Recap: Polly, while impersonating the princess, has been kidnapped by an enchanter and his trainee, and taken far, far away from her home… where she meets the very princess she was impersonating. It is revealed they all are being threatened by a malevolent magical being known as a jadess. Can she get along with the arrogant enchanter long enough to figure out how to survive with a jadess after them? And … why does the jadess want Polly? Chapter 1 is here...
Chapter 8B: Damp and Bedraggled
“Perhaps he’s staying somewhere out of the rain,” I told him. A brilliant flash of lightning suddenly lit up the room.
“Casper wouldn’t be afraid of the rain,” said Stefan. “He’s an enchanter. And he wouldn’t stay away unless he really couldn’t get back.”
“You think something’s happened to him,” I said.
“I’m afraid of the jadess,” he replied.
So we dressed him in a knee-length coat and waterproof boots, and then stood by the door as he slogged out into the rain. Paulina watched his departing back slightly apprehensively.
“I hope he’ll be alright,” she said. “What happens if both of them get lost?”
I did not answer. We went back to the kitchen and sat by the fire, but we didn’t feel like doing anything. Outside it thundered.
I felt a sort of drowsiness sneak over me as I sat by the warmth. It really was late. My eyes struggled to stay open.
Suddenly I awoke. The time was not much more than a half an hour later, but I felt like I’d been sleeping for ages. I stood up and tried to brush some of the wrinkles outs of my gown. Beside me Paulina lay in an armchair, peacefully sleeping.
Far off in the entrance hall I heard the knocker go rat-tat. I wondered if I dared to open it. But what was the likelihood it was the jadess, or anyone dangerous? Besides, it could be Stefan.
I crossed the entrance hall and opened the door.
There – standing on the steps in the thundering, pouring rain – stood Casper. He pushed past me into the hall, then shook himself so water droplet landed everywhere. He really looked a mess.
“Hang that dratted rain,” he said. A trickle of water ran down the bridge of his nose, and he wiped it off. “I got caught by the jadess’s hedge wizard.”
“Oh, confound the jadess!” I sighed. “What happened?”
He did not pay attention to the question, but walked across the entrance hall to the kitchen, leaving a trail of wet footprints. “Where’s Stefan?”
“Out looking for you,” I answered. “Where have you been?”
He stood in front of the fire, holding his hands out to the flames. Paulina was still fast asleep in the chair beside him.
He sneezed as he stood there, and since I felt sympathy for him for some reason, I went and got him a blanket. He wrapped himself in it and sat down on the bench, looking thoroughly miserable.
“My clothes are ruined,” he said mournfully, surveying his suit and coat.
“Quit whining,” I told him. “What took you so long?”
“I told you, the jadess’s hedge wizard,” he replied. “Luckily the jadess wasn’t with him. I don’t think he expected me, but once I ran into him we had to battle through the pouring rain…” He managed to look as miserable as possible. I decided he was just looking more attention, and didn’t give it to him. But my, was he ever wet! Even his earring had drops of water dripping off it.
His hair had come out of its pompadour, and to my surprise I realised it was curly. It curled all around his ears and down his neck, and he did not look quite so intimidating. I had been almost afraid of him ever since he’d caught me snooping.
“Why do you always put your hair in that idiotic pompadour?” I asked. “It suits you better this way.”
“Chaldeans,” he said, through a sneeze. “It’s the Chaldean style. Do you think I like it?” He made a face.
“How utterly impractical!” I exclaimed.
“Oh no, it’s really quite useful,” he said. “Do you know how much you can hide in your pompadour, if you’re hair’s long enough? There are some Chaldeans out there with enough private notes and secret papers hidden on their head they could write a book it they had a mind to.”
I stared at him in disbelief, not quite sure if he was serious or not. It was amazing the way he could retain his arrogant manner, yet still look miserable enough to be begging for sympathy. It grated on my nerves. At the moment I had more sympathy for poor Stefan, out in the rain somewhere, than for Casper.
He sneezed violently again. “Oh, flower of Angaria, get me a hot drink, will you? That rain just freezes your insides.”
I snorted at his flattery, but he looked miserable enough to need something hot. The kettle was on the stove, and I set it to boiling.
“Stefan’s out in this too,” I reminded him, as thunder crashed overhead.
He just looked woeful and pretended not to hear. Once the kettle started whistling I got out a mug, hesitated, then got out one for myself, and for Paulina (in case she woke up). From the jar I added a handful of tealeaves.
“Listen,” I said nervously, handing him the cup, “I really am sorry I was – snooping around – in there.”
It was time to make amends. Besides, it was dangerous to have an Enchanter mad at you.
“Good for you,” he replied, taking a sip. His complacence made me regret apologizing for a moment. But he can’t say I didn’t try, I thought to myself.
“It isn’t really because of what was in there I was mad,” he said, turning to face me. “Though some of those experiments are pretty sensitive. It’s because – blast it! – Chaldeans have no privacy. I need a place of my own, where nothing and no one can invade, where I’m in control for once. Not a blasted jadess or a pompous Rajah.”
“Or me,” I said.
“You’ve got to admit, you’re pretty good at interfering with everyone’s lives around here.” He grinned insolently.
“And you can’t even do simple things like come to meals on time!” I said. His grin widened.
“I am a free man,” he said. “I maintain the right to have meals when I wish.” He leant back in his chair.
“If you like cold food,” I muttered. I sat down in a chair by the fire too, wrapping my hands around my mug of tea. There was a damp chill to the air, and both the warmth of the mug and the warmth of the fire felt good to me.
