“Right this way, Princess!” chirruped the pretty young assistant, clearly on staff more for her figure than her way with figures. Sister would scold such thoughts as uncharitable, amongst other remonstrances. At least, she would, if doing so did not remind her that we have been replaced by such as this flittering flutter-headed pegasus fledgling currently serving as "guide" down a narrow, doorless, and unremarkable corridor towards a room with no other entrance or exit.
Oh, never let it be said that we were ever disrespected – perish the thought – we are antique glass sculptures: to be handled with utmost care. Princess they still call us. Princess because we do not age, we do not die, we cannot simply be put in a home to be forgotten about. Respect for tradition, they call it, reverence for our wisdom and our service. Figurehead, more like it: empty of merit, empty of worth, empty of anything but smiling and standing behind them as though we support these empty-headed fools who elect each other this and that and every other thing!
“Can I get you anything, Princess? Water, tea, biscuits?” As though she speaks to a child, to be kept in good spirits by being fed and watered regularly. Thousands of years of experience, wisdom, and statecraft are good for one thing, at least: keeping a calm face no matter the thoughts roiling behind the eyes. Sister is better at it, always has been; but the little assistant is still staring.
“No, dear child. I am quite alright.” She is not so staid, her expression shouts irritation at being called a child, just managing to school herself as we step beyond the corridor. Sister would be more tactful, but it is entirely justified: there have been naps that lasted longer than this creature’s entire span!
“The Director will be with you shortly.” Ah-hah. Being kept waiting. A bit of petty revenge. It is so easy to miss the time when nopony would dare, when every creature would bow at the entrance of a Princess. It was irksome at the time, yes, but the alternative! Ai.
Ah! Not kept too long, it seems. Some still have manners, or – more likely – wish to keep a valuable asset happy. “Princess! So glad you could make it,” as though there were choice, “we have you scheduled to go on in just a few minutes,” how gracious, a few minutes to prepare, wondrous, “so if you could just step this way, makeup will get you ready!” Makeup, yes, of course there must be some fault to make-up. Sometimes one must choose to ignore grievous insult when it is not meant. Sometimes one must ignore grievous insult when the Paycheck is at stake. Best Princess face at the ready, that’s the way. When in doubt, smile it out, as Sister would say.
Primped and powdered and thoroughly put out. Made-up. Ready for the stage, ready for yet another spot between programmes ponies truly wished to witness. Once their Princess in truth, now merely a gimmick to sell product. Perhaps one day, after this feckless civilization has crumbled to dust, we will rule in truth once more. A daydream; a dalliance. Sister would frown so if she knew such hopes could be harbored; even yet she wishes no ill upon those she would call her little ponies.
“We’re ready for you now, Princess. If you could just step back here – you do remember your lines, don’t you? – we’ll get started.” Do you remember, he asks. Oh, Sister. Forbear, you plead. Tolerate. Keep peace. A Princess must keep her calm and her dignity – such as remains to her; tattered, bruised, and battered though it may be.
“Yes.” Yes to all of it. Yes to all and sundry; an assurance, that. Succor offered, though not earned. That simple word accompanied by a gracious, and perhaps enigmatic, smile – Sister is an excellent teacher – has earned much. Respected and perhaps even loved figures of a bygone era we may be, but Figurehead is not gainful employment. It is not work that offers much in any sense; sense: ‘tis not an occupation at all! Loathe though she is to admit it, Sister cannot cope without her amenities and vanities; one of which is pride, never doubt. Spartan though she has always kept her personal quarters, as little as she has cared for material things, living for millennia pampered by functionaries amongst the greatest splendor the nation could offer has had a singular effect.
It came on slow, as always it seems to with our kind. She found, as influence waned, as Equestria moved on without us at the center, that she needed the attention, and – if honesty permits – she was not alone in that. Oh, it would be simple to exist at a level of substantial comfort with little effort. Equestria’s Princesses possess time – a dwindling resource for aught else – in great abundance. A fortune that cannot be taken. A wealth that, properly invested, produces a cornucopia which will never cease to satisfy material needs, yet leaves lack in the spirit.
“Miss?” Truly? A Princess is reduced to such appellations? An imperiously raised brow was once enough to send scurrying even the stoutest heart. “Please place your hooves on the gaffing tape there so I can... oh sorry, I mean the little marks on the ground,” forsooth? There are such vast and empty spaces between the stars of Night, it must be thought that such emptiness also occupies the area between the royal ears. “so if you could stand here while I make sure everything checks out. And could you keep your wings down? I’ll have to readjust the lights if you keep them spread like that!”
Yes, spirit; that least understandable but most vital aspect of life – one which this technician appears determined to stamp upon. A heavily heaved sigh and the rolling of eyes is most decidedly called for, but not becoming, no. Never proper to reveal truth whole. Sister believes that being aloof will save us from the depredations of endless time, that our doom springs from passion unfettered. Perhaps so, yet still we needs must connect with others, ephemeral as they may be; for boredom is a relentless foe, and detachment its ally.
Oh, never say that Sister would advocate withdrawal from Equestria, no; and she has always done her fair share in all things, bit-earning no exception, but never would she stoop to mere advertisement. No, stooping falls to a lesser Princess. Though, truth: appearing before and endearing the watching populace of Equestria is no hurt. No bitterness now, surely, merely long habit of empty rivalry. A habit accompanied by no few others – none of which well serve. Ai, but such satisfaction in the clash and patter of jibe and taunt, wit served and returned with such grace and skill that no wound can be found to tally score. No such pleasure to be found here, to be quite certain.
