Princess Centrelle of the Crown, heir apparent to the High Throne and the strongest Magic user of the entire continent had found her way into a puddle. Her coat was brown and her mane, which was usually so neat and tidy, was stuck together with mud. If it wasn’t for the dead silence in the courtyard, the view would have been hilarious. As it was, though, no pony dared to move.
Kena sat in the grass, a little further away, completely stunned. She was certain Centrelle had not been this dirty since she had been 5 years old. And her sister didn’t trip. That was completely out of the question. That was something she did, not Centrelle. But it had happened. Kena hadn’t seen it happen, not exactly, but she heard a thud and a splash and when she turned her sister lay face down in the mud.
Centrelle’s personal maid was the first to jump to action, even before the screaming started. Kena gazed in horror as the poor girl tried to help Centrelle, only to be pushed away.
“Never, never have I been this humiliated! Stay away! Keep away from me!” Her sister’s screams made everyone back off. By some miracle she managed to get up on her hooves on her own. Centrelle tried to walk away with as much dignity as she could muster with so much mud stuck to her coat, but Kena couldn’t help but smirk. She turned and trotted out of the court gardens onto the road. When she was sure there was no one around, she let herself go.
She couldn’t remember the last time she had laughed so hard and so long. She had a hard time staying on her hooves and the sky swirled in front of her eyes. The prana danced around her, moving on the waves of her laughter. She knew she shouldn’t laugh at her sister’s misfortune, really, she did. Centrelle, her stuck-up sister and a copy of their mother in so many ways, covered in mud, slipping as if disaster had struck the one second she had lost control…
“You shouldn’t laugh.” Stella’s voice sounded like a tune as it always did. Kena had been so absorbed in the image of her sister lying face down in the mud, that she hadn’t even noticed her other sister following her out of the gate.
“Oh, come on Stella, you have to admit…”
“No,” Stella interrupted her, “I don’t. It was just an accident. We wouldn’t laugh if it happened to you.”
Yes, you would, Kena thought sourly. It just wouldn’t show on your face.
“You will attend dinner tonight, right? You know prince Kurao will attend. The delegation arrived earlier this morning. We don’t want Centrelle to look bad by not attending, now do we?”
Kena wasn’t so sure if that wasn’t what she wanted. Truth be told, she had completely forgotten about prince Kurao because she had helped Flin on the farm picking fruit, and eating lots of it. All she could recall was that a delegation from the western lands of the continents would visit to discuss some things, and Kurao was supposed to be a potential partner for her older sister.
She sighed. There was no way she’d get out of that. And it meant she’d have no time to discuss her leaving for a few days with her mother, either. Raena would be busy until the delegation had departed again.
“Yeah, yeah, I’ll be there, Stella. Anything else?”
“It wouldn’t hurt you to visit the shrine every once in a while, you know. Ponies are talking about how you never visit. It’s not something our family can use right now.”
Sometimes Kena wondered if Stella was secretly a whole lot older than Centrelle. While her oldest sister was very capable of acting childish and spoiled, no matter how hard she tried to be mature and the heir and all, Stella looked like she was as old as their mother and acted as such, too. Still, her sister was only a year older than she was.
“I will, I will. You know, I’ll get right to it. I will see you at dinner, Stella!”
“And don’t forget to dress up properly! I’ll help you if you need help! I’ll come check on you!”
Kena sighed and refused to reply. What could she possibly say to get Stella off her back? She couldn’t even say that she would be fine on her own, because she had no idea how to properly dress up or do her hair herself. She could barely recall the lessons she’d had. Ah, bless those maids who would take care of it.
Kena hadn’t planned to go to the shrine. She had just started wandering in that general direction to make Stella believe that she would. She was so lost in her thoughts, however, that she ended up in the clearing in the woods that marked the royal shrine.
The woods surrounding the castle weren’t part of the official royal gardens, but they were property of the High Queens. No other ponies came here except those on royal business. There was a small cottage on the other side where the warden lived, an older guy who should have retired years ago. Some rare herbs grew in the forest which were planted there so that the High Queen would always have her special herbal tea.
And there was the shrine. Of course it wasn’t anything like the official shrine in the mountains. No keepers lived here; there weren’t even any buildings. It was just a giant bowl with two statues of Guardians, one on each side. The bowl was filled with water so pure it was said you couldn’t hear it even when it moved or flowed. Kena had no idea where the water came from or why it was so pure, but the bowl was always filled and never contaminated with dirt or leaves or anything of the sort.
The shrine was only used by the royal family to pay their respect to the Guardians. It didn’t serve any other purpose, really. If they needed to communicate with them, they contacted the Keepers. If they wanted to worship the High Goddess, they would visit the chapel in the village.
Kena sat down in the clearing, gazing at the bowl. She never quite knew what it was she had to do here. She knew her mother put her hoof in the bowl and closed her eyes for a while before saying thanks, but Kena didn’t quite know what to do or say or think during that time. She had only seen the Guardians twice in her entire life, from a distance. What was she supposed to say to them?
But the court had eyes and ears everywhere. Stella would send her right back if she didn’t do it properly, and there was no way Kena was going to risk that. She was here now, might as well get it over with.
Slowly, she walked towards the shrine, all the while thinking about what she had to say or think. When she got closer, she could see the sun rays reflecting in the clear water. It was true that it made no sound, Kena thought as she saw the breeze playing with it. The two statues faced her with their solemn eyes, watching over her every move. She nodded slightly to them, not sure if she had to.
She gulped and raised her hoof. She hesitated before she put it in the water. Wasn’t she supposed to say something in advance? She didn’t quite recall. She looked up at the clear summer sky above her. The Guardians surely had better things to do than rebuke her for not visiting their shrine properly.
Slowly she put her hoof in the water. She didn’t feel the water at first, much like she didn’t hear her hoof enter it either. For a split second she wondered what on earth she was doing. There was nobody here, she didn’t really care about any of this and seriously, nobody would even know. She was all alone here.
But the clear water managed to draw her attention anyway. It was dazzling. There was no prana surrounding it, but she could see the waves of it slowly flowing around the trees. It was thick here. She wondered how large a prana ball she could summon here, but she didn’t have the heart to try. She shook her head. Best get this over with.
“Dear Guardians,” she whispered, sounding stupid. “I… I guess I don’t know any of you very well. And I don’t come here that often, so you don’t really know me either. The name’s Kena. I’m Raena’s third daughter, I guess. A princess.
I just want to say I’m grateful for… for being so fortunate. I mean, I do have such luck, being born in this family. Even though I sometimes feel I don’t really belong because really, I’m not like them. My sisters, even little Myst, they’re so like my mother and they know all about politics and such and they love their parties and their socializing. But I just… I love them, I do, but I wish I could just get away for a little, see the world. I have it all and I know I’m sounding spoiled but…”
Kena was surprised to feel the tears on her cheeks. She hadn’t known what she was going to say, but she certainly hadn’t planned on crying. She shook her head, telling herself that she wasn’t a baby and to stop being so stupid. But the tears didn’t listen at all and they kept flowing. Eventually one of them made its way to her chin and it dripped into the bowl.
She gasped; it seemed like such a sinful thing to do, add her dirty spoiled tears to this pure water. But they dissolved instantly and she couldn’t tell they had fallen into the water at all. Enough of this, she decided. She wanted to pull her hoof back, but her mind froze.
A voice entered it, a voice she knew all too well but which she had never heard before. It was like a song she knew the lyrics to without ever reading them. His voice was deep, deeper than she had expected it to be.
“Princess Kena. The world will come to you soon enough, the moment you stop waiting for things to change. The answer lies in the west.”