The Princess Calling: Part Two
PART TWO: Curiosity vs. Sensibility
Rosellen Dellamore had never felt suited for the whole princess thing. She was a teenage daydreamer trapped in the body of a royalgirl Xweetok, expected to fulfill seemingly-impossible duties. She was witty and playful. Adventurous, daring, and fun. All things princesses weren't. To make matters worse, her parents have sent her to princess school, of all places! Rosellen is becoming to learn what being a princess is really all about—and it's only the beginning.
"Today we will be focusing our attention on creating a positive stance."
"Perfect," Labella grumbled next to me. "We get to spend the next hour balancing books on our heads."
"Labella, quiet down please," Madam Lupine ordered. "Now, as princesses, you must walk upright with a light air. No heavy stepping allowed. You must keep your head up, chin high—though not high enough to be mistaken for arrogance—and with your back straight." She modeled the royal pose. "Oh, and Labella, you know that we do not balance books on our heads here at the School of Decorum. However, that is a punishment for those who chose not to follow orders. Now, shall we rehearse?"
Madam Lupine had us walking circles around the large rooms, barking at us whenever we slumped or our heads slipped downward even the tiniest bit.
"Colleen, Colleen," the madam sighed, clapping her paws. "No, no, no. You are far too hunched, darling. Loosen your shoulders a bit. There you go, dear. Now walk over there for me please—no, no, Colleen, head up! You look like a petrified Warf who just got scolded for messing in the house."
I felt truly sorry for Colleen. She was so timid that it was near impossible for the Bori to retain good posture.
"Looks like somebody will be balancing books," Labella smirked as she breezed by me. I glared at her. She was so harsh to poor Colleen.
"She's simply scared, Labella. Give her some leave," I remarked.
Labella stopped her walking and gave me an icy stare. "You think you're such a good princess, Rosellen, and that you know everything. Colleen isn't scared, she's shameful. Haven't you heard? She's from Meridall. A princess from Meridall here—at a school for learning decorum! She's utterly failed her kingdom."
"She's merely some faults," I countered. "Just as we all have. We're all here, aren't we?"
Labella shook her head. "Oh, Rosellen, Rosellen, how naive you are. You've been living in the sand all of your life. On your teeny tiny little island, separated from the rest of Neopia. You haven't the slightest idea what is expected of princesses nowadays. It's absolutely overbearing."
"Princesses are called to be noble and honorable leaders of their kingdom," I stated firmly. "We've all the same duties—to guide our people, to watch over and protect, to lay out rules for safety and wellbeing."
"If you're so knowledgeable about what makes a true princess, then why are you here?" Labella wondered with a scowl.
I held my head up. Labella had asked the exact same question to Airyetta, and my answer matched that of the royal Kacheek's as well. "I am here because my parents thought it beneficial."
"Beneficial," Labella scoffed. "There's that word again. I simply despise it."
"Girls." At the sound of Madam's stern voice, our bickering ceased. Yet the look of disdain Labella shot me caused me to fire one in return.
That Kyrii was beginning to irk my nerves more than all of the snow in Terror Mountain!
"I'm so bored." Hadley sighed rather forlornly as she held back the sheer yellow curtain, gazing out of the palace window where rain was falling steadily from gray clouds. "It's been raining all day," she mourned. "We've been trapped inside all day." She turned to the rest of us, frowning. "Whatever are we to do? We must find something. I fear I'll simply die from boredom if we do not."
The rain seemed endless, and we were becoming restless. We'd finished our lessons early today since Madam Lupine had had a touch of a headache, so we were free to do as we pleased until dinner time, though that was still yet hours away.
"Oh, I know," Emilia fretted, rising from the couch and walking over to stand beside Hadley. She, too, gazed up at the darkened sky with dismay. "Such a dreary day. Truly saddening." She sighed as well.
"Hadley is right," I found myself musing aloud. I'd had enough of the sighs and dismal looks. Something had to be done. "We must find something to do." But what? If I were home I'd most likely be wandering the castle in search of hidden places, like secret passages and trap doors. Perhaps I'd even be in the kitchen helping our cook, Leanora, bake, or chatting with the many maids and lending a paw in cleaning up the castle. Oh, not that I was allowed to do any of that, but I had my ways of sneaking about without being caught. And the maids adored my company.
"But whatever could we do?" Hadley wondered.
"Well," I said, rising from my spot on the couch and wandering over to a bookcase filled with many royal books, aimlessly scanning the titles. "How about we converse some? You know, like get to know one another better?"
The princesses all looked unsure, lips in straight lines and gazes thoughtful. I pressed on. "We could ask each other questions, anything we'd like." Still they said nothing. "Oh, don't be dull. Come on, it will be truly fun. You'll see."
"Oh, I don't know, Rosellen..." Hadley started.
But I shook my head. "No, trust me. It'll be fun." I went back over to the ring of princesses sitting on the satin furniture and moved a gold-rimmed pillow before sitting down. "I shall start. What do you all normally do when you are in your own kingdoms, in your own castles?" I received many frowns, each princess casting a glance to the other. "Well?" I prompted.
"Oh, I fear I'm not granted much opportunity to do anything really," Hadley said. "Why, I simply read, work on my princess lessons with Mother, visit the villages on occasion, attend royal balls..."
"Same here," Emilia nodded.
I looked to Labella. "What of you?"
