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Winning her Colours

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"The fact of the matter is," said the Imperial Prince formerly known as Nanki-Poo, "that times have moved on, and it is no longer sufficient for those of higher birth to be merely of symbolic use to the country and it devolves to us to develop more practical talents with which to serve Japan. Indeed, most of us have already taken this to heart. You, my father, are a renowned expert in legal matters, while the lady Katisha adds considerably to the court's income by the judicious display of her charming body parts. My dear father-in-law-by-law has an undoubted talent with the needle and thread, while I flatter myself that I have proven my worth by my particularly useful facility with the trombone."

"What about her?" the aforementioned Lady Katisha interrupted, with what Yum-Yum felt was a somewhat impolite jerk of her fan in her direction.

"The Empress Elect Yum-Yum more than justifies her worth as an ornament to the court," said Yum-Yum's husband, whose name Yum-Yum had never quite got around to ascertaining. He bowed graciously at his wife, who simpered in return, ignoring Katisha's audible sniff. "But I may ask, exactly how many ornaments can one court usefully support?"

"Your point is taken," said the Mikado. "And my grand daughter's function is, as yet, purely ornamental?"

Nanki-Poo sighed. "Alas, it seems so. Her tutors' attempts to interest her in composing poetry on the great battles of her imperial ancestors have sadly failed, and she is yet to demonstrate any particular aptitude for tea ceremonies. She takes little interest in anything but her own unquestionable beauty. Yet, it seems impossible that my daughter - and your grand daughter, Father - has no talents at all. I propose, if it suits your Imperial Majesty, a solution. The princess should be sent to school in an exotic country, which will know how to draw out her hidden potential. My tender heart breaks at the thought of sending her away, yet I see no other solution."

The attention of the Court turned, as if compelled by a magnetic force, to the mother of the princess in question. There was a poignant silence until Yum-Yum realised everyone was looking at her – or, at least, before she realised that everyone was looking at her for a reaction, rather than contemplating her perfect beauty, as was her due. She smiled prettily and arranged her thoughts.

"I must confess," she said, "to a slight but natural and charmingly maternal attachment to Princess – " her large dark eyes sought out her husband, who spread his fan and used the cover to discreetly whisper something in her shel like ear - "Koo-Tee-Pi," she went on, hardly missing a beat, "and at the thought of sending her to the other end of the world for years I find the need to wipe away a single sentimental tear." She modestly hid her lovely face behind own fan, almost colliding with Nanki Poo's.

"Your sensitivity and angelic disposition stands as a lesson to all the Court, daughter-in-law," the Mikado said. "However, I am sure you shall see your daughter in the holidays."

"Oh?" Yum-Yum thought this over, her dark eyes widening. "Oh, but surely it's such a long way to come. I wouldn't want to put her to any nuisance. No, I shouldn't bother, just for little me. We can send her some traditional English boarding school gifts at Christmas instead – sardines, I believe, and, canned tongue of hoofed beasts, as is their novel wont." She tittered behind her wide sleeve, and the Court obligingly tittered, until it sounded like a flock of tit-willows taking off.

"Then it is decided," the Mikado said. "The Princess Koo-Tee-Pi is to go to school. Has the Minister of Education any advice on an appropriate school?"

Lord Poo-Bah stepped forward, straightening his robes. "It so happens I have heard of an excellent institution, led by an ex Baron, in fact. While, naturally, being foreign barbarians, they should have no difficulty accommodating a lady of imperial blood - indeed, so advanced are their methods and high their status that they have achieved the honour and distinction of being elected to a National School."

The Mikado clapped once. "Excellent! Dispatch the princess to this place of education at once. We look forward to hearing of an improvement in her outlook."

[three months later]

"Hey, kiddoh! No slacking!"

Koo-Tee-Pi looked up with some annoyance at a group of her schoolmates, from the duck pond from which she had been contemplating her perfect reflection. It was a rather unsatisfactory procedure in any case, given that instead of water lilies floating in the pond and framing the reflection of her lovely face, there had just been some duckweed and an unfortunate frog, and instead of silken kimonos she was clad in what appeared to be a grey sack and some unmentionable undergarments, but her father had impressed on her the importance of bearing with dignity whatever privations she had to undergo. Still, Koo-Tee-Pi confessed to herself that she was feeling slightly put-out.

"I would prefer you would not address me in such a manner," she said coldly.

One girl, who as far as Koo-Tee-Pi could work out possessed the unfortunate moniker of Ditsy, rolled her eyes. "What would you prefer, new girl - your Royal Highness?"

Koo-Tee-Pi gracefully rose to her feet. "Imperial Highness, as it so happens."