“Please, Miss! We’ll go on, soon,” the sooner, the better, “I have to make sure you’ll look as good at home as you do here!” As though a Princess could ever look less than perfect. “My foals’d never forgive me if they knew I hadn’t done my best to make their favorite Princess look her best!” Ai, base flattery! Yet...
Much as this young technician has unwittingly infringed upon an admittedly delicate sense of reserve, such behavior is a token of achievement long fought for. To be treated with, rather than ignored; to be part and not outside of; to live and not simply be: worth every moment of struggle. Ai, all hurts can be lifted light as a heart surrounded by true friends with the prospect of the Paycheck.
Good grace, fond regard, a smile upon meeting. Truly, the Paycheck could never be acquired with mere currency. Diminution of ancient pride, former image, in purchase of comfortable continuance: a bargain at thrice the price. Perhaps it is folly to consider such succor a debasement of self, rather: a passing of the aeons within. A death for the deathless, a change within the changeless forms of the eternal alicorn Princesses.
Galling as it ought to be, works such as this provide means and meaning to ones once considered deities. Hardly divine, however, when the little mouse of a technician hurriedly adjusts wing and hoof to better suit the light; immaculate transcendance of the alicorn altogether absent in the heedless plucking surge of the passing now.
“We’re on in five!” Yes, scurry off little mouse, leave the plumage alone!
Waiting seems to suit, waiting in darkness just outside the reach of light more so. Being used by fops such as these shadowy cretins, ever glimpsed but dimly beyond bright lights, who see their Princess defined by ancient indiscretions, myth, and hearsay, does not. Waiting for the cue to step into the light is a chord so familiar, so persistent, that it has undoubtedly informed the cadence of every headache endured over these most recent millennia. The Paycheck: keep that foremost and patience will find a way – must find a way. It will always grate, no doubt. Ai, but already the show begins.
The ponies of Equestria must find well-oiled baritones pleasing, for every announcer seems to be in possession of one. “When the sun sets, you can always trust the Princess of the Night to be there for you,” true. Ancient duty and modern boredom have combined to assure that the Princesses of Equestria are always ready to aid their subjects. However, “with her line of the most luxurious and fine linens, sheets, and bedding.” Somehow, not quite so noble – ai, it is time to shine:
“As your Princess of the Night, I know a few things about what it takes to get a good night’s sleep, which is why I choose Moon-brand Bedding!” That’s the way, out of the shadows, smile radiant as the fullest moon. Just say the lines and describe the... the product with graceful hoof and elegant wing. "Even though the night won't last forever, there's no reason you shouldn't want it to!"
Not merely the words, but the cheer with which they must be uttered: it would have stung, once, had a weary and wounded heart not received the peerless medicine of a lifetime spent with six very special girls. Eternal gratitude is a heavy burden when the recipients are gone, but one they well earned. Perhaps a burden that gifts the bearer a smile is no burden at all.
“No more tossing and turning, trying to find a comfortable position! With Moon-brand bedding you’ll fall asleep instantly and sleep more soundly, without waking up in the middle of the night!” Are any of these claims tested? Assuredly they must be: how could they sell falsehoods from the mouth of a Princess? Ai, none would countenance such deceptions if they were still here.
Theirs were lives of that resplendent richness which stems entirely from harmony; an effulgence which spread like a restorative balm from their very presence. Truly blessed were those with whom they chose to spend their time. All of Equestria looked upon them as heroes; but quietly, for they wished nothing of the fervent praise and admiration which would elsewise be heaped upon them.
In the fullness of time, under the weight of the amaranthine onus that is Equestria, they went each their own way. Into darkness, into light, into lands far yet always near to heart. Each to their own need, each to the their own destiny, to seek the peace of enlightenment on that road which is ever walked alone. All but their center, all but the eternal student, the radiant star. She stayed for a time, after the others had gone: her duty not quite done.
“Only Moon-brand bedding has the patented Moonbeam weave, to give it that silvery-soft feel.” As though true moon beams could be so captured; though if it were possible, she could have done it.
A scholar, a dreamer, a scientist, an idealist. T’was her influence, her notions, which brought the public statecraft. A golden age dawned, they say, when the voice of every stallion, mare, and foal could be heard; their wants and needs weighed against their neighbors’ in public halls and town meetings. As though the Princesses were inept, inadequate, and incompetent. Ai, no. She and Sister both would be so cross if they knew a Princess harbored such cynical bitterness for the whimsy of the masses.
Though such skepticism seems, now, well founded. The aurelian foam of that gilded era gently swept Royalty out, and the incessant bickering of local partisanship in. The golden age set, swiftly as Sister’s Sun, the dissolute needs proving too great a strain without any semblance of central leadership. The sparkle of the age had passed, and so a swinging of the pendulum brought back authority to its ancient resting place. Sister and I were called to serve, though in a purely advisory capacity; of that we were laboriously assured. With equanimity, we accepted: some inkling of the need to not be forgotten which so shadows us now, perhaps. A weakness she never shared. None of them did.
“Ever look up at the stars and wish you could spend all night gazing at their majesty? I know I have. With Moon-brand bedding you can bring the deep star-studded velvet of Night into your own home, for the amazingly low price of...”
Price. Truly all things have their price. Crude bits cannot purchase contentment, the old adage holds true, but not all commerce is carried out with so constrained a currency. A carefully measured ration of cheer, a hoof wielded with deliberate grace and aplomb, a name and face that the ponies of Equestria have grown up with. These things sell.
“No Nightmare will find you when you sleep on a Moon-brand bed, your Princess guarantees it!” Ai, if such assurances hold meaning to any pony still, then the sale of a Princess has been paid in full.