So, WordPress tells me this is my one hundredth post on this blog! I haven’t stopped to count myself, so I’ll take their word for it 🙂 There’s a theory that if you practice anything for 10,000 hours, you are far more likely to achieve success (and fame and fortune) in that area than anyone who doesn’t, so…. 100 blog posts of approximately 500 words each, which probably takes me 15 minutes to write, adds up to a grand total of… 25 hours!!! Only 9975 hours to go, before I am officially famous.
Anyway, time for another chapter of Why Polly? Read Chapter 1 first, if you are unsure what this particular story is about.
Chapter 12B: Further Alterations to Polly’s Costume of the Court
Maria put her hands on her hips. “And now for your jewellery.”
I stared at her. “I don’t have jewellery.”
“Of course you do, what lady does not…” She stopped as I continued to shake my head. “Well, perhaps those living in Angaria are different…”
I had been kidnapped by a pair of enchanters, so how on earth would I have any jewellery here? But even if I had not been kidnapped, I had not owned even the plainest necklace when I lived in Angaria. If I needed adornment, I’d used to wreath my hair in flowers. And while I’d admired the jewels of the nobles who passed me on Angaria’s streets, it had always looked much too fine for me.
“Well, we will have to make do without today,” said Maria. “I presume you have some variety of shoes?”
I sighed at the fact that my court costume still wasn’t done, and went to hunt around in the chest for the pair of matching embroidered slippers I was sure were in there.
When I slipped them on, Maria was smiling.
“A perfect court lady,” she said. “Now, court behaviour here isn’t much different from any other court in the world, but you must be polite. And never forget to call the Rajah ‘Most Exalted Rajah (may his years increase)’. Ever. I know I do not, but I have known him since we were children – and I know the Enchanter does not always, but I hope you haven’t got into a bad habit. Flattery always goes a long way at court, especially with rulers.”
“I’ll – try not to forget,” I said.
She began going over many of the court procedures with me, and there were so many it made my head spin. How was I supposed to remember it all for tomorrow? But Maria assured me that if I followed everyone else I should be fine. She described entrances and exits to me, and when you were allowed to speak, when you could risk interrupting, and when you shouldn’t say anything at all. The rules were all so delicate, and had so many exceptions, only do this if this person has done that, and being at court seemed a tricky business. I wondered if it was like this in the Angarian court, and if so, how Paulina could stand it.
“Now, if you really want to win the Rajah, you must pay attention to your voice,” she said, and laughed. “Me, I am bold and quick. The Rajah seems to prefer meek-tempered women, from my observations of the women he has allowed closest to him, so do not raise your voice and talk softly and sweetly. Can you do that?”
“Yes,” I replied, as meek and sweet as I could. She nodded approvingly.
“And laughing too. A soft giggle, not shrill, in the right places can do you so much good. Men like it if they are thought to be witty. It also helps to flutter your eyelashes.”
I experimentally tried to giggle softly and flutter my eyes, feeling like a fool. Why, this was how those empty airheads back in the Angarian market had acted, always chasing a man and never thinking of anything else.
“Maria,” I said, “I know you wish to win the Rajah too. Why are you helping me then?”
“See, that sort of question could get you in trouble at court,” Maria answered. “Being nosy. But I do not mind it, and I shall answer.”
She looked away, out the window in the corner. “I grew up with the Rajah, and we played together when we were young. We were friends, and still are. But he is a darling, in spite of being a Rajah, and I love him for it. He does not think of me as anything but a friend, but I know someday he shall come to his senses and realise the women surrounding him are all empty air-heads eager for his money and power, and see there is only one woman for him.”
“Yet you would have me act like an empty air-head,” I said. I laughed. “Well, I would probably be thrown out of court if I didn’t. You can get away with things I cannot.”
“Yes,” she said, smiling to herself, “I can get away with it…”
I picked up all the dresses we hadn’t use and packed them back in the chest again, and put the jewellery back in the jewellery box. Maria’s cosmetics I put back with her bag. She saw me put them away.
“Oh no,” she said, “Those are for you. I’ll come here the first couple of days to help you get ready, but you’ll have to learn to apply makeup yourself. Which reminds me, there is one thing I forgot.”
She put the cosmetics back on my table, then rummaged around in her bag. What she came up with was a cut glass bottle of clear liquid, with a spray cap on top. She squeezed it over me and a cloud of fine spray floated out and clung to me, smelling like the incense we burned, but a little more flowery.
“Myrrh,” she said.
