Chapter 1:

A changed child

I was reborn in another world but now I'm twice as stressed

It's not that I became a different me. I mean, I hate spinach soup with all my gut even though my past self used to love it. Even though in my head, I still had a lingering memory of that specific flavor I enjoyed, the moment I put the spoon in my mouth, I cannot stop myself from frowning. Ugh… it doesn't taste good at all.
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So yes, I like and hate most of the things I liked and hated before the fall. What I now have is a different perspective on life, a broader view of every little choice and the implications they carry, if that makes sense.Bookmark here

Anyway, it's been a week since the accident. I had time to accept my current situation and I hope that everyone I knew before had the same opportunity to start anew, whether in this place or another. As I got accustomed to everything once again, my parents calmed down considerably and resumed their routine. And since I was quite healthy, save for a couple of scratches, I also returned to my usual schedule, little by little, except for one thing.Bookmark here

"Are you sure you don't want to ride Delancelle today either, princess Parina?" My lady-in-waiting, Lore, had asked me as she put forth my riding breeches. Bookmark here

She was still a young woman, probably in her early twenties. The daughter of some knight that ruled over the outskirts, adjacent to the nation of Skalla. Bookmark here

I smiled with an awkward, doubtful smile.Bookmark here

"I'll pass, Lore. Thank you."Bookmark here

She looked at me, with the same worried look she'd had for the past two days. Her smart green eyes studied my face very carefully, as if wanting to uncover something she did not quite understand.Bookmark here

Don't say anything. Don't say anything. I'll feel bad, I know I will. Just let it go. We can do it any other time. Or never.Bookmark here

"Naturally, her highness is a little reluctant…" She sighed.Bookmark here

As soon as I heard that, I felt guilty. Lore had been the biggest advocate regarding my pegasus riding obsession, even if it meant speaking up when she shouldn't. Thankfully, my parents had known her for ages and, being part of such a small kingdom as ours, they did not stand on protocol as much as others… but that thought didn't help to alleviate my conscience. Bookmark here

"Well, I might try… For a little bit" I answered, so utterly defeated.Bookmark here

Immediately, Lore's face lit up and she helped me get ready for my lessons. Bookmark here

- - -Bookmark here

Before the accident, I used to go to the flying fields at full speed, running wildly with a gasping Lore close behind me. Now, I wasn't keen on arriving and I took my sweet time, strolling across the long, white stone halls, trying to quiet down my increasingly beating heart.Bookmark here

Lore was walking beside me, in absolute silence. Even if my gaze was looking forward, leaping from painting to painting, inspecting the embroidery on the curtains and the emblems on the pennants behind each arch once again; I could feel her eyes falling on me furtively, completely bewildered.Bookmark here

I'm sorry. I'm very, very sorry. I can’t fake enthusiasm when my legs are trembling. Can’t you see? I can hardly walk… Bookmark here

Despite my efforts and slow pace, it didn't take us longer than ten minutes to arrive to our destination. Bookmark here

It was a warm morning, as usual. The kingdom of Farisme was built atop underground hot springs, so even if we were sheltered by high mountains and close to the Wintry range, the steam vents maintained a characteristic, pleasant temperature outside.Bookmark here

We were on the right side of the castle, next to the stables and in the opposite direction from the city. There, the wide grassland sparked under the light of our twin Suns, covered in emerald and lemon green colors. Bookmark here

It was an area of about 100 meters in diameter bordering the dense wall of trees which we called the Crown of the Forest. The lawn smelled like rain, although I couldn’t spot a single cloud on the bright cerulean sky.Bookmark here

I walked a couple of steps forward, staring at the thick poles of varying heights that marked the appropriate altitudes for each of the expertise levels: beginner, novice, intermediate and advanced. The sight made me hesitate and want to turn back, but I stopped when I imagined the disappointed look in Lore's face.Bookmark here

With a deep sigh, I summed up my fading courage and approached my teacher, Julderick. He was a tall, lean man, with long blonde hair tied in a ponytail and a stern face that I knew was very different from his lenient personality. Bookmark here

I greeted him with a curtsy far stiffer than what I intended. He bowed in return, and I noticed his eyebrows were angled upward, as if he was pleading with them. Bookmark here

