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Royal Crown

Meg Cabot

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  By command of the Royal Palace of Genovia

  You are invited to be present At 1:00 P.M., Thursday, the 31st day of December

  For the Coronation of Her Royal Highness

  Princess Amelia Mignonette Grimaldi Thermopolis Renaldo

  The Throne Room

  Reception to Follow

  Dress: Formal

  Monday, December 28

  11:30 A.M.

  Royal Pool

  It’s three days before my sister’s royal coronation … the first coronation of a female ruler in Genovia in two centuries!

  I should be having fun—especially since it’s winter break, my best friend, Nishi, is visiting from America, and I get to be in the coronation ceremony.

  But instead I’m being forced to entertain my snobby cousin Lady Luisa Ferrari because her grandmother, the baroness, is in Biarritz with her new gentleman friend.

  “I’m bored,” Luisa keeps saying.

  “You’re the one who said you wanted to work on your tan,” I remind her. We’re stretched out in the winter sun on chaise longues next to the pool, which is heated. But still.

  “How can you be bored staying in a royal palace?” Nishi wants to know. She doesn’t mind hanging by the pool, because even though it’s only seventy degrees in Genovia right now, it’s thirty-five and snowing in New Jersey, where Nishi’s visiting from. “They have everything here: tennis courts, horseback riding, sailing, mani-pedis, a state-of-the-art home theater, all the food you can eat, prepared by a five-star chef—”

  “Yes, but hello.” Luisa holds up her phone. “The cell service? Horrible.”

  “What do you expect from a building that was constructed in medieval times?” I ask. “The walls had to be made three feet thick in order to keep out invading marauders.”

  “Yes, but now they’re keeping out my cell phone service provider.” Lady Luisa adjusts her floppy hat. She wants to tan on her body, not her face. “It’s no wonder the duke hasn’t been able to reach me.”

  The duke. That’s all Luisa ever talks about, her boyfriend, the Duke of Marborough.

  I have a boyfriend, too—well, a friend-who-is-a-boy—but I don’t talk about him all the time.

  And I highly doubt that the reason Luisa hasn’t heard from her boyfriend is because of the palace’s thick walls. More likely it’s because they’re in another one of their fights. All Luisa and the duke ever do is fight, usually over the duke’s refusal to do anything except play video games. Which would be all right if Luisa played video games, too, but she doesn’t.

  “You know, Luisa,” I can’t help pointing out, “you’re living through one of the most momentous occasions in Genovian history. My sister’s coronation on Thursday is going to be attended by over two hundred heads of state and televised worldwide—”

  “Oh my God, I know,” Luisa says with a yawn. “You’ve only mentioned it a million times. Could you please pass me the sunscreen?”

  It’s not really my cousin’s fault that she’s so rude. She actually has a pretty rough home life. Her parents are getting divorced and, according to my friend Princess Komiko, her mom and dad are fighting over who isn’t going to get custody of Lady Luisa.

  That’s why Luisa lives with her grandmother in the first place, a grandmother who is always jetting off to places like Biarritz with new gentlemen friends.

  “I don’t understand why your sister even has to have a coronation ceremony, Olivia,” Nishi says. “Isn’t she already a princess?”

  It’s natural that Nishi would be confused about this, since she’s from the US and hasn’t been getting the endless lessons on the coronation that we have here in Genovia, both in school and on the nightly news.

  “Of course she’s already a princess,” I say. “We both are, since our dad is a prince. But Dad is abdicating—which means giving up the crown—so that he can spend more time with me and Rocky. So on Thursday, at the coronation, Mia will formally take over the throne from my dad.”

  “Oh.” Nishi adjusts her sunglasses. “But then why isn’t she becoming a queen?”

  I sigh. Royal life is complicated.

  “Because Genovia is a principality,” I explain, “which means it’s ruled by either a prince or a princess, not a king or a queen.”

  “Um, technically, it’s not ruled by either,” Luisa says in a waspish voice. “Genovians have a prime minister. The royal family doesn’t actually make any laws. Their role is only symbolic. So it’s not like Princess Mia will actually ever do anything once she’s crowned.”

  I suck in my breath, shocked.

  But before I can tell Lady Luisa how rude she’s being, Rocky, my little stepbrother, comes bursting into the royal gardens, running at full speed, my miniature poodle, Snowball, barking at his heels.

  “Olivia!” he shrieks. “They’re here! They’re finally here!”

  “Good grief,” Luisa says, lowering her sunglasses to get a better look at him. “What’s his problem?”

  What’s yours? I want to ask her, even though I already know.

  “What’s here, Rocky?” I ask him instead, when he skids to a stop in front of us.

  “The Robe of State,” he pants. “And the royal crown!”

  No more hanging out at the pool with my rude cousin for me! I’ve got a crown to inspect.

  Monday, December 28

  1:30 P.M.

  Royal Sitting Room

  I knew something was going to go wrong—something besides my having to entertain my awful cousin Lady Luisa all day (and night), I mean. It seems like my family can never have an ordinary, universally televised state function without it turning into a disaster.

