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 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 14 C: Black Eye!
And that was how I came to be viewed as being part of Carmen’s group. It rather improved things to have a side you belonged to. It seemed they’d been curious about me before, but hadn’t been sure if I’d run off to Mandarine’s side or not. So I spent some of my days describing Angaria to them, and they told me more about Chaldea. Now that they’d actually unbent a little, they actually explained a bit about how the court society functioned. They re-introduced me to all the earls again too.
“Isn’t Enchanter Raleigh rich and famous, though?” Clio asked when I’d finished describing my life as a flower girl to her. I bit my lip – maybe I should have left that last description out. Then I shrugged.
“He’s nothing much in Angaria, is he?” I said. “And I’d never known him very well until I visited him.”
Fortunately, Clio accepted this.
Janeira had chosen Carmen’s side too, mostly because I had. We would talk a lot together. Our agreement was that this whole rivalry business would be over if the Rajah would just stand up and actually pick someone, but the Rajah did not seem inclined to do so.
Mandarine’s group avoided me now, or shot barbed remarks at me. But I did not really mind this, I was quite good at shooting barbed remarks back, and then Carmen’s group would giggle behind their fans and congratulate me. They all accepted me, except, it seemed Cassandra.
“She’s just still sour the Enchanter jilted her,” Rianne told me. “She was rather proud before, and no one had done that to her before. I think she fancies you ought to apologise.
“For his behaviour?” I asked, and gave a little snort. “I’m not responsible for – er – my cousin.”
“She seems to think you are,” Rianne replied.
And Cassandra did seem to think so. She tried her best to make my life miserable for me. Luckily Carmen told her to quit it, and the others in the groups protected me from her. But she did not give up.
“Can’t you be more graceful, cousin of the Enchanter?” she mocked when I tripped on the stairs. She’d never call me by name, I was only ‘cousin of the Enchanter’. I shot her a dirty look back.
The Rajah seemed to notice me very little, which was just fine by me. The others all thought up every manner of outrageous plot to get his attention, but never to much avail. I was content to stay in the background and keep an eye on him. Slowly I was perfecting my technique.
I hope you’re frustrated, blasted jadess, I thought.
I was not much at the Magician’s Peak anymore. Only at breakfast times and dinner, otherwise I was at court. Paulina took over the making of the meals, and she seemed much happier, perhaps because she could get out now, and went to the market every day with Stefan. Stefan tried to keep an eye on Casper too, since he was the one most at risk from the jadess, but Casper was not easy to keep an eye on. He said he wasn’t going to let the jadess interfere with his life.
“He takes too many risks around her,” Stefan said. “He always has.”
“Even when he rescued us, right?” I asked.
He nodded. “Yes. I insisted on coming too, or else who knows what would have happened if the jadess found him there? Even though we’d been able to keep an eye on her with the silver screen beforehand.”
Casper was still trying to fix the silver screen, but without much luck. He’d order Rubion silver again, but it would take months to get here by caravan.
He teased me when he saw me in my court clothes, calling me ‘little Chaldean court lady’ and other absurd titles. I think it amused him to see me dressed up like that. I certainly didn’t look anything like myself.
I often wished I could just stay at the peak I missed the way things had been before, just me and Paulina, and the enchanters. It was not because I could boss people around, whatever Casper said. I seldom bossed people, though I liked to annoy him. Paulina and Stefan would’ve listened to me too readily.
But I missed cooking meals, and teaching Paulina. Sometimes meals would come out a little strange because she’d been experimenting, and I wished I could give her tips. I wanted to wear the plain, comfortable dresses I’d sewn, and I never wanted to see my girdle again. But regardless, I had to go on.
I was going to get the jadess for this, someday.
Once in a while, though, it was kind of fun to pretend to be upper crust, to parade around in my finery, and to rub elbows with lords and earls. This was not something I would ever get to do in Angaria.
Carmen tried to teach me the art of flirting, but I resisted her efforts until she gave up. The earls weren’t put off by my straightforwardness, but Carmen lamented that this way the Rajah would pay no attention to me. Honestly, sometimes she reminded me of Gretchen.
The earls said they put up with me because there were no other blonds at court, and we became friends; I would tease them, and they would heckle me back. But if the Rajah would come up, with a puzzled expression on his kingly face, I would retreat to the background. It was bad enough I had to be at court and look like I was chasing him, it would be worse if I actually made a fool of myself attempting to talk to him. The earls all asked me where in the world I thought I was disappearing to, and that I’d never get the Rajah’s attention that way, but I would just shrug.
Sometimes I think the earls resented that the ladies were all paying attention to the Rajah, and not to them. I told them all the ladies would all look to back to them again once the Rajah chose his bride, but they would just look at me with a sour expression on their face and say the Rajah was never going to choose, at this rate. Then they would go off and practice their rapier-fighting, to demonstrate their bravery. Often there were tournaments, and then we would all turn out to watch. The Rajah would compete too sometimes, and he won quite a bit, though not too much more than anybody else. It gave me a thrill to watch those long, narrow bits of steel clash and stab against each other.
It was the middle of summer in Chaldea, and it was hot. I wondered how the earls could stand rapier-fighting in the baking hot sun. I wasn’t doing anything but watching, and I felt faint. The only relief was in the cool, shady stone of the Palace, though often by late afternoon it would heat up too. It was nicest in the morning, when it was cool inside the Palace, and pleasantly warm outside.
