It was a cool autumn night, the stars were clear and the moon dazzled from up above.
A cloaked figure was walking down Stardust Avenue, next to her stalked a beautiful snow leopard. The leopard’s powerful muscles rippled under her silky dappled fur, her cautious blue eyes glinted in the pitch dark.
The figure walked quickly into a small, rundown building, the leopard trotting beside her.
“Greetings, Mr. Birney,” a female voice rang out. Mr. Birney, a short bald man with wise twinkling eyes, looked up.
“Ahhh, my dear one, you have arrived! Do come in.” Without taking of her coat the figure walked in. Mr. Birney gasped as he set his eyes on the leopard then jumped up and screamed. Startled, the leopard crouched back and prepared to lunge. The figure quickly got up and calmed the leopard.
“Shhhh, Precious.” She said, running her fingers along the leopard’s soft, beautiful coat. Mr. Birney saw, her eyes barely visible under the figure’s hood, were glaring at him.
“Sorry,” Mr. Birney said quickly, his face turning crimson.
“Alright,” Mr. Birney said, getting back into business. “What would you like me to do?” The figure quickly handed him a sheet, as if scared, that even in this privacy, someone would see. Mr. Birney scanned through the sheet, nodding as he read through everything. “These are beautiful,” he murmured.
The figure gave an exasperated sigh, “Are you done yet?” she asked impatiently.
Mr. Birney nodded, “Meet me at the Great Hemlock, in the dip of the Seven Hills, at the full moon, 2 days from now.” Then his eyes narrowed, “Or should I even do this for you?” he said tauntingly.
The figure laughed, “Oh I think you should.” She said, taking off her cloak. Mr. Birney’s jaws dropped open as he saw the figure. The long, black hair that tumbled just down her shoulders, the breathtakingly beautiful features and a silver circlet around her head set with a sapphire.
She was…”Princess Aramina!” Mr. Birney exclaimed, quickly dropping to his knees. The princess rolled her eyes, “See you at the Great Hemlock!” She said, and walked out the doors, the leopard right behind her, leaving Mr. Birney gawking.
“Aramina, stop playing with the palace guards, it’s time to do your royal duties!!!” Queen Celestia yelled. Aramina looked back, disappointment clear as crystal on her face, “Just after I shoot ONE more arrow?” Aramina pleaded. Queen Celestia pursed her lips as she marched Aramina away from the palace guards.
“That’s enough young lady, you are a girl, a PRINCESS for heaven’s sake. You should not be spending your time shooting arrows or throwing spears or any of that JUNK!!!!!” Queen Celestia said through clenched teeth as she dragged the princess up the stairs. Aramina’s face twisted into a pout as she was thrown into her room.
“But Mom-“Aramina began but was silenced by the look on her mom’s face.
“Now, you can stay up here and think about what you did wrong until breakfast. It’s almost 7:oo and you haven’t done any work yet!” Queen Celestia said calmly but her eyes glinted with that ‘You are in big trouble missy’ look.
Aramina sank down into her mattress looking at her sickening pink walls. She racked her brain for eating etiquette for she knew that if she wasn’t semi-polite her mom would definitely lock her up in this unappealing room forever.
As she was thinking over which goes on the left; fork or knife? The thud of a rock brought her over to her tiny window. Her amber eyes shone and a smile broke across her face as wide as the Grand Canyon.
“Aramina!” Stephan called, pushing a lock of cocoa colored hair out of his eyes.
Aramina swung her legs out the window and pushed her slender body out. Then, balancing on the roof she sprang lightly and somersaulted onto a delicate ridge. Arching her flexible back she reached under and retrieved her bow and arrows. She took a brightly colored arrow with a string attached from her quiver, aiming it at a point in the ground. Then… BOOM! Direct hit! She strapped on her quiver and slung her bow across her shoulder. Holding on tightly to the rope, she jumped of the ridge. Stephan rolled his eyes as Aramina soared of the roof gracefully, landing like a cat.
“Do you always have to make a big show about escaping from your room?” Stephan asked, laughter sparkling in his grass green eyes.
