A Queen's Ascension - Christmas
Author's Note: This is set around a year before the main canon of my A Queen's Ascension quartet.
Princess Vyssa could not help but feel excited. She had spent the past few weeks annoying all of the servants, advisors and senators at the palace with her constant ramblings and demands, and now the day was finally almost here. Christmas was tomorrow!
Sakhmet, and indeed the rest of the Lost Desert, was not a very wintery place. In fact, it was dry desert and blazing sun all year round. But that did not stop Vyssa from getting excited to the point where she would buy sand snowballs and pretend they were real ones. Only yesterday she had forced her servants to go on the fifth trip to Terror Mountain, where there was currently a huge Christmas market (and of course snow), this past fortnight alone. She had done all of the things she had wanted to do and now all that was left was to enjoy the day tomorrow, where their best chef was making Christmas dinner and she could open all of the presents she had received from esteemed nobles across the land.
She had to admit, it was the presents which made her the most excited. She admitted she was a little vain, and perhaps a little too self-absorbed - but who doesn't get excited about all the presents they were getting? She had been talking non-stop about them for days now to her sister, Amira.
Now, as she walked into the dining hall for breakfast and saw Amira sitting there already eating, she couldn't wait to bring them up again.
"What do you want the most for Christmas this year?" She asked as she sat down, nodding curtly at a servant who hurried to bring her breakfast. "I really can't decide between a new dress or a new necklace. I mean, I know I'm getting both but which would I have if I could only pick one? It's so hard." She laughed, even when she saw the disapproving look in her sister's eyes. "Oh, come on, Amira, it's one day a year we get to be a bit spoilt."
"One day a year?" Amira echoed with a frown and a perfectly arched eyebrow. "You realise that we're sitting in the most extravagant dining hall in the most beautiful palace in Neopia? That you're actually wearing a dress I hear was made for you only a month ago, and you're about to eat a luxurious breakfast, and -"
"I get it, I get it!" Vyssa threw her hands up. "I didn't mean that last part. Of course we're spoilt. We're princesses. It goes with the territory, right?"
Amira frowned. She tried to be patient with her younger sister, she really did, but sometimes she just sounded ridiculous. She really had no idea how privileged she truly was. It was beginning to give her an idea.
"Hey, Amira?" Vyssa leaned over and put a hand on her sister's arm. "I'm just trying to joke around with you." She sounded unsure all of a sudden, her confidence and bluster gone. Her cheeks were even turning a little red.
"I know." Amira sighed, then fixed a smile on her face. "I'm never good first thing in the morning. Anyway, I never answered your question, did I?"
Vyssa's face lit up. "That's right. What's the one thing you would want for Christmas, if you could only have one thing?"
There was a moment where Amira thought she was going to be honest with her sister. She wanted to answer truthfully. She hated lying. But looking at her sister's hopeful face, she knew she wanted a simple answer to an easy question. Freedom, she wanted to say, a chance to live my life not as the heir to the Sakhmetian throne, but to be whoever I want to be. It was what she truly wanted. But she also knew that it could never happen. Because the only other heir around was Vyssa, and she wanted to protect her from that. She wanted her to have as normal life as possible.
So instead, Amira chuckled and said, "A new paint set." Amira loved to paint - largely because she painted scenes of an imagined life she wished she was living - but also because of the calming nature of it, the thrill of seeing an end result to hard work and effort. It was a safe answer, one Vyssa would expect.
"I thought so!" Vyssa said, pleased. "Just you wait and see."
"What did you decide in the end?" Amira asked. "A new dress or a new necklace?"
Vyssa looked bemused for a moment, then nodded in recognition. "Oh, yes, I'd forgotten. Um..." She frowned, thinking hard. She looked at her sister and wanted to say, Time with you, when I'm not treated like a baby. Instead she said, "The new necklace of course. Like you said, I already got a new dress last month!"
It was a safe answer, one Amira would expect.* * *
When Vyssa woke up on Christmas morning, she was surprised to hear a lot of voices. It was very early - usually she was the first one awake - and yet it sounded like there were crowds of people downstairs! What was going on? Had the staff planned some kind of surprise Christmas party that started at dawn?