Mandarine would actually faint, though I wasn’t sure if that was because she tied her girdle so tight, or she just liked everyone hovering around her. It didn’t work too well on the Rajah though, if it was a ploy: he would just wave his hand and order his servants to bring her water and fan her.
The ladies on Mandarine’s side were Lady Aurelia and Daina, Vianna, Suzanne, Delia, Yasmine, Marcia, Allaina, Nadia and Maylin. They did their best to spite us, and we did our best to spite them. On Carmen’s side were me, Janeira, Rianne and Clio, and Junina, Andrea, Indira, Malope, Hallia, Persis and Cerina. And, of course, Cassandra. She was as bitter as ever.
“Didn’t the Enchanter teach you manners?” she’d ask every time I made a mistake. “That’s the way we do it in Chaldea.”
My goodness, no wonder Casper had jilted her.
“Who said I cared how you do it in Chaldea?” I finally snapped back.
“Well, you do our best to dress like us,” she replied. “Pale-haired wench.”
The thing was, I couldn’t really insult her, for she really was beautiful. Definitely more beautiful than me. Otherwise I could have thought up equally cutting remarks about her, but with her flawless skin and bit, dark eyes I could think of nothing to criticize in her looks. I knew Carmen didn’t like us fighting, but it wasn’t her quarrel, and thankfully she didn’t interfere. I thought I could understand how she felt about Mandarine now.
One day I could stand it no longer. Cassandra pushed me just a little bit too far as we were standing one morning in the throne room, and I launched into her. I didn’t bother with little slaps and hair-pulling, like Carmen and Mandarine, but fought as I’d had to fight to protect myself from bullies when I’d still been young in Angaria. I hadn’t used it in a long time, and I was surprised I still remembered. Cassandra was surprised too, at first, then she fought back with equal vigour.
“Girls, stop it!” Carmen shrieked, horrified. I didn’t have to look at Mandarine to know she’d be smirking the spectacle. But I didn’t care about her.
“Lady Penelope!” It was one of the earls. “Ladies, stop that!” He tried to get in our way and got punched in the face.
I almost had Cassandra pinned, but then she elbowed me in the side, hard, and stepped on my foot at the same time. I gasped for breath. She elbowed me when I had precious little breath already, my lacing were tied so tight. Girdles were not made to fight in.
“Cat fight,” I heard another lord drawl. If he’d tried to interfere I would have scratched his eyes out. Luckily for him, he didn’t.
Then I could hear the Rajah calling for order, but I ignored him. Cassandra paused when she heard, which I took advantage of, then she ignored him too. I could hear horrified gasps echo around the room. But I was too busy to attend right then, Cassandra had kicked me in shins.
“You irritating little – flea!” I gasped, as she hung onto my back and draggled my hair. I’d bit back a vulgar Angarian insult just in time. We were at court.
I swung around and hit her with a rather off-centred punch. But she let go anyway.
Then suddenly I felt a hand on my shoulders, lifting me up, and I was dangling off the ground. Looking beside me I saw the Rajah, his dark eyes blazing with fury. The soldier holding me flanked his left side, and on his right one held Cassandra.
“Do you not listen to your ruler?” he said. I squirmed and the soldier let me fall to the floor. I rolled over to look up at him. He was far more interesting in his fury.
Beside me Cassandra was quivering. She was probably afraid she’d be kicked out of court, and then she lost all chance with the Rajah.
“Answer me!” he said thunderously. “Do you know what I say?”
“Y – yes, sire,” Cassandra stammered.
“How could we not, since you’re yelling so loud?” The words just found a way out of my mouth. I heard an anguished gasp from Carmen.
“Oh, you – blasted women!” he yelled. He stormed around the throne room and threw a stone crock to the ground, rather like Maria DeAballah had in the entrance hall of the Peak, except this crock looked bigger and heavier. The Rajah must be tremendously strong.
Damage control, damage control… time to think of something polite to say…
“I’m sorry, sire,” I told him. “Such behaviour is not fitting for a throne room. I should have taken it outside.”
He looked incensed. ‘Whatever practice you have in Angaria, young lady, you should not be fighting in court at all! Now, there may be some bad examples,” he glared furiously at Carmen and Mandarine, “But THAT IS NO EXCUSE!”
“Of course, sire,” I replied.
I realised I was goading him like I did Casper. He was reacting rather more satisfactorily than the Enchanter did, but I wasn’t sure how much more his Chaldean temper could take. I shut my mouth.
I did not trust myself to say a word as I let his tirade wash over me. He could probably see I wasn’t terrified by the look in my eyes, though Cassandra probably satisfied him. She was cowering on the floor.
“You do not hold proper respect for me,” he accused, his eyes shooting sparks at me.
“Oh the contrary, my lord,” I answered. “The higher fury you get into, the more respect I have. You might ask Casper how that works.”
“Oh, get out of my sight,” he yelled back. “And I’ll tell you if I’ll ever let you back into it!”
I hurried out of the room and down the hall, into the women’s room. I looked at myself in the mirror. Two black eyes bloomed spectacularly in my face, between strands of draggled hair. I sighed and began cleaning myself up.
Janeira found me there a while later.
“My goodness,” she said. “I’ve never seen the Rajah get into such a high fury before. He’s usually so emotionless.”
“Yeah, well, lucky me,” I said, “For managing to make him show emotion.”
She looked at me suddenly, then laughed. I could tell she thought I was crazy, but she didn’t seem to care.
“Well, Cassandra was spitting mad after you left,” she told me. “It looks like you’ve started another court rivalry.”
“With Cassandra, or with the Rajah?” I muttered back.
Go to Chapter 15A