Relax, close your eyes and imagine yourself in an enormous castle. Its thick, stone walls and impressive high towers are surrounded by a great moat. This was the home of King Frederick and Queen Veronica, who were both so busy looking after their kingdom that they didn't have much time for their five children. King Frederick even called his children by numbers rather than by their names because he said it was quicker that way. The royal children were the naughtiest in the land, but one day everything changed. Would you like to know what happened? Listen carefully to their story.
One day the king's children had been even naughtier than usual. They’d teased the royal hunting dogs and dressed up in the chief judge’s finest robes. King Frederick was so angry he ordered his guards to keep the children in their bedrooms as punishment.
That night he and the queen left the castle for a magnificent ball at a neighbouring duke’s palace.
The children waited until their guards had fallen asleep. Then they ran through the castle looking for mischief. At last they reached the picture gallery, which held the portraits of all their royal ancestors. The king was very proud of the gallery and especially loved his own portrait. The queen had ordered the gallery to be repainted and there were lots of paint tins lying around on the floor.
“Who feels like painting?” asked Number 1, the king’s eldest daughter, picking up a can of red paint.She climbed onto a chair, reached up, and painted a red beard and moustache onto her father’s portrait. The other children fell about laughing.
“Me next!” cried Number 3. The children screamed with delight as each tried to outdo the other in painting silly hairstyles and faces on the portraits. Next, they had a paint fight and the whole gallery was spattered in bright colours. Finally they grew tired. Deciding it was time for bed, they crept back to their room.
The king and queen returned from the ball after midnight. “My dear,” said King Frederick to the queen, “I’ll take a quick look at the picture gallery. I do like to see the family all together there on the wall. It helps me sleep soundly.”
When the king saw the state of the gallery he shouted with fury. “Guards! Who’s done this?”
The guards knew the royal children were probably to blame. But they also knew they would be in trouble for failing to keep the children in their rooms.
“It must have been village children, your Majesty,” lied the chief guard. “You can see a child’s hand prints on the walls.”
“Bring all the village children here!” ordered King Frederick. “I don’t care if it’s the middle of the night.”
Soon the picture gallery was full of sleepy children and their worried parents.
“Who did this?” King Frederick demanded, pointing around him at the terrible mess. Nobody said a word.
“If no-one owns up I will punish all the children,” he threatened, but still no-one moved.
King Frederick was furious that nobody had confessed. “Guards, lock up all the children!” he cried.
The guards looked guiltily at each other but they were too frightened to say anything. They started separating the village children from their parents.
A small girl called Angelica left her mother’s side. She lightly pulled on the king’s robe to get his attention. “Your Majesty,” she said, smiling up at his angry red face, “is it fair that the innocent children have to be punished for the actions of a few guilty ones?”
“What?” cried King Frederick. He wasn’t used to his orders being questioned. The room fell silent.
“I don’t want you to be known as a cruel and unjust king,” said Angelica gently.
“If the guilty children won’t own up, then all the children must be punished,” said King Frederick firmly.
“Does that include your own children?” asked Angelica.
“Of course not, only the village children,” replied the king.
“Surely all children’ must mean all children,” said the girl.
“The child’s right,” shouted one of the parents.
“The king’s unfair,” shouted another.
The king was worried. He looked at Angelica. “What should I do, child?” he asked.
Angelica thought for a moment. Then she said, “Please bring all the children who live in the castle here.”
All the castle’s children, including the royal children, were lined up in a row. Angelica looked carefully at them. “I’m sorry to inform you, your Majesty,” she said, “that it’s your own family who are guilty.”
“You accuse my children!” cried the king. “Numbers 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5, come here!”
The royal children looked sweet in their white pyjamas, but Angelica asked to see the palms of their hands. The hands of Numbers 1, 2, 3 and 4 were all scrubbed clean. But Number 5, the youngest boy, hadn’t removed all the paint from his nails and there was blue paint in his hair.
“My own children, how could you behave in such a way?” cried the king.
He turned to Angelica and shook her by the hand. “You've saved me from making a fool of myself. Thank you. But how did you know who was responsible?”
“I didn’t at first,” said Angelica, “but I did know it couldn’t have been the village children. You see, the castle walls are so high and so thick and no-one can swim across the moat.”
The king nodded thoughtfully. Then he asked Angelica, “How do you think I should punish my children?”
“Instead of punishing them, spend time with them.” said Angelica. “They wouldn’t be so naughty if they had more attention from you. And why not call them by their names? Nobody likes to be called a number.”
King Frederick shook his head in amazement. He said, “You are an extraordinary and surprising little girl.”
Angelica just smiled. Sometimes situations can seem complicated or unfair. However great the problem, the best solution is always the one that brings a benefit to everybody involved.