This chapter finds Polly, after much preparation, embarking on her new role to foil the jadess’s plans at the Palace.
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 13A: Morning Of
I woke up the next morning, feeling comfortable. Then I remembered I was to go to court today, and I had to get ready.
Downstairs I could hear someone at the door, then someone coming upstairs to my bedroom door, and knocking. Groaning, I rolled out of bed and ran my fingers through my hair.
“Come in,” I called. The door burst open and Maria rushed in.
“Ah, you are awake,” she said. “Good. We have much to do before you go.” She went around to the window and pulled back the blue drapes, letting sunlight flood in.
“I see you got the dress,” she said, spying the box in a corner. “That is good. I also picked up a cape for you yesterday evening. “
“Oh, you needn’t have,” I told her.
“A cape is essential,” she replied. “Against weather, and to take off and reveal your dress at the opportune moment. Every woman has one.”
“Okay, but I will repay you someday,” I said.
“Pay me?” She laughed. “Casper is paying me. You would have to repay him if you wanted to repay someone for it.”
I hadn’t realised this, and I frowned at it. But there was nothing I could do at the moment, so I stood up and changed into my Chaldean under-drawers and girdle. Maria laced up my girdle again even tighter than before, if possible. But I guess she had to, because the waist on my new dress looked impossibly narrow.
I slid the dress over my head, then Maria did my hair. She chose a pair of black slippers to go with it, and helped me do my face and jewellery. Then I looked in the mirror.
The dress was a deep, glowing crimson, with a neckline that I couldn’t quite decided if it was shoulderless or not, since it hung just off the tips of my shoulders. In the centre it dipped into a sweetheart neckline (behind which I’d clipped the jadess protection charm so it was hidden), and its sleeves stopped just below my elbows, where they tapered into large, trailing bells. The skirt was long, narrow over the hips, then flaring out into a large pool at my black slippered feet. Around my slim waist was a gold chain, from which hung a ruby the size of a dove’s egg, at least. My jewellery consisted only of a ruby pendant on a gold chain at my neck, and faceted ruby briolettes in my ears. The deepness of the crimson reflected over their surfaces.
Maria had done my face similar to yesterday, except my lips were painted a crimson to match my dress. She’d lined my eyes in kohl again, and painted my lashes long and black. My hair was also twisted the same way, except instead of clips she’d pulled a delicate gold net studded with little rubies over the knot at the crown.
“Are these all real?” I asked, fingering the ruby at my waist.
“More or less,” Maria replied, smiling.
We reviewed some of what I’d learned yesterday quickly, then went downstairs. Casper watched me with an amused smile, but Paulina clasped her hands when she saw me.
“Oh Polly, I love your dress!’ she said.
Casper looked at Maria, whose eyes narrowed when she saw him. “Ah, Maria,” he said. “Will you stay for breakfast?”
“Thank you, but no,” she said, coolly and politely, and only I noticed the flash in her eyes. “I must go. I have an appointment.”
“But – but aren’t you coming to the Palace with me?” I asked.
“No, I am,” put in Casper.
“I have other business today,” Maria told me. “Besides, the ruse is that” – she glanced at Casper – “that we aren’t supposed to know each other yet, since you are supposed to have just arrived yesterday. But I will come help you get ready again tomorrow morning, and you can tell me all about the day.”
I had not expected this. I wanted Maria there for moral support, because she knew all the ropes, and I knew Casper wouldn’t be the same at all. But I could not expect her to give everything up for me, so I just swallowed hard and nodded.
“Well, good-bye then,” she told me. “I wish you luck. And I’ll see you tomorrow.” She swept out of the room, her red hair rippling behind her.
We went to the kitchen. I looked at the table, remembering what Maria had said yesterday about sitting down, then looked at Casper. He heaved a sigh and pushed out the chair with his toe.
“I hope you don’t always expect me to do that,” he said.
“Perhaps not always,” I told him sweetly. “Where’s Stefan?”
“Still in bed, lazy boy,” Casper replied. “Thinks he can sleep in even though the rest of us have to get up early.”
“Well, why shouldn’t he?” Paulina said, thumping a plate of breakfast buns on the table. I looked at her in surprise.
I could not eat breakfast because of my nerves, and I thought even if I was hungry I could not have fit much down since my girdle was tied so tightly. Paulina sat across from me, urging me to eat something, so I managed to swallow a couple bites and drink all of my juice-fruit. Casper kept going over what he wanted me to do: never let the Rajah out of my sight and tell the Enchanter if I learned the whereabouts of the jadess. It sounded simple. But I was willing to bet it would turn out a little more complicated than Casper made it sound.
“And remember,” he said, “Never take your protection charm off.”
