The Costume of the Court: Chapter 12A (Why Polly?)

I keep meaning to get back to drawing again, but I haven’t had a chance yet. Hope the chapters are enjoyable on their own as well. 🙂

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 12A: The Costume of the Court

I woke up the next morning, put on my light blue dress, and pinned up my hair, wanting to look slightly dressier than normal. Today Casper had said I would be given a crash course in Chaldean court behaviour. I wondered who he had got to teach me. His woman of the moment?

I went downstairs and found Paulina already making breakfast. Bacon and pancakes sizzled on the stove. I started to join her, but she waved me away.

“I don’t want to get grease spots on your dress,” she explained.

I couldn’t eat much. It was not that I was exactly nervous, but I wasn’t sure what things would be like now. At least Paulina would be staying.

Stefan was saying he didn’t like to go to market anymore and leave the Enchanter ‘defenceless’ at home, but Casper waved him off with a laugh.

“Don’t worry about it,” he said. “I’ll be safe from the jadess as long as I stay in the Peak.”

After breakfast Casper came over to me and handed me a little box.

“Your protection charm,” he said. I opened the box. In it was an odd-shaped charm that could clip behind the neckline of any of my dresses, and remain out of sight. I put it on.

“You’ll have to wear it whenever you leave the Peak,” he told me, “And it’ll only keep the jadess from touching you, not keep her away completely.” He looked up again and grinned. “Hope you have better luck with her than I did.”

Just then the door went rat-tat, and Stefan went out to get it. I followed behind him into the entrance hall. There was a rat-tat again at the door, and he opened it.

“Maria DeAballah!” I exclaimed. She saw me and smiled.

“Why, hello,” she said. “Casper said you would be here. I’ve come to teach you.”

“You?” I laughed. Of all things… well, at least our last meeting had been friendlier than the first.  “Well, come in. What are we doing first?”

She studied me intently. “Well, first of all clothes. What else have you got?”

Behind me I could hear the Enchanter come up. Maria’s eyes narrowed slightly when she saw him.

“Ah, Maria,” he said, with a smooth and courtly smile. “I’m glad you could manage to do this for me.” He looked amused at the way Maria carefully held back her rage.

“Come,” she said tightly to me. “Why don’t you show me sort of wardrobe you possess for court?”

“Why’d you agree to do this for him if you’re mad at him?” I asked her, while I was leading her up to my room.

“Because I like you,” she replied. “I heard Casper making inquiries for someone to teach you Chaldean manners, and I agreed to do it because I wanted to know you better. Certainly not because Casper asked me!”

“He’s exasperating, isn’t he,” I said.

“Undoubtedly,” she replied. “I was wondering, though, why are you here at the Magician’s Peak?”

I remembered the story we’d agreed to tell everyone. “He’s my cousin.”

Maria looked at me, those wonderfully wide and deep brown eyes of hers flashing dangerously. “Nonsense. Whatever anyone else believes, I don’t fall for it. How come you’ve never come out of the Peak before, then? I want to know really.”

“He rescued me,” I admitted. We’d reached my door to my room, and, fortunately, Maria didn’t press for more details. I opened the door. Maria walked in, nodding approvingly.

“Not bad,” she said. “Now, where are your clothes? I need to see if you possess anything suitably Chaldean.”

“I do,” I answered, going over to my chest. “This is just one of the dress I made. But I do have a whole bunch of Chaldean robes Casper got for me.”

I opened it and began laying the silky garments out in a row. Maria walked along them, studying them with an odd look on her face.

“These won’t do at all,” she said. “You can tell he bought them from the same booth. Look at them, they’re all the same except for colour and embroidery. It won’t do at all for the court.” She threw up her hands. “La, men have no taste!”

I could not quite see what she was getting at, but as I had never liked them much in the first place I did not complain. She bent down and search through the chest.

“Yes, nothing,” she said. Then she looked around the room. “Do you have a charcoal and paper? I’ll draw a quick sketch and sent it to my seamstress, and hopefully she can get it whipped up for when you go to court tomorrow. She really is a genius with a needle.”

“I do,” I replied, pointing to a piece of charcoal and paper on the table. ”If you do it quickly Stefan can probably drop it off when he goes to market.”

She took it and sat down, scribbling busily. I looked over her shoulder, but her scrawled design confused me. She seemed to think her seamstress would understand it though. I took it from her when it was done and ran downstairs to give it to Stefan. Then I came back up.

Maria was standing over the robes, thinking.