“If you don’t mind my asking,” I said finally, “What was that silver screen? Or is that too secret and private?”
He sighed as he faced me. “If you want to know, that’s what I use to track the jadess.”
He lifted his feet up against the chair next to him and let his blanket fall away from his shoulders. He really was almost dry now. I wondered if that was because of the warmth of the fire, or because he was drying himself by magic. But his hair was still curly.
“You see,” he said, gesturing with his hands, “I can make that screen show almost anything the jadess is doing. I can see her now, at this exact instant, if I wanted, or go back to yesterday, or back to when she kidnapped you. That’s how I knew she’d kidnapped you and the princess, by the way.”
He sneezed again into a large red handkerchief he’d suddenly found in one of his pockets. “It’s my invention, and I’m rather proud of it. I made it back when – when Stefan first helped me escape from her clutches. The only problem is, you can’t hear voices, and you can’t make it show what the jadess will be doing in the future.”
“Brilliant,” I said, thinking one of the Peak’s mysteries had been cleared up at least.
“Brilliant as in brilliant of me to have made it, or brilliant that it can’t show the jadess in the future?” he asked. His grin was more impish now.
“Don’t be a blasted idiot.” I got up and put my cup on the table. “Look at your coat. All that whining about it being ruined, and it’s perfectly all right.”
His face looked strange for a moment, and I was briefly afraid I’d needled him too far again. But he shrugged.
“Of course I’d make sure it was all right,” he said. “It’s my favourite coat.”
I looked at the clock and sighed at how late it was getting. But I had no intention of going to bed until Stefan had returned. I hoped he hadn’t been caught by the jadess, or her hedge wizard.
Paulina was still asleep in her chair when I sat down again. I smiled slightly at her.
“Why don’t you just leave here?” I asked Casper. “If you’ve got a jadess after you.”
“Because I bloody can’t!” he exploded. For a moment his eyes snapped with irritation. Then he leant back again and sighed.
“The Rajah has trapped me here,” he said. I realised suddenly that that was the reason why Casper was often so explosive and unpredictable. I thought he’d prefer to be lazy, if he could get away with it.
“How can he do that?” I asked. After all, Casper had managed to rescue me, and I hadn’t been in Chaldea.
“I can leave when I want,” he replied. “It’s just I have to come back. It’s like a – a blasted magnet. The confounded Rajah bought a magnet that’s attracted to my magic, and had it built into the Peak. And now I must always return here.”
“What?” I said. “How can he do that? Where is it?”
“The flagstone in the entrance hall,” he said. “The black one. Haven’t you seen it?”
I really did feel sorry for him now. He looked so tired and miserable draped in his chair by the fire, with his curls hanging around his face.
“I came here many years ago,” he said. “I’d travelled around often before that, and I thought I’d stay in Chaldea for awhile. When the Rajah heard of my magic he offered me the position of Royal Advisor, and I thought, why not? and accepted. And for the fun of it I built the Peak while I had the job. But as a gift the Rajah gave me that flagstone. And I, like a fool, planted it right in the middle of the entrance hall, and now the Peak is my prison.”
He sighed. “And when Stefan accepted my offer of magic he got trapped too. He knew that, of course, I told him. I don’t know what he thinks now. I don’t believe he likes the magic as much as I do, but once you got it you can’t make yourself get rid of it.”
“But that’s so unfair on him!” I exclaimed. I glared at him from where I sat. “Can’t you do anything about it? Can’t you destroy the flagstone?”
“You think I haven’t tried?” he replied. “Look a bit closer and you’ll see the gouges in it. But the only way to escape it would be to destroy what it’s attracted to, the object that gives me and Stefan magic.”
“Which you can’t,” I finished. He nodded.
“It’s in my blood to be restless,” he told me quietly, running one of his fingers down the armrest of his chair. “I’m a gypsy, you see – we’re all like that. I leave here as much as I can, but the flagstone drags me back.”
“A gypsy!” I said.
“Can’t you tell?” he asked. I looked at him. His deep eyes were looking down at the flames, his curls falling over his forehead, his coat splayed out around him on the chair. He might be, for all I knew gypsies were all sizes and shapes. But when he looked up I caught the slightly roughish, gypsy twinkle in his eye, and doubted no longer.
“My parents died when I was very young,” he told me. “All I have from them is this coat of mine. And I was taken in by a rich family as a sort of second son, since they couldn’t have any more children. They tried to crush the gypsy out of me, but I couldn’t help myself. In the end they gave up and disowned me. I’ve been travelling ever since.”
“And are you happy?” I asked. His shoulders, diamond-patterned in the coat, shrugged.
“As much as expected,” he replied. “Until now.”
“Yes,” I said. I was quiet for a moment. “But I just don’t see why the Rajah would resort to such means to keep you in Chaldea.”
“Because historically ties between Chaldea and Sabea were strong,” he answered. “And nine Sabean enchanters would live in the Chaldean courts, and they were called the League of Enchanters. This Rajah’s grandfather ruined all that by fighting with the Sabean king, and the land has suffered badly from the loss of enchanters. So the Rajah will keep an enchanter here at all costs.”
He looked at me. “There’s a weaving of the old League of Enchanters in your room, did you know?”
“So that’s what that was,” I replied.
Between us there was silence, and the fire crackled. Then far away in the entrance hall I heard another rat-tat.
“That must be Stefan,” the Enchanter said. “I’ll go get it.”
He got up and left the room. His clothes were completely dry now.
Looking beside me I saw Paulina was awake. For how long? I wondered. She smiled at me with amusement.
“What?” I asked.