There’s More Than One Way to be a Princess
It was a typical day in the Peophin kingdom, the beautiful underwater stone castle hidden by floating tendrils of kelp and swirling whirlpools of seawater. The king and queen were attending to business in the high tower, the princes were playing chess in the garden or taking music lessons, the princesses were grooming their long silky manes or reading quietly in the castle’s library. All the princesses but one, that was. The youngest princess, Spherim, was trudging through the halls of the castle, bored and searching for something to do. She couldn’t sit still long enough for chess or music, and couldn’t care less about the state of her mane. She wandered toward the library, hoping a book might entertain her, and found a tattered copy of a book about a Usul who went in search of treasure and adventure. The stories, as exciting as they were, just made Spherim even more restless.
“Are you really just going to sit in that chair all day with your face stuck in between those pages?” she asked one of her sisters, who was perched on a seat nearby.
Her sister sighed from behind her leather-bound book. “Spherim, I really like reading.”
“But why would you want to read about adventures when you could be out having them yourself?” Spherim demanded.
“Princesses don’t have adventures, Spherim,” her sister answered.
“Maybe I don’t want to be a princess then,” Spherim frowned in response.
Her sister didn’t reply, already absorbed back into the story she was reading. Spherim huffed and stomped a hoof, then went to see if her oldest brother felt like pulling pranks on the castle’s chef, a crotchety old Peophin whose reaction to a pile of rubber Weewoos stuck inside his favourite cooking pot had made milk come out of Spherim’s nose.
Her brother wasn’t interested. “Spherim, there are better things to do than pull childish pranks,” he shook his head, turning back to his piano music, “You need to grow up and start acting like a princess!”
“I don’t want to be a princess!” But Spherim’s voice was drowned out by the piano, so she pouted and left him alone.
Spherim decided to give up on her boring siblings and entertain herself instead. She wandered through the gardens, stomping alongside the castle walls, humming to herself and dreaming of adventure when her thoughts were interrupted by the sounds of a loud, metallic clash and voices shouting from beyond the wall. The sounds grew louder and Spherim’s heart began to race. Was this it? The adventure she’d always dreamed of, finally about to begin? Scrambling up the stone wall, Spherim peeked out from behind the underwater vines into the shimmering blue distance. Two figures came into her view, a pair of glossy grey Flotsams with brass rings through their ears and scars on their faces. They were swinging huge silver swords together, laughing and taunting one another playfully. Spherim gasped; it was a real sword fight between two pirates, in front of her own eyes! As she watched them duel she imagined herself as the captain of a pirate ship, dressed in a feathered hat and a golden-buckled coat, brandishing a sword and casting fear into the hearts of all she met. Without thinking she began to inch forward, leaning further out over the wall’s edge. She was about to slip when something grabbed her from behind and pulled her back.
It was one of the royal guards. “Princess, it isn’t safe for you to be hanging about on top of the castle walls!”
“I know, I’m sorry,” she replied, blushing, “Thank you for saving me.”
With a quick apologetic smile in the guard’s direction, Spherim raced back inside the castle, searching for someone to tell about what she’d seen. She was rushing down a hallway when one of her sisters turned the corner carrying an armful of scrolls, and they smacked into one another in a collision of hooves and flowing grey mane, coiled paper spilling out and unrolling around them.
“Spherim, do be careful,” her sister groaned, rubbing her cheek. “Where are you going in such a rush anyway?”
“Sorry!” Spherim cried, picking up the scattered scrolls at her feet, “I’m just so excited! I was outside and I saw- Oh, well, it’s just- I’ve decided I want to be a pirate!”
Her sister paused as she bent to retrieve a stray scroll. “A… pirate?”
Spherim nodded enthusiastically, letting the scrolls fall to the floor again. “Yes, with a hat and jacket and big, shiny sword!”
Her sister frowned, unsure of what to say. “But Spherim,” she began tentatively, “You can’t be a pirate. You’re a Peophin princess. Princesses aren’t pirates!”