  And now it looks as if the coronation will be no exception.

  Normally the royal crown is in a bulletproof glass case in the palace museum with all the other crown jewels.

  But because my sister, Mia, will be wearing it later this week for the coronation, it was sent out for cleaning.

  Now it’s back and has been brought upstairs to our living quarters so that Paolo, the royal beauty stylist, can figure out which of Mia’s hairdos will best keep it in place.

  We were all standing around admiring it … and trying it on, even though the royal crown isn’t supposed to be worn by anyone except the reigning monarch.

  But Mia said it was okay, because when will we ever have another chance to try on the actual royal crown of Genovia?

  I have a tiara, of course (made of real diamonds!), but it’s not a crown since it doesn’t go all the way around my head … and it’s certainly not the royal crown of Genovia.

  “It’s so heavy!” Luisa cried, when it was her turn to try it on.

  “It weighs seven pounds,” Mia informed us from the couch, where she was bouncing Baby Prince Frank, the fussiest of the twins, in her arms. “So you can imagine how much your neck would hurt after wearing it for a few hours.”

  “And it’s worth over twenty million dollars,” my dad a
dded. “So please be careful with it.”

  “My neck doesn’t hurt a bit.” Lady Luisa stared at her reflection in the mirror. “I could wear it all day. I’ve never worn anything worth twenty million dollars before.”

  “Believe me,” Mia said, “one of the first things I did when I found out I was a princess was try to get Dad to sell the crown and donate the money to the orphans of Genovia.”

  “Pfuit!” said Grandmère scornfully. “The orphans of Genovia don’t need our money. They all have trust funds.”

  “The sapphires really bring out the blue in my eyes,” Luisa said, admiring her reflection some more.

  “Yes,” I said. “They do. Now, why don’t you give someone else a turn?” She’d been wearing the crown for almost five minutes.

  “What’s that?” Luisa asked instead of surrendering the crown, pointing at a red velvet cape that was hanging on a dressmaker’s dummy in the corner.

  “Oh,” I said. “That’s the Robe of State. It’s two hundred years old. It just got back from the cleaners, too.”

  “And a good thing it did,” Rocky said, “because that skunk-fur trim smelled like farts.”

  “That trim is most certainly not skunk fur,” Grandmère said tartly. “It is Alpine ermine, and extremely rare. And the robe did not smell of flatulence, it smelled of mildew from having had champagne spilled on it the last time it was worn.” She gave Dad the evil eye, which he pretended not to notice. “The Robe of State plays almost as important a role in the coronation as the crown. It is worn by the reigning monarch every time there’s an important state function, such as a coronation, the opening of Parliament, or the bachelor party of one’s brand-new son-in-law, apparently.”

  “And traditionally,” Dad said quickly, “the youngest royal in the family always carries the robe’s train. And since Princess Elizabeth and Prince Frank aren’t old enough yet even to crawl, Olivia is the one upon whom this formidable responsibility has fallen.”

  I tried to look modest when Nishi smiled at me, impressed.

  “It’s no different than when we carried Mia’s train at her wedding,” I said with a shrug.

  But it is different, since the beautiful lace train of my sister’s wedding dress was a lot lighter than the Genovian Robe of State’s twenty-foot train. I know, since I’ve already lifted the robe a few times for practice. I have no idea how Mia’s going to get down the entire length of the throne room in that heavy thing, even with my help.

  We’d finally wrestled the crown from Luisa—who really didn’t want to give it up—and were trying it on Snowball just for laughs when a footman knocked on the door with a letter that had just been delivered by special courier.

  I didn’t think anything of it at the time. My sister gets letters delivered by special courier all the time. She’s about to be the reigning princess of Genovia, after all, even if some people (Lady Luisa) don’t think that’s a big deal.

  But this letter was different. I could tell by my sister’s face after she opened it.

  “Oh no,” Mia said.

  “What is it?” her husband, Michael, asked. He was trying to bounce both twins in his arms. All the twins do all day (when they’re not sleeping or eating) is cry. Having a newborn twin niece and nephew is not as much fun as I thought it would be. “More yes RSVPs to the coronation?”

  “Why does everyone wait until the last minute to respond to invitations?” Grandmère asked. “It’s the height of rudeness.”

  “No,” Mia said, reading the letter. “It’s much worse than that. It’s about our cousin, Prince René Alberto.”

  “Oh,” I said. “Is he the one who keeps getting arrested for illegal offshore gambling?”

  “No,” Mia said. “He’s the one who keeps contesting my right to the throne. And now he’s doing it again. Only this time he’s filed a cease and desist order in an attempt to stop the coronation.”

  “What?” I almost dropped the royal crown, which could have been a disaster. It’s very old, and the jewels aren’t really screwed in that tightly. “How can he do that?”

  “He’s claiming that his eight-year-old son has more right to the throne of Genovia than I do.”

  “On what possible grounds?” Michael asked, looking outraged on his wife’s behalf.