Why? I haven't said anything yet. Are you going to scold me? Are you going to stop me? If you do, I wouldn't get mad…Bookmark here

"Princess Parina, might I request that you keep your height within the intermediate pole limits?" He asked, as politely as he could.Bookmark here

Instinctively, I looked to the poles again. They seemed quite tall. Were they taller than before? I gasped.Bookmark here

"Oh, you need not worry, it’s not my intention to recklessly run into danger. Or fly… in this case…" I answered with a broken voice.Bookmark here

He seemed surprised by my answer but didn’t press any further. Bookmark here

Well… I guess that's it. Bookmark here

At his signal, the usual pair of stable boys brought Delancelle to my side. She was as pretty as ever. Her equally black mane was recently brushed. Her ebony coat and wings were soft and shiny. Kind, emerald eyes looked straight at me, and I could tell she was happy. Bookmark here

It was reassuring. Not much, but it was something. Bookmark here

"Thank you" I whispered, stroking her face. Bookmark here

Immediately after, one of the stable boys held Delancelle for me and the other one helped me to get up. If it was not by my current size, I don’t think it would be needed. She had a good disposition after all. I settled gently into the saddle, grabbed the reins, and waited for them to check my stirrups. Bookmark here

By the time I was done, Julderick had already mounted his Pegasus, Amarillys, and was waiting close behind.Bookmark here

"After you, princess" He said.Bookmark here

Ok. Ok. You can do it. You've done this thousands of times before. Just follow the rules and you'll be fine.Bookmark here

"Princess?"Bookmark here

I twitched.Bookmark here

"Oh yes. My apologies. I got distracted"Bookmark here

I took a deep breath, squeezed my legs, and hoped for the best.Bookmark here

Delancelle took off easily and flew to the usual height, which was about ten meters from the ground.Bookmark here

The playful wind, the wet fragrance of spring, a faint memory of happiness and freedom. Everything was still there. And yet; my throat was so hollow that even the air refused to move across. My heart raced; my small hands trembled and gripped the reins so tight it hurt. Bookmark here

This is too high. So very high. There are no walls or windows or anything. I could fall easily. I mean, I've already fallen once and got lucky. I don't think I'll survive a second time. Bookmark here

As if my fair share of trauma wasn't enough, my past life's acrophobia decided that it was the perfect time to kick back in as a huge, voracious knot in my stomach. Bookmark here

I can't. I really can't. Just look! Everything looks tiny and she's going so fast.Bookmark here

I don't know how I managed to hold back, but I didn't pull back on the reins as forcefully as I my fear had urged me to.Bookmark here

Sweet and obedient as ever, Delancelle moved down gracefully until we were no more than two meters above the ground. I looked below.Bookmark here

This is fine. I'm not that far from the ground. Even if I fall, I'll be fine.Bookmark here

Finally, I felt much more relieved. My nausea dissipated, but it took me a good couple of minutes to calm down the rhythm of my breath. Bookmark here

Yes, just like this. This is good.Bookmark here

I forgot Lore's wishful expression or my own silly dreams. I couldn’t care less if someone thought I was traumatized or if they thought I was a ridiculous coward. Bookmark here

At that moment, I decided that moving forward, I’d feel more comfortable flying that low.Bookmark here

- - -Bookmark here

After I finished my pegasus riding session, I quickly got back to my chambers with Lore, where the maids would get me changed into a clean gown. Bookmark here

I already knew they'd expect me to sit on my bed and refuse. True, the riding attire was much more comfortable that the dresses, but it wasn’t a big deal. More importantly, I wasn't a stubborn child anymore, and I definitively didn’t want Lore to go to the trouble of pleading for my cooperation.Bookmark here

For those reasons, I simply stood in the middle of the room, letting them do their job without a single word of protest.Bookmark here

However, those wide eyes. Slightly open mouths not-so-discreetly hidden behind their hands. A couple of gasps. They didn't say anything about my change of attitude, but it was all over their faces.Bookmark here

Not again. Not that expression again. Why is everyone so shocked? Aren’t you happy I'm not making a fuss? Please, stop. This is so embarrassing!Bookmark here

