Thanks for all the feedback on the last post! I’ve got a lot to think about now – not that school didn’t give me enough to think about already. But hey, I do it to myself.
Anyway, time for a new chapter of Why Polly?
The Story So Far: Polly, a princess, an Enchanter, and his apprentice discover they are all are being threatened by a malevolent magical being known as a jadess. Can Polly get along with the arrogant enchanter long enough to figure out how to survive with a jadess after them? Can she avoid embarrassment at court long enough to prevent the jadess from seducing the Rajah? And … what does the jadess want with Polly? Chapter 1 is here.
Chapter 18A: The Skills For Riding Side-Saddle
I was dressing for court later that week when Maria told me the court’s plan to ride to Benishada Estate that day. I put down my hand-mirror in surprise. I had heard talk about Benishada, but I had not paid much attention to it, thinking it was one of those Chaldean things that did not involve me.
“But – what do Chaldeans wear for riding?” I asked anxiously. There was no way I could ride a horse in the dresses I usually wore to court. Maria slowly flipped through my gowns.
“Slightly more sensible dresses than usual,” she replied. “But still delicate enough. We usually ride side-saddle. And we wear hats, of course, to keep the weather out of our faces as we ride.”
She pulled out my slightly sensible peacock blue, with white lacing down the front, white ruffles around the wide neckline, and more white ruffles falling out of the trailing blue sleeves. “I’ve gotten you a riding hat too,” she said, and she pulled out a hatbox.
The riding hat was four feet wide, at least, of white straw with a brim that dipped in front of my eyes. It was trimmed with bunches of blue silk flowers, with jewels for stamens, and white and blue ostrich feathers that floated gracefully over top. Oh, what a hat! I had never seen anything more glamorously over-done.
“But – how will it stay on?” I said faintly, “If we are to be riding?”
Maria pointed smilingly at the wide blue ribbons that would be tied under my chin. “Just think how well it will protect your face!” she said. And she also pulled out a box containing supple white-leather riding boots. They felt strange on my feet after wearing slippers for so long.
“You will be riding all morning to Benishada,” she told me, “And you will lunch there with the lord. You will probably remain there till about mid-afternoon, then return to Araba.”
“What’s wrong with staying in the city?” I asked, looking in dismay at what I was expected to wear – to wear, and still somehow stay on a horse.
“They ride to Benishada about once a year,” she replied. “It is a lovely place. When you reach it you will see why they would want to.”
I stood in front of the mirror, in my ruffled dress, elegant hat, and brand-new boots, and I thought I hardly looked like the long-nosed and light-footed flower girl anymore. I was completely over-done, but in a glamorous way, a way that rather suited Chaldea and was beginning to suit my tastes too (as long as it stayed in Chaldea). Maria also gave me white riding gloves, and I fiddled with the pearl wrist-buttons on them.
“Very nice,” Maria commented. “Now, would you like to see mine?”
“What?” I asked. “Maria, are you coming too?”
“I always go to Benishada,” she said. “The Lord of the Estate would be insulted if I did not, not to mention the Rajah.” She paused. “And besides, I may have stayed away long enough this time for the Rajah to have noticed I was gone. Do you think so?”
I stopped, mid-twirl. I wasn’t sure how to answer that.
“And it is always a good time, at least,” she said.
“Oh Maria, this will be such fun!” I exclaimed. “Now, let me see your riding clothes.”
She wore white, with a hat of a size that even rivalled mine, trimmed with white roses about as big as cabbages. Her dress was pure white, with voluminous skirts, inch deep ruffles, and a tremendous white bow. With it she wore pearls, white boots, and gold-trimmed gloves. The effect of it was generally to make her mass of red hair more outstanding.
“Very daring,” I said. She laughed.
“Don’t worry, they’re all used to it,” she said.
When we reached the Palace, the court was all milling around the yard. Not the one at the front of the Palace, which everyone who had business at the Palace entered by, but the one behind the Palace, beside the fence which walled out the orange grove, and near the paddocks and stables of the horses. There were many exclamations to see Maria back again, and the court ladies all greeted her.
“Whose side are you on?” I asked, watching the friendly way all the women came up to her. “Carmen’s or Mandarine’s?”
“Neither,” she laughed. “I was at court long before either of them were introduced there, and they both know it. My parents and the Rajah’s were especial friends, so I was here all the time when I was young.” She smiled. “They both acknowledge my superiority.”
The other ladies were wearing riding clothes like ours, and surprisingly lots of white, instead of the strong, vivid colours Chaldeans usually wore. Their hats were all beautiful, and quite amazing creations, and I no longer felt so conspicuous in mine. Carmen’s I especially liked: green bedecked with magnificent emeralds and tied in a huge white bow under her chin. Carmen often wore green, because it drew attention to the unusual green of her eyes.
The earls were all milling around too, in their maroon capes, rapiers sheathed at their side, and white shirts open at the neck. White seemed to be a Chaldean riding colour, suiting everyone’s fresh mood. On the earls’ feet they wore black boots traced in gold designs.
Then the Rajah came out. He wore a dark green cape, as a contrast to the earls’ maroon, and an open-necked white shirt banded at the hems in green, black and gold. He led us around to the gates of the stable-yard, where grey-clad grooms held rows of freshly tacked up horses for the court.
“Take Shenaira,” Maria told me, pointing to a finely bred, compact mare with a cloud grey coat. “She’s a fine horse. Hoshei is mine, when I ride at court. He and Shenaira know each other well.”
I held out my hand to Shenaira, after removing my glove. She sniffed it and nodded, as if she approved of me.
All the horses were magnificent. I had been informed previously that when Chaldea had still been on good terms with Sabea, some of the Sabean horses had been given to the Chaldean court as gifts – and I could certainly see the effects in the horses before me. They seemed calm enough, but they had spirit beneath their smoothly flowing hides. A few pulled restlessly away from the grooms that held them.
Blast, I was expected to ride one in this dress?
Nervously I examined the reins. Chaldean trappings were slightly different than Angarian. In most instances Chaldea was more extravagant in decoration than Angaria, but not with horses. When the Angarian court rode their horses were so bedecked with trappings and bobbins and straps and laces, its mane and tail braided and beribboned, that you could barely see the horse. The Chaldeans used the minimum amount of straps as they possibly could, and they were all made of the finest, most supple leather. Under them the horses moved, their flowing lines clearly showed off to their advantage. When I mentioned this to Maria she only smiled.
“That’s because the horse is the decoration,” she said. “The crowning glory of the person who rides it. La, if you find this surprising, you should see a Sabean horse sometime. They do not wear any tack at all.”
“Have you?” I asked.
“No, but I’ve seen pictures,” she replied. Then Lady Yasmine came up to talk to her and they moved off, Maria taking her horse Hoshei with her. Hoshei was a magnificent horse too, with a coat nearly as fiery as Maria’s hair.
Well then, thank goodness I was in Chaldea and not Sabea. But honestly, the only upside I could hope for was that my voluminous skirts would cushion any falls…