Duchess Swan and the Next Top BirdSuzanne Selfors
Duchess Swan and the Next Top Bird
A Little Pirouette Story
By Suzanne Selfors
Table of Contents
About the Author
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For Elizabeth, who taught me how to pirouette
Once upon a sunny day, a swan sat in her nest, peacefully napping. This was no ordinary nest hidden among dreary weeds, nor set beside a commonplace pond. This nest was located in the girls’ dormitory at Ever After High, a boarding school for the sons and daughters of fairytale characters. On the first day of school, the nest had been delivered to the bedroom of Duchess Swan, daughter of the Swan Princess. It had been specially woven for her beautiful pet trumpeter, Pirouette.
Napping was one of Pirouette’s favorite activities, but on this particular day, the sound of stomping footsteps disturbed her slumber. She lazily opened her black eyes. What is that racket? The footsteps grew louder, then two girls stormed into the bedroom.
“Can you believe what he said?” Duchess asked, her voice cracking with emotion. She was talking to her roommate, Lizzie Hearts, daughter of the Queen of Hearts.
“It’s to be hexpected,” Lizzie told her. “Daring Charming’s favorite topic of conversation is Daring Charming. Did you read his latest MirrorBlog entry? He rated himself on charm, charisma, and cuteness. All tens, of course.” She tossed her book bag onto her messy bed. “Turn the page and forget about him.”
Pirouette straightened her long neck. Normally, she wouldn’t be interested in the chitter-chatter across the room. The girls had too many toils and troubles, secrets and squabbles to keep track of. Royal princesses were so complicated. It seemed as if there was one drama after another. Being a swan was much simpler. Usually, the biggest problem Pirouette faced was whether she should preen her left wing first or her right wing. But something was different today. Duchess seemed very upset. Her fists were clenched and she was pacing the length of the room. This worried Pirouette because when Duchess was unhappy, things tended to happen. Duchess wasn’t the kind of princess who let people walk over her. Neither was Lizzie. So Pirouette blinked away the haze of sleep and listened intently to the goings-on.
“Daring actually said that his bird is more talented than my bird!” Duchess’s lavender, black, and white hair swooshed with each frustrated step. “How can he think such a thing? The only thing his peacock does is strut around, but my swan can dance. How can he compare the two?”
Pirouette nodded in full agreement. Anyone could strut. It took no talent whatsoever. But Pirouette was the only bird at Ever After High who knew enough ballet moves to dance a pas de deux. She’d learned over the years by watching Duchess’s ballet practices. Her favorite move was the arabesque, which required her to balance on one leg with her wings outstretched.
“Daring Charming really flusters my feathers!” Duchess exclaimed. “He’s so… so…”
“So full of himself,” Lizzie said with a determined hmph.
“Yes. Full of himself.” Duchess sank onto the edge of her bed. Then she sighed, and her expression changed from angry to dreamy. “But he’s so… cute. Why does he have to be so cute?” Pirouette had noticed that whenever Duchess talked about the boy named Daring, she was either upset with him or gushing over him. She’d been crushing on him ever since school began, but he’d never shown any interest in her. “It’s bad enough he never notices me, but now he’s insulting my beautiful swan.” Her shoulders drooped, along with the white feathers in her headpiece.
Recognizing the twinge of hurt in Duchess’s voice, Pirouette stepped out of her nest. Then she pressed the top of her head against Duchess’s hand. Don’t feel sad, she said, but it came out as “Honk!”
Duchess ran her hand down the swan’s neck. “You’re the most talented bird at this school. You make Daring’s peacock look like a dodo.”
Pirouette wasn’t sure what a dodo was, but it didn’t sound very smart. So she nodded in agreement.
Then a mischievous grin spread across Duchess’s face. “I know what I’ll do. I’ll show him.”
“Yes! Show him!” Lizzie said with a wave of her scepter. “Now you’re talking like a Royal. Off with his head! His big blond head!”
