Polly may be failing miserably in her quest to foil the jadess’ plans…
Polly, kidnapped by an enchanter and his trainee and thrown in with a princess, discovers that she and her new companions are 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 15A: Facing the Rajah
“What in the world happened to you?” Casper asked when he came to pick me up. He stared at my two black eyes with amusement. “Challenged the palace guards to a fight?”
“No, just Cassandra,” I sighed. “And the Rajah.”
He stared harder, then let out a long, low whistle. “I’d have liked to see what they looked like after.”
I had spent the rest of the day at the court, staying as far away from the Rajah as I possibly could, ignoring the teasing taunts of the earls. I had no idea if I’d be allowed to come back tomorrow.
“Well, even magic can’t do much for those,” he told me, gesturing at my eyes. I shrugged. They weren’t bothering me much, just throbbing slightly. What was really irritating me was my girdle.
At least I had managed to fix my dress, my hair, and my face. With Carmen’s help I had become presentable again, and had dared to return to court, despite my eyes. I could do up my costume by myself now, but not as well as court ladies who’d done it all their lives. The Rajah had said nothing when I returned into his presence, and thankfully ignored me for the rest of the day. But though my appearance was somewhat fixed on the outside I could feel the bruises popping up everywhere underneath the fabric of my dress.
“The Rajah has the power to have your killed,” Casper said now, as the carriage drew up to the Peak.
I stared at him. “You’re kidding.”
“He’s an absolute ruler, Polly, haven’t you noticed that? He can do whatever he pleases.”
I had seriously miscalculated that. How absolutely idiotic of me!
“Well, I guess I’d better not do it again,” I answered softly. A cold shiver ran down my back. Would the Rajah do that?
“He doesn’t usually execute people so easily, though.” Casper grinned, seeing the expression on my face. “You’re fortunate it’s not the Chaldean way – mostly because the nobles would like to live without fear of having their heads chopped off, so they encourage him to do it very rarely. I’m just warning you.”
“I just can’t keep my mouth shut!” I moaned.
“You can be exasperating at times,” he admitted. The carriage rolled to a stop and he helped me down.
Just before we went through the Peak’s door, he paused with my hand still in his. “Polly,” he said, “There’s nothing to be done for it now, but if you are not allowed to return to court – you did not find any ladies who alerted your suspicions, did you?”
I blushed and looked down. He was right – if I was the Rajah, I sure wouldn’t let me back into the court. If only I had something to tell Casper.
“They’re all so much the same!” I blurted. “I mean, they’re all different in their own way, but they all act so similar. I have no idea how to tell if one of them’s the jadess or not. They all fight like cats to be closest to the Rajah.”
He looked sadly at my torn and rumpled gown. Probably thinking how much he’d sunk into this little charade, and how quickly it was over.
I shifted so my girdle dug into one side a little less. I wish I’d thought the whole thing through a little more. Now it was like I’d been getting dressed up to the nines everyday all for nothing.
“After all, I still don’t know where – “ He must’ve been about to say something about the jadess, but he suddenly bit his lip, shook his head, and went through the door. I studied his retreating back, wondering if his shoulders were more slumped than usual (and if that were even possible) before following him in.
Paulina was horrified at what had happened, and insisted on drawing a hot bath for me. Stefan shook his head, and asked where I’d learned to land a mean right hook. Even Radagast padded over to lick my hand. Casper, of course, said nothing but I could tell he considered all their fussing quite amusing.
I soaked for a long time in the bath – it felt so good on my bruises, despite the initial sting – and then I had a little supper. Afterwards I went to bed. I was really exhausted, and I slept hard, so hard that I did not wake up until I heard Maria rap on the door.
“Go away,” I groaned, rolling over. Ouch! that hurt. “I can’t go to court today.”
She threw open the door. “I heard what happened. Now get up. We’ve got to get ready.”
“But the Rajah’s mad,” I yawned, sitting up and rubbing my eyes.
“Of course, he gets mad way too easily,” she told me briskly, going over to the window and opening the curtains. “Though I must admit, he’s gotten better at hiding it since he became the Rajah. You should have seen him when we were kids. Temper, temper. But he’s never mad long. I’d bet anything he’s practically forgotten about it by now, or would have if all of Araba wasn’t talking about it.”
For the first time since I’d gotten home last night, I felt a bit of hope. “You mean he won’t hate me forever?”
She looked at me. “Those other women tell you he’s as emotionless as a rock? Never having feelings about anything, unless you make him mad and then you’ll be banished from court forever? I bet they did.”