Labella shrugged. "Same, I suppose."
The royalgirl Kacheek toyed with a bow on her dress. "Well, I... I do all of that as well. Only, in my free time, I... I like to make things."
"Make things?" Hadley echoed.
Airyetta nodded. "Yes." Though she offered no more.
"Colleen?" I turned to the silent Bori, giving a smile. "What do you like to do?"
The Bori's eyes flashed with anxiety. Her mouth opened, then closed, her eyes darting fearfully to each of us.
"No need to be afraid," I insisted kindly. "We only want to talk."
Colleen frowned. "I... well..."
Worry filled my heart as I gazed at her. She looked simply petrified. But why?
"Do you sew?" Hadley asked suddenly, her eyes lighting up. "I do that too. I don't make much, but Mother says a princess must know how to sew. It's a very important life skill."
"Oh! I can't sew for the life of me," Emilia said, turning to Colleen. "I get pricked every time. It's rather painful."
"I do sew," Colleen said thoughtfully, some of the fear fading from her eyes. "I sew... and... I adore... reading."
"Me too!" Hadley said gleefully, clapping her paws.
"Do you read poetry as well, Colleen?" Airyetta wondered. Colleen nodded, and I thought I may have caught a glimpse of excitement in her usually bleak eyes.
"See?" Hadley laughed. "This is fun. Something to pass the time."
"Oh, yes. Let us do as Rosellen said and get to know each other better," Emilia insisted, the Zafara clasping her paws. "Airyetta, what is your favorite food?"
Airyetta thought a moment. "Well, my cook prepares the most delicious red bean dumplings and kimchee, the finest in all of the Shenkuu regions. Oh, and his curried fish and lotus artichoke dish is quite delectable."
"Sounds like space food," Labella remarked, grimacing.
"Oh, but it is really quite good," Airyetta insisted.
"Hey, you never know," Hadley said. "I must say, my favorite dish my cook prepares is stuffed figs. And for dessert, most definitely lime sorbet."
"How delicious," Emilia commented. She turned to me. "Rosellen, you've hardly spoken. What about you?"
"Let's see," I began, "I think my most favorite thing Leonora makes are her orange marmalade crepes. I help her make them all the time. We whip up dozens together." I chuckled. "Good thing too—we can hardly get enough of them."
There was a startling pause.
"Who's Leanora?" Labella wondered.
"She's our cook," I replied, wondering of her sudden distraught look and the princesses' hesitation.
"You... you call your cook by their first name?" Hadley sputtered, her eyes big with shock.
"You actually join your cook... in the kitchen?!" Emilia gasped.
I realized I must have said something wrong. Why, they all acted as if I'd just announced that I was moving to Kreludor or something else equally erratic. I looked at Airyetta and Colleen. Their faces, too, were surprised.
"Whatever is wrong with that?" I wondered, quite puzzled.
"Whatever's wrong with that?" Labella practically yelled. "It's crazy. Preposterous."
"Truly absurd," Hadley added, and Emilia agreed with a nod.
"But... I enjoy it," I said honestly. "It's rather fun. Leanora is really quite nice. She never objects to my helping."
"Of course cooks never object," Labella remarked with a scoffing laugh. "It means less work for them."
"Oh, but Leonora doesn't like me just for help; we talk a lot, and I believe she truly appreciates my company. Why, I even tell stories with my maids when I help them clean as well."
The princesses gasped in unison.
"Oh my, oh my, oh my." Emilia was wringing her paws in worry. "Isn't that breaking a rule or something?" she wondered, looking to the other princesses. "I've never heard of such a thing."
"Neither have I," Hadley said.
"That's because it's downright scandalous, and no true princess would ever do such a thing," Labella said sourly. "Cooks and maids are meant to serve us and do as we bid. Never should we actually give in to making true conversations with them. The very idea is insane."
"It just isn't right," Hadley inserted, looking truly worried as she gazed at me.
I shook my head. This was absolutely ridiculous. So what if I enjoyed talking with the castle's hired help? They were nice neopets and such wonderful conversers. I became rather lonely in the large castle, and their kindness was a true blessing.
"Have you ever even tried talking with your maids?" I wondered. "I mean, other than giving orders or the like." The princesses each thought a moment, then shook their heads slowly.
"Then how do you know that it is really so bad?" I insisted. "They're pets too, you know. How about the maid that helps you dress? Do you know what her favorite color is, what she adores doing in her free time? And what of the maid that cleans your bedchamber? What is her biggest dream, her life's desire?"
None of them spoke a word.
"Princesses..." My voice was pleading. "Don't you think it's time to rid yourself of some of your pride, to open up a bit and do something new?"
"Pride!" Labella's purple eyes flashed with an angry fire. "You're asking us to talk with our maids, for Fyora's sake! Are you mad? This has nothing to do with pride. It has everything to do with protocol."
"Well then, ditch the protocol," I insisted, thinking I'd teach these princesses a lesson or two on matters beyond regality. "You don't talk with your maids only because that would be mean that you would be associating yourselves with commoners. Am I right?"
Five shameful gazes went to the floor. Only Labella remained glaring at me.
"That's just it," she spat. "Commoners and royals don't mix, Rosellen."
"Well, why ever not? Aren't they Neopets too? Why should royalty alter anything that depends on a meager choice of the heart, anyway?"
