The horses landed in front of a large, purple palace, which stood alone in an open field. A waterfall flowed from the mountains behind, the water shimmering with golden hues. The Cowboy and I dismounted the horses outside the grand palace doors. As the sun began to set, two peanut-shaped moons rose from the dark horizon. Before I could ask about this bizarre sight, the palace doors opened with great ceremony. A crowd of servants—butlers, chambermaids, chefs, and armoured guards—poured forth, all slightly bowed as they walked towards us.
“I’m going to lose my job,” said the Cowboy, his eyes wide and watery.
I had no time to console him as a big, bespectacled man with an equally big beard came forward from the gathering. He had a golden crown on his head. When I peered closely at him, I was sure my father’s thin face was in there somewhere. The Cowboy took off his hat and gave a deep bow. The big bearded man hugged me so tightly I was afraid I would pop like a balloon.
“I’m so glad that you’re safe now.” A smile formed beneath his bushy moustache. The King of Farallon looked at the Cowboy who stared at his dirty boots with a face as red as a tomato. The King’s eyebrows furrowed, his mouth tightening into a line.
“You lost the princess,” he started, and the Cowboy flinched. “But you also brought her back. Thank you.”
The King pushed his glasses up his nose, extending a big hand to me.
“Actually, Sire,” the Cowboy said, “It was the Princess who saved me. If it wasn’t for her quick thinking and bravery, we wouldn’t be standing here right now.” The Cowboy looked down and held his hat by its frayed edges. The King glanced at me and raised an eyebrow.
“Is that so?” he said, but his mouth fell open. “Your dress, my dear, it’s torn!” I looked down and saw that it was indeed much shabbier than it had been before. The sequins had all fallen off and one sleeve was ripped, the other still wet from the ghost slime. Several maids beckoned me to follow them inside the palace. I stepped through the majestic doors and gaped at the hall inside.
The dying rays of the sun filtered through great arched windows. Deep purple drapes hung above the windows and light from grand chandeliers dappled on to mosaic flooring. Everything I could see was either silver or gold or purple.
Up a spiral staircase and through several winding corridors was my room. It smelled of peppermint and roses, the walls covered with several shades of lilac and blue. I squealed when I saw the bed; an entire double bed just for me! The maids waited patiently as I rolled around on bedding as soft as feathers.
Then, the wardrobe. Dozens and dozens of dresses in reds, blues, pinks, greens, purples, and more hung inside my wardrobe. I gaped as the maids brought a few of them out.
“Your Highness, what would you like to wear tonight?”
Of course, I knew which one I wanted.
A perfect pink dress, exactly the same as before, but this time in pristine condition. The maids brushed my hair and fetched me grapes and peaches and apples even though I wasn’t hungry.
Someone was missing though. I remembered the Cowboy and his sad face, and pushed away from the maids, running through endless galleries and rooms until I found the entrance. I stepped out of the Palace in time to see the two Farallon moons high in a dark purple sky. The Cowboy sat by the bank of a river that flowed beside the palace.
“So did you keep your job?” I asked.
He nodded but stared at his miserable reflection in the water.
“I was awful out there,” he said. “I was supposed to keep you safe, but then I was so scared of… and I’m supposed to be the grown-up…”
I sat down next to him and looked up at the clusters of stars spread across the sky. A lone blue star did not flicker, and I thought of home. I thought of my mother and wondered if I would see her on this peculiar planet. I wanted to tell her how I had conquered the ghosts, and that I was a brave princess now.
The water beneath us shimmered from the light of the palace.
“I think it’s okay to be afraid, even if you are a grown-up,” I said after a pause.
He gave me a small smile.
“And you weren’t awful out there, you rounded up the horses, didn’t you?”
The Cowboy grinned and nodded.
“Your dress looks very nice, Your Highness,” he said before he sprang up. He extended a hand and pulled me to my feet. I grinned and danced underneath the light of the two moons, swishing and swaying in my beautiful new dress.
The world began to slow; the Cowboy smiled and shimmied alongside me as I twirled myself round and round, until the moons and the stars began to spin and I fell to the floor with a thump. Rough carpet scratched my skin and I scrambled up to get back to the palace.
“Sweetie, are you okay? Do you want me to leave the light on?” My mother’s tired face poked around the corner of my bedroom door. She smiled. “Your dress looks lovely.”
I looked in the mirror and saw the pretty pink, the shiny new sequins, and the satin sleeves. My best tiara was no longer on my head and my arms had no white gloves.
“What’s that in your hand?”
My right hand clenched tightly around something small. I opened it and saw the silver whistle. It had a small engraving of a horse on its bottom edge.
“Oh it’s nothing… just a toy…”
“Do you want me to leave the lights on?” she asked once more. I bit my lip and thought hard, remembering the ghosts. The ghosts that I defeated, the ghosts that ran away from me.
“No,” I said, shaking my head. She flicked the switch again and closed the door. I clenched the tube and breathed heavily. A calm breeze blew through my window and I opened the curtains to see the bright full moon. The silver tube gleamed and I felt a warmth spread inside me.
I looked back out the window and saw the moon with a few twinkling stars, and a wisp of white smoke dashing through the night sky.