She snorted. “They say that because they can’t get him to love them!” she said. “Well, you’re going to court today. It won’t make any difference to the Rajah. In fact, he’d probably think you were a coward if you don’t.”
That did it. I wasn’t about to be thought of as a coward by anyone, much less the Rajah.
“But does he ever have a temper!” I muttered.
“It’s Chaldean to have a temper,” she told me. “And it’s a good thing for you – he won’t hold a grudge. Quickly angered, quickly over.” I laughed.
I put one a dress of bright cobalt blue, the skirt overlaid with a net of thousands of twinkling diamonds, and a bodice that would have dipped low in front if it hadn’t been demurely covered by a silver veil. In the back it rose up into a high collar to frame my head. The sleeves were long and trailing (Chaldeans seemed to like sleeves to be trailing), and I wore a magnificent necklace of large, brilliant blue sapphires surrounded by diamonds. My hair was puffed in the front and pulled into a large, loose bun anchored by blue-glass combs studded with diamonds.
Whatever Maria had said about the Rajah, I was nervous. My nervousness increased when there seemed to be twice the usual number of people in the throne room, and they were all craning to look at me. But the Rajah paid no more attention to me than yesterday afternoon, and I thankfully slipped myself into the darkest back corner of his throne room.
I let out the breath I’d been holding. Whatever Casper had said, I hadn’t completely been able to forget the idea of losing my head.
Then I allowed myself to listen. Maria was right, word had gotten all over Araba. The tales got wilder each time I heard them. One version even said a fair-haired, gorgeous Angarian (for so they referred to me, probably for story-telling purposes) had gotten the Rajah into such a furious rage he’d cowered the whole court by his anger and executed her on the spot. I took great pleasure in asking the teller of the story how another fair-haired Angarian managed to be standing in the middle of court right now, then – or had there been two?
Somehow most rumours left out why the Rajah had gotten angry in the first place, and skimmed over Cassandra all together. Of course, that didn’t make Cassandra happy. We spent half the morning verbally sparring, until I realised what a strain it was putting on Carmen, who seemed terrified of us breaking into another fight.
I was willing to bet nobody had ever shown up at court with two black eyes before. The earls found it amusing to remark on them, and I let them. I wasn’t ashamed I had two black eyes.
“I really feel bad,” I told Janeira during our daily promenade. Not about the whole episode with Cassandra – I had to deal with that girl somehow. But about the part that involved the Rajah. “It was rude of me to act like that yesterday. And worse is, the whole city knows. How the Rajah must feel!”
“The whole city is of the opinion you should be the one the Rajah marries,” Janeira replied. “They think it would be romantic.”
“What?” I gasped. I immediately stopped my promenading and stared at her.
“They like your fiery spirit,” she said, “And think you would be a good match.”
“Oh, fiddlesticks!” I cried. “Jerking, blasted… How idiotic!”
“Don’t you want that to happen?” she asked.
“Of course,” I hastily corrected myself. Just because (angry) sparks flew when I talked to him, people thought we’d make a good match? This charade was getting harder and harder to keep up, but I couldn’t say one word about how ridiculous that was. “I just don’t want the whole city talking about it,” I said instead.
But I really did feel bad. After all, no ruler liked someone they had graciously invited into their Palace challenging their power in front of everyone else. He had invited me into his court, however much I didn’t want to be there. Even when I was a flower-girl, Gretchen and I had expected guests to be polite.
Perhaps I had embarrassed the Rajah. A ruler should seem calm and in control, that was probably why he spent so much time cultivating an appearance of being as emotionless as a rock. Then I had to come along and ruin it!
There was nothing for it but to apologise.
I waited until after lunch, when the Rajah was seated in his throne room again, and there were sufficient people inside the throne room, people of every class who’d spread the word throughout the city that I’d humbled myself and apologised. It was the best I could do.
“Sire,” I said, approaching the throne. “Most Exalted Rajah (may your years increase). I have come to ask for pardon. I was indescribably rude yesterday, and I beg forgiveness. I do not deserve to stand in the court anymore.”
I waited with my head bowed. Was that the right wording when apologizing to a ruler? I’d copied what I remembered from a childhood story about some woodcutter apologizing to our Angarian king.
For a moment I thought the Rajah wouldn’t say anything. Then he leaned forward.
“Forgiveness is granted,” he said. Behind me I could hear mutters running through the hall. I spread my skirt and curtsied deeply, so that my forehead almost touched the floor.
“Besides,” he said, quieter, to me alone now, “Perhaps it was not entirely your fault.”
I curtsied again, then descended back down to where the court ladies were standing.