"I'm sad to say that Madam Lupine would be appalled to hear such talk," Hadley fretted, gazing at the door lest the head master be listening. "Rosellen, what you're doing is a disruption to the royal code."
"You are mixing superior royals with mere peasants," Emilia added. "Such a notion is impossible to fathom without expecting negative outcomes."
"Look," I said, a bit exasperated. "I'm only talking to them. It isn't like I'm inviting them to wear my crown or anything."
"Haha," Labella laughed bitterly. "Not yet you aren't. But you start giving maids privileges and you'll have an army on your paws for sure. Commoners will begin believing that they are actually accepted, that we actually desire them more than for their work."
I stood abruptly. I could not stand anymore. "I cannot believe any of you," I said in pure disgust. "I know you are princesses, but I never expected you all to be so... so heartless!" I slammed aside the gold pillow and marched from the room, sickened by their princess-like behavior.
"Oh, Rosellen, I'm truly sorry we have upset you. I believe that what you doing is really quite noble."
I was lying on my bed, staring up at the ceiling. Airyetta had seated herself next to me. I sighed and then peered into Airyetta's sorrowful dark eyes. I offered a weak smile, sitting up. "Do not fret. I'm not upset. Only truly disappointed."
We sat in silence.
"One time," Airyetta said softly, "I went into the kitchen."
I gazed at her, waiting for her to go on.
"I was only a small girl. Our cook, Shefu, was preparing mint rolls. I so did adore them as a child, and I was curious to know how he made them. So one day, I tiptoed into the kitchen, and watched from the doorway as he prepared them. I was enthralled. Then he turned around and saw me. He scolded me. He told me the kitchen was no place for a princess. He forbade me to ever enter again." Airyetta sighed. "So I did not, though I was persuaded to on occasion, when I smelled the wonderful smell of Shenkuu cuisine."
I pondered Airyetta's story. Why weren't princesses allowed the privilege of cooking? It made absolutely no sense!
"I don't understand," I muttered, mainly to myself. Then I looked up at Airyetta. "Why mustn't princesses enter the kitchen? Whatever is so horrible there?"
"We mustn't work," Airyetta said quietly. "We mustn't lift even a finger. We are princesses."
"It isn't right," I insisted. "Cooking is a life skill. We must know how to do so."
"But we will always have cooks," Airyetta voiced. "We will never have to cook for ourselves. There is no need."
"Well, haven't you ever wanted to cook? To make things for yourself?"
Airyetta looked wounded at my accusatory tone. "I... I told you. I was forbidden to enter the kitchen. I could not disobey orders."
I slumped, my rant ceasing. "Forgive me, Airyetta. Of course you could not."
"How did you get into your kitchen? Did your parents not scold you?"
"My parents have not a clue," I said. "They would be livid should they find out, but I have been doing it for years, and neither has breathed a single word of it. And Leonora, my cook, is oh so kind. Why, sometimes I even talk to her more than my own mother." I turned suddenly thoughtful. "She speaks freely and openly, without regard to regal manners. She is witty and fun, and always listens to me. She simply accepts me, faults and all." I looked to Airyetta, who nodded.
"I do so wish someone would accept me," she whispered, her eyes going downcast.
Warmth filled my tone. I placed my paw on Airyetta's arm. "Oh, Airyetta, I accept you. I think you'll make a wonderful princess someday."
Airyetta looked up in disbelief. "Truly?"
"Truly." I smiled.
Airyetta smiled softly in return, but then a frown engulfed her features. "I mustn't be accepted. I am unworthy of such a notion."
"Don't be ridiculous."
"No, Rosellen. I am shameful. I am... free spirited. I dishonor my parents."
Airyetta bit her lip. "I... I am... an inventor."
"You're an inventor?" I couldn't keep the mirth from bubbling up from my voice. "Goodness, but I expected you to say you were resigning or something."
"No, no, no," Airyetta said quickly. "I would never."
"So, what's so bad about inventing? I think it rather exciting."
"Oh, Rosellen." Airyetta sighed and hung her head. "Such notions are frivolous."
"For princesses," I sighed. "Right." I paused, then asked, "So what do you make?"
"Yes, as in what do you invent?"
Suddenly excitement lit up Airyetta's dark eyes. "I make planes," she gushed. "Small ones and bigger ones. They fly fast. I make little boats. They float and move on the water on their own. Yet they are only the start. Someday, I dream to make a big boat. One for poor Shenkuu pets to sail to Blossomlend on to look for work to make neopoints for their family."
"That's a pretty wonderful dream, Airyetta," I breathed in earnest.
Airyetta smiled broadly, but then her eyes clouded with pain. "But it shall always remain a dream. My parents think it senseless for princesses to be pursuing such destitute matters. They say building is for the common folk, and we are royals."
"Royals," I muttered. "Sometimes I wish I wasn't one."
Airyetta gasped softly. "Surely you do not mean that."
I sighed at myself. "No, Airyetta, I didn't mean that at all. I am a princess, and it is my duty to fulfill that role with all due honor. But yet, I do wish we could have fun once in a while."
"As do I, Rosellen. As do I."
"Okay, ladies. Today we will be rehearsing something most elegant, something that is a truly divine quality for any princess to possess."
We all eyed Madam Lupine with curious eyes.
"Are we going to discuss the benefits of dressing extravagantly?" Emilia asked.
