Since the bomb is over and more light has been shed on the situation on Mewni, I updated the foreword to be more specific about the precise setting of this story. I recommend you to read it again, to be sure.
CHAPTER TWO: THE PRINCESS WHO DID NOT WANT TO BE QUEEN
The people of Dunham Shelt and its town was in the streets, cheering and applauding the royal family. Butterfly queens seldom paid visits that far from their castle, and the last time was decades ago during the reign of Moon's mother, Comet. The crowd also cheered the guards, for the mewnian knights were considered as semi-mythical heroes by most of Mewman commoners. Little boys were staring in awe at their armours, young girls were blushing, older men remembered with nostalgia their youth. Marco was feeling out-of-place with his fellow squires, for their red tunics were not as impressive as their master's shining armours.
The streets of Dunham Shelt were rather narrow on the outskirts of the city, right next to the wall, and the houses looked ready to crumble at the first strong blow. But as they progressed toward the centre of the city and the castle, streets widened, and houses looked fancier. Facades were more decorated, flowers were more colourful.
- This place has nothing to see with the Butterfly castle, whispered Marco to Emeriot, as they were riding side by side in the procession.
- Long ago, Dunham was an independent kingdom before pledging his allegiance to the Butterfly queen.
- Why pledging allegiance?
- The legend says that the king of Dunham was unable to protect his demesne alone against monsters, and offered his fidelity to the queen in exchange for her protection.
- The "legend"? So, it's not entirely true?
- We do not know for sure. But at the time, the Butterfly kingdom was conducting an expansionist policy, so it's likely that the kingdom of Dunham was conquered with arms, and didn't pledge its allegiance by its own free-will.
Marco had a hard time imagining a person like Moon or Star leading an army against an enemy mewman stronghold.
- It's been a long time since us mewmans last fought against each other. Now, we prefer diplomacy and talking above war and blood. That's why we're here today. I mean, the royal family. They're here to talk.
At the head of the procession, Star and the duke's son were walking together, waving hands at the crowd. The boy was two years younger than her and had thick red hair. His puffy, richly woven doublet made him look like a balloon. He was kind and rather shy, and Star was already impressing him, because of her behaviour with her parents. Having grown with a barely present mother and a father heavy on his future duties, Star seemed like an alien to him.
- They already like you, princess, said the prince, trying to make the conversation as his father taught him.
- Yeah, I guess they're not seeing my family quite often here… Answered Star, trying to avoid the conversation as she learned by herself.
- So, I heard that…
- What's your name, already?
- I… I'm Charle Senh-Selys of Dunham… Shyly answered the young prince, taken by surprise after the thorough introduction to each other they had to endure.
Their parents were walking a few steps behind them, discussing various matters and waving hands without looking at the crowd.
- See? They're already getting along! Exclaimed Castatin, nudging River.
The king exchanged a brief look with his wife before answering with hesitation:
- It seems like they do, yes. By the way, your wife, the duchess, isn't here today?
- Oh, she is. She stayed at the castle to make sure everything would be ready to welcome you. She never trusted any of the servants, you see…
Castatin was somewhat taller than River, but not thinner. He was richly dressed – his doublet had probably more golden thread than actual silk – and a thin silver crown girded his forehead. He had grey hair and a large moustache that seemed to dance when he was speaking.
- Anyway, how have you been lately, old friend?
- As you know, our kingdom went through serious troubles several months ago. We made it through, and now we're hard at work, rebuilding what was destroyed. This has been the hardest time Moon and I have known as queen and king of Mewni.
- I heard that princess Star had her part in all of this?
- We don't want to talk about this, curtly interrupted Moon, walking next to River. We're here to talk about the future of our kingdom, not its past.
River and Castatin talked no more until they arrived at the castle.
When the procession gathered in the castle's yard, Marco saw Star, climbing up the stairs to the great door with her parents. Just before entering, she looked back and crossed Marco's look. She smiled at him and disappeared into the castle.
