Pride Comes Before a Ball
Tallydepp the Royal Uni was beside herself with joy. It was the day of the Christmas Royal Ball, an event she had been eagerly looking forward to since she received the invitation the previous month.
"Oh look," she had exclaimed, holding up the fancy golden scroll. "King Skarl has personally requested my attendance at his annual Christmas Ball. Personally requested," she repeated in an awed whisper. "MY attendance."
Her adopted sister, Luannex, had, with exaggerated disinterest, shrugged, rolled her eyes and gone off to climb the Cookie Tree in the garden. But this lacklustre reaction did not bother Tallydepp. After all, Luannex was merely a baby Xweetok (and an unrefined one, at that) and clearly did not appreciate the magnitude of the invitation or the possibilities that it contained within.
Ever since she could remember, Tallydepp had dreamed of only one thing - somehow having the opportunity to impress the King of Meridell. In her dreams, King Skarl was always so taken aback by Tallydepp's beauty, grace, good manners and demure personality that he immediately gave her the coveted position of Uni-To-The-King, a role which would involve accompanying the King on his travels and generally just looking pretty and being complimented on by his subjects.
And now the day had finally arrived! After nearly four weeks of primping and preening, scrubbing and cleaning, grooming and gleaning, Tallydepp finally was ready to impress the King! Her golden mane shone like never before, her blue eyes twinkled merrily, her tail swished gently in its velvet bow. One of Tallydepp's favourite pastimes was admiring herself and, as such, today she could hardly tear herself away from her mirror. She took great pride in her appearance. She knew she had never looked so good before, her whole being just radiated beauty and good breeding, and she was certain King Skarl would be amazed to see such a fine Uni.
"I truly am the finest Uni in the whole of Meridell," she told herself, somewhat smugly.
Because it was a Christmas Ball, the King had stipulated that the dress code be festive. This worried Tallydepp. She was fond of Christmas but found, on the whole, Christmas could be a tacky affair and her visit to the Unis Clothing Shop yesterday had only confirmed her belief. Much of the Christmas clothing there she had found too gaudy for such a refined Uni as herself. In the end she had bought a length of Christmassy ribbon which she now reluctantly tied in her glossy mane. A small concession to her usually sophisticated attire would be worth it when the King appointed her Uni-To-The-King.
With one last lingering look at her reflection, Tallydepp turned on her hooves and trotted elegantly outside, where she stopped abruptly and gasped. To her dismay, the ordinarily lush, green rolling Meridellian countryside was now blanketted in a thick layer of snow which was still falling in abundance from the sky!
"My mane!" Tallydepp cried. "My coat! My tail! They shall be ruined! Oh, this is a disaster!"
She looked frantically around and spied Luannex frolicking in the snow with her other Xweetok friends. With their wet, matted fur, Tallydepp thought they all looked terribly grubby and undignified.
"Luannex!" she called out, "Come here, little sister! You will have to accompany me to the castle, holding my umbrella. I can't possibly let the snow touch me, else I may end up looking... looking like you!" She shuddered with distaste. "Once there," she instructed, "you will have to polish my hooves before I enter the castle then you may be dismissed."
Luannex sat up in snow. "But I am playing, big sister!" she said. "Come, Tallydepp, come play with us! It's such fun in the snow!"
"I can't possibly!" Tallydepp snapped. "You know very well I have an important - "
But she couldn't finish her sentence because right at that moment a large, wet snowball landed smack on her nose. All the Xweetoks squealed with delight, especially the one who had thrown the missile.
"Big sister," called Luannex, "you are a very vain Uni and you don't know how to have fun!" And with that, all the Xweetoks (for Xweetoks are rather mischievous) started throwing snowballs at a startled, horrified Tallydepp.
"Have fun?" thought Tallydepp, feeling panicked. "Royal Unis are not supposed to have fun! We are supposed to look beautiful and sophisticated at all times!"