"No, Emilia," Madam Lupine said with a shake of her head. "Your attire is most fanciful. However, you are close."
"Oh, we're going to converse on the importance of crowns," Hadley announced, clasping her paws. "A crown makes a princess a true princess, correct?"
"That is correct, Hadley. Crowns are a very important feature of regality. Yet still, that is not what we will be practicing today." Before anyone else could offer another inaccurate idea, Madam Lupine went on, walking down the line of us.
"As princesses, I know you must all attend royal balls. Am I correct?"
"Oh, yes!" Hadley gushed. "Father and Mother hold the most elegant balls."
"Mine as well," Emilia said, eyes growing bright with excitement.
"Very good," Madam nodded. "All princesses must know the importance of graceful dancing when attending these balls. You certainly do not want to be stepping on a prince's poor feet the entire time. So today, we will be practicing our dancing."
Hadley and Emilia squealed with excitement, grabbing each other's arms in sheer delight.
"Oh, Madam, truly?" Airyetta asked. "I fear I am not the best at dancing." She looked a mite worried, but Madam waved her off.
"Why, that is the reason you are here, darling. Is it not?" She turned to Hadley and Emilia with a scowl. "And Hadley and Emilia, do calm down!" she ordered the two laughing princesses.
"Do forgive us," Emilia giggled behind her paw. "I am truly excited for this. I cannot wait to learn to dance."
"Oh, yes, to really dance," Hadley added. "I dance at royal balls all the time, but I fear I am not altogether graceful in my doing so."
"Oh, no," agreed Emilia. "Why, princes are fearful of dancing with me. I've stepped on many a toes in my time."
"Ahh, but that is also why we invite princes here. To aid us," Madam Lupine said. "A princess is only truly elegant with a prince by her side."
Hadley and Emilia screamed at the same time.
Madam Lupine covered her ears at their strident tones. "Ladies, ladies, do stop yelling. A princess never raises her voice. It is truly undefined." She straightened, though sighing. "Yes, princes will come eventually. But not today. First, we must rehearse." She clapped her paws briskly. "To the dance floor we go."
Oh, I wasn't a horrible dancer. In fact, I could not recall ever stomping on a prince's foot in my life. It was just that I found it horribly boring. All of the princes I had ever danced with were terribly self-centered and only conversed of themselves and their future occupation of the royal throne. I could never get in single word.
I studied the other princesses. Airyetta seemed content, Colleen appeared horribly nervous, Labella was lackadaisical as always, and Hadley and Emilia were chattering behind their gloved paws. Then Madam Lupine waltzed into the room, waving her paw. Behind her strolled a majestic cream-furred Kougra, with yellow eyes and a stance that spoke that she did not wish to be here. I truly wondered who she was. She was quite a beauty.
"I did not know Madam Lupine was inviting another princess to the school," I murmured to no one in particular. Labella caught my words, and the Kyrii spouted with harsh laughter.
"You're kidding! My goodness, Rosellen, but aren't you dense," she said. "She's not a princess in training."
"Here, here, princesses," Madam Lupine said with a clap of her paws. "This is our first dance lesson, and as such, I have invited a special guest to join us." At this, the royalgirl Kougra held her head up high. "She is a true princess, one who knows all of the fine aspects of dancing and is going to aid us today."
"Genevieve Vemmon," I heard Labella mutter under her breath. I turned to see the Kyrii rolling her eyes in disgust.
"Princesses, I present to you Miss Genevieve Vemmon, future ruler of our own Greenvelle castle." Madam Lupine clapped, and I wondered if we were to join along. All of us soon followed suit, and Genevieve gave a self-satisfied grin.
"Genevieve, I trust that these princesses will be in good paws." Madam Lupine actually smiled at the royalgirl Kougra. "I will not be far should you need me, but I assure that you will be able to handle matters on your own?"
"Oh, certainly, Madam," Genevieve said in a sappy voice, though Madam Lupine did not seem to catch it.
"Grand. You are such a noble girl, Genevieve." Then she turned to us and her pleasant look faded. "Shall I say good luck? I will return shortly to review what you all have learned. Take heed to Genevieve's advice now."
She made her regal exit, leaving us all staring at one another. Suddenly Hadley exploded.
"Oh my, but it is such a pleasure to finally meet you, Genevieve!" she said zealously. "'Tis such an honor to be the future princess of Greenvelle."
"Oh, yes, indeed a wonderful honor," Emilia added.
Genevieve only stared at them. "Right, okay." With a huff she turned around, beckoning us to join her as she walked to the center of the floor. "Are we going to dance or not?"
So our dancing lessons began. I was paired with Labella, unfortunately. Though I must say we made quite a pair; both of us were quite graceful and light on our feet, so neither us ended up with sore toes. However, for Hadley and Emilia, the battle was evident.
"Emilia, you've stepped on my shoe again," Hadley fumed, lightly pushing Emilia away. The royalgirl Zafara looked wounded.
"Do forgive me," Emilia said. "I fear I am much too focused; I tend to get carried away. However, if you did not have such large feet I..."
"Large feet!" Hadley cried in disbelief. "Emilia Cortell, you wretched Greeble. You take that back." She put her paws on her hips and glared at Emilia, who huffed and glared back. Finally Genevieve intervened.