- The hardship begins now, said sir Lavabo to his squire. Follow me, boy, we're being installed in our quarters for the stay.
They stopped by the stables to let their horses rest, and followed a servant that led them through several corridors and staircases, to finally introduce them in a vast, cosy room.
- Enjoy your stay at Dunham Shelt, said the servant when he left. If you need anything, toll the bell!
Marco walked to the tiny table near to the door, on which the said bell was posed. It reminded him of the black bell Tom once gave to Star when he invited her to the Blood Moon Ball.
- You should unpack your bag and have some rest, warned Lavabo. There's a banquet tonight, to celebrate the royal family's arrival. We're on duty, of course.
Marco sighed and grabbed his bag. He began to unpack his things.
- I'm going to visit their laundry room, said Lavabo. I have to make sure it's worthy of washing royal clothes. You better not be sulking when I come back!
As soon as the squire was alone in the room, he sat on his bed and took his head in his hands. The ordeal was beginning, and he had no idea how it was going to resolve, either for Star or himself. After a while, he stood up and finished unpacking his bag. Once done, he laid down on his bed, still thinking. He pulled a picture from his pocket and looked at it with hesitation. It was a picture Star and he took together at a photo-booth, a few weeks before she had to leave Earth in a hurry. A time where they could spend quality time together without having to fear any consequences, without even having to think. But he remembered what his master said before leaving, and rose up. He took Lavabo's armour from the heavy chests servants carried there before they arrived, and began its usual upkeep, to ensure it would not rust. He was so absorbed in his task he didn't notice his master coming back. He didn't even notice that he wasn't thinking of Star, for once.
As soon as Moon, River and Star had been installed in the royal suite of the castle, they began preparing themselves for the banquet. Star would have preferred to rest, not to mention spending time with Marco, but she had no choice. Soon, two lady's maids and a footman entered the suite, to be at the family's service.
When Star had to choose her dress for the banquet, she went through all her wardrobe, instinctively searching for the garment that would please Marco the most. She was already halfway through it when she realised that Marco wouldn't be at the banquet with her. She sighed, disappointed. But he was still hoping to see him: out of the thirty knights and squires who came along, ten of them were going to be chosen to form the bodyguard. The twenty others were going to join the castle's guard for the stay, patrolling the streets next to the castle, the gardens, and the walls. Star had no doubt that Marco was going to be selected for the bodyguard; little did she knew that her parents had sent a strict order to the captain of the guard, telling him to not choose Marco for the bodyguard.
- Star, my dear, I count on you to not make anything stupid with your wand tonight, warned Moon as her daughter and her lady's maid left her chamber.
The queen was having her hair done by one of the lady's maid, and the king was dressing in the royal bedroom with the help of the footman.
- Yes, mom, I'll be careful…
- Behave yourself like the proper queen-in-training you are. You must make a good impression on your first appearance. It will be determining for your reign.
- Mom, you keep saying me that since I'm ten years old!
- I keep saying you that since you're ten years old because you have not retained it yet! Star, this is a matter of the uttermost importance! If you don't make yourself respected from now on, it could have very bad consequences for yourself, and more importantly for Mewni!
- Fine, mom. I'll try to be as impressive as I can, tonight.
She sat on a chair, waiting for her parents to be ready. She realised she had never wanted Marco's assistance that much since they left Mewni for the visit.
When the Knight of the Wash came back to his apartment, he found his squire busy, cleaning their weapons.
- How's the laundry room here? Asked Marco, lifting his head from his job.
- Well, it's not on par with our own laundry room, but I got to say that it does the job quite properly. Finish polishing this sword and stop working, the captain wants us in the castle's yard in ten minutes.
- To determine who's going to be in the bodyguard and who isn't, I assume.
Lavabo saw the spark in his squire's eyes at the mention of "bodyguard", and he felt bad for Marco; not only did he knew about the order sent to the captain by queen Moon, but he also suggested the idea to the queen before leaving Mewni.
