It was three years since I had asked Mr Appleblossom the uncomfortable question. I was about to be crowned ‘Second High Princess' and I still didn't have my answer. Maybe now that everyone (including my friends) always had to address me as ‘Your Highness', people would see me differently. If I was mature enough to have a proper title and ready to speak for my sister when she was ill, then I should, by all logic, be mature enough and ready to hear about cases of forbidden love.
Before the ceremony, I was aided with my choice of clothes and the enhancement of my facial features by my dearest friend, Henrietta, who had seen five more years of the world than I and would surely know the answer to my question. In fact, I wondered why I had never thought of asking her before she was always so open and honest with me about everything. I supposed the thought had merely never crossed my mind.
Now that it had, I boldly asked "Has a Dolphin ever loved a Phoenix, or indeed been loved by one?"
Henrietta pretended to be busy, but I could see from her flushed cheeks that I had been speaking loudly enough for her to hear and plainly enough for her to understand.
"If I'm to be a Second High Princess, there shouldn't really be things I don't know, should there?"
Henrietta blushed. "Of course. You're right, Se - Your Highness. After the ceremony, I promise to tell you what you wish to know."
That was what I called a satisfactory answer.
I was very happy as Henrietta walked with me to the Throne Room. I could get used to being a Second High Princess.
When we arrived at the Throne Room, there were a dozen people already seated, including my on the central throne which was raised above the two adjacent (occupied by my mother and sister) which were also higher than a further two, one of which was my own; the Queen and High Prince of the Dragons; the Emperor of the Eagles and three of his children; and a tall handsome stranger. The other two in the current audience were my beaming Aunt Claudine and Cousin Rosia, the latter of whom was attracting frequent glances from the Dragon High Prince; but all my attention was focused on the young man wearing the black silk shirt and trousers with red stripes down the sides. He had spiky black hair and magnificent green eyes, a clean, shaved face, slightly tanned ‘white' skin and, from what I could see of it, a great figure that brought to mind words like ‘athletic'. He looked like he had the ‘ideal weight'. Too bad he looked so bored and dispassionate. Really too bad that his jewel-like eyes were cold and hard.
"Henrietta," I murmured, without looking away from the young man lest he should disappear, "who is that young man in black attire?"
I turned to glean as much of her reaction as possible. Her face darkened.
"That's the High Prince of the Phoenixes. The Eagles ordered the Phoenix Royal Household to send at least one representative to view your crowning. I know they think they're trying to help but, sometimes, they interfere in matters that really don't concern them."
Henrietta didn't say anything after that, but her face lightened up as we approached the five thrones and she went to take her seat in the front row of the audience, striking up conversation with the Eagle Emperor's son and daughters as if she had always found them wonderful people. I hung back against the wall to the left of the seats, trying to blend in with the wallpaper as I waited, rather nervously, for the proceedings to begin. I noticed the Phoenix High Prince glaring at my family with contempt and utter loathing in his eyes. Thank Goodness he didn't look at me. Other people began to assemble and I let my thoughts wander.
By the time the Supreme Ruler arrived, I was in quite a state. Was my hair okay? Did my face look like it belonged to a princess? The Eagle Emperor's son kept looking at me: was there something wrong with my dress? I fretted about all these things as the Supreme Ruler called me forwards, though of course hid my anxiety with a smile. I ignored the Eagle Emperor's son's stares and the High Prince of Fireland's glares as I met the Supreme Ruler's gaze (wow, did those twinkling blue eyes calm me down). I responded to what he was saying in the way I had practised so many times before.
"Do you promise to protect your people?" he asked.
"I do," I replied, hoping to convey my sincerity.
"Do you agree to the task of speaking for your sister on occasions where she cannot?"
"Do you promise to think of others before yourself, as all High Princesses must?"
"From now until your services are no longer required?"
"From now until my services are no longer required."
"Then I hereby crown you Second High Princess of Wavia."
I knelt before the man, eyes lowered to the floor and waited until the tiara was placed upon my head before I stood up and turned to face the audience.
The Eagles were smiling their glorious smiles (with the Emperor's son's one particularly wide), the Dragons nodded slightly but otherwise looked emotionless, the entire Royal Court was teary and the Phoenix continued to glare. Oh well, couldn't please everyone. I did a neat curtsey which symbolised my servitude to my people, turned and went to stand before my throne. Everyone rose to their feet and we sang the Dolphin National Anthem before sitting again.
The Supreme Ruler closed the ceremony with the words "May love rule our hearts and actions, and our nations continue to thrive."