"Hey, hush up and dance," the royalgirl Kougra ordered. "I'm not wasting my time on immature children who can't do as they're told. Now, take it from the top and be quiet." She marched away, over to where Airyetta and Colleen were out of sync with one another.
I couldn't help but stare at her. That Genevieve Vemmon was a mystery for sure.
"She's such a snob," Labella said. "I cannot believe Madam portrays her as such an honorable role model."
"Truly?" I wondered.
"You've no idea, Rosellen. The madam practically worships the ground that Genevieve walks on."
"But why ever would she? I could count a dozen unprincessy behaviors that Genevieve has portrayed even in this short time span that we've been with her."
Labella sniffed. "It's only because she's the daughter of the high and mighty King Lyle who rules this castle. Madam is observed by him, to ensure that she's doing her job in 'teaching' us good decorum."
"It sounds unfair. Surely Genevieve has faults just as the rest of us," I noted.
"Ha, yeah. But good luck getting Genevieve to admit that." Labella looked at me as we danced on. "You know, Rosellen, you're quite the dancer. I bet the princes liked you."
I laughed at this. "You mean liked me enough to rave on about themselves to me? You've nailed it." We both chuckled. "It's great that you're actually being kind to me, Labella," I remarked, quite surprised by it all.
"Yeah, well, don't get used to it," Labella mumbled flatly. "You're still hopelessly unprincessy at times, but I suppose you are the most likable one here."
"Wow, thank you, Labella," I said with a smile. The compliment warmed me. We were silent for a time, then I asked, "So, how did you fair with the princes? I bet they were just barging down the castle gates for a chance to dance with you."
"As if! Last year here at the princess school, I was overlooked by all of the princes. When I asked why, they all admitted that I seemed horribly 'irreproachable' and even intimidating. Can you believe that?"
I laughed. Actually, I could. But I'd never admit that to Labella. She was being so nice to me for a change. "Poor you," I teased instead. Suddenly something she'd said dawned on me. "What do you mean by 'last year at the princess school'?"
Labella stopped moving, eyes blinking as if she'd spoken wrong. "Oh, I..." She fell silent, staring down at the ground. Then she got a hold of herself, paws balling into fists. "Nothing," she said flatly. "Forget it."
"No, you can tell me," I insisted.
"Leave me alone, Rosellen. Just drop it."
Labella pulled away from me, and the kindness that was in place only moments ago vanished. "My life is none of your business, Rosellen," she growled before she turned and fled.
"Labella!" I called, truly bewildered. I sighed when she didn't come back.
Just as I thought I was to make a new friend.
"What's her problem?" I whirled at the voice of Genevieve behind me.
"I fear I've no idea," I admitted. "She clammed up when I asked about... her being here last year as well."
"Just last year? Labella's been here far longer than that."
"What?" My eyes widened in shock.
Genevieve frowned, looking as if she'd spoken too much. "Let's just say Labella's not going to be a princess anytime soon," was all she said before moving away.
"But why...?" My voice trailed away. Genevieve was already over by Hadley and Emilia again. I was confused. I thought that princesses went to the school of decorum for a year, got 'straightened out,' and then returned home to continue on with their royalty. It seemed odd that it should take more than just one...
"Hadley, how long have you been here?"
"Excuse me?" Hadley looked up from her book on shell poetry. "Oh, it's you, Rosellen. What is it you wanted?"
"I asked to know how long you've been here, at the school of decorum."
Hadley's brows crushed together. "Why, this is my first year, Rosellen. Why should you ask?"
"I was only curious," I said. "Do you know of the others?"
"As far as I know, this is Emilia and Colleen's first year. Airyetta too, I believe. Though I'm not sure of Labella. As you may know, we aren't exactly on the nicest of speaking standards at the moment."
"Of course," I said. "I only wanted to see what you knew."
Emilia couldn't stop fidgeting.
"Are they here yet? Are they here yet?" she pressed, wringing her paws.
Hadley craned her neck upward, trying to see over Airyetta, who stood watch at the window. "No... no, I don't believe so."
"Oh, what if they've cancelled!" Emilia mourned. I giggled at her overly anxious expression.
"Oh, Emilia, do calm yourself," I said. "The princes have not cancelled. They are simply on their way and should arrive shortly."
"Ugh, this waiting is making me positively famished," Hadley groaned, paw going up to her forehead in distress.
"Hadley, we just ate lunch," Airyetta reminded.
Hadley sighed. "I know, but I get hungry when I'm nervous."
"No need to be nervous, Hadley," I soothed. "They are only princes of course."
"Only princes?" Hadley asked with a cocked eyebrow. Suddenly Emilia shrieked and started pulling at Hadley's paw, pointing out of the window and gasping for words that wouldn't come.
"What?" Hadley asked.
"Princes!" Emilia finally managed to say.
"Do you think any of them would like to dance with me?"
Airyetta's words whispered in my ear as she came up behind me. I turned to my friend with an encouraging smile. "Do not be silly, Airyetta. Of course they would." We both turned to gaze at the circle of princes surrounding Madam Lupine, all dressed in dashing royal attire. They listened to her as she gave them instructions, no doubt also warning them of toe-stompers and elbow-bumpers.
"You have our word, Madam Lupine," we heard the black-haired royalboy Gelert proclaim once Madam had finished talking. "We will teach these princesses all we know." He turned to Hadley and winked. She turned positively scarlet.
