I knew that we were meant to hate each other but there was something irresistible about the dark aura he possessed, his attractiveness and the grace (I noticed) with which he walked. I was sure he'd be an interesting person to talk to, especially since the Phoenix culture was so different from my own. For example, instead of crowns, they wore metal pin badges. To distinguish King from High Prince, Queen from high Princess etc, the badges were different colours. As I approached the Phoenix High Prince, I could see his pin badge was light red. It was roughly square-shaped and I thought it looked quite boring and plain, but who was I to judge a symbol of royalty? After all, he probably thought my tiara was showy.
"Good afternoon," I said as I came to a halt in front of him. I curtseyed as I had done with all the other members of royalty who ranked higher than me.
In a cold voice, the High Prince replied "Hi."
"I have not had the pleasure of seeing you before." Mistake #1: use of the word ‘pleasure'.
The young man's expression turned frosty.
Oh, why couldn't I despise him as I did his parents? I had suddenly remembered that I had met them five years ago, when my sister had been crowned and both had turned up. I didn't remember much what they looked like or had been wearing, just a sense that those people were evil. That had been the right reaction to them: why couldn't I be sensible again?
"I've not seen you either," the Prince returned in exactly the right tone. It seemed he knew how to talk to a Dolphin.
"Pray, what is your name?" I asked.
The man looked insulted, as if I'd asked him the most personal question in the world. I knew I should be carefully but something about him made my heart beat a little faster in that way it does when you're excited or anticipating something.
"Tiger," he said, through gritted teeth.
How appropriate... He had that predator-like grace, I could easily imagine him stalking his prey and he was lean: the same images conjured up when I thought of that big cat; he had a tight leash on his emotions and probably his powers too, which was like the animal's self-control; and he was dangerous.
"Appropriate?" Tiger asked furiously. "And what's that supposed to imply?"
Oops. I hadn't realised I had said that aloud. Mistake #2. At least I hadn't spoken the rest of my thoughts.
I gulped. "Um nothing - I was just noting the grace you share with your namesake."
Mistake #3: complimenting him. I should have said something about shared heartlessness. To any Dragon or Eagle, this may seem rude but it was actually proper conduct for Dolphins and Phoenixes to insult each other. I had vague memories of mine and Tiger's parents having an argument at my sister's crowning.
Tiger was seething. And I was scared. I had made one mistake too many and I was probably going to regret it.
"I have grace?!" he asked.
Too late to turn back now. Terrified, I nodded. I felt dozens of pairs of eyes on my back. Oh great, everyone was watching.
"What do you want?!" he shouted, making me tremble.
"N-n-nothing," I stammered.
"Stop this!" came a booming voice. I should have guessed that it was impossible for everyone to have been watching. After all, there were five Eagles in the room.
Tiger glanced up behind me and I turned to see the Supreme Ruler standing there looking angry.
"She was being conversational!" Tiger cried indignantly. "She tried to flatter me!"
My family gasped, looking horrified. Even Coal looked shocked. I winced.
"Perhaps I should be glad any compliment from her people is an insult, but I don't think she even meant to offend me."
"I - I didn't meant to flatter you either," I said, in my defence. "I was ... merely stating an observation."
"Do you often observe that people are graceful?" Tiger asked me.
I shook. "N-no."
"Then why am I the exception?! Why have you paid me such attention?!" To the Supreme Ruler, he said "I demand to know what the Dolphins are plotting!"
My dad stepped in. "Us? Plotting? You sound like we're evil. The reason this conflict started was because Rex Waterfall saved his people! Does that sound like the actions of a scheming race?"
"He attacked Mount Pyro!" Tiger yelled.
Everyone went still. The Supreme Ruler looked enraged. "These two young people will return with me to Eagle Palace where they will have a chance to give an exact account of what happened. If anyone follows, even if they are a Dragon, they will be punished most severely." To me and Tiger he said "Come."
Meekly, I followed him out of the castle and onto the front lawn. Tiger strode out looking unashamed. The other Eagles came as well.
Adam ran up to me. He looked sympathetic.
"Did you try to be kind to him? Try to end this conflict?"
"I guess I just wanted to talk to him, "I replied, knowing I had had no exact intentions of ending the Phoenix-Dolphin Conflict.
Tiger suddenly turned on the spot. "If I find this was out of anything more than curiosity, I have every right to arrest you. Even if not, you are incredibly stupid."
"I know," I murmured, and hung my head.
"Don't give in to him," Adam said.
"Shut up, you interfering Eagle," Tiger said.
Just then, I heard the sound of beating wings. I turned to see seven winged unicorns flying towards us.
"Wow," I murmured.
"Beautiful, aren't they?" Adam asked, smiling.
"Yeah," I replied.
"Sentimental fools," Tiger muttered.
We ignored him as Adam led me to a small pink unicorn and held the animal still while I mounted it. He himself mounted a deep blue one with the aid of a stool the Supreme Ruler provided.
Tiger climbed onto the unicorn with the darkest fur - a grey one with dapples of white upon its hind thighs and a darker tail. Even after he'd terrified me, I could appreciate the fluidity of his perfectly controlled muscles. I also recognised his air of authority and the power he exuded. The unicorn was totally subdued as he sat upon it and waited for the signal to go. I found myself wanting to be enveloped by that dark aura. I hoped I wasn't close to breaking any rules.
Suddenly, the Supreme Ruler shouted "Go," and we kicked our unicorns with our right feet (the method being common knowledge to royalty), rose into the air and let the unicorns take us to the Palace of Air. I felt extremely nervous, fearing the consequences of my actions and people's reactions to them. Adam steered his animal towards me and took my hand, squeezing it. I was thankful for the support.