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Petpet Name: Prince
Pet Name: Eskendir
The crisp spring day had already begun to offer up the biting northern winds that swept into the valley late every afternoon by the time Prince was unhooked from the harness of the heavy oaken plough he had been towing since early morning and led back toward the palace stables. The massive Kiiyak's head hung low from exhaustion as he followed the skinny young Techo that led him through the crowded streets of the city and through the massive doors toward the stalls where the Petpets belonging to the residents of the palace were housed.
It wasn't that he hated his work. Far from it; he was proud to be useful, and knew that without his strength the crops of the city would wither and die in the untilled soil, and the Neopians that took care of him would go without food. It was his job, a way of giving back to those that fed him and gave him shelter from the snow and wind of the lands where they lived.
However, just as it did every day he returned from the fields, that small but persistent feeling of doubt worked its way into his mind as he was led past the stable stalls of the riding Petpets, the creatures that were spared from any sort of work or labor and used specifically for the hunting adventures and outings of the nobles.
As he passed by them, he fell under their stares one by one, every Alabriss and Bika eyeing his thick mane, large head, and heavy hooves derisively, and tossing their perfectly-groomed manes and slender necks in shows of superiority. Every one had a personal keeper to clean their stalls, groom their manes, polish their hooves, and brush their coats until they gleamed. Each had a saddle and bridle with intricate leatherwork and embroidery, lined with gold and hung on golden pegs. They all wore some sort of ornament, too, hand-chosen by their riders, and the gems and gold about their necks flashed gaudily as they pranced and whinnied at Prince in laughter.
"Here, you stop that now," the Techo snapped irritably, shaking his walking stick at the nearest Alabriss who backed away in surprise. "Leave the poor animal alone. You lazy creatures have never worked a day in your lives."
Prince's head hung a little lower as they turned the corner toward the stalls of the working Petpets, but he was grateful to the Techo for defending him. They've been raised as noble Petpets, he thought to himself as the Techo led him into a dingy corner stall. They don’t know any better.
The Techo swung the door of the stall shut and dropped the heavy brass latch. "Sorry, old boy," he said to Prince, scratching the Kiiyak's forehead, "but I've got duties to attend to, and I can't brush you down today. Perhaps tomorrow." Prince's spirits dropped even lower as the servant turned away. His coat did so itch from the harness. He would've welcomed a good brush.
He barely had time to take a few bites out of the bucket of coarse feed that was in the corner of his pen before a commotion erupted in the stables. Servants dashed everywhere this way and that, scuttling before the regal stride of a very large Yurble who trailed behind him a cape of blue velvet and wore a tricorn hat with a purple feather between his long, curled ears. From the way everyone was running about, and the way that he walked, Prince decided that this must be the Tsar. He edged to the front of his pen to look on curiously. He had never seen the Tsar before, though he'd heard plenty about him from the farmhands and the stableboys when they talked about the country. He seemed to be a very important Neopia.
The Tsar strode up to the stablemaster, a heavyset Mynci that was the largest of the stable workers but still looked rather paltry in size next to the impressive ruler. "Mikhail Danilovich," he addressed the Mynci, "I have a desire to go riding."
The stablemaster looked shocked, and stuttered for a moment. Prince was sure it was right of him to be surprised; he had spent his entire life in the royal stables and had never once seen the Tsar here before. Prince supposed that the Tsar was simply too large for any of the Alabrisses or Bikas to be able to carry him, and a strange glimmer of hope flashed in his mind for a moment. Suddenly, he very much wished that that Techo had at least groomed his mane.
Apparently the stablemaster had been thinking the same thing, for when he finally gathered the wits to speak, his eyes darted nervously as he responded. "Of... of course, your Majesty. However, it, er... it may be difficult to find a mount worthy of the tsar." The Mynci breathed a sigh of relief at his quick thinking. It could've cost him his head to tell the Tsar he was too heavy to ride.
The Yurble nodded pensively and gave a cursory look to the row of purebred riding Petpets. "Yes, they are rather scrawny, aren't they?" he said with a frown, provoking indignant snorts from several of the Alabrisses and an offended frown from the stablemaster that he quickly tried to hide. Prince himself snorted loudly in amusement. An insult from the Tsar himself! That should take those snooty Petpets down a peg.
At the sound of Prince's whinny the Tsar turned, his dark eyes locking onto the corner stall where Prince stood. Prince returned his stare curiously, wondering what would happen next. Was the Tsar going to give up? From what he'd seen of him so far, he didn't think so.
The next words out of the Tsar's mouth stunned everyone else in the room, but caused Prince's heart to leap. "What about him?"
"Him?" the stablemaster repeated incredulously. "Your Majesty, Prince is just a working animal. That Kiiyak works the ploughs and tows wagons of supplies for us. He's never been ridden before; he isn't that type of--"
"Every Petpet can be trained," the Tsar interrupted sharply. "If he's good enough to carry my food and goods, he is good enough to carry me." The Yurble approached Prince's stall and stretched out a paw to scratch the Kiiyak's ears. "So your name is Prince," he said thoughtfully. "Appropriate." He turned to the stablemaster. "Do you have a saddle large enough for him?" The stablemaster shook his head, and Prince thought he saw the Tsar roll his eyes. "Send a missive to the tanner to make him a proper saddle. I can do without for today."
Opening the stall door, the Tsar gently took one of Prince's horns and led him out, patting his mane reassuringly. As the Tsar examined Prince, his eyes narrowed. "He's clearly been working all day. Why hasn't he been brushed?"
The stablemaster looked chagrined. "The stableboys had other duties," he said timidly.
"Their duties are to care for the animals," the Tsar admonished. He cleared his throat and spoke loudly so all of the stable could hear. "I want you to clean out Prince's stall, ensure that he is fed the best food, and is cleaned every day. You may purchase another Kiiyak to replace his daily duties, as I want him fresh and available for riding from here on out."
The stablemaster bowed. "Of course, Your Majesty."
As the Tsar led Prince back out of the stables past the other animals, it was all Prince could do to resist flipping his tail proudly at the dejected Alabrisses and Bikas as he passed. He snorted again. Scrawny!
Once they were outside, the Tsar wasted no time in climbing onto Prince's back. Prince tossed his head approvingly. The big Yurble didn't weigh any more than a small wagon, or a few large bags of grain. He had certainly carried more weight in his life.
"We'll only go on a short walk today," the Tsar told Prince, patting him again between his horns. "You've been working all day, and you're probably already pretty tired." As they meandered through the streets of the city, though, the Tsar's hands on his horns guiding Prince's way, he felt as though he could've run for miles. Every Neopian in the street stopped what they were doing and bowed to them as they passed, and Prince was surprised to realize that night had settled on the city by the time they returned from the stables. The Tsar dismounted and patted Prince's mane approvingly. "You've done a wonderful job, my dear," he told the Kiiyak. "And now that you are the official royal steed, you must be decorated appropriately."
Pushing aside his cape, the Tsar revealed a thick, snakelike golden chain about his neck that was adorned with a deep ruby-red stone and edged with golden wings. It sparkled in the lamplight as he removed it from his neck and draped it around Prince's horns. Prince flicked his ears in joy, and the Tsar smiled. "Very handsome! As another reward for all the work you've done today, I'm going to personally brush you down."
As they reentered the stable, Prince thought with amusement of the last time he'd stepped into those doors, as an entirely different Petpet. From a lowly plough-puller to the royal mount in a matter of hours! He trotted like a colt after the Tsar, itching to finally get that brushing.