Surprise, surprise, school is still driving me crazy. Still… I hope you enjoy:
The Story So Far: 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 17A: In Defence of Friends
“Well,” the Enchanter said as he escorted me to the carriage. “You’ve taken up rapiers.”
“Yes,” I said. “And I don’t care if you’re mad at me for it. I know it’s not lady-like, but I like it, and love to learn.”
“Oh Polly!” he laughed. “You must think me deaf and dumb! Did you think I did not know till now? I have heard talk about you, and do you think Stefan hasn’t informed me of your daily little practice session with Maria DeAballah?”
I crimsoned and smoothed the front of my gown. I’d freshened up after the practice and changed back into my court dress for the ride home.
“Why were you at the Palace?” I asked.
“Seeing the Import Minister,” he said, little bit sourly. “About imports of Rubion silver.”
“And?” I prompted.
“He says Rubion caravans are extremely unreliable and it could take anywhere up to and over a year to get my silver,” he replied. “Blast it! It would be so much simpler if I could get it myself. But the farther away it is, the stronger the attraction of the Peak is, and the harder it is to get there. Believe me, I’ve tried to transport myself to Rubion.”
“But what did you do when you made the mirror?” I asked him.
“A caravan had just arrived when I needed it,” he said. “If only I could be so lucky this time!”
“Well,” I answered, “How nice of you to escort me home.”
He looked at me, eyes twinkling. “I thought you’d appreciate it.”
I focused on my footwork after that when I practised, doing the combinations in endless repetition, until step! jab! was almost repeating itself in my sleep. As I worked I built up a steady cadence in my head, and my footwork followed in step to it. My wrists strengthened too as I worked, learning to control the needle-like blade so it hit edge on edge if I wanted to, and whip menacingly around when I got a chance to make it to.
The earls were nearly all sword-masters, marked by little circlets of emeralds on their sheaths. Very few women became sword-maidens officially, only a couple instructors, and even Maria DeAballah had never done her test. So the term sword-maiden was used rather loosely, for any woman who publicly used a sword at court, so I wasn’t surprised when people referred to me as such. But I did want to earn the mark of the sword-maiden that had been embedded on my sheath someday.
At this rate, you’re going to, I thought to myself. It would be a long time before Casper was in any position for us to be able to leave. But though I missed Angaria still, Chaldea was slowly becoming a temporary home.
Maria got me a new dress, which I really liked. It was of deep plum, with a high collar and a keyhole neckline, and sleeves that puffed on top and narrowed to my wrists. They weren’t trailing like all my other sleeves, and I must admit it was nice not to have to flick them out of the way all the time. Maria knew all the latest trends – even though I was at court and she wasn’t. I didn’t know enough about Chaldean fashion to know if anything was new or not. I’d found she was rather adventurous in her taste, but not in a bad way, since I did get compliments on my dresses.
Casper must have noticed at breakfast, I was sure because I saw him watching me. I wondered if he ever mentally calculated how much this was costing him, or if he was rich enough it didn’t matter. Or desperate enough about escaping the jadess. Paulina noticed the dress, she always did, and she was quite interested in the kinds of dresses Maria picked for me. Sometimes, if I wasn’t too tired after a day at court we would go to my room and she would try on all my dresses, and we would talk together. It seemed we did not often get to do that anymore.
I was coming inside to get my fan, which I’d forgotten, during our daily promenade that day, when I heard the Rajah discussing with his officers. He was by the doors when I came around the corner with my fan in my hand, and I stopped. They did not seem to notice me.
“You ought to get married,” one of the older officers was saying. He had white hair and a walrus moustache. I quietly cleared my throat, but they still did not see me.
The Rajah shrugged. “And to whom? These women at court are all the same, empty-headed, always worrying about whether I’ll approve or not. They will not even draw a rapier at court. I do not want a wife like that.”
“And what about the Tigress?” one said, quirking an eyebrow. His eyebrows were quirky, and he had big ears. “You must know what people are saying.”
“I do,” the Rajah replied. “But what of it? I do not know how she ever came to be at court. Her manners are atrocious. And she has not yet learned to give a ruler the respect he deserves.”