Rather than being impressed, the girls chorused "Ooooh!" in what Koo-Ti-Pi thought was a distinctly mocking manner.

"I wouldn't put on airs if I was you," said a girl apparently named Tiddles. "Your mother's family's in trade."

This was true, so Koo-Tee-Pi ignored it. "Why do you disturb my contemplative solitude?"

"Lacrosse practice. Better get into your kit, mad Murgatroyd is completely insane over healthy exercise. You'll catch it if you miss practice."

Koo-Tee-Pi was sure this was not an appropriate name to apply to the distinguished head of the institution at which she resided, who seemed a most sedate and respectable young woman, but she was too confused to pursue the point. "Lacrosse?"

She listened with dawning horror as they explained. It did not seem remotely feminine to her. Surely, her father had lost his mind when he condemned her to such horrors! Still, she was a princess, and she knew her royal duty. "I am resigned to my fate, even as my mother before me was resigned to being buried alive, for the love of my imperial father," she said in melancholy tones. "Ditsy, lead me to this changing room of which you speak."

Half an hour later, Koo-Tee-Pi was surrounded by a crowd of adoring girls, pressing her hands and thumping her back.

"Kiddoh, that was amazing!" Tiddles cooed. "When you smashed your stick down on her hand - and then sent the ball flying at her head - and did those back flips and caught the ball again and tripped her up on the way and then you kind of jumped and they all went down like harvested wheat and you slammed the ball into the goal and then used the stick and flipped up -" She stopped, gasping for breath. "You'll get your colours in a week! Big Bella will be in the san for a month, and as for Tiger... How did you do that?"

Koo-Tee-Pi smiled dreamily."I was remarkable, was I not? I held the stick in my own fair hands, and it was if the spirits of a thousand samurai ancestors rose up inside me."

"Spirits, little girl?"

The schoolgirls scattered, and Koo-Tee-Pi found herself on a lonely circle of grass, unprotected by the advancing headmistress, whose hands were outstretched to protectively embrace her.

"Spirits, dear girl? Do they alarm you? Do they visit you at night? Do they give you, in terrible, fearsome and irresistible influence, suggestions of wicked deeds to perform?"

"Please do not lay hands on my royal personage." Koo-Tee-Pi stepped back, considering the question. "Well, I think that when I cracked the stick down on Tiddle's head, I most distinctly had the impression of the great Samurai Musashi urging me on."

The Murgatroyd lady clutched her respectable bun in anguish, severely disarraying her coffuire. "But this is most terrible - most horrifyingly and dementedly alarming! Think hard, dear girl - is there not some idea you can cling to, replete with meaning, that will drive these wicked spirits away?"

Koo-Tee-Pi shrugged her delicate shoulders. "Would you like me to attempt to compose a haiku?"

The headmistress seized her arm. "Good deeds, my girl - they will drive the spirits away. You must come with me at once! We must not rest until you are no longer haunted!"

[message arriving by personal hand of Pish-Tish]

Dearest Aunty Katisha,

I hope you and all at the court are well. I confess to missing you most desperately. While I am sure my imperial grandfather wished only for the best in condemning me to this vile institution, he cannot have been personally acquainted with the headmistress. My small and insignificant talent with a lacrosse stick has apparently doomed me to an endless round of visiting the poor, bearing possets so lacking in palatibility that a frail old woman yesterday seized me by my pigtail and threatened to force me to drink it myself, sip by sip. Indeed, if this state of affairs continues, I feel I will have no choice but to add to Mrs Murgatroyd's evening cup of cocoa a dose of the "sleeping draught" with which you were so kind to supply me for emergencies. Please, please use your influence and beauty to plead for the sake of a poor little prisoner.

I have received something called "my colours" in lacrosse. I believe that is a rare honour for a new girl.

Hoping you are well,

Lovingly yours etc., the Imperial Princess Koo-Tee-Pi

[the Imperial Court]

"That's all very well," said the Mikado, "but what skills precisely has my grand daughter learned in one term?"

"She seems to be rather good at lacrosse," Katisha, who was flung in submission at his feet, interceded.

"And how does that benefit the court?"

"Well, if, the gods forfend, something unfortunate happened to occur to my esteemed husband, it sounds like she has a fairly mighty right arm."

"Hmm." The glorious ruler considered it for some moments. "I suppose that hereditary-by-appointment has its points. Very well, then - Pooh Bah, let the child know that she might return."

Katisha gave an exclamation of pleasure and leapt to her feet. She had no child of her own, but Koo-Tee-Pi's last letter had made it clear to her the advantages of having a daughter-like figure. She had, beginning with "sleeping draughts", a few useful skills to pass on herself.