I decided to fix my gaze on the clean stone floor and wait.Bookmark here

Thankfully, the whole ordeal didn't take long. I had to ingest my daily dose of etiquette and manners after all… and punctuality was very important. Even critical I dare to say.Bookmark here

Lore accompanied me to the Castle's secondary hall, but she left me at the entrance since I took this particular lesson in the company of my elder sister, Risnana, and she was already there.Bookmark here

She was only three years older than me, but the difference between us was abysmal. We shared the same pink hair, but hers was perfectly curled while mine refused to hold even the smallest ringlet. Her back was always straight, like a slim, flawless mannequin, while I was continuously battling to keep my posture. Her smile was lovely, her blue, sky-like eyes were gentle and mature. She was tall and beautiful and smelled like cinnamon buns.Bookmark here

But more than that, every one of her gestures, the inflection of her voice, the way her feet glided as she walked by… Everything about her screamed "princess". I couldn't imitate her grace and elegance even though I tried. I could only hope it was just my age and not some sort of cursed clumsiness.Bookmark here

"Today you're going to practice the proper way to sit" Our tutor, sir Huldgard, distracted me from my thoughts.Bookmark here

Then, he clapped thrice. It was his usual way to indicate the beginning of a class.Bookmark here

Risnana was first, as usual. She walked, so very lightly, to the center of the room. There was no other furniture around. There couldn't be a single thing capable of distracting sir Huldgard's gaze or he'd risk losing a fraction of the movement he had to evaluate. Only the tall dinner chair stood proudly in the middle, flaunting its immaculate, blue velvet cushions.Bookmark here

Sir Huldgard scrolled down his hand. Risnana proceeded to sit on the chair, in complete silence and in complete harmony. A swan gliding across quiet waters.Bookmark here

After a few seconds, the tutor nodded to himself and walked to her side.Bookmark here

"Your chin should be slightly up. It's more sophisticated. We'll work on that today." He told her, placing his forefinger below her jaw to lift her face. Bookmark here

I was so surprised that I almost gasped. Despite my judgement, her stance was not perfect. Not yet at least.Bookmark here

Risnana received the assessment with grace. Bookmark here

"Thank you, sir." She stood up and moved aside, leaving the chair free for me to go next.Bookmark here

The tutor smiled faintly and then looked at me. The thin curve of his lips straightened; his eyelids blinked. In his eyes, I glimpsed a little bit of resignation and a little bit of hope. Just as Lore, and Julderick, and the maids, and everyone else, he didn’t know what to make of me now.Bookmark here

But this is not the first time, you know? We already went through this a couple of times! Why the face? What am I doing wrong? Bookmark here

"Now, remember to keep your back straight and your shoulders back." He finally said.Bookmark here

I nodded, hoping his expression meant that the memories of the once apathetic child and the now struggling lady, were colliding in his mind. Bookmark here

After the signal I sat down. I remembered every guideline, picturing my sister's near perfect posture in my head. I admit it was harder than it looked and a little bit uncomfortable, but I tried my best.Bookmark here

Sir Huldgard smiled. I think it was the first time he ever smiled at me.Bookmark here

Is this good? Is this bad?Bookmark here

"I am pleased to see how attentively you have resumed your lessons, princess Parina." He said, "However, your posture is still very stiff. The secret to achieve true elegance is to master the fine balance between rigor and ease."Bookmark here

Oh, it’s good!Bookmark here

"Thank you kindly, I appreciate your advice " I answered, clearly relieved.Bookmark here

Risnana bent her neck, so slightly I could have missed it if I wasn't paying attention. It must be strange for her, to see me striving like this. I've told her several times about how I found this to be utterly boring. Yet now I'm here, trying to keep up with her. Bookmark here

Why is it so hard to understand? I would be foolish of me to ignore the expectations that are placed on my shoulders. And anyone would lose their minds at not being able to accomplish something as simple as sitting on a chair!Bookmark here

Luckily, the lesson continued as intended and no more weird faces were directed at me. Bookmark here

The tutor made us sit several times, correcting our mistakes as we went by. Bookmark here

A whole hour sitting down and standing up. No wonder I considered it a chore before and yet, I resigned myself to endure it from now own.Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.