"Now, now, princesses. I'd like you to welcome the princes of Neopia," Madam announced. "Remember they are here to help you with dancing." Her eyes narrowed. "Only..." She clapped her paws twice to signal order, and then paired each of us up with a prince. I was paired with a neopet of my kind, another Xweetok.
He had blue fur and a red cape that flared out behind him when he walked. He approached me with an exuberant grin.
"I must say," he commented, "I'm rather pleased that the madam should pair me with another royal Xweetok."
"As I am," I said lightly, opting to keep a regal tone. I would let this prince know that I was a true princess, and not some reckless young girl. I held my head up and lifted my gloved paw expectantly. The Xweetok's broad smile faded a bit as he stepped toward me. I weaved my arm into the crook of his elbow as he led me onto the dance floor.
"It is a pleasure to dance with you, Princess."
A waltz filled the air, and the prince smiled at me as we began to dance.
"Likewise." I nodded primly.
"I was thankful that the weather had fared accordingly," the prince commented casually. "We'd such dreary days filled with rain these past few weeks, so it is a pleasure to see the sun."
"I agree." My tone was rather nonchalant and lacking interest, and I couldn't meet his eye, regretfully shameful at the flippant manner in which I was acting. However, I did feel him staring at me for a few moments.
"I do not believe I caught your name," he said as we twirled around Airyetta and her partner, a Shoyru.
"Nor I yours."
"Well then, you should, if we are to be partners." The Xweetok smiled. "I am Prince Dalton Lanquest."
Dalton Lanquest. The name slipped and flowed over my mind like warm honey.
"Mr. Lanquest," I nodded, harnessing the desire to comment on that noble-sounding name.
"Please, dear princess," the Xweetok laughed. "No need for formalities. Dalton will do just fine. And also, please do drop the act. I fear it is rather hard to converse with you that way."
I released a long sigh of relief. "Oh, thank goodness."
Dalton laughed, and the sound was remarkably warming.
"Wait a moment," I murmured, staring up at him with curious eyes. "How did you know I was acting?"
Prince Dalton grinned. "Oh, princess, you're much too sweet for such imprudent behavior. I could see in your eyes the uncertainty. I knew you'd crumble any moment."
I smiled. "Well, I must say that you are quite the observant one. Do forgive me, Dalton. I fear I wanted to impress you in a way that showed I was a worthy princess. You know, prim and proper, and not... loudmouthed and bold." I shook my head. "As I tend to be at times."
"I daresay I rather like loudmouthed and bold to most of the stuck-up and petty princesses I've met in my time."
I looked up to into his dusk-colored eyes to see if he was kidding. But he wasn't, for his eyes sparkled with amusement and he was smiling fondly at me. I grinned at him.
"So, Dalton... should I ask if you attend the prince school of decorum?" It was an honest question really. Perhaps that was why Madam Lupine invited them, so that all of us royals in training could practice for balls.
To my deepest surprise though, Dalton roared with laughter.
My voice was rather flat as I muttered quietly, "I take that as a no."
"Oh, do forgive me, Princess. That was rather brash of me." But Dalton was still grinning. "No, I do not attend prince school. In fact, such a thing is quite uncommon."
"Truly?" This was surprising news.
"So princes don't need extra training," I marveled. "They are automatically born to be prince."
"Well, not necessarily," Dalton said. "I suppose it is just because our kingly fathers would be quite shameful to send their sons off that way. As princes, our fathers uphold us quite nobly. They feel it is their own job to teach their sons, not some school of rules. Not to say they aren't as strict on us though in fulfilling royalty."
I nodded. "I suppose that makes sense."
"So what of you? I must admit, I'm rather surprised you should be sent here to Madam Lupine's school," Dalton said.
I gave a weak smile. "Let us just say that I'm not the most proper princess I should be at times."
"Ahh, but that is only normal," Dalton said. "You cannot be expected to be perfect."
"Then tell that our parents," I sighed. "And Madam Lupine."
Dalton smiled at me encouragingly. "Ah, dear princess. Do not fret. You will grow in time."
I couldn't stop a frown from washing over my face. "Perhaps so." I sighed. "I just abhor all of the rules. Do not do this, always do that. I can never have fun. I must always obey. Sometimes, royals simply rile me. They've too many regulations. It's absolutely unjust."
Suddenly I gasped. I was pouring out all of my thoughts on poor Dalton, all of my heedless ranting. How truly unroyal-like! My eyes grew wide. "Do forgive me," I begged. "I fear I can be a bit audacious and feckless on occasion."
"'Tis nothing to worry of, Princess," Dalton assured. "You are quite truthful."
"You must think me horribly ill-mannered," I fretted with a frown.
"On the contrary," Dalton countered, "I find your honesty quite refreshing."
"You do?" I wondered in amazement.
"Truly," Dalton smiled. "In fact, if a royal didn't rave about the restrictiveness their lives possess once in a while, I would worry over them."
I smiled weakly, then sighed again. "I am still ashamed. A princess must never rant that way. Whether I always like it or not, I am a royal. I can never change that... so I suppose I must full forward and do the best I can."
"That's all we can do, Princess," Dalton replied softly.
I looked up into his eyes and smiled. That Dalton Lanquest was by far the finest prince I'd ever danced with, in his dancing and demeanor. I was truly sorry when Madam Lupine announced that today's dancing session had come to end.
"I'm afraid I'm quite sorry to go," Dalton admitted. I nodded.
