubbed his eyes and peered up at the grumpy face glowering down at him.

“Who are you?” the Princess demanded. “And what are you doing in my garden? No one invited you here. This is not your garden; it is my garden. You are not allowed in my garden. I will call the palace guards and they will throw you out of my garden, or maybe they will even throw you in the palace dungeon.”

The little boy smiled. He did not seem afraid of the Princess or worried by her threats. He just looked at the angry little girl.

Finally, the boy said, “You do not seem to be very happy for a Princess.”

“Why should I be happy?” Princess Felicia pouted. “Nothing makes me happy.”

“But you live in a beautiful palace,” the boy pointed out.

“I am bored with my palace.”

“And you have beautiful gardens to enjoy.”

“I have seen everything in this garden a hundred times,” said the sulky Princess who seemed to have forgotten for a moment that she intended to have this intruder arrested and thrown into jail.

Continuing to gaze at the Princess from where he was seated on the grass, the little boy finally asked, “Don’t you have any toys to play with or any playmates to make you happy?”

“I have more toys than any person in the world. And my parents pick out the best children in the kingdom to play with me. I hate my presents and I am tired of the other children. Why would they make me happy?”

The little boy’s smile irritated Princess Felicia.

“Why are you smiling?” she asked. “Do you have any friends,” she went on. “Do you have toys? Where is your home? Where are you parents? Why are you smiling?” she asked again.

The little boy didn’t answer her questions at first. Then he said, “I do not have many of the things you have in your life. But I have one thing that lets me find a little bit of happiness no matter what is happening in my life?”

“Give it to me,” the Princess demanded.

“I can’t give it to you,” the little boy replied.

“You must,” the Princess said stamping her foot. “The people in my kingdom will give me anything they can to make me happy, but none of them has anything that works. If you have something that can make me happy, you must give it to me; I command you.”

“I can’t give it to you,” he repeated.

“Why?” the Princess wanted to know.

“Because,” the little boy said, “you already have it.”

“That is nonsense,” the Princess said. “If I had what it takes to make me happy, I would be happy.”

“Sit down here on the grass,” the boy said.

No one ever ordered Princess Felicia to do anything. She was so taken aback that she promptly obeyed and sat down.

He was quiet. Princess Felicia didn’t know what to say, so she just sat there in the garden with this odd little boy.

Finally, he said, “Look around. Look at the flowers. Smell their sweet scent. Feel the sun warming your face. Hear the songs of the birds. Feel the fresh spring water in this stream.”

Then the boy was quiet.

Not knowing what to do, Princess Felicia sat and looked about the garden. She turned her face up towards the sun and listened to the bird song and the sound of stream. She smelled the sweet fragrance of the flowers.

Then something strange and yet familiar stirred inside Felicia. It was as if a long forgotten memory had been touched.

After a moment the little boy did something so shocking that, Felicia was unable to protest. He reached out and took her hand and said, “Now close your eyes. Feel the stillness inside. Let the quiet touch you. Relax your body,” and he stopped talking.

Felicia had no idea how long they sat there in the stillness and the quiet. At some point she was vaguely aware that, that no one was holding her hand any longer.

When she opened her eyes, he was gone. He had just slipped away like the morning mist. All that was left was the gentle sound of water, the bird song, the scent of the flowers, and the feel of the sun on her skin. But there was something else that hadn’t been there before when she first sat down. It was that feeling inside her, a feeling of warmth and gentleness. It was a feeling that, if you had asked Felicia to give it a name, she might have called it her happy.

Slowly, she got up and turned towards the palace. If you had been there, and looked closely at the young princess, you might have noticed the corners of her mouth curling up a little with a smile that had not been seen on her face for a long time. And, if you had asked her, she might have told you that it was a smile that came from deep inside and that did not need presents or even particular people in order to find its way on to her face.

Princess Felicia had her happy back and she knew that, even though things might not always go the way she wanted, deep inside she would always be able to find her happy.

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