Aramina laughed, “Yup, gives me a bit of exhilaration after curtsying and drinking tea.” Aramina looked earnestly at the woods beyond.
Stephan chuckled, “Yeah sure. Let’s go now!”
Aramina sprinted towards the woods, easily beating Stephan. They followed a crystal clear stream until they got to a strawberry bush. The bush loomed above them like a giant green curtain, sparkling with tiny dew drop lights and candy apple red strawberry ornaments. Stephan poked at a stick then suddenly the stick sprang wide, making a gate. Aramina slipped in noiselessly while Stephan arrived jumping around with twigs in his hair.
They sat down at their rock, which pretty much over looked the whole forest. The strawberry bush kept their secret hideout hidden from outsiders. Inside was a blooming hibiscus bush, its soft lavender color creating dappled patterns on the soft earth. A honeysuckle vine curled its way around a cherry tree, the blossoms speckled on the ground. Stephan picked a hibiscus blossom and tucked it behind Aramina’s ear.
“Happy birthday little princess” Stephan whispered
Aramina made a face, “My birthday is tomorrow and I am NOT a princess.”
Stephan laughed, “Technically you are”
“Am not! At least don’t wanna be.”
Aramina smiled, “Happy birthday to you too”
Stephan smiled back. Aramina couldn’t help counting the colors in his eyes. Suddenly, the clock chimed. Stephan and Aramina gasp, “It’s 7:30!” they both shout. They slide out their hiding place then sprint back to the palace.
“See ya” Aramina said. Stephan nods and heads back to the village. Aramina took the brightly colored arrow and shoots it at the ridge. She pulls herself up just seconds before the door opens. Quickly kicking the sheath of arrows and her bow under the bed, she closes the window then dives into bed. The door opens with a creak.
“Aramina…? I hope you haven’t been lying in bed for the whole time.”
“No Mom practiced my pointe and table etiquette.”
Queen Celestia’s eyes slide to Aramina’s left ear. With a jolt she remembers the hibiscus. Celestia’s eyes brighten up,
“Oh! How wonderful! The palace gardener gave you a flower…. and you wore it! Like a girl!!” Queen Celestia says, “You look darling!” She cooed.
“Ummmmm, yeah! Does it look good with my hair?”
Queen Celestia brightens up, “It looks wonderful! You are such a pretty girl, pity you spend your time shooting arrows.” Aramina gathers her features into something that resembles a smile.
“C’mon, breakfast will be cold!” Celestia says in that trademark ‘Queen Celestia Enthusiasm’. With a sigh Aramina follows.
The smells of sausage and eggs greet her as Aramina enters the dining room. As she eats, her father and mother discuss her birthday. Aramina taps on her glass goblet.
“Yes, Aramina?” Her father says with his booming voice.
“I’d like to have permission to invite someone.” Aramina says nervously, pulling at her hunting jacket.
Queen Celestia gasps, “Oh, do tell!”
Aramina gives a nervous glance at her mother, “He’s from the village. His name is-”
“A poor, dirty, boy from the village! Definitely not!”
Her father shoots a sympathetic glance at Aramina, “Celestia, let us hear all that Aramina has to say.”
Aramina gulps, “His name is Stephan, and he’s the eldest of 3 sisters and 2 brothers. And he has the same birthday as me.”
“Alright” Queen Celestia says doubtfully, “But he better come in looking decent.”
Aramina’s eyes lighten up, “Thanks mom!” and she races out the door.
Stephan watched in awe as Aramina mashed up some hazelnuts and chestnuts. She drizzled it with honey and added a few mint leaves. Then she made a salad with tender shoots of young hawthorn and sprinkled on some thyme and wild garlic. Topping each off with a few strawberries, she presented both dishes to Stephan.
Stephan’s eyes pop, “Wow” he mouths.
Aramina laughed, “Try it!”
Stephan didn’t need to be told twice, he dug into the salad shoving greens into his mouth. He ‘ahhhhed’ as the honey of the nuts burst his taste buds.
“That was great!” Stephan exclaimed, licking his lips.
Aramina smiled then handed Stephan a scroll, the smile turning into a nervous smile.
The scroll was made of the thick, creamy, expensive palace stationary. The ink was a rich emerald green color. Stephan read through the fancy script.