"It's for the greater good, my boy…" mentally sighed the Knight of the Wash.
In the castle's yard, the captain of the guard did call the knights and squires he retained to be part of the bodyguard. Marco expected his name at some point on the list. When the tenth guard had been named, he looked around him, dismayed, for he wasn't named.
- There must be a mis…
The captain cut him short:
- There's no mistake! I want every single one of you in this very yard, all ready, in two hours from now! You may leave!
Marco was feeling like he's been punched in the stomach.
- I'm sorry for you, man, said Emeriot. Since we're both on regular guard, we could patrol together, or stuff. It'll change your mind.
- Thanks for the help, but… I think it's for the better if I don't get to see Star that much during the stay. I mean, how could I feel jealous of her being with other dudes if I don't even see her with the actual dudes?
He laughed nervously and coughed.
Emeriot laid a hand on Marco's shoulder.
- Follow me, I'll get you water or something. You need to chill, man! It's not the end of the world!
It was with a heavy heart that Marco prepared himself for the guard. When he had to put his helmet, he stared at his reflection on the polished metal, and his mind wandered for a couple minutes. He finally stood up, helmet on, and walked out of the room. The armour he wore was more ceremonial than functional, but he felt great in it. Sir Lavabo went ahead since he was already operational, so he walked alone until the guard's room. It was a large piece with a high ceiling, and with armours and weaponry displayed on every wall. Its only furniture was a very long table with a bench on each side; it could easily welcome fifty or sixty men. It was about the number of guards in the room when Marco arrived. The banquet was supposed to begin two hours later, but there was a load of details to settle. The captain was explaining his orders to the bodyguard in a corner of the room, and other guards (both Mewnian and Dunhian) were waiting for theirs.
Marco was casually talking with Emeriot when the captain approached them, to give them instructions.
- Attention! Although you're both squires, I know you can handle a sword by the proper end. And you seem able to cooperate enough to pierce as many holes as necessary in whoever enters the banquet room uninvited before he or she makes a step. You will both be guarding the doors, banquet-side. I want you there in one hour from now. You may leave!
The two squires grabbed a halberd each on the wall and walked away.
- Unexpected, muttered Marco when he left the room with Emeriot.
- I beg your pardon? Asked the latter.
- I expected to be assigned to the wall-walk, or the drawbridge… Seems like I'm finally going to have Star right under my nose all evening long, and yet not even allowed to look at her in the eyes…
- Marco Diaz, I swear on the most golden corn cob that you either quit your whining about princess Star or I'll personally kick your butt!
Marco looked at his friend, surprised.
- Sorry, I didn't realise I could be annoying with that… I'll try to be more supportable from now on.
- You better be, man! I don't want to spend all night on duty with a wreck.
When they arrived at their post, they both gasped in amazement at the banquet room's luxury. Crystal chandeliers, rich tapestries, silverware, shining display armours, embroidered curtains, soft carpets; this room had nothing to be ashamed of in comparison to Butterfly Castle's most luxurious rooms.
- It seems like another world to me, whispered Emeriot.
- Same. I don't know if I'll ever be used to it.
They observed the servants coming and going with plates, decorative objects, bottles, and carafes. They had the impression to be at the very centre of a hive.
First guests came in an hour later. Marco and Emeriot were as motionless as they could, holding their halberds in front of them like they couldn't stand without them. The ladies and gentlemen invited to the banquet were the finest of the duchy of Dunham's high nobility. Emeriot explained to Marco the family history of these fancy peoples when no one was walking into the room.
