The Princess of Paper, or so she was called by the people, collapsed into her bed. Rubbing eyes sore from hours deciphering tiny lettering in long-forgotten books, she fumbled along her nightstand for her Constellation. Her fingers brushed its slender trunk, and the dangling stars whispered to life to light her room with an ethereal glow.
She was so tired. Perhaps her tutor would let her sleep in a bit, and miss her morning lessons? A ghost of a smile fluttered across Lan's lips at the impossible notion, and she absently ran a finger along a strip of wood running above her bed.
It was customary for the children of the royal household to bunk together until the age of 10, when they chose a room of the mansion for themselves. Most of them chose rooms in the impressively high towers or, as her younger brother had, one close to the kitchen. Lan, however, chose an unused room in the deepest basement.
The rest of her family may have mocked her but to her it was beautiful. There was a strong, impossibly old tree in the Eastern courtyard, and its roots had found their way to the walls of this room and wrestled their way in. Wood ran through the stone like waves, and once Lan had found the den of two chipmunks hidden in a hole in the wood that had breached the floor near her desk. They had delighted her child self, and she had named them Chip and Stripe and fed them sunflower seeds. They thanked her by letting her pet them and occasionally leaving her scraps of flowers or grass that they had retrieved from forays outside. She loved them dearly, and her constellation had gained two stars for the princess' smallest friends. They came to her now, sniffing around her arms and chattering quietly as she drifted off to sleep. Something was nagging her, though... was there something she had been meaning to do?
Her eyes snapped open, and she sat up straight in her bed, startling the chipmunks off the bed with indignant squeaks. "Oh, no," she groaned, running a hand through her dark hair. "I forgot to make Cecil's present! His birthday is tomorrow!" The princess stumbled out of bed, recoiling from the cold stone floor. She dropped to her knees and pulled a well worn carved chest out from under her bed, shooing Chip and Stripe out of the way.
The chest was where she stored all her best wood, and her carpentry tools. They were some of her most treasured possessions - merely owning them was an insult to her family's line, forget about using them on an almost daily basis. Lan touched a finger to the edges of her knives, reassuring herself of their sharpness before grabbing two, a piece of dark oak to carve, and a piece of chalk.
She was still an amateur, but the princess would like to think she had some skill. She sat at her desk and snapped her fingers, pulling her Constellation to her side with a shiver. She placed her fingers on a branch and concentrated, and the shimmering stars hanging from the branches hummed lightly as their light intensified, illuminating her desk clearly.
"Okay. Let's see..." Lan reached for a drawer, fumbling around in it for her black notebook. It had been a gift from her uncle for her 12th birthday, and though it had been intended for her to use it to take notes on the Library, she had instead used it to mark down dimensions and tools she needed to get from the market, or sketch her ideas before carving them into wood.
Humming absently, Lanflipped through the book to the last used page. Staring out at her was the piercing stare of a panther, crouched on a branch extending over a river. Listed on the side were several measurements and a note to herself about which kind of wood to use.
She stared miserably at Chip and Stripe, who were settled into a fluffy heap in the corner of the desk. "This will take me until at least sunrise to finish. I promised I'd carve Cecil something for his birthday, but maybe I shouldn't have chosen something so difficult..." Lan sighed, rolling her sleeves up and picking up a blade. "Well, too late now."
She worked diligently, concentrating on the task at hand with suffocating intensity. Under her guidance, the block of ordinary wood was transformed, piece by piece, into a work of art. Early in the morning, when she had finished the panther itself and carved out the wood, she took a moment to stretch her hands and contemplate the last stage. Water, she knew, was incredibly intricate. Hundreds of tiny scratches, organized and deliberate, were the trick to creating the look of running water. And it took time. Time she didn't have. What to do?
"Well, I did promise him," she said, rolling her eyes at no one as she settled back in her chair. "I'll do the water and I'll do it well."
The rising sun, though far above her head, found Lan meticulously carving away. Her eyes were heavy with lack of sleep, and she paused frequently to yawn. Chip and Stripe had woken, and were sniffing her hands. "I'm almost...done..." she murmured to them. She willed her hands to remain steady: if they started to shake she wouldn't be able to continue for fear of accidentally slashing the wood she had worked so hard on. "Just a few more." The panther seemed to be staring at her in disapproval, mocking her for her struggles. It's sharp eyes had taken her over an hour, carved with the smallest blade she had and with the assistance of a magnifying lens. Lan wasn't entirely pleased with them, but she'd take what she could get.
She made one last cut, and stretched back with a long sigh of relief. Shaking out her exhausted hands, the aspiring carpenter examined her work. The branch could have been textured a little better, and the river had been rushed, but overall, she had done a good job.
"Go me," she breathed, a smile flitting across her face. She wrote out a quick card, placed the present in one of the gift boxes she made when she was bored, and wrapped everything up in a blue bag with a pretty yellow ribbon. Satisfied with her efforts, Lan staggered back to bed for the half hour or so of sleep she had left before she would be rudely woken to go to classes she didn't want to attend to learn about things that she had no interest in. "Wonderful." she thought dryly, settling in under the covers.