Heads wouldn’t roll—that wasn’t Duchess’s style. But something would be done to prove her point. Pirouette wagged her little tail and looked into Duchess’s eyes. That glimmer was very familiar. Her girl was planning something.
Duchess began pacing again. “Daring is the most handsome and the most popular prince on campus, right?”
“Well, he sure thinks he is.”
“And he wins every competition he enters, right?”
Lizzie snorted. “That is definitely true.”
Duchess spun on her heels and pointed a finger in the air. “Well, he’s not going to win this time. I have the top bird on campus, and I’m going to prove it.” She wrapped an arm around Pirouette. “I mean, we’re going to prove it.”
Late that afternoon, Pirouette glided across her favorite Ever After High pond, sunlight warming her back. Purple flowers sat atop lily pads like cupcakes on platters. Sparkling water sprayed from the unicorn fountain. As students walked past, their conversations did not draw the swan’s attention. She was much more interested in the little bugs that darted between the reeds. Those wiggly tidbits were tasty treats.
“Pirouette!” a familiar voice called.
She swallowed a bug, then glanced across the pond. Duchess waved at her from the other end. Pirouette smiled. Sometimes Duchess brought little treats from the Castleteria. With a kick of her legs, Pirouette pushed through the lilies. When she reached the water’s edge, she stepped onto land and waddled up to Duchess’s shiny laced shoes. “Honk!” She wagged her tail, watching the ground for falling crumbs.
“We’d better hurry,” Duchess told her. “It’ll be starting soon.” She began to walk away, hexting on her MirrorPhone at the same time.
No crumbs? After a little hiss of disappointment, Pirouette shook her feathers dry, then followed as quickly as she could, her webbed feet leaving damp prints on the stone path. It was too late in the day for ballet lessons, so where was Duchess leading her? “Honk?”
“Don’t worry. It’s a surprise,” Duchess said mischievously. “But you’ll see soon enough.” Her MirrorPhone chimed. “Oh, hexcellent! Lizzie’s bringing the music. Everything’s in order. I’m getting mother-goosebumps just thinking about our victory!”
Pirouette had no idea what was going on. Music? Victory? Where were the snacks?
A few minutes later, she followed Duchess into the Charmitorium. Pirouette had never been inside this large performance hall. Students were streaming in, quickly filling the seats that faced the gilded stage. A banner hung from the carved rafters:
FEATHERED FRIENDS TALENT SHOW
“Isn’t this great?” Duchess said with a dramatic flourish of her arm. “All these people came to see you dance.”
Pirouette stopped in her tracks. Her heartbeat doubled. Dance on that stage? With everyone watching? Her legs felt frozen. She’d never performed for anyone. She’d only danced in the studio with Duchess. Just the two of them. Just for fun. But at that moment, Duchess was clim
bing onto the stage and motioning for Pirouette to join her. Voices echoed off the walls as students continued to take their seats. They’d all be looking at her? She got so nervous a few feathers fell out—and it wasn’t even molting season!
Pirouette wanted to fly out the door and make her escape back to the pond.
“Did somebody misplace a duck?” a voice asked.
Pirouette looked around. What was he talking about? There was no duck to be seen. Suddenly, two hands grabbed her and lifted her into the air. Then the hands set her down, closer to the wall. “Nice duck,” the voice said as a hand patted her head.
There were three things that made Pirouette throw a hissy fit—polluted water, bird hunters, and being called a duck. She knew many ducks. They were simple creatures who liked to stick their heads underwater and their bottoms in the air. Some were nice, some were bothersome. But one thing could be said about all ducks—they were not swans. And Pirouette was the grandest of all swans—a trumpeter.
She glared at the boy who had picked her up and called her a duck. It was Daring Charming, the prince who made Duchess flip her crown every time she saw him. After nearly blinding Pirouette with his smile, he ran a hand over his tussled blond locks. “Hello, ladies,” he called, waving at a group of girls. They giggled and waved back. Each girl wore a T-shirt with Daring’s face plastered on the front. “I see my fan club has arrived.” His large, polished boots barely missed Pirouette’s delicate feet as he strode up the aisle. That was when she noticed the bird who was following the prince.
