Pride and Joy

The two children at the palace gate were dressed in rags, with broken chains around their ankles. They were the colour of dirt, from their tangled hair to their bare feet. The only bright thing about them was their eyes; and from their eyes, the king and queen recognised them. The lost prince and princess, Pride and Joy, had found their way home.

The palace erupted in celebration. The royal blacksmith was sent for to strike the chains from their thin, scarred ankles; the royal barber cut away the hair that was matted beyond brushing; the ladies-in-waiting stripped them of their rags, and bathed them, and dressed them in silks and jewels; and the cooks prepared a feast for them.

But the spiced meats and sugared fruits went untouched. The prince and princess snatched at the bread and ate it dry, like scared animals, their hands to their mouths and their wide eyes darting around them. They drank only water, in quick gulps, as if someone might take it away.

‘Oh, my darlings,’ said the queen, ‘can’t you see that you’re safe?’

‘Give them time,’ said the king, who had been a prisoner of war in his youth.

That night, Pride and Joy were tucked up in two huge, sumptuous beds, in two great gilded chambers.

But morning found them curled up in each other’s arms on the prince’s bedroom floor. They had walled themselves in with chairs and blankets to make a little shelter. The princess had taken her necklace of gold and rubies and tied it around her ankle, as if she couldn’t sleep without a chain there.

‘Oh, my darlings,’ said the queen, ‘can’t you see that you’re safe?’

‘Give them time,’ said the king.

The queen began to weep. ‘I have given them silk and gold and jewels, I have given them sweets and spices. I have given them my heart and soul, and must I now give them Time?’

‘Yes,’ said the king, and put his arms around her.

And so they waited. And the next night, the shelter Pride and Joy made for themselves was just a little bit bigger…

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