“You will have to wear one of these for now,” she said. “Just to give you an idea of what it’ll feel like while I teach you all the other graces. I will make sure you get more proper dress later, for now we will just have to make do.” She looked at me.

I sighed and slipped my pretty yellow dress over my head and stood there in my under-dress. Maria stared at me in surprise.

“How many layers do you Angarians wear?” she asked.

“You don’t wear under-dresses?” I asked. I shrugged and slipped that off too. Now I was just standing there in my shirtwaist and under-drawers.

“This is crazy,” Maria said, still looking at me. “Do you even wear a girdle?”

“A girdle?” I asked.

“You know,” she gestured, “To cinch in your waist. A slim waist can be a lady’s greatest asset.”

I shook my head. She sighed and opened the bag she’d brought with her.

“Luckily I wasn’t sure if you did or not,” she said, “And brought one along. And proper under-drawers. My goodness, you Angarians.”

I changed into them. The under-drawers were shorter, and did not have ribbons at the bottom to pull them in at the calf. Beneath the girdle I wore a light, sleeveless shift, and the girdle, a curved black thing, laced over top. I looked rather helplessly at the laces.

But Maria didn’t seem to expect me to do them up myself. She pulled the ones on my back, hard, making me stagger backwards.

“Tight!” I gasped.

“A slim waist is a lady’s greatest asset,” Maria grunted, pulling harder. ”Remember that.”

Over it I put on one of the red robes. Maria did up the lacings tightly in the back of that too, which I’d only loosely tied before. It did look figure-flattering that way, but I felt almost naked without an under-dress underneath.

“Your hair should be a help too,” Maria continued, pulling out the ribbons I’d tied it back with. “Few possess such blond hair in Chaldea.”

She began pulling out the pins and yanking a comb through it. My scalp protested, but she seemed to have a certain skill because my hair did look shinier than before.

“Now, a lot of people leave their hair out loose,” she said. “Like me. But I think yours would look good in that new style they have started wearing.”

She gathered it together, then twisted it sharply and fanned it out, so it stood up at the crown of my head in a sort of loop. Then she took some of the tiny, discreet pins with marching red jewels and secured it down. Around my face she wisped out narrow strands of hair, twisting them around one finger so they didn’t hang lank. Then she stepped back to look at me.

“A good start,” she said.

I turned to face her, surprised. What more was there to do?

Then I saw her getting out tubes and tubs and pouches of what looked like pastes, and I understood.

The upper classes in Angaria sometimes wore face products. I wasn’t upper class, so I had never worn them. But in Angaria it was considered shameful if your cosmetics were noticeable. In Chaldea it seemed to be exactly the opposite. It was shameful if your cosmetics weren’t noticeable.

“Good long eyelashes,” she said to me. Then she pulled on them so hard it felt like they were coming out, and curled them on a narrow rack-thing. With a paintbrush she delicately painted them black. It made my eyes looks like a cat’s.

She rimmed them with a stick of dark kohl, saying that would make my blue eyes bigger and more noticeable. Then she fussed over my brows for a long time, brushing and trimming them, until they were neat lines. Thankfully she hadn’t made them into a pronounced arch like hers, but then she probably realised her face could pull that off. Mine couldn’t. The way she’d done them looked natural, if a bit darker than normal.

I looked into the mirror and was surprised at how wide my eyes looked. Maria laughed when I told her.

“That is certainly all the rage lately,” she said.

She dabbed pink on my cheeks and painted my lips cherry red. Even when I wasn’t looking in a mirror I could see my lips out of the bottom of my eyes, a bright, glowing red.

“Kissable,” Maria said, smiling.

“But I don’t want to be kissable!” I cried.

“If you’re chasing the Rajah, you do,” she told me.

Some day I’ll get you for this, Casper, I thought. It was positively degrading to have to chase a man like that. And it would only make the Rajah more sure of himself. Goodness! I thought when she gave me the mirror. My smoky eyes were certainly a contrast to my pale hair. Not that it looked bad. But I would certainly be kicked out of Angaria if I ventured anywhere near it like this.

What had I gotten myself into?


Go to Chapter 12B


Filed under All My Stories & Extras

11 responses to “The Costume of the Court: Chapter 12A (Why Polly?)

  1. Pingback: Results of a Broken Silver Screen: Chapter 11B (Why Polly?) | Stories and Stuff

  2. Alexia

    Ah I love the end of this chapter ! And I learned a new english word thanks to you : girdle. Never heard it before, had to look it up. Is it a very common word ?

    (In case you’re interested, the french word for girdle is “gaine.”)