“You’re inviting me to your birthday party?!” he exclaims disbelievingly, “Does your mom know?”
“Yeah, you can come as long as you look decent.” Aramina says with a snort
“Um…. define decent.”
Aramina grinned, “I’m taking you to the tailor, don’t worry I’ll pay for everything.” Stephan replied back with a groan.
“Rise and shine! You have a busy, BUSY day!” Queen Celestia called, knocking on the door 20 times. Aramina groaned, rolling out of bed.
“Wear that beautiful blue dress that Granny sent you. And don’t forget your circlet!” Celestia yelled and flitted away.
Aramina changed and brushed through her hair, leaving her hair down instead of putting it in a ponytail like she usually does. She fastened her circlet and slid her feet into her rarely used blue slippers.
The pile of presents grew and grew as fancy guests arrived. At the head of the table was the Aramina’s father, King Alvord. On the right of the King was Queen Celestia. On the left was an empty chair for Aramina.
Stephan peeked in nervously. He was wearing a rich navy blue vest over a pearly white undershirt. His silk pants did little to help his sweaty palms. He walked slowly, fearing he would trip. Aramina had reserved a special chair for him next her. The Queen smiled brightly but Stephan saw doubt in her eyes.
“Her highness, Princess Aramina!” King Alvord booms, his big voice bouncing off the walls. Stephan’s jaws drop open as Aramina appears. She wore a soft, sky blue dress that fluttered around her knees as though she were dressed in a cloud. Stephan knew that Aramina was pretty but here she appeared beautiful, her amber eyes bright with excitement and wide with shock, framed by long, dark lashes. Her perfect, full lips were a soft pale pink, and her cheeks blushing. The blue color brought out her skin as a fair cream. Her dark hair waved down the middle of her back. A silver circlet wrapped around the head, set with a dazzling sapphire.
“Let us all raise our glasses to the heir of Stardust, and honor Princess Aramina on her 13th birthday!!” a loud roar burst mixed with the tinkling of glass. Aramina flushed with excitement and walked down the carpet. Her dress flowed down, complementing her slender figure. She motioned to a servant, “Tell Stephan to close his mouth before a bird flies in.”
Aramina sat down and looked at Stephan in awe. The undershirt clung tight to his body, showing off the muscles. And the navy blue gave off an aurora that made his skin an attractive tan. Both eyes, wide with shock stared into each other.
“Ahem!” Queen Celestia coughed loudly. King Alvord shot Celestia a disapproving look.
“Let us all eat now!” King Alvord yells, barely finishing his own words before diving in the roast pork.
Finally, after all the plates have been licked clean, they gather in the ballroom. Presents after presents were presented to Aramina. When Stephan arrived with a tiny box, Queen Celestia snorted and shot him a critical glare. Aramina gave her mother a withering look then opened the box. Inside were two silver combs. Intricate flower designs were made out of a blue gemstone. Beautiful designs were carved deftly around the edges.
“Wow” Aramina murmured, even her mother gasped. “Oh Stephan, this would have cost you a fortune!” Aramina exclaims.
“They were my grandmother’s” Stephan says softly.
Queen Celestia gasps, this time not in awe. “A comb from a villager! Aramina will NOT wear those!” But her father maneuvered the comb into her hair, the silver and blue matching her circlet. Aramina thanked Stephan graciously as the next guest came up to her.
Finally, the time came when the King and Queen presented their gift to the princess. The crowd watched anxiously as a big box was hauled up. Her father lowered the box gently by Aramina’s feet. A tiny mew escaped from the box. Aramina gasped, hope shining in her eyes. The lids lifted up and a fluffy little snow leopard cub sprang out. Aramina laughed with joy as the leopard bounded into her arms.
“Daddy!” she squealed, all dignity forgotten. “A snow leopard all the way from the North!” her father smiled, “It was worth two bows, an eagle, an arrowhead, and 3 deer.”
“Aramina, you better train her. I don’t want that thing pooping all over my carpets.” Queen Celestia says, but she’s smiling too.
Aramina nods, “I’ll name her Precious.” She declares.