It was Spherim’s turn to frown then. “Why not?”
“Sailing on pirate ships and hunting for buried treasure are not things that princesses do!”
Spherim stuck her tongue out at her older sister. “Well I’m going to, and you can’t stop me!” She turned and stalked away angrily.
Spherim spent the rest of the afternoon locked in her bedroom, drawing fierce pirate princesses and treasure maps on old pieces of parchment. She couldn’t let what her silly siblings said stop her. But after a few hours it began to grow dark, and Spherim was still feeling miserable. Although she was surrounded by parchments covered in pirating plans, she was losing confidence. Maybe her siblings were right; she was a princess and couldn’t possibly ever fight with swords or sail a ship.
“Spherim?” There was a soft knock on the door. It was her mother, the queen.
“Come in, mother,” Spherim unlocked and opened her heavy bedroom door to let her mother step inside, then sunk back down onto the lush carpet next to her piles of parchment.
Her mother sat down too, her long tail curling gracefully around her, and picked up one of Spherim’s drawings of a pirate sword. “So this is what you’ve been doing all afternoon…”
Spherim shrugged. “Everyone thinks that it’s really stupid that I want to be a pirate, mother,” she began, “They all think I should just sit around combing my mane and looking into a mirror!”
“Although you may not realise, your brothers and sisters are all very different and they all like very different things, just like you.”
“But they all like things that princes and princesses are supposed to like!”
Her mother smiled gently. “Spherim, did I ever tell you how your father and I met?”
Spherim shook her head.
Her mother laughed. “I’m not surprised, your brothers and sisters don’t even know. It’s a bit of a secret within the kingdom in fact, but if you promise not to tell, I’ll share the secret with you.”
Spherim sat up, intrigued. “I promise to keep it a secret, mother,” she said, “Please tell me!”
“Okay,” her mother began, “As a young Peophin I grew up aboard a ship. My father’s friend was the captain, and I spend my younger years sailing around Neopia, visiting all kinds of amazing places and having all sorts of adventures. The captain had many contacts across the seas, and we often spend time following maps that lead to buried treasure, then battling with other ships we came across who tried to take our treasure from us!”
Spherim’s mouth was hanging open. “Mother, you- you were a pirate?” She could hardly believe that her beautiful, elegant mother had once lived aboard a pirate ship, swung a sword or hunted for treasure.
The queen nodded. “Indeed I was, my little princess,” she replied, “But I grew older, and I eventually decided to leave my crew when I met your father. For many years, before we settled in this very castle, the king and I went on many adventures ourselves and travelled the whole of Neopia!”
Spherim could hardly believe everything her mother had told her. Her parents had been on adventures together? She felt a strange mixture of envy and excitement.
“I have something for you, Spherim,” her mother’s eyes sparkled, and she stood and crossing the room to the bedroom door. She opened the door, reached out and pulled a mysterious object into the room. It was long, strappy, and leather, and held together with brass buckles.
“Oh!” It was a sword scabbard. And, sure enough, out of the end poked a shiny handle studded with glittering jewels. Spherim leapt to her feet, jumping up and down excitedly.
“This sword was mine but I want you to have it now, little pirate princess!” Her mother unsheathed the sword and handed it to her. “And I’m planning to visit my old crew on Krawk Island next week, I would love you to come with me! They can teach you a thing or two about sword skills, and I can give you some lessons when we return as well!”
Spherim hugged her mother tightly. “Oh mother, that would be the best adventure ever!”
Her mother hugged her back, then left the excited little princess to inspect her new treasure. Spherim looked down at the shimmering metal and felt her heart swell with joy. She had her very own sword! She was going to learn to sword fight and she was going to take a trip with her mother outside the castle! All of a sudden she realised that – even though she was a princess - there was nothing wrong with wanting to go on adventures… just as there was nothing wrong with enjoying reading about adventures, or playing an instrument, or even grooming a mane! Everyone liked different things and that was perfectly fine.
And there’s more than one way to be a princess!