This chapter finds Polly continuing in her attempts 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 13C: Fish Out Of Water
“Yes?” the Lady Janeira said. “I’m new here too. My family lives on the eastern borders of the land, and today I’m allowed to go to court this time for the first time ever. What do you think of the Rajah?”
“Fascinating,” I replied.
“Yes, we all think so,” she answered. She leant a little closer. “I’d watch out for those two, you know,” she indicated Lady Carmen and Lady Mandarine. “They’re the rival groups here, and you’ve got the pick sides. I haven’t yet,” she giggled, “because I’m new. But they’re both chosen me. What I mean is, they both want the best on their sides, because they’d rather have the Rajah pay attention to a member of their group, if not themselves, rather than the other side. Strange, isn’t it?”
I could honestly say yes. Everything so far had been strange.
There were lots of people to see the Rajah, and the Rajah dealt with them all. We sat by the edge and gossiped. At least, everyone else did. I didn’t know half the people they were talking about, and they didn’t tell me. They didn’t seem to know what to make of me, a pale Angarian sitting in the midst of them.
“So you’re Casper’s cousin,” Lady Aurelia said to me finally. I nodded.
“That Enchanter!” Lady Daina spat. They all exchanged looks at this, then turned back to me.
“You do know what he’s like, don’t you?” Lady Aurelia asked.
“Yes,” I replied coolly. “Fortunately, I happen to be his cousin.”
“By which you mean?” Lady Mandarine inquired sharply, staring at me in a way that got my back up.
“He doesn’t jilt me,” I told her sweetly. Beside me Janeira gave a quick gasp. I sighed to myself and cursed my mouth. If I wasn’t careful I’d get myself in trouble.
Lady Mandarine’s gaze had hardened, and she got up and swept to the other side of the throne room, but Lady Carmen was studying me appreciatively. I flushed under all of their gazes. At the edge of the group I noticed Lady Cassandra and Lady Clio had joined us. Lady Cassandra was looking at me especially hatefully.
“Well, well, the Enchanter’s cousin,” she said.
I did not trust myself to reply, and remained silent. They continued staring at me for a while longer, then began talking again. I let out the breath I had been holding.
“I told you to be careful,” Janeira told me. I shrugged and sighed. Looking up I saw the Rajah get up from his ornate chair and stride out of the room. For a moment I panicked. Casper had said never to let my eyes off him! Then I quickly made up my mind and hurried out after him.
When I got out into the hall it was empty. Looking back I realised I was now in a different part of the Palace, and I hoped I wouldn’t get lost. Picking up my skirts I hurried down the passageway. Where had the Rajah disappeared to?
I wandered around for a few minutes, getting worried. I knew I wasn’t cut out for this, I thought. But I could get out of it now.
Turning a corner I almost ran into the person I was looking for, the Rajah with a couple dusty volumes in his hands, which fell the to the floor as I knocked them.
“Oh – I’m sorry,” I gasped, almost sheepishly. What would he think of me, wandering around the Palace like some aimless fool?
“Lady Penelope,” he said, “What are you doing here?’
“Looking around, your majesty,” I replied. “I mean, er, Most Exalted Rajah…” I was making even more of a fool of myself. I bit my tongue and looked at him. Politely he offered me his arm and said courteously,
“Shall I show you back to the court, Lady Penelope?”
“Sure – I mean, yes,” I replied, flustered. But I did not take his arm, so after a while he dropped it.
Forgive me, Casper, if he kicks me out of the Palace, I thought. Luckily the Rajah did not seem about to do so. I followed him back down the halls to the throne room.
The ladies of the court all turned to look at me again as I re-entered. I was already red, but I’m sure I flushed three shades darker.
I’m never doing that again, I vowed silently to myself. Next time I would wait a while before I started worrying.
Just before noon the court ladies went to ‘stroll around the garden’, though their real intention seemed to be to promenade where all could admire them, and mostly for the Rajah. I went too, not really knowing what else to do, feeling like an idiot and making casual small talk with Janeira. The Rajah stood on his balcony and smiled with an arrogant amusement that was similar to Casper’s, only somehow more dark and regal. He knew this was put on for his benefit.
I looked around the garden at all the strolling silks and laces, and realised why Maria had said my other robes were completely unsuitable. They were simple compared to these, decorated only with embroidery. I decided they must be the kind of robe the common people wore, and that was why Casper could buy them in the market, but the dresses here at court were made professionally be seamstresses especially for the woman who bought them. I wondered how much all these dresses here put together would cost, and how Casper could afford to get such dresses for me.
I realised then Casper must be quite wealthy. Funny I had never thought of it before. But of course the only Enchanter in the land would be rich.
“You said both Mandarine and Carmen asked you to join their sides?” I said to Janeira as we strolled.