  “And since when does René have a son, anyway?” Grandmère demanded. “I thought he and that horrid wife of his had a daughter. I distinctly remember the birth announcement. They named her Morgan. I sent her an Add-A-Pearl necklace, and every birthday since, I’ve been sending a pearl, not that they’ve ever thanked me.”

  “Morgan can be a girl’s or a boy’s name, Grandmère,” Rocky pointed out. “And boys can like pearl necklaces.”

  “Well, evidently Morgan doesn’t,” Mia said. “Or at least not enough, because his father is now demanding that I hand over the crown instead.”

  My stepmother, Helen Thermopolis, shook her head. “What possible reason could Cousin René have to think that his son has more of a claim to the throne than you do, Mia? Is it because he’s a boy? How typically sexist!”

  “And René is from the Italian side of the family!” Grandmère practically screamed. “He’s not even a Renaldo. He’s hardly even related to us!”

  Luisa looked hurt. “I’m from the Italian side of the family,” she said. “And I’m not a Renaldo. Does that mean I’m not related to you?”

  “Of course you are, dear,” Helen said, patting her on the shoulder, making me feel a bit guilty for thinking, Sometimes I wish you weren’t. “Princess Clarisse is exaggerating. The Renaldos and Albertos and Ferraris are all very closely related … and of course the Italian border is only a mile away from here.”

  “Well,” Dad said, scanning the letter, which Mia had passed to him. “This might explain it. Apparently, Cousin René and his wife paid for one of those home genetic ancestry kits that are so popular right now, and it turns out little Morgan’s DNA is ninety-nine-point-nine percent Genovian.”

  “What difference does that make?” Grandmère demanded.

  But I knew. Before the words were even out of Dad’s mouth, I knew:

  “Well,” he began. “It means that little Morgan—”

  “—doesn’t have any American blood in him,” I said, “like we do.”

  I tried not to sound as sad as I felt, but it was hard. I knew this whole princess thing was too good to be true.

  Not that being a princess is so important. What’s important is that, after spending most of my life living with people who never cared for me, I’ve finally found a family who does. The fact that they’re royal—and so am I—has only been frosting on the cake.

  Of course, you can learn to get along with unfrosted cake … but life with it is so much sweeter.

  “Well, not American blood, necessarily,” Mia said. “But they’re claiming that Morgan’s DNA is genetically a much closer match to the DNA of Princess Rosagunde, the founder of Genovia, than either mine or yours, Olivia, because we have American mothers. Which, if you ask me, is simply—”

  “Ridiculous!” Grandmère cried, rising from her seat. “Who has shown more of Princess Rosagunde’s devotion to the crown than either you or your sister? Why, it’s because of you, Amelia, that Genovia has one of the highest gross national products in the EU! And you, Olivia, helped keep your school from suffering a humiliating defeat last month in the Royal School Winter Games!”

  “Well, I don’t know about that,” I said modestly. “All I did was take photographs for the school paper.”

  “But that’s certainly more than your cousin René has ever done!” Grandmère insisted. “How dare he imagine he or his son is anything like our noble Rosagunde, whatever some DNA test says?”

  “Wait,” Nishi whispered. “Who is Princess Rosagunde again?”

  “Oh,” I said. “She’s the one who, in the year AD 568, killed a Visigothic warlord and saved the country from being invaded. Genovia has been ruled by her descendants, the Renaldos, ever since.”
/>   “Cool,” Nishi said, impressed. Nishi is always impressed by princesses who use weapons and also have extremely long hair like Rapunzel.

  “Besides which,” Grandmère went on, still on her anti–Cousin René rant, “René is an Alberto, so no matter what some DNA test says, neither he nor his child will ever sit upon the throne. There have always been Renaldos on the throne of Genovia!”

  “Thank you for that, Mother,” Dad said. “It was very Game of Thrones. Now, please sit down.”

  “How could René have even gotten hold of a sample of Rosagunde’s DNA to compare with his son’s?” Mia asked. “She’s buried in a crypt in the royal cemetery.”

  “Who knows?” Grandmère asked. “Who cares? There’s more to ruling a kingdom than simple DNA. One must possess courage, compassion, integrity, intelligence—what qualities, other than his alleged genetic superiority, does this eight-year-old have that make Cousin René think he’s fit to rule? None! How dare he attempt to stop Amelia’s coronation? How dare he?!”

  “Now, Mother,” Dad said. “There’s no need to shout.”

  “How else am I to make myself heard above these shrieking babies?” she demanded. “Where in heaven’s name is their nanny?”

  “Grandmère,” Mia said. “You know we gave the nanny the week off for the holidays—”

  Grandmère’s face was turning almost as red as Baby Prince Frank’s, and he has something called colic.

  “The … week … off … for … the … holidays? Right before the royal coronation?” I thought there was a strong possibility that Grandmère might explode. “Why? Why on earth would you do that?”

  “Because the poor woman has been working for weeks without a single day off,” Mia said, taking Baby Prince Frank from Michael and trying to comfort him. “And it’s Christmas. She’ll be back by the coronation on New Year’s. We can handle this. Or at least…” I saw her hesitate a little. “I thought we could before that letter from Prince René.”