My tutor's droning voice paused and I yawned. I'm sorry, but how many people didn't know The Story of the World? I had heard it so many times that it had grown boring to the point of soporific. To be frank, it wasn't going to change, so why keep telling the tale?
My tutor glared at me.
"If that fails to interest you, Miss Waterfall, then I dread to think of the person you'll grow up to be.
"Your education is extremely important for your awareness of the world around you, but if you think your lessons are boring, we could always stop them. Shall I have a talk with your parents?"
He made as if to leave the room but I hurriedly said "No, no, sir: the world is a fascinating place. I merely ... retired late last night."
Mr Appleblossom looked smug. He knew how to get what he wanted.
"Do continue," I said.
"The world is protected and kept in balance by the Eagles," Mr Appleblossom told me, as if I hadn't been told a hundred times before. "They reign from their land in the clouds, which is only accessible to those who own or capture a winged unicorn. Though the three other nations have rulers, everyone bows down to the Supreme Ruler, including, of course, the Eagle Emperor who only rules over his people. Now, all isn't harmonious upon Thrift. Eagles don't settle petty arguments or fights between and indeed within the kingdoms, but there is general contentment and satisfaction with the way things are. The Eagles long ago stopped discrimination towards particular types of people (showing us we are all the same inside), which helped the development of society a great deal. But, there is one major conflict which the Eagles are constantly keeping an eye on."
I sat up a little straighter. This was the part of the tale which never failed to excite me. My tutor noted my keen interest with a smile to himself as if he were the one producing the excitement I felt, not the story.
"Two of the nations have been bitter enemies for centuries," he said gravely.
"The Phoenixes and the Dolphins," I breathed.
"Perhaps you would like to recount the tale of the action which sparked this long-lasting prejudice," Mr Appleblossom suggested, smiling approvingly.
"Fifteen hundred years ago," I began confidently, "there was a great volcanic eruption near the border between Fireland and Wavia, the respective lands of the Phoenixes and the Dolphins. The fire and its allies threatened to consume the Dolphin population living closest to the volcano. A brave Dolphin named Rex Waterfall (my ancestor, actually) used his ability to manipulate water to douse the flames, cool their allies down and cleanse the ash cloud to render its precipitation harmless. The people were saved but the Phoenixes were angered. They say Rex's actions as an attempt to prove Water's dominance over Fire. What's more, the volcano had been sacred to them, so Rex's 'attack' had insulted them and shown disrespect for their culture. Rex remained adamant that he had been protecting his people but the Phoenixes refused to see sense, even when Rex asked what they would do if a tidal wave threatened to destroy them - a good example to use because oceans are revered. So the Phoenixes declared war on the Dolphins. The Eagle stopped the battle, which would have claimed many innocent lives, but to his day, the hatred remains. The current King of Fireland refuses to talk to my parents (the King and Queen) of Wavia, unless it is completely necessary, and it is forbidden for a Dolphin to fall in love with a Phoenix."
The tutor beamed. "Excellent. You shall go far with that knowledge... even if you're less enthusiastic about the other aspects of your learning."
"Sir?" I asked. There was always one question I had which was related to this tale and no one ever seemed to give me a satisfactory answer, despite the fact that I was a princess (though an untitled one at that).
"Yes, Your Highness?" The lesson was drawing to a close and formality was returning to the man's tone.
"Has anyone ever ... broken that rule?"
"The one about a Dolphin being forbidden from falling in love with a Phoenix?"
The tutor frowned. "No. They would surely be punished for doing so."
"Oh," I said. "Okay."
Mr Appleblossom left, looking relieved.
I couldn't really believe that laws stopped love or that no Dolphin and Phoenix had ever had a relationship, but there had been something about the finality of Mr Appleblossom's words which had prevented me from enquiring further.
It had been like this all the other times I had asked this question, even with the most conversational people and the friendliest women who constantly treated me as if I were endearing. Something like a wall seemed to come down when I brought up this topic. One might ask "Why pursue an investigation which would surely be fruitless?" but people's reactions had long intrigued me and I was too determined to discover the hidden truth to let it go. Persistence got people places - that was even the Eagles' motto, and if they weren't good role models, who was?
I'll get my answer one day, I thought.