"As am I."
Dalton smiled. "I do hope I shall see you again. Perhaps that Madam Lupine will invite us again, or that I will see you at a royal ball in the future. I do so desire that you should save me dance."
"That would be lovely," I replied in true earnestness. Madam Lupine was rallying up the princes just then, and I knew that our time together was drawing to a close.
"Well then," Dalton said with a slight bow. "Until we meet again, dear princess." Suddenly Dalton straightened and stared at me, eyes wide with shock. "Goodness, but I never did learn of your name."
He hadn't! "It's Rosellen Dellamore," I replied.
"Rosellen Dellamore," he repeated softly. He smiled. "Until next time, dear Rosellen."
"My Theodore Simone was by far the most dashing prince of all," Emilia announced, referring to the royalboy Zafara prince she had danced with. We princesses had gathered in the room Colleen and I shared after rehearsal, just about all of us seeming to be dizzy with excitement.
"Not so," Hadley insisted. "My Andrew Geist was quite the gentlemen. Why, he smiled at me all evening."
"He was probably just hurting from all of the times you stepped on his foot," Labella muttered. "It was most likely a grimace you saw."
"Labella Gillien!" Hadley scolded with a wag of her finger. "I'll have you know, Andrew was most tolerant of me. He understood that I was just a tiny bit unstable. Princesses are very delicate, you know." Labella rolled her eyes from her position where she was sprawled out on my bed.
"I saw Rosellen with her prince," Emilia giggled. "They seemed awfully friendly."
"Dalton was easy to converse with," I defended with a blush.
"'Tis a wonder you didn't chat his ear off," Hadley laughed.
"'Tis a wonder you stomp Andrew's foot off," Labella muttered under her breath. However, everyone heard, and Hadley's face grew as red as a fire mote.
She glared at Labella. "Labella Gillien, you are such a Snorkle-faced bully!"
"And you're as ugly as a Mortog," Labella threw right back at her.
Hadley sprang like a Kougra, eyes burning fire. "You take that back, Labella!"
"You grow up," Labella snarled.
"Labella, Hadley, stop it," Airyetta's soft voice begged. "'Tis truly horrid to act so. What would the princes think?"
"Like I care what prince Damien Everben thinks," Labella snorted, referring to the Pteri prince she had danced with. "He is truly arrogant and thinks only of himself."
"Oh, gee, Labella, seems like you'd be a nice match for him," Hadley said in a sickly-sweet voice.
"You know what, Hadley Wilshire? I've no time for you," Labella growled. She waved her paw at all of us. "For any of you. I'm sick of everything. You're all such... princesses!"
"Um, excuse me," Emilia said, quite offended. "You're a princess too, you know."
Labella snarled. She flung herself off of the bed and marched from the room.
Once she'd left, Hadley's whole countenance crumbled. "That was awful of me to say such things," she whispered tearfully. She straightened. "I must apologize."
"One two three, one two three, one two three. Yes, yes, that's marvelous dancing, ladies," Madam Lupine praised. "Such grace. Ah, Colleen, head up, darling. Thatta girl. Emilia, do spread your feet further apart, dear. There you go; it gives you better footing. Nice job, Rosellen and Labella. Wonderful. Airyetta, beautiful stance. Oh, Hadley—"
"Oof!" Hadley tripped over the hem of her long gown and fell with a loud thump, ending up on her behind. Emilia, with one paw over her mouth, offered her other.
The pleased look on Madam Lupine's face faded. "Well, it seems we still have work," she muttered. She clapped her paws. "That is all for today, girls. But tomorrow and in the weeks to come, I expect to see perfection."
She exited, and Hadley grimaced, rubbing her tail. "Well, that hurt."
"Are you alright?" Airyetta asked.
"Yes, truly I'm fine," Hadley replied. She shook her tail back and forth, sighing. "If only I weren't such a fool at dancing."
"Oh, Hadley, you aren't a fool," I countered. "Anyone could have tripped over their dress. They are rather long, and you know it." I found myself furtively casting a glance at Labella. The Kyrii had her lips pressed firmly together, looking as if she might erupt with a mean retort at any second. However, she did not, and I was relieved. Labella and Hadley had actually been decent to one another these past few days, so it seemed as if Labella had accepted Hadley's forgiveness and the two had moved on. I only wondered how long this might last though.
"But long dresses never bothered any of you all," Hadley fumed.
"Well, perhaps not today," I said. "But trust me, Hadley, I'm sure all of us have tripped at least once in our lifetime, if not more." I looked to other princesses with expectant looks.
Airyetta smiled sheepishly. "'Tis true, Hadley. Once, I nearly took a tumble down the stairs." She giggled. "For my sake, no one had been watching, but goodness, was I embarrassed."
"Don't fret, Hadley," Emilia added. "I've fallen at least a dozen times."
Hadley smiled. "Well, I suppose it better to fall now that at a real dance."
"Precisely," I smiled.
Then it was Emilia's turn to sigh. "Well, whatever are we to do now? Madam Lupine has no lessons for us this afternoon."
"We could further practice our dancing," Airyetta offered.
Hadley groaned. "No offense, but I'm becoming sick of dancing on our own. I do so wish the princes would come back to help us."
We all agreed. I had missed talking with Dalton a great deal.
"Oh, yes!" Emilia bubbled. "I do as well."