“Asked me if I was for them, or against them, more like,” she replied. “But yes, they did.”
“Neither has asked me,” I said, “And I do not wonder why.”
“Come, it is only your first day here,” Janeira told me. “They are not sure about you yet. And they do not really know if you’re competing for the attentions of the Rajah, or if you’re only visiting the court. Are you competing?”
I sighed as I walked. “Yes.”
The court ate the noon meal on the terrace, on a long white table set with gleaming silver and served by servants in blue. Besides the ladies of the court there were also many lords, earls, and officers, some with their wives. The meal was lavish, with course after course, but following the example of the ladies I ate little. I did not think I could fit much down anyway, with my girdle. The only trouble I had was remembering the procedures Maria had taught me: do not start your course before the Rajah does, follow the Rajah in his choice of utensils for each course, and do not talk loudly, lest you interrupt another conversation. More than once I found the whole table staring at me with shock and horror. It did not help when Mandarine hissed loudly in explanation to the earl beside her, “She’s Angarian.”
After lunch most of the court reclined for awhile, inside, in a dusky, brocade draped room infused with incense, because outside the heat of the day had reached its peak. Even the Rajah relaxed, discussing trivial matters with the other earls. Then, when most of the stodgier lords and officer had left, the younger set got up and gathered around.
“Afternoons are ours,” Janeira explained to me. “The Rajah usually has no business to attend to.”
A couple of earls were standing by Carmen and Cassandra, caped in maroon with sheathed swords at their waists. They turned when they saw me come up.
“Ah, it’s the Angarian,” one of them laughed. “I’ve heard about you. You’re the Enchanter’s cousin, right?”
“Funny,” he said. “You’re so much more charming than he is.”
They all laughed as I reddened. Carmen glanced at me edgily and moved as if to politely cut me out, and Cassandra positively glared.
“Pay the earls no mind,” Janeira whispered. “They’re always like that.”
“My dear Earl Rojah,” Carmen said to them, quite obviously cutting me out now. “I hope you have given thought to this afternoon?”
“I thought we might boat down the river,” he replied. “The weather being as it is.”
“But we always boat!” Carmen said. “And my dress…”
“Won’t be shown in its fullest glory on a boat,” the Earl finished. “Which would be a terrible thing, since it was made to pull in the Rajah.”
Carmen glared at him, but not in a way that said she was seriously angry. “Fine. We will boat.”
The earls began moving away, to tell the Rajah of their plans, and as they passed me they smiled.
“You are coming too, aren’t you?” one asked.
“I suppose so, if you wish me to,” I replied sweetly. Maria would have been proud.
And so for the rest of the afternoon we took the Rajah’s private yacht and sailed slowly down the river that ran through Araba. Here, more than anywhere else, I could see how out of place I was, because especially during this time, when the court was relaxing and having fun, I could see how well the ladies and the earls and the officers all knew each other. I spent the trip sitting near the bow and letting the cool river breezes blow over my face. Once, for politeness’ sake, the Rajah came to check on me, and for a while Janeira talked to me, but other than that I was alone. In a way I was glad, because I needed time to sort out my thoughts.
At the dock at the end of the voyage carriages were waiting for us, which took us up and carried us all the way back to the Palace. They day was almost over. Clio, Daina and Aurelia and the others in my carriage were discussing the dinner that night, but I had not been invited, and besides, Casper had said he would send a carriage to pick me up at the end of the afternoon. I realised suddenly I would be glad to see the Peak again.
“I hope you enjoyed your day here, Lady Penelope,” the Rajah said to me as I left, “And you are welcome back tomorrow.”
I curtsied smoothly, gave a little smile, and ascended into the carriage that would take me home. It started to rattle down the Palace hill to the city again. I leaned my head back tiredly against the seat and thought about my day, and the people of the court I’d met.
Janeira, who seemed to understand a bit what it was like to be new and out of place at the Rajah’s court; Carmen and Mandarine, the two rivals who completed for the Rajah’s attention and hated each other, and now probably hated me too; Cassandra, whose grudge against the Enchanter who’d jilted her seemed to extend to all of his family, including his ‘cousin’; Daina, Clio, Aurelia and the others who seemed to regard me with a sort of superior disdain. And then there was, of course, the Rajah himself. The young, dark, and handsome ruler of Chaldea.
“How was it?” Paulina asked me when I reached the Peak. She was making dinner since I was not there to do it, and Radagast was curled by her feet.
“Tiring and confusing,” I sighed. “I’m going up to change.”
Quickly I undressed and put on my light blue dress. It felt so good to get out of that girdle, and to wash all that make-up off my face. When I looked in the mirror and saw my familiar, natural face staring back I felt relieved.
“So, how’d you do?” Casper asked when I came down. I looked at him.
“Put it this way,” I told him, “I don’t know how you ever talked me into doing this.”