His name was P-Hawk, a large male peacock who lived at the school. Pirouette had only seen him from a distance. Because he wasn’t waterfowl, P-Hawk didn’t hang out in the ponds. He liked to roost in the highest branches of the campus trees. The blues and greens in his feathers were even more vibrant up close. He winked at Pirouette as he strutted by.
Still fuming about the “duck” comment, Pirouette hissed at him.
“Pirouette!” Duchess called from the stage. But Pirouette didn’t budge. There was no way she was going to dance in front of everyone. She shuddered nervously, and another feather fell out.
“Everyone, move out of my way!” Lizzie ordered as she pushed between students. As the daughter of the Queen of Hearts, she was used to issuing commands. Then she looked down at Pirouette. “Why aren’t you on the stage?”
Duchess hurried back down the aisle. “She won’t budge. We’ll have to carry her.”
Pirouette tried to escape, but she wasn’t fast enough. She honked as the girls reached around her midsection and lifted her. “She’s trembling,” Lizzie said. “I think she’s scared.” They set her down at the edge of the stage.
Duchess knelt next to Pirouette and gently held her feathered face with both hands. “Don’t worry,” she told her. “All dancers get stage fright. But once you step into the spotlight, you’ll feel better. Believe me. All you have to do is dance, and everyone will see that you’re the most talented bird at Ever After High. They’ll love you. And Daring Charming will have to eat his words.”
“My mother made me eat words in Wonderland,” Lizzie said. “They’re supposed to be nutritious.”
Pirouette didn’t know what words tasted like. But what she did know was that the Charmitorium was so crowded that students were now standing in the aisles. Her stomach felt bad, like the time she’d eaten too many slugs.
Duchess ran a hand down Pirouette’s back. “You’re still trembling.” She glanced over at Daring and his strutting peacock. They were both admiring themselves in a mirror. Duchess groaned. “Even though Daring needs to be taught a lesson, I won’t make you do this, Pirouette. I don’t want you to feel scared. If you want, we can leave.”
Pirouette thought about it. She had nothing to prove. She was happy in her pond. Happy in her nest. Who cared what this boy thought? And what if that pompous peacock laughed at her? Birds aren’t supposed to dance. She wanted to tuck her head under her wing.
But then she saw the expression on P-Hawk’s face.
He was smirking at her. And with his foot, he drew the word duck on the stage floor.
Oh, it’s on, she thought.
“Welcome, students, to the very first Feather Friends Talent Show,” a rather bushy man bellowed from center stage. He didn’t need a microphone. His voice sounded as if it had been recorded inside a cave. Pirouette had seen him before. His name was Professor Poppa Bear. “I guess I’m the judge of this contest because I’m the only Beast Training and Care teacher at Ever After High. And also because the Charming family said that if I do it, they’ll give me a year’s supply of my favorite snack.” He pointed to a stack of boxes, each marked INSTANT PORRIDGE.
“Hey, that’s bribery,” Duchess complained.
Professor Poppa Bear ignored her. “Let’s get this contest started. I wanna get back to my not-too-big-and-not-too-small recliner and watch the bookball game.”
Pirouette shuffled nervously. Four students and their birds had gathered onstage. Each student sat on a stool. Daring Charming was the first student. He wore a confident smile, as did P-Hawk, who’d settled at the prince’s boots. Another boy, whose head was very round and whose skin was as smooth and white as an eggshell, sat on the second stool. He wobbled as if he was having trouble keeping his balance. The chicken that was tucked under his arm kept squawking. A princess who also lived in the girls’ dormitory sat on the third stool. Her bird was sleeping in a golden basket. Duchess sat on the fourth stool, Pirouette at her feet.
“Who’s first?” Professor Poppa Bear hollered.
“Ladies first,” Daring said. He smiled at the audience, and a whole row of girls fainted. Another row was momentarily blinded by his brilliant teeth.