"I wonder if the madam will invite them again," I wondered aloud.
"Oh, I do hope so," Hadley said. Then she crumpled. "But I do not know if she will."
Then Emilia sighed. "I don't wish to stand here pondering on princes that we may never see again," she said. "It's depressing."
"You're right," Hadley said sadly, and Airyetta nodded.
"So, let's not," I stated. Then I asked, "Is anyone else here bored of princess lessons but me?"
There was a brief hesitance, but one by one the princesses nodded.
I grinned. "Great. Because you know what, I think we should do something fun this afternoon."
"Oh, no," Labella groaned. "Please don't tell us we're going to talk to the maids."
"Or cook in the kitchen." Emilia grimaced.
I laughed. "No, that's not what I was going to suggest at all. I was going to say that we should play a game."
Emilia and Hadley went Spardel-eyed. "A game!" they spouted at the same time with shocked expressions.
"Yes, a game," I affirmed with an excited glint in my eyes.
"Goodness, Rosellen, have you gone crazy?" Labella asked.
"No, I have not gone crazy at all," I smiled at her. "In fact, I've simply grown bored with being a princess for the day. Why don't we be normal neopets, just this once?"
"Oh, I...I don't know, Rosellen," Emilia stuttered, wringing her paws as she usually did when nervous. "Madam Lupine would be fierce to hear of such a notion."
"We could get into trouble," Hadley reasoned. "Or punished within an inch of our lives."
"Or even expelled," Airyetta added solemnly. "Then what would we do?"
They all stared at me with expectant looks.
"Why don't you all trust me?" I wondered.
"Uh, because you're wilder than the Chia clown?"
"Crazier than meepits?"
"Disobey rules more than Garin the Usul?"
"Enjoy doing bad more than Jhudora herself?"
They all stared at me still, a few with their arms crossed.
"Oh please. You all truly exaggerate," I said with a light laugh.
"Rosellen, you're so mindless," Labella argued.
"I am not. I merely want to have fun." I turned to leave, waving my paw at them. "Farewell. If you all do not wish to join me, then I cannot make you. I'll simply have the time of my life without you."
Sighs and groans erupted.
Then, to my deepest inner triumph, I heard several sets of pawsteps following me.
"Now, I've a few different ideas, but I think what really sounds like fun right now is a game of hide-and-seek." I grinned.
Emilia's expression was blank. "What is... hide-and-seek?"
"Yes, I've never heard of such a thing," Hadley added with a rumble to her brows.
The look I gave was truly incredulous. Why, these princesses have missed out on everything fun! I laughed. "Goodness, but it is only a very fun game that I'm sure you will all love."
"But what she forgot to add, girls, is that it's a game that only wild commoner children play," Labella said before shooting a glare at me.
"Nonsense, Labella," I insisted. "It is fun." Labella rolled her eyes.
"How does one play hide-and-seek?" Hadley asked.
"The title simply says it all," I said. "One does the seeking, while the others do the hiding. It was very fun."
"Let me guess, you've played it with your maids," Labella mocked.
I gave a sheepish smile. "Well, yes, I have."
"Oh, I don't know, Rosellen. Seems awfully daring to me," Emilia fretted. "What if the madam should find out?"
"Who says she has to?" I said. "If we're discreet, she'll never have to know."
"Rosellen Dellamore, you're eviler than Balthazar," Hadley sputtered. "Yet instead of hunting faeries, you hunt down princesses, toying with their minds until they give in to your mindless requests."
I laughed. "So that means you'll play?"
Hadley sighed. "Why not, Rosellen? You could be right. It could be fun."
"And she could be wrong," Labella grumbled. "That game's for children."
"Yes, but since you never played it as children," I said, "then you must play it now."
"...eighteen, nineteen, twenty." I'd just finished counting, and now I was on the prowl. The thrill of taking a risk caused excitement to course through my body as I scurried down the castle hallways, glimpsing this way and that for the princesses, as well for signs of the madam. So far though, it had been successful. The princesses seemed be having the time of their lives. Even Labella surprisingly had agreed that we had to play a few more games before dinnertime.
We all agreed that we would only stay on the side of the castle designated for us, as venturing to the other side with all of the guards would have been far too risky, even for me.
I crept down a hall with various paintings of nature, hunting for princesses (which made me chuckle as I remembered Hadley's comparison of Balthazar and I), when suddenly I came across a room with a closed door. Now, I knew enough to know rooms with closed doors were usually prohibited from entering, but I must admit, the idea was tossed around in my head like a boat on rough waves.
The door was tall and made purely of silver. So shiny I could see my reflection clear as day. I'd never seen anything like it, and I was torn between curiosity and sensibility.
I glanced around stealthily before trying the handle. To my greatest surprise and delight, it opened easily. I stepped inside, and immediately my eyes widened and a gasp caught in my throat.
It was the most exquisite room I'd had yet to see in the entire castle. A large canopied bed accompanied a platform off of the ground, with steps leading up to it. The bed was decorated in the colors silver and lilac, simply stunning. On one wall hung a large rectangle mirror made of silver. I walked over to it and stared at my reflection. Why, everything was simply beautiful. I felt like I was in a dream.
Suddenly I gasped. My dream seemed to shatter in a moment.
In the mirror I caught sight of Genevieve's form standing in the doorway.
And she was glaring right at me.
To be continued...