"STOP!" she cried and tried to dodge the flurry of snow but, as she did so, she tripped. SPLAT! She went right into the snowy ground. Flakes of snow fell from her mane. Shocked, she sat up. Snow fell into her mouth. It was cold and felt light, fluffy, actually rather nice. "Oh, you little rascals!"
Before she could stop herself, she too was making snowballs and hurling them at the gleeful Xweetoks. Soon they were all slip, sliding, rolling around in the snow, Tallydepp included! Something rumbled deep inside Tallydepp. At first she was alarmed, because she didn't know what it was. Then she realised - she was laughing! Her whole body ached with laughter and yet she could not stop herself!
"Oh!" she guffawed, "This is so much fun!"
"Oh!" Luannex said, suddenly sombre. "Oh big sister. You're a MESS."
Everyone stopped playing and silence fell as the Xweetoks took in Tallydepp's appearance. Her mane, tail and coat, once so glossy, now were wet, ratty-looking, covered in snow.
"The Christmas Ball!" exclaimed Tallydepp. "It's too late to get cleaned up now. I shall have to go like this!"
Feeling very guilty, Luannex and the Xweetoks walked Tallydepp to the castle. The guard on the door frowned when Tallydepp handed him her soggy invitation but let her through, nonetheless, albeit with disapproval.
Tallydepp took a deep breath and looked around her. Everything was just as she had imagined it to be - beautiful, elegant, refined, everything she usually was. The castle hall teemed with people talking in quiet, demure voices. And they all looked beautiful! But look at her, standing, dripping melting snow onto the castle floor, her ribbon all askew.
"Oh the shame!" she thought. "I should leave." But, to her surprise, a giggle escaped her. She glanced quickly around, hoping no one had heard but it was too late. Heads turned to look at her and, although she tried not to, she giggled more as she remembered what fun she had had in the snow. And ridiculous she must look, all snowy and grubby and wet, surrounded by Meridell's finest.
Suddenly a voice boomed across the room. "What is this?" King Skarl strode over, looking regal, Royal, and very displeased. He stood before Tallydepp, arms akimbo, his eyes large as he took in the sorry sight.
All her life, Tallydepp had waited for this moment. Her legs trembled but not with fear as she had expected, but with suppressed laughter! "It's snowing, King," Tallydepp said, unable to stop giggling.
"Snowing?" the King boomed. Then he broke out into bellowing laughter. "It's snowing! And this Uni here has been enjoying the snow! Everyone, outside! Let's enjoy the snow!"
The guests murmured their surprise at being ordered outside but, because it was an order from the King, they obeyed and lined up behind King Skarl and Tallydepp, and followed them out of the castle, where it was still snowing.
Hiding behind a tree, Luannex and the rest of the Xweetoks groaned in dismayed unison. "The king is angry," they said to one another. "Look! Tallydepp is being escorted from the castle! She's too messy to go to the Ball!"
But their dismay was soon followed by confusion. "Why is everyone leaving the Castle hall?" they asked.
King Skarl marched through the crunching snow then stopped while everyone gathered around him. He beamed at Tallydepp. "The other guests have turned up looking as though Christmas is a very dull time," he announced, "but you have arrived full of fun! And what better outfit to attend a Christmas Ball than covered in snow!"
Tallydepp wasn't quite sure what to say. But, as it turned out, she didn't have to say anything at all! King Skarl announced right there and then that Tallydepp was to be the new Uni-To-The-King because all he ever wanted was a Uni who knew how to have fun!
Luannex and her friends came out from behind the tree and cheered loudly along with the crowd.
"To Tallydepp," cried the King, "the first Uni to ever make King Skarl laugh!"
Tallydepp thought her heart would burst with pride, but it was a very different kind of pride to what she had experienced before. She felt proud because she had made King Skarl laugh; she had made the King happy!
"Let the fun begin!" King Skarl proclaimed and all over Meridell all you could hear that day, and the next day, and for years to come in fact, was the sound of happy laughter.