The other princess carried her golden basket and bird to center stage. “Hello,” she said to the audience. “As most of you know, my name is Ashlynn Ella.” Her long strawberry-blond hair was held back with a ribbon. “When Duchess told me that she wanted to have a bird talent show, I was hexstatic. I think we should pay more attention to our feathered friends and live in harmony with nature.” She set the basket on the floor. “I’d like to introduce you to my bird, Sandella.”
A red-and-orange bird stepped out of the basket. Her tail was twice as long as her body. “Sandella is a phoenix,” Ashlynn explained. “Her talent is that she can burst into flames and then be reborn.” Ashlynn stepped back, giving the bird lots of room. “Behold.”
This was very interesting. Pirouette straightened her neck. There was no way she could compete with bursting into flames and being reborn. She might not have to dance after all, which would make her very happy. But it wouldn’t prove to P-Hawk that she had amazing talent and was in no way related to a duck.
As Sandella stood perfectly still, looking out at the audience, Professor Poppa Bear ran offstage, returning a moment later with a fire extinguisher. Silence descended as everyone watched and waited. Sandella blinked. The audience held their breath. Sandella clicked her beak. Everyone gasped. Then, with an uppity flick of her tail, the phoenix returned to her golden basket and closed her eyes. Nothing had happened.
Ashlynn shrugged. “I guess she’s not in the mood to burst into flames. I’m royally sorry.” With the basket in hand, she returned to her stool. The audience grumbled with disappointment.
“Next!” Professor Poppa Bear hollered.
“It’s our turn,” Duchess whispered. She gave Pirouette a little push of encouragement. But the swan wouldn’t move. “Pirouette? It’s time to dance. Don’t you want to do this? Everyone’s watching.”
Yes, everyone’s watching. Pirouette wanted to prove her talent, but her legs didn’t seem to be working. She’d never felt so scared. Please let me go back to the pond. This was the worst moment of her life!
“I think she has stage fright,” Ashlynn said with concern.
“No, she doesn’t,” Duchess insisted. “She just needs a little more time to get ready. We’ll go last.”
Would time cure her stage fright? Pirouette sure hoped so, because if any more of her feathers fell out, she might be mistaken for a seagull.
“I’ll go next,” said the roundheaded boy. He scooted off his stool and stumbled to center stage. He set his chicken on the floor, then waved at the audience. “Hello. My name is Humphrey Dumpty, and this is my chicken, Benedict. He’s a king.”
The chicken, who wore a golden crown, rustled his feathers, then began walking in a circle.
Professor Poppa Bear scratched his shaggy neck. “You mean he’s a rooster?”
“No, he’s a king chicken,” Humphrey said.
“What’s his talent?” Professor Poppa Bear asked.
“You’ll see.” Humphrey stuck two fingers in his mouth and whistled. The chicken squawked loudly, squatted, and laid a white egg. “Ta-da,” Humphrey said with a proud smile. “He laid an egg.”
“He?” Professor Poppa Bear shook his head. “Son, I think you might be a bit confused.”
As the audience roared with laughter, Humphrey returned to his stool. Duchess pressed her mouth close to Pirouette’s ear. “The phoenix did nothing and the chicken laid an egg. You’re sure to win this.”
Daring Charming stood. He unbuttoned his letterman’s jacket, then strode to center stage. “Hello, fellow fairytales,” he said in a deep, clear voice. “There is no need for me to introduce myself, since my autographed headshot is the bestseller at the Ever After High Bookstore.” He chuckled proudly. “By the way, my personalized calendar will be arriving soon. You lucky ladies can have me hanging on your wall January through December.” The girls who had previously fainted and then recovered fainted again.
Pirouette didn’t care about Daring collectibles. All she could think about was that big stage, with the spotlight shining, and all those faces watching. She glanced at the basket. What would the phoenix think when Pirouette began dancing? What would the king chicken think? And, most especially, what would that super-gorgeous peacock think? She pressed against Duchess’s leg. When would this be over?