Almost all seats were taken when the hosts and their royal guests arrived, at last. River and Castatin entered first, followed by their wives. Castatin's son, Charle and his older cousin Jonas were next. Star walked in last, alone. Marco had to gather every single piece of willpower to not stare at the princess. She walked by him, and her hand slightly brushed his. His heart missed a beating or two, as Star walked away like nothing happened. He blushed so hard he could feel his cheeks burning. He couldn't look away from Star until she sat at the high end of the table, thirty meters from him. She was wearing a blue dress and a haircut he had never seen before, but he liked it very much – and hoped he would see her again in that outfit. Suddenly, he felt something in the palm of his hand touched by Star. He looked discreetly at it: it turned out to be a folded piece of paper. When participants began to eat, he unfolded the paper. In Star's fanciest handwriting, it was written: "I love you". Marco blushed harder, and his heart failed once more.
- Are you okay, man? Asked Emeriot in a whisper, from across the great door.
- Yeah, I… I'm okay, lad. I just need to breathe… This armour isn't helping!
Marco kept dwelling on the message all evening long. It was nothing new, of course – they had confessed to each other months ago –, but it was the first time Star expressed her feelings so directly and unexpectedly. He wished nothing more than to hug her, but she was at the other end of the room, talking with princes eager to win her hand.
The banquet lasted until midnight, but Star felt like it lasted a whole week. The food was delicious, but she had to listen with attention to anything Charle and Jonas could say. The two princes were sitting at her right and her left. More often than not she had nothing to answer, but she preferred Charle's conversation, the youngest, to Jonas'. He stuttered a lot but was way nicer and less arrogant than his cousin, who was seventeen years old. He was second in line to the ducal crown, and the duke raised him like he was his own son after his parents passed away. He had a strong temper and was fond of himself. They were no match for Marco. She discreetly looked at him out of the corner of her eye. He was standing still, holding his halberd in front of him. She wondered if he had read the note she handed to him while entering the room. She would have traded Mewni's finest dishes and refined banquets for a bowl of Marco's nachos and the living-room couch.
Marco hoped he could see Star again when the banquet would be finished. His heartbeat accelerated when Castatin gave the signal of the banquet's end. Everyone stood up and walked towards the door he was guarding. Everyone but the ducal and royal families, who went through a smaller door, on the other end of the room. He saw one of the princes very engaged in explaining something to Star, who seemed uninterested. His heart skipped a beat, and for a second he felt the urge to walk through the room and punch the prince in the face. He left the room with Emeriot and the other guards just after, without noticing that sir Lavabo, who had been picked for the bodyguard, was following the royal family.
In the hallway that led to the private room, River nudged sir Lavabo, who was walking next to him. Making sure that no eavesdropper was close enough to hear anything, he whispered to the knight's ear:
- How's the boy's special training going?
- He's not the cleverest squire I know, but he tries hard and learns fast.
- Does he suspect anything?
- No. He has little to no contact with regular squires.
- Very well… Muttered River while caressing his beard. Do your best to make sure he doesn't realise he's not trained to be a knight.
- I will do as you command, Your Highness.
- Also, Lavabo, I … I thought of something. The situation is really getting on my daughter's nerves, and therefore on ours too. I thought you could let Marco have a free day when we get back at the castle, so they can hang out a little?
- I could, but not more than a day. He needs to keep up the pace, as I plan to continue his training here – his martial arts training. We'll resume his other training when we get back to the castle.
- Star holds me responsible for this. Actually, she's right, but I hope that one day, they'll see that we did what we did for their future. They're only fifteen, they still have many years ahead to share their love.
The following day, Marco had no time to worry about Star being courted by other boys. Lavabo woke him up at six in the morning, and he ended up in the castle's training field without even having time to eat a slice of bread.
- I need to rest… Muttered the boy, when his master handed him a wooden sword.
- You'll rest when I'll authorize you to do so! Yelled Lavabo with a determined voice. Since we don't have the books for your intellectual training, this fortnight will be dedicated to physical training! En garde!
Marco received blows until the sun was high in the sky. He tried to defend himself, but he was just too tired to do so, and he couldn't focus on anything. When he broke his third sword parrying a blow, Lavabo threw his on the ground.