    By the way, thanks for introducing me to Diana Wynne Jones, I could find the books you told me about but I did read the Chrestomanci series, it was great !


    • Oh good, I’m glad you liked them! Chrestomanci is quite a character 🙂

      Hmmm, girdle is not that common of a word. But I guess it’s a useful word for referring to that type of undergarment.


  3. Alexia

    I can’t imagine why I would need to use it, but you never know !

    That he is ! I bought Howl’s Moving Castle in english but I’m afraid to open it cause it takes me forever to read a book in another language… So instead I just started Anna Karenina and well, I miss Diana Wynne Jones already…


  4. Alexia

    It took me almost a year to finish War and Peace, and don’t get me wrong it is a great book, just so damn long. Almost 2000 pages. So maybe I’m a masochist for starting Anna Karenina even if I swore I was done with Tolstoy, but I’ve always wanted to read this particular book ever since I first heard that the opening sentence was “Happy families are all alike ; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”

    Besides, I’ve always wanted to read more classics, cause there’s a reason they are classics and I’m curious about it. I just hope I won’t become a Parisian cliché (wait, I’m constantly trashing Marc Levy and I read some Balzac… oh my God, I’m already a cliché !)

    Not that you’d care (although, as a book lover maybe you will), but in september there is a thing we call rentrée littéraire. “Rentrée” is the word we use for the first day of school or the first day back from a vacation, and “littéraire” is literary, according to Google. So it has to do with books. See, in september 600 books (more or less) will be published as a part of the rentrée littéraire. It’s sort of a big thing, well it is in Paris anyways, suddenly everyone is going to have a book in hand ! But for me it’s a living hell, I mean, so many books and so little budget, how do I decide which books I’ll buy ? It’s Sophie’s Choice.


  5. Reading classics is worth it, and I should definitely read more than I do. I think it was CS Lewis who wrote about why reading old books is better than reading only modern ones:
    “It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.
    Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books.”

    Needless to say, I fail at that. 🙂

    Rentrée littéraire sounds like a neat thing. Of course, right before school starts is the worst time for me to get new books, because even if I can afford them, I don’t as much time anymore to read!


  6. Alexia

    If it makes you feel better I fail at that too ! I wonder why that is, cause I do enjoy classics but somehow I always end up reading books that aren’t. Plus, my conception of a classic is really different from, say, my father’s. To him a classic has to be a book by Balzac, Victor Hugo, Charles Baudelaire, Voltaire, Racine, Emile Zola, Shakespeare (no, he’s not a french-only^^), Dickens, Dante, Machiavelli, Francesco Petrarca, Giovanni Boccaccio… But to me Alice in Wonderland is a classic. So is the work of J. M. Barrie. I think Mark Twain and Francis Scott Fitzgerald are classics. Faulkner’s work and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, too. But apparently that’s just me ^^!

    It’s pretty cool, yes. But the only problem is that it’s always the same authors that get all the media cover, even if the rentrée littéraire is suppose to help promote new authors. Somehow everyone talks about Amelie Nothomb’s 20th book (a book a year, always published during the rentrée) or Frédéric Beigbeder’s return. But those authors are all everyone talks about all year anyway so it’d be nice to hear more about the authors that are published for the first time.
    I see your point, but I think the fact that the rentrée littéraire always takes place in september has to do with the fact that most literature prizes are awarded (?) between september and november. Including the Goncourt, which is the Academy Award of french literature.


    • To me, classics are books that stood the test of time. So I’d agree Alice in Wonderland, Mark Twain, and F. Scott Fitzgerald are classics. I always make grand resolutions that THIS year I will read more classics, and then I don’t. I usually enjoy reading them. They just take more effort than modern books, so I find it hard to start.

      Wow, sounds like the French take literature quite seriously. I don’t think we have a specific time when most of our books are published. And we do have literary prizes, but nobody I know talks about who’s going to win them (there’s just a couple articles in the back of the newspaper).

      I think it’s tough for first-time novelist to get much attention – once you’re an established name in writing it’s easier, but when you’re trying to break into the writing world, it’s tough going.


  7. Alexia

    Oh yeah, it’s taken seriously. I remember, two years ago, Marie NDiaye won the Goncourt for her Trois femmes puissantes (er, Three powerful women) and no one really knew about her before that, except in some circles, but all of a sudden everyone start talking about her and her work. There’s also the Goncourt of high school kids (Prix Goncourt des lycéens sounds better) : 1500 high school kids get a choice of books and award the one they prefered. It’s more recent but it’s really nice, I would have loved to be a part of it when I was in high school.


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