“Don’t change for me. Don’t change for anyone.”
The sky was blue and clear, dotted here and there with delicate white clouds. The air was warm, and smelled of lovely, carefully cultivated flowers. It was her favorite type of day. A perfect day. Or, it would have been, had she not messed everything up. Princess Silverbell had run away from it all, or more precicely climbed, to the top of the highest tree she’d been able to find, and curled up in a branch to cry.
She was far away from home, having accompanied her father on a diplomatic mission. She’d been so excited to go along, to visit a distant place and see how her father worked. Even away from her brothers she’d been having so much fun up until today. A stiff breeze rocked the branches, but she had no fear of falling. She’d been climbing almost since she’d been able to walk. She really shouldn’t have been up here, in her fancy clothes, but at the moment she didn’t care. No one would follow her up here and she felt safe in the tree, even if she still felt terrible.
All she’d done was tell a little joke. The other adults had laughed, but one of the men had gotten so angry and yelled at her, and said such terrible things. At home people mostly appreciated her humor, she was used to people liking it. Though she didn’t spook easily, the virulence of the man’s reaction had caused her to flee. Was everything he’d shouted at her true?
She was startled out of her thoughts as she heard the sound of branches creaking under the weight of someone ascending underneath her. She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand and shifted a bit so she could look down. Her father was steadily climbing up after her, still garbed in his fancy clothes.
Part of her panicked. Despite his skill, he’d tear them if he came up, get them all dirty. That would be all her fault too. Her own clothing had fared somewhat badly during the climb, but there was nowhere she could go to get away, or make him stop, and so she curled up into herself again.
Crescent reached her level and stood on a branch just below, able to easily reach up and run a gentle hand through her wild blonde hair. He said nothing right away, just stood there with her, and, despite everything, she felt a tiny bit better at his touch.
“You shouldn’t be up here,” she muttered finally, sounding miserable, turning her head so one green eye was visible through the mass of curls.
“Neither should you.” There was no reproach in his voice, though. He’d never chastised her for climbing. “We can be where we shouldn’t be together.” His tone was reassuring before he settled into silence again. She couldn’t help but sniffle, unable to find the words on her own.
“What happened?” He asked softly, finally. When he did a dam broke inside her.
“He yelled at me! That Ambassador Torinth! More like Ambassador Jerkface.” The last came with a growl, though even the insult didn’t make her feel better. At least Crescent didn’t reprimand her for it. She gave a little cry. “All I did was tell a joke and he screamed at me! Told me I’d been acting terrible since we got here. That I was unladylike and that I’d…” She trailed off, fresh tears falling. “That I was a shame to my mother.”
She could see her father’s face through her tears and there was a flash in his eyes, something sharp, that went away after a few moments. Crescent moved, climbing up onto her branch, settling himself with his back against the trunk. He reached out for her then, drawing her carefully into his arms. She didn’t resist, instead burying her face against his chest, letting the sobs come without trying to check them.
He held her close and let her cry, rubbing her back softly with one hand while he cradled her with his other. Moments like these were rare, and she often found herself in her mother’s arms, but she felt safe here too, protected. When her sobs began to ebb a bit, Crescent smoothed back her mop of hair, speaking softly close to her ear. “Silverbell, you’re nothing like he says. You’re still you, no matter what.”
She sudden looked up at him, her eyes a bit pleading. “But what if who I am is wrong? I want to be like you, Crescent! People do what you say, they like you. What do you want me to be? What can I do to be like you?”
Her father looked pained for a moment, and he shook his head. Leaning in he pressed his forehead to her own, a gesture she’d always associated with love and warmth. When he drew back she could see that same love in his eyes. “Oh, my dearest one, all I want you to be is yourself. You, exactly who you are, is more than enough. Do you think for a moment that your mother and I, Domerin, or your brothers love you any less for being who you are? That’s why we love you so much. Don’t change for me. Don’t change for anyone. Being true to yourself is a precious thing.”
His words sunk deep, and she did feel a warmth inside her as she thought of her family. They all loved her, she’d never doubted that. Though she’d gotten in trouble for behavior in the past it had never been because of who she was. Never a random outburst from someone she barely knew. “Mother has never made me feel like I make her ashamed.” She admitted. Her mother had aways encouraged her, and never hesitated to express her love. “I still want other people to like me, though.”
“People love you. The guards at home, the staff, the friends you’ve made. You’re funny, bold, caring. All great things.” He offered her a reassuring little smile. “And here’s a secret. People don’t always like me, or do what I say.” She wasn’t sure if she totally believed him, but he went on before she could protest. “You don’t usually see it, because it happens in the negotiation room, or they’re more subtle about it. But I’ve had lots of disagreements with people. Not everyone is going to like you. That’s how people are. Tornith doesn’t know you, and, even if he didn’t like the way you were acting, he had no right to speak to you that way. You meet all sorts of people in life, including jerkfaces like him.”
She couldn’t help but giggle softly to his choice of words, but sobered a bit as he went on. “Staying true to yourself is what matters.” It was hard to believe that people didn’t like her father. He was the quickest person she knew, and she hoped to one day learn his same wit. It was a bit of a revelation to think that there were those who didn’t see him in the same light as she did.
His words felt right to her. She liked who she was, and why should someone she hardly knew take that away from her? She gave a little nod. “I’ll remember, Crescent.”
Crescent gave her a little squeeze. “Good. You’re one of the lights in my life. Be who you are, and make no excuses for it. If, one day, you decide you want to change, do it for yourself. But you have plenty of time to get there.”
Silverbell felt better after all of that, somewhat emboldened. Her happy, boisterous energy would return in full soon. Wiping the remnants of her tears away she gently bumped her father’s forehead with her own. He smiled at her and she felt a warmth returning.
“Let’s head down,” he said. “I think there are some tea and cakes waiting for us. Race you down?” He asked, giving her one of his signature grins. They often had climbing races at home.
The prospect of sweets perked her up even more. She shifted out of his arms, grinning right back. For a moment it looked as if she would accept his challenge, but she paused, seeming to be thinking. “We’d better be careful so we don’t rip our clothes up.” With that she started back down, slowly and carefully, feeling warmed by the proud smile she saw on her father’s face.