I stood in front of the mirror, and I no longer knew myself. The red robe hung smoothly to the floor, flatteringly tight around my waist, and from beneath it peeked the matching slippers. My lips bloomed scarlet, my eyes stared wide and blue back at me, and on my head my hair was twisted up unnaturally. I giggled softly to my reflection and fluttered my eyelashes, just like Maria had been teaching me, and as I did so the smell of the myrrh I was wearing reached my nose again.
“Fit to see the Rajah,” Maria declared me. “Now, I just want to see how you walk.”
“Walk?” I asked. I walked across the room. “Like this?”
“Not too bad,” she said. “Just a little slower and a little more gliding.”
“How do I do that?” I asked, confused. Maria demonstrated, seeing to float across the room towards me.
I tried again, and Maria corrected me. She sure was a hard taskmaster, because she made me do it again and again, not till I got it right, but until I could do it right almost without thinking about it. Then she told me to smile my new, sweet smile as I glided.
“I feel like a puppet,” I muttered.
“And I want you to practice ascending and descending stairs for a bit,” she said to me. “There’s a lot of stairs in the Palace. Where would be the best place to do that?”
“Probably the main staircase,” I answered. The one that went to the third floor was too narrow and cramped.
So we went down to the entrance hall. I looked up at the stairs and wondered how I was supposed to climb these properly.
“Put one hand on the banister,” Maria told me. “Gracefully. Ascend slowly, and pause on each step for just a moment. And smile.”
I did so, feeling like a fool.
We had started on descending when the door opened and in came Paulina with Radagast. Stefan followed behind her. She stopped short when she saw me.
“Hello Paulina,” I called, laughing. “How do you like my new outfit?”
“If I were in Angaria I would…” she shifted uncomfortably. “Well, it is not the style of the Angarian court. But in Chaldea… Well, it looks good.”
“Chaldean,” Stefan remarked, studying me appreciatively. “But it does look good.”
“Well,” Paulina said, “I’m going to make lunch. Are you going to have any?”
“Good idea,” Maria said, snapping her fingers. “I should teach you all the table manners. Go prepare lunch,” she said this to Paulina, then faced me, “And Polly and I will go down these stairs a couple more times.”
I was going down them for my last time when Casper came in. He stopped and watched me for a moment. I wondered where he had gone, since he had told Stefan he’d stay in the Peak.
He crossed his arms and leaned back against a post as I came down towards him. “Perhaps you will do for court,” he said.
Since Maria had said court ladies never lost their temper I realised what good practice this was. Who could be more infuriating than the Enchanter?
“Hello,” I said, meekly and sweetly.
“Whoa,” he said, and looked from me to Maria. “Someone sure tamed this cat.”
“Oh blast you!” I sighed, and threw up my hands. “How am I supposed to practice not losing my temper on you?”
He only laughed and went on to the kitchen. Maria and I followed him. We found Paulina had lunch all set out on the table, cheese and biscuits and a small salad.
“Now, you wait to be seated until someone pulls out your chair,” Maria told me. “Usually that’s the nearest gentleman…” She looked pointedly at Casper, but he pretended not to see her. Stefan pulled out the chair instead.
“And then you sit.” She sat down gracefully, almost as if she were folding herself up or collapsing. I tried to imitate her and sat down.
For the rest of the meal Maria instructed me as I ate. It was slightly embarrassing to have everyone watching, but they didn’t laugh so I slowly relaxed. Most table manners were rather common sense: don’t talk with your mouth full and so on. Maria was glad at how quickly I caught on.
The rest of the afternoon we basically studied all the social graces, and she described the Chaldean court. I began to feel I was as ready as I could ever get in one day.
Maria left an hour or so before dinner, and until dinner I relaxed from my day, tried to remember all she had told me, and experimented a bit with the cosmetics she’d given me. Then I washed it all off, changed back into my blue dress, undid my hair, and went down to dinner.
After dinner there was another rat-tat, but it was only a delivery boy bringing the finished dress Maria had gotten made for me. It looked like it would fit me quite well. It was a good thing I was mostly standard measurements, I thought. As I stood in the entrance hall looking at it I heard someone come up behind me.
“That’s your dress, huh?” It was Casper. I nodded, fingering the luxurious fold of glorious crimson.
“Well, hope you do well tomorrow.” He grinned. “You know I’m depending on you.”
“Why, thank you,” I replied, not sure if I was being sarcastic or not. I looked up at him. “By the way, where’d you go today? I thought you weren’t going out.”
“I took the risk,” he said, still smiling. “I was just dropping the word at court that my cousin had arrived in Araba today, and I would bring her to court tomorrow.”
He faced me. “Just don’t tell Stefan I was out. That boy worries too much.”
Go to Chapter 13A