Heat leapt to my face, and my eyes felt like they were shooting flame.
“You are merely bitter she beat you at rapiers,” the one standing beside him said. He was young, and seemed to be one of the Rajah’s friends.
“A woman ought not to be able to beat her ruler at duelling,” the Rajah replied stiffly. I could feel my blood boiling beneath my skin.
“She is an uncouth barbarian,” he continued, as if pleased to find such a neat way to sum me up. “From Angaria. I do not know how they teach their children there. I have met the princess. Her manners are a little more refined, perhaps, but she is entirely too formal, and her advisors too gushing. They had their eye on a match between us, you can be sure.”
They did not! I thought furiously. And if they did, Paulina wouldn’t have you even if you begged for her! She wouldn’t be that stupid.
“But think what problems it would solve if you were married!” the young one said, with a sweep of his arm. “You wouldn’t have any match-makers around, for one.”
“There are benefits,” the Rajah replied, “but I am not desperate.”
“Why don’t you ban all those women from your court?” the one with quirky eyebrows said. “They’re entirely too distracting, especially for the earls.”
“I am not a fool,” said the Rajah. “Women are determined.”
He could not have thought up a better insult if he’d been deliberately trying to insult me. Determinedness was one of my faults.
“At least you can load some of them off on the Enchanter,’ the walrus-moustached one put in.
“Yet somehow they always come back to me, snivelling for sympathy,” the Rajah replied, “As if I did not know they could not take care of the Enchanter well enough themselves when he jilts them.”
“The Enchanter!” said the young one.
“Why can’t he get rid of them with his blasted magic?” the quirky eye-browed one said.
“He is a coward,” the Rajah stated. Fury rose to my face. “Well, he’s very nicely trapped here now.”
I’d had enough. I’d see this through for Casper, whether or not the Rajah threw me out of court.
“I think you are just cruel,” I cried, stamping one slippered foot. They all whirled around in surprise to see me standing there.
“An eavesdropper,” muttered the one with the walrus moustache.
“How dare you!” I said. “If you do not pay attention to me when I stand here, ignore me, and completely block off the doorway so I cannot return outside, what do you expect me to do?”
“Not an eavesdropper,” said the Rajah, “Just a woman with injured pride.”
“You stuck-up aristocrat!” I shrieked at him. “Turning your noble nose up at me! For your information, I could not care less whether you all notice me or not! Just – let me through!”
I paused and glared at them. “As for Casper, I think you are just too cruel. Can’t you think how a gypsy would feel? Blast you! You’re killing him!” I did not know how true this was, but I stormed on. “It’s all your stupid fault if you don’t have a League of Enchanters anymore! You and your own blasted pride. If you would just patch things up with Sabea…!”
“Lady Penelope – “ the Rajah started.
“I’m not finished!” I cried. “You know very well this country can’t be run by one enchanter. It was stupid of you to become so reliant on magic, but now you’ve gone and done it, and you have to live with it. Humble that noble bearing of yours for once, and quit looking down that snobbish nose a people! Are you completely blind to logic? If you can’t run this country without the League of Enchanters, then get that League of Enchanters back!”
I glared furiously. “And as for caging the Enchanter up in the Peak with a Sabean flagstone bought off a travelling merchant, I don’t know what to say to that. Don’t you have any shame? He’d respect you a whole lot more if you’d just negotiated with him!”
“And how do you know he does not respect me?” asked the Rajah, coolly amused. My mouth, open to say more, snapped shut.
“Lady Penelope, for the last time, this is completely uncalled for,” the walrus-moustache said. He puffed his chest pompously. “Please remove yourself.”
“And what would you know about it?” I shrieked wildly. “I bet you were behind his plans,” I jerked my thumb at the Rajah, “All the way!”
The Rajah stepped forward, “I will not have…”
I did not have time to jank out my rapier, so I swatted him across the face with my fan.
He blinked and stared at me. I stared open-mouthed back. Then, realising what I’d done I turned around and stumbled wildly back down the corridor. I was not sure where I was going, only that I must get away, until I found myself blundering out the open door into the orange grove.
Curse it! I hissed to myself, What am I going to do now?
But the Rajah had made me so mad!