Unsure how to dress (she certainly wasn't going to go down in her nightgown if there were people about!) she put on a fairly simple dress and her comfiest shoes and quickly brushed her hair. Looking more presentable, and unable to contain her curiosity and excitement any longer, she hurried down to their drawing room, where the mountains of presents always were.
Except, when she got there...her presents were already being opened!
She stood in the doorway, her mouth wide open in shock. In the room was practically every poor Neopet in Sakhmet, dressed in their rags, opening up her and Amira's gifts and squealing in excitement. Her shock quickly turned to rage. That was meant to be her squealing in excitement! These were her gifts!
"What on Neopia is going on in here?" She shouted. "Who let you in? I'll get the guards!"
The chattering stopped and everyone turned to look at her. It was then that she spotted her sister, stood by the Christmas tree, handing out a present to each Neopet.
"Amira?" Vyssa gasped. "What are you doing? These are OUR presents!"
"And these Neopets need them more than we do. I sent out a message last night inviting everyone who wanted to come. We're giving away our presents this year. Everyone gets one each." Amira explained, proceeding to carry on doing exactly as she said.
Vyssa stared at her in disbelief. "But they're mine. You're being so - so - selfish!"
As soon as she said it she wanted to bite her tongue. She was the one being selfish, not Amira. She wanted all of these presents to herself. But as she looked around, she saw how happy everyone was, how everyone was talking to each other and laughing and sharing stories. It had really brought the community together. She wanted to continue to protest, but she couldn't. She watched as Amira gave a little girl a soft toy, a present that Vyssa would have considered herself too old for and thrown out without a care. The little girl had started crying in joy and hugging the toy, jumping up and down in excitement.
She knew in that moment that Amira was right.
"In that case," she said, in a much more reasonable tone and with a smile on her face, "I'd better let the chef know that they're cooking a huge Christmas dinner, enough for everyone."* * *
Vyssa and Amira sat on the balcony outside Amira's room, enjoying the warm breeze that embraced them despite it being the early evening. They could still hear the excited chatter of the diners down below, a few Neopets out in the gardens, exclaiming over certain pieces. It had been a long day.
"I'm sorry I reacted so badly to you giving away all of the presents." Vyssa said quietly. "I was being selfish, and childish, and spoilt. As usual."
Amira shook her head. "No, I'm sorry. It was a bit ridiculous of me to decide to do that and not consult you, or even tell you, and let it be some horrible surprise on Christmas morning. I wanted you to see how lucky you were by watching how everyone else reacted at even being given one of the things you were going to get."
"You had good intentions." Vyssa said firmly. "And I was wrong to demand so many gifts, and actually feel like I deserved them more than hard-working ordinary Neopets. I promise I actually did learn something." She chuckled. "Next year I won't ask for anything - well, anything too extravagant."
"I did save one present for you," Amira admitted. "Hang on." She disappeared into her bedroom and returned a few minutes later with a velvet dress, green with a large sapphire in the front. The sleeves were long and loosely open at the ends and it reached the ground in length. "This is the new dress you wanted! And..." With the other hand, she revealed a silver necklace with a sapphire pendant. "To match!"
Vyssa's mouth fell open. "Amira, they're beautiful...but -"
"No, please, don't feel guilty. Everyone deserves presents, no matter who they are. As long as everyone appreciates what they have, that is what matters. And giving a little back sometimes just helps make the world a better place." Amira smiled. "And you did that today. I'm very proud of you, Vyssa. I need to give you more credit than I do. You're not my baby sister anymore, you're someone I can really respect and talk to."
"Thank you." Vyssa whispered. "What I really wanted for Christmas was for you to respect me, Amira. That's your real present. These are beautiful, but I'm sure there's a Neopet down there whose entire year would be made if we gave them these. And I really do want to. I've had my present this year - time with you."
"Oh, Vyssa..." Amira was touched. "I'm sorry it's taken me so long to treat you like the real person you are. I'll try really hard to keep spending a lot of my time with you. I promise. No matter how busy running Sakhmet gets!" She almost said more - that being with her on this balcony, listening to her feelings, was the most free and normal she had felt in a long time, and that she really felt truly happy. She looked at her sister, her fragile, vulnerable sister, and vowed to protect her for as long as she could.
So instead she said, "Merry Christmas, Vyssa."
And Vyssa replied, "Merry Christmas, Amira." She would let Amira find the new paint set she'd bought her later; it was hidden under her desk.