The hottest day of summer was just beginning, as was Melody's hatred of the phrase 'formal'. It was a prim and stiff word in itself, not to mention what came along with it: stuffy dresses, proper manners, and rooms full of people expecting her to act like a lady. She glared at the embossed invitation that rested on her mother's dresser as if one glance would make it a casual party, one that preferably didn't take place miles away from their castle by the sea and one that no one would come to. The staff was rushing to and forth like a swarm of angry bees, quickly folding and cramming dresses upon dresses into quilted chests to be loaded into the carriages as-soon-as-possible-don't-forget-anything-we-have-to-leave-soon-dear-and-haven't-you-washed-up-yet? No, she hadn't washed up yet; neither did she plan on it. Melody's hair was still dusted with sea salt from her morning dip and she wanted to preserve it for the long ride inland. She ran one finger over her bushy ponytail, watching the whitish film brush off of her dark mane and obliviously wiping it on her parent's bed. As she glanced out of the open windows, a sudden wave of sadness crashed down on the princess, taking all her anger with it when it receded.
"Are you sure we need to go to this, Mother?" Melody said softly, half hoping she wouldn't hear her daughter complaining again over the packing chaos.
"Of course, dear. We can't just ignore your father's sister. He and the duchess are very close, and you know she's been dying to see you again." Queen Ariel's voice drifted just over the hum.
"But it's so far away! And I don't know anyone there…" Not that she could say she knew any of the children here either.
"It'll be a nice change of scenery." Ariel said, sticking her head out from behind the door to assess Melody, her famous fiery hair hanging in damp ringlets around her bare shoulders.
"Besides, Annaleigh says there are several young gentlemen just dying to waltz with the mysterious princess." She intoned, giving her daughter a wink before disappearing from sight again.
Melody raised an eyebrow at the wall. Mysterious? "It isn't about boys you know."
"Melody, when I was your age, all I thought about were boys," Came the immediate answer. "Now straighten the duvet and tell me just how gaudy this dress is."
With an over-dramatic sigh, she heaved herself off the creamy bed, tugging on one corner of the duvet so the little Melody-shaped dip would straighten itself out. Purposefully ignoring Constantine's assessment of her work, she dodged a flailing boot and perched herself on her mother's stool, folding her legs under herself.
"Is it that bad?"
Melody let out one very un-lady like giggle. "Worse."
Her mother laughed with her. "I need to tell Eric to stop shopping for me. Orange is not my color."
Melody unfurled herself from the stool to pinch the thick fabric between her fingers.
"Is it hot?" she asked, noticing how her mother was fidgeting in her corset.
"Unbearably so. I feel like I'm wearing a carpet rather than a dress."
Melody wrinkled her nose as her mother did an exaggerated spin for her. "But the sequins…"
"And the ribbons?"
"To much." Melody said with the air of a professional. "You'd look better in a carpet."
"Your Highness, I believe you look gorgeous in anything."
"Thank you, Constantine." Ariel rolled her eyes good-naturedly at the maid, letting her true self peek out from behind the Queen's shadow.
Melody's eyes were drawn to her mother's head, where her crown usually perched. It was the princess's private belief that the heavy golden tiara pushed down all the fun of her mother and turned her into some other responsible, polite person. Much to Melody's delight, it was not perched in its usual spot. Adding this to the image of her mother's long, tangled hair and the flushed, makeup-less face as Ariel wiggled out of her dress, Melody could almost image her as a normal mom, not the Queen of an entire nation. Her smile grew a little as she laughed, reaching out to help her mother with the clasps.
Ariel let out a small sigh as the constricting bodice fell away. "Thank you, dear." The crowd of servants had disappeared some how, the only sound was the waves against the wall and her mother's soft humming as Ariel skimmed a brush through her hair. Melody leaned against her back, fiddling with one curl and comparing their reflections. Ariel was just a shade paler, just a shade brighter than her daughter. Melody had often been jealous of her mother's vibrant hair, always silky and smooth, never frizzy with sea air or dull and flat. As she mused over her own locks, Ariel glanced up and caught her daughter's expression in the mirror.
"Oh, Melody." She turned, taking Melody's face in her hands. "I know you aren't excited about this party, but trust me. It'll only last so long and then we'll be home." She studied the teenager's distressed expression, smiling sadly. "And you know…the Navy just received a new war ship. We're due to send it off next week. Perhaps…perhaps we could take a quick ride around the harbor."
Melody's face lifted, gripping one of her mother's hands, feeling her heart begin to race. "You truly mean it?"
"Of course." Ariel twirled the end of Melody's pony tail throw her fingers. "But don't you get so excited," she chided, "I have plenty of other occasions planned to ruin your fun."
"Ariel, dear, we have to go soon!"
King Eric's voice filtered up the stairway, and mother and daughter let out a long sigh. "Put on your dress, alright Melody?"
"Course, mum." Melody padded over to the door, resentment lugging itself up again in her chest. She paused, rubbing one hand on the doorframe and turning to glance at her mother one more time.
Ariel lifted her crown out of it's case, slowly lowering it onto her head. Her shoulders pushed themselves back, the Queen emerging once more as her back straightened and chin lifted. Regal was the first word that popped into Melody's head.
"Do I have to wear shoes?'
One more smile popped up.
"I'll let it slide…just this once."