Then I got the cape Maria had bought for me, made of what looked like water-proof black velvet that covered me completely and came with a hood, and put it on. I wasn’t sure whether to pull up the hood or not, but the sun was shining outside so I left it down.
I waited in the entrance hall for Casper until he came down, dressed in his court clothes: dashing black suit embroidered with spirals of silver, green cravat that brought out the sparks of mischief in his gypsy eyes, and, of course, his diamond coat. He struck quite a figure, and I realised at court it probably meant something if you were related to the Royal Advisor. This gave me hope.
“Have fun!” Paulina said to me cheerfully as we left. I thought she sounded slightly wistful, she probably wanted to go to the Palace herself. I felt a little bit sorry for her as we walked down the front path to the gate.
I had never been outside the gate before. The Magician’s Peak seemed to be just on the edge of town, looking over the city of Araba. Facing it across the city rose another building, even larger and grander. Around it all rocky mountains rose up, and the city was placed in a bowl-like valley between them.
I had never been able to see much from the Peak’s windows because of the trees in the garden, or even from the roof when the jadess had attacked because of the storm of magic. Now I could clearly see the city spread out before me, strong and glorious, and through it winding a narrow road, to the grand building across from us. The Rajah’s Palace.
“It looks imposing even from here,” I gulped.
Casper had hired a carriage, and we climbed into it. I could not help staring out the window as we drove, though I knew I was probably gaping. Casper sat back, relaxed and cool, beside me.
“I thought you might like to see the famous Falls of Araba before we see the Rajah,” he said to me. He was trying to pacify me after forcing me into this, I could tell because he fiddled with his earring. But the Falls of Araba sounded intriguing. I did want to see them, so I nodded.
The Falls of Araba was also just outside the city, on the west side, halfway between the Magician’s Peak and the Rajah’s Palace. The carriage stopped and we got out to look.
My mouth fell open when I saw them. They were just as beautiful as I the vague rumours of them I had heard in the Angarian market, or even more so, especially with the reddish early morning sun rising just enough to reflect off the water. Over the side of the mountain water fell like a curtain of fine, pearly rain, over a bed of stones in every colour of the rainbow, and all around it ran a fanciful glass walkway, up and up as if it were supported on air, to dizzying heights from where one could see all of the falls, and over the city of Araba below. My stomach turned at the thought of walking up it.
According to what Paulina had told me – while we’d been searching the Peak and she’d been telling me everything she knew about Chaldea to relieve our boredom – it had been made by the old League of Enchanters many years ago, before the League had been dismantled, and it had been made from actual things, using magic only for the force needed to put it together. The one who’d been Rajah then had visualised it standing forever, and not maintained by magic, so that if ever someone quit maintaining it, or all enchanters died, it would still be there. But even so I could see places where stones were missing, or where one was falling out, and realised that in spite of this the Falls were suffering from lack of enchanters in Chaldea to repair it.
“That was my first job when I came here,” Casper said from beside me. He was leaning on the iron railing that led to the glass walkway and looking over the Falls. “To repair this thing. It was quite a mess, and I’m still working on it, but it’s much better now. What do you think?”
“Nice,” I said. He must have expected more, because he turned from me when I said it. I shrugged. I wasn’t about to make him more arrogant of his powers than he already was.
“We’re not going up the walkway today,” he called over his shoulder. “There isn’t enough time.” I breathed out a sigh of relief. Imagine looking down through that glass and seeing nothing beneath your feet.
The carriage now went through the streets of the city to get at the Palace. I looked out, the streets around me so narrow I could almost touch the crowded houses as we rattled past, and the townspeople turning to watch us go by. Most did not look rich, and I remembered hearing the loss of the League of Enchanters had affected the Chaldean people badly. They seemed strong, defiant people though, with tanned skin, and hair ranging from red to dark black. Some smiled at me, and I waved to them as we went by.
“This is the main part of the city,” Casper told me. “The manors of the nobles are over east, in the shade of the mountains.”
Suddenly the carriage jerked back, and we began going uphill. The road beneath us was solid, made of smooth, inter-locking grey stones, and it would up the hill to the gates of the Rajah’s Palace. Nerves swept over me and I wished I had a mirror to check my appearance.
“They will introduce you as Penelope Raleigh,” Casper told me.
“Raleigh?” I asked.
“My last name,” he replied.
I was too nervous to object, or else I would have given him a piece of my mind for changing my name to something so idiotic. Penelope! What was wrong with Polly?
The carriage rolled to a stop in front of the vast, pearly white gates, and one of the palace guards inquired into our business. Casper motioned towards me.
“The Royal Advisor and his cousin to see the Rajah,” he said. The guard nodded and let us through.
I took a deep breath.
Go to Chapter 13B