- This is getting nowhere. You need to get a hold of yourself, my boy! I'm not training a mop, for corn's sake!
- I would've done better if I hadn't been dragged out of bed at daybreak, objected Marco. Why couldn't I train with other squires, instead? I never did that, whilst other squires spend hours sword-training together!
Lavabo sighed, and after a short hesitation, said:
- I cannot allow that. I swore to personally train you until you're ready to be dubbed. Do you really think I'm bending over backwards to make you an average knight? You're bound to have a great future, my boy, and not as the next Knight of the Wash!
Marco remembered what River told him when he received the Johansen Blade. He also remembered the hug he shared with Star just after, and he felt heart-warmed.
- We'll resume training after lunch, anyway, said Lavabo. According to hearsays, there's an inn near the castle's bridge that serves the most delicious wild boar roast. I say we give it a try. Just to make sure.
Two days passed by. Marco kept training at a pace he never knew at the castle, doing more bodybuilding and learning in a day than in a week then. Meanwhile, the royal family spent two days visiting the lands near Dunham Shelt. Moon and River wanted to see how their kingdom was. Star didn't want to accompany them, but she had no choice. At least the princes weren't there, leaving the princess space to breathe. When they came back horse-riding at Dunham Shelt in the late afternoon, after much agrarian and technical talk, Castatin made them a proposition of another sort.
- Tomorrow, we're having a hunting party in the great woods nearby. It would be an honour for us to have you, Your Highnesses.
- I've never been into this fancy kind of hunt, with horses and dogs, objected River. Unfortunately, I must decline.
- My daughter and I will go, said Moon without even asking Star beforehand.
The princess tried to protest, but a look out of the corner of her mom's eye dissuaded her to go on.
- I'm honoured, Your Highnesses. This will be the greatest hunting party of the last twenty years!
- Sorry for letting you down, Moonpie, whispered River to his wife. I have business to attend to, tomorrow.
- I know, you already told me that yesterday. You're beginning to ramble, my dear…
Star tried to eavesdrop on her parents, but she couldn't hear anything. She looked away and groaned. The second after, River spurred his horse and joined Castatin, who took a little advance.
- Mom! I don't even want to go to this hunting party! Protested Star, as soon as she heard her father talking to the duke.
- I don't want too, Star, but I'm the queen and you're the princess, and we both must look the part! I wasn't more pleased than you are now when I had to go through the "future queen" process.
Star groaned, discontented.
- Also, why has Dad mentioned horses and dogs? Are we hunting them?
- Your Johansen blood is talking, darling. We're hunting with them. The Johansen way, with spears and tracking, isn't exactly the cup of tea of most of our vassals.
The perspective of a hunting party did not thrill Star much, but it would at least be another occasion to spend time outside of the castle. She was feeling oppressed within its high, poorly decorated grey walls, and it was amplified by Marco's absence and the princes' presence. She missed the long strolls they used to take on the wall walk, holding hands, during his free time. She missed the good times they spent together on Earth. She missed his presence by her side, regardless of the place, time, weather, dangerousness of the situation… As she rode back to Dunham Shelt with her mother, she dwelt on all those memories.
On the next morning, she had to wake up way too early for her taste. The sun wasn't even up, and her lady's maid was carrying a chandler to light the room.
- It's time, milady. Carns just served the breakfast, we have hot croissants this morning!
The mention of croissants increased Star's motivation to quit the sweet, welcoming warmth of her bed. Then, she saw the green trousers and jacket – hunting gear – her maid brought for her to wear.
- There's no way I'll wear these! Objected the princess, who wasn't exactly fond of thick trousers.
- If you want to go horse-riding in the forest wearing a dress, the decision is up to you, milady, answered the maid as she was lighting the fireplace.
Star sighed and gave a dark look to the trousers.
"If being queen is like this, then I don't want to become queen."